Saturday, August 16, 2014

Year A - Proper 19, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 14, 2014)

Exodus 14:19-31

> Go to Mustard Seeds to find directions for telling the story of crossing the sea with simple sound effects.  This telling could follow the reading of the biblical account (maybe a children’s time immediately following the reading or the beginning of the sermon to review the reading and set the stage for comments that followed).  Or, it could be the reading of this text for today. 

> Add to the Moses display a blue streamer or wide ribbon or cloth cut in half to represent the divided sea.  Make the sea wide enough to look different from the thin ribbon of water that will come out of the rock later.  Pick up the walking stick from the display and use it to tell the story of crossing the sea then lay it in the divide of your sea. 

> Storypath introduced me The Longest Night: A Passover Story, by Laurel Snydor.  It tells the story of the plagues and escape through the sea from the point of view of a little Hebrew girl.  Its value lies in presenting the feelings of a child involved in the story.  I would read it after reading and exploring the details of the biblical story to explore how it felt to be there .  If children are close enough to see the pictures, I’d save time by showing only the early picture of two little girls carrying bricks while a slave master yells above them.  After the reading, I’d show the picture of the little girls with Ima dancing.  It takes 5 minutes to read aloud.  To avoid the poetry of the words becoming too sing-songy, practice reading it aloud and using your voice to emphasize what is going on rather than the rhymes.

Something to ponder:  The sketchy accounts of the plagues clearly connect to the biblical plagues – except the pages about the wolf and the big black bird.  They may be foreshadowing the death of the animals and the people, but few children will get that.  So, I’d be inclined to skip those pages – if I could.  

Another plus for younger children is that nothing is said about the deaths among the Egyptians either at Passover or the Reed Sea.

> According to Jewish midrash the sea did not part immediately when Moses raised his staff.  Only when a young man named Nawshon walked into the water up to his nose, did the sea open.  I can tell you nothing more about this story, but can see it teaching many lessons.  I also think but cannot verify that there is a book or video telling it.  If any of you can point to more resources on Nawshon, please let us know.

Psalm 114

> Psalm 114 assumes readers know the stories of the Reed Sea, crossing the Jordan, Moses drawing water from a rock and the pools of bitter water becoming sweet.  The poet’s point is that God makes the natural order follow God’s directions – occasionally in surprising ways.  Since many worshipers do not know these stories, I’d tend to save this psalm for later in the Moses story.  Today sing with Miriam and Moses on the far shore of the sea.

Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

> In 2011 there was conversation in the Comments about the old camp song “Pharaoh, Pharaoh.”  It is a high energy summary of the story of crossing the red sea.  Singing it in the sanctuary is fun for children and lets them see the connection between the sanctuary and other places they sing the song.  Find it at Pharaoh! Pharoah!  One commenter wisely pointed out that gloating over pharaoh’s army doing the “dead man’s float” might be inappropriate.  Particularly this year with all the war in the middle eastern world that might be especially true.  So if you use it, introduce it with that in mind.

> If the choir has access to music for the spiritual “Wade in the Water” plan on children accompanying the older singers with rhythm instruments.  Before singing point out the connection between the song and the story and imagine it being sung by Miriam and the others.  You might even want to make it a girls and women only contribution.

> Prepare some women and girls to present Miriam’s seashore celebration.  They stand in a circle.  Each as a tambourine, drum or other rhythm instrument.  They say “Sing to the Lord!” together playing all their instruments.  Individuals say and play one of the other two lines.  Adventurous groups could even add dance motions.  Repeat the whole song several times so everyone gets a chance to solo and to get the feel of the jam session this was.

All:         Sing to the LORD,
Solo:   for he has triumphed gloriously;
Solo:   horse and rider he has thrown into the sea

> Provide a worksheet on which children can write their own psalms stating why they sing to the Lord.  Hear and comment on their psalms as children leave the sanctuary.

Genesis 50:15-21

> If you use this story, invite the children to come forward to help you read it.  Sit among them with your Bible (or the big pulpit Bible) open in your lap.  Briefly retell the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Then, tell them it is several years later and begin reading.  Ask an older child near you to read what the brothers said and the message they wrote to Joseph.  Make comments as needed to clarify what is happening.  Then continue the reading through verse 18.  Ask another child to read what Joseph said (vss 19-21a) and conclude the reading.  Take time to be sure the children understand what happened.  Then, invite them and the rest of the congregation to respond as usual to scripture readings.  If your Bible has large print, use it.  If not, copy the text below highlighting the words the children read.


Genesis 50:15-21

15 After the death of their father, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still hates us and plans to pay us back for all the harm we did to him?”

16So they sent a message to Joseph: “Before our father died, 17he told us to ask you, ‘Please forgive the crime your brothers committed when they wronged you.’ Now please forgive us the wrong that we, the servants of your father’s God, have done.” Joseph cried when he received this message.

18 Then his brothers themselves came and bowed down before him. “Here we are before you as your slaves,” they said.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid; I can’t put myself in the place of God. 20You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. 21You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts.

Today’s English Version


> Connect this story to the Passing of the Peace in worship.  Point that we cannot do it just anywhere in the service.  We always do it right after we hear that God forgives us for our sins.  Like Joseph we know we are sinners and so can love other people who are also sinners.  Joseph knew he had been hard to live with AND he knew that God used him anyway to save his whole family and lots of other people.  Given that he could be friends with the brothers who had sold him.

Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13

> Read from Today’s English Version rather than the NRSV for the sake of the children.

> Verses 8, 11 and 12 of this psalm are often used as an Assurance of Pardon in worship.  Use them that way today taking time to discuss their meaning.  Teach the children hand motions to them.  Invite the children to pronounce the Assurance of Pardon with you using the motions, then to go back to their seats using their hands to pass the peace to everyone they meet on their way.

The Lord is merciful and loving,                                
slow to become angry and full of constant love.

He does not punish us as we deserve                      
or repay us according to our sins and wrongs.          

As high as the sky is above the earth,                       
so great is his love for those who honour him.       

As far as the east is from the west,                         
so far does he remove our sins from us.                   


                                               Using Today’s English Version

> Mama, Do You Love Me?, by Barbara M. Joosse, like Psalm 103 insists on love so great that it will forgive anything we do.  A little Inuit girl asks her mother repeatedly if she would still love her if she did a variety of naughty things.  The mother repeatedly insists that she would.  The book is full of Far North items like salmon, boots, oil lamps and polar bears.  (Read aloud time: 3 minutes without taking time to explore the pictures or talk about the Inuit animals and objects.)  This could be read and briefly discussed with children before reading Psalm 103.  Note that God loves each of us even more than the mother loved her dear little girl.  Or, read the book as the conclusion to the real sermon.  Children and parents will enjoy hearing a familiar story read in worship and connected to God’s forgiving love.  Easy to find in local library or bookstore.

Papa, Do You Love Me, also by Joose, is a very similar book about a father and son in the grasslands of Africa.  Maybe because I read it first, I prefer the Inuit story, but you may want to check out the African version.

Romans 14:1-12

> Children today are very aware of what and how people eat.  Food is a big deal.  They and people they know are omnivores, vegetarians, or vegans.  They are aware of, enjoy, or are put off by a variety of ethnic foods.  Their friends’ families tout all sorts of diets.  Lunches come to school in all sorts of containers that may be as important to the children as the food in them.  Since most children have a fairly open attitude toward all these differences, they are a good starting point for discussing how we judge others.  We do eat differently and that is OK.  We also dress differently, have different abilities, celebrate different holidays, and live in different ways.  Some of these lead to judgmental name calling – brain, dummy, jock, beauty queen, etc.  As children settle into the school year, a lot of categorizing of classmates goes on, sometimes viciously.  This is an opportunity to talk about Paul’s insistence that we should not judge people by these sorts of things and to challenge children to avoid such judging.

> The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, is way too long to read in worship, but can be told.  The girls in a class make life miserable for Wanda Petronski who wears the same blue dress to school every day and lives on the poor side of town, but claims to have 100 dresses at home in her closet.  When her father moves away to find a place where she will be accepted, she sends 100 beautiful drawings of dresses as her entry in a school art contest.  She wins the contest and the girls confront what they have done. 

Matthew 18:21-35

> Before reading the parable, bring out a large cloth bag that might be filled with gold coins (actually filled with blocks).  Set it on one side of the lectern.  Then produce a single gold coin (maybe an old Mardi Gras coin?) to put on the other side of the lectern.  Announce that Jesus told a story about a man who owed this much money (pointing to the sack) and another man who owed this much (pointing to the coin).  Urge readers to listen carefully.  Then read the parable.  Leave the props in place for reference during the sermon.

> Ask an older children’s class to pantomime the parable using simple props and costumes as you read it.  Rehearsing with them will produce a presentation they will be proud of and will reflect the seriousness of their worship leadership and provide a chance to build relationships with the worship leader.

> The math here is not clear.  Jesus told Peter that he should forgive either 77 times or 70 x7 (or 490) times. 

To emphasize how many 77 is fill a bowl with 77 small polished stones (available in the florist section of craft stores or home supply stores).  Ask worshipers to guess how many are in it.  Then count them together saying the numbers aloud as you take them out of the bowl and pile them beside it.  Tell worshipers that there are 77 of something important in today’s gospel reading, then read it.  Follow the reading with a discussion of the impossibility of keeping count of how many times you had forgiven your brother (or sister).  “Was that the 47th time or the 48th time?”  Finally put Jesus’ point in your own words – we are to forgive those who hurt us every time they hurt us.

If you use 70 X 7, present it as a math problem before reading the text.  On a large piece of paper print 70 x7 =.  Present it to the children/congregation for a solution.  Note that 490 is a big number, then invite them to listen for the number in the text as it is read.  After the reading do the same conversation about Jesus’ point in telling Peter to forgive his brother 490 times.

> Children are fascinated by the two reasons we have to forgive a lot of times.

1.    We all know at least one person who is forever doing things that hurt us.  It may a sibling, a difficult classmate, a teacher who doesn’t seem to like us, or a neighborhood bully.  Every day they do something new for which we must forgive them.  (See Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing below.)

2.    There are also some things so awful that we can’t just decide to forgive the person who does them to us once and be done with it.  We have to decide to forgive them over and over until it finally begins to stick.  For example, a classmate who intentionally broke or defaced something special to you – maybe a new book bag or notebook.  Every time you see that person or use the damaged item, you have to forgive him or her again.

> If you need examples of the things for which a big brother might have to forgive a pesky little brother, read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume.  Peter’s little brother Fudge destroys the committee-created school project that was being kept in Peter’s room overnight.  When Fudge swallows Peter’s turtle (the only pet Peter is allowed because of Fudge’s allergies) everyone is more concerned about Fudge than about Peter’s much loved turtle.  And there is more.  Read, laugh, and mine for sermon illustrations.

> Before children can understand the parable in this text, they need an explanation of the financial terms debt and forgiveness.  They need to be told that forgiveness means not that you have a longer time to pay off a debt, but that you don’t have to pay it off at all.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive…. 
> Highlight the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness by praying a responsive prayer in which the line from the Lord’s Prayer is the response of the congregation.   Feel free to adapt the sample below.
NOTE: The Ecumenical version of this phrase “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” makes more sense to children (and most worshipers) than forgive us our debts or transgressions or trespasses.  The English language is moving on.  Maybe this is an opportunity to introduce the Ecumenical Version of this prayer and move toward using it your congregation.


Prayer About Being Forgiven and Forgiving

Loving God, we admit that we are not always loving and kind.  We know that we can be selfish and mean to other people, even to people we love.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgive us for the words we say and the things we do that hurt other people.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

But God you love and forgive not only us, but all people.  Teach us to be like you.  Show us how to love and forgive those who are not kind or loving to us.  Give us your power to forgive them when they are as selfish and mean as we sometimes are.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Help us forgive them when they do things and say words that hurt us.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgiving God, your son Jesus taught us this prayer and then died on the cross to prove to us that you do forgive us and everyone else in the world.  Teach us how to pray this prayer.  Make us deeply aware that we are forgiven.  And, help us forgive those who sin against us.  For we pray in Jesus name.


Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news.  God does forgive us for all the impossibly unloving things we do and the hurting words we say.  God also forgives others for the impossibly unloving things they do and hurtful words they say – even when they do them and say them to us.  And, God stands with us as we find our ways to forgive each other.  Thanks be to God!


> To explore the both the difficulties and joys of forgiving each other and to connect to our Jewish cousins who observe Rosh Hashanah, a day for forgiving, as their New Year begins about this time each year, find New Year at the Pier, by April Halprin Wayland.  Instead of reading the whole book (too long!), briefly introduce the Jewish tradition of apologizing and forgiving on the day before the new year.  Then read just a few of the examples of forgiving.  I’d start with the two pages that begin “What is Izzy sorry for?”, read the next two pages about the easy things to forgive, then jump to “Suddenly Ben is right next to him” to hear about hard forgiving.  I might then go back to “Izzy looks at his own two fingers..” to read what Mom was sorry for just to point out that forgiving is something we have do no matter how old we are.  Close with the picture and words on the last page, (after forgiving each other they walked home with) “clean wide-open hearts.”




  1. I'm off lectionary but preaching this passage to my church this week. I've struggled with how to tell children-- and adults, really-- that God wants them to forgive everyone, when I know that some of them have been horribly abused- physically, emotionally, and sexually. I want to make sure they know that when you forgive someone, it doesn't mean that you're going to give them permission to hurt you again. You can release their bonds, you can stop the punishment, but that doesn't mean that they will be allowed in situations where they can hurt you. Or hurt others. This is a tough one.

  2. In 2017 Barry Rempp offered the following prompt on the Facebook page. It really does produce good information. So, I'm copying it here for future reference for all of us. Thank you Barry!

    In the section on Crossing the Red Sea, you mentioned a person named Nawshon, who, according to a Midrash, was the first to step into the water. You admitted knowing little about this person or this story, and wanted to know more. I have found out that the person's name was Nachshon, and he is an inspirational figure in Judaism. Enter Nachshon into your search engine and you'll get dozens of hits. ...


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