Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Year A - Proper 27, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (November 9, 2014)

A NOTE ABOUT THE REMAINING PROPERS OF THIS CHURCH YEAR:  There is a group called The Advent Project (go to  The Advent Project) that advocates returning to seven weeks of Advent.  They point out that Advent was originally seven weeks, was not cut to four weeks until the seventh century and that most western churches did not make the change until the 11th or 12th century.  Orthodox Christians still hold to the seven week Advent.  At this point I am not very taken with their plan – especially for children.  But, I am grateful to have learned that the lectionary texts following All Saints Sunday were not changed and therefore are really Advent texts rather than a continuation of the end of the year propers.  They are texts about waiting for God.  They make more sense to me when read that way and you’ll see some of that in my suggestions.  I share this as deep background.

The Texts for Today

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

~ Invite all worshipers to join in the reading of this text.  Take the role of the Narrator, introduce the Joshua reader, and call the congregation to imagine themselves among the Israelites who had come out of the wilderness and were beginning to settle in the Promised Land.  Tell them that Joshua has called a meeting.  Instruct them to stand in place as the people would have stood the read the text together.

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Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25

Narrator: Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.   And Joshua said to all the people,

Joshua:   Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve God in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.   Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

People:   Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. The Lord protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed;  and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, who is our God.

Joshua:  You cannot serve the Lord, who is a holy God. The Lord is a jealous God; and will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then God will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good. 

People:  No, we will serve the Lord!

Joshua:  You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.

People:  We are witnesses.

Joshua:  Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.

People:  The Lord our God we will serve and will obey.

                                                                                                Based on NRSV

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~ Children get the “make good choices” lecture repeatedly.  They enjoy hearing Joshua give it to the adults.  The text also lets them know that making good choices is something they will not outgrow.  They will be facing hard choices and trying to make good choices when they are parents, even grandparents.  So, they might as well start perfecting their choosing skills now. 

~ “Choose Your Own Adventure” is a classic series of books for older children.  On every page readers face choices and are sent to different pages to continue the story based on the choice they made.  Each book contains many, many stories depending on the readers’ choices.  To explore one of these books in worship, read the introductory page to set the scene.  Then read several of the ending pages.   (They are easy to find because they each bear THE END in large print.)  Be amazed at the very different endings and ponder the choices that would bring the reader to them.  The point of this is to emphasize the importance of choices.

Some story based children’s video games also require choices that effect dramatically how long you can play, how many points you accumulate, and where you end up. Again, choices matter. Or, choices have consequences.

~ One of the difficult choices many children and parents face is whether a child will participate in travel team sports.  Being on a travel team brings more advanced competition and coaching.  It also takes over the whole family’s weekend and wipes out church participation for the season.  This is such a hard choice because it a choice between two good things rather than between good and evil.  You’ve got to decide what your stance on these decisions will be. 

IMO, the church has copped out by not giving families guidance on this.  It is a clear, “choose this day who you will serve” decision.  When families choose the travel team, especially if they choose the travel team repeatedly, children get the clear message that sports are more important than being among God’s people on a regular basis.  While you might not want to say that choosing travel team is always a bad choice, you might want to suggest that families include worship (either in their rooms or visiting churches in the towns where they play) in their weekends.  It might also be a once-for-each-child choice.  A church might also provide “on the road” worship resources for families to pack with their gear.

~ Create a responsive prayer of confession with people of different ages confessing problems with choices at their time of life and the congregation responding to each one.  The one below can be easily adapted to add confessions from more age groups or life situations, e.g. in my university based congregation we would add a prayer about the choices made in college.

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Child:  Lord, we don’t like it when people tell us what to do all the time.  We want to make our own choices.  But, when we can choose we too often choose the wrong things.  We choose what we want without remembering your rules.  We choose what we want without thinking of others.  Forgive us.

All:  Too often, we do not choose to serve you, O Lord.

Teenager:  Lord, it is hard to make our own choices.  Rather than ask what WE choose we wonder what will THEY will think of us if we choose this or do that.  Too often we end up choosing what we think THEY want, not what we know is right.  Sometimes we choose things we don’t even want to do just because of what THEY choose.  Forgive us.

All:  Too often, we do not choose to serve you, O Lord.

Mid-Adult:  Lord, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the choices before us.  Too much demands our attention and our time.  We feel caught between the needs of our families, our jobs, our communities, and our world.  Too often we avoid even thinking about the hard choices.  We choose to think only about ourselves and our families.  Forgive us.

All:  Too often, we do not choose to serve you, O Lord.

Older Adult:  Lord, late in life we look back on some of the choices we have made in our lives and are sorry.  Often, we have chosen what ought not to have and not chosen what we should have.  Forgive us.

All:  Too often, we do not choose to serve you, O Lord.

Leader:  Remember always that God does forgive us when we make poor choices.  God also calls us to choose more wisely.  And, God is with us as we make choices every day.  Thanks be to God!
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Psalm 78:1-7

~ To highlight the responsibility of parents to teach their children, involve teams of parents and children as worship leaders.  These teams might be ushers, collect the offering, read the scripture, etc.  Ask choirs of different ages to sing together.  Or, create a one-time choir of parents and children for this week.  (Maybe members of the adult choir could sing with their children or members of the children’s or youth choir could sing with their parents.)

~ Below is a script for a family of three generations to read Psalm 78:1-7.  It could obviously be adapted to include more generations or members of a family.


Psalm 78:1-7

      Listen, my people, to my teaching,
and pay attention to what I say.
I am going to use wise sayings
and explain mysteries from the past,
things we have heard and known,
things that our ancestors told us.

We will not keep them from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the Lord’s power and his great deeds
and the wonderful things he has done.
      He gave laws to the people of Israel
and commandments to the descendants of Jacob.
      He instructed our ancestors
to teach his laws to their children,
so that the next generation might learn them
and in turn should tell their children.

In this way they also would put their trust in God
and not forget what he has done,
but always obey his commandments.



Amos 5:18-24

~ The heart of this reading is verse 24, “Let justice roll down like water.”  If you do projections, this calls for a video of a rushing river.  Try this one from You Tube .

~ Create a Prayer of Confession identifying some of the things we claim in worship and the ways we fail to live them out during the week.  Sample,

We sing that we love all the people in the world,
but we say mean words to people we see 
         every day.
We sing that we love you,
but we act like we only love ourselves.
We say in our prayers that we want to work with you 
for justice,
but we ignore the people around us for whom 
         life is unfair.
We pray for you to guide and direct us,
but we most days we think more 
         about what we want
than about what you want.
We put a little money in the offering plate,
but keep much more in our pockets.
God, let justice come over us like a rushing river of water sweeping us into new ways of living.  Help us live everyday by the words we hear and sing and say in worship on Sunday.

(If you have a time for silent confession following the congregation’s prayer, play the video or just the sound track of the rushing water during that time today.)

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12 – 16 or Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20

Reid, Robert, 1862-1929. Wisdom Mural,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved October 13, 2014].Original source:
Introduce children to the personified Wisdom before reading either of these psalms.  Use the picture to talk about the fact that Wisdom is often pictured as a wise woman with quiet strength and authority.  Encourage worshipers to listen for other adjectives that describe Wisdom as you read one of the texts. 

Psalm 70

With so much richness in the other texts for the day, I’d skip this psalm with the children – and probably all worshipers.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

~ The Christians in Thessalonica, who believed that Jesus’ return was eminent, were worried about the fate of the Christians who died before Jesus returned.  Largely because Paul so clearly settled that question in this text, children today do not ask that particular question.  But they do ask the question, what happens to us when we die – more likely, “where is Grandpa now that he has died?”  This text can be used to assure them that when we die we go immediately to be with God and Jesus and are safe there.

~ This text also provides an opportunity to speak with children as well as adults about “the rapture” as it appears in lots of current literature.  This text is not so much a calendar of events at the end of time as it is assurance that the dead are safe with God.  Much current literature, e.g. the Left Behind series, however uses this text to build a time line. Be aware that there is a Left Behind series of books for pre-teens that has been widely read and discussed among older children.  This is another situation in which if their church does not speak up about what they are reading and hearing from other children, children are left to draw whatever conclusion they can.  So speak up.

Matthew 25:1-13

~ Children need help with a couple of the details in this parable before they hear it read.

Unlike today when the bridesmaids escort the bride to her wedding, in Jesus’ day the bridesmaids escorted the groom to meet the bride for the wedding.  Instead of carrying flowers, they carried oil lamps so that everyone could see how handsome and well dressed (rich) the groom was and the groom could see his way to his bride.

In a day of battery powered flashlight, children need a brief lesson on how to keep an oil lamp burning.  Show an clay lamp (like the one in the picture) and point out where the oil and the wick went.  Or, get a modern floating candle that works just like the oil lamp and actually light it.  Place in a very visible place and invite worshipers to listen for ten oil lamps in this parable.

~ If you are going to build on the idea that we are called to keep our spiritual lamps burning so that we are always ready to illuminate Christ the Bridegroom, take time to explain oil lamps, specifically list ways we keep our spiritual lamps burning, even sing a few light songs:
Give Me Oil in My Lamp
This Little Light of Mine

~ Frances Woodruff preached a children’s sermon in which she talked about all the stuff moms keep in their purses to meet the needs of their families.  She then urged worshipers to fill their hearts with kindness, generosity, etc. so that we are ready to meet the needs of others.  It is Sermon #2 at On the Chancel Steps.  It could be part of the “real” sermon rather than a separate children’s sermon.

~ When Advent was 7 weeks instead of 4 weeks, this was the first week of Advent.  Reading the parable of the bridesmaids on the first Sunday of Advent makes sense.  We are beginning the waiting.  If Advent is still 3 weeks away for you, get out at least one purple parament or the box with the Advent wreath in it.  Point out that Advent begins in 3 Sundays.  Remind worshipers that Advent is the four weeks before Christmas and is a time when we think about watching and waiting for God.  We tell stories about the surprising ways God came to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the whole world when God came among us as a baby born in a barn.  Then, fold up the parament or close the box.  Insist that it is not yet Advent BUT….  We watch and wait for God every day of the year, not just the four weeks before Christmas.  The bridesmaids in the story needed to be watching and waiting as they got ready for a wedding.  We need to be watching and waiting as we go to school, play on sports teams, ride in the car with our family, etc.

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