Thursday, September 4, 2014

Year A - Proper 22, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 17th Sunday after Pentecost (October 5, 2014)

World Communion Sunday

Children are fascinated by the idea of a day on which Christians all around the world celebrate Communion.  So exploring that reality might be the best entry to worship for the children on this World Communion Sunday.  There are many different ways to do this.

Include people of different racial, ethnic backgrounds as worship leaders.  If possible, include youth and children as well as adults.  When appropriate, invite them to say something about their church in that place or culture.  Some may want to wear what people in that church wear.

Take time for worshipers to tell brief stories about their worship experiences in churches in other countries.  

Feature breads from around the world during Communion.

Have children process in carrying loaves of sourdough, pumpernickel, pitas, Asian naan, Native American fry bread, cornbread, tortillas, etc.  They put their loaves in a big basket in front of the central table where they remain for the service.

If you use bread cubes or if people tear chunks of bread off loaves to share in the sacrament, use a variety of breads.  Older children can cut the cubes during church school the week before.  If the cubes are stored in plastic bags in a freezer until Sunday morning, they will be fresh for worship.

Bread, Bread, Bread, by Ann Morris, is a book of pictures of bread from all around the world.  It would be possible to read the whole book.  But, you could also just look at the pictures on the first pages.  Use the index to learn where each pictured bread is made.  Ponder with the children the fact that people everywhere eat bread and marvel at bread as a good symbol for God’s love for all of us at communion.

Display chalices or crosses (Central American painted cross, Celtic cross, palm cross, orthodox cross, crucifix, etc.) from around the world OR cover the communion table with cloth from different continents.  Identify the source of each one and tell a brief story about Christians gathering for communion in that place.

One World Communion Sunday Anita Lynn-Stuart in Pennsylvania used a clock with the children to talk about Christians all around the world celebrating at different times so that there is always someone praising God and celebrating communion on this day.

Pray your way around the world using a map or globe.  Pray for groups of Christians with which you congregation has contact.  Or, given the many problems around the world this year, pray for people living and celebrating communion this day in the trouble spots.

If space allows, spread a large world map on the floor or draw a world map on a huge mat of newsprint paper.  Invite worshipers to light a votive candle/tea light from a central candle and to place it on a country.  They then offer their prayer for the people who worship there this morning either silently or aloud.

In a more formal setting, the worship leader can pray his or her way from continent to continent with the congregation replying to each prayer, “Hear our prayers for Christians worshiping in NAME OF PLACE.”  If a world map is displayed or projected on a wall, an acolyte can point to each spot with a stick pointer or a pinpoint light.  (Rehearse this so the focus is on the praying rather than the logistics.)

Or, order globe stress balls for everyone from Oriental Trading.  They are 2 ½ inches in diameter and cost $1.00 each.  Invite worshipers to use them as finger labyrinths praying for the countries as they move their finger around the world.  Or, suggest that they hold the world in their hands and even squeeze it to pray for some of the stressed out places in the world today.  Send the balls home with instructions to keep praying for the world this week.

Select Communion hymns that sing of the whole world in ways that grab the attention of children.

Sing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” inviting each worshiper to put a hand on the shoulder of or hold hands with the next person.  Encourage stretching across the aisles.

Before singing “I Come With Joy” read verses 2 and 3 with the congregation following along in their hymnals.  Note the appropriateness of singing those verses on World Communion Sunday.

As you sing “In Christ There is No East or West” or project pictures of people from around the world.

Point to the Jamaican source of the music for “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.”  If possible add Jamaican drums or simple rhythm instruments to the accompaniment.

Select prayers, readings, and music from around the world for today’s liturgy.  Gifts of Many Cultures: Worship Resources for the Global Community, edited by Maren C Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy, is an excellent source.  Many of the prayers and liturgies are very filled with every day references, but will still need to be introduced to the children.  There is also a follow up book titled Gifts in Open Hands: More Worship Resources for the Global Community.

If you can locate a set of paper flags in a school supply store, string them together to drape over doorways or in the worship center.  A children’s class can be enlisted to color the flags in advance if needed.

Go to Jan Richardson Images for a collage picture of people of all ages and ethnicities gathered around a table.  ($15.)  While you are there, take time to explore Jan’s other work.   I am a regular visitor at her lectionary based website at  The Painted Prayerbook.

The Texts for the Day

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

My kids’ version of the Ten Commandments or God’s Ten Rules.   (Yes, I know they are similar to Ralph Milton’s version in The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A, p 214.)

I am God.  I brought you out of slavery in Egypt.  I opened the sea for your escape.  I am the one and only God.  Don’t worship or pray to anything or anyone else.

I am bigger than anyone or anything you can imagine.  So don’t make pictures or statues that you think look like me and worship them.  You’ll get them wrong.

Say my name with respect.

Work six days of the week, but keep one for rest and for remembering that you are my people.

Treat your father and mother with respect. 

Don’t kill anyone.

Be loyal to your family. 

Don’t take what is not yours.

Don’t tell lies about other people.

Don’t wish that you had things that belong to other people.

Most children get at least some exposure to the Ten Commandments.  Today’s texts offer the opportunity to tell them the back story on the commandments.  They are not just a set of rules that someone found in a book.  They were rules given by God to the people in the wilderness to help them know how to live together as God’s free people. 

If you have been following the Exodus stories, take time to review the story to date.  If you have a Moses display, use the items in it to recall each step of the journey. 

If you have not been tracing the Exodus story, briefly tell it today before reading the commandments.  You could even set up a Moses display (see Moses Display) just for today and use the items on it to tell the story.

Twist a long piece of wire around
two pencils to make a clay cutter
with which to cut the slabs.
Make fabulous tablets to save for future use by cutting a box of air-dry clay (available in local craft stores) into two rectangular slabs then cutting clay to round off the top of each tablet.  A children’s class can cut shape the tops with butter knives a week ahead.  Then today add numbers from 1 to 10 in two columns one down each tablet in black marker. 

Make simpler tablets by cutting them out of a large piece of grayish paper.

If children are involved in making the tablets, be sure to read the commandments from the Bible with them in class as they prepare the tablets.  Then invite them to bring the tablets to the front during worship.  Have the children call out the numbers and the rest of the congregations read the commandments as printed in the order of worship.  Then place the tablets in the Moses display or in a special spot up front for the rest of the service.

KIDS and RULES:  Children like rules.  Knowing the rules means you know how to act, how to play the game, what is expected.  As they try to figure out the world around them, rules are very helpful.  For this reason, most children are more upset when rules are changed or are broken with impunity than when rules are enforced strictly.  As they become teenagers and their focus shifts to claiming their own space and being their own person, this will change.  Rules will be seen as impediments to their freedom.  Until that happens children understand and appreciate the fact that God gave the freed slaves a set of good rules to live by.

For preschoolers rules are non-negotiable and are set by the most powerful person in the room, usually an adult but occasionally the most powerful child in the play group.  During early elementary school children begin to learn that rules can be negotiated.  They vote on rules in their classes and clubs.  They sometimes spend more time arguing about the rules of the game than playing the game – which is fine with them, but drives the adults around them a little nuts.  There are also rules they can choose to follow, e.g. the Scout laws.  All this makes elementary school children quite responsive to this set of non-negotiable rules which God gave his people to live by.  Like the Scout laws, you can choose not to follow these rules, but that is choosing not to be one of God’s people.

Psalm 19

The first six verses praise God who is revealed in creation.  The remainder praise God’s law citing all its benefits.  For the sake of the children, I’d omit the first six verses to focus on the Law.  I’d also use it in the service after the reading and exploring of the Ten Commandments.

No matter which translation you use, these verses are filled with synonyms for Law.  Print each one in large letters on a separate piece of stiff paper.  Read each one and pass it to a worshiper who is invited to stand at the front.  Give the more complicated words to older worshipers – maybe ordinance to a lawyer – and simpler words to younger worshipers.  Instruct them to raise their poster as they hear that word in the psalm.  As you read the verses, pause when you come to each poster word. 

Begin a sermon about the Ten Commandments by reading verse 10 – “(God’s Laws) are sweeter than honey” and passing out honey-flavored hard candies for people to enjoy during the sermon.

If you regularly use verse 14 during worship, take time to point it out today explaining why it is used in that place in worship and what it means to pray it then.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Vineyards in the Following Texts

Today's Isaiah text, Psalm 80 and the gospel all deal with vineyards.  So take time to provide detailed information about vineyards.  For the children it will be new information.  For the adults it will be a review that will lead them to pay closer attention to the details of the passages.  Show a large picture of a vineyard.  Then briefly note that all the vines must be planted, wired to the trellises as they grow, pruned, weeded, watered, protected from hungry animals and human thieves, then harvested.  Mention the need for the fence and the watchtower.  Then urge worshipers to listen for vineyards in today’s readings.  Do not expect this explanation to enable children to grasp all of the rather complicated messages about vineyards in today’s readings.  Know that you are laying a foundation for understanding as they grow.

For extra interest, pass out small clusters of grapes for children or all worshipers to eat during this explanation.

Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah compares God’s people to a well-tended vineyard that produced only wild, inedible grapes and therefore has to be destroyed.  I’d direct the attention of children to the more positive image in Psalm 80.

Psalm 80:7-15

This may be the easiest of today’s vineyard images to explain to children.  The poet uses a metaphor comparing the nation to a single grape plant that God brought out of Egypt and planted in its own place.  Introduce a metaphor as pointing out the similarity in two very different things, e.g. calling a spouse honey.  Then encourage children to listen for what the poet says about God’s people and a well-loved vineyard.  They won’t get it all, but they will catch some of it.

Philippians 3:4b-14

Avoid adult sqeamishness about using certain forbidden four letter words for excrement by using a child’s acceptable and clear four letter word – poop.  Paul says his impressive life resume isn’t worth poop when compared to God’s love for him.

While children offer usable vocabulary for the congregation’s discussion of the text, they don’t yet get Paul’s point.  Even though their parents are beginning to obsess over building resumes that will get them into college, children are not very impressed by such things. 

Matthew 21:33-46

Based on the commentaries I have been reading, preachers are all over the place interpreting this parable.  If the adults can’t figure it out, it is going to be hard to present it meaningfully to children.  So I’d introduce the vineyard image, eat some grapes before communion, and keep moving with the children.

Dr. Kenneth Bailey tells a story to parallel Jesus’ story.  The story is factual.

When King Hussein of Jordan was told that a group of young officers were at that moment meeting in the barracks to put final touches on a coup and asked should they all be arrested and/or killed, his response was to order a small helicopter, fly to the roof of the barracks, tell the pilot to leave immediately if he heard gunfire, and then to go down the stairs and walk into the room where the officers were gathered.  He told them that if they did what they were planning, there would be civil war, chaos, and that hundreds maybe thousands would be killed.  Rather than risk that, he suggested that they shoot him now.  That way only one person would die.  The officers all knelt, kissed his robe, and re-swore loyalty to him.  

Bailey says the point is in the middle not at the end of both Jesus’ parable and his story.  The point is that the vineyard owner did not take vengeance when the tenants killed his servants, he sent his son.  God does not take vengeance on the disobedient people, but sends his son.  God does not depend on great power, but becomes vulnerable.  Children will not grasp either story as a mini-gospel, but will find the story about Hussein interesting now and save it for future pondering.

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