Thursday, October 9, 2014

Year A - Proper 26, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 21st Sunday after Pentecost (November 2, 2014)

This is one of those too many possibilities Sundays.  You will have to make choices.  I have tried to include a little of everything.

This year All Saints Day falls on Saturday November 1.  If you celebrate All Saints Day on Sunday November 2, go to Year A - All Saints Day (2014) for ideas based on the All Saints texts.  There are also All Saints ideas based on this day’s texts in this post.

And, in the children’s lectionary Friday was Halloween.  The younger children are all about costumes in which they see themselves as other people (an obvious opportunity to push for seeing themselves as saints).  Older children have been gathering courage for scary stories and trips through haunted houses (maybe a connection to the courage to step into the dry Jordan River and enter the Promised Land). 

No matter what else is explored in worship remember children’s Halloween activities in the church’s prayers.  Thank God for all the costumes and Halloween fun and for the courage to hear scary stories and visit scary haunted houses.  Ask God to help us remember that no matter who we pretended to be on Halloween, we are always God’s loved and loving people.

Today’s Texts

Joshua 3:7-17

This lection omits the part of the story that is of most interest to children - carrying 12 rocks from the middle of the dried river bed to make a pile that children could ask their parents about in the years to come.  So, I would add Joshua 4:1-7 to the reading (FYI it appears nowhere in the NRSV).  There are two ways to prepare worshipers to pay attention to the text.

 Have 12 men carry one fairly big rock each down the aisle and pile them near the worship center.  As they do, instruct worshipers to listen for 12 men doing the same thing in the reading.  During the sermon recall other structures that have been erected to remind people of their shared stories, e.g. national monuments.  Talk about the importance of knowing these stories.  Encourage families (both the parents and the children) to tell and talk about faith stories (e.g. read Bible stories).

Introduce the Ark of the Covenant.  Note that unlike Noah’s ark, the Ark of the Covenant is not a boat.  Show a picture of the ark and explain how it was used.  If you have the tablets from the Moses display (Moses Display), show them, wonder where the people kept them as they moved around the wilderness.  Put them in a golden box (wrap any box with gold wrapping paper) and tell about the Ark of the Covenant.  Finally, encourage worshipers to listen for the ark in the reading.

Two days after Halloween, this story tells of two acts of bravery that every single man, woman and child had to do – they had to walk the dried up path across the middle of the Jordan River and they had to leave the wilderness where they had lived all their lives to enter the Promised Land.  They had heard and loved the story about their grandparents walking through the divided sea to leave Egypt.  But, now they had to do the pretty much the same thing.  It is like walking into a haunted house.  You have heard other people have done it, but now it is your turn – and it is scary.

It is also like moving today. Check out Alexander Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move, by Judith Viorst, for a light-hearted but honest look at the feelings of a child who does NOT want to move.  (Yes, the same Alexander as in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.)  Rather than read the entire book, you might just read the first page and show the picture which sums up the situation. 

One BIG problem!  The list of the names of all the people who were to be driven out of their homes immediately reminds adults of today’s Palestinians.  Children may miss this entirely.  Or, if they are caught by the list of unusual names, older children may wonder who they were.  Those who tend to root for the underdog may ask what happened to those people and question whether it was fair of God to give their homes to other people.  Unless you see an easy answer to this, I’d avoid getting in conversations with children (especially in front of the congregation) in which the question could be raised.

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

Psalm 107 is a road song.  Pilgrims climbing the steep, hot road up to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, would recite it as they walked in groups, rather like some of the songs families sing in cars as they travel today (think “Banana-nana-bo bana”).  It has a clear pattern of verses describing the trouble some people faced and were saved from by God and a chorus calling on them to “thank the Lord” for their deliverance.  Today’s lection cuts across the pattern.  Just for fun and to connect to the Joshua story, I’d stick with the pattern and read verses 1-9 instead.  They can be put into a congregational reading as below.  Before reading it, tell worshipers to imagine themselves in a crowd singing on the hot, steep road to Jerusalem.  For maximum effect have the whole congregation stand and walk in place as they read the psalm together.


Psalm 107:1-9

People:         O give thanks to the Lord, who is good;
whose steadfast love endures forever.
    Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those God redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Solo:              Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
    Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and God delivered them from their distress;
    The Lord led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.

People:           Let them thank the Lord for this steadfast love,
for these wonderful works to humankind.
    For God satisfies the thirsty,
and fills the hungry with good things.

                                                                  Based on the NRSV


Micah 3:5-12

 Today’s English Version of this text makes its meaning “in your face” for the adults and the children.  The heart of it is verses 9-12.  Its message for children is “what we do matters to God.”  (Before unpacking that here, know that Joshua’s “Choose this day whom you will serve” is next Sunday.  You may want to save this idea for then.)

Listen to me, you rulers of Israel, you that hate justice and turn right into wrong.   You are building God’s city, Jerusalem, on a foundation of murder and injustice.   The city’s rulers govern for bribes, the priests interpret the Law for pay, the prophets give their revelations for money—and they all claim that the Lord is with them. “No harm will come to us,” they say. “The Lord is with us.”
And so, because of you, Zion will be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem will become a pile of ruins, and the Temple hill will become a forest.

                                                            Today’s English Version

If you frequently use the traditional prayer of confession below, pray it today.  Before praying it point out the highlighted lines. Put “offended against your holy laws” into your words.  Cite examples of sins of omission and commission.  Then point to the end of the prayer putting it into your own words.

Almighty and merciful God,
We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much
The devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
O Lord, have mercy up on us.
Spare those who confess their faults. 
Restore those who are penitent,
according to your promises declared to the world
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O merciful God, for his sake,
That we may live a holy, just, and humble life
To the glory of your holy name.

                            Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)

Psalm 43

Verse 11 is the heart of the psalm for children.  Much of the rest of it requires life experience and understanding that is beyond them.  But, when they list together times when they feel hopeless – everything from playing on a team that ALWAYS loses to feeling no one at all loves you to feeling that horrible things are about to get you or that you are no good – children can then hear these words as a prayer for such times.  So walk through the words with them, then pray them together.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 and Matthew 23:1-12

The Christian Century article “Saints and Their Source”  (go to Saints and Their Source ) pulled these texts together in such a helpful way for me that I find all my suggestions grow from it.  The authors insist that saints are people tied to God’s word and that God’s word (1) comes from God (2) through others, and (3) works in us.  Read the article to get their full meaning.

To introduce the idea of saints to the children display one of the following pieces of art.

“Gathering of the Spirits” (at Painted Prayerbook) is non- literal art and will challenge children.  Some “I wonder” questions will help them understand the picture:
I wonder what that round thing is?  the sun?  the moon?  the light of God?
I wonder who the gold things are? 
Can anyone guess what the square things are?  (You may have to talk briefly about halos here.)
This should get to a discussion about all the people/saints who we are always aware of, who show us about God by just being there, and who help us live well. 

Or, go to Supper and Saints to see Jan's collage of many different “saints” gathered around the Table .  Identify what makes each figure at the table unique.  Then, ponder what holds them together.  What do they share and what do they gain from being together “at the Table?"  (This is especially effective if communion will be celebrated during this service.)

Just before the Communion liturgy highlight the congregation’s claim to be joining with at the saints of all times and places praising God.  Put the phrase you will use into your own words.  Practice saying or singing it with the children or the whole congregation.  Then pause and look up to get everyone’s attention before saying or singing it in the liturgy.

1Thessalonians 2:9-13

 One way God’s word comes to us is through the Bible and preaching about the Bible.  Give the children strips of small Bible stickers at the beginning of worship and challenge them to listen for all the times we read or sing or pray the Bible today.  Invite them to put a Bible sticker by each reading, prayer, or song in the printed order of worship that comes from the Bible.  Take a moment to look at and compliment children on their sticker covered papers as they leave the sanctuary.  (Print the biblical source beside Bible-based readings and verbally point out Bible based hymns as you sing them.)

In his letter to the folks at Thessalonica, Paul is recalling his ministry with them, “the Gathering of the Spirits” that they were together.  If you did not do so last week, tell stories of previous pastors in your congregation to explore how God worked in them and the people in the congregation at that time.  If you have photographs or paintings of past pastors that are usually hung in public spots, bring them to the sanctuary.  Ask who knew, was baptized by or married by the more recent ones.  Then move onto points about God’s word working in relationships in churches.  Children may miss some of your points, but they will be more connected to pictures they hardly noticed before – and even add some of those people to their personal community of saints.

Paul encourages the Thessalonians to do what they can with what they have to serve God and take care of each other.  If you have 10 minutes to devote to it, read Clever Jack Takes the Cake, by Candace Fleming.  Worshipers of all ages will enjoy the story of poor little Jack who responded to an invitation to the Princess’s birthday party by selling the few things he has to make a cake for the Princess.  As he carried it to the party it was destroyed piece by piece.  Confronting the Princess empty handed, he offered her the story of the cake.  That story is her favorite gift and the beginning of her friendship with Jack.  Introduce it as the story of Saint Jack who had very little to work with but the determination to give all he had to answering the Princess’s invitation.  The story could be the conclusion of a sermon about sainthood or a children’s time story to enlarge the theme of sainthood.

Matthew 23:1-12

 Children, maybe even more than adults, are urged to be the best, the most, the winner.  Jesus’ call to servant living flies in the face of all this pressure to succeed.  Acknowledge that openly.  Explore the differences in the coach who wants the team to be number one no matter what and the coach who wants every member of the team to learn and grow in the game and for the whole team to have a good time playing together.  What is practice like with each one?  What about games?  Which coach would you rather play for?

If worship leaders in your congregation wear robes, talk about why they do today.  Begin by pointing out all the people wearing robes – ministers, choir, acolytes, etc.  Ask: what is the difference in the people wearing robes and those not wearing robes?  Are the people wearing robes any more or less important than the people not wearing them?  If you are wearing a robe, take it off and ask what difference that makes.  The point of all of this is that the robes do not make people more important or make what they say mean more.  The real reason for worship leaders to wear robes is to cover all the different clothes they wear.  Worshipers can pay more attention to what they say or sing than in what they are wearing. 

Good hymns for young saints wanting to be humble servants of God include:
“Lord, I Want to Be A Christian”
“I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me”
“Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated”

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