Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Year B - Trinity Sunday (May 31, 2015)

Trinity Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the liturgical year.   So, as I read blogs and preacher helps from past years I was surprised to learn that not all worship planners share this love.  In fact most seem to rather dread it or knock it as “the only festival of the church year that celebrates a doctrine.”  I suspect the reason for this is that many worship planners begin planning thinking about the sermon and so start by feeling the need to preach a sermon on the Trinity that would wow their seminary theology profs and also be meaningful to the people in the pews in front of them.  Old tapes about impossible term papers start playing … and it goes downhill from there.  Not having to preach a trinity sermon, I begin by saying “It is God Sunday, the call is not to explain God but to celebrate God’s mysterious, more than we can ever explain presence.  What could be better!”  Of course it is a chance to do a little worship education about the Trinity, but since even the Trinity is an inadequate definition of God, I suggest that this may be a better week to celebrate God to explain God

If You Do Explore Trinity with the Children…

Introduce the trinity.  Most children know “God and Jesus,” but fewer hear much about the Holy Spirit – unless they heard the word during Pentecost celebrations last week.  So the task is to add the Holy Spirit and to tie all three together.  One way to begin is with Trinity images.  Point to those in your worship space.  Identify the three separate parts that are bound together, e.g. each circle of the intertwined circles.  Name the three persons of the Trinity and briefly mention things we know about each one.  Early in the service challenge worshipers to be alert for “father, son, and holy spirit” in your songs, prayers, and stories today.  Even fill your pockets with wrapped candies for anyone who can tell you as they leave the number of those references in today’s worship. 

Warning:  Lots of images of the Trinity feature three things that together make one thing, e.g. clover of 3 leaves, egg (yoke, white, shell),apple (either tree, food, seed or peel, core, flesh), even Neapolitan ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry).  Grasping these images requires the ability to transfer qualities of one thing to something unlike it – which is easier for adults than for children.  Children have an easier time exploring different names of a single person, e.g. a person who is Granny, Mama and Darling (wife).  The transfer is easier because children are asked to relate qualities of people rather than qualities of inanimate objects to the qualities of God who is more like a person than like an inanimate object.  One way to do this is to identify all of your names, including your full name and your nicknames.   You may want to identify times when you are called by different names and note that no matter which name is used, you are still you.  Also hear the full names of several worshipers and make similar comments.  Then ask if anyone knows God’s full name.  From there discuss the three names for the Trinity. 

If you regularly use musical congregational responses that name the Trinity (The Doxology, Gloria Patri), interrupt after they are sung today.  Ask, “What did you just sing?”  Briefly walk through the words defining difficult words and explaining the meaning of the whole song as it is sung where it is.  Then, invite the congregation to sing it again.  (Do warn the musicians of your plan.)

Offer children a Trinity coloring sheet composed of a big triangle divided into three sections into which to draw about three persons of the Trinity, i.e.
Something Jesus did,
A favorite place in the world God created, and
A time I felt very close to God.

Celebrate the three persons of the Trinity by singing one familiar hymn about each one.  “For the Beauty of the Earth” or “This is My Father’s World” are good choices for creator.  (To stretch worshipers’ understanding of God, challenge them to sing this is my mother’s world.)  “Jesus Loves Me” is of course the most child friendly Jesus hymn.  Select the Holy Spirit hymn that is most familiar to your congregation and uses the simplest language.  This might even turn into a lessons and carols service honoring the Triune God.

If Communion and/or Baptisms are celebrated this Sunday, it is an opportunity to identify Trinity connections to them.

Like the Trinity, Communion is a mystery.  No one can fully explain what happens when we celebrate communion or exactly what it always means.  Sometimes the same communion service means different things to different people sharing it.  As we grow and have more and more experiences with Communion, our understanding of it grows and changes.  Illustrate this mysteriousness with stories of several rather different communion experiences in your life or by interviewing several prepared worshipers of all ages about important communions in their lives.

If you will baptize people today, before the sacrament read the Trinitarian formula used.  Note that this is one thing shared by all Christians everywhere.  We have lots of differences but we are all baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Briefly add to that saying something like, we are baptized in the name of God who created and loves each one of us, in the name of Jesus who both shows us how to live and forgives us when we mess up, and in the name of the Holy Spirit – God with us always.  You might even want to pause for a short prayer thanking God for loving us in these three ways in baptism and every day.

If You Explore Who God Is…

Celebrate God who is more than we ever understand.  Many children assume that the adults all know everything there is to know about everything – including God.  If during their childhood they are told repeatedly that this is not true, when they begin asking important questions about God they will know they are not being outrageous, but doing what everyone does and has done for years.  That makes a big difference.  So, today celebrate both what we know about God and the God who is more than we can ever fully understand. 

As you do, cite the unanswerable questions people of all ages ask about God, such as but definitely not limited to
? What was God doing before God created the world?
? How can there never be a time before or after God?
? How can God pay attention to each person in the world all the time?
? Why did God create rattlesnakes and mosquitoes?

If there is a conversational time with children, gather “I wonders about God.  Begin by telling some of the things you wonder about.  Invite them to tell some of the things they wonder about.  Be sure all worshipers knows that no honest “I wonder” is too funny or too bad to be pondered.

To explore the fact that our understanding of God changes and grows, share some of your “used to thinks” about God and tell what you now think and how the change occurred.  For example, I used to think God was a very old man but now think God is neither a man nor a woman.  Also, express the expectation that what you now think may become a “used to think” in the future.  (This could be done in a children’s time, but if it is done as part of the real sermon, children realize that you are talking to the adults too and expect their ideas about God to change and grow.)

Sandy Sasso’s beautifully illustrated book In God’s Name notes that after creation all animals and people had names.  But God did not.  So, each of the animals and people came up with its own name for God, none of which was complete without the others.  The book is a bit long.  To shorten it, read only pages 5 and 16-31.  (Read only the names on page 29 that you have read aloud.)

“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” is filled with long complicated words that describe God who is more than we can fully understand.  If this is pointed out, children enjoy all the impossible words praising God who is impossible for us to understand.  Before singing, point out and define the first few words of verse one – immortal means God lives forever, invisible means we can’t see God.  Then ponder the meaning of the first phrase of verse 2 (“Unresting, unhasting and silent as light”).  Finally, challenge worshipers to pay attention as they sing to what it is trying to say about God.

You may give children copies of this sheet
from which to sing the song in worship.

“Holy, Holy, Holy” is often sung.  Before singing it today, define the word holy (most special and important, awesome) and briefly walk through the verses.  This helps children learn the hymn and makes all worshipers pay better attention to what they are singing.
1. We praise God
2. Everyone in heaven praises God
3. Even though we do not fully understand God, we praise God
4. Everyone and everything on earth praises God

Invite children (or all worshipers) to write a poem about God during worship using a simple format.  You might offer it on a worship worksheet and then invite folks to post theirs in a set spot with or without their name or to take it home to post where they can read it and talk with God about in the coming week.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

2 words that describe God                                   __________, __________
3 ing words that God does                                   _______, ______, ______
What you want to say to God today                    _____________________
A name for God                                                                      ____________

By YOUR NAME                                      by__________________

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

If school ends this week in your area, offer the children a Trinitarian blessing for the beginning of the summer:  If the children are gathered around you on the steps, talk about what they will be doing this summer.  Then offer the blessing below.  Or, if the children are in the pews, ask them to stand where they are at the end of the service and offer the blessing from there before briefly blessing and sending the entire congregation out into the summer.

I bless you in the name of God the Creator.  Enjoy time to be outside in God’s world.  While you are outside remember who made it and take good care of it.
I bless you in the name of Jesus, God’s Son.  Remember as you leave school that Jesus’ 2 rules about loving God and loving other people still apply during the summer.  Also remember that Jesus forgives us when we mess up.
I bless you in the name of God’s Holy Spirit.  God will be with you everywhere you go this summer loving you and empowering you to be the very special God created you to be.

The Texts

Isaiah offers a mysterious vision of God on the heavenly throne.  Psalm 29 describes the mysterious, even frightening power of a thunderstorm.  Romans ponders the mysterious truth that this powerful God invites us to be in relationship, i.e. to be God’s children.  And, the gospel is the story of Nicodemus’ inability to deal with mystery.  Read together they set us up to ponder the mystery of God. 

Isaiah 6:1-8

The seraphs call out “Holy, Holy, Holy.” 

Point out places the word Holy is stitched, carved or painted into your sanctuary. 

Define holy and translate “Hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer to “holy be your name”.  Use the phrase as a congregational response in a prayer or praise litany about God/trinity. 

Sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” as a way of joining Isaiah and the seraphs in praising God.  Have the musicians pull out all the stops between verses or on the last verse.  Non-readers with the urging of people around them can sing the three holys at the beginning of each verse.  See the illustrated song sheet above.

Sing “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” out of season to capture Isaiah’s feelings in the presence of God.  Since tough vocabulary make this a hard song for young readers to sing, consider having it sung by the choir or a soloist in response to the reading of the scripture or after a conversation about the mysterious, awesome presence of God. 

Many congregations enjoy singing “Here I Am, Lord” children and others with limited Biblical knowledge will miss many of the symbols in the verses.  But, even non-readers can pick up on the chorus.

If you use incense in worship, this is a good Sunday to use it before reading this vision and to talk about its meaning.  If you do this, what about sharing what you do and say to educate us non-incense worshipers.

If you use the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in celebrating Communion, just before moving into that liturgy, point out the phrase “Therefore, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, we worship and adore your glorious name, praising you forevermore:”  Explain how it fits into the prayer.  Practice the sung or spoken response your congregation uses.  Then, suggest that when we pray and sing this every time we celebrate communion, we are putting ourselves smack dab in the middle of Isaiah’s vision. 

Display and briefly discuss a couple of great art renderings of Isaiah’s vision.  Then provide children (all worshipers?) with paper and crayons with which to draw their version of the scene.  Invite artists to post their drawings at the close of the service on a board set of for that purpose.  With their permission print some of them in the church newsletter or on the church website to encourage Sermon Art.

Psalm 29

This is a psalm to experience and enjoy rather than explain in great detail.

Before reading the psalm together, point out the big thunderstorm images - lightning like fire in the sky, making everything look like it is jumping in the flashes, the noise of thunder, the power of the wind.  Imagine being in a boat on the sea in such a storm.  Then note that that God is even more powerful and great than the most powerful thunderstorm, and invite worshipers to listen for that power as the psalm is read.

Before reading make the noise of a storm.  Call on musicians (children with rhythm instruments to which organ or drum are added).  Or invite worshipers to slap the backs of the pews in front of them with their hands (This works best with wooden pews and worshipers standing.)  Call for a cut, then go directly into the reading of the psalm with whole congregation reading in unison.

Direct the congregation’s reading of the psalm getting louder and louder with different groups reading different verses or adding groups so that each verse gets even louder.  Pause after verse 9, take a breath together, say the last two verses quietly.  Before the reading you may want to read the last two verses, point out some of the storm images in the earlier verses, and point out the pause after verse 9. 

Psalm 29 shows up on Baptism of the Lord Sunday each year of the lectionary and to date I have different ideas for each year.  (Did I mention that I really enjoy this psalm?!)  So,

go Baptism of the Lord (Year A) HERE for directions for tracing the path of a storm in from the sea across the mountains and out into the desert and ideas about presenting the psalm as a good psalm for storms/coloring page activity to post at home.

go to Baptism of the Lord (Year B)  HERE for congregational reading script which adds the question “How strong is the Lord?” between verses.

Romans 8:12-17

This text also appears on Year A Proper 11, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Go  HERE if you have not exhausted being children of God reading the 1 John texts during Easter season.

Both adoption as opposed to slavery in the Roman world and the privileges and responsibilities of heirs in that world and today are complex issues.  I’d focus elsewhere with the children today.

John 3:1-17

Children sympathize with Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus with literal, left brained questions and Jesus answered him with poetic metaphors. The children understand Jesus’ answers about a second birth and the wind no more than Nicodemus did.  For them the part that makes sense is verses 16-17.  Here Jesus says to Nicodemus and to them that God loves him and all of us.  Indeed God is more interested in loving us than in judging us. You can trust God to be like this.  (For children John may be making Paul’s point in Romans about God’s amazing love better than Paul did.)

At end of school year, there is a lot of judgment in awards and grades.  So it is a good time to stress God’s love rather than judgment.  God loves us whether we got awards or flunked.  Maybe put heart stickers on the back of hands saying “God loves you no matter what.”

JESUS MAFA. Nicodemus, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 
[retrieved April 17, 2015].
If this school just ended in your area, use this text to talk about the coming summer rather than to celebrate the Trinity.  Display this picture of Jesus talking with Nicodemus.  Ask how many people were there and what time of day it was.  Then note that Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus, but he wasn’t sure he wanted other people to know that he did.  He wasn’t very brave.  Jesus wanted Nicodemus to be braver.  We know that later Nicodemus stood up for Jesus when the leaders were deciding to get rid of him and that he bravely helped claim Jesus’ dead body and put it in a cave tomb.  (See John 7:50 and 19:39.)  Conclude by challenging the children to be brave standing up for Jesus this summer wherever we are – at camp, the pool, etc. 

To keep the focus on John 3:16, read Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney.  Take time to read and savor the whole story (only 3 minutes to read aloud) insisting that it the same way with us and God.  No matter how much we love God, God loves us more.


  1. Hmm, I used the word prism to describe that 3 part Trinity coloring sheet the other day. That got me to thinking about rainbows which makes me wonder about reshaping that sheet into a three striped rainbow, maybe printed in rainbow colors (?). That might provide more drawing space and attract the attention of rainbow lovers. I also sense that it would be theologically sound - all the different colors coming from the same light. I don't have time to put this together this week, but maybe with the idea as a seed one of you do.

  2. There is an abridged board book version of "In God's Name" called "What is God's Name." An easier length to read in worship.


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