From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. Though children may know several proverbs, they often do not recognize the term proverb or know what a proverb is. Pointing out familiar proverbs, such as "A penny saved is a penny earned" is a good introduction.
Today's proverbs deal loosely with riches and poverty. The Good News Bible offers clear translations that make sense to children. Few of the ideas in these proverbs are new to them, but they come to life when illustrated with everyday examples of the truths they state.
In verse 9, be sure to point out that the blessings one receives when one shares food with the poor are not special rewards, but the experiences one has in the process of sharing food.
Psalm: 125. The first two verses offer images of dependability that children enjoy. Because they think literally, they hear in verse 1 that a good person is physically stuck in one place just as a mountain is. Help them grasp the poetic meaning of "cannot be moved" by comparing a person who is your friend today but says mean things about you tomorrow, is honest today but cheats tomorrow and generally cannot be depended upon, with a person who is always your friend and always honest.
Verse 2 tells us that God is as likely to move away from the people as the mountains around Jerusalem are likely to move away from Jerusalem. Clarify the point by paraphrasing it in terms of the geography of your region God will not leave God's people, any more than the James River will go around Richmond instead of through it's center.
Verses 3-5 are a prayer children readily offer, because it expresses their longing that everyone should receive what they deserve, and it admits, unlike some of the proverbs, that sometimes those who sin are not punished, but rewarded. Again today, The Good News Bible offers the clearest translation of this psalm for children.
Epistle: James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17. Because children think specifically and concretely, they can speak of treating "the poor" well and then make fun of the poorly dressed kid in their class, not recognizing the inconsistency. James' story of the two people who come to worship is helpful because it identifies a poor person in terms they understand. To continue what the story begins, offer other descriptions kids who bring funny lunches or get free lunch, kids whose books are always a mess because they don't have a backpack to carry them in, and so forth. Such specifics help children recognize "the poor," and therefore enable them to treat "the poor" among them well.
Consider omitting verses 11-13, which are beyond the understanding of children.
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37. Everything about the story of the Syrophoenician woman confuses children. The conversation takes place in poetic vocabulary they cannot understand. And though they do not understand what is said, they are bewildered by what they sense is Jesus' unkind treatment of this woman. Mark's point is lost to them. The most helpful introduction is to point out that though it sounds as if Jesus is being unkind, he was really being more kind than anyone there expected. Explain Jesus' kindness, but do not expect many children to understand. Instead, know that, before tuning out, they will have designated this story as "difficult to understand" rather than "disturbing."
The healing of the deaf-mute is more interesting and child accessible. All the details give the story a reality that other healing stories lack. Older children appreciate Jesus intimate touching of a person whom many considered "dirty" or "gross."
The Syrophoenician woman lived in Tyre, which was a Phoenician port city in Syria. That means she was a Gentile. Gentiles were people who were not Jewish, and Jewish people thought they were not as good as Jews.
Speaking of the poor gives the children the idea that the poor are easily identifiable and definable, and can be treated as a group. Speaking of people who do not have enough money for food or clothes, or who cannot afford a decent place to live, identifies the poor simply as people with specific needs and problems.
Let the Children Sing
Explain the first two verses of "Help Us Accept Each Other" before singing them. Children will miss the meaning of the last two verses.
The phrases repeated at the beginning and end of each verse of "Go Forth for God" invite young readers to sing at least those phrases.
Celebrate the healings with "Jesus' Hands Were Kind Hands," sung by the congregation or by a children's class or choir.
The Liturgical Child
1. Introduce the topic of today's proverbs, then ask several children to read or recite one each.
2. Highlight the two healing stories in the Gospel reading by having them read by different readers, or by pointing out the change of story as you read. Use your hands to illustrate how Jesus healed the deaf-mute man.
3. Before the offering, describe some of the ways your church uses money to help the poor. As you dedicate the offering, pray that it brings real relief to people in need.
4. Base a Prayer of Confession on our tendency to treat others as inferior:
Loving God, we admit that we often think we are better than others and therefore treat people very badly. We look down on and tease people whose clothes look strange to us. We feel sorry for and ignore people who live in houses that are shabbier than ours. We boast about our grades in front of those whose grades are worse, and we describe our accomplishments in detail to people whom we know could not do what we have done. We are even willing to make others look worse than they are, so that we can look better than we are. Forgive us. Teach us to accept one another as we are and to treat all people as brothers and sisters in your family. We pray in the name of Jesus, who made friends with and taught and healed all who came to him. Amen.
1. There is a frequently told story about a great preacher who was to preach at a certain church. The crowd that gathered that Sunday included many community leaders who seldom attended church, all dressed in their best. As time for the service arrived, the ushers became nervous because the preacher had not appeared.
They were also bothered by a poorly clothed barefoot man who waited quietly to be seated. After debating about asking him to leave, they decided to seat him in the very back corner. Those seated in the area shifted away as he sat down.
Then at pause in the music, the man quietly walked up the center aisle to the lectern and opened the Bible to today's text in James. As he read, people realized that he was the great preacher. (If you use this story, invite children to draw pictures of the man and what happened.)
2. Natalie Babbitt's The Devil's Other Storybook contains the short story "Boating," which tells of three sisters who spent eternity circling hell in a very cramped boat, because they felt they were too good for the other people there.