Worship for Kids: June 3, 2012
Note: Trinity is not a particularly easy concept for most adults, and it is even more challenging for children. Consult Trinity Sunday in Year C of this series for information about children's understanding of the Trinity in general and suggestions for building an order of worship around God's Trinitarian nature.
From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: Isaiah 6:1-8. "But I thought you said God is invisible and everywhere at once. How come Isaiah could see God sitting on a throne with all those flying things around him? Where is God really? And what is God like?" Isaiah's vision raises difficult questions for literal thinkers who are being urged by teachers and parents to understand God in abstract ways. There are no answers that truly satisfy them, so focus their attention in other directions. Fifth- and sixth-graders can begin to decipher what we learn about God from the characteristics and actions of the seraphim. Younger children can imagine themselves with Isaiah and wonder how he felt.
While adults naturally respond as Isaiah did, with a sense of their own limits when confronted with the holiness of God, few children do. They simply respond with awe and wonder. Fortunately, the limits do not need to be accepted before children are willing to hear God's question and reply, "Send me."
Psalm: 29. Children of all ages both fear and love thunderstorms. This psalm praises God as the Lord of storms. In the thunder, the psalmist hears the voice of God. In the powerful wind and lightning, the psalmist hears and sees God's great power. This particular storm comes in over the sea, crosses the mountains (which seem to jump like calves in the strobic lightning), and moves out into the desert. Adults and older children benefit from tracing the path of the storm and hearing about the use of this psalm in the Temple as the rainy season began. But everyone can share in the feelings of awe and wonder which the psalmist expresses.
Epistle: Romans 8:12-17. The only verse in this theological treatise that makes sense to children is verse 14: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." When explored with the Gospel lesson, the message is simply that people who follow the urgings of God's Spirit within them (who are pushed along in God's wind) become God's children. Paul's call to put to death fleshly desires will not make sense until later adolescence, when abstract thinking is possible and personal experience has made it clear that problems do arise when human nature rules unchecked.
Gospel: John 3:1-17. This text is chosen for Trinity Sunday because it deals with all three persons of the Trinity and their interrelationships, but it is a difficult text for both adults and children. On hearing it read, most children throw up their hands with Nicodemus, unable to follow what Jesus is saying. They are helped less by phrase-by-phrase explanations of the text and more by comments about what we can learn about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from this story.
We learn that God loves the world and everyone in it.
We learn that Jesus was sent by God to save us.
We learn that the Holy Spirit brings us new life.
And as they learn to think of God abstractly, children appreciate comparing God's Holy Spirit to the wind. Both are invisible. We can't tell where either comes from or goes, but we can feel and see the effects of its presence.
Children first understand Trinity and Triune simply as words we use at church to talk about God. The connection to a triangle helps them recall and define the words.
Holy, the seraph's greeting and description of God, means completely perfect or set apart (nothing and no one is even close to being equal to God). Hallowed, in the Lord's Prayer, is another old word that means holy. Point out any places the word holy is painted, stitched, or carved in your sanctuary and explain why it is there.
God is neither male nor female. If you prefer not to use feminine images for God, avoid overusing masculine images and pronouns.
Let the Children Sing
Help children learn their way into "Holy, Holy, Holy" by calling on all worshipers to sing the Holy, Holy, Holy greeting to God at the beginning of each verse even if they cannot keep up with all the words of the verses.
The Presbyterian hymnal includes a simpler, but less familiar, Trinitarian praise hymn, "Holy, Holy."
Although "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" is generally sung during Advent, it captures the mood of Isaiah's worship of God and therefore makes a good call to worship for Trinity Sunday. Children pay special attention to any song sung "out of season."
Older children easily read the simple vocabulary of "Here I Am, Lord," based on Isaiah's response to God.
The Liturgical Child
1. Children respond more to the feelings expressed in Isaiah's vision than to its content, so plan a reading that emphasizes Isaiah's awe. Take the role of the prophet, recalling and telling this event. Let your feelings about what happened show in your voice. Practice reading the seraph's song in a booming voice that would shake the Temple. Plan how you will read, "Here am I. Send me."
2. The Liturgical Child, in the first Sunday after Epiphany, Year C of this series, gives directions for a congregational reading of Psalms 29 that includes a hand choir, creating storm sounds. Relaxed summer congregations with fresh experience with thunderstorms especially enjoy participating in such praise of God's power.
3. Create a prayer or praise litany in which the worship leader lists God's attributes or work. The congregation responds to each with the seraphim song in Isaiah 6:3 NRSV, or by singing that song as it is presented in the chorus of the hymn "Day Is Dying in the West." For example, if a prayer:
We praise you, Creator God. When we see a canyon carved out by a stream over millions of years, or watch a tiny spider spinning its web between two leaves, we are amazed by the beauty of your plan for the earth and for all on it. (RESPONSE)
1. Build a sermon around the ways God is like the wind: comforting us when we are in difficult situations, as a cool breeze comforts us on a hot day; pushing us to let go of bad habits and wrong ideas, as a strong wind prunes the dead wood from trees; supporting and pushing us along faster than we dreamed possible, as the wind supports a kite or sends a sailboat speeding across the water; surprising us by being present when we least expect it, like a wind springing up when we least expect it. Children will need to hear specific examples of God's activity in each comparison. For example, repeat the comment sometimes heard after worship, "Today's Bible reading was aimed at me," to illustrate God's Spirit at work, demanding that people change their ways.
2. Explain the Worship Worksheet task to the whole congregation, and tell the children you are looking forward to reading their poems as they leave the sanctuary. You might give the worksheet to all worshipers today and display all shared poems on a hallway bulletin board.