For this Sunday, we break from the RCL to note the 50th Anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This African-American church was the host of many meetings and marches during theCivil Rights Movement. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded, injuring many and killing 4 little girls: Addie Mae Collins (14 years old), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Denise McNair (11). Happening at 10:22 a.m., the explosion occurred just as Sunday School was finishing and people were moving toward the Youth Sunday Worship at 11:00. The Sunday School lesson for that day was: “The Love that Forgives,” based on Genesis 45:4-15. This year, September 15th is again on a Sunday. Churches throughout Birmingham are inviting congregations around the world to join us in sharing and reflecting on that prophetic lesson interrupted that horrific day. This PDF found here: Love that Forgives includes the original September 15, 1963, International Sunday School Lesson graciously allowed to be shared by Abingdon Press, and other resources and suggestions for texts, hymns, prayers, and litanies to use in crafting your own teaching and worship services. (Opening the PDF takes 2-3 minutes due to the large size of the Sunday School lesson.)
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “[T]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” How powerful for all of us to bend together on Sunday, September 15, 2013!
The Children’s Sermon for this service is a bit difficult. We don’t want to gloss over the evil of that day, but we believe that no direct description of the church bombing should be used for at least two reasons: 1) Church should be a safe haven with no threat of violence; and 2) Children’s sermons do not have enough time to move from the horror of that day to looking forward on this day. Here is my suggested script; feel free to use, change, adapt to fit the needs of the children in your congregation. If you use this sermon, you will need the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963) as a prop; turn the pages and show the pictures as you recap the story. After church, during the children’s Sunday School, you may want to expand upon Max’s lesson. In addition to the story of Max and Joseph being good parallels for the theme of forgiveness, these stories also open the topic of differences: Max and Joseph are each different from the groups they come to lead.
Today I want to talk to you about some wild things…specifically Where the Wild Things Are. For 50 years now, we have been reading this story of Max. One day, Max and his mom have a quarrel. His mother calls him, “Wild Thing!” And Max says, “I’ll eat you up!” So Max is sent to his room without any supper at all. From there, Max goes on a great journey to Where the Wild Things Are. The monsters are excited to have Max; they make him their king, celebrating with a wild rumpus…that’s a big, loud party! Max enjoys all of this, but he comes to miss being at home, comes to miss being loved by his family. So Max returns home. At first it seems that all is the same as when he left, but then Max sees his dinner is there waiting for him. Max’s mother has forgiven him. And by coming home and eating his dinner, Max, too, forgives his mother. See, forgiveness is not just about excusing each other and going our separate ways; forgiveness is about letting go of the hurt so that we can rebuild our relationships.
In our Bible story today, we hear the story of Joseph and his brothers…his 11 brothers. As a young man, Joseph knows he is well-liked, and his brothers are quite jealous of him. So one day, the brothers actually sell him away from the family to go and be a slave in another land. Then, many years later, the brothers are traveling in that land and meet Joseph. You would think that Joseph would still be angry at his brothers and that his brothers would now be angry at themselves for the mean thing they did. But Joseph has missed his family; he wants to be with them again…and so Joseph reaches out with forgiveness. And not just the “Hey-it’s-okay-what-you-did forgiveness,” Joseph forgives them and encourages them to forgive themselves so they can reunite and rebuild their family.
The story of Joseph and his brothers is not the only story of disagreement and meanness in the Bible. Throughout the Bible we find people disagreeing with each other and people disagreeing with God. But in these stories, the fighting is followed by forgiveness; and the forgiveness is followed by a return to friendship. These stories repeat over and over that God is calling us to build and rebuild our families. God is calling us to build and rebuild our friendships and our communities. And God is calling us to build and rebuild our relationship with Him. God shows us how to do all of this building by forgiving us. And we answer God’s call by accepting forgiveness and forgiving each other. We let go of the hurts in our quarrels so that we can connect and grow with each other.
Our Bible stories have been around for thousands of years. The story of Max has been around for 50 years. Through these stories, we see that forgiveness has always been a hard thing to do. And when a story is repeated over and over, we know, too, that it is important. God wants us to know that love and forgiveness are important. God wants us to know that He has such a love for us that He forgives us.
People are not perfect. Sometimes families disagree. Sometimes friends and neighbors disagree. During our church service today, we remember mean events and disagreements that have happened around the world; we remember people who have been hurt; and we remember that we are called to have the love that forgives…this is how we will continue to overcome meanness and disagreements in the world.
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)
that You love me.
that You forgive me.
by forgiving others
and accepting forgiveness.
I am Your child.
We are all Your children.
We are not Christians alone.
My mission is to share, inspire, and encourage.