Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Year C - Proper 21, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19th Sunday after Pentecost (September 25, 2016)

Hope is a common theme in today’s texts.  So fill the sanctuary with symbols of hope such as paraments featuring alpha and omega (God was in charge at the beginning and will still be in charge at the end), rainbow banners (God will not destroy the world again), Easter banners featuring bulbs and butterflies, maybe even an Easter lily.  Also point to the baptismal font (hope for God loving each one of us) and the Table (hope of God’s forgiveness and the coming feast).   Use them as sermon illustrations and introductions to parts of worship that deal with hope.  Or, point them out at the beginning of worship, note when they generally appear in the sanctuary, and encourage worshipers to listen and watch for signs of hope in worship today.

Wealth is also a recurring issue in today’s texts.  Amos’ condemnation of the wealthy is hard to present meaningfully to children.  In the gospel wealth has made the rich man blind to Lazarus’s needs.  His guilt is not so much that he has much, but that he refuses to use it to alleviate the suffering of others around him.

The Texts for the Day

Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15

Most children know very little about the details of buying and selling of property and even less about the problems of impending conquest by foreigners.  It is hard for them to get from the details to any meaningful-to-them message.  So, for children, simply hearing the story and learning a little of what it meant to people in Jeremiah’s day is enough.  To do that, try one or more of the following:

>  Introduce the props before reading the story.  Show two paper deeds (one to file publicly and one to keep for your own records), a check, and a glass jar big enough to hold the deed.  Explain what a deed is and why there are two of them.  Compare today’s buyer writing a check to give the seller of the property with Jeremiah’s weighing out gold coins.  Then, drop one of the deeds into the jar and put the lid on.  Note that Jeremiah used a clay jar because that is what he had.  But that either glass or clay the jar makes sure the deed will last a lot longer than just putting it in a drawer.  Then, read the story encouraging your listeners to listen for the props.  (This could be a discussion addressed to the whole congregation or a children’s time.)  If possible display these props for the remainder of the service.

>  Illustrate a way current building can produce hope by describing your congregation’s involvement in Habitat For Humanity or other home building missions.  Many of the storybooks describing the process are a little long to read in worship.  You might read all or parts of A Castle on Viola Street, by Dyanne DiSalvo.  You might tell it in your own words.  Or, you might show photographs and tell the story of a family with whom your congregation has built or rehabbed a house.  In either case focus on what a difference the house made for the family rather than on the building process.

>  Have 3 people act out the story as it is read.  The king (maybe wearing a crown) takes his place off to one side (verse 1).  A big man wearing a fierce expression with his arms folded menacingly across his chest takes his place in the center aisle (verse 2a).  And, Jeremiah stands beside a table (verse 2b).  Hanamel enters on verse 8 and he and Jeremiah act out the sale.  For added impact Jeremiah might speak verses 14-15 from memory.  If a response to scripture is your practice, all actors and the reader then say together, “The Word of the Lord” to which the congregation replies “Thanks be to God.”

>  The closest I can come to putting Jeremiah’s message into terms that are meaningful for today’s children goes something like this:  Even when you get an awful teacher who doesn’t like you, even when you feel like you don’t have a single friend, even when you don’t make the team or get the part you wanted in the play, even when you feel ugly and dumb and hopeless, remember that is not the last word.  God is looking further ahead than you are.  God is planning for you.  You’ve got to wait and be patient and trust God.   It isn’t easy.

>  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, describes such hopelessness in a series of things that go wrong for Alexander on a single day.  At the end his mother insists that some days are just like that.  It is possible to read some or all of the book including the ending then insisting that even on those days we know that God is in charge and God is planning good things.  So we wait, we are patient, we trust that better days will come. 

>  Another short book is The Quarreling Book, by Charlotte Zolotow.  It is really not about quarreling.  Instead it recounts how a number of unhappy incidents in a family escalates the unhappiness until the dog responds to a shove off the bed with playful tail wagging and starts a reverse series of incidents that lead to peace and happiness.  It is a parallel for Jeremiah’s land purchase and calls us to imitate both Jeremiah and the dog in the book.  (Reads aloud in 4 minutes.  If I were reading it, I’d leave out all the “he thought she was UNPLEASANT ADJECTIVE” phrases which feel a bit heavy and unnecessary to me.)

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

All the unfamiliar words (snare, fowler, pestilence, pinions, buckler, refuge) make this a hard psalm for children.  Several familiar hymns communicate the message better.

>  “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” is based on Psalm 90 instead of 91, but carries the same message.  Before singing it point everyone to verse 3 and note that God takes a much longer view of our lives than we do.  “A thousand ages are like an evening.”

Give children an illustrated wordsheet that will help them sing along on this hymn. 
You may copy it for non-commercial purposes.
>  “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is also based on another psalm (Psalm 46), but carries the message of this one too.  The words are difficult for young readers, but the music communicates brave confidence and most congregations sing it with that feeling.  Before singing it, tell the story of its writing.  Powerful people wanted Martin Luther dead.  So, his friends were hiding him in a castle.  He and his friends were very scared.  While he was there he wrote this song to help his friends and himself remember that God was with them.

This word sheet highlights all the problems in the world in black and
all God’s presence with us as we face those problems in gold.
 Point this out as you invite children to sing along using it. 
You may copy it for non-commercial purposes.

>  “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again” sung at the conclusion of this service is an opportunity for a little worship education about benedictions.  Explain to worshipers that the benediction (the very last words in every worship service) is a reminder that we can trust God to be with us no matter what comes our way.  Put the words of the verses into your own words, something like:

May God guide you.
Trust God to care for you like a shepherd.
May God protect you.
May God provide you physical and spiritual food.
When life gets tough may God’s arms be wrapped around you.
May God’s love be your motto and may God be with you at your death.

Encourage children to at least sing the repeated beginnings and endings of each verse.  Even older elementary readers will be able to read the short words of the verses.

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

This echoes the teachings about the dangers of wealth in the other texts of the day but in a way that is not very accessible to children.

Psalm 146

The script for reading Psalm 146 below calls for 2 readers and the congregation.  It would be possible to use only one reader and the congregation for simplicity.  Point out all the “the Lord”s before reading it and challenge even non-readers to join in on them.

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

Psalm 146

Leader:       Praise the LORD!  Praise the LORD, O my soul!

All:              I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Reader 1:   Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, 
                         in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Reader 2:   Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, 
     and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

All:               The LORD

Reader 1:     sets the prisoners free;

All:               The LORD

Reader 2      opens the eyes of the blind.

All:               The LORD

Reader 1:     lifts up those who are bowed down;

All:               The LORD

Reader 2:     loves the righteous.

All:               The LORD

Reader 1:     watches over the strangers;
  he upholds the orphan and the widow,
  but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

All:               The LORD

Reader 2:     will reign forever, your God, O Zion, 
                          for all generations.

All:                Praise the LORD!


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

>  Go HERE for a shortened version doing Psalm 146:5-10 focused on “the Lord” verses.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

>  Before reading this text, tell the back story.  Paul is writing to encourage Timothy, a young minister who is having a hard time.

>  Paul’s message to Timothy is that he needs to remember what is important.  He needs to pay attention to what is important and ignore what isn’t that important.  One way to help children identify the difference between the important and the not important is to name some of the things that we feel we gotta have, gotta do, gotta be only to learn after a bit that they were really not that important.   Display an article that you thought you gotta have at some point, but quickly discovered wasn’t worth much (clothes or shoes that once seemed essential, a video game or gadget that I had to have, etc.)  Tell about wanting it, going to great effort to get it, and finding it wasn’t that cool.  Or, tell about some group you thought you had to be part of or some award you thought you had to win, but did not. 

>  Check The Quarreling Book and other references for acting hopefully at the beginning of this post.

>  If your congregation frequently sings “Be Thou My Vision” (and did not sing it last week), walk through the verse about riches before singing the hymn.  Point out and briefly define the wealth words (riches, inheritance, and treasure) and put the phrases into your own simpler words.
I don’t care about money or people thinking I am cool
Your love is all I will ever need.
I care about you more than anything else, God.
You are my real treasure.

Luke 16:19-31

>  The rich man’s sin was that he ignored Lazarus and his needs.  Lazarus was right there in front of him, hungry, sick, plagued by dogs and the rich man did nothing to help him.  Psychologists tell us that infants perceive only themselves and their needs.  They see themselves not as the center of the universe, but as the whole universe.  Everything around them exists only in relation to them.  If all goes well, children grow beyond this throughout their childhood until they see themselves as one among many and as people who are called to help other people.  Our culture complicates the process because it allows us, even encourages us, to remain oblivious to certain others.  The challenge in this text is for listeners of all ages to identify some of the people around them who are regularly ignored, even treated as if they are invisible, and then to reach out to them.  For children these ignored ones include the outcast kids at school, at times even members of their own household, people of all ages in their neighborhood who are looked down on, people in certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups, etc.

>  To help children (and other worshipers) follow this rather long story, prepare three male readers to read it while moving around the front of the sanctuary to follow the movement in the story.  Place their scripts inside black choir binders for esthetics.  Below is a script.

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Luke 16:19-31

Reader One (from center): There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

Reader Two (below and off to one side):  And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. (Move to opposite side and up a step or two if possible.)

Reader One:  The rich man also died and was buried.  (Move to side opposite Reader Two and down a step or two if possible.)  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. (Third Reader stand beside Reader Two.) He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

Reader Three: Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

Reader Two:   ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Reader Three: ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

Reader One: ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

Reader Three:  ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

All:  The Word of the Lord!
                                               New Revised Standard Version

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>  If you featured intercessory prayer last week, fine tune the emphasis this week by brainstorming together a list of “invisible people” or “Lazarus people” at school, in the neighborhood, at work, and in the larger world.  Pray through the list together.  If you did not explore intercessory prayer last week, introduce it this week and do the brainstorming as a part of collecting prayer concerns.

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