From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: 1 Kings 8: (1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43. The story of the dedication of the Solomon's Temple leads children to ask three questions: What was Solomon's Temple like? What is special about our sanctuary? What is special about, or what is the function of, any sanctuary?
The parenthetical verses offer only a partial answer to the first question. Children want to hear more about what the building looked like. They are interested in the similarities between Solomon's Temple and their sanctuary Solomon used the best he had (cedar and gold) and we use our best woods and stone. (If a picture of how the temple may have looked can be found, or a model of the Temple made by an older children's classes is available, display it today.)
This text offers an opportunity to speak about your congregation's understanding of, and attitudes toward, your sanctuary. Children are often confused by adult demands for special behavior in the sanctuary "because this is God's house," and adult insistence that God is everywhere. It helps to explore the related truths that we can pray and worship God anywhere, and that a sanctuary is a place set aside for worshiping God.
Verses 41-43 insist that all people are to be welcome in God's sanctuaries. Both children and adults need to identify people they tend to exclude.
Psalm: 84. Going on a trip to worship in a special sanctuary is a novel idea for most of today's children. They are interested in what it was like to travel with a large group to Jerusalem to celebrate holy days at the Temple. Once they have heard a little about travel realities, they can imagine what it felt like to chant certain lines of Psalms 84 while walking toward Jerusalem. Verses 1 and 10 especially catch their attention.
WARNING: before reading the psalm, point out that the psalmist uses the words courts or courts of God to describe the Temple.
Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-20. Children in our culture, especially boys, are brought up to compete and fight. Children's cartoons pit characters against each other in ongoing battles. Heroes are those who fight against enormous odds and win. Sports are contests in which other teams are met as "the enemy." To such children, Paul says that for Christians, there is only one really important battle and that is not a battle between people. It is a battle against powers we cannot see, but which do serious damage to individuals, families, and communities. Though Paul does not name those powers, children need to hear selfishness, greed, cruelty, and such things named as the unseen powers we must fight. Once the fight is defined, children understand that the fight requires unseen armor, and they see the value of the items on Paul's list.
Gospel: John 6:56-69. All the misunderstandings of the chapter come together in this conversation. Some people left Jesus because they wanted free food, not spiritual food. Others left because they could not believe that God would send spiritual food through a person as plain as Jesus. Still others left because they understood exactly what Jesus was saying and did not want to let God get that close to them. They wanted to run their own lives rather than let God live and work through them. But a few decided to stay. They knew that life would be different and better if God was them every day.
Though children have trouble understanding the content of these decisions, older children, especially those who are approaching confirmation, can hear that we, like the people in this chapter, do have a decision to make. We can follow Jesus and let God's presence and power direct our lives, or we can ignore Jesus and spend our lives on other things. We make this decision in big ways at confirmation. We also make it every day in lots of little ways, when we choose to either listen to or ignore God's voice when it tells us we are special and asks us to love and care for those around us.
Use and clarify "sanctuary" vocabulary. Explain that both temples and sanctuaries are places set aside for worshiping God. Define such words as chancel, nave, altar, or communion table, and so forth. Point out the difference between the sanctuary (a place) and the church (God's people).
Children recognize the pieces of armor more quickly than the Christian equivalents. Presenting Paul's nouns in verbal phrases helps: knowing and telling the truth; knowing and doing what is right; telling the good news of God's loving forgiveness; trusting God's power and God's ways (faith); counting on God's love, no matter what (salvation); and knowing and living by God's Word.
Let the Children Sing
Though its vocabulary is challenging, consider singing "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," and highlighting verses 2-4 in the sermon. "I Come with Joy" features communion, but thanks God for the joys of all congregational worship.
Beware of warrior hymns that sound like calls to fight people instead of unseen powers. "I Need Thee Every Hour," with its repeated phrases for new readers, is closer to the Epistle's message. "Fight the Good Fight," "We Shall Overcome," and "Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated" are also good choices.
The Liturgical Child
1. If school begins this week, include back-to-school concerns in the congregation's prayers (see Proper 15).
2. Ask children to join you on the steps to read the psalm. Describe pilgrimages on which whole families traveled to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple, and detail what they saw at the Temple. Then open a Bible on your lap to read the psalm as a song which families may have chanted together as they walked. Conclude by asking the children and congregation to repeat after you, shouting with joy the phrases of verses 1 and 10a.
3. Confess our willingness to fight the wrong battles with the wrong armor and weapons:
Lord, we admit that we are too ready to fight the wrong battles. We are ready to fight when we feel we have been unfairly treated. We are ready to fight over name-calling and disagreements about who gets what. But we wait idly when you call us to fight injustice done to others. And we give in, rather than face up to powers like greed and selfishness. Forgive us, and help us to fight your battles. Teach us to rely on your armor and weapons, rather than on fierce words and actions that hurt and destroy. For we pray in the name of Jesus, who wore your armor on the cross and rose again. Amen.
1. Tell stories about your sanctuary. Tell when and how it was built, why it was built the way it is, and stories about its use. Tell about the ancestors of families in the current congregation, and any famous people who have worshiped in this sanctuary. If possible, find and share a copy of the dedication ceremony order of worship, and especially the prayers offered at that dedication.
2. If you feel really brave, compare the violent weapons and methods used by the Ninja Turtles with those suggested by Paul.
3. In The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis describes four children's battles against evil powers in an imaginary land, which they enter through a wardrobe. With little help, children realize that it was not the White Witch who got Edmund into trouble, but greed for the candies she offered him.