Thursday, May 11, 2017

Year A - Proper 6, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 18, 2017)

NOTE: Yes, the date for this post is 2017.  Because of the way the lectionary calendar fell in 2011 and 2014 (the previous Year As I blogged) Proper 6 was not needed.  In 2017 it is needed, so here it is.  And yes, I know that it will be Father’s Day in the USA, but there really are not any obvious-to-me connections between Father’s Day and these texts. 

* With this week we start Ordinary Time.  And, we start reading our way through the patriarch-matriarch stories of Genesis and then Exodus.  Since these readings include some of the best loved stories of our faith, I will be providing lots of suggestions about reading them in creative ways that will allow children (and worshipers of all ages) to follow and savor them.  It may be a good season to de-emphasize preaching in order to give maximum time and attention to scripture storytelling.

All these hymnsheets may be reproduced
for non-commercial use

* The texts for today other than the Genesis and Psalm 116 texts, focus on discipleship.  If you explore any of them, sing one or more of these hymns using the word sheets or worship worksheets above …

Today We Are All Called to Be Disciples

The Servant Song

Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated

God of Grace

                   Texts for the Day

Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7)

* To help children keep up with the action in this long story, have it pantomimed as it is read.  Begin by introducing the characters (Abraham, Sarah, maybe a servant, and the 3 travelers).  Instruct the 3 travelers to keep close together with their arms around each other’s shoulders.  Point out to listeners that these three travelers together stand in for God.  Enjoy the fact that God chose to appear as a group of people rather than a single person.  Players should probably be older youth and/or adults of appropriate ages.  (Do you have an older man and woman, maybe older couple, who could act Abraham and Sarah?)  The players will need one good rehearsal with the reader before worship.  Sarah might stand behind a screen or swath of tent-like fabric or she might simply turn her back to the congregation when she is out of sight.

* All the “Alleluia, Amen”s in Come Christians Join to Sing are like holy laughter.  Sing it using the illustrated word sheet to join Abraham and Sara laughing before God over all God’s wonderful surprises.

* 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.

* 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.

* Be sure to read the lectionary’s parenthetical verses (21:1-7) to complete the story of the announcement of Isaac’s coming birth and his 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 116:1—2 and 12-19

I’d skip this psalm with the children today.  There is just too much richness in the other texts and too many complications in the psalm.  Also, it is too easy for children to hear one psalmist’s prayer of thanksgiving for getting what he prayed for as an indication that they will get everything they pray for too.  They do test this out and learn that it does not work.  Sorting this reality out with children is most easily done one on one with all the specifics rather than in the sanctuary with generalities.

Exodus 19:2-8a

* Read in relation to the disciple instructions in Matthew.  Focus on verses 5-6 presenting the context in the other verses in your own words.  God wanted Moses to say these words to the escaped slaves in the wilderness AND to us today.

Psalm 100

* Turn the psalm into a congregational reading with many short lines that new as well as experienced readers can follow.  (The two groups could be choir and congregation or two halves of the congregation.)

t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t 

                                      Psalm 100

Leader:          Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

Group 1:        Worship the Lord with gladness!

Group 2:        Come into God’s presence with singing!

Leader:          Know this!  The Lord is God.

Group 1:        Know this! We belong to the Lord who made us.

Group 2:        Know this! We are God’s people, 
                             and the sheep of God’s pasture.

Leader:          So, enter God’s gates with thanksgiving,

Group 1:        Come into the holy courts with praise.

Group 2:        Give thanks to God and bless God’s holy name.

Leader:          For the Lord is good;

Group 1:        God’s steadfast love endures forever,

Group 2:        God’s faithfulness is for all generations.

 Based on NRSV and Presbyterian Book of Common Worship

t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t * t 

Romans 5:1-8

* Paul here offers a fairly sophisticated explanation of atonement.  It presents all sorts of problems for children.  First, children are offended by the biblical practice of atonement sacrifices.  It doesn’t seem fair to kill an animal to tell God we are sorry about what we have done.  Most church children have been raised with steady insistence that they are the loved children of God and so find it hard to see themselves as God’s enemies in need of saving.  Digging into all this with them in intergenerational worship is not promising.  Fortunately, verses 3-5 lead children to several interesting themes to explore.

* The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown, tells of one boy’s attentive care to a small plot of flowers in a devastated urban landscape that eventually grows to take over the whole city and to include other gardeners.  Read it as a more upbeat parallel of verses 3-5 for your congregation of disciples “gardening” in your city.  It takes 4 minutes to read the entire book.  Or, you could stop when the garden is in full bloom just before the coming of winter.  Reading the entire book brings in the other gardeners and pictures of the whole city blooming at last, but reading the first half presents the idea of seeing a need, responding, learning to respond better and getting results over the long haul.

* What Do You Do with an Idea? , by Kobi Yamada, is a stretch for younger children and even a bit of a challenge for older ones.  But,…   You could begin by pointing to the boy and the egg on the cover of the book and saying that though they could be many different things today you want them to imagine that the boy is God and maybe us too and the egg is God’s idea about a world in which everyone is loved.  To make the idea more concrete hand someone a Bible and note that the Bible is God’s big idea about a world in which everyone is loved and suggest that they could see the egg as a Bible in their imaginations.  Then read the book, maybe stopping occasionally to reconnect with the egg by pointing to the Bible.  It takes 4 minutes to read the book without stopping – but you may want to stop to make brief observations as you go.

* Verses 3-5 also offer an interesting sidebar to explore with children with adults listening in for their enrichment.  It might be titled, “what Paul said to the children.”

There is something you need to know that we grownups don’t like to talk about a lot.  Bad things are going to happen to you.  You are going to get sick or hurt.  People you love are going to get sick or hurt.  Or, those people are going to hurt you by what they do.  You may get caught up in war or be the victim of a crime.  Bad stuff like that just happens.  Also, sometimes when you try to do good important things, things that God wants, you might get hurt.  Paul got beaten up for preaching.  Some people in the middle East have been beaten up, even killed, as they protest against unjust rulers.  So, you need to know that bad things will happen to you during your life.  You can count on that.

But, you also need to know that God will be with you when those things happen.  You can count on that too.  Sometimes it won’t feel like God is there.  It is easy to get mad at God when bad things are happening.  We yell, “Why don’t you stop it, God?”   We worry that God must not love us if this is happening to us.  We wonder if we are so bad that God is punishing by letting the bad things happen to us.  Sometimes, we even wonder if God is there at all.  At times like this it is important to remember that God loves us always and is with us even when the bad stuff happens. (Say it again, slowly for emphasis.) God may even be working through us to take care of the world.  We can count on that.  We have to depend on our heads to remember this even when our feelings can’t.

Remember, even Jesus got whipped, nailed to a cross, and died.  But that was not the end of his story.  He was raised on Easter.  It is the same with us.  The bad times are never the end of our stories.  Remember that.

Paul might have gathered the children to tell them this.  Or, in the middle of talking to the adults (aka “the sermon”) he might have said, “Children, this is for you.  Listen up.” 

We don’t talk to children like this often.  For that reason, doing so can be memorable.  It can also prepare children for the bad times when they do come.

* To explore Paul’s message and do a little worship education about the Benediction, ask the children to join you at the front to help you with the Benediction.  Briefly note that worship ends the same way every Sunday.  A worship leader stands up front and urges everyone to do something during the coming week and then reminds them that God will be with them as they do it.   Then, walk them through the benediction below.  Finally ask them to repeat each line after you.  If it is appropriate in your tradition, lead them in raising their hands to bless the congregation as they repeat the last 2 phrases.

Remember when good things happen this week
God is with you.
Remember if bad things happen this week
God is with you.
Go in peace.

* The cross is a reminder of Paul’s message about suffering.  Point to crosses in your sanctuary and tell stories of suffering in your congregation and community.  Describe how looking back we can see God’s presence in those times.  Give the children or all worshipers a small cross to carry with them as a reminder that God is with them in bad times as well as good.  Oriental Trading Company is one on-line source for such things.  Click on for 558(!) inexpensive crosses for distribution.  I would not use some of the 558, but others are fine.  My favorite one for today is a polished worry stone printed with a cross.  Unfortunately, those are almost one dollar a piece – maybe a little pricey.

* “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy” again comes to mind as an appropriate child accessible hymn.   Before singing it, introduce “mercy” as another word for “love.”

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 (9-23)

* This is a really long reading in which it is easy for children to get lost.  To keep them with you read it taking the role of Jesus and use the congregation and 12 “disciples” as listeners. 

Walking from the lectern to center front, read verses 9:35-36.

Ask the whole congregation to stand as if Jesus’ listeners while you read verses 9:37 – 38.

Tell the congregation to sit down and call forth 12 volunteers (maybe all children or maybe a mixed age group).  As you read verses 10:1-4, point to each disciple giving them one of the biblical disciple names as you read them.

Address the remainder of the passage to the group of disciples with the dramatic flair of Jesus sending his friends out on their own with careful instructions.

Conclude by including the whole congregation and the disciples with a sweep of the hand before calling forth the closing response, “The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.”

Make Friends with
Everyone You Meet
* Jesus’ instructions for disciples can be summarized for children with four posters.  Present them and briefly comment on each one.  The aim with children is not to get the details but to catch the overall flow. 

Make friends with everyone you meet. 
God loves everyone and you might be surprised at who becomes your friend.

Don’t worry that you won’t know what you will say or do. 
God will be with you and will help you.

You will try some things that won’t work out. 
That is OK.  Just try something else.

Some people will get mad at you.
People got so mad at Jesus that they killed him.  So, expect some people not to like what you do in Jesus’ name.

* If you use the posters, bring them out again at the benediction.  Display each one making it a charge for the coming week.  Conclude with, as you do all this remember that Jesus promises to be with you all the way.  Amen

James + Acey + Peter + Mrs. Jones + more
* Name the disciples then and now.  Call out the names of the 12 disciples.  Then, invite the congregation to call out the names of people in the congregation who they see doing God’s work.  (Even, invite them to call out their own names thinking about what they are doing.)  This might be followed by the prayers of the people with emphasis on the work of the congregation or by singing one of the discipleship hymns listed at the beginning of this post.

* Or simply name in prayer some of the ways members of your congregation do God’s work in your congregation. 

* If the timing is right, this would be a good opportunity to send forth/commission children who are going to camps or Bible Schools and youth and adults who are going to conferences or on mission trips in the coming months. 

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