Friday, July 18, 2014

Year A - Proper 15, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10th Sunday after Pentecost (August 17, 2014)

Genesis 45:1-15

> For children this story is partly about Joseph forgiving his brothers and partly about Joseph refusing to take revenge on his brothers.  They easily understand that Joseph could use his position in Egypt to “get even” with them in a very big way.  They have a harder time identifying why Joseph did not.  Younger children can only conclude that Joseph was a good guy and did the right thing.  When it is clearly explained, older children can begin to understand that Joseph was able forgive his brothers because he had a larger vision.  He knew that God had sent him to Egypt and arranged his rise to power in order to save the whole family – and a lot of other people – from starving during a famine.  He was OK with that. 

Most children do well to see in this story the possibility of refusing to take revenge on someone who has wronged you.  Asking them to apply it to situations in their own lives is asking a lot.  We may serve them best when we tell the story in a memorable way, talk with admiration about what Joseph did, and let the children live with the story.

> This week’s text jumps over a lot of the story of Joseph.  We never hear about Potiphar’s house, dreams interpreted in prison, or even the dreams of pharaoh and Joseph’s rise to power.   That leaves worship planners with several possibilities.

> Briefly recall Joseph’s sale into slavery and note that it is now years later and Joseph has risen to great power in Egypt.  There is a huge famine and Joseph’s brothers have come to Egypt in search of food.  They do not recognize the man overseeing food distribution as their brother Joseph.  Then read Genesis 45:1-15.

> Fill in the gap by reading to the children and whole congregation from a children’s Bible version.   The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, “Joseph Helps Pharaoh”, p.66 tells the story of Joseph as he goes down into Egypt, ends up in prison, interprets pharaoh’s dreams, and is appointed to oversee food collection.    It ends with the famine coming.  It can be read in about 4 minutes.

> If you use projections, fill in the gaps with scenes from Joseph, King of Dreams, an animated DVD.

> This story presents an opportunity to highlight both the congregation’s prayers for forgiveness and “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” from the Lord’s Prayer.

> Save the prayers of confession until after a sermon exploring forgiveness.  Or, repeat the ones that were prayed at the beginning of the service after the sermon.  In either case, review with worshipers the words of the prayer and/or the sequence of the confession and assurance of pardon.

> Create a responsive prayer of confession in which the congregation’s response is “forgive us…as we forgive …”.  

> If the children will return to school this week, identify things people might want to confess to God about their summer so that they go back to school with a clean slate.  Some possibilities include problems between friends, things they wish they had not done, words they know they should not have said, etc.  The pardon needs to include both the promise that God was with us all summer, is proud of the good things we did, and forgives us for all the times we messed up and the promise that God will be with us as we return to school, will be proud of us when we do well, and will love us and forgive us when we mess up there.  With these promises children can go back to school in peace.   (This could be a children’s time or could part of or the total of the congregation’s confession this week.  The adults will quickly adapt the prayers and pardons to their own summers and the coming autumn.)

Psalm 133

> Pour a little good smelling (but not too flowery for the sake of the boys) lotion on each child’s hands.  While they rub it in explain the biblical custom of pouring good smelling oil not only on hands, but over their heads.  Laugh about how yucky that sounds to us.  Then read Psalm 133.

> After pointing out the two pleasures listed in the psalm, challenge worshipers of all ages to think of other examples of pleasure that are as good as being happy together with people you love.  Possibilities:
It is like warming yourself by a crackling campfire
      (Southern hemisphere in August)
It is like splashing in a cool pool on a hot day
      (Northern hemisphere in August)

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

> Children won’t follow the abstract language of this passage.  But they do understand its insistence that no one is left to be an “outsider” in God’s world.  It is up to the worship leaders to restate the message to children and to add specific examples that illustrate it to children.

> After identifying people who are often left out at school, in the community and in the world, invite worshipers of all ages to write or draw on slips of paper people who are outsiders and are hard for them to get along with.  Collect the slips in “prayer baskets” (same as offering baskets) that are then placed on the central table.  A worship leader then voices a prayer stating concern for all the people who are named in the baskets and asking for the strength to reach out to these people where we meet them.

> To illustrate this message, give children one letter each of the word PEACE or SHALOM on a big sheet of paper.  Stand them up front in correct order.  Discuss what the word means.  Turn one child (who has been prepared in advance) to face away from the crowd saying, “we don’t need you”.  Enjoy trying to pronounce the word that remains.  (Think ahead about what letter to omit, e.g. don’t omit the C in PEACE.)  Admit that without every letter we don’t have PEACE or SHALOM and without every person we don’t have it either.  Turn the child back around with a hug, say the whole word, and celebrate the PEACE or SHALOM that includes everyone.

Psalm 67

> Both the Joseph story and the story of the mother begging for healing for her daughter deal with blessings.  Joseph becomes a blessing even to the brothers who sold him.  The mother does get healing for her daughter.  Create a worship service naming blessings.  Begin with a poster of the word.  Define it and challenge worshipers to listen for it in your readings, songs and prayer today.  Invite children to create blessing sheets by drawing pictures or writing words identifying their blessings on a sheet of paper.  Then read the psalm responsively to celebrate those blessings.  Point out the word bless in the first line as you introduce it.  Practice the congregation’s response so that even non-readers can join in.


Psalm 67

Leader: God, be gracious to us and bless us
Make your face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

People: Let the peoples praise you, O God;
               let all the peoples praise you.

Leader: Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
               for you judge the peoples with equity
               and guide the nations upon earth.

People: Let the peoples praise you, O God;
               let all the peoples praise you.

Leader: The earth has yielded its increase;
               God, our God, has blessed us.
               May God continue to bless us;
               let all the ends of the earth revere the Lord.

People: Let the peoples praise you, O God;
               let all the peoples praise you.

                      (Based on New Revised Standard Version)


Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

> Fortunately, Paul’s problem is not a problem for most children today unless they have been raised with blatant anti-Semitism.  So, this text is of little significance to them. 

> If you do address this issue, The Christmas Menorahs, by Janice Cohn, D.S.W., is a children’s account of the true story in which the children of Billings, Montana stood with the community’s Jewish families against a hate group that was throwing rocks through the windows of Jewish homes displaying menorahs.  Christian children drew menorahs and posted them in their own windows.  The book is too long to read in worship, but the story could be well used as a sermon illustration or told by a worship leader in his or her own words.  It may be available in your public library.

If this text leads you to explore God’s mercy to the disobedient, read all or some of No, David, No!, by David Shannon.  It is a collection of pictures of a little boy doing naughty things accompanied by his mother’s exclamations.  Be sure to include the last two pages in which she expresses her continuing love.  (Yes, David Gets In Trouble by the same author was suggested several weeks ago.  No, David, No! is similar enough that you would not want to read it if you read the other.  But, it has a slightly different emphasis that makes it great for this Sunday.)

Matthew 15: (1-20), 21-28

> The story about Jesus’ conversation with the Gentile woman who wanted him to heal her daughter is offensive to children for the same reason it offends adults.  Jesus does not on the surface seem kind and good here.  Unfortunately, all the adult attempts to make sense of that are difficult for children to follow.  So, it may be easier to work with verses 1-20 with children.

> Most children are only vaguely interested in old Jewish laws and what you eat and how you eat it.  But, they sit up at take notice of Jesus’ insistence that what comes out of our mouths defiles us or makes us dirty.  They need help naming the things that come out of our mouths – like lies, name-calling, cussing, gossip, hurtful putdowns, tattling, arguments (did so, did not)…

Haring, Keith, 1958-1990. Ten Commandments,
unnumbered, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved July 18, 2014]. Original source:

> The other frequently used text on what comes out of our mouths is James 3:1-12.  Go to Proper 19 (Year B) for ideas about using this snaky tongued art work, a prayer of confession about ways we misuse our tongues, and more.

> After exploring some the things that come out of our mouths and defile us, sing at least the verse of “Take My Life and Let it Be” that dedicates our mouths to God.  If you sing the entire hymn, point out the relevant verse and read the words aloud before the congregation sings them.
Take my voice and let me sing always, 
     only, for my King. 
Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages 
     from Thee,

> In a service focused on what comes out of our mouths, anoint the lips of the children with good tasting oil (maybe peppermint or cinnamon oil) saying “May the words of this mouth be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.”  This could be done during a children’s time or could be offered to the whole congregation.  (OK this is a little way out, but it might make a big impression on children.)

> One way to explore the story of the mother who argued with Jesus is to pair it with the story of Jacob wrestling all night with the angel. The pair provides one story of a man physically wrestling with God’s angel with a second story of a woman verbally wrestling with Jesus.  Together they insist that wrestling with the Divine – even with Jesus is OK, even desirable.  Each wrestler asks for and gets a blessing.  To highlight the similarities and differences in the stories have one read by a teenage boy wrestler and the other by a mother of young children.  It might be interesting to create a two part sermon in which each reader reflects on what happened.  Go to Proper 13 (Year A) for more ideas about the Jacob story.


  1. I would be interested in what you think about using the Gospel passage to talk with children about the courage and strength it takes to allow your mind to be changed when you have clearly been wrong. I think that the polarized nature of our conversations these days probably goes over the heads of our kids to a large extent, but I wonder what it would be like to talk about Jesus as a model in the way he graciously offered grace after being persuaded by the woman's words. . do you think they would "get this"? It is a reason that I love this passage, but I am trying to put myself in a child's position to see if this is salient to their lives--I think it is. . . what are your thoughts?? thanks!

    1. The refusal to hear and learn from something different than I already think, is more often an adult skill. Children are constantly forced to re-think what their ideas and opinions. So, the text may mean more when interpreted the way you do by adults. Still, it is a model to hold up for children. As one commentator put it, Jesus confronted his own "racism" and grew beyond it. We are called to do the same.


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