Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Year C - Proper 20, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 18, 2016)

Today’s texts are not easy for children.  It is a good Sunday to explore and explain details in the texts or to explore their overarching themes without direct reference to the texts themselves.

Texts for the Day

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1

>  Before reading this psalm help the children understand that Jeremiah is really, really sad after his town Jerusalem was destroyed in war and many people were killed or carried off as prisoners.  Start by reading 9:1 and asking what sort of face Jeremiah was wearing.  Try a happy face, then very sad one.  Briefly introduce the situation.  Read the whole prayer.  And possibly note afterward that this is a prayer many people in the world could pray today. 

>  Children will hear BOMB instead of BALM.  Laugh about the difference noting that nobody needs any more BOMBS.  Then display a tube of balm (unscented if you worry about allergies).  If children are close, give each one a squeeze of balm to rub into their hands as they listen to Jeremiah’s prayer for his hurting people.

>  This is a good opportunity to connect Jeremiah’s prayer to the spiritual “There is A Balm in Gilead” that was first sung by slaves wishing for balm for all the hardships of their lives.  They (and people who sing the song today) believe/d that God was with them and care/d about them in the hard times.  Then sing it.

>  This could lead to collecting names of hurting people who need God’s loving care today.  More on this in the section on 1 Timothy today.

Psalm 79:1-9

This is not a great psalm for children.  If you do read it, start by reading verses 1-4 in the TEV asking listeners to answer the questions “how bad was it?” and/or “why was Jeremiah so sad.”  In conversation afterwards sort out what they heard.

Amos 8:4-7

>  The ephahs, shekels, and selling the needy for a pair of sandals of Old Testament commerce make it almost impossible for children to understand this text as it is read.  Furthermore, they lose interest before we can explain all these details.  They depend on worship leaders to give them the theme in terms they can understand.  The bottom line is that God is not happy when some people are very rich and have more of everything they want and need while other people go without basic needs of life, especially when the rich cheat the poor.  God thinks that is not fair.

Read either the TEV or CEV version to get past some of the particulars and to Amos’ message

                        Unidentified Flemish painter. Rich and Poor, or, War and Peace, from Art in the Christian Tradition
                                                      a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 
                              http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55707 [retrieved August 21, 2013]. 
>  Display this over the top comparison of rich and poor.  Identify the differences in the two men in the painting.  Ponder what the facial expressions may say about what each man was thinking.  Then note that God does not like this painting.  God thinks it is unfair that one man should have everything especially when it looks like he got it unfairly and the other man have nothing.  With this conversation as background, read the Amos text (preferably for TEV or CEV).  Children will get the message.

>  If you sing Today We Are Called to Be Disciples, take time before singing it to walk through the first verse phrase by phrase.  Most of it is a list of examples of ways we can be disciples.  If you wish, add a word sheet for just this verse for children to illustrate during in the service.  With this introduction, children will pay attention to the first verse and older worshipers will pay keener attention to the verses that follow.

-          Name at least one captive freeing ministry your congregation 
-          Translate “plowshare out of sword” simply as we are 
       peacemakers and work to stop fights.
-          Name one way (hopefully one in which the children 
       participate) your congregation feeds the hungry and 
       provides water for the thirsty.
-          Translate “make love and peace our fast” as we practice 
       being loving and being peacemakers.  (Don’t bother defining 
       and explaining the practice of fasting.)
-          “Serve the poor and homeless first, our ease and comfort 
        last” means that we will be more concerned about the 
        needs of poor and homeless people than about doing 
        what we want for our own fun.

Psalm 113

>  This may be the happiest text for this week.  The psalmist praises the high God who leans over to lift the poor.  Either point this out verbally by going through the psalm finding all the high, low, and lifting words before reading it.  Or, line out the psalm with hand motions.  The latter is best done with the whole congregation following the lead of a motions leader as another worship leader reads.  It could also be presented by a rehearsed children’s class who have been invited to be worship leaders by acting the psalm out as it is read.

! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! * ! *! * ! * ! * ! * ! *! * ! * !

Psalm 113 with Motions

Praise the Lord!
     Arms outstretched palms turned up
You servants of the Lord, praise his name!
     Arms reaching out to the congregation

May his name be praised now and for ever.
     Repeat outstretched arms with palms turned up.

From the east to the west praise the name of the Lord!
     Point to the east, then arc arm to the west

The Lord rules over all nations; his glory is above the heavens.
     Bent arms out to the sides in an expression of power
There is no one like the Lord our God.
      Pointing up with one hand as in a teaching position

He lives in the heights above,
      Look up and reach your arms overhead

           but he bends down to see the heavens and the earth.
                Lean over to look down moving your arms out to 
                the side

He raises the poor from the dust;
     Still leaning over cup your hands as if scooping up people 

he lifts the needy from their misery
     raise your cupped hands a little

     and makes them companions of princes,
                raise your cupped hands to shoulder height

the princes of his people.
     Open cupped hands and reach out to your sides 
     as if holding hands

     He honours the childless wife in her home;
                Hold arms down at your sides

he makes her happy by giving her children.
     Rock a baby in your arms
Praise the Lord!
           Raise hands in traditional praise position


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1 Timothy 2:1-7

These seven verses offer a rather amazing variety of worship themes, some more relevant for children than others.

>  The great Christological hymn describing Christ as a mediator between God and people is hard for children.  Much of our talk with them about God focuses on God as their loving friend who is always available to them.  A mediator is only needed when there are conflicts to be settled and gaps to be bridged.  So, before children can see Christ as a welcome mediator, they need to identify the estrangement with God.  Some older children will begin to pick up on some of the preacher’s comments, but Christ as mediator is not a great concept for children.

>  Ransom is also a difficult concept for children to grasp as a description of Christ’s work.  To them ransom is money paid to kidnappers who have stolen a child or loved family member in order to get the kidnapped one back.  Since it is the bad guys who demand ransom, it is hard to understand how a loving God could demand a ransom.  Many adults never really resonate with the ransom image, but those who do will not get it until their teenage years or later.

>  The theme in this hymn that does speak to children is that God loves all people and Jesus died for all people.  Paul’s point was that God loves all people not just the Jewish ones.  Today the point is God loves all people, not just the ones like me. 

>  Present the gathered children with portraits of people. (Old “National Geographic” magazines are good sources.)  Present two very different looking people at a time with the question, “Does God love one of these people more than the other?”  After discussing several pairs, conclude that God loves and cares for all the people in the world.

>  Before singing “In Christ There Is No East or West” introduce the geographical directions in the first verse by illustrating them with hand motions.  Point to your right for “east,” to your left for “west,” up for “north,” and down for “south.”  Then form a huge circle with your arms for “one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”  As you do, summarize the message of the verse.  This could be a brief introduction before the singing of the hymn with encouragement to children to sing with the congregation.   Or, it could become a children’s time done just before singing the hymn.

>  ”He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is another good choice for this theme.

>  Paul’s call for prayer for all people is an opportunity to explore the congregation’s practice of intercessory prayer.  Before that prayer time, pause to describe what you are going to do and why.  If you collect public prayer concerns explain why and how you do that.  If you do this with the children on the steps, gather some of their prayer concerns, then mention them at the beginning of the prayer that follows.

This is a good time to encourage children to speak up at this time and to show them how to raise their hand for a turn to speak.  You may also want to point out that it is appropriate to pray for any person for whom you are truly concerned or happy, but that you need to think before you speak about whether that person would be embarrassed by what you say.

>  Paul begins with a call to prayer for leaders.  In this election season in the US with all the trash talking about leaders, have a respectful conversation and prayer with children about civic leaders.  Together name some local, state and national leaders and list some of the jobs they do.  You may also want to add people who are running for office.  With the children, identify some prayers for our leaders, then offer those prayers. 

>  Using a globe take a prayer trip around the world.  Before leaving/praying together identify people in different parts of the world for whom to pray.  Then pray your way around the world from one continent to the next.  This could be an eyes open prayer pointing to each prayer stop as you move. 

THINK AHEAD:  World Communion Sunday is the first week in October.  You may want to save this prayer form for that day.

>  Encourage children to pray for other people with a prayer calendar.  Give them a blank calendar for one week.  Invite them to write one person’s or group of people’s name in each day’s block then to decorate that block with designs or words about that person.  Encourage them to post the calendar will they will see it this week and to pray for each person on their day.

Luke 16:1-13

>  The parable which is difficult for adults to unpack, is all but impossible for children.  For them, verse 13 holds most interest.  As you explore it, remember that children think literally.  Loving “wealth” means loving the cash and coins.  I can clearly remember feeling safe about this as a child.  I did not love quarters or even paper bills.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I caught that the problem wasn’t the cash, it was what you could buy with the cash.  With that insight the text took on a whole new meaning for me.  To help children get the real meaning of the text, talk about “stuff” rather than “wealth.”  Cite examples like smart phones, “in” shoes, double stuffed Oreos, computer games, even the money to register to be on a sports team or see a show.  It is not that any of this stuff is bad, lots of it is really cool.  What Jesus tells us is that how we use our stuff is important.  We can be selfish with our stuff, not sharing with others.  We can spend all our time thinking about and messing with our stuff, never taking time to see what people around us may want and need from us.  We can forget that who we are is more important than what we wear and what we have.  The child’s version of Jesus’ saying is “who you are and what you do are more important than what you have.”

Straight conversations like this can be worked into the main sermon mixing examples from adulthood and childhood.  When they hear such conversations, children (1) conclude that the sermon is for them too and (2) they begin to realize that the adults around them struggle with some of the same problems they do.

>  Bring a cool electronic gadget (maybe a fancy smart phone) to the gathering of children.  Show them what it will do and let them know how much you enjoy having it.  Then, tell them you think Jesus cares about how you use your whatever-it-is.  Point out that you could say “It’s mine!  Don’t touch it!”  Or, you could say, “Look how it works?  You want to try it?”  You could spend so much time seeing what you can make it do, that you ignore everything and everyone else.  Note that you know you’ve done this when people say, “Earth to NAME – are you there?”   Or, you could enjoy it some, but not all the time.  Etc.   Conclude that Jesus said we are to learn to use are stuff well.  We are to enjoy stuff, but not make it the only thing we think about.  Jesus made it very clear that people are always more important than things.  

>  Remember that children have money too.  They do not have as much as their parents but they do money from allowances, gifts, and wages from small jobs they do.  Too often it is assumed by them and their families that this money is for them to spend on themselves.  When parents provide all the money children donate to causes and give to the church, they deny them the joy and practice of giving their very own money to care for others.  Go to  Children, Money and the Sanctuary for more ideas about this.

>  Be Thou My Vision is filled with language that is hard for children to understand.  Today is a good day to focus on the verse about “riches.”  Before singing it together, walk through that verse defining riches as wealth, money or whatever words you used to explore this text today.  Put the verse into your own words.  Then connect its message to the opening phrase, “be thou my vision or Lord…”   Finally, invite people to sing it as a prayer to God about what is most important to us.

Riches I heed not nor vain empty praise,
Thou my inheritance, now and always.
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
Great God of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

>  Being faithful in small things:  Read verse 10 aloud from the big Bible.  Then, admit that we would all like to do “big” things - important things, things that get reported on TV and make people admire us.  But most of the time most of us don’t.  Instead we do regular every day, “little” things that don’t get much attention or seem to make much difference at all.  Jesus has two things to tell us about these “little” things.  First, being faithful in little things does make a difference.  Being kind to the kid no one else talks to, forgiving the person who called you a mean name, saying “thank you” and really meaning it, all those little things often make a bigger difference to people than we ever know.  The second thing about being faithful in little things is that it is important practice.  Shooting hoops over and over again is practice for making the important shot in the big game.  In the same way being kind, forgiving, loving people on the normal days is practice for being God’s loving, forgiving people when it is REALLY, REALLY hard to do.  In both basketball and being disciples, practice on the small things is very important. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. I wasn't happy with what was in the resource our church uses, and other resources I often use weren't much use either. They were all focusing on Luke, and I knew their activities wouldn't work that well with our group.

    I'd looked at Amos and thought that was easier to use. I then searched for children's activities and found yours. I like that there's enough to choose from, and covers all the readings.

    Thank you once again.


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