“My Dwelling Place Shall be with Them”: Ezekiel and the Temple

“My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Ezekiel 37:27

In 587 the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and with it, the people of Israel are driven into exile in Babylon. The temple is gone and so is the center of worship life for the people of Israel. “worship life” is a bit misleading. The collapse of the temple signifies a loss of collective identity for the people–who they are and whose they are–their identity is under fire. Almost fifteen years later, Ezekiel (covered in chapters 36–48) has a vision in which the temple is rebuilt. The vision is highly detailed, the dimensions of the temple, it’s length and breadth, how everything is organized within the four walls. Twelve chapters. It is a vision of hope for a people who have been separated from their place of worship. This text and it’s part in the story, merits our attention, because it has quite a bit to say about God, what God wants for the people of Israel and for the world, and the prophetic task.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider this larger context of exile. In the Psalms, the people sing from Babylon: “How can we sing the Lord’s Song in a foreign land?” When the people are in exile, they wonder what it means to remain God’s people. At the time it was understood that being conquered by another people, signaled that one’s God was conquered too. The people of Israel had been overcome. The temple of God lay in ruins. So, the people must have doubted and wondered about the strength of their God. They must have wondered if they had it all wrong. Was YHWH really God over Israel and the whole world? “How can we sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land?” How can we be assured that God is God apart from where we have come from?

The chapters which cover the dimensions of the temple are no walk in the park, but neither are the first 30-something chapters of Ezekiel which include his prophetic oracles against Israel and predictions of destruction and exile. Go, Ezekiel claims, is still God, but the people have strayed and are under God’s judgement. See how this undermines the understanding above–God isn’t weaker than another God because the people of Israel are in exile. God judges Israel and has sent it into exile. The people who have hard hearts are being transformed through their experience of exile: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (ch. 36).

bergen_marienkirche_-_fresko_propheten_2a

By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

After all that Ezekiel rails against, he still ends with the hopeful proclamation that God will make all things well. Consider the text below excerpted from this more hopeful section on rebuilding the temple:

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?”

Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.

Ezekiel 47:1-12 (NRSV)

 

This vision of the temple takes on another layer of meaning for Christians later on. If one compares the description of the temple vision in Ezekiel to John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, the similarities are striking. Indeed, John pretty clearly borrows from Ezekiel’s vision. A key difference is that John’s vision includes all of Jerusalem, a city for all people. Ezekiel’s vision is of the temple for the people of Israel in exile.

Read the last paragraph of the text excerpt above. Ezekiel’s vision–a river flowing under the throne of God, a river of life teeming with life emerges out of the rubble of the temple in Jerusalem. A river of life which gives life to trees which bear fruit for the healing of the nations. In the midst of exile, the hope of a vision of the temple rebuilt must have inspired hope. What hope does this story and the story of the New Jerusalem give us now?

Hear the Word

There is a lot you might focus on in this story, but don’t get bogged down or stuck in the details of the temple rebuilding–the people were far from God, God wanted them to be transformed and remember what kind of people they were supposed to be. The exile is supposed to teach them that and while they are in exile, they start to dream about everything being right again.

You could share a little bit about the history of exile with your class (simple. Similar to what I have done above). You could talk about how the people went into exile because God needed to get their attention. Their hearts were hard! God needed to make them soft (“hearts of flesh”) to open them up and make them the kind of people God wanted them to be.

You might choose to focus on the dreams the people had of returning home and building the temple. They wanted a special place where they could acknowledge and worship God together again. Perhaps you are most interested in the way one of these themes connects with what our kids know about church and how we worship God. Finally, you may be interested in how we are still waiting in some sense for Christ to come again and with him to bring the New Jerusalem. What might our dreams look like now? How might be get ready for such an incredible mystery.

Respond to the Word

  1. Saint John’s Bible Illumination: Like last week’s lesson, there is an illumination in the Saint John’s Bible for this text. We have the lovely (and quite large) book that I put out on the white table in the commons, but the image is linked above. This illumination panel shows a bird’s eye view of the temple. Spend some time with the image. What does the picture tell us about the temple (students might note it’s size, beauty, or if they notice the gold themes, they may mention how special it is). Discuss the function of a temple–a place to gather in community, sacrifice, give gifts to God or share gifts with the community. Your class might like to move from this conversation to creating your own temple illuminations. Use squares of tissue paper and small touches of gold acrylic paint. Ask students to create something beautiful, something they could only dream of, and something that reminds them of how beautiful God is.
  2. Rebuilding the temple: Younger children can focus on what it means that the temple was built and then destroyed. Use the cardboard blocks (in the supply closet nearest the nursery) to build a simple temple. You may also want to borrow a basket of play silks from the nursery to make the temple curtain and the holy of holies.In groups or as a class, build a temple (you can show pictures, or students can build a small square room with an altar in the middle. We have enough blocks for something simple like that) before knocking it over.
  3. A place dedicated to God: Ezekiel spends a great deal of time describing what the temple looks like. All of the dimensions are downright tedious. This text can help remind us of how the space in which we worship God is important and special. We give utmost care to creating and maintaining the space.
    1. Take a class field trip to the Nave. Walk around the Nave together and see if students can take note of all of the details in our worship space.
      1. Older students might enjoy taking notebooks, journals, or sketchbooks to the Nave and writing or sketching all that they see. Wonder together about what our space says about God, about us, and about our worship of God.
      2. Younger children may like to go up to the Nave and measure different parts of it in number of steps. How many steps does it take to make it across the back of the Nave? Down the aisle? About how many steps across is the front of the chancel? Please remember to ask the children to respect the space, avoid running around, and to be peaceful and reverent.
    2. Use art supplies to create a space in which the worship of God might happen. After learning about the temple in Ezekiel and the Nave in which we worship God, can students carefully design their own space? How is the space shaped? Where does everyone face? Are there leaders? Where do they sit? Are people still in the space? Do they move around a great deal? Where do they go? See what themes emerge from the account of Ezekiel and the liturgy.
  4. This coloring page on Ezekiel would make a fine opening activity as your class gathers. You may also choose to send it home with the students.
  5. Heart of Stone: Your class might like to play with this image and paint hearts on rocks. Perhaps Ezekiel could be painted on the side opposite the heart. What is a heart of stone anyway? What other “hard hearts” are in the Bible? (Pilate and Pharaoh were two I thought of that the students might know well).
  6. River of Life: Does the river from the text above intrigue you at all? I love that this same refrain, “leaves for the healing of the nations” shows up again in revelation. I also love that this theme of life out of death and destruction emerges again, just like our lesson last week. A stagnant and shallow puddle becomes a clear flowing stream that produces and supports life–vegetation, fish, and healing of a nation.
  7. Memorization: Ezekiel 37:27 repeats an important refrain in the Old Testament–the people belong to God. God dwells with them: “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Use memorization strategies that are appropriate for your age group and invite your class to learn this text together. What does it mean to belong to God?

Share a Feast and Closing Prayer

 

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“Seek Him who made the Pleiades and Orion”: Amos 5

amos-prophet

For such a short book, Amos packs a pretty big punch. A pre-exilic prophet (that is, before the exile happens), Amos warns the people that their time living as they–prosperous and secure, is short. They have not been living as God intended for them to live together. They are not loving God fully. They are not loving their neighbor as they ought. The people and their rulers are taking advantage of the poor. In short, they worship God with their sacrifices and offerings, but their heart is far from God. God wants their heart.

At first reading of Amos 5, you may recognize the difficulty of our task. Reading Amos and many of the prophets is very difficult. Most of the prophetic works are poetry. They are not as story driven and they depend heavily on historical context and the use of metaphor, two things that can be very difficult for young students. On the flip side, these texts are rich with imagery and symbol that build on so much of what we have seen about God in our other stories. it seems a shame to miss such a great opportunity to talk about justice as Amos provides. As you read though Amos 5, select only a couple of verses on which your class might focus (I suggest verse 8 since it is in the BCP and verse 24 since it will be quite familiar).

Our opportunities for engagement with these kinds of texts are (at least) four-fold, then. First, we can learn about the prophet and their life outside of the Biblical text we have for a particular week (so, this week you will see and activity that focuses on learning about the life of Amos). Second, we can see how the story about the prophet or the text helps us better understand the role of the prophet. Third, we can start to work with images that may be meaningful for the students. Finally, we can use the text to reflect on practices in the Christian tradition (this text, for example, offers the opportunity to discuss the practice of lament as well as thinking about a line of Scripture that is oft read in evening prayer). So many opportunities! Okay, before we move on to the responses, one more thing to discuss.

This is a pretty dark text and the judgement is thick. Two questions I learned to ask in preaching classes are “what is the good news in this text?” and “what does this text say about God?”. So, what is the good news? This text tells us that God loves and cares for the poor and vulnerable. That God loves and desires justice. We may be powerful, but the children in our care are not–God loves, cares for, and wants justice for them. The second bit of good news: when we walk away from God, God goes to great lengths to bring us back. God desires that the people of God are transformed into greater love of God and one another. Now this is something we can focus on in Church School!

Hear the Word

Please share the story of Amos with your class. We know very few details about Amoses life and  Amos is not in any of our children’s Bibles. Instead of reading all of Amos chapter 5, perhaps focus on one verse: 5:8 or 5:24 are good possibilities.

Respond to the Word

  1. Biography of Amos: Explore some of the information about Amoses life. He is a sheep-herder, a fig farmer, and a poet. He is from the Northern Kingdom. He is one of the first prophets who has an account of his call (rather than his being in the family business). Amos is neither a prophet or son of a prophet. From these biographical points, students in your class might enjoy working on an activity on sheep herding, fig trees, or maps of Israel and Judah. You may also want to look of images and icons of Amos, like the one above or here. Create your own image of Amos and write words from the story around him (justice, etc.).
  2. The Prophets: Did your class create a poster of what a prophet is from our Nathan lesson? What do you notice about Amos as a prophet? How is he similar to some of the other prophets we have covered? How is he different? What does he emphasize? Some possibilities for Amos: he wrote a book instead of their being stories about him within a larger book (like Nathan and Elijah), he speaks to God’s people through poetry, he is speaking to all of the people of Israel and not only those who are in power, he focuses a lot on the poor and marginalized.
  3. Pleiades and Orion in the BCP: At evening prayer (115), the officiant begins with a sentence of Scripture. One of the sentences from which the officiant might choose is from our text today (found in Amos 5:8). This sentence orients those who pray it within the larger universe of God’s creation, a creation which cries out to and celebrates the God who made it.  Why would be begin a gathering of prayer with this declaration? What does this passage emphasize about God? Find this sentence of Scripture in the BCP. Children of writing age may enjoy copying and illustrating it to take home.

The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name […]

4. Little ones: He’s Got the World World in his hands is a great song for exploring the way God creates, cares for, and loves the whole universe. With your class, create a list of things from the passage quoted above on the board–light and the dark, planets in the sky, Pleiades and Orion, waters of the sea, etc.– that you can insert into the song. Then, list things that are made by God that worship God that may also be good in the song.

5. Justice in Amos: Perhaps you would like to focus on the overall theme of justice with your class. You could start with this coloring page of the Book of Amos. Then, as a class, come up with a list of words that mean justice. You might begin with the following prompts: How does God want us to live together? What does an image of God’s justice look like here and now?

Amos had his own image of justice: “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”

6. Prophet timeline: Sometimes when we are working our way through the Bible it seems like everything is in chronological order. While this is usually the case with some of the early books of the Old Testament, it’s no true with most others. The Psalms, for example, were compiled over a very long period of time. The prophets also come at various times (some of their books seem to have been written mostly all at once, others, like Isaiah were clearly written over a long period of time by at least a couple of authors. Work through a timeline of the Biblical prophets, watch a video here (it’s short). Here are several (1, 2, 3). Create a visual timeline for your class, like this.

7. Baptism and Justice: In the liturgy of Baptism, we are asked: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” In Amoses time, the people of Israel were not answering this question affirmatively with their lives. Discuss what this question means. Where do we see injustice and a lack of fairness in our world? Where do we experience it? How does God want us to live just lives and what does our baptism have to do with it? If your class is able to identify a particular injustice in the world–a lack of care for the poor, a group of people who are denied medical care, or something else they care about, invite them to come up with a plan together. Can they do a project to comfort a group of people? Can they give to a particular outreach group at Holy Family with a small offering? Can they write letters together to their elected officials identifying the injustice they see?

Close in Prayer and with a Feast

Tales of Elijah

1668, Artist unspecified

Elijah is a pretty significant prophet, sent to bring the people of Israel back to God during a time when their hearts and practices were turning to other gods. Appearing alongside Moses at the event of the transfiguration, Elijah is significant in Jewish and Christian traditions. This week, we will work with several stories from the Elijah narratives which are found in 1 Kings 17-19.

During your preparation, read through the stories, keeping in mind your classes discussion about prophets from last week. What characteristics of the office of prophet do you notice as you read?

Hear the Story: The stories of Elijah cover three chapters and are quite long. You may select one of the stories for your class to focus on, though younger children might like to work with a montage of the stories covering most of Elijah’s ministry.

  • Elijah stories are very popular in our children’s Bibles. Find the story of Elijah and the Prophets of Baal under the heading “God’s Mighty Prophets: Elijah’s Showdown on the Mountain” in Jesus Calling Storybook Bible (p.110).
  • The Child’s Story Bible has the stories of Elijah from 1 Kings 17-19 under the heading “Elijah, the Stern Prophet” (beginning on page 207).
  • The Children’s Illustrated Bible find many stories of Elijah including the piece on the Prophets of Baal under the title “The Israelites turn Against God” (p. 142).
  • Covering all of the stories of Elijah are Elijah Messenger of God illustrated by Leon Baxter and Elijah: Prophet of Fire by Anne de Graaf.

Respond to the story

  1. Act it out: The Elijah stories are ripe for dramatization and children may have fun hearing about each of the stories and retelling them with costume. If you have many students in your class, divide into groups of three or four and give each group one of the stories to act out, coming back to the larger group to present the story. If you have a smaller class this week, let students select one of the stories and act it out together. Help facilitate the discussion (if needed) by asking them what they think the most important parts of the story are. Use costumes if you choose and go outside if the weather is nice!
  2. Sharing a snack/feast: Every week when we gather together, we share a simple snack–cat cookies, cheddar bunnies, or cinnamon alphabet cookies. Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time for this particular part of Church School. It’s just a bite of food as we rush out the door barely in time to make the liturgy. This week, you have a great opportunity to focus on it alongside one of our stories. In Church School, we sometimes say about the snack that it is a feast: a feast isn’t about how much you eat; rather, it is about who provides the food, who you share it with, and how you feel about it. In the wilderness, God provided the food Elijah needed in a time of famine and drought. Ravens fed him the widow shared the last of her flour and oil with Elijah. Work on the practice of sharing the feast during your class. Instead of our regular paper cups, have one of the students pass out napkins to each person at the table. After the napkin distribution, another student can put some crackers on each of the napkins. Everyone should wait to eat until all others are served. During the feast, wonder together about these stories of Elijah and food.
  3. Praying for Plenty: Elijah’s ministry is during a time of famine. Together or in small groups write prayers for those who are hungry.
  4. Raven Game: For this game, one child plays Elijah while all of the other children are ravens. Elijah sits in the middle of the circle of children and closes his/her eyes. Then the teacher selects a raven who must quietly walk to Elijah and feed him/her a cracker. Elijah then has to guess which of the ravens provided the cracker. Elijah gets three guesses. The child who gave Elijah the food is the next Elijah. Continue playing until all of the children play ravens and Elijah.
  5. Encountering God in the Silence: Read the story of God speaking to Elijah in the still small whisper and respond in one of the following ways:
    1. With younger children play the silence game. Discuss how we can listen for God in silent, still moments.
    2. With older children, set a timer for 10-15 minutes and ask them to go to go to a place (within sight) in which they might be “alone.” Ask them to listen to what they can hear in the space and listen to God. If needed, light a candle in the middle of the table on which students can focus or give each student a blank sheet of paper and one colored pencil or crayon. After the timer goes off, invite each person to share their experience. Is it possible to hear God? What might that be like? Did anyone in your class hear God? Did you?

Close in Prayer

Christ: The Promise of a Savior

Root of Jesse. Orthodox Icon

Introduction

One of the amazing things about reading about the promise of a savior is that we find echoes of these old hopes for God to act in our own desire for Christ to come again. We know that God has done something amazing and decisive in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. We also know that not all is right in our world. God, we believe, will make all things well when Christ comes again in final victory.

This week, we discuss how the promises of God come surprisingly in the places of silence and death–when and where we think God might not be speaking anymore–at least, this appears to be the case for the people of Israel. Nothing happened for hundreds of years. There were no prophets and no new messages. Sometimes, we might feel this same way. Is God still speaking? Has God forgotten about the world? The promise of a savior and it’s fulfillment in Christ is assurance that we are waiting on a God who we know will act. Christ will come again. The promises we read in our lesson today may remind us not only of what God has done in Christ, but what we know God will continue to do.

Hear the Story

There isn’t really a children’s book of Children’s Bible parallel for the story this week. Read from Isaiah 11:1-9. Ask your students to listen very closely because the story might seem a bit abstract. You can help fill in the background with information from the last couple of weeks.

Respond to the Story

1. Chant the O Antiphons: The O Antiphons are from as far back as the 8th century. Each antiphon is traditionally recited on one of the seven days before Christmas during evening prayer often before and after the recitation of the Magnificat. We are most familiar with the antiphons from the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel (where each stanza is one of the antiphons). Each stanza of the O Antiphons addresses Christ with a different name. The O Antiphons are rich with imagery of Israel’s hope for a Messiah and a rich resource for own expression of  hope that Christ will come again. The Antiphon that is particularly important for us this week is the third  “O Root from the stump of Jesse.” This antiphon and stanza from Isaiah work nicely with our lessons so far this fall (especially in those classes that have been following the genealogy closely. You may want to remind your class that Jesse is David’s father.  Here is a short video commentary from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist on this third antiphon. I loved hearing the reflections for all of the O Antiphons from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. You may find all seven reflections here.

  • You can teach your class the song O Come O Come Emmanuel to learn all of the antiphons (invite a musician to help you out!)
  • show your class some of the Latin chants here. Explain that each of these antiphons is a reference to Jesus. Ask your class to share other names for Jesus that aren’t included.
  • Older classes might like to write their own Antiphon. The antiphon should address Jesus and ask him to come quickly.

2. Life from a Stump: The stump is a place of death from which all growth appear to be stunted (if not entirely absent). The promises of God are like the fresh green shoots that emerge from the rotting trunk. Even though for many of the people, after so many generations, the promises of God seem to be dead, they are made alive again when the promised Messiah arrives. Discuss this imagery. You may want to go on a walk outside and notice how most of the trees have “died” for the winter. It’s hard to imagine that the new life of Spring (to which the promises of Easter are often compared) will emerge again. Respond to this image from Isaiah by creating art that depicts the Messiah as a growth of new life from a dormant or dead place. How are the promises of God like new life in this salvation story? If you are interested, here is a nice sermon on this text from a Lutheran minister.

3. Family Tree: Those of you who have been following Jesus’ family tree all fall may want to create a family tree of the Davidic line. Take a look at the generations leading up to Jesse, David, and Solomon. You can use the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 to work on this family tree. Each student can make an individual tree or the class can make a large poster together.

4. Christmas Ornament: Use supplies in the craft closet or gathered materials from outside to make a “stump of Jesse” ornament.

5. Explore another theme: Explore one of the themes below by discussing what it has to do with the promised Messiah. Then, create art images, ornaments, poems, or reflect in journals about the image.

  • Justice and Equity: Our text today talks a lot about ruling or judging with justice and equity. What do these words mean? Why are they promises and what do they have to do with the Messiah/Jesus? Our text specifically mentions the poor. What does justice look like for the poor?
  • The Wolf with the Lamb: The image of the wolf and the lamb is a very popular one (as is the lion and the lamb). Discuss with your class what the normal relationship between a wolf and a lamb is. They are likely very familiar with this relationship because we spent a lot of time last year talking about shepherds and sheep–that the shepherd protects the sheep from the wolf. In what kind of world do wolf and sheep get along? Why is this part of the promises of God from the prophet?

Close with a Prayer and Feast

Covenant: Samuel Anoints David

Illumination depicts Samuel anointing David. France, c. 1270 – 1280, Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment

Introduction

This weeks introduction gives you some of the historical background on the text and on Israel’s move into the monarchic period. You may choose to share this with your class, but it is a tad complicated (especially for younger children) and you may decide instead to focus on how God calls David to be a leader in Israel. Quick aside: I really wish we could do the stories of Hannah and/or Samuel this week because they are so wonderful, but we must move a bit more quickly than that.

In this week’s lesson, you already begin to see our move toward Advent, as we jump ahead to the establishment of Israel’s monarchy. After their time wandering in the desert (we will revisit this story for a bit in Lent), Israel finds itself located in its own land, the land that God promised. It is, however, almost continuously under threat from other groups and peoples. Two things happen to move Israel toward the establishment of a monarchy. First, beginning in Judges, we hear the repeated refrain, “there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own sight”; in short, the people are straying from who God wants them to be (or from the Law as received and given to the people by Moses). Second, Israel’s existence is consistently under threat from the Philistines; Israel’s loose confederation of tribes is threatened without some organized power structure and response. The second of these reasons is related to the first, as it is often noted by historical writers that Israel’s existence is under threat because the people (and their leadership) stray from God’s favor. In other words, when they are in God’s favor, they are victorious in battle, and when they are outside of God’s favor, they lose battles. The establishment of the monarchy, however, is not entirely positive. Indeed, at some points, is is portrayed as a rejection of God’s direct rule (in favor of a different ruler) over the people.

As we have seen in various other texts, God chooses (through Samuel), David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons to be anointed as king. Such a selection is contrary to expectation that the oldest male would receive this privilege. From the time of his anointing, the Spirit of the Lord is upon David (as an aside, the portrayal of David in 1 Samuel is pretty idealistic. We remember him as a person after the heart of God, the youngest selected to remedy the evil spirit in Saul and lead Israel with faithfulness, and the writer of the Psalms (though David did not, in fact, write most of the Psalms as these were composed and compiled over hundreds of years). 2 Samuel’s account of the Davidic monarchy offers a more nuanced and complicated picture. David takes advantage of Bathsheeba, sends her husband Uriah to his death, and neglects to respond to the rape of his daughter Tamar by  his son Amnon. These details don’t need to be shared with the children (though they are likely familiar with the first two), but it is important to avoid valorizing David entirely since our picture of David in Scripture is more mixed than our children’s Bibles, and our story for this Sunday demonstrate.

In our text for today, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, the Prophet Samuel anoints David while Saul is still king. From this point forward in the story, David rises to power as Saul falls from the seat of control. This story can cause us to wonder what God will make of these people. Does God’s promise still rest with the people? Does it come through David? In Matthew’s genealogy, it is clear that Christ is of David’s line (Matthew 1:6). Despite all of the conflicting ideas about the rise of the monarchy in Israel and despite the conflicting stories of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, here, it seems as though God has a plan for this people. Even before the exile and the hope of the Messiah how is God’s promise unfolding for the people of Israel and all the world?

Hear the Word: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Read the Story of the Prophet Samuel’s anointing of David. You may choose to read or tell this story directly from the Biblical text.

Respond to the Word

1. Artistic Intertext: Spend time looking at one of the following images: the illumination shown above, this fresco from Dura Europos, or this image. After reading the story of David’s anointing, share some of the details that stand out to you. Then, spend some time talking about the images. What does David look like? Does he seem like a simple shepherd boy or more like a king? What makes him look like one of these things? Is there a quality about David that makes him seem like a good king, or was God’s selection random? Invite the children to discuss which of the images they like best and then which image is most like the story as it is written. What makes the images similar to and different from the story?

2. What about the others?: Discuss some of the features that this story may share in common with other stories in the Bible. It seems as though God or another character has favored or selected younger siblings over older siblings in many of our stories (Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Isaac over Ishmael, Joseph over his other brothers, etc.). Why does this seem to be the case? Why does Samuel (with God’s direction) select David  over Jesse’s other sons? How do you think Jesse’s other sons responded? What about Jesse? Wonder together about this theme. What might it say about the work of God?

3. Paper figures: Have your students illustrate an image of each of Jesse’s sons (there are seven, including David). You can find most of their names in our text.  Also have them illustrate livestock, Samuel, and Jesse. Cut each of the figures out and have yours students use them to retell the story. You can find a visual and some additional directions here.

4. David Icon: Many of our significant Old Testament Matriarchs and Patriarchs are considered Saints of the Church. Here is an icon depicting Saint David the Prophet and King. What details of the picture tell us something about David? Discuss what makes David a Saint of the Church and ask students to share some of the stories about David that they know. Is there something about David that makes him a Saint or something about what God does with David that makes him a Saint? After talking about his life and witness for the church, invite your students to write their own icon of David. They can depict any of the stories about David they know, including the story of his anointing. Or, they can make and image of David with symbols that remind us of his importance for the church and witness.

5. Liturgy Connection: Talk together about what it means that Samuel anointed David. The children may be most familiar with anointing from the liturgy. After someone is baptized, they are anointed with oil. Oil is often used when someone is commissioned, called, blessed, or given a charge. Reflect together on this significance and what it might have meant to David to be anointed. Then, set out small dishes of oil and roll up the children’s sleeves. Cut out pieces of the thick, brown building paper we have and give students a chance to practice anointing the paper. You can ask them to imagine that they are anointing a real person and giving them an important task. Then, on another sheet of paper, draw images or symbols from the story on the paper. This can be messy, so in classes with younger students, ask them to get ready to use these materials. Demonstrate some of the different shapes they can make and remind them that less is more. You may want to use some of the extra t-shirts in the supply closet to cover their clothes and use the sinks in your class to wash hands right after their activity.

6. Tending the animals Game: David was out tending the animals when his father was asked to summon him. It seems that Jesse was pretty sure that David was not going to be selected by Samuel! On slips of paper, write down animal names (sheep, cow, horse, etc.) and “David.” Then, Select one child to be Jesse. Send Jesse out of the room while all of the other children select a slip of paper. The children spread out throughout the room. Then bring in the blindfolded Jesse and place them in the middle of the class. When you start the game, all of the children should make the sound of their animal. Jesse needs to find David in the crowd of animals. If Jesse touches on of the characters they must tell him if they are David or not. When Jesse finds David, they game starts over with David playing the new Jesse.

Close with Prayer and a Feast

Covenant: God Brings the People out of the Land and to Mount Sinai

“Crossing the Red Sea” a fresco from Dura Europos, 3rd century

Introduction

A lot has happened in our story since last week. Moses grows up, receives his call from God and hears the name of God from the burning bush: “I AM who I will be.” He and Aaron encounter Pharaoh again, and again, and again (and again…). Each time Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites are rejected, God sends a plague and Pharaoh’s heart becomes hardened. The tenth plague, death to the firstborn of every household but those marked with the blood of a lamb,  finally changes Pharaoh’s mind. For a moment. The Israelites flee with their unrisen Passover bread and Egyptian gold. At the Red Sea, Moses plants his staff in the ground and God parts the waters. The people of Israel walk to the other side on dry ground and Pharaoh’s army is drowned in the sea or left on the shore opposite God’s newly liberated people.  The people of God respond with dancing and a song (Exodus 15). You may also find this song, Canticle 8, “the Song of Moses” in the BCP.

will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; *
the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
the God of my people and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a mighty warrior; *
Yahweh is his Name.
The chariots of Pharoah and his army has he hurled into the sea; *
the finest of those who bear armor have been drowned in the Red Sea.
The fathomless deep has overwhelmed them; *
they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in might; *
your right hand, O Lord, has overthrown the enemy.
Who can be compared with you, O Lord, among the gods? *
who is like you, glorious in holiness, awesome in renown, and worker of wonders?
You stretched forth your right hand; *
the earth swallowed them up.
With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *
with your might you brought them in safety to your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them *
on the mount of your possession,
The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.
The Lord shall reign *
for ever and for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

After all these things, God brings the people of Israel to Mount Sinai where God meets with Moses, and gives the people the Ten Commandments. Our lesson today focuses on the Ten Commandments, but you may want to fill you students in on some of the major goings on since our last class. Fortunately, our students should be quite familiar with these stories from their time in VCS.

 

Hear the Word

Read the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17.

P.S. We have student Bible Atlases in the Christian Education cabinet on the right, bottom shelf (labelled “older readers”). You can use these maps to point out Egypt, the Red Sea, and Mount Sinai.

Respond to the Word

1. Ten Commandments hand painting project (Exodus 20:1-17): To learn the Ten Commandments together, why not use your ten fingers?! On a large piece of paper, use finger paint to make a print of each hand. Once the paint has dried, think together of a simple phrase to summarize each of the Ten Commandments. Write your word or phrase on each of the fingers of your handprints. For example, “You shall not make for yourself any idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that  is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:2) may be shortened to “Make no idols”

2. Ten Commandment Stones: Read the 10 Commandments together (Exodus 20:1-17). Ask your child[ren] to choose one word from each commandment that speaks to them. Together, paint each word on a gray, paper stone (there should be enough gray card stock in the supply closet. You should have 10 stones in all. As you sit around the table or rug at the end of class, have each student pick one of the stones and discuss what it means to honor this commandment given to us by God.

3. Practicing the Sabbath (conversation or journaling): One of the commands that God gives to the people of Israel is that the people must observe the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17; 35:1-3). God tells the people that the Sabbath is a sign between God and the people and is for their holiness! Sabbath practices remind us that the world does not belong to us, and is not sustained by our work, but by God. Sabbath is a practice of trusting that the world belongs to God.

Together discuss and reflect on Sabbath. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. On one side, create a list of things that you do each and every day. On the other side, write a list of things that you should and should not do during the Sabbath. Your list might include abstaining from homework or sports and engaging in prayer, fasting, contemplation, practices of thankfulness, or remembrance of all that God has done for us.

  • Why is it good for us to take a day of rest?
  • What things should we refrain from doing as “work” on the Sabbath day?
  • How do we worship God on the Sabbath?

4. Working with the liturgy:  During the Penitential Order, used during Lent and Ordinary Time, the priest recites each of the Ten Commandments and the congregation responds to each, saying “Amen. Lord have mercy.” Remind your students of this and practice together. Why do we begin our time in worship together this way? Why do we say Lord have mercy when it is not clear that each of us has broken all of the commandments?

5. Remember and work on your Moses songs: Check out the music suggestions from last week. Contact on the musicians and ask that they come and sing Pharaoh, Phraraoh; Go Down Moses, or Horse and Rider.

6. Work on one or more  of the Commandments in small groups: Divide your class up in small groups or partnerships to work on one or two of the commandments. Ask them to create an artistic depiction of following the command next to a depiction of not following the command. Then, have a conversation together of what God might want the people of Israel to be like. What does God want from us?

Close in Prayer and with a Feast

Covenant: God remembers the people in Egypt/Moses is taken out of the water

Coptic Icon: Moses is drawn from the Water

Introduction

Last week we saw how things started to go down hill for God’s chosen people. At the end of Genesis, God’s people are in Egypt. Joseph dies and is embalmed in Egypt, buried far from the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As he dies, Joseph tells his brothers that God will bring them up out of the land of Egypt (Genesis 50:24), but as we know this does not happen for some time. In Egypt, the people of Israel expand in numbers and new king rises to power in Egypt, a King without all of the strong ties to Joseph and his family (Exodus 1:8). Because of the Hebrews large numbers, this new king is concerned about the Hebrews strength. He sets taskmasters over them and they make bricks–they go from being valued guests in Egypt to being slaves.

In the story we are tracking, we have seen how God has gradually entered into covenant relationship with the Hebrew people.

Moses is such a fascinating character and so much happens in his life. It can be tempting to move through the whole story this week (especially with how quickly we are making our way through the Old Testament at this point), but for this week, focus on the first two chapters of Exodus. In them, we learn why the Hebrew people are enslaved, we learn also about the subversive behavior of two Hebrew midwives–Shiphrah and Puah–who save many of the Hebrew children from certain death under the king’s orders (1:15-21). In chapter 2, Moses is born, his mother hides him for as long as she can. Then, in what may be one of the most hope-filled acts, she lines a basket with bitumen and pitch, and sets her son among the reeds (2:3) with his sister standing by to watch. I wonder what she thought would happen. A flowing river (perhaps teeming with Crocs and Hippos) is not the first place one would want to leave an infant. And yet, she does. When Pharaoh’s daughter draws the child out from the water, she gives him his name (pay attention to names in the book of Exodus; they are very important!), Moses.

Take a moment, to notice several things about this text. In it, women–midwives, a mother, a sister, the daughter of Pharaoh–are the agents with whom God works to save Moses (an act which we know leads to the liberation of the people of Israel much later). Also notice how the action taken by each character requires profound trust–Hebrew midwives defying orders from the king, a woman leaving her infant in possibly dangerous water, a young slave girl approaching Pharaoh’s daughter and offering her mother as a nurse, the King’s daughter raising a Hebrew child and giving him a name (when you give something a name, it’s hard not to bond). It’s hard to read this story without being moved about the way God works in such an unlikely way. Also note how much like the ark Moses’ lined basket of reeds might be. God brought Noah and his family through water as the earth was destroyed and now Moses is brought through the water in his own miniature ark. Finally, you may also be interested to note the way that this story prefigures the early life of Jesus (the threat from King Herod under which Jesus lives, the defiance of the king by the Magi, protection in Egypt just as Moses is protected by Egypt’s elite).

At the end of chapter 2, we learn that after all of these things, time passes. Moses grows up and flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian. “After a long time the king of Egypt dies” (2:23). Then, God hears the Israelite’s cries and remembers God’s covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Hear the Word

This story is in virtually every children’s Bible. We have many books in the Old Testament section of the Christian Education library about the life of Moses, many of them leave out the wonderful story of the Hebrew midwives. Notice the details that are left out by each telling and if you choose to use one of the resources in our cabinet, fill-in the details where they are missing.

Respond to the Word

1. Dress the Part: We have several Egypt costume pieces from VCS 2 years ago. Split your class into Egyptians and Hebrews. Borrow a baby doll from the nursery and act out the first two chapters from Exodus. If the weather is nice, take that acting outside!

2. Wonder: This is story filled with mysteries. Why do people who are in positions of low esteem work in ways that are contrary to those in power? How is God working in them? Does God forget about the Hebrews (since the text says that God heard and remembered them) and their location in Egypt? Is it important that the Israelites have this time away from the land that God promised to their ancestors?

3. Leave it Open-ended: Sometimes when we provide an end product for children to reproduce, we don’t let them respond to the parts of the story they find meaningful. Follow our approach from a couple of weeks ago, and provide several different kinds of materials for your students. Offer them lots of time to reflect on the parts of the story about which they had questions or which they found interesting. You may want to provide writing materials, art or paint materials, clay, or something that you have never tried in your class. Remember, if you put out a new material that the students have not used, you may want to provide a demonstration on how to use it.

4. Sing a Moses Song: Since we will spend two weeks on stories about Moses and the Exodus, you might want to introduce a song or two to sing the next two weeks. They may know the songs from Vacation Church School.

  • Pharaoh, Pharaoh is a favorite
  • Go Down, Moses

You can find the music these songs in the song binder in your classroom. Remember that we have several musicians who are willing to come and sing with your class if they are available and you provide enough notice. You can find them on the Google spreadsheet linked in your weekly teacher email.

5. Compare and Contrast Images: Take a look at some of the ways that this story has been depicted in art. The image below is a Coptic icon of Pharaoh’s daughter drawing Moses from the water. Also check out this image by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Moses in the Bullrushes (1921). What does each of these images show or suggest about the story? Which image tells the story the best? Which one do you like the most? Why?

6. Make Miniature story materials: Use clay, paper, felt, and other materials in the closet to make the various items in the story (baby moses, a basket, reeds, Hebrew midwives) so that students may retell the story to their parents when they get home. Here is one idea of how this might be done, but the possibilities are endless.

Close with a feast and a prayer