Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Year B - Proper 9, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 5, 2015)

Some of these texts share themes that are especially appropriate for children.

Sometimes people are not going to like you and that is OK.  Your job is not to make everyone like you.  Your job is to use all your gifts and talents to be the person God created you to be.  Your job is also to live as one of God’s loving people.  God told Ezekiel that even if the people did not like his message from God, after hearing Ezekiel they would know there had been a prophet with them.  When Jesus tried to teach in his hometown, no one would listen.  He had to leave and go to other towns.  When Paul preached some people did not like what he said and made trouble for him.  The same is true for us.  We cannot expect that if we live as God’s people, everyone will like us all the time.  There is nothing to do about it but know it is true and suck it up when we have to.

You can’t just sit there.  God has something for everyone to do.  God had a message for Ezekiel to tell the people.  Jesus sent the disciples out to tell other people what they had seen Jesus do and say.  Paul spent his whole life starting new churches.  Each of us needs to keep our eyes open for what God needs for us to do.

This may be used for non-commercial purposes with credit to 
Carolyn C. Brown at Worship With Children.blogspot.com

If either of these themes lead you to sing “God of Grace and God of Glory, give young readers (or all readers) a color-coded word sheet.  Before singing the hymn, point out that the first and last verses are prayers asking God to be with us always and the middle two verses which describe some of the hard parts of being God’s people feel like we are singing in a dark cloud.  Whether they are focused on the dark problems or the prayers, all the verses end with “Grant us wisdom grant us courage”.  Note that the key words in each verse are in bold.  The goal is to help children understand the hymn and help older worshipers pay more attention to the details.

The Texts

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Add the appropiate prop to your
David figure or banner
The story of David being anointed to be king is full of action and details that interest children, e.g. he wasn’t even invited to the sacrifice and had to be called in from doing chores.  The story of David being crowned king is not nearly so interesting to children – or many adults.  I’d go to one of the David stories that did not make the lectionary.

David spares Saul’s life and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe when Saul stops to go to potty in a cave unaware that David is hiding in the cave.  (1 Samuel 24)

David spares Saul’s life again, this time taking the spear beside Saul when David sneaked up on him sleeping in his tent.  (1 Samuel 26)

Abigail negotiates peace between David and her foolish husband – a wonderful, strong story about a woman who was a peacemaker.  (1 Samuel 25)

The one peripheral theme that interests children is that David was probably 9 or 10 years old when he was anointed and 30 when he was crowned.  That means he waited 20 years for God to keep the promise!  20 years is forever for children.  During that time David was patient and trusted God’s promise.  Some things just do not happen quickly in life.

Psalm 48

The TEV offers my favorite version of this psalm for children.

This psalm is a nationalistic song about Zion.  At the very least, introduce it as that and explain that Zion = Jerusalem, the capital city of David’s kingdom.  To give it more reality, display or project pictures of Jerusalem.  (I found these photos by googling “Jerusalem images.”)  Point out the towers, the Temple, and city walls.  Identify a cistern as a water source inside the city walls.  Tell briefly how people depended on these things and how proud they were of them. 

Display at least one picture of your nation’s capital and point out the similarity in your feelings about that city and the feelings of David’s people about Jerusalem.  Or, compare this psalm to one of your nation’s patriotic songs.  In the USA on the Fourth of July holiday weekend I’d compare it to the first verse of “America the Beautiful.”

Such conversations help worshipers of all ages see Psalms as the song book of God’s people at that time.  They also set the stage for more adult conversation about the problems in blending religion and nationalism both then and now.

Ezekiel 2:1-5

Make a big deal of “O mortal, stand on your feet and I will speak to you.”  God was calling Ezekiel to literally stand in respect in God’s presence.  But, was also calling him to take responsibility for God’s message – to stand on his own two feet.  Older children both appreciate and can be challenged by this IF both meanings are pointed out.  With a reminder about the manners of looking at someone when they speak to you and standing up to meet someone, they get the literal “stand up.”  Help them get the other meaning by reminding them of times when they were little and wanted to be carried rather than to walk.  Often parents say, “you can stand and walk on your own two feet.”  They say the same thing when encouraging older children to make their bed or put their dirty clothes in the hamper without being asked.  God says to Ezekiel and to each of us that we are to stand up and be God’s people just like we stand up and walk on our own two feet.

If you explore this in a children’s sermon conclude by asking all the children to stand and addressing the phrase to them something like “O mortals, stand on your own feet.  Be God’s person everyday wherever you go.”

To emphasize the “O mortal, stand on your feet and I will speak to you” with the whole congregation read the entire passage at least twice.  The first time invite worshipers to stand imagining themselves in Ezekiel’s sandals.  Take time to explore what that encounter with God meant to Ezekiel and what he did in response to it.  Later reread the story challenging worshipers to imagine God speaking to them today.  The second reading could be near the end of the sermon or it could be the Charge before the Benediction at the end of the service. 

Use the call to stand up as an opportunity for a little worship education about when and why worshipers stand during your worship service.  Point out the way standing is indicated in your printed order of worship.  Be sure to point out that standing in worship is good practice for standing up as God’s people all week at home, work, etc.

Today the Communion Table becomes the place God’s people find nourishment for doing God’s work in the world.  If possible, invite people to get on their feet and come forward to partake.  In the invitation include the words “stand on your feet” along with come to the Table.

Stand with Ezekiel and sing your response to God’s call with “Here I Am, Lord.”  Have the choir or a soloist sing the questioning verses and the congregation sing the “I will go” responses.

Make up new verses for “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” to fit this reading, maybe
I’m gonna stand when the Spirit says stand…
I’m gonna speak when the Spirit says speak…
I’m gonna go when the Spirit says go…
(This idea comes from a Comment on the 2012 “Singing from the Lectionary” blog post for today.)

Psalm 123

In a worship service about being sent out by God or Jesus, unpack the first two verses by exploring how masters and mistresses communicate with their servants.  Often their closest servants know what they want by following their hands.  Demonstrate by doing a come here gesture with your hand and asking children what you are saying with your hand.  Repeat with an open hand gesture that says “I want…” and a pointing finger that says, “go, do….”  Then read “so our eyes look to the Lord our God” in verse 2.  Identify ways we keep our eyes on God such as reading the Bible to know what God wants, worshiping God with others who are also keeping their eye on God and working with Christians who are trying to do together what they think God wants. 

Remembering Jesus as we share in Communion today we “look to our master’s hands,” i.e. we remember what Jesus did and taught.  It would be a good day to recall specifics children know from the crucifixion and resurrection stories and note how those stories help us figure out what we will do every day.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

In a service on God’s call, this can be the “no excuses text.”  Paul says there is something wrong with him.  He has a thorn in his flesh.  Most children have experience with thorns and know they hurt and can make it hard to think about anything else than that hurt.  Point out that we do not know what Paul’s thorn was.  Suggest a few possibilities and invite worshipers to add their suggestions.  Then point out that even with his thorn, Paul keeps doing the work God sent him to do – starting new churches.  Paul is amazed at what God can do through him, even with that nasty thorn slowing him down.  God can also use us even with our thorns IF we’ll believe God can use us and try to do what we think God wants us to do.

Tell the story in the movie “The King’s Speech” so that children as well as adults understand King George’s struggling with his stuttering so that he could give speeches that gave all of England courage to face the bombing of World War II.  He wished he didn’t stutter.  He actually wished he was not the king.  But he did stutter and he was the king.  He had a job to do.  So he worked hard to do it as well as he possibly could and it made a big difference in how people faced the war.

Children as well as adults need to know that some prayers do not get the answers we want.  When that happens it is not because we are not good people or did not pray right.  Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that he not have to be killed on the cross, but he still had to do it.  Paul prayed that his thorn be removed, but it was not.  We pray every Sunday for people who are sick to get better.  Some of them do.  Some don’t.  That is something we don’t understand because we are people, not God.

Mark 6:1-13

The people in Nazareth couldn’t see God at work among them in Jesus.  They just saw ol’ Jesus who lived down the street and was a carpenter.  Nothing special about him.  Challenge worshipers of all ages to be more alert than Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth were.  Urge them to watch for God at work in their world.  One person calls these “God sightings.”  Cite examples of God sightings – a big brother or sister leaving friends to take care of a younger sibling, the youth working on a mission trip project, etc.  Encourage households to tell each other about God sightings each day.  Challenge all worshipers to celebrate and support all the places they see God at work in the world today.

>  Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson, uses no words only pictures to describe a walk on which a Dad ignores everything and everyone around him while his daughter sees and picks weedy flowers growing in unlikely spots and delivers them to people who need such a gift.  In many ways the Dad is like Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth who didn’t notice God at work among them and little girl is like Jesus who pays attention to all the gifts God spreads around us and shares those gifts with those who need them.  The easiest and best way to explore this book is to look through the pictures with a small group discussing what you see in each picture as you go.  In a larger sanctuary, the pictures could be projected for the whole congregation.  (Thanks to Storypath a blog at Union Presbyterian Seminary.)

Because the people around him did not believe he could do anything, Jesus could do nothing.  God needs us as partners to do the really big stuff.  If you are exploring this, try reading the very short story “Partners” from Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories About Stories in the Bible, by Marc Gellman.

Have someone enter struggling with a huge suitcase filled with stuff they plan to take with them as they go to tell other about Jesus.  Let them unpack some silly stuff like a toaster, lots of clothes for any kind of weather, maybe a skateboard, etc. explaining why they think they will need that.  Read the gospel instructions to the disciples, then work through with that person what they really need and what is really unnecessary.  The bottom line is that we don’t need any special equipment to be God’s people.  (This idea comes from Ann Scull at her Mustard Seeds blog.)

Check out Frances Woodruff’s take on this at On the Chancel Steps.

Avoid packing the suitcase by reading all or part of Not the Piano, Mrs. Medley!, by Evan Levine.  Mrs. Medley and her grandson Max decide to go the beach but get side tracked by an ever growing list of things she thinks they need to take with them.  When they finally get to the beach, they find that they don’t need any of them.  The beach provides everything they need and want.  Because it is rather wordy, you might want to use the pictures and tell the story in your words.  It would also be possible to leave out some of the things they packed.

The Biggest House in the World, by Leo Lionni, is a story within a story.  In just over 2 minutes you can read the central story which is conveniently printed in italics for the sake of brevity.  In 2 more minutes you can read both stories (the whole book).  The longer version makes the message of the shorter story even clearer and leaves you with a happy ending.  In both stories snails are confronted by the wisdom of keeping their shell house small so that they can move around easily to find food and adventure. 

The sending out of the disciples is another opportunity to sing “Here I Am, Lord.”  Again, have a choir or soloist sing God’s calls in the verses with the congregation singing the chorus in response.

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