Monday, June 16, 2014

Year A - Proper 9, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (July 6, 2014)

Something to ponder:  When these texts fell on July 3 in 2011, I bemoaned the fact that few American worship planners would build worship around the Old Testament texts related to Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage.  Instead they would go with the texts with obvious connections to the national holiday.  Here we are three years later and the stories again fall on the July 4th weekend.  I begin to think preachers will have to intentionally choose the Isaac and Rebekah texts some year or they will never be used in worship at all – and they are too good to miss.  

Genesis 24:34-38, 42 -49, 58-67

by Margaret Kyle from The Family Story Bible
Used by permission.
* This is one of those stories meant to be savored and enjoyed rather than explained.  Before reading it, note that camels often go as much as five days without water.  When they get to a water source they jostle each other intently and drink gallons of water at a time.  Urge worshipers to listen for 10 thirsty camels and imagine having to provide water for them. 

FYI, I searched for a number of gallons of water a thirsty camel could drink and found many different answers. It could be as much as 30 gallons!  So, either save yourself the trouble of the search by going with the general “lots” and letting imaginations take it from there.  Or, gather as many as 30 gallon jugs of water.  Arrange to have children or worshipers of all ages process them to the front of the sanctuary just before this story is read.  As they do, comment that that is a lot of water to pull up from a well and pour into troughs for one camel to drink - and this story has 10 camels!  Have jugs left on the floor for the rest of the service.  After reading the story note that Rebekah was one strong and capable young woman!

* This is one of the stories that is rather long and broken up in the Bible.  Bible story books present it in a more straightforward fashion.  My favorite for reading in worship is “Isaac and Rebekah” in The Children’s Illustrated Bible, by Selina Hastings.  It takes about 4 minutes to read aloud and includes some useful illustrations that can be shared with children sitting nearby.

* To make the story as presented in the lectionary easier to follow, have it read by an older man in the role of Eleazar the servant moving around others who pantomime the parts of Rebekah and her family.  Before reading it set the stage.  Ask the Eleazar, Abraham, and Isaac stand to one side of the chancel.  Ask Rebekah and her family to stand on the other side of the chancel insisting that there are really hundreds of miles of desert between these two families.  Point to the floor in the middle challenging worshipers to image a village well there.  Then get things started by pointing to Eleazar and saying, “then he said…”.  Eleazar then reads taking leave of Abraham and Isaac, and slowly making his way to the well.  Rebekah steps from her family to the well and acts what Eleazar reads.  The two step toward her family at home and finally walk back across to Isaac who steps forward hand outstretched.  Rebekah offers her hand and the two walk off to the side.

* In the sermon explore Rebecca’s courage in deciding to marry this unseen man and Isaac’s decision to love Rebecca when she arrived.  Children, especially girls, will be interested in this arranged marriage.  It provides an opportunity to emphasize the commitment that is made in either arranged or “love” marriages and the love that grows out of sticking together and taking care of each other through good and bad times. 

* Consider offering couples the opportunity to renew marriage vows during the worship service.  Children benefit as much from this recognition of their parent’s marriage as the parents do.  (If you do this, announce it in advance so that individuals or families for whom it would be painful can choose to be absent.)

Psalm 45:10-17

* I suspect the people who created the RCL put this psalm here as a prayer for Rebekah and Isaac on the day they were married.  To build on this invite the women and girls to read verses 1-15 for Rebekah and the men and boys to read verses 16-17 for Isaac.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

* The Song of Solomon or Song of Songs is proof that God is interested in and cares about our love lives.  For children this is only mildly interesting.  Read verses 8-10 with feeling.  Admit that it sounds a little mushy to them now, but promise that one day they will feel just that mushy.  Insist that when they do, they need to remember that God cares about them and the person they love LOTS. 

Zechariah 9:9-12

* This description of God’s king or God’s leader emphasizes that the leader is humble.  It is probably easiest to tackle somewhat out of the biblical verse order:

Start talking about what the leader rides.  Describe the big limousine or SUV motorcades in which leaders often ride today.  Recall leaders who rode in on big, spirited horses or in chariots pulled by a team of horses.  (For Americans, there are several paintings and statues of George Washington on a large white horse.)  Then read what God’s leader rides in verse 9. 

Next read what the Lord will do in verse 10 and put into your own words what the prophet is saying that leaders and governments should be doing.

Finally, display the word HUMBLE written in large letters on a poster.  Share dictionary definitions, “modest, showing respect for and deference to other people” and fill in what the prophet is telling us about God’s leaders.

The TEV offers an especially clear translation of these verses.

Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion!
Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you!
He comes triumphant and victorious,
but humble and riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Lord says,
“I will remove the war chariots from Israel
and take the horses from Jerusalem;
the bows used in battle will be destroyed.
Your king will make peace among the nations;
he will rule from sea to sea,
from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth.”

Psalm 145:8-14 or Psalm 72 (UMC Lectionary)

* Psalm 145 is one of the acrostics or alphabet psalms.  Each line is a separate reason for praising God and begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  To highlight and enjoy this, have each verse read by a different reader including readers of many ages.  The reader may or may not say the Hebrew letter before reading his or her verse. 

* Some ancient manuscripts add the phrase “Blessed be YHWH and blessed be his name forever” as a congregational response after each verse.  Explain that this is the way the psalm was first used in worship, then invite worshipers to join people who have praised God this way by reading the congregational response.  (It would be possible to replace that phrase with the simpler “Praise God!”)

* Read the psalm challenging worshipers to raise their hands every time the word ALL or EVERY is read.  If you are reading it with children, briefly repeat the ALL phrase putting them into your own words for clarity if needed.  Display a globe and point out that God does not love any one nation more or less than any other.  Point to specific nations, e.g. God loves the United States and Iran.  Then reread Psalm 145:8-14.

* The United Methodist Lectionary suggests using Psalm 72 which is a prayer for the king.  One way to use this is to invite people to name local, state and national leaders for whom the church can pray.  Then, read the psalm or sections of it, substituting “leaders” for “king” and plural pronouns for singular ones, e.g.

Give our leaders your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to them.
May they judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.

                Based on the New Revised Standard Version

Romans 7:15-25a

* Children quickly get lost in all the repetitive phrases in this passage.  The bottom line however, makes immediate sense - it is hard to be good!  It hard for every person at every age of life!  Even when we want to be good, it is not easy to do what we know we should. 

* When we last read the Year A texts, many children were excited about the arrival of the final Harry Potter film.  It was a big deal, so I offered lots of Harry Potter suggestions during July and August.  This year Harry is still popular so I am leaving in the suggestions.  But, you will probably not want to use them all.  For today - Harry might scratch his head a bit over Paul’s long complex sentences in Romans, but once he figured out what Paul was saying, he would agree with him.  Both Paul and Harry knew that there is strong evil in the world and that we must stand up to it.  The evil in Harry’s world takes the forms of monster animals and death-eaters.  The evil in Paul’s world and ours takes the form of temptations to grab what we want even when it hurts others.  It was hard for Harry to stand up to the evils in his world and it is hard for us to stand up to the evil we find in our world.  Part of the power of the Potter books is their call to children to stand up against evil on a local and cosmic scale.

* Storypath sent me to Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, by Rachel Vail, a simple picture story about a little girl who is usually pretty good, but sometimes gets wildly angry which makes her want to smash things.  It reads aloud in three minutes and is as close as a younger child will get to understanding Paul’s message about the sin that overtakes us in spite of our best intentions.  I found multiple copies at the local public library.

If you haven’t checked out the website "Storypath: Connecting Children’s Literature with our Faith Story", do so now.  It offers a children’s book for each of the non-psalm readings for each Sunday of the RCL.  Talk about a gold mine!

* Highlight “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer.

* Ask the children (or all worshipers) to recite the Lord’s Prayer together.  After they say this phrase interrupt them, “Stop right there.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Let’s talk about that for a minute.”  Note that Paul said, that he did bad things he never meant to do all the time.  Insist that we do the same.  Then, put this into words that you and Paul can pray together.  “God, Help us not do the stuff we know is wrong and help us do what we know is right.”  Then pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

* To explore all the ways we do what we know we should not, create a responsive prayer of confession with a leader describing specific ways we do what we know is wrong and the congregation responding with the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer.  For example, God, I am surprised by the mean things I say.  When I get angry or frustrated or hurt, I call people names and say horrible things.  Forgive me.” and “Lord, I really do love my family, but sometimes I do not treat them like I love them.” 

Paul is speaking about both personal and corporate sin.  On the Fourth of July weekend in America but also in other countries, this text challenges us to think about national sins. 

* To introduce the fact that groups as well as individuals can sin, explore the production of most of our clothes.  Get worshipers to check tags at the back neckline of each other’s shirts or dresses to see where they were made.  Invite people to call out the names of countries.  (Or, bring several items of clothing and read the labels to the congregation.)  Point out that many of these countries do not have strong laws to protect workers.  Men, women, and children work in unsafe, uncomfortable places to earn very little money.  It is not fair and we know it.  But, still it’s the only way most of us can get clothes. (Have fun listing all we would have to do to sew, design, weave fabric, make buttons and zippers, etc.)  We are caught up in sinful business.  You may want to list some ways people can work against this evil by writing letters or giving money to organizations that are working for fairer laws.  Or, you may simply want to use this as an example of corporate sin in which we all get implicated.

This is obviously not a children’s time.  Children will not understand it completely.  But, their attention will be caught and they may hear that sin is corporate as well as personal.  For most children that will be a new idea.

If you talk about the sinfulness in our clothes, include in the church’s prayers the people who make our clothes in unfair conditions and people who work to improve their situations.

* Make the prayer of confession a confession of national sins.  It might be a responsive prayer with the response, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Some of the petitions will likely be beyond children’s understanding, but the first should make sense even to them, e.g. “As a country we sometimes use our great strength to get our own way rather than to create peace for all people.”  Before praying this prayer, point out that every one of us has sins to tell God about.  And, every group we are part of also has sin to confess to God.  Describe a gang that bullies people as a group that needs to confess.  Then, point out that even “good groups” like our church also need to confess.  Our nation does to.  Suggest that thinking about ways we are not the kind of country God would like us to be is a very brave, patriotic thing to do on Fourth of July weekend. 

* After any of these discussions reread verse 25a, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” and note that without Jesus’ forgiveness we’d be in deep trouble.

* The three key truths that children understand at the Communion Table are 1. I am part of the community, 2. I do remember Jesus, and 3. I am a forgiven sinner.  If worship is built around the Romans text, #3 is the idea to highlight for children as they come to the Table.  Shape the liturgy to recall all the ways people messed up and God rescued them.  (Specific familiar stories mean more to children than general references.)  Conclude with a list of all the people Jesus forgave as he died - the soldiers, crowd who made fun of him, friends who deserted him, even his best friend Peter who pretended he didn’t even know Jesus.  Note that if Jesus forgave them, he will also forgive us when we mess up.  Invite all those who know they mess up and need Jesus to forgive them to come to the Table.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

A friend gave my preacher husband this wooden yoke
thinking he might have use for it as a sample.
Feel free to use the pictures as your sample if needed.
* The verses that speak most clearly to children are verses 28-30 about yokes.  Explain what a yoke is using pictures.  Then, bring out all your worship stoles.  Explain that they are yokes.  You wear them to remind you of your job to lead God’s people in worship.  Take time to talk about the significance of symbols on some of them.  Tell the stories about any that are important to you because of when you got them.  If the choir wear stoles with their robes, note the similarities and differences in yours and theirs.  (This opens up Jesus’ point about a yoke that is fitted to us and our gifts.) 

Before this service, invite worshipers to bring symbols of their work that might be identified as yokes.  Identify all these as yokes and hear brief stories about how they were gotten and what they mean to the people who use them.  Examples, a doctor’s white coat or surgical scrubs, the hard hat a construction worker must wear, the briefcase many professionals use to carry their papers or computer, etc.  You could just discuss them or you could create a brief ritual blessing them and all other yokes we wear with Jesus’ words.

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