Saturday, January 30, 2016

Year C - Third Sunday in Lent (February 28, 2016)

Tomorrow is Leap Year Day.  Children are fascinated by that extra day every four years.  Recall the scientific reason for it.  Then, challenge children (all worshipers) to make it a one day Lenten Leap Year Day Challenge.  The challenge is for that one day they try to do like Jesus did – to watch for people who need loving and then to love them.  Remember that as Jesus watched for people in need of love, some days he saw a person who was sick and took care of them.  Some days he saw people who were hungry and provided a picnic lunch for them.  Some days he saw people who were lonely (Zachaeus up the tree) and made friends with them.  Some days he just talked to people who were worried about big questions.  Every day was different.  The challenge for tomorrow is to watch for people who need love and give it to them in whatever way you can.  Tie strings around worshiper’s fingers, put paper hearts in their shoes, or give out WWWD bracelets (google wwjd bracelets for sources) as reminders.

Some Sundays in Lent this year have a clear unifying theme.  This is not one of them.  I can imagine worship services going all sorts of directions.  That makes it hard to identify one heart for the heart series.  If you can find heart shaped confetti (shop before Valentine’s Day!), it could be spread on the floor around the Table or sprinkled over children gathered on the steps as a reminder of all God’s abundant gifts.  If you celebrate communion, add hearts to the communion table as a way of celebrating God’s loving gifts (see Isaiah section below). 

There are 2 phrases of the Lord’s Prayer that go with 2 potential themes for the day.

If you are focused on God’s gifts in Isaiah or being fruitful in the fig tree parable in the gospel, highlight “thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”   Together make a list of how things are in God’s kingdom, i.e. there is food for everyone, everyone feels loved and loves others, people find ways of settling problems other than war and fighting, when there are hurting problems people forgive each other, etc.  In response to each one, say together, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  With mainly younger children, stop the phrase here.  With older children add “on earth as it is in heaven” only after pondering together the fact that what is now true every day in heaven will one day be true on earth – especially if we all work to make that happen.

If you celebrate communion today, choose “give us this day our daily bread.”  Start by listing all the things we need to survive.  If children are helping with this list, avoid getting into a discussion of the difference in what we want and what we need.  Allow a few “wants” to be listed, but redirect the list to things like air, water, various kinds of food, etc.  Then note that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for more than just bread, we are praying for everything on the list. 

For fuller emphasis on this, create a responsive prayer in which the leader names some of the items from the list with all worshipers responding, “give us this day our daily bread.”

One:  We do need bread, God.  We need sandwich bread and muffins and pizza crust and pita and bread sticks.

All: Give us this day our daily bread

One:  But bread is not all we need.  We need air to breathe.

All: Give us this day our daily bread

One:  We need water to drink and to wash ourselves with and to use cleaning our clothes and homes.

All: Give us this day our daily bread

     And so forth…..

Or, point to the “we” in the phrase insisting that this is not a selfish prayer.  We pray not just that we have daily bread, but that everyone in the world has daily bread.  Connect this with one of the congregation’s efforts to make this prayer come true in a food collection or some other current sharing project.

Plan ahead.  This phrase might also be used on Maundy Thursday. Go to Year C - Maundy Thursday to see what is suggested there.

The Texts for Today

Isaiah 55:1-9

The UMC worship website "Lectionary Planning Helps for Sunday" in 2013  included this call to worship based on Isaiah.  Make it even more visual for children by having Reader 1 pour water into the font or scoop out water for all to see and hear and having Reader 2 lift the loaf and chalice.  It already suggests that Reader 3 lift the Bible.

Reader 1 (standing at the font):
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Reader 2 (standing at the table):
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Reader 3 (standing at the lectern holding up the lectern Bible or lectionary book):
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
The assembly:
Lord we seek you; we return to you.
Have mercy upon us.
May your word bear fruit in us
and our spirits and bodies be refreshed in your nearness.

OR accent the “Ho” with a trumpet alarm or bell ringing before each call as above.

Both Isaiah and Paul warn against our human tendency to wish for things we do not have or cannot do.  Children often express this in phrases that begin “If only…” such as “if only I had a bicycle or the latest electronic game” or “if only I could go to camp or make the travel team…”  The unstated ending of these sentences “I’d be happy.”  After identifying a few “if onlys,” read Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2a).  Discuss our disappointment when we get some of the things we think we want and they do not make us happy.  Point out the difficulty of figuring out what we really need and what we just think we want.  For example, a bike can get you around the neighborhood more quickly or just be a toy.  And, do we have to have the latest game when we already have a bunch of games to play?  Children need to know that figuring out which of our “If onlys” are real needs will continue to be a challenge throughout life.

Ariel in The Little Mermaid collects stuff from the land. She loves this stuff and is obsessed by life on the land even though she is by nature a sea dweller.  Eventually she makes the classic Faust deal selling her best gift to get what she wants.  For today focus on the song at the beginning of the film.  Google "Little Mermaid Part of Your World" to see the song in the movie or check out the key words for today below.

Look at this stuff
Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has everything?...
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more

Sing There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy both today and next week.  Today focus on the second verse.  Before singing it together, put the first two lines into your own words to emphasize how amazingly huge God’s love is.  Then, talk your way through the last two lines to explore our response, i.e. we’d be happier if we enjoyed God’s many gifts rather than going after things that won’t make us as happy.  Next week, when the Prodigal Son is the gospel lesson, focus on the mercy and justice in the first verse.

Both Isaiah and Paul insist that God showers us with an abundance of gifts, all we need.  If you will celebrate Communion this week, there are connections that suggest a little on-the-job worship education.  (Actually, the connections are so strong that worship leaders who will not celebrate Communion this Sunday might swap texts with a Lenten Sunday when they do celebrate Communion.)

The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in the Communion liturgy is generally known as “that long prayer before communion” by children.  They are quickly lost in all the images and big words.  To help them listen take time just before the sacramental liturgy to walk through the prayer with them.  Point out that the prayer names all the gifts of love God gives us.  Explain the pattern that lies behind this list of gifts, i.e. God created the world and us, then kept loving us when we messed up, and finally sent Jesus to love and forgive us.  Read through the version of the prayer you will use today stopping for a child to place a red paper heart on the Table for each gift as it is named.  Leave those hearts in place during the sacrament.  Encourage the children to listen to the prayer today and to listen every time it is prayed for the gifts God gives us. 

Choose or create a Great Prayer of Thanksgiving today using as child-friendly language as possible.  Below is my stab at it.  (I separated the lines to show the points at which a heart is added to the Table.)  If you write one, share it with the rest of us.

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

A Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

We praise you God because you created the whole universe from the tiniest bugs to the largest stars. 

You created people.  Unlike all the other living things you created, you created us in your image.  You gave us the power to choose and decide.

When we made selfish choices, decided to hurt others and chose to be unfair, you did not give up on us.  Instead you sent prophets to point out what we were doing wrong and call us to do better.

When we did not listen to the prophets you came among us as Jesus.

For all these gifts we join all your creatures everywhere singing …

ALL:  “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord…..”

Jesus taught us about all your loving gifts to us.

Jesus showed us your love by healing people who were sick.

Jesus told us stories about how to love.

Jesus showed us how to love each other when he made friends with people no one liked.

When people got angry with him, deserted him, and finally killed him on cross, Jesus did not get even with them.  He forgave them all.

ALL:  “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ shall come again.”

So on this day we share this bread and cup…..

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

Or, focus on the phrase “the gifts of God for the people of God.”  Have the communion loaf baked in a heart shape.   Go to Fig and Jam Cordial for step by step directions for shaping a heart loaf.) Show it to the children (or all worshipers).  List all the gifts God gives us culminating with the gift of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.  Note that we remember all of these gifts, most especially the gift of Jesus every time we eat bread and drink from the cup together.  Then, practice the phrase and invite worshipers to repeat it with you. 

Psalm 63:1-8

One commentator said that this is a very “embodied psalm,” i.e. it involves our whole body in praising God.  One starting place is to read through the verses asking listeners to raise a hand every time they hear some part of our bodies mentioned.  Pause to note that way we praise God with our bodies.  Enjoy the final reference to God’s hand/arm in verse 8. 

With older children explain that in Hebrew the word for throat and soul is the same word.  So, one way to define soul is that it is the very center of ourselves as the throat is the center of our bodies.  With this as background read verses 1, 5, and 8 taking time to put them into your own words.

After identifying all the body parts in this psalm read it together inviting worshipers to join you or a person standing beside you in making the motions.

Psalm 63:1-8
1     O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
Put hands around your throat then raise them toward God
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Clench your hands into fists turned up, then open wide and vibrate
2     So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Touch your eyes then spread your hands out and up
3     Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
Touch your lips then spread your hands out and up
4     So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
Open your hands out to your sides palms up then raise them out and up
5     My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
Put your hands to your throat and mouth then out and up
6     when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7     for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
Put hands together beside your head as if laying your head on them
8     My soul clings to you;
         Hands out palms up
      Your right hand upholds me.
         Fold hands in lap


If you haven’t time to dig into all the body images, read from the CEV which states this embodiment in words children are more likely to grasp that do the other translations.

The Roman Catholic lectionary suggests Psalm 103:1-11 instead of Psalm 63.  Go to Year C - Proper 16 for an idea about drawing personal praise prayers and a worksheet on which children can create their own psalms of praise.  Go to Year A Proper 19 for an assurance pardon with motions based on vss 8, 11, and 12.

If you celebrate Eucharist, come to the Table singing of body parts with “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees.”

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

To follow Paul’s logic here the reader needs to know many details of the Exodus story.  Since most children do not, they cannot follow the text as it is read.  And, that may be just fine because if they did follow it they would likely jump to some unfortunate conclusions about what Paul was saying.  So, it is better for worship leaders to share in more child-friendly ways Paul’s message that God gives us many wonderful gifts and that it is our job to recognize, use, and enjoy them as the gifts they are.  A discussion about “if onlys” or hearing Ariel’s song (see the Isaiah section) are better entry points.

Luke 13:1-9

If you explore the question posed to Jesus about why bad things happen to good people, be aware that children generally do not ask the question in the same way adults do.  When horrible things happen to people around them, children, who see themselves as the center of the universe, ask not whether those people did something bad that resulted in this punishment, but whether they did something bad that made God punish a person near them.  Though they have trouble putting it into words they often feel something like, “Grandpa died because I did not want to skip my game last Saturday to go see him.  All this grief and pain is my fault.”  Children can hardly explore this before they feel it, so it is more helpful to prepare adults to be aware of the possibility and ready to take the question up should it arise.

Parables are hard for children to understand.  Since the fig tree parable is hard for adults to figure out, expect it to be harder for children.  One of the simplest ways to unpack it is to compare the fruit of a fig tree and things people do.  Start with a picture of a fig tree.  Give children or all worshipers a fig newton to eat to make it more real.  Make a point that fig trees produce fruit that people (or at least some people) like to eat.  That is their job.  People take care of people and things around us.  That is our job.  List ways people do that – making dinner for the family, taking care of a younger sibling so parent can work, taking care of someone who is sick, etc.  Settling for just this entry to the story is about all we can give the children for now.  

1 comment:

  1. When I read this parable I also think about God's patience with us and thus our patience with others. Any thoughts on this take of the parable? Thank you for all you do to help us teach the children in our congregations.


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