Worship for Kids: June 4, 2017

May 5th, 2017

From a Child's Point of View

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30. The Pentecost story interests children, but it is hard for them to follow as presented in Acts 2. The opening events of verses 1-4 (especially in the NRSV) catch children's attention. But the long list of unfamiliar ethnic groups (vss. 8-11) distracts them from the crowd's response. And they can make little sense of Peter's explanation (vss. 14-20). With adult help, they can understand the inclusiveness and promises of verses 17 and 18, but their literal minds will be baffled by the "portents in the heavens" of verses 19-21. For these reasons, the story needs to be retold in the sermon.

For Jews, the name Pentecost came from its being the fiftieth day after the first sabbath after Passover. For Christians, it is the fiftieth day after Easter. Children can remember this connection by the reference to a pentagon, a five-sided figure—the best-known example is the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The gift the Spirit brings, in Numbers 11:24-30, is ecstatic prophecy. Moses' point was that a few should not hoard such gifts of the Spirit, but wish them for everyone. Because ecstatic prophecy is hard to explain to today's children, and because children do not have the experience to understand Moses' point, focus on the other stories about the Spirit today.

Gospel: John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39. In John's account (chap. 20) of the giving of the Holy Spirit, the details differ from those in Acts. Some very alert older children will notice those differences and wonder which writer was telling the truth. But most children simply hear them as two stories about God's Spirit coming to be with us. The preaching point for all ages is that Jesus did not desert us to return to heaven. Instead, God, who was with us as Jesus, is now with us as Holy Spirit. So, on Pentecost we celebrate two ways to know God: We know God by reading and thinking about Jesus, and we experience God's powerful Spirit working deep within us. If the message of Christmas is "God is with us!" the message of Pentecost is "God is still with us—and always will be!"

To keep the Pentecost symbols of wind and fire at center stage and avoid overwhelming children with too many symbolic images on one day, go lightly over the text from chapter 7. Living water which flows out of believers' hearts is almost impossible to explain satisfactorily to literal thinkers. And the promise of the coming of the Spirit is not as important to children as the story of its coming.

Psalm: 104:1a, 24-34, 35b. If they are told before the reading that this psalmist was praising God for creating all the animals in the oceans, and they are urged to listen for a sea monster named Leviathon, children will understand what the psalmist says and join happily in the praise. The New Jerusalem Bible's translation is especially easy for children.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:3 b-13 or Acts 2:1-21 (if it was not the First Reading). The Corinthians text describes individual talents as one evidence of the presence of God's Spirit. Paul insists that God gives each of us talents, with which we are to love and serve others. Each talent is a valuable source of power for the church, and each talent-bearing person is valuable. Unfortunately, Paul lists talents that are now unfamiliar to most children. Hearing a paraphrase that includes more familiar talents such as singing, patience in caring for sick people, willingness to cook for the homeless, and so on, helps children understand Paul's message. The challenge to children is to identify their own talents as gifts from God, to appreciate those talents, and to use them in doing disciples' work. They are also to appreciate the talents of others as God's gifts.

The inclusion of the image of the body of Christ (vss. 12-13), on a Sunday filled with Pentecost images of fire and wind, complicates rather than clarifies Paul's message for children.

Watch Words

Use Pentecost repeatedly to build familiarity with the name of this less-well-known holy day.

Speak of Holy Spirit, rather than Holy Ghost, which has Halloween connotations.

The term gifts of the Spirit means little to children until they hear their talents, skills, and abilities described as gifts of the spirit.

Let the Children Sing

Older children can read and sing the simple words of "On Pentecost They Gathered" to retell the Pentecost story. For younger children, singing "Happy Birthday" to the church best captures the reality of the day.

Celebrate God's gift of the Holy Spirit with "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" or "Breathe on Me, Breath of God."

Commit yourselves to using the Spirit's gifts with "Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated" or "Lord, You Give the Great Commission." Discuss the meaning of the repeated chorus of the latter before it is sung.

The Liturgical Child

1. Ask a children's class to tie small red bows onto safety pins, to be given to the worshipers as a sign that they and their talents are among God's gifts to the church. Children may pass out the bows during worship, or they could pin them to worship bulletins before the service.

2. Pray a responsive prayer to praise and thank God for being present with and working within your congregation. Be specific: Cite mission projects in which people sense God moving; describe the spirit that is giving life to the church school or the music of the congregation. The congregational response to each prayer: God is with us! For example:

Lord of all the world, we recognize that you were moving among us as we welcomed the Hsus (or other family from another culture). We were all nervous at first. But as we worked on language and going to school and getting new jobs, we have come to love one another. We have learned again that you love all people, everywhere on the earth. And we have learned gain that with you, we have the power to take care of one another. (RESPONSE)

Sermon Resources

1. The Holy Spirit is God with us. Identify the ways we sense God's powerful presence in some common experiences shared by children and adults: admiring something God made, such as a rainbow or a newborn puppy; singing together in worship; sharing the fun and fellowship of a church supper or retreat; doing Gods work together; finding in God's strength the courage to face frightening situations.

2. Describe a sequence of birthday gifts, such as a tricycle, followed by a bicycle with training wheels, followed by a multispeed bike, followed by—if you're really lucky—a car. Point out that such gifts often require the giver to work with the recipient in learning how to use the gift well and responsibly. Then compare these human birthday gifts to the birthday gifts in the form of talents, which God gave the church. Explore how God works with us to teach us how to use our talents well and responsibly. Instead of flowers, place one or more beautifully wrapped gift boxes in the worship center, or set them on the pulpit.

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