Friday, March 20, 2015

Year B - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2015)

Acts 8:26-40

t  Display a map or globe on which to locate Ethiopia.  Display pictures of Ethiopia and Ethiopians.  Note your congregation’s or denomination’s connection to Ethiopia.  And, pray for people of Ethiopia today.

t  Without Philip to explain what he was reading in the Isaiah scroll, the Ethiopian would never have understood it or learned about Jesus.  Teachers ARE important.  As the end of the school year ends, children are ready to recognize how important their teachers/coaches/mentors have been to them.  After exploring the difference Philip made, invite children (and all worshipers) to identify the teachers who have made a difference to them.  Offer prayers of thanksgiving for teachers, especially those who help us learn about God.

t  When Philip met the Ethiopian, he faced a challenge.  He had to introduce this stranger to Jesus.  He started with what the man was reading in Isaiah, but went from there to tell the story of Jesus.  Give children paper, pencils and crayons with which to write or draw what they would tell someone who asked them “Who was Jesus?”  Take time to talk with them about their work as they leave the sanctuary.

t  To honor Philip and the Ethiopian sing an African hymn.  “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love” is one good choice.

Acts 9:26-31 (Reading from the Roman Catholic Lectionary)

t  I was caught by this difference on  This is the story of Barnabas introducing Saul to the Christians in Jerusalem who were very reluctant to welcome him.  It is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary at all.  Instead, on The Third Sunday of Easter (Year C), Saul’s conversion is included with the follow-up story about Ananias’ taking him in as optional reading.  It is a real Easter story.  An old enemy becomes a friend and is welcomed ushering in an era of peace in the church.  The church in Jerusalem even arranges his escape when his preaching creates trouble for him.  There is also a connection to today’s texts about abiding in Christ and love within the community.  If you use it, I’d read the Damascus road story from a children’s Bible story book, then invite children to hear what happened next.

If most of your children are younger elementary schoolers, try “Saul Learns About Jesus” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.  If most of the children are older read the more detailed account in The Children’s Illustrated Bible omitting the last two paragraphs.

Psalm 22:25-31

t  Verses 27-31 provide a worship education opportunity.  Read the verses stopping as you go to put into your own words who will praise the Lord (all the families of all the nations living on the earth today, those who have died, generations yet to be born).  Then, point out that during the prayers before communion we re-enact praising God with all those people.  If you follow a prayer book, point out
“We praise you, joining our voices with the heavenly choirs and with all the faithful of every time and place, who forever sing to the glory of your name:”
Then practice the song or spoken chorus your congregation will use this morning.  Urge worshipers to listen for the phrase and to imagine themselves singing with all people who have ever praised God, praise God today, and will praise God in the future.  (This could be done as a children’s moment just before the sacrament or be imbedded in the sermon – even the practicing!)

t  Add congregational “alleluias” to make this psalm an Easter responsive reading.

  Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Psalm 22:25 - 31

All:      Alleluia!

When your people meet,
you will fill my heart
with your praises, Lord,
and everyone will see me
keep my promises to you.

All:      Alleluia!

The poor will eat and be full,
and all who worship you
will be thankful
and live in hope.

All:      Alleluia!

Everyone on this earth
will remember you, Lord.
People all over the world
will turn and worship you,
because you are in control,
the ruler of all nations.

All:      Alleluia!

All who are rich
and have more than enough
will bow down to you, Lord.

All:      Alleluia!

Even those who are dying
and almost in the grave
will come and bow down.

All:      Alleluia!

In the future, everyone
will worship and learn
about you, our Lord.
People not yet born
will be told,
“The Lord has saved us!”

All:      Alleluia!

Psalm from Contemporary English Version

  Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

1 John: 4:7-21

Last week’s epistle insisted that love is not what we feel but what we do.  This week John adds a few more ideas about love.  Pick one or two to explore to highlight for the children.

t  God is love.  Concrete thinking children (and lots of the rest of us) are more likely to hear this as “God is the most loving being in the world.”  Children are willing to accept this as a simple fact and move on to implications.

Used with permission of illustrator  Margaret Kyle of
 The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton
t  No one has ever seen God, but we have seen Jesus.  So, if we want to know what love looks like, we look at what Jesus did and said.  To get to specifics recall stories about Jesus and/or display pictures of those stories.  After each one conclude, “That is love.”

t  John uses a couple of arguments to get us to love others.  

We love because God first loved us.  Children hear this as “it is only fair if God loves us that we should love others.”

We love in order to become like Jesus and God.

No one can see God, but they can see us.  Our job is to be so loving that people look at us and see what God’s love is like.

t  Verses 20-21 are clear and important to children.  “Those who say ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars.”  The first step to exploring this with them is to define and name their familial brothers and sisters AND add everyone in the church as brothers and sisters AND add everyone in their school and community as brothers and sisters AND add everyone in the world as brothers and sisters.  Then, ask or ponder what it means to love each of those groups. 

t  “There is no fear in love….” (verse 18) is probably the hardest idea to explore with children.  I’d save that one for the adults.

t  Before reading the epistle, point out that it is all about love and tie a ribbon festooned with hearts or a ribbon with a heart at one end and a cross at the other end to the paschal candle.  Encourage worshipers to listen for all the love in this letter.  Light the candle if it is not already lit.  Then read the passage.

Next Sunday, love is the gospel (rather than the epistle) theme.  So if you use the heart ribbon today, know that you are stealing a possibility for next week.  Use the vine ribbon that goes with today's gospel. 

t  Most children, especially most girls, have seen the new movie “Cinderella” this spring.  Cinderella’s mother teaches her “to have courage and be kind” and insists that her kindness is more powerful than any magic.  Throughout the movie she works to be kind to her unpleasant step family, she has compassion on a stag being hunted by the prince and thus wins the attention of that prince, and breaks through her own unhappiness at not going to the ball to respond to an old woman’s request for a bowl of milk and thus meets her fairy godmother.  She even tells her stepmother that she forgives her as she leaves the house with the prince.  (The last one is sort of a throw-away line that can probably best be ignored.)  One reviewer noted that this Cinderella’s only super power was her ability to love, to be kind.  It all suggests exploring the ability to love even unlovable people as a super power to be cherished and developed.

t  There are lots of children’s books about love.  A few that might fit today are:

Horton Hears A Who, by Dr. Seuss, describes the love an elephant lavishes on Whos who live on a speck of dust.  The other animals at first ridicule him, then try to destroy the speck of dust, and finally cage him.  In the end, the Whos on the speck of dust make enough noise that the other animals hear them and tumble to the truth that “a person’s a person no matter how small.”  The book is too long to read in worship.  I’d briefly tell the story opening, then turn to the pages about Horton chasing the bird across the hills and working though all the clovers in a huge clover field to find the Whos.  That is love.

Miss Tizzy, by Libba Moore Gray, describes what an elderly eccentric lady did with the children of the neighborhood each day of the week.  Each day ends with “And the children loved it.”  When she gets very sick and must stay in bed, the children figure out how to do each of the things for her.  The book then concludes, “and she loved it.”  The book features a multi-racial cast of children around an African American Miss Tizzy.  Read it in a little over five minutes.  Read it to explore the ways Miss Tizzy loves the children and the children return the love.

And of course there is The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams.  It is trite from overuse, but fits this text exactly.  “'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'"

t  One of the ways we love each other is to pray for each other.  To help children pray for people they are concerned about, invite them to make a loopy scribble that has big spaces.  In each space have them write the name of one person or group they for whom they wish to pray.  Then, instruct them to go back and decorate each person’s space with details and key words for that person.  This can be done with a pen or pencil, but colored pens add a strong dimension.  Give children a sheet of paper on which to work during the worship service.  Invite them to drop their prayer sheet in the offering basket as it is passed, tape it to a rail at the front, pin it to a bulletin board set aside for that purpose, or take it home as a prayer reminder for the week.

For a fuller description of the practice of praying with colored pens, see Praying in Color: Drawing A New Path to God, by Sybil MacBeth.

John 15:1-8

Find ribbon with vine printed on it,
a vine/flower trim, even a real piece of vine.
t  If you are adding ribbons to the paschal candle, present today’s vine-y ribbon before reading the gospel.  Introduce the idea that we are like branches on a huge vine and Jesus is the trunk.  Insist that we are each branches and that all sorts of different groups of people all around the world are branches.  Encourage worshippers to listen for what John says about this big vine and its branches.  Tie the ribbon in place.  Light the candle if it has not yet been lit.  Then read the gospel

t  Urban children do not know much about pruning, unless their parents are gardeners.  The easiest way to help them get this story is to present a dead branch and ask if leaves or fruit will ever grow on this branch.  Pursue the discussion to the point that branches have to stay attached to the tree to stay alive.  Note that the same thing is true of vines.  The branches of vines curl up and die when cut from the vine.  Then challenge listeners to figure out what Jesus was trying to tell us as you read the text.

t  Children don’t often hear the word ABIDE in everyday conversation.  If you will use it frequently in the sermon and liturgy today, introduce it at the beginning of worship as the word of the day - ala Sesame Street.  Display it on a large poster.  Translate it as “stay close to me” and/or “hang tight with me.”  Illustrate it with reference to reading everything you can and learning all the stats for a favorite athlete to learn to be like him or her, or hanging out with an aunt or uncle you want to grow up to be just like.  Briefly suggest that today we will be talking about ABIDING with God and Jesus.  Encourage children to listen for it in the songs and prayers and readings today and to figure out what it means in each place it appears. 

t  Try a variation on the scribble prayer described above that is based on the vine and branches.  Invite children to scribble the top of a fine, large tree.  Challenge them to write the names of people and groups in your church who are part of their church tree who they want to pray for today.  Encourage them to decorate each name with colored pens as they talk to God about that person or group. 

t  If you show film clips in worship:

Find the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back”(1980) in which Yoda is training Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi.  Yoda says, "Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship."  Yoda speaks of the Force, but the parallels to abiding in Christ are clear.

When Rafiki, the baboon, finds Simba in hiding, he shows him a reflection of himself in the lagoon and insists that he sees Simba’s father there.  Simba refuses to see his father, dismissing it as just a reflection of himself. Rafiki pushes on "Look harder, he lives in you." When Simba looks again he hears the voice of his father saying, “Simba, you have forgotten who you are.  You are more than you have become.  Remember who you are..."

Songs about love that children know may be from the hymnal or may come from campfires.  All worshipers may enjoy singing them today.
 “Love, Love, Love, the gospel in one word is love….”
“We Love Because God First Loved Us”
“For the Beauty of the Earth” 
Point out the love in verse 3 and challenge singers to listen for other references to love as they sing.

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