Saturday, June 4, 2016

Year C - Proper 10, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 10, 2016)

Amos 7:7-17
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>  Amos’s plumb line is an object lesson.  He is asking his listeners to think about the plumb line they know and imagine God similarly measuring them as a nation.  That kind of thinking doesn’t kick in for most children until early adolescence.  So, proceed with caution.  Before reading the text suspend a plumb line beside the side of pulpit or a wall OR against both a straight, sturdy tower of blocks and a crooked, easily toppled one to demonstrate its use.  Explain that Amos was not saying God wanted to check how straight and tall people were.  God was measuring something else.  Challenge listeners to figure out what God was measuring.  Then read all or part of the text for the day.  Together ponder what about the people God was measuring.  Be sure to clearly state that God was measuring their fairness and justice.

>  For children, Amos’ message is less about judgment and more about responsibility.  We are responsible for what we do and do not do.  God is paying attention and cares.  Since children take pride in being responsible, this is a welcome message to which they respond positively – rising to the challenge as they can. 

>  Present this scripture scene with 3 readers: a narrator (probably a worship leader), Amaziah (wearing a worship leader’s robe with the fanciest available stole), and Amos (wearing jeans and a t shirt)

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Amos 7:7-17

Narrator:  (pointing at Amaziah) Amaziah was the king’s prophet.  He was the main leader at the main worship spot in the kingdom.  The king paid him well.  One day not Amaziah, but Amos (point to Amos) stood up in the worship center to speak God’s message.  Hear the Word of the Lord.

Amos (addressing the congregation):   I had another vision from the Lord. In it I saw him standing beside a wall that had been built with the help of a plumb line, and there was a plumb line in his hand.  He asked me, “Amos, what do you see?”
“A plumb line,” I answered.
Then the Lord said, “I am using it to show that my people are like a wall that is out of line. I will not change my mind again about punishing them.  The places where Isaac’s descendants worship will be destroyed. The holy places of Israel will be left in ruins. I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to an end.”

Narrator:  Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, then sent a report to King Jeroboam of Israel:

Amaziah (facing away from Amos and toward the congregation in an aside):  Amos is plotting against you among the people. His speeches will destroy the country.  This is what he says: ‘Jeroboam will die in battle, and the people of Israel will be taken away from their land into exile.’

Narrator:  Amaziah then said to Amos,

Amaziah (stepping menacingly toward Amos):  That’s enough, prophet! Go on back to Judah (point out side door) and do your preaching there. Let them pay you for it.  Don’t prophesy here at Bethel any more. This is the king’s place of worship, the national temple.

Amos (stepping up to “get in Amaziah’s face”): (thumb toward own chest on I) I am not the kind of prophet who prophesies for pay. I am a herdsman, and I take care of fig trees. But the Lord (point up on “the Lord”) took me from my work as a shepherd and ordered me to come and prophesy to his people Israel. So now listen to what the Lord says. You tell me to stop prophesying, to stop raving against the people of Israel.  And so, Amaziah, the Lord says to you (point to Amaziah on “you”), ‘Your wife will become a prostitute on the streets, and your children will be killed in war. Your land will be divided up and given to others, and you yourself will die in a heathen country. And the people of Israel will certainly be taken away from their own land into exile.’ ”

Narrator: This is the Word of the Lord.

Based on the TEV

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>  Sing “Stand, O Stand Firm” in honor of Amos standing firm before Amaziah.  If you sang it on June 30th while exploring committed discipleship, so much the better.  (Go HERE and scroll down to Galatians songs for words and a song sample.)

>  Add “I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people” in a speech bubble to the prophet said banner.  For extra interest suspend a plumb line or picture of a plumb line from or near it.

There are at least three good justice stories to read or tell today:

>  Tell the story of The Christmas Menorah: How A Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn, in which the families of Billings Montana lead the community in standing up to people who threw a rock through the menorah decorated bedroom window of a Jewish boy.  Most of the homes in town soon displayed menorahs or full page menorah pictures that had been published in the local paper and colored by families.  The aim was to tell skinheads that their hatred had no place in town.  (The book is available in many libraries, but if you cannot get a copy of the book easily, you can get enough details to tell the story from reading the reviews on the Amazon website about it.)

>  It takes 10 minutes to read Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle aloud.  But the haunting story of a Choctaw girl and a slave boy befriending each other and helping his family escape before his mother can be sold could be all the sermonic commentary needed on Amos’ call for community’s to act with justice.  After reading it simply as whether the slave and Choctaw communities would measure up in God’s eyes.  It would be worth getting permission to project the artwork as you read aloud.

>  The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, could be the basis of a sermon related to Amos call for justice.  Print the key word UNLESS on a poster before starting in on the familiar story about environmental justice.  Interrupt us you read for comments.  Conclude by returning to Amos’ words. 

Psalm 82

>  God’s biggest concerns here are that all people be treated fairly and that those who are least likely to get what they need will get it.  Children will not hear that message as the psalm is read “straight,” but they are all for it when it is presented to them with some framework.  Imagine the scene in verse 1 with God as the judge, then read verses 2 - 4 counting off on your fingers God’s instructions.  Close by reading God’s address to people in verse 6 insisting that they can do what is asked.  After all they are “children of the Most High.”

Deuteronomy 30:9-14

>  The opening verses of this text spell out the deuteronomic principle that if you obey God’s rules, God will bless you with prosperity.  It is tough for adults to explore and nearly impossible for children to hear at all.  So especially, on a Sunday with such richness in the other texts, I’d turn to them for congregational worship.

>  Or, skip verses 9-10 and focus on verses 11-14 to explore whether God’s rules of justice/fairness are complicated and hard to figure out or whether we really know what they are - the hard part is doing them.

>  To explore the idea that God’s word is very near to us, introduce the Jewish practice of hanging a mezuzah by the door to touch each time they enter and leave their home.  Borrow a mezuzah to show or show a photo of one.  Inside the mezuzah is a slip of paper with the two great commands on it – you shall love God and love your neighbor.  Give the children (or all worshipers) a slip of paper bearing the commands and urge them to carry it in a pocket or shoe or to put it will they will see it often all week to remind them that God’s word is very near to us. 

Psalm 25:1-10

>  This is an alphabet psalm.  Each lettered verse is a separate prayer within the larger prayer.  The New Jerusalem Bible actually presents the verses so that each one begins with an English word that follows alphabetical order, e.g. adoration, but, calling, direct…  Unfortunately, the rest of the verses are difficult for children to understand as translated.  Still, you might use it to show how acrostics psalms work.  Have 11 readers (verse 5 includes two Hebrew letter prayers) each reading one verse.  As the verse is read another person might flip up a card with the Hebrew letter on it.  Enjoy the poetry as it is.  And, challenge worshipers to create their own acrostic psalms praising God.  Make up one or two lines together to get people started.  You might even offer a sheet of lined paper with the letters printed down the left side as a psalm starter. 


Psalm 25:1-10

1 ADORATION I offer, Yahweh, 2 to you, my God.
BUT in my trust in you do not put me to shame, let not my enemies gloat over me.
 CALLING to you, none shall ever be put to shame, but shame is theirs who groundlessly break faith.
 DIRECT me in your ways, Yahweh, and teach me your paths.
 ENCOURAGE me to walk in your truth and teach me since you are the God who saves me.
FOR my hope is in you all day long— 7c
 such is your generosity, Yahweh.
 GOODNESS and faithful love have been yours for ever, Yahweh, do not forget them.
 HOLD not my youthful sins against me, but remember me as your faithful love dictates.
 INTEGRITY and generosity are marks of Yahweh for he brings sinners back to the path.
 JUDICIOUSLY he guides the humble, instructing the poor in his way.
 KINDNESS unfailing and constancy mark all Yahweh’s paths, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

-          New Jerusalem Bible


>  Encourage worshipers (or worshiping households) to select one of the prayers from this psalm to be their prayer for this week.  Suggest that they post it somewhere as a reminder to pray it several times each day.

>  Use verses 4 and 5 as a congregational responsive prayer.  They could be read in response to each of a series of specific prayers or once in response to the whole prayer.

Teach me your ways, O Lord;
make them known to me.
Teach me to live according to your truth,
for you are my God, who saves me.
I always trust in you.


>  Prepare a children’s choir or class to accompany the congregation singing the Argentine “Song of Hope” with rattles and other rhythm instruments.  Sing this short hymn once in response to the whole psalm or after each even numbered verse.

Colossians 1:1-14

Paul is here greeting the Christians of Colossae whom he has never met.  There is not much here for children.  The section on hope is too vague to speak clearly to children.  It would be possible, but not particularly helpful to children to separate out the list of Paul’s prayers for the Christians at Colossae.  So, I’d work with the other texts with children today.

Luke 10:25-37

>  This is a story within a conversation.  To help children separate the two and understand both, have the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer read by adults standing in one group and the parable acted out either by young actors or puppeteers as the Jesus reader reads it.  The parable requires 5 actors/puppets.  If children act this out simple props and costumes help.  Do however be careful not to fall into the cutesy especially with the attack by the robbers and loading the victim on the donkey.  Keep the focus on following the plot of the story rather than emphasizing any one scene. 

After presenting the whole reading, it would be worthwhile to reread just the conversation to give it the attention it needs.  This could even be done within the sermon of the day.

Pedersen, Gunnar Bach. Good Samaritan, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved June 24, 2013]. Original source:

>  Display these folk art panel as one way to tell the story.  Take time to identify who is in each panel and what they are doing.  Then give children (or all worshipers) paper and crayons with which to draw their own series of pictures that tell the story.  Challenge them to think about how many pictures they will need to tell the story, what will happen in each picture, what the different characters will look like (what will they wear and carry), etc.  Designate a spot where art work can be displayed after worship.  If you get several, print them in the newsletter or on the church website.

>  There are lots of ways to be hurt and to be “near dead by the side of the road.”  Adults jump to them quickly.  Children need to have specific examples cited.  One way to do this is to display photographs of people in several hurting situations, e.g. person in a hospital bed, lost child, war pictures, etc.  Identify how the people are hurting and what they need from their neighbors.  Insist that there are many ways to be hurt AND many ways to help hurting people.

>  Jesus’ main point was that a neighbor could be anyone you would help or who would help you.  This is an important point for older elementary children for whom group loyalty is terribly important.  They define themselves in terms of the groups to which they belong and do not belong.  Get them into it by explain the conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews in simple terms – would walk miles to avoid walking on THEIR street, thought THEY were dirty, would not drink at a well THEY drank from, would not eat with THEM, actually avoided even talking with THEM whenever possible.  Then identify some groups that do not get along today such as – rival schools, girls vs. boys (think of all the secret exclusive child instigated clubs), people who are too smart or too dumb, even different races or classes in your area.  Note that Jesus said every one of those people could be neighbors.  All it would take is deciding to take care of each other.

><  In the US as the political conventions loom even for children, retell the story with a Democrat victim and a Republican stopping to help (or the reverse).  Ponder the fact that one stopped and that the other accepted help from the “opposition.”  The bottom line is that we can be neighbors even across political lines – no small thing in today’s world.

>  Use photos to identify potential neighbors by offering children (or all worshipers) a collection of photos of a variety of people asking “who would you want to help you?”  Include a variety of people who are generally viewed as different and untrustworthy.  (National Geographic Magazine is a good source of pictures of people who are “not like me.”)

>  Explore who is and is not a neighbor with very young children by looking at several of the pages of pictures of different noses, ears, clothes and houses in Peter Spier’s People.  

>  Two good child friendly songs to sing in response to this story are:
Brother Sister Let Me Serve You
Jesu, Jesu Fill Us With Your Love
If you project pictures during worship, project photos of a wide variety of people including many who are not perceived as “neighbors.”

>  In The Invisible Boy , by Trudy Ludwig, the victims are a little boy who feels invisible to his classmates and a new kid who is a foreigner.  In the process of reaching out to each other when others are ridiculing each of them, they develop a friendship that also includes others in the class.  “Questions for discussion” at the end of the book provide good starters for exploring the story with the children.  (5 minutes to read aloud.)

>  In The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss, the plain-bellied and star-bellied sneetches refuse to be neighbors – until they are flim-flammed into seeing the truth about themselves.  The story is familiar so could simply be cited in the sermon.  Or, it could be acted out by a group older children or youth as a parallel to Jesus’ parable.

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