Worship for Kids: March 11, 2018

February 11th, 2018

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Numbers 21:4-9. This is the story of the bronze snake which Moses erected to heal those bitten by poisonous snakes. Because both the psalm and the Gospel refer to this not-very-familiar story, it should be read early in the service. Before reading it, remind worshipers both of the difficulties the Hebrews faced during their desert travels and of the special way God had cared for them in the desert, giving them manna and quail. With such background, even young children can follow and understand the story.

Psalm: 107:1-3, 17-22. This psalm was sung by pilgrims as they walked together to religious festivals in Jerusalem. It is not unlike the songs and games families enjoy to pass the time on long car trips. Verses 1-3 introduce the song by pointing out that God saves us from our own messes. The stanzas that follow describe how God saves travelers, prisoners, the sick, and sailors. Today's reading includes the introduction and the stanza about the sick. Do not expect children to understand the belief that sin caused sickness. Instead, suggest that this stanza be sung for the people who were bitten by the snakes in the desert.

Gospel: John 3:14-21. John's message is like a two-sided coin. On one side is the truth that God sends Jesus to save people. On the other is the paradoxical truth that those who do not want to be saved find themselves judged instead. The combined message is too subtle for children. They will need to examine each side separately.

The first side tells us that God loves us and sent Jesus to save us. God gave us Jesus as a perfect example of how to live. God then forgave the human race for not following Jesus' example, and even for killing him. Then and now, God's forgiveness saves us from punishment we deserve. It also saves us from trying to be good enough for God.

The second half of the message is most clearly put to children in verses 20 and 21. While they may miss the symbolic meaning of dark and light (v. 20), they do have experience with trying to hide in a dark closet or under the covers to do something they know is wrong. And any children who have fidgeted through the presentation of a project that did not get their best efforts knows what the judgment of "coming to the light" (v.21) feels like. Just as they judge their projects before the teacher grades them, they can understand that we may judge our own actions before God does.

Epistle: Ephesians 2:1-10. Children will not follow this abstract theological discussion as it is read. With help, they can, however, explore two of its points.

Children have experienced being stuck in a variety of hopeless situations, ranging from long late-winter weekends trapped indoors with squabbling siblings, to parental abuse and fighting. After such experiences, they can empathize with the hopeless cry, "I wish I were dead." Concrete examples of sinful activity that lead people to feeling dead, or wishing they were dead,bring the phrase "dead in sin" more vividly to life than does expounding on the details of this argument.

The other point that speaks to children is that we do not need to earn God's respect. God loves and forgives us just as we are. God knows all the awful things we have done and thought, but God also knows the things we have been created able to do. God is more interested in the good we can do than in the bad we have done.

Watch Words

Today's texts are a mine field of abstract theological terms. Focus on one and avoid the others.

All children are judged by their teachers, coaches, peers, and even parents. The Good News is that they do not need to impress God. God does not want to judge them.

Literal-thinking children have a hard time grasping how God saves us. That we are "saved" as a result of Jesus' death and resurrection makes little sense. For them today, it means that we are saved from having to be good enough for God.

Grace is a girl's name and the ability to move beautifully. For Christian children, it may be a prayer before meals. Grace is also receiving good things you do not deserve specifically, it is receiving God's forgiveness and love, even though you do not deserve them.

Let the Children Sing

"Help Us Accept Each Other" uses the language of acceptance, rather than salvation, to sing about the message of John 3:16-21. Acceptance is more meaningful to ten- to twelve-year-olds intent on relationships.

Using simple language, "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem" tells about Jesus saving us. Children will sing along if the story format is pointed out before the hymn is sung.

The spiritual "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me" is a simple prayer for the saving God to be with us. The repeated words make it easy for young readers.

The Liturgical Child

1. Introduce the context of Psalms 107, then have it read by a group, a different person reading each stanza. Verses 1-3 may be read in unison by the readers or by the worship leader who introduces the psalm. The other verses:

verses 4-9 desert travelers

verses 10-16 prisoners

verses 17-22 the sick

verses 23-32 sailors

Help readers express with their voices the change that occurred when God's saving actions solved their problems. A group of fifth- or sixth-graders would enjoy preparing such a reading.

2. In confession, a leader describes a series of situations in which we are "dead in sin." Worshipers respond to each, "It makes us wish we were dead." For example:

Leader: God of Truth, our world is tied up in lies. Countries lie to each other. Leaders lie to their people. Bosses and employees lie on the job. Even friends and families lie. Often, lies become so entangled that they seem hopeless.

People: It makes us wish we were dead.

Assurance of Pardon: God says to all of us, "Do not give up. I will save you. I forgive you. I will change you. I love you." Thanks be to God. Amen.

3. To pray for those in need of God's saving action today, a leader offers a series of prayers for people in specific desperate situations. After each, the congregation responds by singing the chorus of "Kum Ba Yah."

Sermon Resources

1. The focal word today is save. The dictionary offers a variety of definitions for save which can be related both to everyday activities and to God's saving of us. For example:

—"to save from danger": A person can be saved from a river that is tumbling toward a waterfall. A girl or boy can be saved from getting in trouble with a street gang if he or she is offered the opportunity to work and play with friends in sports or youth clubs. People in Moses' camp who had been bitten by poisonous snakes were saved when they looked at the bronze snake. God saves us from lives that make us wish we were dead by forgiving us and giving us the power to change.

—"to set aside for special use": A family saves pennies in a jar for vacation treats. Many children put money into savings accounts for special purchases. God saves us, or sets us aside, for special work. God does not want our lives to be wasted, but to be saved for important activities.

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