Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Year A - Proper 21, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 28, 2014)

Exodus 17:1-7

Before reading this text, go to the Moses display and pick up the walking stick.  (If you do not have a display, simply produce a walking stick as the prop of the day.)  Review or ask worshipers to recall how that stick has been used in the long Exodus story.  Prop it against the lectern urging worshipers to listen for how it to be used again today.  Then read the story. 

You may want to keep it handy to pick up as you recall in the sermon all the ways God had cared for the people and to express dismay that they still didn’t trust God to keep doing so.  I can almost hear God, like a parent asking whiney, misbehaving children, “do I have to get out the staff again.”

Turn this story into readers’ theater with a narrator (probably the worship leader), Moses, God, and the whole congregation reading the words of the people in the wilderness.  This is one text in which it is helpful for the narrator to read the “he saids” because each one includes descriptive details.


Exodus 17:1-7

Narrator:  From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.  The people quarreled with Moses, and said,

People:  Give us water to drink.

Narrator:  Moses said to them,

Moses:  Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?

Narrator:  But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said,

People:  Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?

Narrator:  So Moses cried out to the LORD,

Moses:   What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

Narrator:  The LORD said to Moses,

The Lord:  Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.   I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.

Narrator:  Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.  He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"


Because this story is so like last week’s whining for food in the wilderness, go to Proper 20 for some more ideas.

After reading this story add a rock draped with a thin blue ribbon stream to the Moses display.

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Children will not hear the psalmist’s statement about the importance of stories as the psalm is read.  Before reading it aloud, take time to identify at least one story that is important to your nation (the writing of the Declaration of Independence in the USA), one story that is important to your family (in mine it would be how my husband and I met), and one story that is important to us as Christians (maybe the Moses story or the Christmas stories).  Note that we often tell stories in worship and that the psalmist thinks that is wonderful and important.  Then read verses 1-4.

As you read verses 12-16 invite worshipers/children on steps to raise a hand each time they hear something from the story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt.  Each time you see a hand, pause to ask that person what the connection is and celebrate it.  If no one catches a connection, read it a second time and look pointedly at your listeners.  If no one speaks up, ask another question or point to the item in your Moses display to help jog memories.  This provides both a review of the story to date and encouragement for worshipers to listen for stories they know in the psalms.

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

This is a complicated passage dealing with an idea that does not make much sense to most of today’s children.  Since there are other texts that speak more clearly to children today, I’d save this one for the adults.

Psalm 25:1-9

One commentator said that this psalm includes the whole of the Christian life.  That means it would take a lot of explaining to unpack each phrase for the children.  So instead of expecting them to get the whole psalm.  I’d focus on verses 4 and 5.  Use them as a congregational response to a series of prayers of confession or as a congregational response to the Assurance of Pardon.

Teach me your ways, O Lord;
make them known to me.
Teach me to live according to your truth,
for you are my God, who saves me.
I always trust in you.


Philippians 2:1-13

The other time this passage appears in the lectionary is on Palm/Passion Sunday.  It is used there as a theological statement about Jesus’ kingship.  Today it is used more as a hymn that reminds us of God’s great love.  Introduce it with words about favorite songs that we sing when we need to feel God near us.  Recall the two year old girl who fell down a very deep well some years ago.  When they lowered a microphone to see if she was making noises that would prove she was alive, they heard her singing “Jesus Loves Me.”  This hymn tells more specifically how Jesus loves us.  People have recited it for centuries in scary situations when they needed to remember that God loved them and took care of them.

A trained dancer could take the directions below as a starting point to creating movements that interpret the psalm as it is read.  Or, children could be asked to come forward to help present this text to the congregation.  Introduce the passage as the words to a very old song about the kind of leader Jesus is.  Before reading it once, suggest that they listen for movements.  Then, reread it inviting the children to join you in the movements below.


Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
Raised hands and face upturned toward heaven

but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
Rock a baby in your arms

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Arms out to the side as if on cross

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,   
Raised hands and face upturned toward heaven

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Kneel and bring hands together in prayer

and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Stay on knees and raise hands and face to heaven


Matthew 21:23-32

Actually, children are less interested in the discussion about authority in verses 23-27 than they are in the parable about the two sons in verses 28-32.  They are interested in Jesus’ story and his question.  If you can be sure their comments will not be laughed at by the congregation, ask them how they would answer Jesus’ question.  Follow up with “why do you think that?”  Be ready to be a little surprised by where this takes you and ready to lead the conversation back around to the answer the crowd gave Jesus.  Then simply adopt Jesus’ instruction at the end of other parables “Go and do likewise.”

Whether you read the whole text or just the parable, ask two teenage boys and an adult man to pantomime the parable as it is read.  If they are sitting on the first row, they come to a place up front one at the time as their part of the story is read, then stay in place until the end of the reading when they return to their seats together.  Have one rehearsal with them to decide movements and to help them plan posture and facial expressions that will communicate what is going on.

“Will” whether it is “my will” or “thy will” often needs a simple explanation.  Before reading the parable, say emphatically several statements featuring the word will, “I WILL go to the gym today.”  “I WILL finish my homework.”  “I WILL ….”  Insist that in each sentence you are saying what you intend to do, what you WILL do.  Next rephrase the sentences so the WILL is a noun, e.g. It is my will to go to the gym today.”  Then encourage worshipers to listen for Jesus to ask the question “who did his father’s will?” and to figure out their answer to Jesus’ question.

“Thy will be done…”
After explaining the meaning of the word “will” and exploring the parable, point to the phrase “thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer.  Put the phrase into your own words, e.g. “we are praying that everything that happens in the world be what God wants to happen.”  Then either create or share a prepared litany prayer in which the congregation’s response is “This will be done.”  Include global and personal concerns, e.g.

God, people of different races seem to have trouble getting along in all parts of the world.  But we know that you created us all to be brothers and sisters.
Thy will be done.
Loving God, you have told us to love other people as we love ourselves.  But, that is not easy.  We know what we want and need and it is hard to pay attention to what others want and need. 
Thy will be done.

Note: Though the full phrase is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” focusing on the first words allows children to focus on WILL and avoids the need to expound on the last words.

“The Big Brag,” by Dr. Seuss (one of the other stories in Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories), describes an argument between a rabbit and a bear.  Each claims it is the very best beast, the rabbit because he can hear better than others, the bear because he can smell so much farther.  A worm pops up claiming that he is the best because he can see farther.  He can see all the way around the world to spot the two silliest creatures who have nothing better to do than argue about which one of them is better.  This story captures for children the silliness of the
argument the Temple authorities tried to draw Jesus into.  (It took John Lithgow about 10 minutes to read it on the video I checked out of the library because someone else had the book.) 

In 2011 it seemed to me that the word of the day was REPENT.  I saw it threading through all but the Exodus text and made much of it.  I seemed to be somewhat alone in that.  My lectionary group politely but firmly ignored me to discuss authority at great length.  And, I did not see the repentance theme in commentators.  Oh well.  I still think it has possibilities and so include suggestions related to repenting below.

REPENT and REPENTANCE are related to the words CHANGE and TURN.  To repent is to change your ways or turn from one thing to another.  Based on what they hear in church, most children assume that repent means to be sorry for something you have done.  Today’s texts insist that while being sorry is a good starting point, the real repenting doesn’t start until we start making changes.  So if you display a word poster, print it in letters that indicate movement.  Introduce the word/word cluster at the very beginning of the service, giving a brief definition and urging worshipers to watch for the word/words in the songs, prayer, readings, etc. of the day.

It is a good day to do a little worship education about the confession and assurance of pardon in your worship.  There are at least two ways to do this.

1. Begin by pointing to the steps of the rite as listed in the printed order of worship.  Tell in your own words what you do in each part of the rite.  Explain how today’s words do that.  And, point out that this is the beginning of repenting that must take place all week long.  Only then, invite worshipers to share in the prayers.  Below is a somewhat child-friendly traditional prayer of confession and assurance of pardon.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Merciful God,
You pardon all who truly repent and turn to you
We humbly confess our sins and ask your mercy.
We have not loved you with a pure heart,
Nor have we loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We have not done justice, loved kindness,
Or walked humbly with you, our God”

Who is in a position to condemn?
Only Christ,
and Christ died for us,
Christ rose for us,
Christ reigns in power for us,
Christ prays for us.
Anyone who is in Christ
is a new creation
The old life has gone;
A new life has begun.

Passing the Peace:

           From The Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)

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2. To emphasize the turning involved in repenting, incorporate turning motions into today’s prayer of confession.  Ask the congregation to stand facing the back door of the sanctuary while praying the confessions and to turn to the front of the sanctuary to pray about repenting.  It might go something like this….

 <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >    

Merciful God,
You pardon all who truly repent and turn to you

People: (face the back on block letters, the front on italics)
We admit that we sometimes say terrible things.
We use our words to hurt others and make ourselves look good.
We twist our words to avoid telling the truth.
We yell and whine and bicker.
Forgive us.

Give us new hearts and new words.
Help us turn toward honesty and kindness.n
Teach us to speak in peace.

We not only say evil things, we do them.
We grab what we want without thought for others.
We insist on our own way.
We cheat and steal and find ways to feel OK about it.
Forgive us.

Turn us away from temptations and toward you.
Show us new ways of acting.
Teach us to love others as you love us.
Guide us every day.

<  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >  ^  <  ^  >    

If your congregation includes statements or questions about “turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ” in your baptism and/or confirmation rites, this is a good day to explore what they mean. 

In my Presbyterian tradition parents when they bring their children to be baptized are asked if they turn from evil and turn toward Jesus Christ.  Those children are then asked the same question when they ask to be confirmed as teenagers.  Today I’d read the exact questions then note that when the parents answer the question they are making a big promise.  They promise that as the leaders of their family they will always try to turn away from all the evil possibilities and to follow Jesus.  It is not an easy promise to keep because being a parent is not easy.  When teenagers are asked the question, they are promising that every day of the rest of their life whether at home, at school, with their friends, wherever, they will try to turn away from things they know are bad and instead turn toward Jesus and live in Jesus’ way.  That isn’t easy either.  Finally I’d challenge parents to keep their baptismal promises, confirmed church members to keep their confirmation promises and children to practice turning to Jesus now. 

Note:  Many children, especially lucky children surrounded by mostly loving adults, assume that adults get it right most or all of the time.  They assume when they grow up they will know what to do in every situation and will always do the right thing.  We adults reinforce that assumption when we pull rank (“Do it my way. I am the adult and know best.”) and when we say in many ways “one day you will understand… but for now…”  Today’s texts challenge us to be honest with the children telling them repenting is a life-long activity.  They might as well practice doing it now because they will be doing it all through their lives.

Before singing ’Tis A Gift to be Simple point out the verbs in the chorus – bow, bend, and turn.  All are ways we repent.  Rehearse the obvious motions with these verbs and invite all the worshipers to do them as they sing, perhaps with the children leading in the front.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your comments. I too have been considering the alternatives to preaching on authority, both for my sermon and my Children's Chat.


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