From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15). The questions about political power raised by this text are important and fascinating to adults, but beyond the understanding of children. To children, God's indictment of all kings seems unfair. They prefer to judge each king or queen on performance. Their judgments are colored by the fact that most of their knowledge of kings and queens comes from children's stories, rather than from historical studies. This lack of experience with and understanding of real political systems makes it impossible for them to consider the problem raised in the text. Perhaps the clearest point they can decipher from listening in on this adult conversation is that all political powers, be they monarchs or presidents, are secondary to God. Our first allegiance is always to God.
Psalm: 138. Though this psalm offers no particular problems, neither does it speak with any power to children about things that concern them. It is a psalm for them to read, but not explore in any great depth.
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1. Basically, Paul claims that he can put up with all kinds of suffering now, because he knows that the unseen things (like God's plan being carried out and resurrection in the future) are what is really important. That is a tough message for children to accept. Because they live so much in the present and have so little sense of their own mortality, promises about life beyond death do not have much power for them.
The claim of verse 18 that what is unseen is more important than what is seen may make most sense to children. In their world, it means that "seen" things do not last great toys get broken, wonderful clothes wear out or are outgrown, this year's trophies mean very little next year, and so forth. Because they do not last, we should not be so upset about obtaining or losing them. Instead, we should pay attention to the unseen things loving friendships, peace in our families and in the world, and so on. Paul insists that those unseen things are the ones that last forever. The Good News Bible offers children the most understandable translation of this verse.
Gospel: Mark 3:20-35. Because children are not sure about either the function or the reality of demons, the part of this reading that deals with Jesus' ability to cast out demons is not very meaningful for them. Fifth- and sixth-graders begin to understand Jesus' response to the scribes and appreciate its cleverness. But the whole incident raises questions about first-century and twentieth-century understanding of demons that cannot be answered to their satisfaction. So either skip the story entirely or read it and pass on.
The confrontation between Jesus and his family has more to offer children. Though some children, who are after all totally dependent on their families, worry about Jesus' refusal to respond to his family, most focus on the fact that Jesus calls us to join an extended family. That family includes all the people at church and all the people all around the world who do God's will.
Children hear about demons as mischievous little critters (Gremlins), serious malevolent forces that disrupt life (The Exorcist), sports teams named Demons, and overenergetic children with a penchant for trouble.
Let the Children Sing
Praise God as ruler of all with "Rejoice, the Lord Is King!" or "Come, Christians, Join to Sing," with its "Alleluia! Amen!" nine times for nonreaders. Even if it is not evening, sing "The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended" to celebrate God's rule over all nations on this slowly revolving planet.
Avoid singing patriotic hymns in worship. Children interpret the inclusion of such hymns, no matter what the words of the hymn might say to the contrary, as proof that God is on the side of their country. One alternative, with language simple enough for fifth- and sixth-graders, is "O God of Every Nation."
"Bless Be the Tie That Binds" and "I Come with Joy" (if communion is celebrated) are good choices when the focus is on Jesus' extended family.
The Liturgical Child
1. Ask the congregation to read the part of the people in 1 Samuel 8. Have one worship leader prepared to read the narrator's part and another to read Samuel's part. Print the whole passage in the bulletin, with the people's lines in bold type if possible (to shorten Samuel's part, omit verses 12-15).
2. Pray for a series of nations with different kinds of leadership Saudi Arabia with its royal family, Canada with its prime minister, even Cuba with its dictator. Conclude by praying for your own nation and government leaders by name.
3. Create a responsive prayer for God's family. The worship leader offers prayers for a series of groups, to which the congregation responds, "God, hear our prayers for our brothers and sisters." For example:
God of the cities, we pray for our brothers and sisters who run soup kitchens and shelters and help centers. Give them hope when it feels as if all their work makes no difference. Inspire them with new ideas to solve old problems. Protect them from angry people who carry knives and guns. (RESPONSE) God, who created us with bodies that jump, run, and swim, we pray for those who try to do your will in the locker room, on the playing field, and in the pool. Help the players to recognize those on the other team as brothers and sisters. Help the coaches to treat the players as sons and daughters, from whom they try to draw the very best. Give the referees a spirit of fairness and quick eyes. (RESPONSE)
4. If there is to be a baptism today, before it takes place, invite children to stand or sit near the font. Talk briefly with them about the meaning of baptism, with emphasis on identifying the baptized as one of God's family. The parents and any older siblings of an infant being baptized may be willing to join the group so that the children can see and even touch the baby. Family members, the worship leader, and children can name some of the things they will do to welcome this child into God's family. If possible, allow all the children to stay where they can see well during the baptism.
5. Remember to include the children's end-of-school concerns in the church's prayers on the appropriate Sunday.
Recall the parts of your baptismal rite which focus on the baptized being identified as one of the family of God. Paraphrase sentences that are not immediately clear to children. Describe how people of all ages can keep the vows they make during the baptism of another. Use examples from everyday life.