Thursday, July 30, 2015

Year B - Proper 15, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 16, 2015)


Many of today’s texts focus on wisdom – not a bad choice for a Sunday just before or as the school year begins!  Actually I might arrange the August texts to put this week on the week most of the children in the congregation return to school.

?  To help children sort out vocabulary present a series of small posters each bearing a word.  Include genius, brainy, smart, smart alec (or wise guy), wise, common sense, good judgment and/or others that are used among your children.  Compare the similarities and differences in each one.  Finally set all but wise aside and announce that today you will be thinking about what it means to be wise.  This could be done before the call to worship to set the stage.  Or, it could be part of the sermon.

?  For children wisdom is the ability to make good decisions, to know right from wrong, to be able to figure out what to do in difficult situations.  It is often more a matter of asking the right questions than of knowing right answers to other people’s questions.  It is important to separate wisdom from intelligence.  Some people are just smarter than others.  But, smart people are not necessarily wise.  And, people who may not be super smart, straight A students are often very wise. 

?  Two helpful story books:

In The Empty Pot, by Demi, the Emperor gives all the children a seed to plant and announces that the child who brings back the biggest healthiest plant in a year will be the next emperor.  Ping tends his seed with high hopes because he knows a great deal about plants.  When the seed does not grow in spite of all his efforts he brings it back to the Emperor.  Other children bring all sorts of plants.  It turns out the Emperor had cooked all the seeds he gave out.  Only Ping was wise enough to bring his seed back and so he became the next Emperor.

After he became Emperor Ping needed a very wise prime minister.  So, he challenged all the children of the kingdom to bring in The Greatest Power in the world.  He said, "A wise person must be able to see the unseen and know the unknown."  Children arrived with all sorts of weapons, beauty, technology, money, etc.  A girl named Sing brought a lotus seed.  She was wise enough to know that from that one little seed life renewed itself every season and that life was the greatest power.  She became Ping’s Prime Minister.

?  “Fear of the Lord” shows up in several of today’s wisdom texts.  Today’s children hear that phrase as “be afraid of God.”  What it actually means is respect or be in awe of and obey God.  To help children get to that understanding talk about how one would feel meeting a very important person – maybe the President or Prime Minister or a sports hero/ine or a famous musician.  Note that you would not be afraid that any of these people would hurt you, but you would feel very shy, hesitant to say anything, and just wow, happy to be there standing right before them.  According to these texts that is how we feel before God.  You might also recall Mrs. Beaver in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, telling the children that they would be frightened when they met Aslan.  It would be foolish not to be.  But, she insisted that Aslan was good and they should look forward to meeting him.

Is – is he a man?”  asked Lucy.
Aslan, a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the Sea.   Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts”  Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh! Said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he – quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.  “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”
From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 8

?  God of Grace and God of Glory thinks more cosmically than most children can.  But, its repeated “grant us wisdom, grant us courage” is a good prayer for the beginning of the school year.  After exploring wisdom, point to this phrase and encourage all to sing it if nothing else.  Choose one of the endings to make into mini-posters that children can post inside their lockers or backpacks.


The Texts

1 Kings 2: 10-12, 3:3-14

?  This story is interesting to children, but the assigned verses are long.  Children have trouble finding the story as the verses are read.  To highlight the story have the story read by a narrator, The Lord, and Solomon.  Use the script below to streamline the introductory material and focus on Solomon’s prayer.  Solomon should of course be read by a young adult male.  If a woman will read some of the other wisdom texts today, The Lord might be read by a male.  If a woman will not be reading wisdom texts, cast a woman as The Lord to push worshipers of all ages to imagine God as more than either male or female.

?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ? 

1 Kings 2:10-12 and 3:5-14

Narrator:   David lived to be an old man.  Then he died.  His son Solomon became king.  One night shortly after Solomon became king the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

The Lord:  What would you like me to give you?

Solomon:  You always showed great love for my father David, your servant, and he was good, loyal, and honest in his relations with you.  And you have continued to show him your great and constant love by giving him a son who today rules in his place.   O Lord God, you have let me succeed my father as king, even though I am very young and don’t know how to rule.  Here I am among the people you have chosen to be your own, a people who are so many that they cannot be counted.   So give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice and to know the difference between good and evil.  Otherwise, how would I ever be able to rule this great people of yours?

Narrator:  The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this,

The Lord:  Because you have asked for the wisdom to rule justly, instead of long life for yourself or riches or the death of your enemies, I will do what you have asked. I will give you more wisdom and understanding than anyone has ever had before or will ever have again.   I will also give you what you have not asked for: all your life you will have wealth and honor, more than that of any other king. And if you obey me and keep my laws and commands, as your father David did, I will give you a long life.

Narrator:   Solomon woke up and realized that God had spoken to him in the dream. Then he went to Jerusalem and stood in front of the Lord’s Covenant Box and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. After that he gave a feast for all his officials.  PAUSE   This is the word of the Lord.

Based on the TEV

?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ? 

?  On the Sunday before school starts, this story leads to prayers for learning wisdom this year at school so that we may become wise people of God.

Leader:  God, as we go to school we want many things.  We want to be with our friends and meet people who will become our friends.  We want to be popular.  We want our teachers and the other children to like us.

Students:  Help us also want to learn new skills and understand new subjects.  Make us your wise people.

Leader:  Lord, as we go back to school we want to have fun.  We want teachers who make lessons fun.  We want to play learning games, act in plays and do interesting projects.  We want time to play outside and in the gym.  We want school to be fun.

Students:  Help us also want to learn new skills and understand new subjects.  Make us your wise people.

Leader:  God we also want to do well.  We want to make good grades.  We want to win.  We want to be first.  We want to know we are special people.

Students:  Help us also want to learn new skills and understand new subjects.  Make us your wise people.

Leader:  So be with us at school this year.  Guide us.  Help us be good friends.  Help us pay attention and learn and grow.  Make us wise.  (If you are reading about Solomon, “Make us as wise as Solomon.”)  For we pray in Jesus’ name. 

?  It sounds like Solomon got wisdom with one prayer.  But the story indicates that Solomon was working hard already to be wise (he was wise enough to pray this prayer!) and we can imagine that he continued to work at learning how to be a wise king.  The rest of us for sure get wisdom by working at it every day.  In the Neil Simon movie “The Goodbye Girl” a little girl does not want to go the school one morning.  Her mother insists that she go saying this may be the day they learn brain surgery.  Both mother and daughter roll their eyes knowing that will not happen.  But, the mother makes her point that each day at school the daughter will learn skills that over time will enable her to do amazing things – like brain surgery.  Use this story to encourage children to work at school learning skills (even the ones they would rather not learn) so that they can do more and more amazing things as doctors, leaders, scientists, AND disciples of Jesus.

?  Illustrate Solomon’s wisdom with the story of how Solomon figured out which of two mothers claiming the same baby was the real mother of the child.  It is in 1 Kings 3:16-28 and does not appear anywhere in the RCL.  For clarity and speed, tell the story in your own words.


Psalm 111

?  This psalm is one of the alphabet psalms.  Especially on the Sunday before school starts it might be titled “The ABCs of Praising God.”  A group of school children (a class or choir?) might read the psalm to the congregation with each child reading one lettered line and the minister or other worship leader saying the letter of the Hebrew alphabet before each lines.  Or, the congregation might read the lines after a worship leaders says each Hebrew letter.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Psalm 111
The ABCs of Praising God

All                   Praise the Lord!

Aleph             With all my heart I will thank the Lord.

Bet                  In the assembly of God’s people 
                        I will praise the Lord.

Gimel             How wonderful are the things the Lord does!

Dalet              All who are delighted with them 
                        want to understand them.

He                   All God does is full of honor and majesty!

Waw               God’s righteousness is eternal.

Zain                The Lord does not let us forget 
                        these wonderful actions.

Het                 The Lord is kind and merciful.

Tet                  God provides food for those who honor him.

Yod                 The Lord never forgets his covenant.

Kaph               God has shown his power to his people

Lamed            The Lord gave them the lands of foreigners.

Mem               Everything God does is faithful and just.

Nun                 All the Lord’s commands are dependable.

Samek            They last for all time.

Ain                  They were given in truth and righteousness.

Pe                   God set his people free

Zade               The Lord made an eternal covenant with them.

Qoph              Holy and mighty is God’s name!

Resh               The way to become wise is to honor the Lord;

Shin                The Lord gives sound judgment 
                        to all who obey his commands.

Taw                God is to be praised for ever.

Based on the TEV

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

?  Psalm 111 also appears in Epiphany of Year B.  There I printed a psalm script based on the New Jerusalem Bible.  Here I adapted the TEV to give each reader a full sentence and to make the language for God a little more gender inclusive (seemed worth doing on a Wisdom Sunday).  Take your choice. 

?  Verse 10 is the key verse of this psalm for children.  Check the comments about “the fear of the Lord” near the beginning of this post and explain the phrase before reading the entire psalm.  Go to On the Chancel Steps for an idea about using a cabbage in a backpack to explore this verse on the Sunday before school starts. 



?  To invite children to join the psalmist in praising God, give them a coloring page to which they can add their praise in words and/or pictures.






Proverbs 9:1-6

?  The simple story of Solomon’s prayer for wisdom is much easier for children to follow than is this rich metaphor.  But, if you do want to explore it with children offer them a comparable image of wisdom standing at the school door calling out to students.  Share it as printed below or work with worshipers to add their own lists of the resources at the school and what students are called to learn.

Wisdom has built her school house with many classrooms, libraries, stages, gyms, learning labs, even cafeterias.  She calls out to children, “Come and learn from me and my teachers.  Learn to spell and do math.  Explore the worlds of science.  Hear stories of the history of our people.  Learn skills that will help you do amazing things all your life.  It is challenging work.  But, it will make you wise.”


Psalm 34: 9-14

?  Again I’d choose other wisdom texts for the children.  If I did use this with children I’d use only verses 11-15 which offer two simple questions and an answer to both that fit the beginning of school.  Open by reading verse 11.  Alert listeners for two questions and read them.  Then read and explain the answers.  Finally reread the whole text.


Ephesians 5:15-20

?  In the TEV this may be the most straightforward challenge to children at the beginning of the school year.  Simply walk through the text verse by verse applying each one to school.  Even verse 18’s warning against wine is an opportunity to warn children against trying any drink, smoke, or drug that is offered them.  (It is dauntingly amazing at what a young age children can encounter these things at school!) 

?  Verse 19 about praying with song become an opportunity to explore why we sing in church.  Point out that many of the songs we sing are prayers.  Identify sung prayers in today’s worship.  Note the value of
1.    A melody that makes the words feel even truer
2.    Music that helps us remember the words
3.    Music that plays in our heads later and reminds us of the prayer.


John 6:51-58

?  Before reading this passage, alert worshipers to listen for a big misunderstanding.  Some of Jesus’ listeners thought he wanted them to become cannibals!  Enjoy the fact that they were wrong.  Jesus did not want people to eat one of his arms or legs.  Then, challenge them to listen for what Jesus did want them to eat and why.



?  Children will need help getting from eating flesh to eating bread to the sustenance we get from God’s presence with us.  Start with what is said as the bread is broken at communion, “this is my body which is broken for you” to connect flesh to bread.  Then, work with all the ways we remember that God is with us in communion.  We remember what Jesus said and did.  We eat and swallow bread, taking inside our bodies the bread that stands for Jesus.  It becomes part of us just as God becomes part of us. 

?  Pass out chunks of bread for worshippers to chew on during a sermon about Jesus as bread of life.

?  Read the pages 5-17 of Bread Bread Bread by Ann Morris.  That sounds like a lot of pages but each page is mainly a picture with one phrase about how we eat and benefit from bread.  If they are close enough, children will take over “reading the pictures” and commenting on how they like to eat bread.  It is a good introduction to exploring what we mean when we say Jesus is the bread of life.  (I found the book in the local library.  It is also available in the back up sellers on Amazon and is well worth purchasing for repeated use in communion education and all the bread in the Bible.  Again thanks to Storypath for pointing it out.)


?  If you have older children and time to do some hard thinking together, challenge them to explore the bread image by reading parts of Sun Bread, by Elisa Kleven.  Before reading tell them to hold 3 questions in their head as they listen, 
1. What if the baker is God?  
2. What if Jesus is the bread?  
3. How is communion like all the animals eating the sun bread?  
Then read only pages 1-3.  Stop to identify what is going on in each of the windows on pages 2-3.  (This will be easier in July if you are in the southern hemisphere where it is currently wintery.  But, in north we can we remember winter miseries and list similar end of summer miseries.)  Then read through “’The baker’s made a sun!’ they cried.  The baker let them all inside…”  Stop there to ask, “Is it possible the baker is God and the bread is Jesus?  How do you explain it?”  When you have taken that as far as it will go, remind listeners of the third question, ”How is this like communion?” And read the next 4 pages.  Save the rest of the book for another day.  This is not short and cute.  It will stretch the thinking of children (and some adults), but it could be wonderful new way of thinking about communion.  If you feel really creative and will celebrate communion this day, ask a baker to bake a sun shaped loaf of bread to display on the Table and/or break for the sacrament.
  
?  Explore this text using the saying “You are what you eat.”  Children often hear that as adults encourage them to eat healthy food.  To take it beyond food, present and discuss three tables or trays each displaying samples of related “foods” children eat every day.

1.    A table/tray of fruits and vegetables AND cookies and sugary drinks.  Point out which athletes eat and how their bodies respond to their good choices in food.

2.    A table/tray of video games, comic books, school books, a small TV set, etc.  Discuss the importance of what we fill our minds with.

3.    A table/tray with Communion bread and cup and a Bible and/or Bible story book.  Explore the difference it makes when we soak up God into our lives.  Knowing the Bible stories helps us make wise decisions.  Humming songs about God gives us the power to do brave things for God.  When we worship and serve with friends at church, God becomes part of us – every day.


?  Help the children learn one or more of the Communion hymns that focus on bread.  There are lots of them.  I am reprinting this list each week of the series of John readings focused on Jesus as the bread of life.

Become to Us the Living Bread may be the best song for today.  Read the first verse highlighting the term “living bread” and connecting it to your conversations in worship about bread.  Then, challenge worshipers to think about the second verse (about the wine) to understand the connection between Jesus’ blood and the communion wine. 

After exploring the many kinds of bread God sends to sustain us, read the first verse of Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread.  Briefly point out that eating the bread at the Table is only the beginning.  There is nothing magic about it.  The best part starts after we leave the sanctuary.  Jesus remains with us and we continue to feast on his words and trust his love.

Before singing Loaves Were Broken, Words Were Spoken display four pictures: 1. Jesus teaching, 2. Last Supper, 3. Your Communion Table, 4. picture of your congregation leaving the door after worship.  As you read each verse stop to match it to one of the pictures and discuss the connection.  Then invite all to sing together.

Before singing Let Us Break Bread Together read the first line, “Let us break bread together on our knees.”  Point out all the ways you will do that in worship today, e.g. breaking bread in the sacrament, listening to the Bible read and talked about, enjoying singing and praying with our church community, etc.  Then invite all to sing the hymn concluding with the “let us praise God together” in which we thank God for all these many kinds of bread.

Read and briefly discuss the phrases of the first verse of For the Bread Which You Have Broken.  Connect the bread and wine of the Last Supper with Jesus words.  And, give thanks.  Then sing the song together.

After discussing the bread of life, children should be able to join in on the Taize chorus, Eat This Bread.

Review the first verse of Bread of Heaven, On Thee We Feed in light of your conversation and challenge singers to ponder what the second verse says about wine.