Worship for Kids: October 11, 2020

August 7th, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Exodus 32:1-14. Children today find it hard to believe that anyone would make and seriously worship a golden calf. If they are told that many people in those days worshiped statutes of animals, older children try to understand that such actions made sense to people then, and they try to accept the story as a true account of how God's people broke the first two Commandments immediately after agreeing to them. They strongly empathize with God's outrage.

Many adults are offended by God's change of mind. But children, especially those who grow up hearing about the loving God who is always ready to forgive, are confused and offended by Moses' need to talk God out of destroying the calf-worshiping betrayers. It helps to compare God's reaction to our furious urge to hit a best friend who has dome something very mean to us. God's problem, and ours, is that we love so much that we are hurt when those we love do not live up to our expectations. The good news of this passage, and the rest of the biblical story, is that God, who loves us so much, will not strike back when hurt by us.

Often when children get into trouble, their excuse is, "I forgot . . . what I was supposed to do, or what the rules were, or who I am." They get so caught up in trying something interesting or in doing what the other kids are doing that they "forget" it is wrong. That was the problem for the calf worshipers. They had forgotten that they were not like their animal-worshiping neighbors. They were the people of the God who had led them out of slavery in Egypt and across the wilderness to a promised home. Thus, one challenge of the text is to remember who we are, so that we will not be led into trouble.

Psalm: 106:1-6, 19-23. If you have been following the Exodus texts, children will understand all the references in this psalm. The Good News Bible offers the clearest translation.

Epistle: Philippians 4:1-9. This passage presents two problems for children: generalities and abstract concepts. Both the generalities ("do not worry," "keep on doing the things you have learned," etc.) and the abstract concepts ("peace of God," "honorable," "pure," etc.) will make sense only when illusatrated with everyday examples. Since it is nearly impossible to define all the abstractions without losing the overall message, select one or two of Paul's exhortations for attention today. This warning applies especially to the eight abstractions of verse 8, often thought to be good guides for children to learn.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14. Children understand Luke's version of this parable and Luke's point more easily than Matthew's. The mental work required to integrate the vengeful king, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and the exclusion of those who refuse an invitation to the eschatological banquet is beyond the abilities of children. Furthermore, children familiar with parables know that the king in Jesus' parables is meant to be like God, and therefore are confused when this king is so demanding and vengeful. They cannot deduce Matthew's point, but must hear it stated: God invites everyone to be one of God's people and wants everyone to come. But responding to the invitation has important consequences. If you choose to become one of God's people, you must live as God's person every day. If you do not, you miss out on all the joy.

Watch Words

Worshipping the gold calf means singing and praying to it. Children cannot identify the pursuit of good grades, popularity, and pretty clothes as the worship of false gods until their ability for abstract thought develops.

Rejoice is used only in worship these days. So paraphrase it as be happy that and expound on what real happiness is.

Let the Children Sing

This is a good Sunday for hymns that praise God in the spirit of Paul and provide an alternative to the misguided worship of the Israelites. Some especially good choices are the version of "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart" with a chorus made up entirely of Rejoices; "Come, Christians, Join to Sing"; "How Great Thou Art," if it is familiar to children; and "For the Beauty of the Earth."

"I've Got a Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart" and "I've Got Peace Like a River" make good anthems for children's classes or choirs.

The Liturgical Child

  1. Base a prayer of confession on forgetfulness, such as that of the calf worshipers in the wilderness:
Lord God of the Universe, we are forgetful people. We forget that you made this world and that we are to care for it and protect it. We forget that you created each of us with wonderful talents and interests to enjoy and to use in serving others. We forget the rules you have given us for good and happy lives. We forget that we are your people. People with jobs to do. Sometimes we "forget on purpose." At other times, we just are so busy or want something so badly that we really do forget. We try to go our own way, do what we want, and make our own plans. Forgive us in Jesus' name. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
Another thing we forget is that God loves us very much. God loves us enough to forgive us again and again and again. God loves us so much that God lived among us, died, and rose again in Jesus of Nazareth. So whatever you forget, always remember that God loves you and forgives you. Thanks be to God!
2. Recite appropriate verses from the Philippians lection, addressing them to the congregation as the charge and benediction.
3. If you celebrate the Lord's Supper today, stress its connection to the great banquet of God. Do whatever you can to stress the festiveness of that banquet. Invite worshipers to break off chunks of bread from a loaf (rather than pick up tiny pieces) and dip them into a chalice or silver bowl of wine or grape juice. Select happy songs of praise, rather than somber music about sin. Use festive words such as Alleluia! and Rejoice! frequently, and with feeling.

Sermon Resources

To make the worship of a calf seem less strange, tell about other animals that have been worshipped as gods.

The Baal worshipers of the Middle East made statues of a bull. According to one of their stories about it, a great bull was killed while fighting a devil that was trying to destroy the earth. The mourning gods cut the bull into pieces and plowed the pieces into the soil of the dying earth. Watered and fertilized by the bull's blood and flesh, the earth grew fertile again and was saved. Baal worshipers sang songs and prayed to the bull in late winter, when it seemed that spring would never come.

The Aztecs of ancient Mexico worshiped the Hummingbird of the South. Their stories told about a hummingbird that had led them south from their old home to a new home and had helped them defeat the people who lived there. Priests wore hummingbird masks when they acted out these stories and sang songs about the Hummingbird of the South.

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

comments powered by Disqus