Worship for Kids: October 22, 2017

September 20th, 2017

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Exodus 33:12-23. As church children grow up, they absorb the biblical stories about God speaking to people, they sing and pray in public worship about God's presence with us, and they hear adults speak in abstract terms of God's presence with them. Many children wonder why no one today seems to have dramatic experiences of God's presence like those described in the Bible. They wonder why some of their teachers and church leaders speak frequently of God's presence, but others seem uncomfortable with the topic. Many want help in interpreting personal experiences in which they have sensed God's presence.

Most dialog with God speaks to these concerns. Verses 12-17 say that God's presence is critically important. Moses was willing to risk an argument with God, in order to talk God into being present with the people as they went into the Promised Land. He got what he wanted, but was reminded that God's presence is demanding as well as supportive, and therefore is dangerous for people who are not willing to respond. Verses 18-23 then reveal that Moses, after years of talking with God and leading the people in God's name, still longed to experience God's presence more fully. If Moses never knew all there is to know about God, certainly we can expect to always be learning more.

Warning: The anthropomorphic language of verse 23 contradicts our efforts to help children envision God in spiritual rather than physical terms. Younger children hear and respond literally to references to God's hand and back, and therefore get the point of the text quickly. Those older children who are attempting to grow beyond visions of God as an old man, perhaps somewhat like Santa Claus, are surprised by the language and need help with it before they can pay attention to the larger point about God's presence with us.

Psalm: 99. Children need help to interpret the references to cherubim, Zion, Jacob, and Samuel. The psalm, however, can be a springboard to discussions about the nature of God. The summary word is holy. According to the psalmist, God's holiness is revealed in God's power over all the empires of the world, in God's justice, in God's presence with individuals, and in God's forgiveness.

Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. Paul begins his letter by listing good things about the people of the left at Thessalonica. They responded to God's word as it was brought to them by Paul. They endured persecution. They put their faith into practice everyday. Their love of one another and their trust in God are obvious to everyone. Paul's list offers children a model, though a rather abstract one, of Christian living.

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22. The question about the property of paying taxes is beyond the experience of most children. Children express simple patriotism based on pride in their country and a sense of belonging to their country. Jesus says to them that these feelings and the usual patriotic activities are fine, as long as they do not usurp God's primary place in our lives. It will be several years before they can identify, with real understanding, the areas in which God and country can conflict.

Watch Words

Though the word holy does not appear often in today's texts, it is the key description of God. Use holy repeatedly today. Explore what it says about God's power, love, justice, and the fact that God exceeds our imagination. Older children enjoy "playing" with hole, whole, and holy.

Avoid anthropomorphic. Describe instead our tendency to describe God as if God were a person.

Let the Children Sing

Even nonreaders can sing the repeated Holys in each verse of "Holy, Holy, Holy!" To help children understand this often-used hymn, read and explain one verse before the congregation sings it.

Praise God with "Now Thank We All Our God."

"Take Time to Be Holy" reminds us to practice God's presence in several very simple, understandable ways.

"Go with Us, Lord," a closing prayer set to the Tallis Canon, could be sung by a children's class or choir, to send the congregation out in God's presence at the benediction.

The Liturgical Child

  1. If you are focusing on the presence of God, invite a children's class to memorize and say Psalm 100:1-3a as the call to worship. If the same group concludes the service with the "Go with Us, Lord" canon, their practice time would offer an opportunity to discuss the ways we know of God's presence, both in worship and as we go about our daily lives.
  2. Present Exodus 33:12-23 as the dialog that it is. Two readers may take the parts of Moses and God, omitting all the "he saids." Or one reader may read both parts, assuming different positions in the lectern for God and for Moses. Plan carefully the way each phrase will be emphasized. Practice is needed to give this reading feeling. If one reader presents the text, avoid the confusing pronouns of the RSV and the NRSV. The Good News Bible sets the conversation most clearly in its story context and may be the best choice.
  3. If you celebrate Communion during this service and generally use a Sanctus, feature it today. Talk about what it says about and to God, and why it is part of the sacrament. If the choir generally sings the Sanctus, ask that it be sung at the time you explore its meaning. Then urge children to listen for it.
  4. Invite worshipers to listen to 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 as if it were addressed to them. Build the prayers and sermon around ways the text fits, or does not fit, the worshipers, as individuals and as a congregation.

Sermon Resources

  1. Point out the word holy wherever it is carved, embroidered, or painted in your sanctuary. If there are other symbols for God in your sanctuary, build a sermon around identifying and expounding on them.
  2. Identify the ways we sense God's presence with us and compare them with the ways Moses' followers knew of God's presence in the desert. Children often sense God's presence in creation, through their fascination with small animals and insects such as lightning bugs, or through their amazement at the bigness of things such as the ocean. Many children can tell stories about feeling God close to them when they were very frightened (in the dark or during a storm) or when they were alone (especially if they thought they ere lost). Children of strong families can sense God's presence in the security and happiness of their family life, if their parents have thus interpreted it to them. Some children carry deep guilt and fear of God's judgment, based on their belief that God has seen them do something of which they are ashamed. These children understand the demand of God's presence and need help to accept God's loving, forgiving presence. Some children sense God's presence in the congregation's worship (particularly in special services such as a candle-lighting service), in work, and in fellowship.
  3. Write a letter to your congregation in the spirit of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. Illustrate general praises with specific examples of congregational strengths and activities. Be sure to cite activities in which children have participated, so they can feel that your letter is for them as well as for the adults.

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

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