Worship for Kids: September 27, 2015

July 30th, 2015

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22. Esther and Mordecai were two courageous people. Theirs is a story most children enjoy, but few have heard. Unfortunately, today's lection tells only the heart of it. Most worshipers of all ages need to hear the whole story, in order to make sense of the banquet conversation and the death described in chapter 7.

The picture of personal courage presented here counters the violent courage presented in most children's cartoons. Esther and Mordecai each do what they can in their situation. They have no magic gifts and do no physically incredible feats. Mordecai, though a captive in a foreign land, refuses to bow to foreign dignitaries as if they were gods, because he knows that only God deserves his worship. Esther, though she knows that the previous queen was banished for ignoring court etiquette, appears in court without an invitation in order to save her people. Their courage calls on children to act bravely in their own daily lives.

Psalm: 124. Psalms 124 is one of the pilgrim psalms sung by groups of travelers as they walked toward Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. The first verse indicates that this psalm was lined out by a leader. The psalm itself is a series of poetic images which describe how God saves us. Children understand the images more by experiencing the upbeat mood of the psalm as it is read dramatically, than by examining their meaning.

Epistle: James 5:13-20. James's call to prayer tells us that we can and should share with God all our needs, feelings, hopes, and fears. Prayer is not just saying the right words in the right way at the right time. It is sharing honestly, simply talking with God about what is important now. Children, who are developing their own prayer lives, appreciate James's point but need specific suggestions about praying in this way.

"Help me" prayers are among the earliest uncoached childhood prayers. Because children often do not receive what they pray for, they have trouble with James's unstated message that people will. Those whose prayers for ponies, good grades, and healing for sick loved ones have not been answered as they wished, want to know why prayer worked for Elijah, but not for them. James offers no answer, but it is to be hoped that preachers who focus on prayer will. In most instances, children are satisfied by the truth that God loves us too much to give us everything we think we want and need. But it is important to acknowledge that we sometimes do not understand why God does not give us what we have prayed for especially when we pray for healing.

Gospel: Mark 9:38-50. This text offers a series of points about being a disciple. Some of them speak more clearly than others to children.

Older-elementary children become aware of the different Christian denominations as they visit other churches with friends and relatives. While they are learning about the similarities and differences, they need to hear their congregation express Mark's attitude that these different groups are not threatening, but interesting, and that rather than fearing or fighting one another, all of us can do God's work together.

Verse 42 insists that if we lead others into sinful activities, we are responsible for what happens to them. For children, this means that they are responsible if they encourage younger children to do what they themselves know is wrong. If they have led the way, they cannot claim that they are innocent and the younger child is responsible for his or her own actions.

Literal thinkers respond to the demands of verses 43-48 with graphic mental pictures of severed limbs. It is, therefore, important to focus clearly on Mark's point that we are to be serious disciples, not merely occasional ones.

Verses 49-50 are more easily understood by illustration rather than by explanation. Today they can be well illustrated by the stories of Esther and Mordecai, whose discipleship was tested and who proved themselves "salty," or worthwhile servants of God.

Watch Words

Redefine courage to fit the courage of Esther and Mordecai, rather than that of the Ninja Turtles.

Connect the word disciple with the discipline required to succeed in sports or performing arts, rather than with parental discipline. The former discipline is self-chosen and admired by children.

Prayer is sharing with God the things that are important to us.

Let the Children Sing

"I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" is particularly appropriate for Mordecai and Esther. Further celebrate their courage by singing "We Shall Overcome," the hymn sung for courage by people working for social justice.

Though they miss many of the words in the verses, children, when encouraged, can join in the repeated prayer, "Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage," in "God of Grace and God of Glory."

Children understand some of the ideas about prayer in "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." A children's class or choir might present "Kum Ba Yah" as an anthem.

The Liturgical Child

1. Pray for courage like that of Esther and Mordecai at school, on school buses, in offices, while hanging out with friends, and so forth.

2. Introduce the historical context of Psalm 124, then preserve its format by lining out the psalm with the congregation. Instruct the congregation to repeat your dramatic emphases, as well as your words. If you have already read Esther, invite worshipers to imagine themselves among the Jews, celebrating the first Purim with this psalm.

3. To encourage personal prayer, make today's major prayer an outline, with pauses in which individuals can offer their own silent prayers on the subject. For example:

God, each of us has some kind of family. Sometimes our families make us happy. At other times, they drive us a little nuts. Hear each of us as we pray for the members of our families. (PAUSE)

Sermon Resources

1. Devote the sermon to reading or telling the entire story of Esther. Because children become lost in the details of the biblical account, tell the story in your own words or read from a Bible storybook. The Children's Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, presents the story in good storytelling style, which both children and adults find appropriate and enjoyable in the sanctuary. It is available in secular as well as religious bookstores.

2. If the sermon is on courage, Sounder, by William Armstrong, details the courage of a young black boy searching for his father, who has been imprisoned for stealing food for his hungry family. Ramona the Brave, by Beverly Cleary, describes the more everyday bravery of a first-grader who deals with a difficult teacher and other problems at school and at home.

3. If you focus on prayer, provide several specific suggestions for prayer that both children and adults can try. A "breath" prayer is a short prayer that can be prayed throughout the day. It consists of two short phrases said in one breath while breathing in, and while breathing out. For example: (while breathing in) "When I feel all alone"; (while breathing out) "Lord, be with me," or "When I'm mad enough to punch, Lord, help me to be kind." Many disciples use the same breath prayer for a day or a week.

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