Monday, June 15, 2015

Year B - Proper 11, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 19, 2015)

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

To explore what a pun is pose the riddle “What is black and white and read all over?”  There are lots of different answers that can be right, e.g. a newspaper, a sunburned skunk, an embarrassed zebra….  After enjoying several answers, hone in on the spoken word “read” noting the different things it could mean.  From there point to the word “house” giving the two meanings in this story.  Only then invite worshipers to hear the story from the Bible.

Young children are often told that the church is God’s house.  Because they think literally they often ask, “Does God get lonely there during the week?”  “What does God do all week locked in the church?”  “How can God see everyone from inside the church?” and eventually “How can my church be God’s house and my friend’s church also be God’s house?  How many houses does God have or need?”  This text is an opportunity to tell children directly what God told David, i.e. God doesn’t live in any one place.  The church is not God’s house.  It is the place where God’s people gather to worship and do God’s work together.  God is too big to stay in one building no matter how big or fancy.  God is always on the move among all the people of the world.

Use pictures of church buildings to illustrate this point. 

Display pictures of all the buildings in which your congregation has worshiped over the years.  Point out that all the buildings including the current one were special to the people who gathered in them each week, but the important thing about your church is not the buildings, but all the worship and ministry that people did in those buildings.


Chimayo Santuario, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved June 15, 2015]. Original source:
Display pictures of churches from around the world (or around your community).  Note what is the same and different about them, i.e. what are they made of, do they have steeples or towers, how fancy or plain are they, etc.  The final shared characteristic is that people worship God in each of them.  (Go to Vanderbilt Library Art for pictures of a great variety of churches from all over the world.  These pictures can be reproduced at no charge for non-profit purposes if the required attribution is printed.)

Highlight hymns about God being bigger than one place and about being with us and working through us.

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise uses impossibly hard words to describe God’s vastness that is so much more than we can imagine.  David thought he could build a house for God and that God would stay there.  God replies that God is always with the people, but is way too big and powerful to be contained in one building.  To get at this message, read the first line of each verse before singing.  Together they emphasize the vastness of God.   Having looked carefully at the opening of each verse, children will catch the opening words as well as much of the rest of each verse as they sing.

Before singing God of the Ages Whose Almighty Hand read through verse 2 and connect it to David’s surprise that God was going to work through him rather than have David build a place for God.

Use this for non-commercial purposes citing 

I Sing the Mighty Power of God lists familiar examples of what God can and does do.  Give children (all worshipers?) illustrated copies of the words to read while singing.  Challenge them to look for and sing about the powerful God in action in the world.

Wherever I May Wander in simple terms claims God’s promise to be with us wherever we go.

Before singing “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater son” identify who that son is.  Note that we are singing to Jesus who is David’s greatest son ever.  Only then invite worshipers to join in singing.

Add a Star of David to his crown if you are adding to a David figure or banner each week.  Display an Israeli flag pointing to the Star of David on it.

Psalm 89:20-37

The covenant with David is important to children only as a connection between David and Jesus.  Rather than read this psalm celebrating the covenant with David and just for fun, enjoy singing “Once in Royal David’s City” or “Joy to the World” out of season to celebrate the connection between David and Jesus.

Bring out the star of David, crown, and shepherd’s cross Chrismons ornaments.  Enjoy remembering the last Chrismons tree and looking forward to the next one as you explain the meaning of these ornaments and connect them to today’s story.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Before reading Jeremiah’s words, explain that he is using a kind of code.  He uses words about shepherds who take care of sheep, but he is really talking about leaders who are take care of God’s people.  Suggest to listeners that every time you say “shepherd” they think the word “leader.”  As you read pause and look up each time you come to “shepherd.”  Or, read the text once using shepherd.  Then reread it substituting the word “leader.” 

Leaders are important to children.  From an early age they are urged to be leaders.  They push and shove to be line leader.  They dream of being the president, prime minister, princess or ….some other impressive-to-them leader.  Today’s texts are a good opportunity to insist to them that leaders are not meant to be the center of attention and the ones who get their way all the time.  Leaders are meant to take care of the people they lead.  Leaders do not ask “What do I want and need?” but “What do they want and need?”  Jesus’ activities in today’s gospel lesson are good examples of this kind of leadership.  Yes, this is a hard sell, but also an important message to explore directly with children.

In “Babe” (full length DVD) there are several good shepherds.  Mr. Hoggett understands and cares for Babe, the runt piglet.  Fly, the sheepdog, comforts Babe as he settles into the barn and teaches him about the sheep.  Babe, the pig, is the main good shepherd.  If you project film clips during worship, there are several good scenes:

-        About halfway into the film an old sheepdog explains his view of his job and his disdain for the sheep.  He emphasizes the importance of letting them know who is boss.  This is a fine example of bad shepherd thinking.  Jeremiah would not approve.

-        Just past that are several scenes in which Babe listens to the sheep, learns why they call all dogs “wolves” and why they hate them.  He also learns that if you ask sheep politely they will do what you ask.  This is an example of “good shepherd” leadership.  Jeremiah would say Babe is a fine shepherd.

-        The film ends with championship sheepdog trials.  In one scene, a dog herds the sheep by nipping at them.  Then Babe speaks to the sheep respectfully telling them what needs to be done and they do it.  A great comparison of leadership styles.

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 shows up frequently in the RCL so lots of possibilities have accumulated.  That is why there are so many ideas here.  Choose what fits your worship this time.

Catacomb of Callixtus - The Good Shepherd,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
 a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [
retrieved June 15, 2015]. Original source:
Display this catacombs painting of Jesus the Good Shepherd which is the first picture we have of Jesus.  The catacombs are narrow, twisting underground tunnels.  The walls are filled floor to ceiling with graves that have been dug out of them.  They are dark and spooky.  Imagine walking quietly through them with a small oil lamp to find Christian friends who are gathering to worship by a designated grave.  Listen for the clank of soldiers’ armor as you go.  Given this it is easy to imagine why someone painted on the ceiling a picture of Jesus as a strong young shepherd who would take care of them.

Read through the psalm one sentence at a time, thinking like a sheep.  At the risk of stating the obvious below is a copy of the psalm with sheep references as children understand them.  Many church school attending children know a lot about sheep and in a conversational setting can help you with this.  Other children may be clueless about sheep and their care.  After working through the psalm, point out that we look to God to care of us in the same way a good shepherd takes care of sheep.  Note that many people learn this psalm for memory so that they can pray it whenever they need it – in hospital rooms, in scary times, when they are worried.  

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
Sheep eat grass
he leads me beside still waters;
Sheep drown in running water so depend on the 
shepherd to lead them to calm or still water.
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Sheep wander and get into places they can’t get out of
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
Name animals that eat sheep and imagine their eyes 
shining in the dark.
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
       Describe using a rod to beat off animals and staff 
       to pull sheep back from dangerous places
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
Remind of the animals watching as 
sheep graze
you anoint my head with oil;
Oil was first aid for cuts and thorns.
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
                           New Revised Standard Version


Children who are regulars in church school are usually well versed in shepherds and recognize most of the shepherd references in this psalm.  For other urban children shepherds are fierce guard dogs.  They need a more thorough introduction.  A walking stick (rod) and shepherd’s crook (even one from a swimming pool) can be used to demonstrate the shepherd’s work and to explain why having a shepherd with those tools handy would be a comfort. 

There are many musical versions of Psalm 23 Many however use the King James vocabulary that few children know.  Probably the first choice is “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” (Scottish Psalter) because the tune is familiar to the congregation and because the words are closest to today’s English.  “The Lord’s My Shepherd, All My Need” (Christopher L. Webber, 1986) has easier vocabulary but the tune is less familiar.  Finally, “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought” is a meditation on the theme of the psalm with an easy to read and understand repeated chorus.

It is also a fact that each congregation has its favorite Psalm 23 hymn which is sung with a passion children hear.  If you select such a song, in a brief introduction explain one or two key words or phrases before inviting the congregation to sing it.

Psalm Twenty-Three, by Tim Ladwig, simply illustrates phrases of the psalm with scenes from the lives of African American children living in a big city.  Project the pages as you read it or use one or two of the pages to explore specific verses of the psalm without having to refer to the care of sheep.

NOTE: My understanding is that if you buy a copy of this book to scan for projection and discipline yourself not to lend your scanned pictures to any one (no matter how they beg) for use in other churches, you are not in violation of copyright laws.

To help children pay attention to the verses of Psalm 23, display a different colored sheet of construction paper for each page.  The rainbow page is either the multi-colored sheet that comes in some packs of construction paper or a home-made sheet with stripes of all the other colors.  You could write a verse on the back of each sheet so that you can read from it as you display that sheet.  After reading the whole psalm, go back to the rainbow page to ponder the truth that God is with us, caring for us like a good shepherd.

Yellow            The Lord is my shepherd…
Green             He… green pastures
Blue                … beside still waters
Rainbow        He restores my soul
Brown            … in paths of righteousness
Black              … in the valley of the shadow…
White (table cloth)
… a table in the presence of enemies
Yellow            Surely goodness and mercy….

If you have been working on this psalm all summer in conjunction with the David saga, use this paper rainbow to test worshipers who are trying to learn the psalm by heart.  Show the pages in sequence challenging worshipers to say the phrase that goes with that color.

Ephesians 2:11-22

The Roman Catholic lectionary pares this reading to verses 13-18 to get a shorter, more to the point reading.  It will be easier for children to follow.

Children often define themselves by the groups to which they do or do not belong.  I am a tiger cub, a NAME OF SPORTS TEAM, etc.  When the groups are positive forces, this can be good at this time of life.  But it has its down side.  We hear it in conversations, “don’t sit with THEM on the bus,”  “I can’t sit at that table.  Those are the popular kids.”  “This is a girls club.  No dumb boys allowed!”  The trick during elementary school years is not to say it is bad to be in groups, but that one must choose the groups one joins carefully and that groups that exclude people hurtfully are to be avoided. 

Because of their interest in groups and their self-defining rules, children are fascinated by the ways Jews in Paul’s day separated themselves from non-Jews:  they did not speak to them in public, did not go into their houses, would never eat or drink from a plate or cup that a non-Jew had used, they called non-Jews “unclean.”  I’d skip the whole circumcision difference.  Explaining this before reading these verses, helps children get Paul’s message.  (Do be sure to point out that Jewish people today do not follow those rules any more than Christians do.)

Illustrate Paul’s message by having 5 worshipers stand in a row each one holding a poster bearing one letter of the word peace.  Get them in place.  Define peace as living together happily in ways that are fair to all.  Then, tell one of the letters (not the C which leaves you giggling about "peae") to go stand off to the side.  Direct the others to fill in the space and ask “what do we have now?”  It is not PEACE.  Then ask, “does this mean that the rest of us can’t have peace without NAME?”  Note how easy it is to leave people, even groups of people out, and insist that it doesn’t work.  Much as we think we might want to, we can’t have peace without everyone.  Then get the person/letter back in place and reread PEACE with satisfaction.  (This can also be done with the word SHALOM.)

If your congregation passes the peace during worship, this is a good day to review why you do that.  Point out that after the prayer telling God about what we are doing wrong, we hear that God forgives us.  It is tempting to sit back with a sigh of relief.  But we can’t, we have to reach out to everyone else who needs God’s love and forgiveness to love and forgive them.  In worship we start with the people right around us.  We tell them God’s peace is with you just like it is with me.  We admit that we are all people who mess up and are forgiven by God.  We can be friends.  If this is a children’s time, demonstrate passing the peace and practice it with each other before going out to pass the peace to the whole congregation and return to the pews.  Obviously, this is best done right after the assurance of pardon and before the passing of the peace.

Sing Paul’s message with “Dona Nobis Pacem” as a congregational round.  Or, hold hands to sing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” or “In Christ There Is No East or West.”

Because this is such an important issue among children, there are lots of children’s books on the subject.  A few that might be used in worship today include:

The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes , is a chapter book that tells how several older elementary school girls teased and belittled an immigrant girl until she and her father moved from town.  When Wanda leaves behind 100 pictures of beautiful dresses, the girls recognize what a mean wall they built between themselves and Wanda.  The book is way too long to read aloud, but can be told as a sermon illustration that might lead young readers to seek out the book.

Jonah and the Whale (and the Worm) by Jean Marzolla is a delightful retelling of the story of Jonah’s unwillingness to consider the Ninevites deserving of God’s love.  It could be read during a children’s time to illustrate Paul’s more abstract point.  Do however, omit the last page which substitutes the author’s preferred ending for the Bible’s open ending. 

People, by Peter Spier, is a very busy picture book of all the differences in people all around the world.  There are pages with only noses, pages with single pictures of a grand variety of holidays, pictures of how people travel, etc.  With children savor one or two pages of differences and conclude that God made us all different, but we are still God’s PEOPLE and can treat each other well.

“The Sneetches” (the first story in The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss) tells of all the trouble that ensued when the Sneetches with stars on their bellies lined up against those without and vise-versa.  Rather than read the whole thing, retell parts of it to illustrate Paul’s message.

The Hating Book ,by Charlotte Zolotow, is a very simple story about two little girls who have a falling out and manage to patch things up.  Read it aloud in two or three minutes to a group of mainly younger children.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The Roman Catholic lectionary limits this reading to verses 30-34.  This shorter reading may be enough to tell the story. 

If you read the entire text, invite the children to come sit on the steps with you to help you read the story by rowing for the disciples as they rowed across the lake (verses 32-33).  They may be leading the congregation with the other worshipers rowing in their pews or may simply being assisting you in presenting the story to the congregation.  Before reading explain that the disciples were tired.  They had just returned from very busy, sometimes scary trips and were happy to be back with Jesus and wanted to talk with him about their trips.  But, they were not alone.  So what did they do, they rowed.  And then…

With older children, identify what the shepherd does in Psalm 23, i.e. feeds, waters, protects, etc.  Then, pull from the gospel what Jesus was doing.  You may want to write the lists on two posters.  To compare the lists ask, “How was Jesus being a shepherd to the people who crowded around him?”

Children, like most people, are willing to help but are quick to ask “when is it my turn?”  “Who is going to take care of me?”  “But, I want….”  Point out to them the shepherd always thinks about the sheep around him.  Jesus always thought about the people around him even when he was tired and needed a break.  And, we are called to be like Jesus. 

If you are going to explore the disciples’ need for a retreat, talk about summer vacation from school with the children.  Summer is almost over for many children who are going back to school earlier and earlier in August these days.  Hear briefly about what children have been doing since school got out.  Then ask “How did it feel the last week before school got out?”  Point out that we really need rests from our work.  Jesus and his disciples also needed rest from their work.  Then, suggest that the children think about things they want to do before school begins to be ready to go back to work.  Offer prayers for the last weeks of summer.

Five Minute’s Peace, by Jill Murphy, tells a parallel story to Jesus and his disciple’s wish for a few minutes of peace.  This mother tries to leave her 3 children to play quietly so she can enjoy a bath in peace.  The 3 children are as persistent as the crowds following Jesus.  Though the family in the pictures are all elephants, the story is so familiar that everyone can provide their own mental pictures.  It reads aloud in just under 4 minutes – with lots of knowing smiles and giggles all through the sanctuary.  When you compare this story with the gospel, you are set to point out that “five minutes of peace” is something few of us – not even Jesus – often get and that God is with us in the middle of all the minutes and hours when the needs around us simply will not go away.  That is just the way the world is.  (Thanks to Storypath for this suggestion.)

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