Friday, August 21, 2015

Year B - Proper 20, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 20, 2015)

Many of these texts read together could be a good antidote for the fall season’s over dedication to being the best, the greatest, number 1.  Proverbs describes an impossibly perfect woman who fewer and fewer women take seriously.  Jesus in Mark insists that it is not about being the greatest.  James warns that a lot of our problems rise in our ambitions and strivings.  Together they take us back to grace.  It’s not wrong to do our best, but we mess up when we obsess about it. 

                  The Texts 

Proverbs 31:10-31

When this description of the good woman is read by a woman children can hear it as a description of one model woman.  It also avoids the bad history in which this description was used by men to keep women “in their place.”

To help children understand how many women feel about this alphabet poem about “the good woman” read them the beginning of a similar poem about “the good kid.”  The children might call out each letter of the alphabet with the leader responding with the verse based on that letter with emphasis on the key word or phrase.  Talk about how this poem makes them feel.  Laughing, suggest other poems like “A Good Dad” or “A Good Teacher” or “A Good Friend.”  The point of all this is that none of us are that good and that is OK.


The Good Kid

A         A good kid is able to do whatever is asked.
B         “Be thoughtful and kind to every person all the time” 
                 is the motto which a good kid follows every day.
C          Clean rooms, clean clothes, clean papers, 
                 and clean desks show the presence of a good kid.
D         Doing what is right all the time is what a good kid 
                 always does.
E          Everyone thinks a good kid is wonderful 
                 and praise comes to the good kid every single day.
F          Football, basketball, baseball, soccer 
                 and all other sports come easily to the good kid.  
                 Good kids are sports stars.
G         Good grades cover the reports of good kids.  
                 They are excellent students.
H         Happy is the word that describes a good kid 
                 all the time.
            Had enough?

This is my stab at it.  Feel free to use it as is or to edit freely.  Have fun.


Back in 2012 other members of my lectionary study group were all about reclaiming this text for women.  They were going to lift up the exceptional way she did her work and challenge us to use her as a model.  I tried to think of ways to present it to children in that light, but can’t get there.  I’d love to hear how others can.

Psalm 1

Today this is presented to go with the Proverbs reading.  You might make a case that it is a psalm the woman described in Proverbs would have known and liked.

Scornful, scoffers, and chaff are unfamiliar words to most children, so choose your translation carefully and point out strange words before reading if needed.  (There is no translation that includes none of these words.  So, choose the one that fits you congregation and introduce its “hard words.”)

Psalm 1 is an almost over-simplistic comparison of “the good” and “the wicked.”  To make the comparison visual, have it read by two readers (perhaps one wearing a dark shirt and pants/skirt and the other wearing a white or light colored shirt and pants/skirts).  One reads the verses about the wicked.  The other reads the verses about the good.  They begin standing back to back in the center of the sanctuary.  Each one turns to recite his or her verses facing the congregation then returns to the starting position.  This is most effective if the readers actually recite their verses from memory. 

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

Psalm 1

Reader 1:      Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
     but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
   They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
   In all that they do, they prosper.

Reader 2:      The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
   Therefore the wicked will not stand 
               in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation 
     of the righteous;

Reader 1:      For the Lord watches over the way 
                              of the righteous,

Reader 2:      but the way of the wicked will perish. 
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
NOTE: I used the NRSV in the script because this psalm is well known in this version.  For a translation with an easier vocabulary for children look at Today’s English Version.

Visualize the major images in the psalm with a display that juxtaposes a lush leafy plant and a vase of dry brittle weeds/straw.  (BTW, talk in advance with the flower arranger so the weeds aren’t an elegant display!)  Point to the displays before reading the psalm or talk about them during the sermon to explore the psalmist’s message.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22
Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54

All three of these are very adult texts that relate in sophisticated ways to the gospel prediction of the crucifixion.  They would be rather hard to explain to children and if you did explain them would not mean that much to the children.  So, I would stick with simply retelling the passion story in Mark.  See suggestions below.

If you read any of these texts, consider the Roman Catholic lectionary suggestion that we read only Wisdom of Solomon 2:17-20.  Those verses focus the message considerably.

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

The Roman Catholic lectionary again streamlines this rather long repetitive text to James 3:16-4:3.  It is easier for children to stick with the shorter reading.

Before reading the text present on 2 posters “envy” and “selfish ambition” (or whatever words your translation uses).  Briefly describe the wanting in each one and encourage worshipers to listen for the words and the problems they cause according to James.

Invite worshipers to pray a prayer of confession with their eyes open doing with their hands what you do with yours as you pray together.  Begin with hands grasping and holding.  When you get to ”open our hands,” open your hands with palms out and up.  After promising forgiveness not only for hands but also for hearts, use your hands for the passing of the peace.

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

We want to look amazing.  
     We want great clothes, cool shoes, a great haircut.
We want our rooms in our homes filled with our stuff.
We want all the best people to be our friends.
We want to be the first, the best, the most, the greatest.
So we grab and hold and demand. 
We even kick and punch to get what we want.
Forgive us.
Teach us to let go, to open our hands 
     and hearts to others.
Teach us to be content with what we have 
     and to share it.
Teach us to think as much about what THEY want 
     as what WE want.
Teach us to be as loving as Jesus.

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

Before singing Be Thou My Vision point out the verse that begins “riches I heed not.”  Spin out a short list of riches like clothes, houses, cars, video games…  Then read the next phrase “vain empty praise” and spin out a list of being the greatest athlete, the smartest student, the best ……  Roll your eyes.  Then read through the rest of the verse ending with emphasis on “Great God of heaven my treasure Thou art.”  Finally invite worshipers to sing that verse – and the others – as if they really mean it.  (Warning:  Hymnals use a variety of words for this verse.  Be sure to use the one in your book.)

Judy Blume’s picture book, The Pain and The Great One goes both with James’ teachings about not getting so tied up in ourselves and what we want and with the argument about greatness in Mark.  An eight year old big sister, the Great One,” and her six year old brother, “the Pain,” each rant about the unfair advantages the other has.  It’s a conversation most families will recognize.  It takes 7-8 minutes to read the entire book with the drama it demands.  If needed, the book could be shortened considerably by editing out parallel parts of each child’s rant, e.g. leave out the part about the blocks and the parts about staying up late or having the blocks to himself.  Or, you could select a few key phrases to say with great drama knowing that children and parents can fill in with all the others.  If you use this book in exploring James’ insistence that many of our problems spring from our jealousies of others and our greedy wants, offer a few similar rants often heard from teenagers and adults – maybe from others at the office, etc. 

Mark 9:30-37

This reading falls into 2 parts: the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection and Jesus’ discussion with his disciples about what constitutes greatness.  For children they are rather separate conversations.

Verses 30-32, the prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection, are an opportunity to retell the Holy Week story in September – without the distractions of Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs.  Three ways to tell the story:

JESUS MAFA. The Crucifixion; Jesus dies on the cross,
Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved August 21, 2015].
Gather a set of pictures tracing the events of Holy Week .  Display them in order recalling the events in them as you go.  One good source is the African paintings at Vanderbilt's Art in the Christian Tradition Collection.  Go to and type MAFA in the search line to find this series of paintings.

“Read” a simple story book about Holy Week events.  Books for young preschoolers with simple pictures sand few words are the best.  The Easter Story by Patricia A. Pingry is a good choice, but you may have another one among the children’s books for children.  Whatever book you choose avoid reading the printed words in favor of telling the story in your own words.  You can skip over some pages in order to spend more time on others.

Tell the story by singing Lord of the Dance or O Sing A Song of Bethlehem to trace all of Jesus’ life including his death on the cross.  Before singing the song, briefly walk through the stories told in each verse.  Such songs help children string together the stories about Jesus they generally hear one at a time. 

Verses 33 – 37 speak to children of something that is very real to them.  They have had the “who is the greatest” conversation with their friends repeatedly.  They have argued about who is the greatest ball player in the world, who is the best speller in their class, who among those present is the greatest at … whatever they are doing at the moment.  They are encouraged to be the best, the champion, the greatest.  From an early age we ply children with trophies, ribbons, titles, and more that mark their greatness at all sorts of things.  Jesus’ message flies in the face of all of this.  Jesus says God is not interested in who is greatest at anything.  God is interested in who pays attention to the least of the people. 

Since children are interested in other children, they will listen to information about how children were regarded in Jesus’ day.  They were totally powerless and un-important.  One source says they were referred to as it rather than he or she.  What they thought or wanted mattered to no one.  Use this information to make Jesus’ point that the greatest person is not the one who wins all the prizes and is extra specially talented, but the one who pays attention to and takes care of the people who need love and care most – in Jesus’ day the one who paid attention to children.  Then brainstorm a list of the most unimportant “it” people today – maybe younger kids or not very bright kids or kids who wear dorky clothes or…..  Insist that the greatest person according to Jesus is the person who pays attention to the “it kids.”

Yes, again!
Judy Blume’s The Pain and the Great One which was used to explore the James text above can also be seen as a child’s version of the disciples’ discussion about who is the greatest.  The trick is to recognize in the children’s rants feelings we all (and the disciples) have at all ages.  We want to be special, the great one, and most loved.  Jesus is telling us that those feelings are dead ends.  We need to stop worrying about ourselves and start paying attention to people around us.  The surprising thing is that when we do that we are happier.

Yertle the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss, tells of Yertle the turtle king who tries to prove his greatness with ever higher thrones.  He makes those high thrones by piling more and more turtles on top of each other.  Max at the bottom of the tower cries for relief and is ignored until Yertle seeing the moon rise above him is outraged that anything is higher than he is.  Max guessing what Yertle will want next, lets out a big burp causing the whole tower to fall and pitching Yertle into the mud.  It is a parable about the foolishness of trying to be “the greatest.”

There are several versions of the first and last verses.  Be sure you print the one in your hymn book.
To turn The Servant Song into an affirmation of faith, give children or all worshipers word sheets with large margins early in the service.  Read the first verse.  Point out all the yous in it and insist that the song only becomes real when we replace the yous with specific people or groups of people we want to serve as Jesus instructed.  Invite worshipers to draw or write the names of people for whom they want to sing this song.  Encourage them to include people in their own families, friends they like, even people they don’t like but whom they know need their loving care.  Suggest that they listen for ideas as you worship together.  Then sing the song using the song sheets near the conclusion of the service.

Other child friendly songs that call us to respond to Jesus call to discipleship include
Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your
Be Thou My Vision
Take My Life and 
     Let It Be Consecrated


  1. Mark in Australia sent this email and gave permission for me to share it:
    I had some fun with the alphabet describing children and attached a copy for you to see, if you are interested.

    I changed the title to The Ideal Child to reflect the teaching of Proverbs 31. I like talking of ideals with the congregation, an ideal is something to strive towards even though we may never reach it. I also wrote this bearing in mind that many of the young people I work with are special needs. We have a number of children living with autism, for example. They do not play sport and have some difficulties fitting in, so this is an attempt to find a model that speaks to them.

    I had fun with the X. In the end a Mormon friend of mine came up with the word, a wonderful etymology behind the word describes a house set up to care for the sick, pilgrims and strangers. It will give us a talking point on Sunday.

    I also personalised each list. I replaced The ideal child is: with Name is: and am getting copies laminated so they can take them home. Doing it this way, I hope to reinforce the good character and encourage striving to be even more of that. Where I know the child's favourite colour, I did the font of the text in that colour.

    Of course, the anger is those unexpected visitors, so I will have a couple of blanks left over that can be handed out to guests or visitors.

    The Ideal Child

    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

    The ideal child is:

    A Appreciative of family and friends
    B Blessed by God
    C Created in God’s image
    D Diligent in doing what needs to be done
    E Excited to do God’s will
    F Fun filled
    G Gentle and nurturing
    H Hungry to learn
    I Inquisitive
    J Joyful before God
    K Kind to the creatures of this world
    L Loyal to God and loved ones
    M Mindful of others
    N Naturally themselves
    O Obedient to their parents
    P Persistent when things get difficult
    Q Quick to forgive
    R Right with God
    S Steadfast in their faith
    T Thoughtful of the needs of others
    U Unpredictable
    V Vital for a lively Church
    W Wanting to Worship God
    X Xenodochial
    Y Young at heart
    Z Zealous for that which is good and right

    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


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