From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33. These verses are too terse to tell the story of Absalom's rebellion meaningfully. But the full story, which fills 2 Samuel 13-19, is too complex for children. They need to hear your adaptation of this story of a son who could not wait to be king. Its key elements concern Absalom, parading through the streets, offering to take over his father's position as judge, proclaiming himself king, raising an army to fight his father, and finally being caught and killed in battle.
Children are touched by David's love and grief. Teenagers have more sympathy for Absalom (especially if they hear about David's failure to punish Amnon for raping Tamar), and they understand the struggle between father and son. But worshipers of all ages recognize and feel the destructive, painful results of selfish struggles within families that are so evident in this story.
Psalm: 130. Children understand this psalm best as a prayer David may have prayed as he worried about or mourned for Absalom. In that context, they hear both the pain and the trust. The Good News Bible's translation is the easiest for them to understand. The New Jerusalem Bible is second choice.
Epistle: Ephesians 4:25-5:2. When 5:1-2b is read both first and last (omitting the final phrase, "a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," to avoid confusing children with sacrificial terminology unnecessary for Paul's point), children recognize, in the remaining verses, specific suggestions for ways to live like Christ. They also recognize advice that would have been helpful to David's family and can be helpful to our families today.
Verses 26, 25, and 29 speak of two key concerns to children: Verse 26 assures them that it is OK to be angry, but it is important to handle their anger well. Children often misunderstand adult responses to a child's angry outbursts to mean that being angry is bad. "Good boys and girls do not get angry." The fact is that anger is the appropriate response to many situations. Good boys and girls do become angry! But Paul insists that they are not to let their anger make them do things that are wrong hitting, name calling, and the like. Instead, they are to control their anger and work to solve the problem that caused it. Adults know, and children need to be told, that this is never easy!
Verses 25 and 29 highlight the importance of what we say. Elementary children are learning the power of words to both help and hurt. They are also learning to take responsibility for their words. Especially among fifth- and sixth-graders, more conflicts are started by what someone said, or by what someone thought they heard someone say, than by what they do to one another. Paul insists that learning to control what we say is part of growing as a Christian.
Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51. The first misunderstanding in this chapter was that the bread Jesus offered was free food. When Jesus insisted that he was not offering free food, but spiritual food from God, a second misunderstanding erupted. The crowd expected messengers bringing spiritual food from God to be somehow special or different. But Jesus was just another person they had watched grow up among them. Children are interested in the question behind the misunderstanding: "How do you recognize bread (or messages) from God?" Jesus' answer that God helps us is only partially satisfying. Children want to know how God helps us. They wish for more concrete descriptions than Jesus' statement that God "draws us to" the messages. The preacher may want to identify ways the church traditionally has recognized God's messages for example, that they are consistent with the record of God's action in the Bible.
Avoid abstract political language such as coup, intrigue, and treason, in favor of plot, plan, and taking his father's place as king.
Today, bread is God's Word, or messages from God.
Let the Children Sing
"Nobody Knows the Trouble I See" parallels Psalms 130 and is a song David and all those with troubles in their family can sing.
Sing "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian," to respond to the Epistle.
Point out that though "Break Thou the Bread of Life" is often sung as a communion hymn, it is really a hymn about hearing and knowing God's Word. Put several phrases into your own words to illustrate this point before inviting the congregation to sing the hymn.
The Liturgical Child
1. Continue to display bread in the chancel. Today, feature loafs of bread and an open Bible.
2. Invite worshipers to pray for their families. A worship leader offers general prayers aloud, then pauses so that worshipers may pray silently about their particular families. For example:
Lord of life, you have placed each of us in a family. You have given us mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and grandparents. Some of us have step-families and people who have become "like family" to us. Hear our prayers, thanking you for all the people who are our family. (PAUSE) Lord of love, we also must admit that love is not always easy in a family . . . .
3. Create a responsive Prayer of Confession based on Paul's teachings in today's Epistle. A worship leader presents each teaching, following the same format: "Paul told us to . . . , but we . . . ." The congregation responds, "Forgive us, God." For example:
Paul told us to control our anger, but we often let our anger control us. In anger, we say cruel, hurting words which we later regret. In anger, we fight back, even throw punches. In anger, we try to get even with people, rather than try to solve the problems between us. (RESPONSE) Paul told us to always tell the truth, but we . . . .
4. Ask several children to present the Epistle. Each child reads, or memorizes, one of Paul's instructions. All children repeat Ephesians 5:1-2b in unison, both before and after the individual teachings. The sequence is: All: 5:1-2b; Reader 1: 4:25; Reader 2: 4:26-27; Reader 3: 4:28; Reader 4: 4:29; Reader 5: 4:30; Reader 6: 4:31; Reader 7: 4:32; and All: 5:1-2b.
1. Devote the sermon to telling and exploring the story of David and Absalom. Edit out extraneous details and side plots to focus on the key events and the feelings of the main characters. Walter Brueggemann's commentary in First and Second Samuel (Interpretation Series [Westminster John Knox, 1990]) offers helpful insights for such storytelling. Trust the story to carry its own messages without preacher-imposed moralizations.
2. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, tells about a sixth-grade girl who kept a notebook of very honest but not very kind comments about everyone and everything she saw. In chapter 10, her friends accidentally find what she had written about them, it takes three chapters to describe their anger, Harriet's anger, and how she finally found a way to apologize. The Hating Book, by Charlotte Zolotow, offers a similar story.