Worship for Kids: February 12, 2012

January 16th, 2012

From a Child's Point of View

Two of today's lections describe the healing of lepers. Children are curious about leprosy. They want to know: (1) what leprosy is and what it does to a person; (2) why lepers have to leave their homes and towns (children who depend on their parents for survival are frightened by such separation); and (3) why there are not as many lepers today as there were in the Bible. An encyclopedia can provide concrete answers to such questions.

Gospel: Mark 1:40-45. For children, this is the less interesting of today's healing stories. It simply says that Jesus was able to cure lepers, and he did. Because children have many taboos about touching, Jesus' touching a leper can be explored as a sign of Jesus' love, and as a challenge for us to take risks for others.

Old Testament: 1 Kings 5:1-14. The story of Namaan's cure appeals to children because the heroine is a little girl. The fact that a little slave girl provided the key information about the cure and that General Namaan and his wife took her suggestion delights children, who often feel that adults do not take their ideas seriously.

The story makes two related points. First, God is at work in everyday events, as well as in extraordinary ones. Children who grow up hearing the spectacular biblical stories often overlook God at work in the love of their families, the activities of their church, and the events of their own lives. This story encourages children to look for God at work in the everyday.

Second, as Namaan's servant pointed out, we should be as willing to do nonspectacular deeds as we are to do the dramatic ones. Children often undervalue their deeds of lovingkindness and playground peacemaking. They want to do heroic deeds and solve big problems in single strokes. They need to be reminded that God is working out the big plan through all our little efforts. Just as God used information from the slave girl and cured Namaan with a bath in a muddy river, God uses our efforts to care for others.

Psalm: 30. Poetic images of death and references to God being angry and hiding from people keep children from following this psalm as a whole. But if they are told before the reading that this is a prayer that a leper might have prayed after being healed, they can hear and understand occasional phrases.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. The Corinthians were sports crazy. Their Isthmian games were second only to the Olympics. All of Paul's sports references indicate that he was also an avid fan. Sports-minded children appreciate Paul's interest but are confused by his jumble of sports images and depend upon the preacher to explain them.

In the context of the chapter, Paul makes two points. First, just as discipline is necessary for athletes to win at sports, it is necessary for Christians in order to achieve their goal of proclaiming the good news to all the world. Christians must be just as willing to do what Paul described in the beginning of the chapter as a boxer is willing to take a beating from his sparring partner in order to win in the championship ring.

Second, our goal is longer lasting than that of the athlete. Even if today's trophies are more durable than laurel wreaths, children realize that winning is short-term. This year's champions are replaced by next year's. Every new record is eventually broken. Still, children think winning is worth the discipline. Paul agrees, but insists that because the proclamation of the gospel wins permanent results, it is even more worthy of our discipline.

Finally, Paul throws out a warning worthy of a coach. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if you invited your friends to join you in a big race, and then you were disqualified, while they won all the ribbons? Similarly, wouldn't it be embarrassing if the people you invited to church became great Christian disciples, while you refused to discipline yourself enough to be effective?

Watch Words

When using sports terms metaphorically, remember that children think literally. They often infer from references to "winning the victory" that Christians are playing some sort of game with God and that only those who excel will win God's favor and a place in heaven. To help them understand the metaphors, cite specific ways we can discipline ourselves and specific goals that we, as Christians, aim for.

Let the Children Sing

Good discipline hymns include "Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated," with it's reference to using our bodies, and "I'm Gonna Live So God Can Use Me." In "God of Grace and God of Glory," young readers can sing the repeated line, "grant us wisdom, grant us courage"; as their reading abilities grow, they will catch more and more of the verses.

Songs about Jesus touching people, such as "He Touched Me," often reduce children to giggles and poking each other.

The Liturgical Child

1. Have the story of Namaan's cure panto-mimed as it is read. To emphasize the presence of the little girl and to involve actors able to communicate the feelings of the different characters, type-cast people of all ages. During a practice session, work on expressing feelings with the whole body as well as with the face. (Provide simple costumes, or perhaps one character-defining prop for each player. For example, Namaan's wife could carry a hand mirror; the little slave girl, a hair brush.)

2. Prayer of Confession: God our Creator, we all want to be winners, we want to succeed, we want to do great things for you. But we are not as eager to do the work. We are slow to read the Bible and build our understanding of your will. We hardly pay attention in worship and are lazy about making time to pray. We dream of doing big things in your name, but we ignore the needs of people we work and play with every day. We talk about feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, and making the world fair, but we always have excuses for not working on church mission projects. We give only our leftover money. Forgive us and discipline us. Help us to shape up into the strong, active Christians you call us to be. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: God knows that we cannot do it on our own. God forgives us when we fail, and even when we do not try. God also promises to work with us and through us, giving us power and discipline we never imagined possible. Thanks be to God!

Sermon Resources

1. Younger children are very sensitive about touching. Teachers insist that they keep their hands to themselves. During this cold and flu season, adults urge them not to touch people with colds. Boys and girls refuse to sit by, stand in line with, or risk any other physical contact with the opposite sex. On the playground, boys and girls chase members of the opposite sex, trying to defile them with a touch. Unpopular children are often teased about having transmittable cooties. Lucy (in the "Peanuts" comics) expresses this fear in her squeamishness about anything that has been touched by dog lips.

2. Take on the role of a coach addressing the team. Point out the goals. Describe specific disciplines necessary to achieve them. Review some current strategies that is, describe current ministry efforts as parts of the game plan. Urge the team on. Remind them of those who are worthy of Hall of Fame status and encourage others to follow their example. Consider wearing a baseball cap while delivering this charge to your congregational team.

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

About the Author

Carolyn C. Brown

Carolyn C. Brown is a certified Christian educator and children’s ministry consultant who believes children read more…
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