Saturday, June 11, 2016

Year C - Proper 12, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10th Sunday after Pentecost (July 24, 2016)

Most of today’s texts lead us to explore how freely we are called to talk with God.  Whether you focus on the Lord’s Prayer or more generally on how freely we are called to share our lives and ideas with God, children are interested.

>  Invite children to join you at the front before the call to worship.  Point out that in today’s worship we will be thinking together about prayer.  Note that every Sunday we do a lot of praying during worship.  Give each child a copy of the order of worship and either a colored pen or a strip of small stickers.  (Praying hands stickers are available in many Bible bookstores.)  Challenge them to add a sticker beside or draw a star around every prayer we pray today after they have prayed it with the whole congregation.  Invite them to show you their work as they leave the sanctuary.  Then, follow through with them asking about their prayer record if they do not thrust it into your hand immediately.

The Texts of the Day

Hosea 1:2-10

>  This is one tough text!  The family images offer something to offend everyone.  Adults are offended by the marriage relationship.  Children are offended by the names given the children.  “How could God do that to a kid?” they ask.  “It is not the kid’s fault that the adults have not lived as they should.  That is not fair!”  To get from there to Hosea’s message about God’s faithful love, one has to unpack the details of the images and set them in the context of the whole book.  This is more easily done in adult classrooms than in sanctuaries.  Fortunately, the Hosea text next Sunday features the image of a parent continuing to love a very difficult child.  That text may offer a better chance to explore Hosea’s message of God’s unending love in a way that speaks to worshippers of all ages.  For today, go with the some of the other texts in worship.

>  If you do explore this text with the adults, focus with the children on the meaning of different names and being named “after” someone with qualities that are admired.  Rather than bringing samples from books about the meaning of names, be ready to tell why you got your names and hear stories of why children are named what they are.  You may want to tell the story of Isabella Boumfree who was born a slave and whose name was given her by her master.  When she was freed she changed her name to Sojourner Truth to reflect the person she really was. 

Psalm 85

This psalm is clearly linked to the Hosea rather than the New Testament readings.  It is also difficult for children to follow. 

>  To introduce the poetry of personification that is so prevalent in this psalm, read verse 10 (“steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss”).  Laugh a little at the mental picture this produces – or simply refuses to produce.  Then, explain that the psalmist’s word pictures are talking about invisible things as if they were people in order to tell us what God does.  Do this at the beginning of the sermon.  Then, assign sermon seatwork.  Challenge the children to draw pictures of steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, or peace.  Show them a picture you have drawn of your family and explain how it is a picture of steadfast love.  Brainstorm briefly about other pictures – e.g. a dog for faithfulness, a picture of a family doing something together you all love to do for peace, even a picture of bringing food for the food drive for righteousness.  As you preach, at some point make a reference to the assigned task perhaps saying, “now that is a picture of ….”  Invite children to post their work on a bulletin board nearby or tape it to a rail at the front.  Post the one you drew there as a starter.

Genesis 18:20-32

>  This story is a conversation between God and Abraham.  So, have it read by two readers – God and Abraham.  A narrator sets the scene explaining that Sodom and Gomorrah are two cities whose people had been so sinful that God was considering destroying them entirely.  The readers then read straight from the Bible excluding the he said phrases.  Use CEV or TEV for clearer language and choose an Abraham reader who will give it lots of expression using his voice, his face, even his whole body.”

>  This could lead to a sermon/discussion about being honest with God in prayer – something children need to hear.   Add to Abraham’s story other biblical stories in which people tell God exactly “how it is” such as
Moses talking God out of destroying the Israelites,
Various prophets telling God why they didn’t want to be prophets,
Elijah telling God how sorry for himself he was feeling,
Jesus on the cross asking where God was,
Even Psalm 137:7-9

>  Years ago a friend caught her then 10 year old engaging God in a similar conversation.  From the back yard the mother saw a paper with writing on it taped in her daughter’s window and went for a closer look.  The message was a prayer, “God, I can’t suck it up much more.  Your friend, Emma”

Psalm 138

One commentator says this is the happiest psalm in the Bible.  In today’s worship it might be introduced as a happy song for God.  If you use the TEV translation, alert listeners to all the “you”s for God and the “I”s for us.  Encourage them to listen for what this psalmist is saying to and about God.

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>  The first verse, “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart,” is the summary of this psalm.  Give children a paper with it printed on the top.  Show them how to draw a scribble with large holes in it and to draw or write in each hole about one thing for which they thank God.  Or, give them the heart shaped scribble here.  They can decorate each hole as they wish.  Ask to see their thanks filled hearts as the children leave the sanctuary or provide a place where they can be displayed.

Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)

The problem for the Colossians was people who were making it more complicated to be Christian than it had to be.  “Real Christians” followed certain laws and cultivated a sophisticated spirituality.  Colossian Christians were tying themselves in knots trying to do and be all these things.  Paul tells them to relax.  He says they need to remember who they are and whose they are.

For children today the problem is all the things people tell them they “gotta be” and “gotta do.”  They gotta be athletic, smart, gifted, cute/pretty, popular, and more.  All these are fine things, but they are not the best thing, not the thing that will make life abundant and “good,” not the thing, that will save us.  Paul tells these children to relax and remember that God made them and loves them.  They belong to Jesus. 

>  With this as background, the part of this text that preaches to kids is verses 6-7.  These verses use two images to direct readers toward a simple disciplined life:
Be rooted in Christ
Build yourself in Christ
Both images feature deep relationships.  If you must do a children’s time, physically act out rooting.  Uproot a potted plant to see all the roots and talk about how they work into the soil looking for food and water.  Invite the children to use their fingers as imaginary roots digging into imaginary soil for food and water.  OR snuggle with one child next to you and remind them of the way they might root around with their parents at home.  Then, snuggle close together as a group.  Recall Paul’s instruction to “be rooted in Christ.”  Mention things you do together as a congregation (worship, fellowship hour, church school, special events) that keep you rooted together in Christ. 

If you are in the middle of a hot summer spell, you may be able to work with a story a horse owning friend told me.  His horse lost 100 pounds in one week when it was nearly 100 degrees F every day.  The horse was eating, but the pasture where he grazed had not been properly cared for.  The grass was not well rooted in good soil so there was no nutrition in it.

>  For children, circumcision is simply a Jewish ritual that welcomes boys into God’s family – just as baptism is a Christian ritual that welcomes boys and girls into God’s family.  There is no need to go into details on what is involved.  Paul’s point is that if you are baptized you are one of God’s people.  No special feats or disciplines are required beyond that. 

The liturgical link for this text is baptism.  So,

>  Even if there is no baptism for today, be sure the baptismal font is filled.  At some point invite the children to meet you there (or walk there to speak to everyone).  Speak about baptism as the one basic thing that shows who we are.  Invite children (all worshipers) to dip their hand into the font saying “I belong to God.  God loves me.”  Conclude that because this is true nothing else much matters.

>  Meet the children at the baptismal font.  Show them an ordination certificate or some award or sign that you are special (I’d show them the purple crocheted bookmark I won in the fifth grade for memorizing more Bible verses than anyone else in the fifth grade) then dip your hands in the water and tell the children that being a baptized person is more important to you than the award.  Talk about being one of God’s people.  Invite the children to dip a hand into the font.  As they do say phrases like, “Remember, God loves you.”  “You belong to God’s people.” 

>  Before singing Child of Blessing, Child of Promise point out the names at the beginning of each verse and insist that each person in the room is the “child” for whom each verse is sung.  Invite worshipers to sing the song for themselves.  Children will hear mainly the titles.  Older worshipers will ponder and perhaps claim for themselves the messages in the rest of the verses.  Actually, an open-hymnal sermon walking through the whole song exploring the meaning of what it means to be baptized might speak to all worshipers. 

>  Give children paper body outlines to decorate for themselves showing who they are what they do what they like.  Add to each one the message “God created you and loves you” or simply “God loves you.”  It is most effective when the message is added after the children have done their drawing.  If the papers are distributed early in the service, children could bring them forward during the offertory to show to a worship leader/s who would write the message in response.  If this is not possible, simply print the message on the page before the service. 

Luke 11:1-13

>  There are three parts to this text: the Lord’s Prayer, the parable about persistence, and the teachings about prayer.  When they hear the Lord’s Prayer (which most children are still learning) prayed and discussed by the whole congregation, children realize that this is an important prayer.  It is not just a kid prayer.  Teenagers and adults, whom we all assume already know and understand the prayer, benefit from exploring it in the congregation because they can unravel some misunderstandings and confusions without having to admit they have them.  This is the one time the Lord’s Prayer appears in the lectionary, so it is hard to pass up making it the focus of the day. 

>  Worship planners could either build the entire worship service around the Lord’s Prayer or explore the parables and teachings in the sermon and use the Lord’s Prayer in a special time for children or feature it in the day’s liturgy.  Or, peaking ahead to next week’s Psalm 107 suggestions, it would be possible to explore the Lord’s Prayer this week and delve into the concerns of God’s response to prayer in the parable and teachings in this text using Psalm 107 as a case study on next Sunday. 

>  Lord’s Prayer Words to Watch:  It’s not just the children who are puzzled by some of the phrases in the Lord’s Prayer.  So work through them for everyone.  Briefly.

Hallowed means holy.  So one translation of the first line is “God, you are holy!”

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is one sentence, but when it is prayed in public there is often a huge breath gap before “on earth as it is on heaven.”  I may have been in my teens before someone glued those phrases together for me.

Bread is food and everything else we need for survival, even money which is slangily called bread. 

Forgive us our debts, trespasses, transgressions, sins.  The new ecumenical version of the prayer uses sins which makes most sense to children.  Debts are financial IOUs.  Trespassing is going on someone’s property uninvited.  And, transgressions has fallen out of everyday speech entirely.  So, it worth taking time to translate the term used in your congregation and to point to the terms they will hear worshipers use in other churches.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil is another phrase that needs explaining as a whole.  For children it means please don’t let us get into situations that ask us to be braver and stronger than we are or situations in which we can’t figure out what to do or situations in which we will be hurt (deliver us from evil).

The last phrase echoes the praise of the first.  God you are the biggest most powerful, most wonderful being and always will be.

>  Read The Lord’s Prayer, by Tim Ladwig, a picture book linking the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer to the experiences of a father and daughter spending a day fixing the house of an elderly neighbor.  The clear message is that praying the prayer leads us to living that way.

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Laura Fry shared her computer version of this worksheet and is willing for you to use in in worship. Thanks, Laura!

>  Give each worshiper a Lord’s Prayer worksheet with the phrases of the prayer written in 6 separate sections of the page with lots of space around them.  Encourage worshipers to write or draw about each phrase as you work through the worship service.  Their notes may be things they want to remember about the phrase or situations in their own lives that connect to the phrase or their own versions of that prayer phrase today.  Near the end of the service, pray the prayer with a leader stating each phrase leaving generous time for worshipers to pray the phrase silently using their notes.

>  Base the Prayers of the People/Pastoral Prayer/ Long Prayer on the Lord’s Prayer.  Use two prayer leaders - one to say each prayer of the Lord’s Prayer, a second to offer prayers for the day related to each phrase after the first leader prays them.  You may or may not follow each phrase with silence for individual prayer.  Both leaders may be adults.  Or, the first might be an older child.  This is powerful for both the adults who cherish the sound of the young voice offering the traditional prayer and for the children who hear one of their own as a worship leader.

>  Or, scatter the phrases of the prayer throughout the prayers of the day in some not too subtle ways.  The easiest is to create responsive prayers in which the congregation repeats a phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.  At the beginning of the service introduce this as a treasure hunt, give them a copy of the Lord’s Prayer and challenge them to check off each phrase every time they pray it today.   Possible matches are:
Call to Worship      Our Father who art in heaven…
Confession              Forgive us….
Prayers of People  Thy kingdom come….
..daily bread…
..not into temptation…evil
Benediction            Thine is the kingdom…

>  Or, give each child a word search puzzle containing key words (rather than a list of the phrases) from the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the service.  Challenge them to find the words listed below the puzzle in the puzzle and to draw a star by or circle each word every time they hear it in today’s worship.

This word search was made using

Songs about prayer:

>  The Jamaican arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer with “hallowed be thy name” following each phrase of the prayer invites the singing congregation to hear the prayer phrases in a fresh way AND often becomes an earworm for the rest of the day or week.  Even non-readers can sing along the repeated “hallowed be Thy name.”

>  If you are exploring larger issues about prayer, sing What A Friend We Have in Jesus.  Older children can follow the concrete language and ideas and appreciate the passion with which it is often sung by older worshipers.

>  The parable and teachings which follow are tricky for adults are even harder for literal thinking, Santa Claus letter writing children.  For one thing, pestering God repeatedly for what you want looks even more risky to children who have fresh experiences with how parents respond when pushed too often on a want. (The neighbor in the parable may give you what you want to get rid of you.  But, a parent is more likely to hush you with threats or punishment.)   For another, the text, taken literally, says that if you ask for it, you will get it.  And even the youngest child knows that is not true.  Children and adults together can separate the prayer requests for a pony, a car for my sixteenth birthday, or an invitation to that prestigious event from those for Grandpa’s health, the family’s income, or stability in the marriage at the heart of the family.  (Don’t credit the children with all the former and the grownups with the latter!)  Once you wade into the questions of prayers that do not get the answer you want, children and adults again have an equally tough time with putting important things in God’s hands.  The challenge for the preacher is to use examples from all ages rather than just from adulthood.  The problem is the same all through life.

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