Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Year B - Proper 25, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (October 25, 2015)

Next Saturday is Halloween, a high holy day for children on which they work on facing fears.   Most children are just beginning to think about it, but it will be THE topic of conversation as the week goes on.  So, invite children to join Job praising God who is greater and more powerful than any monster, evil or scary thing they will encounter this week.  Also pray with them for help remembering that even in our costumes and behind our masks we are still ourselves.  We are still God’s children and often need God’s help to act like that.  Find a few text-specific Halloween connections scattered below.

This is also Reformation Sunday.  That is a lot less interesting to children than Halloween is!  Still there are a few suggestions here that might be useful in a service celebrating that day. 

There is a lot of talk about seeing in today’s texts.  Blind Bartimaeus is healed after he outshouts a crowd that is blinder than he to who Jesus is.  Job “sees” God in a new way.  This will lead to lots of metaphoric talk about seeing.  Since such “seeing” is often part of worship this is an opportunity to introduce it to children.  Several ways of seeing include
Ø Being physically blind then getting healed – like Bartimaeus
Ø “Now, I see” as in Job saying to God, now, I understand or I get it
Ø “I see you” even when others are ignoring you – like Jesus hearing Bartimaeus through the crowd that was telling him to be quiet and then calling him forward
Ø “I see you” – the real you.  I know who you are and see past what people are saying about you or what you just did that was not really like you
Ø “I see what you mean” means I understand with my mind what you are saying with your mouth. 
Ø “I see why going to the beach with your friend is important to you” means I understand with my heart why going to the beach with your friend is important to you.

To help children watch for “seeing words” in the readings, songs, and prayers of the day, try some of the following. 
Ø Display a poster or banner with a pair of eyes on it at the beginning of worship.
Ø Before the call to worship introduce “I see” as the sponsor of today’s worship ala Sesame Street’s sponsoring letters and numbers.
Ø List some of the words related to vision that will appear in today’s worship and explore some of the literal and metaphorical meanings of seeing.  Or, create a word search of these words for children to work with during worship.  Urge them to re-circle each word every time the hear, sing, say or pray it.
Ø Give children a row of eye stickers with which to mark their printed order of worship every time they hear a vision word. 

Texts for This Week

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

This is a somewhat complexly presented conversation between God and Job.  Job is actually the only one speaking but as he speaks he is recalling what God said to him.  The TEV offers a much clearer translation of the verses, but blunts this internal conversation.  Choose the TEV for clarity or choose the NRSV to emphasize the conversation using a narrating liturgist and two readers (God and Job).  The dialogue reading offers an opportunity to explore the text by reading God’s voice several different ways.
Ø A disembodied voice from “up” in the sound system.
Ø A person standing right beside Job as if sitting with Job on the ash heap
Ø A voice from inside Job (maybe a person reading just behind Job)
As you hear it read in these different ways talk about what each one says about how close God is to Job (and to us) and how each one feels to Job (and to us).  There are no right or wrong answers just a chance to explore different ways we sense God with us.

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Job 42:1-6

Liturgist:  Then Job answered the Lord:

Job:           I know that you can do all things,
                       and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

God          Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?

Job:          Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
                       things too wonderful for me, 
                       which I did not know.

God:         Hear, and I will speak;
                       I will question you, and you declare to me.

Job:           I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
                           but now my eye sees you;
                       therefore I despise myself,
                           and repent in dust and ashes.

(Liturgist may read verses 10-17.)


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If you have been reading Job for the whole month, talk about what Job has learned about God as the story unfolded.  At the beginning of the story Job thought God rewarded people who were good and punished people who were bad.  After he endured lots of bad experiences, he knew that understanding was mistaken.  After God spoke to him, he knew that he did not know the answer to why bad things happened to people – even good people like him.  He understood how little he knew about how the world works AND he knew that God understands exactly how it works and is in charge and can be trusted.  Those are important things to know.

Older children find the ending as odd as adults do.  If they are reminded that this is a made-up story that people created to ask an important question, some of them appreciate the possibility of a storyteller who added to the ending “to make it better.”  Children often encounter stories that offer several possible endings from which to choose, so multiple endings are familiar.  Suggest that this story teller wanted a happy ending for Job and since it was a made-up story, he or she made up this one.  Get a show of hands on who likes the happy ending and who thinks it is better off without that ending.  Again, no right answers, but another chance to talk about the issues in the story.

The Job story helps us ask about one mystery – why does bad stuff happen to good people.  Halloween, which is on Saturday of this week, is a holiday on which we think about all the things we don’t understand about death.  We dress up as ghosts and skeletons.  We dare ourselves to go into graveyards and handle scary goopy stuff.  All this is a way to laugh at the things we don’t understand and to remind ourselves that we can trust God who understands all the mysteries and with us no matter what happens.

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On the Sunday before Halloween, celebrate Jesus’ presence with us as we face all the scary stuff in the world by singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  To highlight it …

… introduce it as song Job might have sung and that we might sing at Halloween.  Point to the song sheet insisting that there is a fight going on in this song.  Point out the dark side words and the golden “glory words.  Admit that since this song was written 400 years ago some of the words are hard, but insist that if they watch for the gold and dark words they can follow the fight and see which side wins

Or, since the words are challenging for children, call on worshipers to get out their hymnals and follow along while you put the words of verses 2 and 3 into your own words.

Verse 2:
If we trusted in ourselves alone, 
     we would be in big trouble.
If we did not have a strong person chosen by God 
     on our side we’d be losers. 
Who is that strong person?  Jesus, of course. 
He is the Lord and will win every battle.

Verse 3:
Although the world is full of really scary stuff
We will not get TOO scared 
     because God is in charge of the world
We don’t have to worry about even the worst villain
     because we know that in the end God will win.

If you have not checked out the suggestions for the previous readings from Job do go to Proper 22, Proper 23 and Proper 24.

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

David was afraid that the King Achish/Abimelech would put him in prison or kill him so he did crazy things like doodling on the city gates and drooling.  The king was disgusted and told his servants to send David away.  David went.  This alphabet psalm celebrates his escape, his sanity, and mostly God’s care for him in a tight situation.

To imagine him safely back at his camp creating this psalm with his men, briefly tell the story then have a different person call out each letter to which David responds with the appropriate verse.  The alphabet readers could sit with a microphone on the first row or be gathered on the floor around David.  In the latter case, rehearse yelling the letters loudly enough to be heard.  For simplicity, I’d stick with the first eight verses and eight letters.

“The fear of the Lord” is an interesting phrase to explore the week before Halloween.  For children Halloween is about facing fears (ghosts, gory stuff in haunted houses, even being out after dark for the youngest).  They fear the things that they think are too powerful for them.  The psalmist claims that the one to fear is God.  God is definitely more powerful that any of us.  Fortunately God loves us, cares for us, and is with us when we are in scary situations.  The underlying message is to fear (to acknowledge as more powerful than we are) the right things and people.  So we do not have to fear ghosts, the dark, walking past the cemetery at night, or anything else.  Instead we, like David, fear/trust God’s loving power.

If you celebrate communion today and use the phrase “O taste and see that the Lord is good” in the liturgy regularly, point out the phrase in verse 8.  Together list all sorts of things we can taste and see that show us that God is indeed good – including the bread and cup of communion.  And, yes Halloween candy does taste good and can remind us that God is more powerful than the monsters and scary places.

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Gather Us In is a lively, but very wordy musical version of this message.  For children, walk through only the “Gather us in” phrases at the end of verses 1, 2 and 4.  Together list all the people God gathers and promises to love forever.  Then as the congregation sings point to them every time that phrase comes in the song. 

Gather us in, the lost and forsaken.
Gather us in the blind and the lame.
Call to us now and we shall awaken.
We shall arise at the sound of our name.

Gather us in, the rich and the haughty.
Gather us in, the proud and the strong.
Give us a heart, so meek and so lowly.
Give us the courage to enter the son.

Gather us in and hold us forever.
Gather us in and make us your own.
Gather us in, all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.

Psalm 126

Verses 1-3 praise God in a good time – when they are returning home from being captives in Babylon for 70 years.  Verses 4-6 praise God in a time when things are not going well – when people weep as they sow seeds and there is not enough rain.  Point out these differences and the possibility of praising God in both.  Then have one half of the congregation read the first 3 verses and the other half read the last three verses.  

BTW: This psalm is one of the texts for Thanksgiving this year.

Hebrews 7:23-28

The poster word for today is ETERNAL, as in Jesus is our eternal, lasting forever, always High Priest and Lord.  Such unending dependability is important to children.  Especially if they must move frequently or move back and forth between the homes of their divorced parents, children place a high value on who/what is always there, no matter where, no matter what.  It is less important to them that Jesus is the High Priest than that Jesus is eternal.  He never ends.  That is good news!

If you have Alpha and Omega stitched, painted or carved into your sanctuary, point them out.  Identify the first and last letters in several alphabets.  Then explain the meaning of the symbol that Jesus was there at the beginning and will be there at the end.  Jesus is eternal, always….

At Halloween we think about monsters and the scary parts of death.  The fact that Jesus is eternal tells us that even after we die Jesus will be with us.  We will be safe.  So we can laugh at all the monsters and ghosts and dead pirates we see this week.

Before singing “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” walk through it with open hymn books.  Invite worshipers to raise their hand whenever you read a word about time.  There are lots of them – ages, years, eternal, before, everlasting, endless, ages, evening, watch, time!  Pause as you come to each one and put what that phrase is saying about time into your own words. 

One job of the High Priest is to intercede for the people.  That makes this a good day to feature intercessory prayer in your worship service.  Just as Christ prays for us, we pray for each other.  If your congregation gathers prayer concerns, walk through the process with the children just before doing it.  Hear their prayer suggestions and be sure to include them in the church’s prayers near the beginning in simple words that they are likely to hear.

Mark 10:46-52

This story can be easily pantomimed by children as it is read.  The liturgist who rehearses this with the children then reads for them in worship not only invites them to one-time worship leadership, but builds a relationship with them that will lure them into listening to their friend at the front during the weeks that follow.

Children enjoy the fact that Bartimaeus did what they are constantly told not to do – and was rewarded for it.  Bartimaeus called out his need even when people told him to be quiet.  He was very determined.  Jesus said his determination and trust that Jesus could heal him were laudable and healed him.  It is possible to both savor this with them and to explore the difference in Bartimaeus’ determined insistence that Jesus hear him and a greedy whiny insistence that you get your own way.  Sorting this out is a lifelong challenge.  Children can begin to understand it and start working on it now.

If you are going to explore what it meant for Bartimaeus to “throw off his cloak,” use a blanket to demonstrate all the ways Bartimaeus used his cloak, i.e. sat on it as he begged, used it to catch money that missed the bowl, wrapped up in it to stay warm at night, put it over his head when it rained, etc.  Remind the children of “blankies” or “loveys” that they may have carried when they were younger (or still carry).  Insist that his cloak was more important to Bartimaeus than a “blankie” or “lovey.”  Doing this near the beginning of the real sermon as an introduction to the story lets you do something visual to draw children into the story without feeling the need to find a lesson in it and suggests to children that the sermon might be for them too. 

Blend the story of Scrawny Cat, by Phyllis Root, with the story of Bartimaeus.  Begin reading about the terrible life scrawny cat was living through “Poor shivery scrawny cat!” (less than 2 minutes to read this part aloud).  The pictures are great, but not essential if you show the cat on the cover.  Begin saying that before you read the Bible story, you want to read a story about a very scrawny, lost, hungry cat.  When you stop assure everyone that is not the end of the story and announce that today’s Bible story is about a man named Bartimaeus who was as scrawny, hungry and lost as the cat and on top of it was blind.  Read the gospel.  Later in the sermon read the rest of the cat’s story.  Enjoy the cat’s and Bartimaeus’ rescue.  From there go where you will.  The point may be that Jesus and God come for all the lost and hungry.  It could also be that we are called to rescue others as Emma and Jesus rescued the cat and Bartimaeus.  Or, it might be something else.  (BTW, my local public library system had 8 copies of Scrawny Cat.  It should be easy to find a copy.)

This story leads to using words about being blind and seeing metaphorically.  (See the suggestions at the beginning of this post.)  If you introduce seeing at the beginning of worship, return to it after reading the gospel to talk about what Bartimaeus could see about Jesus even when his eyes were blind and what the crowds around Bartimaeus were blind to even though they had seeing eyes. 

”Open My Eyes That I May See” with all its body parts is the first choice hymn for this story with children.  If you are paying attention to “seeing” language in worship today, point out the first line and put it into your own words before the congregation sings it.

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