From a Child's Point of View
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23. For children, this is the key text of the day. Though few will be drawn into Matthew's concerns about where Jesus lived (vss. 12-16), many will recognize and enjoy the story of the calling of the four fishermen. Though the story is clear and easy to follow, it offers two puzzles.
The first is this: Why did these people, who had never met Jesus before, according to Matthew, respond to such a brief invitation? There are several possibilities. They could have been so bored with fishing that any distraction was welcome. But today's children are carefully warned about accepting interesting invitations from strangers. Or they might have been fascinated by the possibility of dealing with people instead of with slippery, wriggling fish. But most children see fishing as an active, interesting job and therefore discount this possibility.
The second puzzler is this: Why would Jesus ask James and John to desert their father in the middle of their work? Didn't Jesus care about Zebedee, who depended upon their help with the family fishing business?
There are no acceptable answers to either of these puzzlers. Children, however, appreciate hearing them recognized, pondered briefly, and perhaps consigned to the list of interesting questions to ask "when we meet the disciples in heaven."
The crux of this passage is that being a disciple involves making decisions. Just as the fishermen needed to decide whether to stay at their boats or to follow Jesus, so disciples today must make decisions about what they will and will not do. Just as the fishermen were brave enough to try something new, so disciples today must have the courage to try new things—things like peacemaking, learning to pray, and working for justice.
Old Testament: Isaiah 9:1-4. This text is read today because Matthew quotes it to make a point about Jesus. Children will miss both Matthew's point and Isaiah's prophecy as presented here. Some may recognize the phrase "the people who have walked" as one they have heard before.
Psalm: 27:1, 4-9. This song of confidence in God's care expresses a feeling children appreciate, but uses difficult vocabulary. The New Jerusalem Bible has the clearest translation of these terms. The references to taking refuge at the Temple require knowledge of Old Testament sanctuary laws which children do not have. In spite of these difficulties, older children can follow this psalm when it is introduced as a good prayer for disciples who are making brave decisions.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. Many of the problems at Corinth are familiar to children. The problem addressed here is that people are forming little groups, each thinking it is better than the others and letting the others know that. Among middle-elementary children, such petty rivalry may explode between groups gathered around popular leaders: "I'm on Mr. Brown's team. He's the best, and we're the best! It's too bad you can't be on our team!" In its extreme, the pleasure of the game is lost in bickering between teams, both on and off the field.
Among fifth- and sixth-graders, small, tight friendship groups often become the standard on which children base their self-esteem. Being able to claim so-and-so as "best friend" and jockeying for position at tables can develop into vicious, divisive, group dynamics. To all people trying to prove their own importance by putting others down, Paul says, "Get along with one another!"
There are no major vocabulary traps in these texts.
Let the Children Sing
"Tu Has Venido a la Orilla" (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore) is the one hymn totally based on the call of the fishermen.
To help children sing "Jesus Calls Us," with its difficult vocabulary, point out before singing that verse 2 is about the fishermen Jesus called, and the other verses are about Jesus calling us.
Other discipleship hymns for children include "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" and "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian."
If you focus on the Epistle, sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and "I Come with Joy" (if you celebrate Communion).
The Liturgical Child
1. Read verses 1 and 4 of Psalm 27 with dramatic exuberance as the Call to Worship. Pause between the rhetorical questions in verse 1. Raise a finger at the beginning of verse 4 to emphasize the "one thing" to be asked. Follow the Call to Worship with a hymn of praise.
2. In prayer, confess failures in decision making:
Lord, Peter and Andrew and James and John made bold decisions to leave their boats to follow you. We wish we were as brave in making the decisions we face. But we are not. We confess that even when we know exactly what you would have us do, we often choose to do the opposite. We fear the laughter and anger of others. We lack the courage to try new ways of discipleship. We are slower still in making decisions that offer no clearly right solution. We think and worry and put off deciding. Sometimes we wait so long that we miss out completely on chances to be your disciples. Forgive us. Be with us when we face disciples' decisions. For we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Remember that Peter, Andrew, James, and John did not always make brave and right decisions. Sometimes they made angry decisions, frightened decisions, or plain stupid decisions. But Jesus kept loving them and forgiving them and putting them to work. We are promised the same. God loves us and forgives us and calls us to be disciples—in spite of ourselves. Thanks be to God! Amen.
3. In a bidding prayer, give worshipers short silent moments to pray for those with whom they have trouble getting along in their families, at school or work, in their neighborhood, at church, and so forth.
1. There are several popular series of children's adventure books which ask the reader to make decisions in the course of the story. The reader is then directed to turn to the page which continues the story based on that decision. Children enjoy and benefit from rereading these books and trying out the results of different decisions.
Use this format to explore the decision that faced the fishermen when Jesus called them to leave their boats and follow him. Briefly tell what would have happened if they had simply said, "No thank you," or if they had said, "We'll think about it," or if they followed. Then present a variety of modern discipleship decisions, ranging from whether to attend church school to policy decisions that face church boards (such as stands on the death penalty). Informal congregations might enjoy voting on the options by show of hands and hearing the results of their decisions. More formal congregations could simply hear the decisions and the results of some of the options outlined. Listeners of all ages are thus reminded that we exercise our discipleship when we make decisions.
2. Groups of children whose bickering parallels that of the groups at Corinth include: "the boys against the girls," at everything from who gets better grades to backyard one-sex-only clubhouses; the "big kids" against "the babies"; me and my two friends against everyone else; and in some communities, my group against other racial or ethnic groups.