From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. For scholars, this is a key Old Testament text which introduces a new theological theme. For children, it is a fascinating story about gifts. Older children, who enjoy catching the pun about "house" when it is explained, hear the text as a story about a contest of gifts: David offered a gift which God refused, and God then countered with a wonderful promise which reminded David of something he needed to remember: He had not become a great king on his own, for God had chosen him and worked through him. God was still God, and David was still human, even if he was king.
Literal thinkers have trouble with talk about where God lives, and they do not understand the significance of living in a tent rather than a temple. Furthermore, few children understand the intricacies of gifts with strings attached well enough to imagine the ways David might have used the gift-temple to "cage" God. So the royal politics of the story make little sense to them.
When the story is paired with the Gospel and Epistle lessons, children can appreciate the surprising way God kept his promise to David. A king who tirelessly healed and taught, and who died on a cross to make peace, was not the kind of king David would have expected.
Psalm: 89:20-37. If children are alerted to the fact that in this psalm God is speaking about David, and are urged to listen for what God does for David, they hear that God can be trusted and keeps promises. They find security in knowing that though God will punish when punishment is deserved, God continues to love and to keep promises.
Epistle: Ephesians 2:11-22. Elementary children define themselves by the classes, teams, clubs, and friendship groups to which they belong. They tend to focus on the exclusive nature of these groups, and quickly point out that only those who meet all the requirements, or have been properly initiated, belong. All others are outsiders and somehow "less." This distrust of those who are not part of "our" group may be extended to those of other racial, ethnic, and national groups.
Because of this, children are fascinated by the ruthless rules by which the Jews kept the Gentiles away, and they need to hear the writer's message that God is working to bring groups together. Just as Jews and Gentiles became friends in Christ, we are to look at the members of all other groups as potential friends in Christ. This work needs to be illustrated with everyday, specific examples.
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56. These summary descriptions of Jesus' ministry show him compassionately teaching and healing the huge crowds who followed him. Because they are general rather than specific, they do not attract children's attention.
Speak of God's promise to David, rather than of the Davidic covenant.
Describe some of the language Jews used to exclude non-Jews: uncircumcised (circumcision was an operation for Jewish men and boys), Gentile, unclean. Compare these words to language used to belittle members of other racial and ethnic groups today.
Avoid reconciliation in favor of made friends with or made peace between.
Let the Children Sing
Sing a Christmas carol in July to celebrate the surprising way God kept the promise to David. "Once in Royal David's City" and "Joy to the World!" are best.
With open hymnals, study "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" during the sermon before singing it. It connects God's faithfulness to David with Christ's gift of peace. Since younger children learn the chorus first, define mercies and help them identify God's mercies to David and to them.
If the focus is on Christ's gift of peace, close with "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" or "In Christ There Is No East or West." Hold hands to emphasize the meaning of the hymn.
The Liturgical Child
1. If the focus is on God's promise to David, place a table-top tree or arrangement of greenery decorated with king-type Chrismons (star of David, crown, and so forth) in the chancel. During worship, explain how each ornament reminds us of both David and Jesus.
2. After a worship leader prays for each in a series of specific groups who need Christ's peace today, the congregation responds, "May your peace be with us and work through us, O Christ." For example:
Lord of all peoples, we know that there are refugees living in our town. We can only imagine how hard it must be to feel at home among people who speak a new language, eat different foods, and wear different clothes. Help us find ways to welcome them. (RESPONSE) Lord of love, we all know people who seem to have no friends. They are teased or ignored. They are the last chosen for any team, and their names never appear on lists for invitations. But we know that your peace is meant for them too. Teach us how to pass that peace to them. (RESPONSE)
3. If your congregation regularly passes the peace, this is a good day to highlight it and explain its meaning. Instruct worshipers to save one handshake or hug for passing Christ's peace to a person not in the sanctuary.
If your service does not include this ritual, instruct worshipers to introduce themselves to at least one person they do not know well as they leave the sanctuary. They might also say, "Go in peace," to each other as they part.
4. Expand on the traditional "Go in peace" benediction:
Go in peace. Christ is working for peace among people on the playing field, in the swimming pool, at the office, at home, and around the world. Your help is needed. Go in peace. Refuse to shut anyone out or cut any person down. Look for ways to help people get along together better. Love your enemies into friends. Go in peace. And remember that you do not go alone. Christ goes with you and works through you. Go in peace, and the peace of Christ that passes all understanding will be with you today and every day. Amen.
1. The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, tells how two older-elementary schoolgirls teased and belittled Wanda Petronski until she left school. But she left behind gifts which made the girls realize what they had done to an outsider.
2. Remind the congregation of the older man who lived next door in Home Alone. Children imagined terrible things about him. But as it turned out, he was the one who rescued Kevin and, with his help, was able to make peace with his own estranged family.
3. To explore God's promise to David, build the sermon around the surprising ways God keeps promises. Open the subject by describing a trip to the beach, during which a rainy night spent playing games in the motel room turns out to be the best part of the trip. Then describe what each of the following people expected and received from God's promise to them: Abraham (What kind of nation did he father?); the escaped slaves (What did it mean to be God's people?); David (What kind of king was his great descendent, King Jesus?).