Thursday, July 23, 2015

Year B - Proper 14, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 9, 2015)

Remember to check Including Back to School in the Congregation's Worship for ideas about celebrating the return to school.  It has been updated for 2015.
2 Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33

Adults hearing this story are overwhelmed by David’s parental grief at the death of his rebellious son.  Children, lacking the experience of being parents, are mainly fascinated by Absalom’s being caught in a tree by his hair.  So there are lots of reasons to focus on other passages today.

These verses need a lot of back story to make sense.  One way to provide that is to read the story from a children’s Bible Story Book.  “Absalom’s Rebellion” in The Children’s Illustrated Bible, by Selina Hastings, can be read in 3 minutes. 

Introduce this sad story by reading the first half of Sorry, by Jean Van Leeuwen.  It is the story of two brothers who have a falling out that ends up dividing them for the rest of their lives.  Stop reading with “Sometimes when the breeze was just right, the brothers could hear each other playing.  They were sad and lonesome sounds.”  (About 4 minutes to read aloud)  Simply insist that this is a sad story and very much like what happened between David and his son Absalom.  Then read the story of their final battle.

If you have been recording the stories of David on a David figure, today add a broken heart to recall David’s grief over Absalom.

Psalm 130

Note:  This psalm was also paired with the story of David mourning the deaths of Saul and Jonathan on July 5 of this year.  I’ve adapted some of those ideas for use here and added one more.

To highlight the hope that is easily lost in this psalm, include motions with the reading.  The whole congregation could do the movements in their seats following the lead of a person doing the actions.  Or, children could be called forward to do the motions to help the whole congregation understand David’s psalm.  In either case, a single reader reads the words as another leader leads the motions.

Verses 1-3     kneeling with head bowed, face in hands
Verses 4-6     raise head to look up
Verse 7          a. sitting up on knees
                       b. hands turned up and out to the sides
Verse 8          a. stand
                       b. stand with arms spread out and up

Even with the motions, children will not follow the details of this psalm as it is read.  But, when it is highlighted they can begin to understand verse 1’s “Out of the depths I cry to you.”  Read the phrase several times.  Brainstorm a list of “out of the depths” situations being sure to include some that will be familiar to children, e.g. family fights (not fussing about what to eat for dinner, but big fights with name calling), hopeless fusses with siblings, being really worried about going back to school for nine whole months, etc.  Describe David’s “depths” as he heard that his son Absalom had been killed in a battle. 

Ask what we do when we are in “the depths.”  First we tell God about it, but then….  Read verse 5 and rephrase its insistence that we remember that God loves us and will save us. 

Give worshipers gray sheet of papers and black pencils with which to write or draw about “the “depths” they face or know of.  Collect them all in baskets to place on the worship table.  Comment on all the pain in those baskets, then read the psalm over the baskets.  

If you are working with Psalm 23 all summer, connect these verses to the psalm phrase, “when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”

1 Kings 19:4-8

This is one scene in the middle of a much bigger story that is more fully read during Year C in the lectionary cycle.  It would be possible to read the whole story here also or simply to summarize what goes before and after in your own words.  In either case, keep listeners’ attention by moving among three spots for the three scenes of the story.  If possible stand in higher places (maybe the top of the chancel steps) for scenes one and three which were big events that took place on mountains and in a lower spot in the middle for scene 2 which was an emotional and geographical low between the two other events.

Scene 1:  Elijah beats the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel, kills them all, and is threatened by Queen Jezebel.  (1 Kings 18:20-40 and 19:1-3 or your summary of it)

Scene 2:  In the wilderness between the two mountains, God feeds Elijah for his journey. (1 Kings 19:4-8 – read from the Bible)

Scene 3: In a cave on Mt Horeb, God speaks to God in a still small voice and gives him his next assignment.  (1 Kings 19:9-18 or your summary of it)

This book comes in several
different covers.

To simply read these verses with a little back story, go to “Elijah, God’s Messenger – Danger!” #165 in The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor.

If you celebrate the sacrament today and it is the Sunday before school starts, connect the bread of the sacrament to all the love and support from God and from the church that goes with students and teachers into the coming year.  As you raise the communion loaf, insist that just as God was with Elijah and fed Elijah on his journey, God will be with students and will feed them during their journey through the school year. 

Psalm 34:1-8

Though this is one of the alphabet psalms, it is read today mainly for verse 8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”  It could be read as a grace Elijah might have said over the bread God gave him on his journey.  To do this recall the context just before reading the psalm.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good!” is often used in communion rituals as the final statement before the distribution of the elements.  This would obviously be a good day to use it there.  If you do, alert worshipers that it is coming and briefly note what it means and how it connects to this psalm. 

BTW it does NOT mean, “Taste God and Jesus.  Don’t they taste good!”  Literal thinking children can hear it that way unless they are directed to think about how wonderful all of God’s life sustaining gifts are.

Before singing All Who Hunger Gather Gladly, highlight the fourth verse.  Point out the hungry words “loneliness” and “longing” and the fed words “peace” and gratitude.”  Challenge singers to look for other hunger and fed words as they sing the whole song together.  If you will use “taste and see that the Lord is good!” in the Eucharist, point to it in the chorus. 

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 (RC = 4:30 – 5:2)

To separate the items in Paul’s “to-do” or maybe “to be” list, have each item read by a separate readers.  The script below requires 7 readers – maybe members of several households or a class.  It could easily be adapted for fewer by assigning each reader several parts.  Two readers could even do the job with one reading odd numbers and the other reading even numbers.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + ++ + + + + + + + + +

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2a

All Readers:  Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

Reader 1:  Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

Reader 2:  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

Reader 3:  Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

Reader 4:  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Reader 5:  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.

Reader 6:  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,

Reader 7: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

All Readers:  Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

From the NRSV

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Lots of commentators stress that these are not just rules.  But for children near the beginning of the school year, they are thought provoking precisely as rules.  In their classes, new teams and clubs they will encounter new rules and may be involved in creating rules for these groups.  Keeping the rules makes them a full member of these important groups.  Just ask a Scout about the Scout laws!  They know and follow those rules because that is what scouts do and it is important to them to be scouts.  In Ephesians Paul offers children rules for Christians.  There are at least two ways to explore them in worship.

1.    Identify the many kinds of rules we encounter in the different groups of which we are part.  Then, challenge worshipers to see the rules in this text as rules for Christians – every day, wherever they are.

2.    Identify the many kinds of rules we encounter in the different groups of which we are part.  Then, challenge worshipers to make up their own rules that they will follow wherever they are and no matter what group they are participating in at the moment.  Encourage them to draw the best from all, but especially from Paul’s list.

In children’s terms Paul’s rules mean

Always tell the truth, no matter what.  Don’t tell lies.  Be honest.

When you are angry, work it out.  Don’t carry a load of anger around with you.

Don’t steal other people’s stuff or work (cheating is stealing)

Be careful about what you say.  Words can hurt.  So, no gossip, lies about what others do, or name calling.

Don’t be bitter, mad at someone all the time, a name caller, or become full of hurt and angry, evil thoughts.

Do be kind to everyone and forgive others when it is needed.

Explore one or more of Paul’s rules and  ponder what it means to live it/them out at school by writing key phrase for each one (or selected ones) on separate posters.  Display the posters, then work through each one adding words and phrases that remind us how we keep that rule today.  This could be a children’s time conversation with the children.  Or, it could be part of the real sermon in which your additions apply to school, work and community activities of worshipers of all ages.  In this case in a formal setting the preacher could do all the talking writing clarifying phrases while working through the stack of rule posters, then displaying them as they are completed.  In less formal congregations, this sermon might become an extended conversation with worshipers of all ages.

If you focus on Paul’s suggestions about telling the truth that builds up, read Being Frank, by Donna W Earnhardt.  In the beginning Frank tells everyone the truth even when it hurts them.  His grandfather helps him learn how to tell the truth in a way that people are not hurt by it.  Read the whole book aloud in 6 minutes or select a few key pages to raise the key idea that honesty is “best served with more sugar and less pepper.”

If you did not do so last week, this is another opportunity to adapt Paul’s words to form new verses of “Lord, I Want to Be A Christian,” i.e. Lord, I want to be more… honest, kind, forgiving or Lord, I want to be less…angry, etc.

John 6:35, 41-51

Children are as baffled as Jesus’ first hearers were by his claim that he is the bread of life.  Point this out to the children (and other worshipers).  Then, ponder some of the possibilities.  Laugh at the possibility that Jesus was inviting people to become cannibals and eat his arms and legs.  Describe the possibility of being physically alive, but feeling dead, sad, hopeless, stuck, etc.  Explore how Jesus shows us the way past all those dead feelings to feeling really alive, happy, ready and able to do whatever comes our way, looking forward to the future, etc.  Jesus told us stories and gave us rules that show us how to live well.  But more than that Jesus forgave all the people who killed him on a cross and promised to forgive the rest of us when we mess up, too.  That makes us really, really alive – now and forever.  So, just as bread keeps our bodies alive, Jesus keeps our spirits alive.

In Mom Pie, by Lynne Jonell, 2 boys who have been pushed aside by a mom busy preparing dinner for company make a mom pie by filling a pie pan with items that remind them of things they love about their mom.  At Storypath Noell Rathbun-Cook says   “For we who are aching to know and dwell with God, Jesus is like that pie, he is the thing that can be touched, smelled, tasted, heard, to better help people connect to God.”  One could read the whole book (5 minutes), read only until Mom stays in her chair (3 minutes) or simply tell the story briefly, then brainstorm things to put in a Jesus pie that would remind us about God – some bread, a cross, a Bible or Bible story book, etc.  Insist that the bread in John’s gospel is a lot like a mom pie.  Then, read the gospel.

They Followed a Bright Star, by Ulises Wensell, is a Christmas book.  It describes the shepherds’ journey to the stable insisting that they invited everyone they met on the way to join them.  But, a number of the people could not go because they too had seen an angel and were following instructions to prepare bread, wine, fish, and water that the child would one day need.  It recalls the feeding story we read last week, connects to communion, and is fun to read out of season in August.  The book is however hard to get.  The best source is to order from a back up Amazon supplier.  So, if you want to use it, order early.  It takes 18 minutes to read aloud, but could be shortened by deleting the section about the kings.  

Help the children learn one or more of the Communion hymns that focus on bread.  There are lots of them.  I am reprinting 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 Bread.  Briefly 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.

JESUS MAFA. The Lord's Supper, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
 a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved July 23, 2015].
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.

Become to Us the Living Bread – Read the first verse 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.

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