Siblings in Christ,
Is the Bible appropriate for children?!
What an outrageous question! It’s the Word of God, who made and loves our children. It’s the stories of Jesus, who we teach is our friend. There are rainbows and lambs, tables full of food and coins being found. It’s filled with music, poetry and promises of comfort.
And then, there is the book called Susanna.
Susanna’s story is in the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is made up of books or letters upon which our early leaders could not agree. Should they be included in the “canon” or should they not? Ultimately, they were not. However, they were held to be important enough that some Bibles include them as God’s Word.
As we make our transition from the Narrative Lectionary back to the Revised Common Lectionary, we are using an alternative Lectionary that includes several weeks of readings from the Apocrypha. The very first reading was to be Susanna—sometimes called the 13th Chapter of Daniel.
As I read through the story, it became clear that we would have to alert parents and offer an alternate activity for young children; not just during the sermon, but during the reading itself. It’s a surprising story of sexual intimidation and false accusations by men of power against a righteous, married woman who denied them their lust. It is a story of the #MeToo movement. It is timely, difficult and far too familiar to the experience of many women.
As we thought about how to handle the reading and the sermon, a colleague said to me: “If you cannot read the Bible without asking the children to leave, perhaps that reading doesn’t belong in worship.”
She was right. It’s a passage worth our attention, prayer and conversation. But not on a Sunday morning, perhaps.
These are the prayerful, liturgical, collaborative decisions we make as a worship staff. How do we faithfully bring a Word from God that resonates with a variety of members? How do we share the right mix of readings that reflects the Bible’s capacity to comfort, teach and exhort in appropriate measure? How do we be honest about what’s in there!?
The Bible is full of stories and psalms that connect powerfully with the modern reader. And we will do our best to make those connections for you in worship.
We set Susanna aside for now. We hope to revisit her, maybe as a bible study, as she has much to teach us. A woman who has experienced sexual harassment, intimidation or assault, may find it difficult reading. And you may be reassured to know that the Bible reflects your lived experience. That there was a woman named Susanna who knows what you have been through.
For the next few weeks, we will see what the Apocrypha can offer us. After that, we are doing a seven-week series on the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins.” With apologies to William Willimon, we are calling the series “Sin Like a Christian.”
Check it out.
Peace and gratitude,