Friday, February 27, 2015

Year B - Second Sunday of Easter (April 12, 2015)

It is
Holy Humor Sunday

I have a friend who practices Holy Humor Sunday in his congregation on the Sunday after Easter.  I thought he invented it, but discovered he is part of a movement in which congregations are reclaiming a medieval practice of laughing at Satan’s defeat and reveling in Christ’s victory.  Proper Holy Humor Sunday worship services are filled with jokes, funny stories, even pranks and costumes.  The Easter reasoning for celebrating Holy Humor Sunday on the week after Easter is that “Humor is not the opposite of seriousness.  Humor is the opposite of despair.”(Conrad Hyers).  Google “Holy Humor Sunday” to find a plethora of links to all kinds of resources, including some complete liturgies. 

t  Be sure to check out The Joyful Noiseletter.  It celebrates its 15th year with what they describe as a “bonanza” of ideas and resources, but which hardly does justice for the multitude of material.  Since much of it is shared in copies of news articles describing services in specific congregations, you have to skim some paragraphs.  But, if you keep scrolling you’ll come across such things as:

J “Risen Christ by the Seas” the smiling, maybe laughing Jesus on the header.  The artist made it available for use in worship (not for money making publications).  See the order page at the bottom of the site for bulletin covers, posters, etc.  

J The words for Easter carols – “God Rest You Merry Sinners”, “Hark the Herald Angel Said,” and “Deck the Halls with Easter Lilies.”

J Directions for sanctuary egg hunts with plastic eggs filled with cartoons and jokes

J Cartoons about churchy things

J A collection of knock knock jokes to sprinkle throughout worship, e.g. “Knock knock, who's there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce pray.”

J A Dr. Seuss-like paraphrase of John 20:19-31

J Even directions for a joy-oriented communion liturgy that begins, "Giving thanks to God is a good and a joyful task, to be done with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts; for…”

t  Read a complete liturgy for a Holy Humor Sunday at God is Still Laughing: Learning Theology Through Jokes then dig around the site for humor treasures for other days and topics.

t  If you have celebrated Holy Humor Sunday, tell the rest of us about it in Comments.  We all need all the funny ideas we can get.


t  Especially if you buried the Alleluia! for Lent, remember to include lots of them in today’s singing and praying.  If there was not time to allude to Alleluia! banners in Easter Sunday worship, do so today.  Practice saying the word together, define it, explain why it is on the banners and how long the banners will stay in place.

J Connect Alleluia! to both Easter and Holy Humor Sunday with, Hallelujah, the Clown, by Kathy Long.  A court jester named Hallelujah tries to be good at a series of things (juggling, dancing, singing, etc.) but everyone laughs at him.  In the end God tells him that his gift is making people laugh and that it is an important gift.


The Texts –
whether it is Holy Humor Sunday or not

Acts 4:32-35

Because they do not get tangled up in adult concerns about economic socialism, children see these verses simply as a lesson on sharing.  So,

t  Make a simple, non-apologetic pitch for sharing.  Danyelle Ditmer at Little People Big Word suggests gathering the children around a big bowl of candy to talk about what good sharers the first Christians were.  To take it another step, invite the children to take a piece for themselves and some to share with other worshipers as they go back to their seats. 

t  Identify specific ministries of your congregation that are your way of doing what the first Christians did.  Interview one or more individuals who participate in some of these ministries. 

t    Read the passage just before the offering.  Note the connection between what the early Christians did and the offering you collect every week.  Tell about ways your congregation uses the money in the plate to love and care for others.  Then, take up the offering.


Psalm 133

t  Children either laugh or are grossed out by the idea of pouring oil over someone’s head and letting it run over his beard and down onto his collar.  YECH!  To get past this, explain that people in different times and places like different things.  The psalmist liked using oil on his head.  We prefer to rub good smelling lotion into our hands.  If the children are gathered around you, squirt a small bit of lotion into their hands for them to rub in as you talk.  Enjoy smelling one or two of the hands, then reread the psalm.

t  With older children try your hands at creating new psalms comparing living in peace and harmony as God’s people to things and activities we enjoy today.  For example, add to “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony.  It is like…” (TEV) one or more of the following.

Good smelling lotion on our hands
Sitting around a campfire on a cold night
A warm coat on a cool day
Running barefoot through fresh grass


1 John 1:1-2:2

t  This is the first of six consecutive epistle readings from 1 John.  So introduce the book.  Using the New Testament table of contents in your pew Bibles, identify the four books named John in the New Testament (5 books if Revelation includes John’s name).  Briefly, tell how the books are alike and different.  One is a gospel telling the story of Jesus.  The others are letters or communications to other Christians.  Explain that though we do not know much about the church to which John’s letters are addressed, we do know that they were having a fight.  We’re not 100% sure what they were fighting about, but we know that John’s suggestions to this fighting Christians make sense for any fight – then or today.

t  If you are going to deal with John’s ideas about the incarnation in this text, take time to explore the significance of the name Jesus Christ.  Point out that Christ is not Jesus' last name.  Jesus is an earthly human name.  Jesus’ full name would have been Jesus of Nazareth.  Christ is a heavenly name or title.  When we speak of Jesus Christ we are saying that Jesus was both human and God.  

t  If verses 7 and 8 (“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”) are used regularly in your prayers of confession, highlight them today.  Point out where, how and why you use them.  Describe every worshiper in the congregation as a sinner coming with sins to admit to God.  Walk through your ritual – the prayer of confession, maybe silence for personal confession, assurance of pardon and congregational response.  Use some of John’s ideas in this text to explain what each part of the liturgy means.  Then, invite worshipers to join you confessing your sins to God and hearing about God’s forgiveness. 


John 20:19-31

t  This passage is not that long, but a lot of different things go on.  To help children follow it, try the following group reading

! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?

John 20:19-29

Reader One (probably you) invites the children to come forward to help with the gospel reading.  Imagine with them that they are the disciples on Easter Sunday night hiding out in a locked upper room, wondering about what the women said about Jesus’ tomb being empty, and still afraid the soldiers would come for them too.

Reader One:  When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas joins the group off to one side to read this line.  Then sits with the group as Reader One continues.

Thomas Reader: But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Reader One:  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas answered him,

Thomas Reader:  “My Lord and my God!”

Reader One:  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

                                   New Revised Standard Version

! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? !

Or

t  Invite children forward for the back story before hearing the gospel read:
The disciples were behind locked doors because they were afraid, embarrassed and ashamed.  Recall some of their names and what they had done as Jesus died.  Then note that they were afraid of what Jesus would say to them about all their desertions if he really were alive again.  They were afraid the soldiers would come for them like they had for Jesus.  And, if the women were wrong and Jesus was still dead, they were afraid to face people who now knew that they had been wrong about Jesus.  They had been so sure, so loud in proclaiming Jesus and were apparently so wrong.  They did not want to see anyone ever again.  That is why they were hiding in locked room.  Then read the story from the big Bible.  After reading it, point out that Jesus did not say, “What happened?  Where were you?  You screwed up!”  He said, “Peace.”  In other words, “It’s OK.  I understand.  I forgive you.”  Imagine how they felt when they heard that. 

t  This passage offers several clues to what Jesus was like after the resurrection – he can appear inside a locked room, he can be touched (he is not ghostly), he still has the wounds, and still loves them and explains what is going on to them.  Next week he will eat fish.  Children are curious about all this.  Take time to ponder with them what they think Jesus was like after the resurrection, being open to new ideas and affirming the mysterious part of it all.

Either include this discussion/reflection in the sermon or use it to introduce the scripture reading.  In the latter case instruct listeners to listen for clues about what Jesus was like after the resurrection and to raise a hand each time they hear one as you read.  In an informal setting stop at each one to clarify the clue and ponder it briefly.

Forgiveness and Peace

t   In this short passage Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).

t  If your congregation regularly passes the peace in worship, before you do so today connect the ritual with this story.  We are being like Jesus passing peace to other people.  We don’t just say “Hi.”  We say, “The peace of God be with you.”  It is a wish or prayer for the other person.  We can say it because we know God loves and forgives both of us.  Then invite people to pass the peace to their neighbors.

t  Jesus’ forgiveness and call to the disciples to forgive in this story provide another opportunity to highlight and explore the Lord’s Prayer petition “forgive our debts/trespasses/sins, as we forgive…”  Write “forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins” on one poster strip and “as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass or sin against us” on a second poster strip.  Present them first in the order they appear in the Lord’s Prayer.  Then connect the first strip to Jesus forgiving the disciples on Easter evening and the second strip to his command that they forgive others.  Reverse the order of the phrases and point out that we often have to pray this prayer backwards when we have someone to forgive.  Note how hard it is to forgive people who have treated us badly.  The only way we can do it is by remembering how Jesus forgave the disciples and forgives us.

t  Create a responsive prayer in which a worship leader describes situations in the world and in personal lives that need forgiveness and the congregation responds with “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Pray this prayer after having explored it’s meaning in light of today’s story.

Thomas


Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54170
[retrieved February 27, 2015]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/
wiki/File:The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio.jpg.
t  There are two especially interesting paintings of Jesus and Thomas.  Show one or both of them.  Look first at Thomas’s face and imagine what he is thinking and feeling as he touches Christ’s body.  Then, look at the faces of the other disciples and imagine what they are thinking and feeling.  (I suspect they are glad Thomas asked his question because they really wanted to know the same thing but were afraid to ask.  It does take courage to ask some questions and Thomas had it.) 
JESUS MAFA. Jesus appears to Thomas,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48302
[retrieved February 27, 2015].
Then, look at Jesus’ face and posture and imagine how Jesus felt about Thomas and his question.  (This could be a conversation with worshipers or could be the ponderings of the preacher in a sermon.)

Both of these paintings can be downloaded at no cost when no used to make money.  Click on the link under each picture.

t  The story of Thomas is important to children who already ask lots of questions about everything and to those who will ask deep questions as they get older.  If we want to encourage children to ask their questions, we must not label Thomas a doubter.  No amount of explaining can make doubter into a positive adjective – especially in this story.  So describe Thomas as a curious person who wanted to see for himself what others had already seen.  Recall what it is like when everyone is talking about an exciting event that you were not at.  Also remember that according to Mark, the women were so astounded when they found Jesus empty tomb that ran away and told no one.  Insist that Jesus welcomed Thomas’ questions and ours.  There is no honest question God/Jesus cannot handle.

In describing Thomas, remember that he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (John 14:5).  He really wanted to understand Jesus.  Thomas was also the one who after telling Jesus he was nuts to go to Jerusalem where his enemies were out to get him, replied to Jesus’ insistence that he was going anyway, “Let us go and die with him” (John 11:7-16).  He was that loyal.  Finally, upon seeing Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection, Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”  That was his statement of faith.

Thomas wasn’t the only confused, questioning disciple after Easter.  List the responses of Mary, Peter, John, and the others as they encounter the risen Christ.  Everyone was so confused that they were frightened. 

t  To celebrate Thomas’ questions turn this into Questions Sunday.  Collect questions about the Easter stories and God from the whole congregation.  Take them verbally or invite people to write them on pieces of paper to put in the offering plate.  Today read through the questions.  Celebrate them.  Elaborate on them adding related questions.  Even, ask for clarification on questions you do not understand.  Do NOT answer any of them – even if you can.  Instead promise to deal with them during the coming weeks.  If there is high interest in this, you might even print the questions in the newsletter or on the website.  As you work through the Easter season, point to the question/s that you are working with at any given point. 

It would also be possible to broaden the scope of questions to include all questions about God and God’s world.  Pondering these might even become a summer sermon series.  Some questions children ask include:

Why didn’t you make me taller or prettier or smarter or…..?
How can God pay attention to everyone in the world at every minute?
Why did you let that (awful thing – like someone dying) happen?
Why don’t you make this (wonderful thing – like a sick person getting better) happen?
Why can’t I see you or at least hear your actual voice like people in the Bible did?