Friday, May 4, 2018

Year B - Proper 4, 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 3, 2018)

Imagine my surprise when entering Date Index posts for June 3 of 2018 I discovered that for the first time in over 6 years the Proper 4 texts would be used and that I had not written anything for them.  Because the first two Old Testament texts were also listed for Second Sunday after the Epiphany of Year B (this year), I have simply copied those activities.  Most of the other texts deal with sabbath keeping, which is not a big interest for today’s children or adults.  This makes the Samuel story look more appealing maybe especially for the beginning of summer.  But, at the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, sabbath can be a call to worshipers to live out summer as a sabbath.

The Texts for the Day

I Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

This is one of the few stories in the Bible about children.  So, involve the children in reading it during worship.

He isn’t reading scripture, but can’t you see
 this boy reading either the Samuel part or the whole story?

>  Ask a 10-12 year old boy to read the story. 

>  Have an older boy and white haired man pantomime the story as it is read.  (This may be a good assignment for a grandfather – grandson duo.)

>  Use the readers’ theater script below for a dramatic presentation of the text.  Samuel could be read by a young boy and Eli by a white haired man.  The Narrator might be the usual worship leader or another man in the congregation.  The readers could stand in place or move around as they read following the action of the story.  I included some of the movement directions, but assume readers don’t need many directions to do the back and forth between Samuel and Eli.

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1 Samuel 3:1-20

Narrator:  Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.  At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; (Eli takes place at one side of area)  the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord (Samuel lies down in front of the central table) where the ark of God was.  Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and Samuel said,

Samuel: “Here I am!” (sitting up)

Narrator:  and ran to Eli,

Samuel:  “Here I am, for you called me.”

Eli:“I did not call; lie down again.”

Narrator:  So he went and lay down.   The Lord called again, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up and went to Eli,

Samuel:  “Here I am, for you called me.”

Eli:   “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”

Narrator:   Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli,

Samuel:    “Here I am, for you called me.”

Narrator:  Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel,

Eli:   “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ”

Narrator:  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said,

Samuel:   “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 

Narrator:  Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.  On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.  For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.  Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”  (Samuel lies down.)
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. (Samuel might rise and push open imaginary doors, then move off to the side away from Eli)  Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.  But Eli called Samuel and said,

Eli:  “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel:  “Here I am.”

Eli: “What was it that God told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 

Narrator:  So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then Eli said,

Eli:   “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

Narrator:  As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

                                                                                                             From the NRSV

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>  In a sermon, a preacher (not one of the readers) could direct the readers in re-
presenting the story, freezing them at certain points to make comments.

>  Further highlight the partnership between the old and young by asking older men and boys and women and girls to work in pairs as greeters, ushers, acolytes, offering collectors, etc. in worship today.

Samuel’s call offers several ideas to discuss with children.

>  God speaks to children and asks them to share the message with others.  You don’t have to wait until you grow up.

>  Listening to God is not easy.  Samuel needed Eli’s help to realize that God was speaking for him and to get ready to listen.  Identify people who teach us how to recognize God’s voice – teachers, special friends or relatives, camp counselors, even other kids.  This may be the time to share a story of someone who suggested to you that God might be calling you to be a minister – or to be part of the church in some other way.

>  Listening to God is not easy.  Byrd Baylor’s picture book The Other Kind of Listening tells about a young Indian girl learning from an older man how to really listen to the world around her.  It is too long to read it all.  But you could read several of the opening pages about listening, then skip on to the page on which she nearly gives up but finally hears the hills sing.  True the girl is listening to nature, but there are real similarities to listening for God.

>  Identify ways God speaks.  In this story God speaks through a voice that Samuel can hear with his ears.  But God speaks in other ways too.  Sometimes we read something in the Bible and know it is meant for us.  Sometimes when we are scared or sad, we feel God very close to us helping us be brave.  Sometimes when we are outside, we see something God has made and feel God loving us.  Sometimes we have a feeling deep inside that God wants us to do something to take care of another person.  Identify some of those ways to suggest that God speaks to each of us through all these ways as well as to Samuel. 

>  We tend to stop this story before the judgmental message for Eli that God gives Samuel.  But, when that message is clarified – because your sons have been bad priests and you did not stop them, no one in your family will ever be a priest again – and the morning-after story is dramatized (imagine Samuel tip-toeing around the Temple and avoiding Eli), children understand and are impressed.  God has entrusted a difficult message to a kid and Eli listened to the kid with respect.  (I imagine Samuel must have remembered Eli’s response to the message with awe for the rest of his life.)  The story as a whole is one of the best arguments I know for intergenerational ministry in all parts of the congregation’s life.

>  Introduce the hymn “Here I Am, Lord” with a boy soloist singing the chorus before the congregation sings the entire hymn.  Or, sing the hymn responsively with the choir singing the verses and the congregation singing the chorus.  The latter could be a sung Affirmation of Faith.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

>  This well-known psalm is a series of short related messages.  To help children understand them invite a group of children (maybe a children’s class) to read the psalm in worship.  In preparing, help the children put each message into their own words.  In worship readers stand in a line stepping up to a microphone to read their verses if amplification is needed.  There are enough verses for 11 readers.  Smaller groups of readers read two or more if needed verses. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Reader 1:      Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
   You know everything I do;
from far away you understand all my thoughts.

Reader 2:      You see me, whether I am working or resting;
you know all my actions.

Reader 3:      Even before I speak,
you already know what I will say.

Reader 4:      You are all round me on every side;
you protect me with your power.

Reader 5:      Your knowledge of me is too deep;
it is beyond my understanding.

Reader 6:      You created every part of me;
you put me together in my mother’s womb.

Reader 7/1:  I praise you because you are to be feared;
all you do is strange and wonderful.
   I know it with all my heart.

Reader 8/2:  When my bones were being formed,
carefully put together in my mother’s womb,
   when I was growing there in secret,
you knew that I was there-
you saw me before I was born.

Reader 9/3: The days allotted to me
had all been recorded in your book,
before any of them ever began.

Reader 10/4: O God, how difficult I find your thoughts;
how many of them there are!

Reader 11/5: If I counted them, they would be more than 
                               the grains of sand.
                      When I awake, I am still with you.

                                                             Good News Bible (TEV)
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>  “How well does God know me?”  Turn the psalm into a responsive reading with one reader or group asking “How well does God know me?” before the congregation or another group reads the answering verses.  (Use the divisions in the script above possibly deleting readers 7, 8, 10, and 11.)

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

>  Take time to read or reread Sabbath in the Suburbs, by Mary Ann McKibben Dana.  It will give you a good picture of what happens when a family with children decides to keep sabbath holy for one year.  It includes both some biblical references to creation and the Exodus AND lots of down to earth stories (potential sermon illustrations?) about the challenges of sabbath keeping today.

>  Begin worship centered on sabbath with a call to worship and opening hymn that set the stage for sabbath celebrating.

            Leader:  Today is the sabbath! 
                           This is the day the Lord has made 
                                let us rejoice and be glad in it.
            People:  Today is the sabbath!
                           This is the day the Lord has made 
                                let us rejoice and be glad in it.
            Leader:  Today is the sabbath! 
                           Let us sing about God’s world 
                                 and our place in it.

>  Sing “Morning Has Broken,” “This is My Father’s World”, or another song that praises God for the world and celebrates our place in it.

>  Remember that SABBATH may be a new word for children.  Before reading any of today’s sabbath texts, define it and point to it in the 10 Commandments.  In the Deuteronomy version of this command we are to keep the sabbath so that it is HOLY.  That is another hard to define word that for children and which in this context means simply that sabbath is wonderfully different from all other days.  One writer said that “Sunday morning should be as different from any other day of the week as birthday cake is different from any ordinary cake.”  In most of today’s texts and for most adults today, that difference usually involves rest.  Children however are not big on rest.  They prefer to do things they like to do with people they love on a relaxed schedule.  So, include in your illustrations of holy sabbaths days filled with extra happy activities as well as extra naps.

Psalm 81:1-10

>  Turn the first 4 verses into a call to worship with children playing on rhythm instruments and all other sorts of instruments briefly after each line.  Having introduced those instruments and their players, consider including them elsewhere as musical accompaniment during the service.

>  The last 5 verses assume lots of detailed knowledge of the exodus story that few children possess.  Explaining it is more trouble than it is worth.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

>  Children will not follow this passage as it is read.  There are just too many unfamiliar words and the message is quite complex.  They can however here the message that no matter how bad things are at any given time, God is with us and loves us.  To explore the list in verses 8-10 in terms more easily understand, read several pages of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst or several lines of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Whatif” (you can find the poem on line).  Both list all sorts of things that can and do go wrong everyday and call to mind other things that are wrong and remind us that we can worry about problems that will never really happen.  Conclude by rereading and discussing the promise in verse 6.

The earthen jars image in verse 5 does not seem to make as much sense to children as it does to teenagers and adults.  So save it for those who will get it.

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

>  Divide the two stories in this passage, perhaps with different teams pantomiming each one as it is read.  The preacher might weave comments about each story around the acting of each as it is read to create a two-part sermon about sabbath keeping.

>  If it is the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, pitch Jesus’ messages as directives for the summer season.  Jesus said that sabbath is for people (not people for sabbath).  Summer is for us.  It is a gift, a special time of year.  Be honest that it does have its challenges but it is still good and meant to be enjoyed.  Jesus also said that on the sabbath we are to do good for others.  Likewise during the summer we are to do good for people around us.  Highlight ways members of your congregation will do good as a group and ways individuals can do good for people at day camp, in the neighborhood, at the pool, etc.  

Jesus insists that sabbath is a time for just being together and taking care of each other.  The Servant Song celebrates that kind of being together.  Take time to unpack its sabbath meaning.

>  Point to all the “you”s in the song and insist that the song means most when we sing it thinking about “you”s we know, maybe those we keep sabbath with today.  Challenge worshipers to write names or draw pictures of people they will keep sabbath with today or this summer at the top of the hymn wordsheet.

>  Point out the ways Christ treated the disciples and the sick man he met on one sabbath in today’s gospel reading.  Ponder together how we can treat people we will keep sabbath with today with that kind of loving care.  Look for ideas in the middle verses of the song.  Then read the first verse before singing the whole song together.

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