Friday, June 19, 2015

Year B - Proper 13, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10th Sunday after Pentecost (August 2, 2015)

The RCL calls for reading about David’s sin with Bathsheba on one week and Nathan’s story of God’s judgment on the following week – this week.  Rather than divide the story, I (and others) suggest reading and exploring both of them on the same Sunday.  This year if you do that on the last Sunday of July, you can then combine that week’s gospel story about Jesus feeding the crowd with this week’s conversation about its meaning for the first Sunday in August.  Since this is a Communion Sunday in many congregations, there are lots of ways to tie the stories to the sacrament.  I am posting the suggestions for both sets of texts on both Sundays.  Hence many suggestions from last week appear again this week – repetitive but perhaps helpful for finding what you want when you want it.

The Texts

2 Samuel 11:1-15 (and maybe 11:26-12:13a)

If you combine today’s story of David’s sin with next week’s story of God’s judgment, the story gets a little long.  To keep interest have it read dramatically by a David reader and a Nathan reader as follows:

David               2 Samuel 11:1-15
Nathan                             11:26 – 12:4
David                               12:5-6
Nathan                             12:7-10  (I’d omit vss 11-12)
David                               12:13a

This story is heard very differently by people of different ages and sexes.  For children, David’s sin is not adultery, but stealing a man’s wife, then having him killed to cover up his theft.  It’s a matter of breaking the rules.  Young children assume that rules are made by the biggest, most powerful person in the room and are non-negotiable.  To them this story says that even great King David should have followed the rules.  No one is above Gods’ rules.  As children grow through elementary school, they realize that many rules are indeed negotiable.  Almost every group they are part of makes or clarifies its rules.  They empathize with David’s wish to choose the rules he did or did not follow.  In their own ways they follow his logic to get what they want.

“But the big kids do it, and I’m really a big kid now…I’m a fourth grader!...”
“But it’s my birthday…” and I thought the usual rules wouldn’t apply today
“But I wanted it sooooo much!”
“Sure, I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t think anyone would mind just this one time – I’ll never do it again, promise.”

If you have been adding props to a David figure each week, today add two connected black hearts with David or D or one and Bathsheba or B on the other. 

Psalm 14 or Psalm 51:1-12

 The RCL matches Psalm 14 to the first half of the David – Bathsheba story and Psalm 51 to the last half.  Children will catch little of Psalm 14’s insistence that we are all sinners.  For them Psalm 51 is a much better choice.

Most children have little grasp of their own sinfulness.  They know they do the occasional bad thing, but are not overwhelmed by it.  Few have had the opportunity to steal a wife or murder.  So, introduce Psalm 51 as the psalm David prayed after he had stolen Bathsheba and had her husband killed.  The children can begin to understand now why the images in the prayer fit David and thus be ready to claim it for themselves when they feel the need for it later.

Children hear the poetic images in Psalm 51 literally.  So, “create in me a clean heart” sounds like “cut me open, take out my heart, scrub it down, and then stick it back in me.”  Ouch!  Point this out and then explore what it really means.  Describe how we feel dirty and yucky when know we have done things that are wrong and that have hurt other people.  We feel so rotten that we want to hide.  Then describe how clean and fresh and new we feel when we admit what we have done and do whatever we can to fix the hurt we have caused.  An unhappy family road trip with fussing over toys, food and space in the back seat might be a good illustration of these dirty and clean feelings.

If you plan to use parts of Psalm 51 in the prayer of confession, gather the children before praying it.  Briefly tell the children the story behind it and put its meaning into your own words.  Then, pray it together.

The prayers of confession generally come early in worship.  It would be possible to pray them this week without comment at that time.  Then, pray them again after a sermon in which their meaning has been explored in detail.  During the sermon you might walk through that part of the liturgy explaining the sequence of confession, assurance, response, and passing the peace.  You might even practice any sung responses.  Repeating the whole process after this explanation will give it more meaning today and help worshipers of all ages participate in it more fully in the future.

After exploring David’s story and prayer, use verse 11 in a responsive prayer of confession for the whole congregation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Leader:  Lord of all the world, there are so many things we want.  We want to eat the best food, we want to wear stylish clothes, we want to do what we want when we want to do it.  We want to be popular and successful and rich and beautiful.  We want.  We Want.  We want.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader:  God of justice, too often we will do anything to get what we want.  We will break any rule.  We will lie.  We will cheat.  We will steal.  We will even hurt other people so we can have what we want.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader:  God, too often it seems that each of our sins leads to more sins.  To hide the shameful things we have done, we break more rules and hurt more people.  We lose our ways in half-truths and broken promises.  Sometimes, the whole world feels dirty and lost and hopeless.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Leader:  Have mercy on us, O God.  In your steady love and your abundant mercy, forgive our sins.

All:  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Adults enjoy hearing two or more stories at the same time.  Comparing and contrasting them provides endless insights and richness.  Children, who have trouble comparing and contrasting stories, prefer to delve deeply into one story at the time.  So, there would be wisdom in working with this or with the gospel story, but not both – especially when addressing the children. 

This book comes in several different covers.
The story is rather long and complicated in the Bible.  Try reading it from a children’s Bible storybook.  One of my favorites is “Special Food” on page 86 of Ralph Milton’s The Family Story Bible stopping before the complaint about water.  (This could be the real scripture reading for the day.  Encourage adults who feel the need, to follow along in their pew Bibles.)

An idea to explore with children:  In this story God surprises the people.  They wanted something to eat, but they never expected God to rain quail on them in the evening and provide manna (which means “what is it?”) in the morning.  We can teach the children to expect God to surprise them too.  We can alert them to the fact that they will often think they want one thing from God and be surprised to get something else.  Often God’s surprise, like quail and manna, will turn out to be better than what they had hoped for. 

The Communion Connection:  At some point in the service, pick up the loaf on the Communion Table and lift it before the congregation.  Note that God promised the Hebrews traveling across the desert that they would have food (quail and manna) to eat in the desert.  God would not let them go without what they needed.  The bread on the Communion Table reminds us that God promises to give us all the things we need to live today.  God gives us not just food to eat, but love, forgiveness and the gifts we need to do God’s work.  Suggest that they remember this truth today when you raise the bread during the Eucharist and say, “The gifts of God for the people of God.”

To help children begin to understand bread as more than food and to explore the meaning of the bread phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, identify a variety of gifts God provides for us, e.g. food, water, a balanced planet that supports us, love, forgiveness, the Bible, etc. .  Then offer a prayer in which the leader describes each listed item with the congregation responding “Give us this day our daily bread” as a response.

Go to Year A Proper 20 for some slightly different suggestions about this story.

Psalm 78:23-29

With so much else to work with this Sunday, it makes sense to skip this poetic recall of the feeding story in Exodus.  If I were to use it, I’d add verses 1-4 to provide the context of the whole psalm.  Perhaps a liturgist could read verses 1-4 and the whole congregation read 23-29.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Several songs and finger games children tend to know fit this text.

Substitute Paul’s characteristics for Christians (humble, patient, gentle, loving) for the usual verses of “Lord, I Want to be a Christian.”

“We are the Church Together,” by Avery and Marsh, describes the unity of many kinds of people in the church. 

“Here Is the Church” finger-play that young children enjoy insists that the church is not a building but people.  When I goggled it I discovered there are lots of versions of this.  The one that fits today is:

Here is the church
Here is the steeple
Open the doors
See all the people.

You CAN have a church
Without any steeple.
But you can’t have a church
Without any people.

Print verses 4-6 on a large poster.  With the congregation or the children highlight “one” each time it appears.  Explain that the “ones” are the glue that holds the church together.  Then, go back through identifying and briefly describe each “one.”  (Or, have worshipers find the verses in their pew Bibles.  Read the verses together shouting the word ONE each time it appears.  Then, work through each “one” as above.)

To explore Paul’s insistence that each member of the church has gifts that the whole church needs, try one or more of the following:

Call a series of church members forward.  As you call each one, describe one of the gifts he or she brings to the church.  (Be sure to include people of all ages and both sexes representing many areas of your congregation’s life.)  Once you have a good group gathered, note the variety and point out that each can do some things the others cannot do, but need or want, e.g. the non singers can enjoy what the singers add to worship through the choir.  Next, direct one of the group to stand off to the side.  Ponder sadly what the church would be like without his or her gift.  Happily pull the person back to the group celebrating all the gifts you enjoy together.

To take this another step, borrow a baby from a parent in the congregation.  Point out that we all enjoy babies.  We want to see them, smile at them, tickle their toes.  They make us smile and laugh just being here.  That is a gift they give us now.  Later we will learn what other gifts they bring.  But, for now making people laugh and smile is a pretty big gift.  Church would be a less wonderful place without babies.

Free for non-commercial use citing
Give children a piece of paper featuring a large gift box divided into several sections.  Challenge them to draw or write about the gifts they can bring the church in each section.  Take time to identify some of the planned activities in which children contribute to the church and some individual gifts they give quietly give.  Invite them to drop their paper in the offering plate because these are their gifts back to God.

Challenge the children to discover their gifts and learn how to give them to the church.  Point out that they already know some of their gifts.  Suggest that they have others they have yet to find.  Encourage them to always be on a treasure hunt to find the gifts God has buried in them to give the church and the world.

Compare the church to a sports team.  Each member of the team brings special gifts and skills that enable the whole team to play well.

As worship homework, challenge members of households to identify the gifts they see in each other and to thank God together for those gifts.  This could be a mealtime or bedtime conversation today.

+  It takes less than 2 minutes to read the simple classic The Crayon Box That Talked, by Shane DeRolf.   It begins with the crayons in the box not liking each other until as a little girl uses the whole box to draw a picture, they realize they each have a part to play and can even become new colors when they work together.  Rather than read and discuss the story, you could act it out using a small box of crayons and a piece of paper talking as you go. 

Another way to celebrate the unity of the church is to create a huge jigsaw puzzle that represents your congregation.  Make a huge collage of photographs of the church in action, then cut it into jigsaw pieces.  Start with all the pieces together.  Talk about who is doing what in some of the pictures.  Then break it into pieces giving each worshiper one piece to take home – maybe to put on the refrigerator door as a reminder that they belong to a big loving church family. 

Consider replacing “we must no longer be children” in verse 14 with “we must no longer be babies” because children have no choice to be anything but children.  To save them from their common offense at the phrase, restate Paul’s message so that it says we must always work on growing up to be more like Jesus.  

A non-bread Communion connection!  In most Christian traditions the sacrament is not celebrated individually, but always with other Christians.  Most often it is celebrated during worship services.  In some churches worshipers don’t stay in their seats, but go forward to stand and commune with others.  Even, when people are very sick, at least one and usually several people go to their bed to share the sacrament with them.  In this way we remember that we are not alone, but are part of God’s community.  Paul’s comments about unity are a great opportunity to explore this with children (and other worshipers) on a Sunday when the sacrament is celebrated.

John 6:24-35

This is the second of five readings related to the bread of life.  To combine the story of feeding the multitudes with Jesus’ thoughts on its meaning, read John 6:-1-21 and 24 -35 the same week.  To keep the focus on one story, I’d omit the story of Jesus walking on the water and connect the readings with the briefest of words about Jesus and the disciples getting to the other side of the sea between the stories.  Since, this is a Communion Sunday in many churches, it makes sense to read stories about bread this week.

Include an older elementary aged boy among the readers today.  If you read only verses 1-15, have them read by the boy.  If you read verses 1-21 have the boy read verses 1-15 and a man read verses 16-21.  If you combine today’s reading with next week’s text, have a boy read verses 1-15 and a man read verse 24-35.  It might be a good father-son leadership responsibility.

JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved June 18, 2015].

The Jesus MAFA painting of this scene is very busy.  Help children see what is there by asking them first to find Jesus who is wearing a red robe, then the disciples who are wearing white robes.  Note that everyone else is “the crowd”.  Then, ask what all the white robed disciples are doing.  This could get you started into a sermon exploring the characters (see below) or could be sandwiched between two readings of the story so that worshipers hear the second reading with sharper attention. 

There are a variety of answers to the question, “Why did Jesus feed the crowd this way?  What was he trying to tell us?”  To spin them out for children try some of the following.

Jesus was telling us that he/God is very interested in getting people enough to eat.  That makes it a good day to feature feeding ministries your church supports.  Just as it was surprising that one’s boys lunch in Jesus’ hands could feed a crowd, so it is surprising how many people can eat when all of us pool our food and money.  Give out grocery sacks printed with lists of things the local food bank needs and challenge families to fill them and deposit them at the food bank or at a designated spot at the church during the coming week.

Another thing Jesus might have been telling us when he fed the crowd is, “Hey, there is enough food to go around.  All you have to do is share!”  With children this challenges their desire to get “their fair share.”  Introduce the term scarcity thinking defining it as meaning there probably is not enough for everyone and you have to be sure you get yours.  Children engage in scarcity thinking when they ask,
Will I get my fair share of the fries, the goldfish, the candies….?
When is MY turn?  And, will my turn be as long as theirs?
Do they (especially parents, but also other loved adults and peers) love me as much as they love them?
Ponder what Jesus is saying to us when we feel like we have to fight to get our fair share? 

To help children understand the fact that Jesus was interested in feeding people more than just food, display pictures of people in several “feeding” professions, e.g. teachers who feed students knowledge, social service caseworkers who work to get people food AND clothes, housing, whatever they need to survive, even a doctor who give people medicine so that they will be healthy.  Discuss how each feeds people.  Offer prayers for people who feed others.

Two picture books can help you unpack this story

With preschoolers read Picnic, by John Burningham.  It tells the story of two children packing a picnic basket, meeting three friends whom they include in a day of adventures and returning home to bed.  It is a simple story that captures the feel of the gospel picnic.  People share what they have and have a great day together.  Read the book with young children, then encourage them to listen to the story of a day Jesus went on a picnic.

After reading about the loaves and fishes, read children of all ages the first part of Extra Yarn, by Max Barnett.  Showing the pictures is essential to bringing the story to full life.  Stop after Annabelle has knit sweaters for the people and animals with “But it turned out she didn’t” (run out of yarn, that is).  Ask “How is this story like the story in the Bible?” to start a conversation about the endless ways each of us can make life better for those around us – and for ourselves in the process.  Urge the children to find the book in a library in order to learn about an evil archduke who tried to steal Annabelle’s box.  But, do not complicate the conversation by reading it in worship.

Do a little worship education about the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer.  Point out that the pronouns are plural.  We can’t pray just for our own needs.  Identify things in addition to food that are physical needs for all people.  Then, pray a responsive prayer of intercession for the hungry of the world.  The congregation’s response to each petition is “Give us this day our daily bread.”  This conversation could be addressed to the whole congregation just before the prayer or it could be a children’s time just before the congregation prays the Lord’s Prayer and other prayers of intercession.

If you read both the feeding story and Jesus walking on the water, introduce either or both as surprises.  No one expected they would happen.  Wear something surprising – maybe funny shoes under your robe or a wide clown tie?  Stand before the children asking what about you is surprising today.  Then ask them what question they asked when they first saw that.  With any luck, it will be “why did you wear THAT?”  Congratulate them on asking a good question.  Tell them you wore THAT to help them recognize the right question to ask when you see something surprising.  Go on to talk about Jesus’ feeding the crowd with one boy’s lunch.  The right question to ask is not “how did he do that?” but “why did he do that?” or “what does that mean?”  Briefly answer the “why?” question for Jesus’ surprising feeding of the crowd and encourage worshipers to ask the right question, i.e. the “why?” question, of other surprising things Jesus does.

+  Help the children learn one or more of the Communion hymns that focus on bread.  There are lots of them.  I’ll reprint this list each week of the series of John readings focused on Jesus as the bread of life.

Before singing Let Us Break Bread Together read the first line, “Let us break bread together on our knees.”  Point out all the ways you will do that in worship today, e.g. breaking bread in the sacrament, listening to the Bible read and talked about, enjoying singing and praying with our church community, etc.  Then invite all to sing the hymn concluding with the “let us praise God together” in which we thank God for all these many kinds of bread.

After exploring the many kinds of bread God sends to sustain us, read the first verse of Be Known to Us in Breaking BreadBriefly point out that eating the bread at the Table is only the beginning.  There is nothing magic about it.  The best part starts after we leave the sanctuary.  Jesus remains with us and we continue to feast on his words and trust his love.

Before singing Loaves Were Broken, Words Were Spoken display four pictures: 1. Jesus teaching, 2. Last Supper, 3. Your Communion Table, 4. picture of your congregation leaving the door after worship.  As you read each verse stop to match it to one of the pictures and discuss the connection.  Then invite all to sing together.

Read and briefly discuss the phrases of the first verse of For the Bread Which You Have Broken.  Connect the bread and wine of the Last Supper with Jesus words.  And, give thanks.  Then sing the song together.

After discussing the bread of life, children should be able to join in on the Taize chorus, Eat This Bread.

Read the first verse of Become to Us the Living Bread connecting it to your conversations in worship about bread.  Then, challenge worshipers to think about the second verse (about the wine) to understand the connection between Jesus’ blood and the communion wine. 

Review the first verse of Bread of Heaven, On Thee We Feed in light of your conversation and challenge singers to ponder what the second verse says about wine.

If Communion will be celebrated this week, display the Eucharist loaf and perhaps a basket of many kinds of bread.  Point out that bread comes in many shapes and sizes and is one food that people all around the world eat every day.

With very young children, display a basket of many kinds of bread common to your community (hot day buns, tortillas/wraps, pizza crust, sliced sandwich bread, dinner rolls, etc.)  Enjoy naming all the breads.  Then point to the bread on the table.  Remind the children that Jesus said to eat bread and drink from the cup at communion to remember him.  Suggest that today they remember that Jesus fed people.  Also urge them to remember Jesus every time they eat bread every day.


With older children, display a basket of breads from around the world (pitas, Russian pumpernickel, French baguettes, Indian nan, cornbread, tortillas, etc.)  Identify the different breads and the people who eat them.  Note that all the people in the world eat bread every day.  Point to the bread on the communion table and briefly ponder the possibility that Jesus chose bread as his symbol very carefully.  He wanted his symbol to be something we all recognize and share every day.  When we come to the Table we can imagine people all around the world eating bread with us.

Allison Bauer, a minster and blogger in Pennsylvania, claims that there is more to inviting children to the Table than just handing them the bread and cup.  So one Sunday she gathered the children around the Table to talk about who is invited to the Table.  She then had them issue the invitation with her by echoing each phrase of the Invitation as she said it to the children and the congregation.  At open Tables, this is a great way to emphasize Jesus’ determination to be sure everyone gets to all the tables of life.  Cool idea!

Go to Year A Proper 12 for ideas about using Psalm 145 in connection with this story – including a chance to urge households toward saying a blessing at meals.

Before singing Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ walk through the message of the repeated refrain.  Recall how frightened Jesus’ friends were after he was killed on the cross – so frightened they could hardly breathe.  Insist that the all the angels in heaven and all the earth was equally frightened.  Then there was Easter morning.  Jesus was alive again and they could all breathe.  Read the last phrase noting that “the Word” can be the Bible and it can be Jesus because Jesus was God Word in human flesh.  Restate the line “Because Jesus is alive there is enough bread and love for everybody!”  Challenge even non-readers to sing the refrain.  With this introduction to the refrain, older children will quickly begin to catch the meaning of the verses.

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