Worship for Kids: February 28, 2021

January 9th, 2021

From a Child's Point of View

Today's texts are loosely gathered around the meaning of life in covenant with God.

Old Testament: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. The story of God's announcing the covenant to Abram is simple, especially as presented in The Good News Bible. Abram and Sarai are promised that from them will come great nations, and they are given new names as a sign of that promise. Children are fascinated with names, especially those with special meaning. They like Native American names and often adopt secret names among themselves. So they tend to focus on the new names and, unless they are pointed out, are likely to overlook God's introductory instructions: "Obey me and always do what is right." In so doing, they miss a key part of what it means to live in covenant with God.

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38. While the Genesis account focuses on God's covenant promises, the Gospel lesson focuses on what living in covenant with God requires. Unfortunately, Jesus' symbolic talk about finding life and taking up crosses is hard for children to understand. They depend on the preacher to describe the temptation to take the easy, selfish way, rather than do God's hard work of loving and caring for others. They need to hear that sometimes, to love and care for others, God asks us to take stands that make us unpopular or to give up what we want and need.

Jesus also points to a strange surprise. When we are hurt because we obey God or when we give up what is ours in order to take care of others, we find a special kind of happiness that makes the pain more bearable. Adults who try to use the thoughts of this happiness to bribe children, or who force them to admit to experiencing it when they have been coerced into a self-sacrificing deed they did not want to do, steal the joy. It is more effective to present the happiness as a mystery which Jesus told us about, and then alert children to watch for it when they choose to do self-sacrificing deeds.

Epistle: Romans 4:13-25. Paul's point, that we take up crosses not in order to gain God's salvation (or earn the covenant promises) but in response to God's salvation, is too subtle for children. For them, faith such as Abraham and Sarah had means deciding to follow God even when it causes discomfort. Abraham and Sarah decided that following God was worth the risks of the travel and all the comforts they gave up. They decided that there were things more important than a comfortable home, good food, and even being safe. Jesus and Paul agreed. All of them took many risks and suffered for their decisions. But all said they were happy with their decisions, and they call us to obey God, no matter what it costs.

Paul assumes that his readers know the story of Abraham and Sarah in detail. While children may have heard most of it, they will need to hear it again, with attention focused on the specific risks and hardships involved.

Psalm: 22:23-31. Children will catch occasional phrases of this hymn of praise, but neither the phrases nor the whole will grab their attention.

Watch Words

Covenant, a key Christian term that is not familiar to children, is an agreement. People make covenants when they marry, or when nations sign agreements about what they will and will not do. The Bible describes several covenants that God offers to people.

In today's texts, faith means trusting God so completely that we will risk our comfort and safety to obey God. Faith is acting as if the self-giving ways of God are better than self-serving ones.

For children, a cross is a wooden means of execution. Jesus was killed on a cross. Calls to take up your cross need to be illustrated with specific examples of ways we can give up our own wants, comfort, and even safety, in order to take care of others.

Let the Children Sing

Be careful with hymns about taking up crosses. Their symbolic, often obsolete language confuses children. To introduce the new hymn "Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said," read and put into your own words the first verse or two. (The verses become progressively more difficult for children to understand.)

"Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley" is the easiest song about suffering obedience for children. If the story sequence of the verses of "Go to Dark Gethsemane" is pointed out, older children can begin to learn it.

The Liturgical Child

1. Middle-elementary readers can join in reading this Prayer of Confession:

God of Abraham and Sarah, Abraham and Sarah obeyed you. They left their comfortable home to live in an unknown country. But we love our homes. We want to keep all our clothes, toys, and comforts. We are quick with excuses about giving any of them up. Forgive us. God of Paul, Paul spoke about you everywhere he went. For what he said, he was whipped, put in jail, and even stoned. But we are slow to speak up about you. We are afraid we will be embarrassed, or teased, or laughed at. Forgive us. Lord Jesus, you prayed not to have to die on the cross, but you obeyed. When we are called to do hard, frightening disciple's work, we make excuses or hide. Forgive us. Lord God, you call us to be disciples. Be with us. Give us the courage we need; for we pray in your name. Amen.

2. Give worshippers small plastic or metal crosses to carry in a pocket or purse during Lent, as a reminder that they are to be ready to do self-giving disciple's work. Sermon Resources

1. If you focus on bearing crosses, display a variety of crosses in the chancel. Include crosses of various sizes, materials, and styles. Use their meanings to explore what it means to "bear a cross."

2. Cite as examples of suffering discipleship the children and teenagers who integrated public schools in the South. Robert Coles describes their experiences in Children of Crisis, Vol. 1: A Study of Courage and Fear. Chapters 2 ("When I Draw the Lord, He'll Be a Real Big Man") and 3 ("The Students") offer children's accounts of what they experienced.

3. These two stories about self-sacrificing animals are appreciated by people of all ages: "Barrington Bunny," found in The Way of the Wolf by Martin Bell; and The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe.

4. Speak about the practice of "giving something up for Lent." Encourage worshipers of all ages to give up some pleasure in order to raise their contribution to the congregation's Lenten offering. Children can give up movie money or snack money or part of their pocket money so that others may have basic necessities.

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

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