Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Year C - Proper 24, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (October 16, 2016)

Today’s texts cluster around two major themes that are very important to children – the importance of God’s Word, the Bible and the possibility of wrestling with God.  So, I have organized this post around those themes.  The texts are all there but not in the usual order.

The Importance of God’s Word, the Bible

Jeremiah 31: 27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

>  The key verse of the Jeremiah text for children is verse 33.  The day will come when God’s word will not be on stone tablets or in books, but written into our very hearts.   A few children will have experience with learning something by heart, i.e. memorizing it.  Timothy is instructed to be a faithful student and teacher of the Word.  Under that is the belief that to be a strong, true church a congregation must be made up of people who know their Bible well.  Psalm 119 celebrates the Law (the Bible).  Explore the importance of Scripture using some of the following:

>  Show a Bible that you have all but used to death.  Tell how you got it into this state and note that most of what has made this book so ragged is now so much a part of you that if the book fell apart completely, you’d still have most of it inside you.  Encourage others to use a Bible to pieces.

>  If there is a large Bible displayed and read from in the sanctuary that has a history, tell that story and bring it to where worshipers of all ages can see it during or after the service.

I’d use some (not all) of these and my computer Bible.
>  Display a collection of Bibles that you use.  Include several translations, maybe one that was a gift you treasure, at least one Bible storybook, and an e Bible if you have one.  Point out both their differences and the fact that they all contain God’s Word and are important to you.

>  Identify all the places the Bible is used in worship.  Print a clip art Bible beside each Bible based item in the order of worship.  Or, give children Bible stickers to place beside those elements as you come to them.

>  Encourage family Bible story reading.  Ask how many families read a story each night at bedtime.  Suggest that they start reading two stories, one of the usual ones and one Bible story.  Tell parents that they can usually trust their instincts selecting a Bible storybook.  Those with sweet cartoony illustrations will likely tell sweet stories.  Those with violent action in most pictures will lean that way in story selection.  More damage is done by waiting to find the right Bible storybook than by starting in with one that you later abandon.  Getting started is what is important.  Two Bible story books that I often suggest to families are:
The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Melton
The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories,
        by Mary Batchelor

>  Pray for all the study groups and church school classes for students of all ages in your congregation.  Do so in a way that obviously includes children’s and youth classes.

Sing about Gods Word in the Bible.

>  Before singing Break Thou the Bread of Life point to its first phrase and admit that we might expect this to be a song about communion.  It is not.  It is a song about the Bible.  When we sing it we remember that what we learn about God in the Bible is as important to use as bread (or another other food we eat).  Alert worshipers to watch for bread, truth and sacred page which are all words for Bible in the song.

>  Before singing “Be thou my Vision” invite worshipers to look at the verse “Be thou my wisdom…”  Put it into your own words.  Then sing the entire hymn.  (Below is a set of more inclusive words than appear in older hymnals.)

Be thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word,
I ever in the and thou in me, Lord
Thou loving parent, my child may I be,
Thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

>  Offer a charge and benediction something like this:

Raise a Bible above your head say,
Go home, find your copy of God’s word.  IF you don’t have one, buy one.

Open it in front of you
Read it.  Think about it.  Talk about it.

Hug it to your chest.
Let it be written on your heart.  Let the story in it become your story.  Let it become your guide for living every day.  

Raising your other hand in blessing
And as you read, may God be with you and speak to you and call you.  May God’s Spirit work through these words to direct you, empower you, even comfort you.  And, may the peace of God be with you always.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 

>  Verse 33’s “God’s word written on our hearts” will need to be explained to literal thinking children.  Laugh at the misunderstanding of God digging your heart out of your chest and writing on it with a pen.  Then work toward Jeremiah’s message by reminding them of what it means to put your hand over your heart when you say the Pledge of Allegiance, recalling the oath “cross my heart” that says “I really do mean this,” and cutting out paper hearts to give friends on Valentine’s Day.  Children working through this quickly understand that having a Bible isn’t worth much.  It is only when you read it and use it that it becomes yours.

>  Children understand rules and think they are important.  To get at what Jeremiah meant when he said God would write the Law on their hearts, compare rules you have to follow with those you want to follow Describe a checkers game during which players spend more time arguing about the rules than they do playing the game.  They have to check the rule book and argue about what each rule means on each play.  Then describe a soccer game in which players on both teams know the rules so well that they can use them to play the very best game possible.  Which game is more fun?  Jeremiah is promising that one day everyone will know God’s rules as well as championship soccer players know the rules of their game.  Because of that life will be full of peace and joy for everyone.

Another example is Scout Laws.  Most scouts want to be a good scout and so really do try to keep the scout laws.  

>  If you are displaying quotes from prophets this fall, this is a memorable one to add for Jeremiah.

>  Tattoos fascinate children.  They love sporting stick-on tattoos from birthday parties or community fairs.  Talk about using tattoos to identify yourself.  (In my town most children have worn a UVA tattoo and would not consider wearing a VT one if it was the last tattoo available!)  Note the difference in how long stick-on and permanent tattoos last.  We can try out stick on tattoos.  But when you get a permanent tattoo it is going to be there the rest of your life.  It will become part of us.  Jeremiah is saying that God’s Law will be tattooed on us, it will become part of us forever.

To read a sermon built on the theme of tattoos and branding as signs of identity and permanence HERE.  It is aimed at adults, but may give you some ideas about developing this idea.

Psalm 119

>  Psalm 119:103 compares scripture to the sweetness of honey.  So, before reading one of these psalms, give everyone a honey flavored hard candy to enjoy and as a reminder of the sweetness of what they are hearing read.

>  Psalm 119 might be titled “The Law (or the Bible) and Me.”  It is an alphabet poem with all the verses in each section starting with the same Hebrew letter.  Each verse says something about the Bible and why it is important.  To explore this poem …

-          Prepare a children’s class to read the psalm with one child reading each verse.  The children stand in order across the front of the sanctuary and read from a paper script laying across a Bible which is open in their hands.

-          After reading what the biblical poet said about the Bible, make up verses of your own.  Start each verse with “The Bible…”  Ask children questions such as “Why is the Bible important?”  “What do you like about the Bible?”  “When do you hear the Bible read?” to help them create verses.  (This could be a children’s time or an expanded reading of the psalm that includes all worshipers.)

God’s Wrestlers

Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8, and 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

>  Wrestling with God is an intriguing idea to most children, especially most boys.  The story of Jacob wrestling with God all night not only gives them permission, it invites them to ask their toughest questions, argue with God about what seems “not right,” even fight back.  The idea that we can expect to wrestle with God and God’s direction all through our lives is probably new to most children.  Details in the story that are important to children are:

Jacob was strong enough and determined enough to wrestle all night long.  It would be great to be that strong.

At the end of the night God gave Jacob a name that praised him for struggling with God and being able to keep up the fight until dawn.  That means wrestling with God is OK.

Jacob is left with a limp for the rest of his life.  That demonstrates that struggling with God can be hard on you – but it is worth it.

Delacroix, Eugène, 1798-1863. Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,
from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48070 [retrieved September 13, 2016].
Original source: www.yorckproject.de. 
>  Before reading this story display or project this or some other picture of Jacob wrestling the angel.  Children will be so surprised to see someone fighting an angel that they will not believe what they think they are seeing.  It is important to look at the details with them so they understand what is going on. 
Point out Jacob and ask children to describe him.
Ask who Jacob is fighting with.
How hard is Jacob fighting?
How hard is the angel fighting?
Then read the story and ask “was it OK for Jacob to wrestle with the angel?”  (The answer is yes – and amazes children.)  Point out to older children that even though few of us physically wrestle with an angel, we often struggle with God.  Things happen that we don’t understand or like.  We get angry with God.  We think God owes us an explanation.  That is OK.  God understands that. 

>  Jacob wrestled with God all night.  The widow struggled with the unjust judge until he gave her justice.  Both had to stick with it in a long struggle.  Every kid who has asked repeatedly for something and been told “That is enough!” is drawn to Jesus using the woman who pestered the judge until he did what he did not want to do just to get rid of her.  Jesus’ message is that there are times when being a pest is exactly what is needed.  This is an opportunity to tell stories about the church being a pest working in the community on behalf of those whose needs are being overlooked by people in power. 

>  Outline all the wrestling that goes on in the process of a church mission project – maybe a Hunger Walk, a Habitat House, or a mission trip.  Point out the decisions that have to be wrestled with to get started, the problems that have to be resolved in planning, the strength required to carry it out, and the wrestling with what it might lead to next.  Note the many kinds of strength that are needed.  (It would be possible to link to the Bible theme here by exploring the importance of knowing our Bibles in these struggles.)

>  Persistent is a big word.  Introduce it at the beginning of worship with a poster or banner displaying the word.  Define it and alert worshipers to listen in worship for people who were persistent and people who needed to be more persistent.  Challenge them to think of situations in which they need to be persistent.

>  Timothy is to be as persistent as Jacob and the widow.  He is to stand up for what he knows is important and right even when it is hard.  Children need to hear this message too.  They often face hard choices and situations in which it is tempting to say, “I can’t do anything, I am just a kid.”  Paul tells them that they can be disciples right now – even when it is hard.

>  To unpack Paul’s advice to Timothy who was a young minister, read the CEV version of 2 Timothy 4:3-5. 
The time is coming when people won’t listen to good teaching. Instead, they will look for teachers who will please them by telling them only what they are itching to hear. 4 They will turn from the truth and eagerly listen to senseless stories. 5 But you must stay calm and be willing to suffer. You must work hard to tell the good news and to do your job well.
Insist that you think Paul must have heard one of the stories below or one like it.  Read and enjoy one of the stories and note the connection to Paul’s advice.

Prairie Chicken Little, by Jackie Mims Hopkins, can be read aloud in 5 over-the-top, dramatic minutes savoring the foolishness of the friends who get caught up in Prairie Chicken Little’s fear that a stampede is coming. 

The Emperor’s New Clothes, told and illustrated by Demi, is the familiar tale of the clothes loving emperor for whom a set of magical clothes that can only be seen by the clever is made.  When the emperor parades before his people, a child cries, “The emperor has no clothes!” and the emperor knows who in his kingdom is clever.  This book also takes five minutes to read aloud and is best read when the gorgeous pictures can be shared with the children as the book is read.  (Adults who probably already know this story can enjoy hearing it without seeing it.)

>  If it is Stewardship season, explore the way many of us wrestle with our money by reading all or part of Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, by Judith Viorst.  (Yes, this is the same Alexander of the Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.)  The book describes all the foolish ways Alexander spent the dollar his grandparents brought him until he was left again with no money, only two bus tokens.  He struggles over every purchase.  Reading the whole book takes about seven minutes.  Since it gets repetitive, reading the first several pages would get everyone “into” the subject.  Reading it as part of the sermon teaches children that money is one of the things people struggle with at all ages. 

Psalm 121 
>  This psalm about God’s persistent dependability is recognized for that by children only if you take time to look at some of the word pictures with them.  How dependable is God?  As dependable as the hills which stand in place for centuries.  Actually God is more dependable than the hills because God MADE the hills.  Also, God never sleeps and is always “on.”  God protects us from bad things and pays attention to all our coming and going today and every day for the rest of our lives.  After walking through it this way, read it or sing it.  (If you will sing it, have worshipers follow you in their hymnals and use the words there.) 
>  Psalm 121 also appears during Lent in Year A.  Go HERE for suggestions about walking it or exploring the “keeps” in it.  They are not directly connected to other texts for this day but might be useful.

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