Saturday, September 12, 2015

Year B - Proper 23, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 11, 2015)

Today’s texts explore complicated adult concerns.  Children will be lost in many of them.  But, we can explore with the children some of the literal basics that underlie these adult conversations and in the process enrich the thinking of the adults too.

“Jesus Loves Me” may be the summary song for the week.  Like the young man in Mark we all depend on Jesus who it turns out does love us and stand with us (see Hebrews).  We know that because of the Word we find in the Bible (also Hebrews). 

The Texts for Today

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

This book comes in serveral covers.
The RCL skips over the “consolations” of Jobs friends and goes straight to Job’s complaints today.  The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, offers a summary of the arguments of the friends and Job’s insistence of his innocence and complaint to God in “Cheering Job Up?”  It can be read in 3 minutes by one person or as reader’s theater by a Narrator, 3 friends, and Job.  I might read it before reading the biblical text.

This story is important to children for two reasons:

1.    It insists that Job did not suffer because he had done something bad.  Children, even more than adults, tend to blame themselves for doing something bad that caused pain in their family – a death, parental divorce, illness of a family member or themselves, a devastating accident, etc.  This is an opportunity to tell them directly that God does not do that to Job or to us.  They will not hear it in the story, but will depend on us to tell them directly.

2.    It is OK to feel lost and lonely and angry with God.  Since the vast majority of the stories and talk they hear about God describe God as loving us and with us all the time, children assume that everyone but them feels God’s loving presence all the time.  This is an opportunity to tell them directly that that is not so.  Everyone has times when we feel God is far away from us.  There are also times when we want to yell at God.  Lots of the time we pray “thank you, God” or “you are great, God” or “help me, God.”  But it is also OK to pray “that is not fair, God” and “I don’t like this, God” and “why did you let this happen, God.”  Just as we can tell our best friends and people in our families the things that hurt us and make us angry, we can tell them to God. 

One way to do this it invited people write or draw their
complaints in spaces in loops drawn on gray paper.
This one is about fears rather than copmlaints,
but you get the idea.
One way to conclude this discussion is to collect and pray complaining prayers.  An informal congregation might do this together.  More formal ones will have to depend on the worship leaders to make the list.  Complaints children might offer include illness, the death of pets, fights that they cannot control, scary storms,….

WARNING: The RCL saves God’s answer to Job’s complaints for next Sunday and the resolution of the story for the following Sunday.  Young attention spans are not that long.  At the very least let them know that God answered Job, that Job thought it was a good answer, and that you will hear about the answer next week. 

Psalm 22:1-15

Introduce this as a prayer Jesus prayed while he was dying on the cross and that Job might have prayed when everything was going so wrong for him.  Encourage children to listen for “how bad it is phrases.”  

Most children have felt like the psalmist, but the poetic images make it hard for them to understand the psalmist’s prayer.  Help them by putting it into language children use in such situations today.

God, where are you?  Why don’t you help me?
I pray to you for help but you do nothing.
The Bible is full of stories of people who prayed to you 
         for help. 
     You answered them and saved them from 
         their trouble.
What am I, a worm?  Why don’t you help ME?
Everyone is against me. 
They laugh at me and make fun of me.
Still I know that you made me. 
You have watched over me since before I was born. 
Do not be far from me now when there is trouble 
      all around me and there is no one to help me. 
I feel like I am surrounded by big fierce bulls snorting
      at me.
God, I am scared and hopeless.

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

This prophecy that Israel will be punished for their unjust treatment of the poor is probably included among today’s readings to expand on the gospel message about wealth.  Because the text is filled with poetic images and references to justice in that day, it is very hard to unpack with children.  There are better texts with which to explore wealth with children (James offered some in the RCL readings recently.)  If I did read it, I’d read from the TEV which makes more immediate sense. 

Psalm 90:12-17

Since this a psalm that speaks to God who is Lord of all generations, have it read by readers of at least two generations.  A white haired reader could be paired with an older elementary school reader with each reading alternate verses.  The older reader goes first and reads verses 5 and 6 as one reading.

Or, to involve more readers of a variety of ages and sexes, use the five reader script below.  Include an older child, a teenager, a young adult, a middle aged adult, and an older adult.  It doesn’t matter in what order they stand and read, but I would mix them up rather than go youngest to oldest or the reverse.  They could stand around a central microphone each stepping to the mike to read from a script they hold or each could wear a lapel mike.  A rehearsal before the service is essential for all to feel comfortable and thus project the faith of all generations that underlies the psalm.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Reader 1:      Lord, you have been our dwelling place
      in all generations.

Reader 2:      Before the mountains were brought forth,
     or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
     from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Reader 3:      You turn us back to dust,
     and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”

Reader 4:      For a thousand years in your sight
     are like yesterday when it is past,
     or like a watch in the night.

Reader 5:      You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
     like grass that is renewed in the morning;
     in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
     in the evening it fades and withers.

Reader 1:      Turn, O Lord! How long?
    Have compassion on your servants!

Reader 2:      Satisfy us in the morning with your 
                             steadfast love,
     so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Reader 3:      Make us glad as many days as 
                              you have afflicted us,
     and as many years as we have seen evil.

Reader 4:      Let your work be manifest to your servants,
     and your glorious power to their children.

Reader 5:      Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
     and prosper for us the work of our hands—
   O prosper the work of our hands!



This may be copied for non-commercial use.

If you sing the hymn based on Psalm 90, “Our God our Help in Ages Past,” give the children a word sheet.  Point out that we sing the first and last verses to God naming all the ways we depend on God.  Read all the bolded “our” phrases in them.  Then explain that we in the middle three verses we think about what God does.  Suggest that the pictures illustrate what we think about in each of those verses.  Then sing the song together.

Hebrews 4:12-16

Children do not understand verse 12 as it is read.  However, the verse can be used as an invitation to explore the role of the Bible in worship with them.  Begin by saying that God’s Word is another name for the Bible.  Then, try some of the following:

1.    Print WORD on a poster.  Define it at the beginning of the service and let it sponsor the day’s worship ala Sesame Street.

2.   Give each child a strip of Bible stickers to put in the order of worship every time they read or sing from the Bible.  Older children will match it to lines in the order of worship.  Younger children will simply use the Bible stickers to decorate their page.  Both will have celebrated the connection between the Bible and worship.

3.    Explain any prayers or rites your congregation follows around the reading of scripture.  In some churches that would include the response “The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.”  Point it out, say what it means, and practice it.  In churches which carry a Bible into the sanctuary in procession, explain why you do this and re-enact the processional.

4.    If your congregation uses special Bibles in worship, introduce them.  Tell the history of those with interesting stories.  Explain why you display a special Bible in the worship center.  If this is a children’s time bring the Bible down so the children can see and touch it.

5.    After explaining the worship Bibles, point out that the books themselves are not what is special.  What is special is the words in those books.  Encourage the children to listen carefully to and learn those words.

 Verses 13-16 are about the fact that God/Jesus knows everything we do.  The big word is OMNISCIENCE.  The child version is ALL-KNOWING.  If you started a poster of Hebrew’s words describing Jesus last week (scroll through Year B - Proper 22 to Hebrews), add one of these today.  If you are not keeping a running poster, simply turn one or both of these words into a big poster or banner.  Present it at the beginning of the service.  Take time to define the word/s and to encourage worshipers of all ages to listen for it and for ideas about God knowing us completely during worship.

Mosaic of Jesus Christ, from Hagia Sophia,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library,
Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.

[retrieved September 12, 2015].

The idea of God judging us may be new to children who hear more about God’s unending love.  Introduce the idea with two pictures of Jesus.  First, go to one of Jesus with the children.  Elaborate a little on ways we know God loves us.  Then produce a picture of Christ the Judge.  Identify the differences.  This Jesus looks very powerful and important.  This Jesus looks a little scary.  Read Hebrews 4:13 noting that it goes with this picture.  Insist that both pictures are of Jesus.  That the same Jesus who loves us also judges us.  So we are safe.  But, we also try to be our best for Jesus the Judge.

There is nothing that can be hidden from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.  (TEV)

WARNING: Children can misunderstand this passage to say that God is the scary Judge and Jesus is the nice guy who protects us from scary God.  The clearest way to avoid that is to name it and say it is not the way things are.
If you use the Apostles’ Creed in worship regularly, point out the phrase “he will come to judge the quick/living and the dead.”  Put it into your own words.  If you use the traditional “quick and the dead,” be sure to explain that the quick are those who are alive – us!  Only then invite all worshipers to stand and affirm the creed together.  (It might be helpful to direct people to open their hymnals to the Apostles’ Creed for this discussion and the following reading.)

Most children have made yarn God’s eyes.  Display one and explain its meaning as a symbol of God watching us all the time. 

Take it to another level by giving children (or all worshipers?) a plastic bag filled with two craft sticks or straws and several lengths of colored yarn with which to create their own God’s eyes while they listen to a sermon about God’s knowing us through and through.  Help them get started by having the craft sticks already tied together and the central diamond started.

Mark 10:17-31

$ In today’s world when many cannot sew, children may need a prop to understand “the eye of the needle.”  Demonstrate threading a needle using either a tapestry needle or a plastic child’s needle and a piece of yarn.  In a smaller room you might also want to display a real sewing needle and the thread that must go through that tiny hole.  Then with your hands show how big a camel is.  Finally, reread what Jesus said and put his message into your own words. 

$ To recall the “eye of the needle” at the end of the service, prepare children to form arches with their arms (similar to the bridges in the game “London Bridge Is Falling Down”) at each of the exits.  Worshipers will have to stoop to go through those arches (or needle eyes) and into a week as disciples.  Coach the children to say “Go in peace, God loves you” to each worshiper who passes through their arch.

$ The basic message of the story of the rich young man for children is that Jesus wants us to share our money with others who need it.  Because children are less familiar with the intricacies of money and because they think concretely, we often involve them in collecting food, books, and other items for people who need them.  But, they need to hear early that we are also meant to share our money.  Go to Children, Money and the Sanctuary for a collection of ideas about how to explore the use of money with children in the sanctuary.  This might be especially useful if this is the stewardship season in your congregation.

There are several good storybooks that parallel this story. 

$ The Quiltmaker’s Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau, is a parallel to the story of the rich young ruler, but with a happy ending.  An old quilter makes the most beautiful quilts in the world, but only for the poor.  A king so greedy that he decided to have two birthdays every year and demanded gifts from all his subjects on each birthday heard of her quilts and wanted one.  He hoped that it would make him happy, though none of his other possessions did.  She refused to give him one.  He punished her, but each time she escaped his punishments through kind deeds.  Finally he vowed to give away all his gifts and she promised to add a square to his quilt for each one he gave away.  In the process he does indeed find happiness.  It takes at least 15 minutes to read aloud – and could be a great stewardship season all by itself.  Save 5 minutes by omitting the story of bear and the sparrows who save the woman from the king.

$ The real Saint Nicholas’ rich parents died when he was young leaving him to be raised by his uncle.  The uncle taught Nicholas the importance and joy of sharing his wealth.  Throughout his life Nicholas found ways to use his money to help people.  He is best known for leaving money to save children from being sold into slavery or to giving poor girls dowries so they could marry.  Wikipedia has a good basic article about his life.  Saint Nicholas, by Ann Tompert, is a collection of stories about his giving ways.  The book is too long to read in its entirety but one or two stories could be told or read.

$ Many point out that this story is more about grace than about what we do with all our stuff.  Real happiness and meaning are not found in stuff.  Another Christmas story that makes this point is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss.  Because it is so familiar, all you may need is a few lines,

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold 
     in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:  “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, 
     till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something 
     he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, 
     “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…
     means a little bit more!”

Maybe happiness on any day of the year does not come from a store.

$ The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, is a well-loved classic and is known to most children.  A fish with beautiful shiny scales at first refuses to share them with the other fish and becomes lonely.  A wise octopus tells him that if he shares his beautiful scales with the other fish he will no longer be the most beautiful fish in the ocean, but he will be happy with his new friends.  Rainbow Fish follows the octopus’s advice and finds it true.  Read the story today because it parallels the gospel story and because children will be delighted to hear an old favorite read in the sanctuary.  When they say, “I know that story” reply “Yes, it is good story.  I think Jesus would like that story too.  That is why I wanted to read it in church.”  It can be read aloud in 4 minutes.

The key words are in color on this wordsheet.  Invite young worshipers to sing
from it and to draw pictures of each colored word in the margins. 
Make copies to use in worship free.
$ Before singing “Take My Life and Let it Be,” identify all the parts of us that are mentioned – life, hands, voice, silver and gold, moments, feet, lips, intellect, will, heart, love, myself.  Give children wordsheets with these words highlighted in different colors to sing from.  Insist that we are called to give all of ourselves and our lives to God.  You might encourage children to draw pictures in the margins that show ways they can use some of their body for God.

Highlight the “take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold” verse by explaining that silver and gold are not just metals.  They stand for money.  A mite is a little tiny bit of something.  Rephrase the verse “take my money, not a penny would I hold back.”  Talk about how hard that is to sing, then invite worshipers of all ages to sing it together.

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