Worship for Kids: September 24, 2023

August 24th, 2020

All today's texts are based on God's generous and loving care of us. Exodus tells of God feeding the wilderness travelers with manna and quail. Psalm 105 praises God for that and other care shown during the Exodus. Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard claims that God is loving, rather than fair. And Paul's letter to the Philippians insists that a loving God is working out a good plan through us. Our response to such generous love is trust and joy.

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16. Younger children need help to grasp the details and significance of the workers' wages. Once they understand what happened, all children empathize immediately with the cry of the all-day workers, "It's not fair!" Children, perhaps more than adults, want life to be scrupulously fair. They want everyone to get exactly what they deserve—no more, no less. And they want everyone to be treated the same. If an older brother went to bed at eight when he was in second grade, he will insist that his younger brother do the same. Desserts must be served in equal portions, and cookies—especially the homemade ones—must be inspected carefully when shared by two or more. To fairness fanatics, Jesus says that God is not always fair. God, first of all, is loving and generous, to us and to others.

Old Testament: Exodus 16:2-15. The story of the manna and quail speaks powerfully to adults about trusting God, because adults generally consider themselves responsible for providing their own food. Children, however, depend on other for their food, so for them, the story is less challenging. It is simply another reminder that God takes care of us and that we are to trust God. In many ways, it is an example of the generous love that Jesus pointed out in his parable. Children's interest is caught mainly by the details about the sudden appearance of the manna and the quail.

Psalm: 105:1-6, 37-45. This psalm is a good review of the Exodus events. If you have been worshiping around these events, children will recognize most of the references in these verses.

Epistle: Philippians 1:21-30. This passage is based on adult experiences and concerns. Children can understand Paul's thoughts about the relative merits of living and dying, when they are explained to them, but the debate is not one most children experience or find meaningful. Similarly, Paul's reasoning in verses 27-30—that the firm stand of Philippians during persecution is a sign that Christ will prevail in the cosmic struggle—does not have much power for children. So read this text for the adults.

Watch Words

Manna may be a new term to your children. They will be interested in its qualities and in the way it suddenly appeared.

Before reading the Gospel, explain what a denarius is.

For children who have never seen one, a vineyard is a garden where grapes are grown.

Do not let today's "trusting" texts lead you to speak of the providence of God, unless you make it the word of the day, define it, and use it repeatedly. To define it, point out the word provide in it and list examples of what God provides. Because many children who do recognize providence are likely to identify it as the capital of Rhode Island, point out that the city's name reflects the belief of its founders that it was a sign of God's providence.

Let the Children Sing

This is a good Sunday for praise hymns. Sing "For the Beauty of the Earth" or "Now Thank We All Our God" to praise God who provides generously. The repeated phrase and easy chorus make "God Will Take Care of You" a good choice for children.

"Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" is filled with Exodus references. Point out some of them before the congregation sings the hymn and urge singers to watch for others. Invite the congregation to sing as if they were Hebrews in the wilderness.

Avoid "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," which uses Exodus images in an abstract way that children cannot understand.

"Come, Christians, Join to Sing" reflects Paul's joy. Even nonreaders can join in on the Alleluias.

The Liturgical Child

  1. Ask a children's group to fill a basket or platter with different kinds of bread to display on the Communion table during worship,; as a reminder of all the bread God provides for us. Suggest that they include such things as hot-dog buns, a loaf of French bread, some pita bread, tortillas, corn bread, even bagels. In your prayers of thanksgiving include thanks for bread, in all its tasty shapes and forms.
  2. If Holy Communion is celebrated, be sure to point to the similarity between manna and Communion bread. God gave the travelers in the wilderness manna to eat when they were afraid they would die of hunger. Communion bread reminds us that God sent Jesus to give us life. Though this connection is too abstract for children to grasp fully, even the youngest can recognize that both kinds of breads are associated with God's life-giving care for us.
  3. This parable of workers in the vineyard is another that lends itself to pantomime by children. Provide simple costumes and one large (2" wide) cardboard coin for each worker. In preparing the actors, focus on showing their feelings with both facial and bodily expressions.The actors and the reader, who may be an older child or adult, need to rehearse together in the sanctuary, to know where to stand and to get their timing smooth.
  4. Invite a children's class to write a litany that describes God's loving care for us. The simplest format is a series of descriptions, each followed by a congregational response, such as "God loves us!" Have the group work several weeks ahead so that their work can be printed in the bulletin for congregational use. The children may lead the litany or participate in it as members of the congregation.

Sermon Resources

  1. Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson (Harper & Row, 1980), tells about twin sisters growing up on an island off the Carolina coast. It is written from the point of view of Louise, who feels that it is unfair that Caroline should be beautiful, have a fine singing voice, and be loved by everyone, while Louise feels plain, unloved, and not very special. Not until she is an adult does Louise realize that she also has gifts and that God has a plan for her that is just as fine as God's plan for Caroline.
  2. Name some of the things we think would make us happy (e.g., receiving a Nintendo or some other gift, winning a big prize, having a room of our own). Compare those with other things that would make us truly happy (e.g., a picnic with our family on which everyone has fun together, or sharing secrets with an understanding friend we know we can trust). Use such examples to help young worshipers identify some of God's gifts that make them happy, then use them to differentiate between what we think will make us happy and what really makes us happy.

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

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