Friday, October 2, 2015

Year B - Proper 26, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (November 1, 2015)

THINK AHEAD!  This week could be Proper 26 or it could be All Saints Day or it could be some of both.  If you choose All Saints go to Year B - All Saints Day (2015).  As you decide which to do, know that this is the first of two Sundays on Ruth.  The story this week gets Ruth and Naomi back to Bethlehem and is about self-giving love in families.  Next week (LINK TO PROPER 27) tells of Ruth meeting and marrying Boaz and is more on self-giving love but this time for the outsider.  Children are interested in both themes.  Given the current Syrian refugee crisis and the immigration debates there is more than enough for two weeks.  But it would also be possible to read about these loving hero/ines in one week.  They could be sample saints with other All Saints texts.  Or, they could be the focus of worship on their own.  And then there are the other RCL texts to consider.  So many possibilities!

The Texts

Ruth 1:1-18

If you are reading just today’s text, I would omit verses 11b-14a to avoid having to spend time explaining levirate marriage to worshipers of all ages.  I would also add verses 19-22 to complete the opening of this story.

Because this is a story about women, have it read by a woman – maybe an older woman like Naomi. 

The story also begs to be pantomimed by older children so that all can follow the action.  Naomi, Elimelech and their boys start at one side of the chancel then walk to the other side when they move to Moab.  There Ruth and Orpah join the boys as their wives.  As each of the males die they simply sit down in place.  Their women then step in front of them and move on together.  The three walk to the center of the chancel.  There Orpah hugs the others and returns to Moab as Ruth and Naomi walk on together.  The characters might wear headscarves to set their roles.

This is another case when reading scripture from a children’s Bible storybook helps get more details of the story out in a concise way. 

If you are devoting two Sundays to Ruth or if you want to explore in more detail the harvest festival and the sandal transaction (which are omitted by the RCL), review the story from last week then read “Ruth Finds “Work” and “Happy Endings” in The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor.  (They can be read in a total of 5 minutes.)

If you will devote only one Sunday to Ruth, turn to “Two Brave Women” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.  It can be read aloud in 5 minutes. 

Paired with the two great commandments in the gospel, Ruth’s story is an opportunity to explore family love.  Children struggle with the desire to do only what they want and learning to take care of others in their families and elsewhere.  Ruth can be a model for them.  She loved Naomi and showed it by moving with her to a strange country and doing hard field work to feed them.  Love is not a feeling but the way we act toward people and the decisions we make about what we do with them every day.

Laura Strauss in 2012 sent us all to the relationship between Shrek and Donkey as a parallel to this story.  They did not choose each other, but got stuck together.  Ruth didn't CHOOSE Naomi, nor did she CHOOSE Boaz - but she loved them, even so. She was faithful to them, though she could have just gone home to her mother's house or picked a path that didn't include Boaz. She chooses to love those whom God has placed in her life, those whom she is 'stuck' with, and God blessed those relationships.

After exploring family love, give children or all worshipers a piece of paper on which to draw a large heart for each member of their household and then to write a prayer for each person in one of the hearts and/or decorate the heart for that person as you pray for them.  Papers may be taken home, dropped in the offering plate as a prayer to God, or placed in prayer baskets passed through the congregation and placed on the central table with words about all the love families share.

To help children follow this story introduce it with an Old Testament map.  Point to Bethlehem identifying it as the place Naomi started out and the place to which she returned with Ruth.  Then point to Moab and note that people who lived in Bethlehem thought the people who lived in Moab were dirty, dumb, and “not as good as we are.”  They ignored people from Moab when they came around and treated them poorly.  Imagine how Naomi and her family felt when they had to move to Moab and how people in Bethlehem treated Ruth when she appeared with Naomi.  If you are not reading the whole story today tell worshipers that the Moab connection becomes even more important next week’s sequel. 

Identify and ask worshipers to identify who gets treated like Moabites today.  Ask what the Bible is telling us about those people.  Pray both for those people and for those who mistreat them.

Especially with the movie “He Called Me Malala” coming out this month, many older children are very aware of the story of Malala, the Pakistani teenager who was shot because she advocated allowing girls to go to school.  She recovered and bravely continues her advocacy.  She spoke last week at the United Nations and has received a Nobel Peace Prize.  Her story could be used as an example of the problems faced by girls and women like Ruth and Naomi in some cultures or an example of courage and perseverance.

Psalm 146
Local political races come to elections around the USA, so highlight verses 3-4 before reading the whole psalm.  For the children add mayors, school board members, etc. to “the princes.”  Note that whoever wins or loses any election, we still depend most on God’s power and love. 

Verses 5-10 list what God does with emphasis on the care of those like Ruth and Naomi who are marginalized.  To make the list even clearer, replace all the he’s with “The Lord” or “God.”  Include the congregation in reading the psalm either by having different halves of the congregation read alternating statements saying “the Lord” with great emphasis or by having the congregation say “The Lord” with a leader completing each phrase.

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

Psalm 146

LEADER:  Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, my soul!

ALL:          I will praise him as long as I live;
I will sing to my God all my life.

LEADER:     Don’t put your trust in human leaders;
no human being can save you.
                              When they die, they return to the dust;
on that day all their plans come to an end.


The Lord created heaven, earth, and sea,
and all that is in them.

The Lord keeps every promise;

The Lord judges in favor of the oppressed

The Lord gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free

The Lord gives sight to the blind.

The Lord lifts those who have fallen;

The Lord loves righteous people.

The Lord protects the strangers who live in our land;

The Lord helps widows and orphans,
but takes the wicked to their ruin.
LEADER: The Lord is king forever.
        Your God, O Zion, will reign for all time.

ALL:    Praise the Lord!

                                                   Based on TEV

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Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Introduce this reading by showing a mezuzah, explaining its use, and pulling the scripture parchment out of it.  Enjoy the Hebrew lettering, then read the verses from an English Bible.  Note that just as Jewish families touch the mezuzah each time the enter or leave their home, Jesus did the same in his home.  Suggest that worshipers remember this as they listen to the gospel reading.  (This could be a children’s time or you could make it the Old Testament reading for the day.)

Psalm 119:1-8

Often the psalm or a part of it is read as a prayer or call to worship without much comment.  Today take time introducing Psalm 119.  It is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible.  It has 176 verses divided into sets of 8 verses.  Every line in each set begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The verses we read today begin with the first letter – aleph.  Prove this showing the psalm in a Hebrew Bible with the matching letter at the far right of the line.  (That requires marveling at the fact that Hebrew reads right to left!)  Note that every single line is a line praising God’s Law.  That is how much the psalmist thought about God’s Law!  Then read it together.  (Have worshipers find the psalm in their Bibles and read from it.)

Take it to another level by challenging older children to add their own “A” lines about the Bible.  Brainstorm one or two together, then set out a basket in which worshipers can add their lines.  Share the lines later in a newsletter, on the web page, even as a bulletin cover on an appropriate week.  

The psalm uses 6 synonyms for Law that appear in these verses.  If you haven’t recently done so, display each one on a separate small poster.  Give them to 6 different worshipers to hold in the front as you read instructing each one to raise his or her poster every time the word is used.  The words used in the NRSV are

Hebrews 9:11-14

It is hard to read this passage without getting tripped up in the details of blood sacrifices and the one-up-manship that is employed against the Temple worship and Judaism in general.  Children are offended by the animal sacrifices and can hear that Christians are better than Jews.  So, I’d downplay this or skip it entirely.  But, if you do read it….

If you are working with the Hebrews poster, the word for today is that Jesus died ONCE FOR ALL, i.e. he died on Good Friday for all the people of the world then and now.  God loves us every day, but on Good Friday God in human skin forgave us when we nailed God/Jesus with all that love to a cross.  That is what makes Good Friday and Easter so special.  Because God forgave the people who killed Jesus on that day and because Jesus did not stay dead but was alive again on Easter we know that today and every day God loves and forgives us.

One could embellish ONCE FOR ALL saying once for all people, once for people of all times, once for people of all places, once for people of all races, etc.  Enjoy all the people who are included in the FOR ALL.

Highlight the phrases about this in the Apostles’ Creed.  Point out  that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried. (He descended into hell.)”  Briefly add details of the story to give it reality and to insist that on one particular day Jesus was killed and did die for all of us.  Then recite/read the creed together.

Depending on your denomination’s theology, you may want to explore the fact that though we say “this is Christ’s body broken for you” and “this is Christ’s blood shed for you,” the bread is just bread and the cup contains plain old wine or grape juice.  We eat and drink them together to remember that Jesus’ very real body was broken and blood was shed.

This may be stretching it, but if your worship is focused on the 2 great commandments, it would be possible to use a heart shaped loaf of bread as the loaf that is picked up and broken before serving.  The point is that Jesus/God loved us so much that Jesus/God forgave us even when we broke Jesus body and make him bleed on the cross.  Before serving the sacrament with this loaf, show it to the children and all worshipers and ponder its significance.

Praise God and Jesus with the “Lift Up the Gates Eternal” with its lively Israeli tune.  To enable all worshippers to keep up with the words as each verse is sung faster have a soloist sing the verses and the congregation sing the chorus.  The soloist can also set the increasing pace from verse to verse.

Mark 12:28-34

Children who attend church school most likely know the two great commandments.  When they hear them in the sanctuary today, they realize that these are indeed important rules and not just for children but for all people. 

Identify specific ways one can love God with heart, soul, mind and strength.  We love God with our hearts when we keep these 2 commands every day. We love God with our souls when we sing songs for God in the sanctuary and when we thank God for all our blessings every day.  We love God with our minds when we both study the world God created and work on taking good care of it and when we study the Bible to learn how God wants us to live with each other.  We love God with our strength when we build Habitat houses or give a lonely person a hug.

After talking about the 2 great commands, offer each family a red posterboard heart strung on a piece of yarn or string and printed with “Love God” on one side and “Love people” on the other side.  Instruct them to hang this heart in a frequently used door in their home to remind them of God’s rules.  These hearts could be produced by an older children’s church school class as a gift to the congregation.

To further emphasize this heart, hang a large heart mobile printed with the commands at the front of the sanctuary or in each door to the sanctuary for the entire service.

And yes, this heart is rather like the Jewish mezuzah.

Sing one song with which to love God and one about loving each other.  Introduce each identifying its purpose.  Two possibilities:

“For the Beauty of the Earth” for loving God
“Lord Help Us Accept Each Other” for loving each other

Base the Prayer of Confession on the two great commandments.  As you do, remember that children respond more to specifics than to generalities.  So you may want to name the currently “in” sport rather than simply “our sports.”  Read the commandments just before the congregation prays as follows

Lord God, we know that you are ONE and that you are the center of the whole universe
but we treat all sorts of things as if
they were more important than the one true God.
We say we give our hearts to you
but often our hearts are more devoted to
what we wear, to our sports, and to our friends.
We pour out our souls to you when we need you
but not when life is smooth and easy.
We mean to love you with all our minds
but our minds stray to what we want
and what others are saying.
We are more likely to use our strength to get what we need and want
than to get what you want for us and those around us.
We love the neighbors we choose to love
and only when they love us back.
Forgive us.  Write your commands on our hearts and souls and in our minds.  Work it into our muscles so that we may truly be your people.
We pray in the name of Jesus who poured out his heart and soul and mind and strength for us and forgives us when we turn on him.  Amen.

If you are reading Ruth’s story today, reread the paragraph in the Ruth section above using Ruth as an example of the nitty-gritty work that love takes and the suggestion about illustrated prayers for your family members.