Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Year B - 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 8, 2015)

Isaiah 40:21-31

For the sake of the children read this from the Contemporary English Version (CEV) or Today’s English Version (The Good News Bible or TEV) rather than the NRSV.  The simpler language of the first two is easier for children to follow.

If you identified each of the prophetic readings during Advent as BEFORE, DURING, or AFTER EXILE, recall that and then identify this reading as in the very middle of Exile.  People had been stuck in the foreign country long enough to feel like everything was going wrong and God wasn’t doing anything to help them.

To explore “God with us” even when it doesn’t feel that way, read only verses 27-31.  Before reading it, brainstorm a list of “what’s wrong in my world” – sort of the opposite of counting your blessings.  You might provide the list encouraging worshipers of all ages to make silent additions (being sure to add children’s woes such as miserable teachers, siblings who make your life difficult, etc.)   In a more informal setting you might invite worshipers to call out additions to the list.  To avoid cutsy pitfalls, do not do this with just the children on the steps.  Next briefly list the woes of the Jews in Exile.  Only then, read or have the congregation read Isaiah 40:27-31 with you.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, is a familiar story of all the things that can go wrong in a child’s day.  You may be able simply to refer to it by name or could read a few pages of it to get the feel of bad things piling up on Alexander.

If you read the entire passage, start by making a list of the most powerful groups and people in the world.  Then, read the passage urging worshipers to listen for who Isaiah said was most powerful and how that One compares to all the others on the list.

Children grasp mainly the chorus of the familiar song “On Eagle’s Wings,” by Michael Joncas.  A choir such as this children’s choir singing this song with small groups singing the verses can capture the message of this Isaiah reading.

Teach the words of the chorus with simple motions. Then, use it as the benediction perhaps inviting all worshipers to do the motions with you as you say or the choir sings it. 

And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
         Lift up hands then gently flap arms like wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Bring hands together in front of mouth and blow like blowing dandelions
Make you to shine like the sun,
Hands out to the side of smiling face with fingers 
          like rays of the sun
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.
Hold hands out palms up rubbing each one in turn
with the other

Another song that builds on Isaiah’s message is “Guide My Feet While I Run This Race.”  The repeated words make it easy for even non-readers to join in the singing.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

This psalm is a collection of praises of God that beg for illustration.  Ask an older children’s or youth class to read the psalm in worship.  Have each reader illustrate his/her verse in bright colors on a sheet of poster paper and print the verse on the back of the page.  Readers stand in a row at the front of the sanctuary and flip up their illustrations as they read them.

Give children crayons or thin tip markers and Psalm sheets with the words of the psalm printed down the middle of the page.  Instruct them to underline their favorite phrases in the psalm and illustrate them around the edges.  Suggest that they might want to illustrate each chosen phrase in the same color as the underlining.  Ask children about their illustrations as they leave the sanctuary and/or invite them to post them at a specific spot.

I offer the generic script below because the language of the translations is sooo male but the more gender inclusive language of the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship is too flowery for children to understand.  (I am hard to pleaseJ.)  If you can find a translation you like for children, do share it with the rest of us!


Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

All:                Verse 1

Reader 1:      Verse 2.

Reader 2:      Verse 3

Reader 3:      Verse 4

Reader 4:      Verse 5

Reader 5:      Verse 6

Reader 6:      Verse 7 – Instead of illustrating this one, 
                                      provide a tambourine or rattle 
                                      to shake as the verse is read

Reader 7:      Verse 8

Reader 8:      Verse 9

Reader 9:      Verse 10-11

All:                Verse 20c


“All Creatures of Our God and King” is a good parallel hymn because it names so many of the creatures God made and because it includes lots of “Alleluias.”  If you generally “bury the alleluia” for Lent, point out that in two weeks there will be no more Alleluias until Easter and encourage worshipers of all ages to sing every one of them in this hymn. 

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Again today we have a text with two parts that children will have to explore separately.  In verses 16-18 Paul explains why he is a preacher and opens up the conversation about how each of us respond to God’s call to us.  In verses 19-23 Paul insists that he will make friends with all sorts of people in order to share God’s love with them in ways that make sense to them. 

The CEV offers the best translation of verses 16-18 for children.  Verse 16 is probably all children need to hear to get Paul’s point.  The concern about being paid for what they do (vss 18-19) interests the adults more than it does them.

16 I don’t have any reason to brag about preaching the good news. Preaching is something God told me to do, and if I don’t do it, I am doomed. 17 If I preach because I want to, I will be paid. But even if I don’t want to, it is still something God has sent me to do. 18 What pay am I given? It is the chance to preach the good news free of charge and not to use the privileges that are mine because I am a preacher.

Restate verse 16 for people in your congregation with a variety of gifts.  Or, challenge all worshipers to fill in the blank (“________ is something God told me to do, and if I don’t do it, I am doomed.”) to describe their sense of what God calls them to do.  Explain that the “I am doomed” doesn’t mean so much that I’d be in big trouble with God but that I just couldn’t not do what God gave me the gift to do.  I’d feel AWFUL, even doomed.  Insist that we don’t need to preach like Paul.  Preaching was Paul’s gift and he couldn’t not be a preacher.  Our challenge is to identify and use the gifts God gave us.

Children will not get Paul’s point about being all things to all people in verses 19-23 as the verses are read.  Worship leaders can help them grasp the point by naming some current examples such as

Ø girls and women who usually go hatless covering their heads when they visit Muslim countries,

Ø people who usually wear their shoes in the house taking them off at the door when visiting an Asian home where that is the practice, or

Ø refugee sponsors bravely eating barbecued goat offered by the refugee family they support.

Do however take time to point out the subtle but important difference between this and going along with whatever the crowd is doing.

Mark 1:29-39

There are three separate stories in these 10 verses.  To make sure children hear each of them, have each one read by a different reader.  The first is best read by on older woman.

Verses 29-31            Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law
Verses 32-34            The whole town brings the sick 
                                  to Jesus
Verses 35-39            Jesus goes off to pray, then insists 
                                  on moving on

There are lots of hands in action in this passage.  Jesus reaches out his hand to heal Peter’s mother-in-law.  She reaches out her hand to Jesus to get his help and then uses her hands to feed Jesus and the disciples and to welcome her neighbors who are bringing the sick to her door for Jesus to heal them by laying his hands on them.  Jesus folds his hands in prayer, and finally (with his hands I imagine) points to the next village where he is going.  Before reading the text have everyone look at their hands.  List together some of the things you can do with your hands (hit, pat, hug, hold hands, dribble a ball, etc).  Then, encourage people to listen for the hands in this story.

Invite worshipers to pray with their hands making the obvious motions as the leader prays the following prayers of confession and intercession.  It helps if the leader also makes the hand motions in a very easy-to-see manner and if worshipers are invited to keep their eyes open so they can look at their hands as they make the motions.

God you created our hands beautiful and capable but…

Too often we use them to grab what we want

We ball them up into fists to hit.

We use them to hug only ourselves.

We hide them behind our backs pretending there is nothing we could do to help when we know there is.

So, we turn our hands up to you asking for forgiveness.  Forgive all the bad we have done with our hands.  Wash our hands and make them clean.  Lead us to use our hands well.

Teach us to open our hands to share with others.

Give us the power to shake hands with our neighbors.

Show us how to join hands with our neighbors to build your kingdom of love.

We pray in Jesus’ name and remembering his loving hands.


All this talk of hands may lead to singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” or “Jesus Hands Were Kind Hands.”

Since many children do not immediately recognize the term mother-in-law, help them out by giving her a name.   (David Lose named her Esther.)  This is both easier and more time efficient than trying to explain the term before reading the story.

When Peter’s mother-in-law was healed she immediately went to work welcoming others in need of healing to her home.  A comparison children understand is people who are cured of a disease then work hard to raise money so that others can be cured.  Cite all the walks, runs, rope jumping marathons for different diseases.

If you focus on the healing story, tell about some of your congregation’s healing ministries and show pictures of these healers in action today.  Then, pray for them together.

If you are going to connect the need of the Exiles to remember who God is and Jesus’ need to go off by himself to spend time with God with our need to do the same, illustrate the possibility by planning time for individual silent prayer during worship.  Introduce it with specific suggestions such as use this time to think about God and you.  “Maybe there is something you need to tell God about or maybe you heard something today that you need to think about with God.”  Children benefit both from the practice of doing this and from experiencing the whole congregation doing it at the same time. 

Paul, Jesus, and we are called to proclaim God’s love for the world.  Print PROCLAIM on a big poster and define it as making God’s love known to those around us.  Note that Jesus said he had to proclaim God’s love.  For him proclaiming included healing and teaching and talking with people he met.  Paul says I can’t not proclaim and I will meet people wherever they are to proclaim to them.  For Paul proclaiming mostly meant preaching and telling people about Jesus.  Insist that each of us must also find our way to proclaim or share God’s love with the people we meet.  

1 comment:

  1. Your Hands focused Children's Message on Mark 1:29-39 is tremendous!


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