“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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Madeleine L’Engle on Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones

Pause and take a moment for this story from Ezekiel 37 to sink in. Prophesy to the bones. Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy to the breath of God. Those who are dead will be made alive. We know this story or resurrection and redemption so well because one of the most central stories in the Christian faith is about the resurrection of Christ. We also know this story because the Christian faith is about redemption, transformation, and hoping in what can seem impossible–God will make all things new.

Madeleine L’Engle shares the story this way in Ladders of Angels: Stories from the Bible Illustrated by Children Around the World (Find it in our Christian Education cabinet. Our story for this week is on page 97):

Ezekiel.
The desert.
The spirit of the Lord has sett me here in the desert,
burning with heat, with thirst, ; a desert filled
with dry bones, brittle, fleshless.

And a voice out of the desert, “Son of Man, can these bones live?”
And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
And the voice out of the desert said to me, “prophesy upon these bones and say, ‘ Dry Bones, hear the Word of the Lord. I am now going to make the breath enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and flesh and skin, and give you spirit, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.'”

So I prophesied as I was commanded, and in the silence of the desert there was a noise, and a clattering, and the bones came together, and sinews and flesh came upon them, and skin covered them, and breath came from the four winds, and the dry bones lived and stood up on their feet.

For the Lord of Creation comes to us in the desert. It is the Master of the Universe who breathes his spirit into us, his people. It is he who gives us life, and not we ourselves.

I stand in the silence of the desert and there is thunder in the wind and the dry bones rise in obedience to the Lord of all life.

Option 2: Isaiah 11, “A shoot will Rise up out of the Stump of Jesse”

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.

The promises of God can 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.

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 . 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 our 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.” 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. You may also find reflections for all seven of the O Antiphons from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist here.

  • You can teach your class the song O Come O Come Emmanuel
  • 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 appears 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?

3. Family Tree:  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. You can find many suggestions for ornaments on Pinterest.

Close with a Prayer and Feast

Option 1: Isaiah 9, “For a Child Has Been Born to Us”

This week let’s go back just a bit and make sure we have the whole big picture: As David finishes his reign and is on his deathbed, palace intrigue leads to Solomon’s anointing as the new king over Israel. Solomon, like David, is portrayed as a wise and complex character. During his reign, the Temple is built in Jerusalem and worship of God is consolidated in a central location. Solomon’s reign is a time of prosperity, supporting the idea that Solomon and the Davidic line dwell in God’s favor. Over time and as rulers succeed Solomon, the people of Israel grow increasingly far from worship of the one God and devotion in the temple. A split between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah follows Solomon’s death. For some time the people move back and forth between times of dedication and devotion to God and worship of other idols. During this time, there are often foreign powers and temptations to follow or worship other gods. Both of these things threaten Israel’s existence and the prophets warn the people that all of these temptations take them further from God’s favor. Moreover, as we saw with Amos, many early prophets railed against the people’s abandonment of the poor, widow, orphan, and alien.

Around this time, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, prophets emerge to tell Israel that if they do not turn back to God and love their neighbor, they will be sent out of the land that God has given to the people. In short, the prophets remind the people of who God is and of who the people are supposed to be in response to God.

Even as Isaiah proclaims a rather gloomy message, he says that God will raise up another who will bring the people back to God. Even though Isaiah pronounces judgement, he says the throne of David will be upheld in the birth of a child. In response to this message, the people come to expect a political savior who will liberate them from their political oppressors.

 

Hear the story

The theme of the story that is important to grasp is Isaiah tells the people the truth about how far they are from God while offering the hope that one day everything will be different. The exile–the people’s being taken out of the land by foreign powers–is often understood in the Biblical narrative as a judgement from God, and they begin to plea for the restoration of their favor–and the promise of such favor begins to take root in the words of the prophets.

Isaiah 9:1-7. You can read this story from the Bible or tell it in your own words. Unfortunately, so many of the children’s Bibles don’t deal well with the period of the Prophets and there is very little specific focus on any part of the text. If you use any of the following, you may want to use them only as supplemental materials and read chapter 9 from a real Bible.

The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story of Isaiah’s prophecies under the title “Operation ‘No More Tears’” (pages 144-151) in the form of a letter from God. It’s a very brief presentation of the entire book and puts special emphasis on the prophecy about a “rescuer.” The Children of God Storybook Bible does not tell the story from Isaiah 9, but has some good material introducing the reasons why Isaiah was asked to address the people. You can find this under “Isaiah Becomes God’s Messenger” (p. 52-3). The Children’s Illustrated Bible shares part of Isaiah’s prophecies on p.154.

Respond to the Story

1. Light and Dark. Sometimes when we are not exploring a narrative story, but a piece of poetry as Isaiah 9 is, we can focus on the images rather than characters or plot points. the following activities help reflect on the significance of the phrase: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone” (9:2).

  • Dark and Light: Together, brainstorm things about light and darkness. You might write each of the lists on the whiteboard. What does darkness look like? What does the dark make us feel like? What do you think the dark was like to the people of Israel? What does light look like? What does the light make us feel? What or who do you think the people of Israel thought the light would be?
  • Light Songs  Some of these songs might help us think about light:
    • Light of the World (you stepped down into darkness)
    • Marching [in the light of God]
    • This little light of mine
  • Advent Light: The growing light of our Advent wreaths ties the image of light closely to the coming of Christ.
  • Mosaic of light: Make mosaic images of light using pieces of tissue paper on wax paper (so it can be hung like stained glass). Older children might like to try a mosaic with words “the light shines” or “the light shines in the dark.” Younger children may like to try making symbols and images of light– a candle, the sun, a bright halo, etc.

2. How best to Rescue?

  • Come up with a plan or strategy: Together discuss what it is that the people of Israel need to be rescued from–exile, sin, being far from God– and divide into teams. Each team can come up with a strategy for how they think the people of Israel might best be saved from these things. The people of Israel thought that they might be saved from exile by a strong military or political leader, someone who could show the world the strength of God. Instead, God chose to meet the people in a child. Was this the only way to make things right? Was this the best way? Why did God choose something so unexpected?

3. Names of Jesus:

  • Wonderful Counselor: Write a poem, design a piece of art, or write a journal entry about what these names mean to you. Is there another name in the Bible for Jesus that is important to you? Is there a name that isn’t in the Bible that you think should be?

 

Close with a feast and prayer

“But Jonah Rose to Flee”: Jonah 1-4

The story of Jonah is one that we may feel we know quite well. In all likelihood, we do probably know the major movements of the narrative. But take a few minutes to read the book (it’s only four very short chapters and took me less than 10 minutes) and allow yourself to be surprised by what you find. Any good details you forgot? Anything you never noticed before? Isn’t this book funny? My personal favorite line: “[Yes, God, I am] angry enough to die.” Dramatic!

Some key details in this story can really change its emphasis for us. To begin with, you already know that as we begin to look at prophets we are moving toward a major event in Israel’s history: the exile. I sent out the introduction to prophets and exile last week because it continues to be important for our stories. Nineveh, for one, is not a random city, but the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians are enemies of the people of Israel, laying siege to some of the major cities and sending large groups of people into exile.

Imagine this for a moment. One of the leaders and prophets of your people is asked by God to preach to your enemies for the sake of their salvation. You can begin to see why Jonah didn’t want to preach to them, knowing they would turn and repent, and knowing that God would relent. This is a point that is often missed in the children’s storybook version. Why is Jonah upset that the people of Nineveh are willing to repent? Why is he upset that God relents and does not punish them? Because the people of Nineveh are enemies of the people of God.

When talking to the children about this story, we might begin by asking them: Who are our enemies? Why and what do we want for them? What does God want for them?

The story of Jonah is remarkable, it’s teachings–Repentance, God’s full grace, God’s love for all people–are at the center of the Law and the teachings of Christ. Perhaps think of the Good Samaritan or Jesus imploring the people “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” Talk about a book with a prophetic challenge!

Hear the Word

There’s a reason that the story of Jonah is used so often with children. It’s narrative is dramatic and catchy. Children can understand the desire to run away from authority figures and they can make sense of the prophet’s desire to do something other than what he was asked.

This story is great for a dramatic retelling, acting out, reading and comparing storybooks from our library, or having a teacher tell the story as a storyteller.

Older children can probably spend most of their time during this class working with the story. See suggestions below for how to spend your class time hearing the story (under “read, mark, and inwardly digest”).

Respond to the Word

  1. Read, Mark, and Inwardly Digest: by reading the Biblical text together or writing a skit based on the major movements of the book. You might divide up the chapters and each group work on a chapter and present them. Alternatively, print a copy of the book of Jonah out for each child, read the story together, and ask them to mark key movements, funny lines, and details about God. Discuss what stood out to each child and create a one page word map or poster of the book with some of the major quotations.Jonah’s Prayer
  2. Enemies: As suggested above, spend a bit of time talking about who our enemies are. Children might focus on interpersonal enemies (a bully at school). Older children might be able to identify some of the social and political factors that have lead to labelling certain groups as enemies. Discuss what this story has to say to us today. Perhaps your students disagree with the book of Jonah. That’s fine too. Be prepared to hear and experience the challenge of the story.
  3.  Jonah’s Prayer: Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the whale is titled “A Psalm of Thanksgiving.” These titles are added later and are not “original” to the text, but the title makes an interesting point. The line opening the prayer: “I called to the Lord out of my distress” appears in no fewer than three Psalms (18, 118, 120). What does Jonah say in this prayer? Why is it called a prayer of Thanksgiving? Jonah has just been swallowed by and is currently interred in the gross belly of a large fish. (I’m convinced that I need a remark here about my use of the word interred, usually used to describe the place of burial for the dead. The story of Jonah prefigures the story of Christ–three days in the belly of the whale/sheol, just as Christ descends to the dead for three days–and as such this movement is similar to a burial. Jonah in some sense descends into certain death, plunged deep in the waters of the sea and the belly of a fish).
  4. A little bit of Midrash: After Jonah’s prayer, the text tells us that “God spoke to the fish” and the fish released Jonah to the shore. Wonder together about what God said to the fish. Create a cartoon depicting God’s conversation with the fish.
  5. Jonah Crafts: Younger children can create any number of Jonah crafts (they are very popular). You can find some suggestions on the Old Testament Story Responses board on the Christian Education Pinterest page (Jonah and the whale song available here).

Close with a Feast and a Prayer

 

“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

Overview of the Prophets

This is the first of two posts this week. This post will provide a general background on the emergence of the prophets who we will study over the next couple of months. The second post (coming shortly) is our lesson for this week. The information contained in this post will  be helpful to you, but you may also want to check out this video, done by my friend and a fellow minister in Durham, it works through the political realities at play as Israel and Judah head toward exile and the prophets (from the time before, during, and after the exile) confront the rulers and people. The video is 15 minutes and well worth your time!

Today we work with a favorite Biblical book of mine (I wish we had time to spend multiple weeks here!). Amos was one of the earliest prophets. Dating to the 8th century B.C., Amos was a farmer, and was from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Okay, we are a bit ahead of ourselves, let’s find out how that Northern Kingdom/Southern Kingdom thing happened.

As you may remember from Vacation Church School this past year (We Want a King!!!) and from our first couple of lessons, Israel, now located in the Promised Land after their time of wandering begins to ask for ” a king like other nations.” They are, at the time, overseen as necessary by judges, leaders in battle and moral exemplars who remind the people of who God was and hod God wanted them to be God’s people. Eventually, Saul rises to power as Israel’s first king. During this time (which we have covered in recent weeks), we begin to see the first prophets–those we have been talking about, among them Nathan and Elijah. The prophets in this case confront those in power and call them to account. Stories and legends make up the accounts of their lives and they confront those in power, holding the monarchy accountable to God’s ways.

During Solomon’s reign, there is a shift in Israel and increased tension between the Israelite tribes in the North and those in the South, especially as it relates to the politics of temple building–taxes, human labor, centralized worship, etc. The North succeeds from the South (where Jerusalem is located) and this inaugurates the time known as the “divided Kingdom” (Israel in the North and Judah in the South).

Among the prophets are those we will focus on for the next several weeks (Amos first, since he is the first!) In the new order, the role of the prophet in relation to the people shifts in interesting ways and we see prophets confronting the lavishness and wealth of the people and their oppression of the poor, widowed, orphaned, and helpless–in short, the people have failed to love God and their neighbor fully, they have broken the law. These prophets see God’s judgement looming in the distance and they attempt to warn those in power and the congregations of Israel that times are changing.

More information coming. Remember to watch the video above. It’s packed with excellent information that you will want to have this Sunday and those that follow!