Worship for Kids: September 11, 2016

August 5th, 2016

From a Child's Point of View

Today's texts deal with sin and forgiveness. The Old Testament readings describe the seriousness of sin. The Gospel speaks of God's joy over even one repentant sinner. And in the Epistle, Paul uses himself as an example of God's willingness to forgive even the most flagrant sinners.

Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. Today's environmentally minded children easily misunderstand the natural disasters described in verses 23-26 as being the direct result of environmental sins; and they hear God's anger with people for being such poor stewards of the earth. Jeremiah, however, was describing the aftermath of a military invasion ordered by God to discipline a sinful nation. He was warning people of what would happen if they did not change their ways, much as a parent warns children that they will be punished unless they change their ways.

As a counterpoint to the Gospel and Epistle readings, Jeremiah insists that sin is very serious. God cares about what we do and will discipline us when we need it.

Psalm: 14. A children's paraphrase of "There is no God" would be "I will not be caught" or "What I do will not matter." The problem for the people described here is that they believe they can get away with anything, so they take what they want and do what they want. Only the psalmist knows that they are in for a surprise. Because children have difficulty with the poetic language of the psalm and because other readings for the day are so clear, it is advisable to focus on those other readings.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-10. This passage includes the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, tied together by Jesus' insistence that God rejoices over the repentance of one "lost person. These parables frequently appear in church school curriculum and therefore may be familiar to most young worshipers. Children will enjoy hearing a familiar story read and explored in worship.

Because children think concretely, they need to work at these parables from two sides. They will not see the connection between these sides until their thinking matures. On the concrete level, children have experience with being physically lost. Psychologists tell us that the fear of being lost or abandoned is one of the deep, disturbing fears of childhood. So for them, the parables promise that God will never abandon them. Then with adult direction, they can explore Jesus' promise that they can never do anything so awful that God will not forgive them. Just as the shepherd goes after the one lost sheep, so God will come after them. Later, when children can comprehend being lost in sin, they will realize that these truths merge in the parables.

Epistle: 1 Timothy 1:12-17. This passage assumes knowledge of Paul's life that most children and some adults will not recall without help. So begin by briefly outlining Paul's persecution of the church, his conversion, and his missionary career.

Verses 15 and 16 are the key ones for children, who will not follow the theological language in much of the rest of the passage. Rminded of Paul's story, children can see the truth of what he is saying and can conclude that if God could still love and use Paul after he repented of his persecution of the church, then there is probably nothing they can do that God will not forgive, when they repent as Paul did. This is reassuring. It also reminds children to forgive others as willingly as God forgives them.

Watch Words

Remember that for children, lost describes physical abandonment. So avoid using it to describe being lost in sin. Instead, talk about sin and forgiveness.

Avoid mercy, pardon, and grace, in favor of forgiveness. Or choose to use one of those words and take time in the sermon to explore its meaning. Speak of God's discipline which corrects, rather than of God's punishment, which may be misunderstood by children as God's revenge.

Instead of talking about Paul's persecution of the church, describe how he hunted and killed Christians.

Let the Children Sing

Continue singing the chosen hymns of commitment.

To celebrate God's "good shepherd" love, sing the version of "The Lord's My Shepherd" most familiar to your children, or "Jesus Loves Me." Be sure to sing the following verse:

Jesus loves me when I'm good,
When I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I'm bad,
Even though it makes him sad.

Even though its first line comes from 1 Timothy 1:10, children will be baffled by the abstract language of "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise." Save it for a day when you are exploring God's greatness and have time to define and enjoy all the big words together.

The Liturgical Child

1. Paraphrase the traditional prayer of confession based on the lost-sheep image:

Loving God, who takes care of us as a shepherd takes care of sheep, we admit that we have wandered off like lost sheep. We have ignored your rules and teachings to follow our most selfish and mean desires. We act and speak without thinking that we might hurt others. We think only about how we feel and what we want. Forgive us. Lead us to kind actions and gentle words; for we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Jesus said that God rejoices when one sinner repents. God welcomes us back home and helps us live more loving lives. We can depend on that. We are forgiven.

2. As another assurance of pardon, have worshipers read or "line out" 1 Timothy 1:15-16, claiming Paul's conviction of forgiveness for themselves. (In "lining out," the congregation repeats each line after the worship leader.)

3. Before praying the Lord's Prayer, highlight the phrase, "Forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)." Briefly outline the way the focal text of the day affects the way we pray this phrase (e.g., imagine what it meant to Paul to pray this phrase after being forgiven for killing Christians).

Sermon Resources

1. If the tale of the lost sheep leads you to tell stories about lost children, remember that few lost children see themselves as the cause of their being lost. Rather, it is their parents who wander of: "I was staying nearby, looking at the toys, and then I looked up and Mom was gone!" Or they are doing something perfectly reasonable (to them) and are surprised to find themselves lost: "I was going to the bath house, like we did last night. Only it looked different in the day, and I couldn't find it."

2. In a large church, arrange for 100 children (perhaps several children's classes) to join you in the chancel. As they come forward, touch and count each one. (It should be crowded and a bit chaotic.) When all are in place, remark on how many 100 really are! Then imagine what it would be like to spend the whole day as group. Imagine what it would be like to be one shepherd, responsible for that many sheep. Send the children back to their seats, then retell the parable, beginning, "Once there was a shepherd who had 100 sheep . . . ."

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