Worship for Kids: September 7, 2014

August 13th, 2011

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Exodus 12:1-14. The point of this story, like that of the Passover, is that the slaves were hopelessly trapped—in this case, between the Egyptian army and the sea. Only God could save them. And God did. God is the only hero and the only power worth trusting.

Psalm: 114 or Exodus 15:1 b-11, 20-21. The Exodus text includes Moses' and Miriam's songs of praise, in response to what God did by the sea. Both Moses' song and the psalmist's praises are long and filled with complex poetic images. Miriam's song is concise, and children quickly visualize the dancing and singing by the sea. So for their sake, read Miriam's song.

Epistle: Romans 14:1-12. This is a good passage for the first month of school. As the newness wears off, children begin to label others and be labeled—as brains, leaders, beauties, dumbies, troublemakers, nerds, and so forth. Comparisons of academic ability (who gets what grades and who is placed in the advanced and slow groups), athletic prowess, and popularity become the focus of attention. There is often friction on the playground, in the lunchroom, and on the bus during this period of settling into peer-assigned roles and groups.

Though Paul is speaking to adults who are judging one another's values and ideas, his message applies to the judging that children do at school. First, he sternly warns everyone neither to look down on, nor be intimidated by, any other children, because of what they wear, where they live, what they bring for lunch, or what kind of school work they do. They and all their classmates are God's children. Each of them will be judged by God. So children are to accept one another and treat one another well.

Second, Paul tells the children who must endure being labeled that the only judge to worry about is God. Though other kids (and even adults) may hurt us when they pin on us labels we do not want, their opinions do not count. God's is the only opinion that counts. Therefore we are to do our best to meet God's standards and not be upset by what others say about us.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35. Forgiving is not easy, no matter what our age. Verses 21-22 set the high standard. Jesus' point is that no one can keep count of that many forgiven offenses, so we must always forgive.

The parable that follows offers the reason for repeated forgiving: We must forgive because God forgives us. Children endorse this more as a fair system than as a natural personal response to God's forgiveness. They would prefer to accept God's forgiveness with no strings attached. But it seems fair that God asks us to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

Watch Words

Judged is not a word children use every day. So provide lots of common examples of ways we judge others. Also differentiate between having good judgment and the judging that Paul is condemning.

Help children understand forgiveness by exploring its financial meaning. In the parable, when the king forgave the servant's debt, it did not mean that the king gave the servant more time to pay the debt; rather, the servant did not need to pay the debt at all. Both he and the king could forget about it. This financial meaning clarifies the theological meaning.

Let the Children Sing

The first verse of "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain" retells the story of crossing the sea. Ask some children's classes or choir to sing it, accompanying themselves with homemade tambourines (and possibly other rhythm instruments). The congregation or adult choir can respond by singing the second verse, which compares this event to the resurrection. Children will miss the connection in the second verse, but all will share in happy praise, similar to that of Miriam and the tambourine-playing women beside the sea. (If your hymnal includes more verses, omit them to keep the comparison simple.)

Before singing "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive," point out that verse 3 is based on today's parable. Though they will miss some of the difficult imagery in the hymn, children will enjoy the parable connection.

If the Romans text leads you to sing "Help Us Accept Each Other," remember that acceptance is an abstract word. Children will have difficulty understanding the meaning of the verses unless you have used acceptance frequently today and have offered numerous examples.

The Liturgical Child

  1. The Gospel reading lends itself to being pantomimed by children as it is read. Actors needed include Jesus, Peter, the king, several servants, the unforgiving servant, the friend s/he refused to forgive, and possibly a jailer. The Scripture may be read by an older child or by an adult. In either case, it is essential that the reader and actors practice together in the sanctuary.
  2. Before reading the Gospel text, place on the lectern a large sack, tied at the top, and one cardboard coin. Explain that in today's story, two people owe money. One owes about as much money as the sack might hold. The other owes about one big coin. As you read, point to the sack and the coin at the appropriate times.
  3. Create a responsive prayer of confession in which a worship leader describes a series of sins. To each confession, the congregation responds: "Forgive our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us)."
  4. Prayer of Confession: Dear God, all people are our brothers and sisters, but we forget that. We are quick to look down on people who dress differently than we do. We laugh at those who speak with different accents. We treat people with subtle differences according to the color of their skin. And, we often decide that those who disagree with us are stupid. Forgive us when we judge others. Remind us that you, and not we, are to judge. Teach us to look more closely until we can see in each person we meet a brother or sister, who is loved by God. Amen. Assurance of Pardon: God does not judge as we do. God knows our thoughts, even the ones we do not speak. And, still God loves us, forgives us, and calls us "my children." Thanks be to God.

Sermon Resources

  1. In The Hundred Dresses (Harcourt Brace, 1944), Eleanor Estes tells about some girls, led by Peggy and Maddie, who tease Wanda Petronski about her clothes, her accent, and her claim to have one hundred dresses at home—although she wears the same one to school every day. After Wanda moves, the girls discover how they had misjudged her. (This 80-page book, available in libraries, can be quickly read in sermon preparation.)
  2. Many children read and enjoy Judy Blume's books, several of which describe the life of Peter Hatcher and his younger brother, nicknamed Fudge, who needed more forgiving than almost anyone could come up with. In Tales of a Fourth-grade Nothing (Dutton, 1972), Fudge ruined a school project done by a fourth-grade committee and left in Peter's bedroom, then swallowed the only pet Peter was allowed, his turtle Dribble. To make matters even worse, everyone was worried about Fudge and not at all concerned about Peter's turtle. This book is filled with humorous, realistic examples of what it means for children to keep forgiving.

Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press

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