From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 34:1-12. The account of Moses' death and the passing of leadership to Joshua invites children to review the life of Moses. They will, however, need help, even if worship has been focused on the Exodus events for the past weeks. Once they remember how much of Moses' life was devoted to taking the Hebrew slaves to the Promised Land, many will object to the fact that Moses never entered the land. Some will protest that God was not fair to Moses. Older children can appreciate the way God provided continuous leadership—first Moses, then Joshua.
Psalm: 90:1-6, 14-17. When this psalm is paired with the Old Testament lesson, it leads adults to ponder the limits of even the most spectacular lives. But children, for whom the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems unending, can only smile indulgently at grown-up exclamations about the brevity of life and the speed with which time passes. They do, however, enjoy pondering the greatness of God, for whom a thousand years is like an evening. And they do find security in the God who was there at the beginning and will be there at the end.
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8. Paul's description of his work among the Thessalonians can be used to explore the relationship between any pastor and congregation. While adults can consider what any pastor-congregation relationship ought to be, children can only identify aspects of their relationship with the current pastor, and perhaps compare that pastor to one previous pastor, or to a pastor at another church. Because children often carry their parents' feelings about the pastor to an extreme, they may give a respected pastor nearly god-like authority or dismiss a less-respected pastor entirely. They need help to realize that no pastor-congregation relationship is perfectly wonderful or entirely awful. And they need to learn that just as Paul and the Thessalonians needed to work on their relationship, congregations and pastors today need to work on theirs.
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46. The two great Commandments are familiar to most church children. They enjoy hearing them read and discussed in congregational worship. They benefit from lists of specific ways we can love God. Cite the ways people of all ages can express their love with heart, soul, and strength: singing for God (alone and in the congregation); thanking God for our gifts; using well the talents God created into us; telling God about what we are doing or thinking (as we would tell any friend). Also cite everyday examples of loving neighbors at home, school, and community.
What may be new and interesting for older children is the debate context in which Jesus proclaimed the two commands. Frequently, children are questioned by teachers, who (from the student's point of view) are trying to trip them up. So they empathize with Jesus as he deals with questions designed to make him say something wrong or that will make people angry. And they enjoy Jesus' beating the questioners at their own game.
With some help, they can even understand and appreciate the problem Jesus posed for Jewish leaders: Grandchildren might call their grandparents "my Lord," but grandparents, especially ones like great King David, would never call their grandchildren "my Lord."
Today's texts offer few vocabulary traps.
Let the Children Sing
"O God, Our Help in Ages Past," Psalm 90 set to music, is difficult for children, but if they hear it sung with great feeling, they will pay attention and learn its meaning a phrase at a time. Help them along by explaining why this hymn is often sung at funerals. Suggest that worshipers sing the hymn today for Moses, at the end of his long life.
Choose hymns that reflect the two great Commandments: Sing of our love of God with "For the Beauty of the Earth"; sing about loving neighbors with the new hymn, "Help Us Accept Each Other."
"Blest Be the Tie That Binds" is clearly related to the both commands, but also is filled with words that are unfamiliar to children. If you sing it, take time to point out the words and phrases that refer to each of the commands.
The Liturgical Child
1. Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. So ask an older male member of the congregation to read the psalm, imagining himself to be Moses as he stood on the mountain, looking toward the Promised Land he would never enter. Children may gather more of the psalm's meaning from the feeling with which it is read than from its words.
2. Present the Gospel as if it were a radio play. Adopt different tones for the different speakers and practice saying their lines with appropriate inflection and passion. Turn slightly in the lectern as you take different roles.
3. Base a responsive Prayer of Confession on the two great commands:
Leader: Jesus told us to love God with all our heart,
People: but we often love our jobs, our homes, and our own possessions more than we love God.
Leader: Jesus told us to love God with all our soul,
People: But we put more soul into our music, our sports, and our hobbies than into expressing our love of God.
Leader: Jesus told us to love God with all our mind,
People: But we seldom study the Bible as much as we study our schoolbooks or bankbooks.
Leader: Jesus also told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves,
People: but we spend hours meeting our wants and needs and minutes finding excuses for not taking care of others.
Leader and People: Forgive us, Lord. Help us to remember and obey your commands. For we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Leader: Jesus gave us commands so that we would know how to live. But Jesus also died so that we could be forgiven when we fail to live up to those commands. We are commanded and forgiven because we are loved. Thanks be to God!
4. If you focus on the leadership provided by Moses and Paul, pray for leaders: patrol leaders, class officers, and team captains, as well as elected officials.
1. To explain the trap in the question about the greatest Commandment, cite examples of people who would want Jesus to endorse a certain one of the Ten Commandments as the most important (e.g., a store owner might insist that not stealing is most important; a church school superintendent might want keeping the sabbath endorsed). No matter which one Jesus chose, he would make someone angry.
2. In an election year, compare Jesus' debate with the religious leaders to the debates between political candidates. Though children do not follow the content of these debates, they generally are interested in the events and in their purpose—to talk candidates into making public statements that will either make people angry at them or persuade people to vote for them. Fifth-and sixth-graders often stage debates at school at election time.
3. If you preach about the pastor's job, display pictures of the church's former pastors in the sanctuary. Illustrate sermon points with stories from their work with this congregation. Children especially enjoy and benefit from this if portraits of the pastors are permanently displayed somewhere in the church.
Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press