From a Child's Point of View
Old Testament: Job 23:1-9, 16-17. As children learn to accept responsibility for their actions and for the results of their actions, they often mistakenly conclude that they are responsible when any bad things happen to people or pets they love. They fear that God is punishing them when someone or something they love is hurt or dies. The result is crushing guilt. Job's insistence that he does not deserve what has happened to him can be used to help children identify the difference between natural results of our bad actions and the fact that sad things do happen to good people.
Job's speech is also an indication that it is OKto feel angry with God and far away from God. When children are helped to understand Job's angry loneliness as he missed his family and nursed his hurting body, they empathize. They then find permission for their own angry, lonely feelings after all, Job and his feelings were printed in the Bible!
Children will, however, gather neither of these important messages from the reading of the text. They depend on the preacher to set Job's speech in context and paraphrase its content.
Psalm: 22:1-15. This is another prayer that Job might have prayed. When children are told that Jesus also prayed this prayer aloud while he was dying on the cross, it reenforces the messages found in the Job passage. (The Good News Bible's presentation of the psalm's poetic images is the easiest version for children to understand.)
Epistle: Hebrews 4:12-16. This passage makes sense only to readers who know the Jewish sacrificial system and can decode the poetic images. Children are lost in it. Alert older children often draw the frightening conclusion that God is a severe judge, from whom we are protected by the more understanding Jesus. (Using the text as a foil to Job's sense of isolation only increases the likelihood of such misunderstanding.) Because the core ideas of this Epistle text are better expressed in other places, it is advisable to skip it in favor of the Old Testament or Gospel readings.
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31. When they hear the story read dramatically, children understand it quickly and are as concerned as adults about its point. They are relieved by Jesus' recognition that it is hard to be a disciple, a fact children often feel that adults fail to appreciate. They know from experience that doing disciples' work, such as being kind to those who are mean to you, really is about as impossible as putting a camel through the eye of a needle.
Few younger children see themselves as wealthy. But fifth- and sixth-graders are beginning to recognize their relative wealth among their friends, in their community, and even worldwide. These older children need to hear that having money enables us to pay more attention to what we wear, what toys we want, where we can go, and what we can do. Money makes it so much easier for us to pay attention to what we want that we forget to be disciples.
In a day when few people sew at home, many children do not know that the eye of a needle is the hole in the needle that the thread goes through. (Illustrate threading a needle, using a large darning needle and some yarn.)
The Word that is like a sharp sword and also is equated with God, together with the great high priest, mercy, and grace, make the Hebrews passage unintelligible to children.
In describing Job's feelings, avoid such words as alienation, isolation, and existential despair in favor of loneliness, hopelessness, and the feeling of being lost or forgotten.
Let the Children Sing
The powerful feeling in the spiritual "Nobody Knows the Trouble I See," when sung dramatically by a choir or soloist, may best match the feelings of Job and Jesus. The mood of the hymn "Be Still, My Soul" also communicates with young readers, even before they begin singing the repeated phrase. "Kum Ba Yah" is a hymn about God's presence that many children know.
The Liturgical Child
1. Briefly review Job's story and the accusations of his friends, then assume Job's role to present today's lection. At the very least, read it with the passion Job expresses. Use your hands, posture, and facial expressions to emphasize these feelings. For maximum impact, present the passage from memory. (Remember that even children who do not understand all the words can still understand Job's feelings.)
2. Read the story of the rich young man, taking the parts of various people. Face slightly one way when reading the rich young man's lines, the other way when reading Jesus' words. Speak directly to the congregation when delivering Jesus' words to his disciples. Use your hands and facial expressions to show how people reacted to what was said.
3. Invite worshipers to write or draw on slips of paper, or in the eye of the needle on their Worship Worksheet, one disciple's promise for this week, to place with their offering in the plate as it is passed. Dedicate both the promises and the money with prayer.
4. Offer bidding prayers for disciples, being sure to include child disciples. For example:
We pray for Christians who work for your justice: For children who insist on fair play on the playground; for students who refuse to cheat; for business men and women who will not take unfair advantage, to make bigger profits; for those who write letters to the editor and to public officials, to demand just laws. Each of us offers our prayers for disciples who thread needles for justice. (PAUSE) Strong God of Justice, give your disciples the courage we need to stand up for your justice.
We pray for Christians who care for the mistreated: . . .
5. Ask groups of two or more children to form arches just inside each sanctuary door as the worshipers leave. Instruct them to say to each worshiper who passes through their arch, "Go in peace. God loves you." The spoken benediction is as follows:
As you leave, you will find that children's arms have formed an arch that is rather like the eye of a needle. Listen for their encouragement as you thread through their needle to enter a week of discipleship. And as you do, remember that what is impossible with human power is possible with God. So go in peace, in love, in strength, and in joy. Thread those disciples' needles! Serve God, who loves you more than you can imagine and who can work through you to do mighty deeds. Amen.
1. To explore why bad things happen, compare two stories about responsibility. In the first, a boy leaves a gate open after he has been warned to keep it closed. His dog gets out and is hit by a car. In the second, a boy is at school when his dog digs under a fence, gets out, and is hit by a car. The boy sadly remembers that he chose to watch TV rather than play with his dog the night before and concludes that God is punishing him for his unkindness.
2. If Job's list of complaints leads you to make a list of today's complaints, be sure to include a variety of children's complaints: rain on game day; the kid who gets straight A's (or is a star athlete) without trying, while you work hard to get C's (or come in last); illnesses and handicaps that limit what you can do; your parents getting a divorce; someone you love dying; and so forth.