For the 20th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 26

(Lectionary 31) From “Saving the Ants”

Matt. 23:1-12 ” …The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Preparation: Bring a phylactery and a prayer shawl, or pictures of each to help illustrate.

We know that God is love and that God sent Jesus into the world to save us because of his great love for us. But is God always happy with what we do? (Let children answer.) Jesus loves us, but sometimes the way we act can make him sad. We know that our parents love us, but if we do something wrong, we’re going to get scolded, aren’t we?

In Matthew, chapter 23, Jesus was talking to the crowds that had gathered around him, and he had some advice for them. He told the people to listen to the scribes and the Pharisees preach from the Bible, but he warned the people not to act like they do. Jesus said, “They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden” (Matt. 23:4 NLT).

The burdens that the Pharisees were putting on the people were many little laws that the people were supposed to follow. For example, they expected the people to bring offerings of all kinds of food and spices. If someone used ten cups of flour to make bread one day, the Pharisees wanted them to bring one cup of flour as an offering to the temple. Most people were poor and worked hard all day long. They couldn’t take the time to obey such laws. The Pharisees were rich and had time to obey their own laws.

Jesus scolded the Pharisees for making a big show of how they worshiped and how often they went to the temple. Many Jews wore little boxes strapped to their forehead with a band of cloth; it was called a phylactery and it contained scriptures written on little pieces of paper. The Pharisees wore these also, but to make them more noticeable, they made them very large. The Pharisees also wore prayer shawls with very long fringes so that people would notice them and admire them.

The problem with all this was that the Pharisees didn’t really care about impressing God. The Pharisees wanted to impress their neighbors instead. In other words, they were big showoffs. Do you think God is impressed by a showoff? (Let children answer.) God is pleased with the opposite of a showoff. To be the greatest in God’s eyes is to be a humble servant. God wants us to serve him willingly just because we love him, not because we want other people to see the good things that we’re doing.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, may we always keep our eyes on you and not on ourselves. Help us to be your humble servants.

The Greatest Commandment

For the 20th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 25

(Lectionary 30) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Scripture Reference: Matt. 22:34 – 40 “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments are based on these two…”

Preparation (Optional): Bring heart-shaped stickers to distribute at the end of the message.

Some of you probably know many of the commandments listed in the Bible. Can anyone tell me one of them? (Let children respond.) The Ten Commandments are:

1. You shouldn’t worship anything or anyone other than God.

2. Respect God’s name; it is special. Don’t use it as a curse.

3. Remember the day of worship and keep it holy.

4. Respect your father and your mother.

5. Don’t kill anyone.

6. Husbands and wives, keep your  special love only for each other.

7. Don’t steal from anyone.

8. Don’t tell lies about your neighbor.

9. Don’t be jealous of your neighbor’s house.

10. Don’t be jealous of your neighbor’s family. Don’t want for yourself anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Paraphrase by author.)

There are other commandments found in the Bible as well. Which one do you think is the greatest, most important commandment? (Let children respond.)

This is a question that the Pharisees used to test Jesus. The Pharisees were a group of people who went to church a lot, but they were not very loving. They asked, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments are based on these two. . . .” (Matt. 22:36-40 NLT).

I want everyone to put up your ten fingers. Those stand for the Ten Commandments. Now turn your palms so that they’re facing you and cross your hands on your chest. That is the symbol for love. All of the Ten Commandments are based on loving God and loving others. If we really do love God, we will naturally obey all Ten Commandments. The commandments are based on love and respect.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for your set of rules based on loving you and others. Help us to keep all of your commandments out of love for you.


Pay Your Respect

For the 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24

Scripture Reference: Matt. 22:15-22

 Preparation: Bring coins with heads on them. You could bring a penny to hand out to each child at the end of the sermon.  istock-23533886-coin-quarter-washington

Has anyone ever asked you a trick question? (Children may respond.) Here’s an example of what I mean by a trick question. What if you had two best friends, and someone asked you, “So, which one do you like best?” Well, you like both of them, but this person is asking you to choose only one. So this isn’t really a fair question.

Jesus was asked a trick question by a group of Pharisees who wanted to get him into trouble. They asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matt. 22:17 RSV). This was a trick question because if Jesus said that you should pay taxes to Caesar, most of the Jews there would be angry because they didn’t like Caesar. But if Jesus said that you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar, then the policemen might come and arrest him, because you had to pay taxes.

So Jesus took their trick question and turned it into a question about not just where you pay your money, but where you pay your respect. Jesus asked the Pharisees to show him the money that they pay taxes with, and they showed him a coin that was like this quarter. (Show the quarter or other coin.) Then Jesus asked them, “Whose picture and title are stamped on [this coin]?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well then,” [Jesus] said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him, But everything that belongs to God must be given to God” (Matt. 22:20-21 NLT).

This quarter has a picture of George Washington on the front of it; he was the first president of the United States. Well, we can’t give this coin to George. He died a long time ago. But he represents the government, and we can pay our government the taxes that the country needs to provide us with roads, police officers, firefighters, parks, and so many other things.

We can give our money to the church to help support God’s work. We can use our money to help support people that are telling people about Jesus. Although God does appreciate our offerings, he wants more than just our offering on Sunday morning. God wants us to pay him our respect, love, and obedience. God wants us to offer our whole selves to him and be willing to serve with all of our heart.

Prayer: Lord, we offer to you our respect and our love and our obedience. We want to serve you with all of our heart.

The Gardener

For the 17th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 22

(Lectionary 27) From “Saving the Ants”

Isaiah 5:1-7  “Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter….”  

Preparation: Bring flower or fruit stickers to hand out.  getyourkidsinthegarden

In the Old Testament reading this morning, the prophet Isaiah tells a story about someone who planted a garden. I want all of you to imagine that you are planting a garden. You want this garden to be very special and beautiful, so you begin by carefully preparing the soil. You take out all the rocks and dig up any weeds you find. You mix rich, black compost into the soil and rake the dirt so that it’s soft and crumbly and ready to be planted. Then you start to plant your seeds. (At this point, begin to put one flower sticker on each child, while you continue talking. You may, however, choose to hand out stickers at the end of childrenís sermon.)

You choose only the best seeds to plant in your garden. The chosen seeds are planted with care. Every day the garden is watered, and watched. The birds that come to eat the seeds are chased away. The weeds that pop up in the garden are quickly pulled out and thrown away.

With a garden so well tended, do you think good, healthy plants will grow? (Wait for responses.) Your garden should produce beautiful, healthy plants, shouldnít it? What if you put all that work into your garden and the only thing it produced was weeds? No flowers, no fruit, only prickles and thorns. How do you think you would feel? (Let children answer.)

Do you know what happened to the gardener in the story Isaiah told? He planted grape vines and took good care of them, but his garden didn’t produce good grapes.

God is like that gardener, and we’re his plants. God takes good care of us and wants us to grow and do good things. When we turn away from God and do what we shouldn’t, it’s as if God’s garden is wilting and filling up with weeds.

Do you think God feels sad when this happens? I’m sure he does. This morning, you all received flowers to help you remember that you are part of God’s garden. Grow strong and bear good fruit!

Prayer: Lord God, our Creator, thank you for making us and caring for us. Help us to grow like healthy plants and produce good things with our lives.


For the 16th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 21

(Lectionary 26) From “Saving the Ants”

Matt. 21: 28 – 32  “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30 Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.”  TwoFaced_Janus

Preparation: Bring a couple of Halloween or theater masks that aren’t too scary.

I brought along a couple of extra faces this morning. (Put masks on briefly.) Here is one face, and here’s another. Is this really my face? No, it’s a mask, isn’t it? I don’t really have more than one face.

Have you ever heard of someone being “two-faced”? It doesn’t mean that you actually have two faces, but it means that you sometimes act in two very different or opposite ways. For example, if Jane told Mary, “I really like you, Mary. You’re my best friend,” and then later told Tom, “I don’t like Mary. She’s not my friend,” you could say that Jane is two-faced.

The Gospel lesson today, from the book of Matthew, has a story about two sons. The father tells the first son, “Son, will you go and work in the vineyard today?” and the first son replies, “i Will not.” Later, however, he decides to obey his father and he goes and worlds. The father also asks the second son to work in the vineyard and the second son answers, “I go, sir” (vv. 28 – 30 NRSV). But this son does not go at all.

Now, I’ll ask you the same question that Jesus asked his disciples after they had heard this story; which son did what his father wanted him to do? (Wait for answers.) Yes, the first son did the right thing.

Were these sons two-faced? (Wait for answers.) Yes. Both of them said one thing and did the opposite. The first son said the wrong thing and did the right thing. The second son said the right thing and did the wrong thing.

In the end, do you think it’s more important to say the right thing or to do the right thing? (Let children respond.) Actions speak louder than words. Of course, the best thing would be to both say and do the right thing.

After you go back to your seats, see if you can think of something you can do to show your family how much you love them. Then don’t forget to really do it!



Fair Wages

Nancy Osmundson liked this post

For the 15th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 20

(Lectionary 25) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Matt. 20: 1-16  “’Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (NLT)

Preparation: Bring six fairly heavy books for volunteers to carry and four coins to pay volunteers.

Has anyone here ever worked to earn money? (Wait for a response.) What did you do? How long did you work? Were you tired when you got done? Those of you who have worked for money, did you think that the payment was fair?

Would anyone like to earn some money this morning? I need four volunteers. I’ll give each of you a job and pay you when you’re done. (Choose four kids and have them line up.) Now, I’ll ask my first volunteer; if I pay you one nickel, will you carry these three books to the back of the church and up here to the front again, three times? (If they agree, let them start right away, while you continue to speak.) Now, to the second volunteer; will you carry two books down the aisle and back, two times? (Let second volunteer begin their job.) Now, the next; will you carry one book down the aisle and back just one time?(They may begin.) And for the last one; your job is to walk to the first pew and back. You don’t have to carry any books.

Will all my workers come and receive their wages now? Here’s a nickel for each of you, and I’m going to pay last the person that I hired first. (Distribute the money.) Everyone got the same amount, didn’t they? Raise your hand if you think this is fair. Raise your hand if you think it’s not fair, if you think the one who did more work should get more money.

Thank you, workers. You can sit down now and rest from your labors. Did you know that Jesus told a story much like this? In Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a boss who went out early in the morning to look for workers to gather grapes in his vineyard. He told them what he would pay before they started, and he hired workers from early in the morning until late in the day. Some worked all day long and some worked for only one hour, but they all got exactly the same wage.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t think this was fair. They knew what the story meant. Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven. If you follow Jesus and obey him and love him, will you go to heaven when you die? Of course you will. What if someone asks Jesus into their heart just a few minutes before they die? They will go to heaven, too! It’s sad that they had to spend most of their life without having Jesus as their friend, but even if someone doesn’t know Jesus until the very end of their life, the Lord still welcomes them with open arms. It’s a good thing for all of us that God is loving instead of fair. Even though we are all sinners, God loves every one of us.

Prayer: Thank you for the free gift of eternal life, dear Lord. Thank you for welcoming everyone with open arms, no matter where or when they accept your love.


Seventy Times Seven

For the 14th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 19

(Lectionary 24) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Matt. 18:21-22  “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied to Peter, “Seventy times seven!” (NLT)

Preparation: Bring a large pad of paper and a fat marker.

Have you ever hurt another person? If you’ve either accidentally or purposefully stepped on someone’s foot, or pushed someone, or called your sister or brother a mean name, or made someone feel bad, raise your hand.

It happens to everyone, doesn’t it? And if we do something wrong to someone else, what should you say to that person? How do you apologize? (Let children respond.) Right, you say, “I’m sorry.” And hopefully, what does the other person say? (Wait for an answer.) Good. The person says, “I forgive you.” Those are very important words. Let’s all try saying “I forgive you.” Ready? All together . . . “I forgive you.”

Of course it feels bad when someone else hurts you, but how do you feel if you hurt someone else? That feels bad too, doesn’t it? And when you say, “I’m sorry,” and you really mean it, and the answer comes back, “You’re forgiven,” it’s so good to hear those words!

How many times do you think we should forgive someone? (Let children suggest numbers.) Peter asked Jesus this very question. In Matthew, chapter 18, it says that Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied to Peter, “Seventy times seven!” (vv. 21-22 NLT). How many times is that? Does anyone know? (An older child may figure this out.) 7 X 7 = 49, so 70 X 7 = 490! (Write equation on the paper pad.) That’s a lot, isn’t it?

If every one of you stepped on my toes and you said, “I’m sorry,” and I said, “I forgive you,” would I even come close to that number? No. This isn’t an experiment that I want to try. But the point is that Jesus wanted to make sure that we keep on forgiving others. We need to forgive so many times that we lose count! It’s something we need to be good at, so let’s practice. When I say, “I’m sorry,” you say “I forgive you.” Okay, let’s try it. (Practice call and response. You can even encourage children to try saying “I’m sorry” to the congregation and have them respond accordingly.)

You’re all getting very good at this. Now the next time you need to use those words, it will be easier, because you’ve practiced so much.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for forgiving us so many times. Help us to be always forgiving to others.

What a Dog Teaches Us About God

Bjorn_With_ElsaThis past summer, one of the members of our congregation at West Tokyo Union Church passed away. He was an unusual member, but he ran to church every Sunday and waited outside in the courtyard next to his water bowl until the service was over. Snack time often spilled over into the courtyard and Bjorn was always there to opportunistically clean up any leftover treats. He knew the value of a vigorous post-prandial roll in the grass and he was often joined by the children of WTUC in his antics. He was our before and after church greeter. He would have wanted to greet everyone one last time, but he died at Lake Nojiri in August and was laid to rest next to the Ingulsrud cabin. This post is dedicated to Bjorn.

Spell “God” backwards and you get “dog.” While this may just be a coincidence in the English language, it reminds me of how much a dog can teach us about God. Without becoming too far-fetched with this analogy, take a moment to sit and stay and chew on it for a while.


I’m thinking about our extremely enthusiastic Golden Retriever.  Keep in mind that the very word, “enthusiastic,” has God right in the middle. The “-thu-“ or “theo” part of enthusiastic, means God. To be full of God means to be enthusiastic. Bjorn must have been full to the brim.

What Bjorn was most enthusiastic about was welcoming people. His best days were when he could welcome lots and lots of people. He absolutely loved Sundays. He was our best greeter. He was also our hairiest greeter and he did drool on folks occasionally, but he was always enthusiastically welcoming. How very appropriate for church. God welcomes one and all to the Christian community. We should follow Bjorn’s example; but perhaps with less drool.

Bjorn loved to share everything and he loved to deliver gifts; that’s what retrievers do. God loves a generous giver, so I’m sure that God loves Golden Retrievers. Bjorn shared anything that he could find on the floor. He would pick up items and he would bring them with wagging tail as welcoming gifts to anyone who came to our door. He shared slippers and balls and cans and wrappers and socks… and underwear. Among other things, Bjorn taught us the importance of using the laundry basket.


Although Bjorn may not have been a very smart dog, he was emotionally intelligent. He knew when someone needed comfort and company. When I was sick, he would climb into bed next to me and put his nose near my face. Apparently dog breath has healing qualities because this treatment always helped. He didn’t mind at all having someone crying into his fur. Dog hair is very good at absorbing tears. Our God in heaven invites us to come to him for comfort and he will wipe away all of our tears. God is very good at absorbing tears too.


Bjorn was a gift, an answer to prayer, really. When we broke the news to our family that we were moving to Japan, we attempted to stem the flow of tears with the promise of a dog… finally. Our oldest daughter had been wishing on birthday cake candles for many years for a male, Golden Retriever puppy, (she’s very specific with her wishes), so when we got to Japan, we looked in the pet shops for a pup and were shocked at the cost. We would have to pay the equivalent of almost $3,000 which we could not afford. I admit that I prayed about this dilemma. A couple weeks later a friend called. “Were you looking for a puppy? An acquaintance of mine has sold all but three pups left and they’re giving the remaining pups away for free to good homes. They’re Goldens and there is one male left.” I couldn’t believe it, even though I know God answers prayer. The owners, an elderly couple, delivered the puppy to our home along with a basket of gifts. They were so happy that he was being adopted by a family with kids. Bjorn has been a constant reminder to me that God hears every prayer, even the ones that we are embarrassed to offer. Bjorn also reminded me that God’s gifts go beyond what we could possibly imagine.

So although Bjorn is no longer with us, the memories of this dog keep pointing me back to God, and I am very thankful to God that we were blessed with Bjorn for so many years. We will miss having him as part of our congregation.

With love and faithfulness,




Junk Food

For the 13th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 18

(From “Saving the Ants.” Purchase book at left.)

Scripture Reference: Psalm 119:37  kid-watching-tv

Preparation:  Bring one candy bar along with a bowl of fruit to share. (Grapes make for tidy eating in church.)

Does anyone here ever eat junk food? What is junk food? Can you describe it or give some examples? (Wait for answers.) Yes, junk food is usually sweet or salty and crunchy, and we eat it just for fun. It doesn’t really make a very healthy meal, does it? If we read the nutrition label on this candy bar, we can see how healthy it is for us. (Read some of the information on the label.) The candy bar doesn’t do our body much good, even though it may taste good.

Do you think there might be any way that junk could get inside of us, other than eating it? When we look at something or listen to something, it goes into our brain, and we often remember it, don’t we? Is there anything that we watch or listen to that might be of no value?

Think about that as I read again a verse from the psalm for today. Psalm 119, verse 37 says, “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word” (NLT). Another translation reads, “Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless; be good to me as you have promised” (TEV).

Do we sometimes pay attention to what is worthless? I can think of some television shows and movies I’ve watched that seemed to have no real value to them. They might have been fun to watch at the time, but after they were over, I thought, “That didn’t teach me anything good; that was really a waste of time.” They were like junk food for my brain.


Turn It Off

Some of the “junk food,” such as movies, television shows, or books that we take in, may not just be worthless, but harmful. If the things we watch have a lot of punching or swearing or people saying mean things in them, or if we watch movies or read books that are scary and bloody, it’s like eating junk food that has gotten moldy. If I showed you some food that was old and moldy, would you eat it? No! None of us would put that into our mouth, would we? We need to be just as careful about what we put into our mind. If there’s something yucky on television, what can we do? (Let children give suggestions. Examples given might be, “Turn the television off,” or “Leave the room,” or “Suggest something better to do.” Affirm the good suggestions.)  

I do have something with me this morning that’s very healthy and worthwhile, and you can eat it. Before you go back to your seats, help yourself to some fruit! (Pass around the fruit bowl.)

Prayer:  Help us Lord, to turn away from the harmful, evil things of this world. Help us to seek the good and helpful things that turn our thoughts toward you.

Jesus Is the Rock

For the 11th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 16

(From “Saving the Ants.” Purchase book at left.)

Scripture Reference: Isa. 51:1 and Matt. 16:18

Preparation: Bring a box of large rocks that can be knocked together without chipping or crumbling.  kid-with-ambergris

Do any of you collect rocks? (Let children respond.) I brought a rock collection along this morning. These are all rocks that I like for one reason or another. I’ll show you some of them. (Show your rocks and talk about them.)

Isaiah, chapter 51, talks about rocks. It says, “Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance; all who seek the Lord! Consider the quarry from which you were mined, the rock from which you were cut!” (v. 1 NLT). Does anyone know what a quarry is? (A child may offer an answer.) It’s a place where you get rocks. If you want to get granite, you have to go to a granite quarry. If you want sandstone, you have to go to a sandstone quarry. Could you get sandstone from a granite quarry? No, not very likely. The two kinds of rocks are formed in very different ways and are found in different areas.

When it says, “Consider the quarry from which you were mined, the rock from which you were cut,” the prophet Isaiah is reminding God’s people to remember where they came from; to remember their ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, and how they trusted in God and in his promises. God’s people came from that family of faith, like rock comes from a quarry. Abraham and Sarah are our faith ancestors, too. They put their trust in God.

God’s promises are dependable and solid, like rock. There are a lot of hymns about Jesus being the solid rock on which we stand. It is a good way to describe Jesus. He’s solid. He doesn’t get washed away by trouble or time. Jesus has promised that he will always be with us, and he is always with us.

To celebrate Jesus being our rock, this morning I thought we could have some rock music. Would all of you like to be a part of our rock band? I’d like some of you to take two rocks and knock them together. Those are your instruments. The rest of you can clap your hands while you sing the chorus. The part I’ll be singing is pretty simple, too, and everyone can join in as soon as they feel like it. Ready? Let’s rock!

(Jesus is a Rock, by Larry Norman)

(E) Jesus is a rock, and he rolls my blues away… (Bop shoo bop, shoo bop, whoo)

(A7) Jesus is a rock, and he (E) rolls my blues away… (Bop shoo bop, shoo bop, whoo)

(B7) Jesus is a (A7) rock, and he (E) rolls my blues away (B7)… (Bop shoo bop, shoo bop, whoo)

(Repeat song several times, inviting kids to clap and congregation to join in.)

Thank you. You make an excellent rock band.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you are our solid Rock, and we put our trust in you.