From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: Proverbs 31:10-31. During the first month of school, children are overwhelmed with demands to be good students, good boys and girls, and good class citizens. Especially those who feel they do not live up to all these demands appreciate hearing this long list of what a good woman should do. Learning that most women find this list as exasperating as the children find all the demands they face, is liberating for them.
Once freed from the volume of the demands, children are ready to identify the qualities for which all Christian women, men, and children should work. They gain more from the poem by using its alphabet format as a springboard for starting lists of Christian qualities and activities for themselves than by exploring the qualities the poet assigns to women.
Psalm: 1. Children appreciate this stark comparison of good and evil people. While older worshipers realize that the psalmist oversimplifies things (few people wear perfectly white hats or totally black hats), children do not. They are still learning the major differences between good and evil, rather than sorting out the finer distinctions. So, while we sometimes read passages for the adults because it is more appropriate for them, this is one to read mainly for the children. Adults, however, benefit from the psalmist's emphasis on the simplicity of the differences between good and evil, rather than the complexities.
Epistle: James 3:13 -4:3, 7-8a. The general ab-stract vocabulary and sophisticated logic of this passage quickly lose children, who can, however, understand the basics of the two main points.
They can compare the wisdom of this world with that of God. They recognize the "wisdom" of this world in the the bossy, unpleasant behavior of the "know-it-all" or "smart alec." They also recognize the wisdom of behavior that is gentle, fair, caring, and kind.
For children, the second point is that most of our mean actions start with jealous, want-what-I-can't-get thoughts and feelings. Though they lack the maturity to discipline their thoughts and feelings, they can begin to see the connection between what they think and feel, and what they do. They can also be encouraged to find safe ways to work out angry feelings and frustrations.
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37. The passion predictions do not mean much to children. For them, the heart of this text is the conversation about greatness. Children, like the disciples, argue about who is the greatest. They argue about whose team is the greatest, whose clothes are the best, even whose pets are the most wonderful. They compare everything their trophies, grades, and achievements, and even those of their hero/ines. In all these arguments, their expectation is that "the greatest" deserves "the best." Jesus' insistence that the greatest person is the person who takes care of everyone else challenges all this comparing and arguing. Children know exactly what Jesus means, and they struggle with idea just as adults do. They need help to understand the difference between wanting to do our very best and wanting to be the greatest.
Psalm 1, in all translations, is filled with unfamiliar words about good and evil: scornful, scoffers, mockers, cynics, and even righteous. Put the message of the psalm into simpler everyday terms.
Children speak of jealousy, rather than James's envy. Since most children think of ambition as working toward a goal, and they understand both as desirable, they are confused when James calls ambition into question. Speak of selfish ambition, instead of just ambition, to help them grasp the problem.
Let the Children Sing
Sing "Be Thou My Vision," if it is familiar to children.
"Lord, Make Us Servants of Your Peace" paraphrases the prayer of Saint Francis in words older-elementary children can read and sets it to a simple tune.
The Liturgical Child
1. In the worship center, feature two arrangements: the first, of a flowering, or even a fruit-bearing plant; the other, of dry weeds, or a dead branch stuck in a bucket of sand. Refer to them in exploring Psalm 1.
2. Emphasize the acrostic format of Proverbs 31:10-32 by asking one person to call out the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and a second person to read the appropriate verse. Consider using an older child as the first reader. (The New Jerusalem Bible prints the appropriate Hebrew letter by each verse.)
3. Invite people to pray with their hands, and with eyes open, so that they can follow the movements of the prayer leader. Direct them to clench their fists as each dangerous thought or feeling is mentioned, then let their hands fall open, releasing all the tension, each time you pray, "Help us to let go . . . ."
Lord of all of our lives, we need your help with thoughts and feelings that can lead us into trouble. Loving God, when we see others who are better looking than we are, who are smarter than we are, who seem to have more friends than we do, we feel jealous. We want to be like them, and even better than they are. It is easy to let our jealousy turn into hate and meanness. Help us to let go of our jealous thoughts, and work with us to turn them into admiration of your good gifts to others. Giving God, we confess that we are greedy people. We want every good thing we see. We want designer clothes; picture-perfect houses; every toy and gadget we see on TV; fabulous trips to tropical islands, snowy mountains, and amusement parks; and more. Help us to let go of all our wants. Open our hands, so that instead of reaching out to grab selfishly, we can reach out to make friends. God, we often do not feel like being cooperative. We want to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and the way we want to to it. We want to tell others what to do and have them do it. We want to have our own way. Help us to let go of our bossy wishes. Teach us that getting our own selfish way often brings more unhappiness than happiness. Forgiving God, we admit that we do not forgive easily. We hold our hurt, angry feelings close. We remember every wrong done to us. And we long to get even. Help us to let go of our hurt and anger. Be with us, so that we can learn from you how to forgive and forget. We pray in the name of Jesus, who reached out his hands to welcome people, opened up his hands to heal people, and finally stetched out his hands to be killed on a cross, to forgive us all. Amen.
1. Create an alphabet sermon to identify, for each letter, one characteristic or activity of a good Christian in your community. Comment briefly on each of the 26 characteristics and activities you identify. Children need not understand all of them, but will enjoy marking your progress through the alphabet and appreciate hearing you describe a few activities in which they participate and that the characteristics are applied to both children and adults. Possibilities: B is for Bible student; D is for "doing the Word" (especially if you have preached on that), and so on.
2. In The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume, an eight-year-old girl describes all the unfair advantages of her six-year-old brother, "The Pain." And he describes all the unfair advantages that she, "The Great One," has. The two monologues include hints that the two really need each other and that part of their problem is the fear that their parents love the other more. The entire book can be read aloud in five minutes. Or, sections of it can be cited to illustrate points about "greatness" competitions.