From a Child's Point of View
First Reading: Acts 10:44-48. This is a story about a time the church changed its ways to keep up with what God was doing that is, including the Gentiles, upon whom the Holy Spirit had been poured. For adults, who tend to be threatened by calls to change their ways, this is challenging reading. But for children, who are continually changing their ways as they age into new groups and come under the influence of new adults, the story has less power. For them, it is simply another story which restates God's insistence that all people be welcomed into the church. Last week's story about Philip and the Ethiopian is a more intriguing one with which to explore this theme. If you do explore this text in depth, be sure to present it in the context of the whole story of Peter's encounter with Cornelius.
Psalm: 98. This psalm is a series of happy shouts, praising God, who brings all the people of the world together into one united group. It is meant to be felt and experienced rather than intellectually understood. So, presentation is key. If they hear it read in a stately monotone, children will fail to grasp its message. But if they are invited to join in an upbeat reading, they will catch on immediately.
Though the content and feelings of the psalm are child-accessible, the language used in most translations is not. The Good News Bible, however, uses words that children understand and that older children can read fairly readily.
Gospel and Epistle: 1 John 15:9-17 and 1 John 5:1-6. Children understand John's linking of love (or friendship) and obedience, because children obey people rather than rules. An adult or bigger child whom they neither like nor respect may force them to obey a set of rules to avoid punishment at least while that person is there to make good on threats. But the rules they truly accept and follow by choice are those that come from people they like and want to imitate. A Scout is more likely to adopt the Scout laws if the leaders who present them live them out in ways that are attractive to the younger Scouts. Young athletes follow the disciplines that are followed by their sports heroes. Similarly, Christians show their love of God by obeying God. Our "heroic example" is Jesus, who followed God's law of love, even when it led to his death.
Children have trouble with traditional explanations of how Jesus' death affects them (he "laid down his life for you"). Because they have not grown up with the sacrificial systems of first-century religious life, they do not understand why someone else's death would appease God for their sins. Especially if they have grown up hearing about God's forgiving love, atonement and expiation theology do not make much sense. So for children, Jesus sets the example not by going to the cross on their behalf, but by obeying God even at the cost of his life. God said we should love, even when people hurt us rather than love us back. Jesus did. And we are to follow his example.
The circumcised believers in Acts are simply Jewish believers.
Most children hear lyre (e.g., praise God with the lyre) as liar.
Abide means stay close to. To lay down my life means to be killed.
Let the Children Sing
Singing Christmas songs at Easter is fun. So point out that "Joy to the World!" is based on Psalms 98 and celebrates God at work in the world not just at Christmas, but every day. Then enjoy singing it for the Risen Christ.
"Earth and All Stars" also is based on Psalms 98, but adds calls for praise to modern groups of people and situations. (If this is used as an opening hymn, precede it with a Call to Worship based on Psalms 98:1, 4-9.)
"Lord, I Want to Be a Christian," with its verses about being "like Jesus" and "more loving" is the best children's hymn about loving obedience. The chorus of "Trust and Obey" is easy for children, but the vocabulary of the verses is difficult. If you sing it, take time to explain one or two key phrases.
The Ghanaian hymn, "Jesu, Jesu Fill Us with Your Love," which was suggested for last Sunday, is also fitting for today. Singing it two Sundays in a row is a good way to learn a new hymn.
The Liturgical Child
1. Psalms 98 might have been shouted responsively by the Jewish and Gentile Christians after the latter were baptized. The Good News Bible offers a translation that lends itself to responsive reading between choir and congregation or two halves of the congregation. Be sure each group has strong leadership to set the exuberant tone of the psalm:
All: Verse 1a (Sing a new song to the Lord!)
Group 1: Verse 1b (He has done wonderful things!)
Group 2: Verse 1c (By his own power and holy strength, he has won the victory.)
Group 1: the "a" part of verses 2 through 8, with
Group 2: responding with the "b" part of verses 2 through 8
All: Verse 9
2. Prayer of Confession:
Loving God, we say we love you, but then most of the time, we ignore you. We say you are Lord of our lives, but then we allow our jobs, school work, and family responsibilities to take up so much time that we have none left for church, or even for prayer. We say we want to be like Jesus, but we also want to be the most popular, the best dressed, the most outstanding. Somehow, we let you get crowded out.
Forgive us for our weak love. Do not treat us the way we have treated you. Instead, help us to make time for your work and worship. Remind us of your rules when we are making everyday decisions, and be with us. For we pray in the name of Jesus, who loves us. Amen
1. Cite as examples of obedience young athletes or musicians who move across the country or around the world in order to be near the very best coach or teacher. Frequently, young gymnasts or skaters preparing for the Olympics will literally move in with a coach. During that period, they eat with those coaches, practice under their direction, study with them, and play with them. In short, they obey them in all things. Just as it takes this kind of obedience to win Olympic medals, it takes total obedience to God to be able to love as God calls us to love.
2. One Christmas Eve, Andrew M. Barr bought and personally delivered 100 sleeping bags to homeless people in his city. At another time, he read that while a group of teenagers were visiting his city on a church trip, their van, with all their clothes and money, had been stolen. He found out where they were staying and wrote them a check to replace their loss.
When he was interviewed, Mr. Barr said, "When I see someone in trouble, my brain goes on red alert, looking for something I might do to help. There's usually something you can do if you really look and see what's going on around you, if you make up your mind to do what you can, if you just listen." Mr. Barr is an example of a person who obediently loves others. (This story comes from a July 24, 1991, column by William Raspberry.)