Saturday, August 8, 2015

Year B - Proper 17, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 14th Sunday after Pentecost (August 30, 2015)

There are two major themes in this week’s texts.  One is praise of romantic love.  The second and broader one is about keeping rules and living as good people.  

Deuteronomy, Mark, James, and Psalm 15 deal with the Law – or God’s rules as the children see it.  At the beginning of the school year children are learning the rules for their new classes, teams and clubs.  The rules tell them who they are and how they act in each situation.  Knowing that is important to them.  Particularly the gospel leads to complex adult conversations about the value of rules (legalism vs. living by love).  Children are not ready for that conversation.  They are still learning the details of rules.  Looking at the content of the rules with the children enriches the understanding of the adults who go on to ask their questions about legalism.

In many traditions reading the 10 Commandments is part of the communion liturgy.  So, if you will celebrate Communion today, combine reading the Commandments with James’ call to be doers rather than just hearers of the Word.  There are several ways to do this:

1.    A leader reads each commandment pausing after each one for the congregation to respond with “Be doers of the word, not just hearers .”

2.    A leader reads each commandment pausing after each one for the congregation to say a response with motions.
        We will hear it with our ears    point to ears
        Understand it with our brains   put hands on top of head
        Claim it with our hearts            put hand on heart
        Do it with our hands                open hands with palms up
        Do it with our feet                    stomp each foot
        And say it with our mouths      move finger from lips outward

3.    Do one of the above responsive readings but using Jesus’ two great command.  This would allow more time to delve into how each of the two (rather than ten) can be acted on.

The Texts

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

This is the only time The Song of Solomon appears in the Revised Common Lectionary.  So at some point worship leaders may want to build an entire service around introducing the book and exploring its affirmation of romantic love.  Children as well as adults benefit from this affirmation.  It offers them a high view of intimate relationships which they do not often get in other places.  If they have loving parents, it affirms that relationship and makes the children feel even more secure in their parents’ base for their family.  Do take care to remind everyone that like all the good gifts God gives us, we sometimes cannot make them work.  Divorce and fusses are sad realities.

There is no point in presenting the idea that this is a metaphor for Christ and the church.  The children simply will not get it.  They take the poems as the love songs intended by the writer.

To highlight the interplay in today’s reading,

1.    Have it read by a married couple.  The readers could be any age or you could have the whole text read twice once by a younger couple and again by an older couple.
Woman – verses 8-10a
Man – verses 10b - 13

2.    Have the passage read by all the couples in the congregation with the men and women reading the verses as above.  Children love watching the interaction between their parents as they read.

Note:  Yes, there could be some giggling.  Isn’t there often with love poems.  Point this out and enjoy it.

This could also be an opportunity for couples to reaffirm marriage vows.  This is of course mainly for the couples.  But again, the children slurp up witnessing their parents doing this.  It also presents them with a high view of marriage to which to aspire for themselves.  (If you do this, consider those with less than ideal marriages or divorces.  Announce the plan in advance for those who will find such a ritual more painful than helpful.)

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

This is a prayer a poet wrote for the king for the king’s wedding day.  If you introduce it in this way, challenge worshipers, especially children, to write a prayer for someone they know on a special day for them.  They could write a prayer for the birthday of a family member or friend.  Or, they could write a Back to School prayer for a friend or a teacher.  If you are exploring the Song of Solomon, they could write a prayer for their parents for their anniversary.  Encourage them to write the prayer on good paper, maybe decorate it, and give it to the friend – just as the psalmist probably shared his prayer with the king.  If you provide the paper and markers, this could be sermon seatwork.


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

The basic message of this text is that good people keep good rules.  Children who are interested in the rules of all sorts of different groups are interested in this reality.  We can tell them that if we look at people we admire, we often find that they follow rules that are important to them and look good to us.  A really good soccer player knows the rules of the game so well that he or she knows what she can and cannot do at any point in the game.  A scout learns the scout laws in order to know how to live as a scout.  On the other hand, children sometimes form clubs that have rules saying you have to hate the opposite sex or must shoplift or must never speak to certain people or kinds of people.  When you hear a person’s or a group’s rules, you often know whether you want to be part of that group.  Simply encourage children to pay attention to the rules of others.  Or, take it to another level by reading the 10 Commandments or Jesus’ two great commandments as the rules Christians follow. 

Psalm 15

This psalm is easier to follow if verses 1 and 5 b are read by one reader and the remaining verse are read by the whole congregation.  In the introduction note the first reader’s question and urge listeners to the reader’s comment after hearing the response.

J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J 
Psalm 15

Lord, who may enter your Temple?
Who may worship on Zion, your sacred hill?

Those who obey God in everything
and always do what is right,
whose words are true and sincere,
            and who do not slander others.
They do no wrong to their friends
nor spread rumours about their neighbours.
They despise those whom God rejects,
but honour those who obey the Lord.
      They always do what they promise,
no matter how much it may cost.
They make loans without charging interest
and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will always be secure.

From TEV translation

J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J  J 

Use the script above as a call to worship.  Then repeat it as a responsive prayer of confession.   

We called ourselves to worship with a description of those who have earned the right to worship God by the way they live every day.  But we know we do not always live that way or earn that right.  Let us admit to God the ways we have failed.

     Lord we want to obey You in everything and always do 
     what is right.

But we often obey our own wants and wishes instead.

We wish all our words were true and sincere.  We do not mean to slander others.

But we are surprised and disappointed at the words that come out of our mouths.

We want to treat our friends well.  We do not intend to 
spread rumors.

But we too often mistreat those we love most and we do 
spread rumors.

In our heads we honor those who honor you

But we act like we have more respect for whoever is 
popular at the moment.

We like to think that we always do what we promise, no matter how much it costs, that we make loans without interest, and that we could not possibly be bribed.

But we know that is not true. 

Forgive us and remake us into the people you created us to be. 

We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

James 1:17-27 

The Roman Catholic lectionary streamlines this reading in a way that is helpful to children.  It omits the mirror image and the teaching about the dangers of the tongue which is explored more fully in Proper 19.

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

James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27

Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning.  By his own will he brought us into being through the word of truth, so that we should have first place among all his creatures.  So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.
Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.

                                                From the TEV translation

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

The key verse and main thing children grasp is “Be doers of the word, not just hearers.”  To explore its meaning start with the frequent retort, “I know that” when a child is confronted with an obvious fact, e.g. you love your little brother or it is dangerous to play in the street.  What follows is generally questions about if you know that why did you do what you just did?!!!!  Parents and other adults agree with James that your actions must match what you know or say. 

Explain what a rough life widows and orphans faced in Jesus’ day.  Detail ways James’ hearers would have needed to take care of widows and orphans.  Then, ask who are the people on the edge or in need of our care today, e.g. any younger child, someone just learning a game you know well, etc.  Then put verse 27 into words that include those people as well as the widows and orphans. 

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

To emphasize the story call people forward to help read scripture about a picnic, give them some trail mix to eat as you read the first few verses.  As they eat point out the difference between clean hands and undefiled hands   Undefiled hands have been washed with ritual words, clean hands are just clean.  (This explanation takes the place of reading verses 3-4.)  Invite them to keep eating as you read the scripture.  The scribes should be seated near the very front of the congregation and come from there to pose their question.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mark 7:1-2, 5-8, 14-15, 21-23

Narrator/Jesus as scribes rise to look questioningly at those on the steps:  Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him,

2 or 3 Scribes one who speaks:  Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?

Narrator/Jesus standing up among the munchers
Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
         in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition. 
Listen to me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

                                                                        From NRSV

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

Be clear with the children that Jesus is not saying that we do not have to wash our hands.  Jesus is saying God doesn’t love us because we do rituals about everything.  God sees right into our hearts and that is what counts.

Use your bodies to explore what Jesus says about what makes us clean or dirty.  Invite children (all worshipers) to do what you do as you talk.  Start by discussing ways we are told to keep clean:
-        wash your hands before eating
-        stay clean, don’t get dirty (tuck your hand close to your body or put them in your pockets and stand very tidily as if responding to an instruction like “keep clean because we are going to church or school or a party”)
-        don’t touch that it’s dirty (point to an imaginary dirty tissue on the floor holding your hands back and making a face)
-        don’t eat that it has been on the floor (point at an imaginary piece of candy on the floor and make a face)
Then note that Jesus says we need to pay more attention to the dirt that comes out of us than to staying away from the dirt in the world.  Touch parts of your body naming ways we use that to add dirt to the world.  That dirt can make the whole world a dirty mess.  So,
-        Don’t say angry, mean, hateful words that hurt other people (touch your lips)
-        use your hands to hug, hold hands, and pat on the back rather than punch (demonstrate each with your hands)
-        smile rather than frown or scowl (try on several expressions)

Explore a variety of ways the words clean and dirty are used.  A scout is to be clean in thought, word and deed.  A person who has no drugs in their body is clean.  A person with no criminal record is clean.  Then there are dirty words, dirty pictures, dirty names, etc.  All of these uses of clean and dirty are metaphors, but are used so commonly that children quickly grasp what they mean.  All of them describe what is good and bad.  Mark is saying that we are called not to be spic and span clean, but to stay away from all the bad stuff.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God” from Psalm 51 is a good prayer for today.  If you worked with it in connection with the David and Bathsheba story, recall that then connect the verse to the gospel picnic to insist that God is more interested in clean hearts than clean hands.  Create a responsive prayer of confession in which the congregation responds to each confession with “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  

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