Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Year C - Proper 11, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 17, 2016)

Read together most of today’s texts focus on the theme of hospitality – a word children seldom know (they hear “hospital” and jump to medical thoughts) but a concept they understand.  Help them keep up with what is said by introducing the word early in worship, laughing at its hospital root, and briefly defining it as welcoming and taking care of other people.  Each text when read alone also presents different themes.  Some speak to children differently than to adults but in ways that will also enrich the thinking of the adults. 

The Texts for the Day

Amos 8:1-12

>  Consequences are important here and in the gospel story about Mary and Martha.  It is hard for children and even teenagers to learn to identify, before they act, the probable consequences of their actions.  Even when they can identify a possible problem that will result from their action, it is easy for them to hope that it really won’t happen that way to me this time, i.e. “I’ll get away with it.”  Here Amos insists that people are doing terrible things, that God knows what they are doing and that there will be consequences.  Children will not recognize the bad things people are doing as the passage is read.  But with a little help they will find them quite familiar.  People were cheating each other.  The big and powerful were not being fair to the less powerful people.  (Think the older kid saying to the younger one, “Look we have two cookies.  Here is one for you – the littler one – and one for me –the bigger one.”)  The message to children is that God DOES care about what we do and that there will be consequences when we break God’s rules.  Though we may think we will get away with what we do, we will not.

>  To help children grasp Amos’ talk about cheating using false measures prepare two bags of produce or flour.  Mark each one with the same weight, but put a little less than that amount in one bag.  After presenting the two bags claiming they are the same weight, weigh each bag on a scale.  With questions such as “how would you feel if you bought this (the smaller) bag?” help worshipers identify the unfairness involved.  Then read Amos 8:5b making clear Amos’ message that people were sitting in church thinking of ways to cheat each other – and that God knew and was not pleased.

Sorry, bananas don't last long enough
to get over ripe at my house.
>  To explore Amos’ image of summer fruit, display one green, one yellow and one really over ripe banana.  Talk about which you want to eat and what is done with over ripe fruit.  Then, make Amos’ point that all the people were like overripe fruit.  They were greedy, selfish, and generally no good.  So God was going to throw them out.  Note that actually what God did was sent them away as prisoners of war.  During their time living in the foreign country, they had time to think about how God wanted them to live.  It was like a really big time out.

>  Replace the usual flower arrangements with bowls of seasonal fruits and vegetables.  These can be beautiful as a contrasts to the over ripe fruit you display and explore.

Psalm 52

>  This psalm is an angry rant.  It is included here as a partner to Amos’ warnings.  Because it takes a good bit of experienced maturity to make sense of this, I’d downplay it or use Psalm 15.  If you do read it, together brainstorm a list of people who use their power to get what they want even when it hurts others - bully, big shot, tycoon, villain, etc.  Identify childhood activities that parallel those of the villain of this psalm – telling secrets that will get others in trouble, cheating at games, going along with a bully, tattling, using being the biggest or oldest to get what you want.  Then read the psalmist’s prayer about people like that.

>  When this psalm is paired with Psalm 15 you have a stark comparison between “the evil” with “the righteous.”  Have the two psalms read by two readers with one reading each psalm as they stand side by side.  Emphasize their difference by having the evil one wearing black clothes or hat and the righteous one wearing white.  For an equally stark but shorter reading, have the two readers read about the good and evil in Psalm 1.

Genesis 18:1-10a

>  Children are fascinated by God’s appearing not as a single thing or person, but a group of people.  God visited Abraham and Sarah as a group of travelers.  Take time to list some of the ways God appeared - fire in the burning bush or in the contest on Mt Carmel, the sheer silence in the cave, a wrestler with Jacob, a dove at Jesus’ baptism, etc.  Though it would be off the intent of the story, this could be the beginning of a sermon about where we meet/see God.

>  The story is included in the lectionary to echo the gospel hospitality theme.  As Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus, Abraham and Sarah welcomed three travelers.  During the summer many people have opportunities to both extend and receive hospitality. 

>  When Abraham and Sarah saw three travelers coming, they welcomed them and fed them.  Especially during the summer, many poor people are on the road.  Some end up begging at intersections.  Some congregations put together welcome kits that members can put into the hands of these people.  The kits include a gift card to a fast food place, bus tokens/passes, lists of places where they can get services they might need, and a greeting maybe a child drawn card, all in a zip-able plastic bag.  Describe these kits during worship and invite families to gather the pieces for a few after worship to distribute as they encounter visitors during the week.

>  If You Give A Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, or any of the other books in the If You Give A… Series are favorite stories about hospitality.  Read one and talk about how one thing leads to another when you extend hospitality, but that in the process you usually have fun.  Or, read one then turn the Abraham and Sarah story into another one. 

When three travelers walked by Abraham knew they would be hot and thirsty, so he gave invited to sit in the shade with him and gave them water to drink.  The water was wonderful and cool, but it reminded them that they have not had anything to eat all day.  So Abraham called to Sarah.  Sarah baked them a fine loaf of bread with her best flour.  But what is bread without meat?  So, Sarah had her servants roast a fat lamb.  It was a perfect meal.  The travelers sat back in the shade with their full tummies and sighed.  Then they said to Abraham, “You and Sarah are wonderful hosts.  By this time next year you will have a baby boy who will keep you as busy as we have.”  Sarah laughed and Abraham laughed and the travelers laughed.  In a year when Sarah gave birth to a baby boy, she named him Isaac which means Laughter.  And Abraham laughed.  And Sarah laughed and the travelers in some far away land walked down the road and laughed too.

>  Celebrate the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah with Always Room for One More, by Sorche Nic Leodhas, which tells the story of a family that invites in every traveler who passes their small highlands house.  When their house exploded because it was filled with so many singing, dancing people taken in on a stormy night, all their guests simply helped them build a bigger house so there would be more room for more guests.  The book is written with lots of Scots words and in rhyme.  If you or someone in the congregation is comfortable reading in this dialect, the story will be a special celebration of hospitality.

>  Continue reading through verse 15 and add Genesis 21:1-7 to complete the story of the announcement of Isaac’s coming birth and his birth.  The only other place this story appears in the RCL is Proper 6 of Year A which is bypassed many years due to the date of Easter.  So consider worshiping around the whole story of the announcement of Isaac’s birth and the birth. 

>  Focus on the laughter.  Demonstrate and ponder many different ways Sarah might have laughed, e.g. a disbelieving “HA, HA” or a that is so weird “tee, hee, hee” titter and the happy surprised laughter when Isaac is born.  Talk about when and how we laugh today.  Create a prayer or reading about things that would make us laugh like Sarah did at Isaac’s birth.  Or, get worshipers to help make that list.  Starter ideas:

Some days it feels like nobody likes us.  Then one person smiles and says, “glad to see you.”
And we laugh inside.
When it seems like we cannot do anything right and someone likes us anyway,
And we laugh inside.
Some days we feel dark and stormy and hopeless inside.  Then, we see a beautiful sunset or a rainbow or a perfect flower
And we laugh inside.
When we feel, like Sarah, that the thing we want most will never happen and it finally does.
And we laugh inside.

>  Focus on the surprise.  List lots of surprises God brought people, e.g. the Red Sea opening up before the fleeing slaves, Jesus’ healing, Saul’s change from persecutor to leader of the early church, etc.  Even children find hope for today’s situations that really could use God surprises in these old stories of God’s surprising actions.

Psalm 15

>  Of the two psalms for today, I’d definitely choose this one.  It speaks of the “good people” rather than rant at the “bad people.”  Or follow the Psalm 52 suggestions above to read both psalms together as a stark comparison of the good and the evil.  When Psalm 15 is read from the TEV or CEV it can be understood by worshipers of all ages.

>  This is an entrance psalm, a prayer for coming into the Temple.  Its message is that we must live in God’s ways every day not just come to church.  To emphasize this, use it as both a call to worship and a confession of sin.  A worship leader reads verses 1 and 5c with the congregation reading the middle verses for the call to worship.  The middle verses are then turned into the confession when a worship leader reads one phrase at a time and the congregation responds to each, “Forgive us God.  We often fail.”  The assurance focuses on God’s welcoming us to worship even when we mess up.

Colossians 1:15-28

>  This is a very complicated old hymn that Paul was both quoting and editing as he went to make a point.  The cosmology is intricate and beyond the understanding of children and many adults.  But, it does offer a chance for the brave preacher/ children’s time leader to have a discussion with the children about who Jesus is.   One could begin by asking “Who is Jesus?”  Collect answers from worshipers.  Note that Jesus is all of this and more.  Then introduce four things that Paul knew about Jesus.

>  Who is Jesus according to Paul?  In language that makes sense to children Paul says
Ø Jesus is God in human skin – that is what we mean when we call Jesus God’s Son.  If you want to know what God is like and what God does, look at Jesus and what Jesus does.  “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.”
Ø Jesus is part of God.  Jesus was there at creation of the universe and will be there after the universe is over.
Ø Jesus is the head of the church.  At beginning of communion in my church the host reminds everyone, “This is not my table or your table.  It is not the Westminster Church’s table.  It is Jesus’ table and all who….are welcome.”
Ø Jesus’ big job is to bring people closer to God and to each other. 

>  Children often think Jesus is a first name and Christ is a second name.  To straighten them out, present Jesus as an everyday earthly name, the name Mary used when she called Jesus to supper, the name his friends called him all his life.  Present Christ as a special title that says that Jesus is a lot more than just another good person.  Use Paul’s four points about who Jesus is to explore what it means to be “the Christ”.  Use the name Jesus Christ throughout worship today.  Even introduce the term at the beginning of worship and challenge worshipers to count the number of times you sing, say or pray the name Jesus Christ.  Fill your pockets with hard candies to give to all who come out of the sanctuary with a reasonably good guess at the number.

>  To help young listeners keep up with this long reading, replace all the male pronouns (he, him) with “Jesus” and invite the congregation to say “Jesus” each time you point to them as you read. 

>  Devote the whole service to praising Christ and exploring who Christ is. 

This is a postcard from a 1974 trip.
Zurbarán, Francisco, 1598-1664.
Crucifixion, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library,  Nashville, TN.
[retrieved July 3, 2013]. Original source: www.yorckproject.de.

>  During songs and/or readings of scriptures, project a variety of pictures of Christ.  At some point, talk your way through the pictures briefly explaining what each says about who Jesus is.  This could be done with the children just before singing a hymn during which they will all be projected.  Or, it could be the outline for the whole sermon.

>  Turn the section of the Apostles’ Creed (or another creed) into a responsive reading by adding the congregational response “We praise you, O Christ!” in response to each line.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived of the Holy Spirit 
        and born of the virgin Mary,
suffered on Pontius Pilate,
was crucified,
and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he sits at the right hand of the Father,
And, he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Ecumenical Version

>  Sing child friendly hymns that praise Christ:
When Morning Gilds the Skies with its repeated refrain, “May Jesus Christ be praised!”
Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks with lots of alleluias and easy verses about Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ Is Risen Today! which tells Christ’s Easter story with lots of alleluias.
Lord of the Dance which tells the story of Jesus’ life in simple language

Luke 10:38-42

>  This story is the ultimate short story – only four verses tell the whole event.  It is so short that it can be read before listeners start paying attention.  So, it is worth giving careful attention to its presentation.  At the very least have it read by a woman.  Or, better, ask 3 adults (2 women and 1 man) to pantomime the story as a fourth reads it.  Rehearse with them to get them to communicate what their character is saying and thinking with their faces and bodies.  Their body language and facial expressions as the conversation unfolds will communicate more of the story to the children than the words will. 

>  This sibling fuss appeals to children who participate in such fusses.  It is reassuring to children to know that such stories make it into the Bible.  It is also satisfying that the aggressive sister is called off – especially to those deal with more aggressive siblings at home.  None of this has any particular gospel message in it for children, but does make it a Jesus story they enjoy hearing and knowing.

>  This is also a story about choices and consequences, about which children hear a lot.  With them identify the choices Martha and Mary made about what to do when Jesus showed up at their house.  Maybe list some other things they might have chosen to do like hide, sing for Jesus, or play a game with him.  Emphasize the fact that each made a free choice.  Then identify the consequences of each of their choices.  Pay special attention to Martha on this.  This is not Luke’s point in telling this story, but it is a message that children can appreciate.  When we make choices, we have to take the consequences.  Martha chose to fix a dinner, so she missed out on sitting to talk with Jesus and Mary.  That was her choice and its consequence.  Jesus is also clear that some choices are better than others.  Mary made the better choice.  It would also be a little moralistic, but possible, to explore the choices we make when Sunday morning comes around and we have to decide whether we will go to church and how we will participate in activities there.

>  After rereading the stream of comments about sharing M&M candies with this story in the 2013 post, I’d stick with passing out the candies in honor of the two sisters whose names both started with M and who loved each other, but like most sisters did not always get along.  Then read the story.  Comparing differences inside and out of candies and sisters gets too complicated and actually works better to explore other situations.  Go to HERE to check out the other possibilities that came up in the Comments.

>  Storypath suggests using Chloe Instead, by Micha Player, to focus with younger children on the simple fact that siblings – like Mary and Martha - can be very different and that is OK.  The book very simply outlines the older sister’s frustrations with a younger sister who she had hoped would be just like her, but is not.  In the end the younger one crawls into bed with the older one who is happy to have her.  

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