From a Child's Point of View
Children are more interested in the story of Pentecost than in Peter's sermon. Before reading the story, help them recognize the difference that God's Spirit made in the lives of the disciples by reminding them that the disciples had been hiding out together, excited and frightened about what happened at Easter, but even more frightened about what might happen to them next. There are really two Pentecost miracles: (1) the uneducated disciples spoke foreign languages; and (2) the frightened disciples spoke bravely and publicly about Jesus. The second miracle is the one that children are most likely to experience.
The first and last lines of Peter's sermon are key for children. God's Spirit was poured out on everyone, and everyone who welcomed God's Spirit was saved (belonged to God). To complete the story, add verse 41 and perhaps 42.
Romans 8:22-27. The apocalyptic background and big words (adoption, redemption, etc.) make this text nearly impossible for children to understand as it is read. Its message for children is that the activity of the Holy Spirit gives us hope. Hope, however, needs to be carefully defined so that it refers not to our hope for such things as a Nintendo for a birthday, but to our hope for things such as a time when everyone will get along happily, a time when all the hungry are fed, and so forth. We have God's promise that each of these things will one day happen, and we can tell stories that prove that God is working to make them happen, although sometimes it seems impossible that they will ever happen. The Holy Spirit reminds us of God's promises and gives us the courage to keep on working and hoping, even when it looks as if the problems are too big to be solved. And the Spirit works through us to do more than we could do on our own.
The intercession of the Holy Spirit (vss. 26-27) is hard to explain to children without making God seem like a fearsome judge, from whom we need the protection of the more understanding Spirit. It is clearer simply to say that the Holy Spirit lets us know that God is close to us, loving and caring for us.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15. John's abstract language and sophisticated theology also lose children. But he has two related things to say to them about the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit is God's way of being with us after Jesus was no longer with us. So on Pentecost, we remember that God is with us always, in every situation. Second, the Holy Spirit also helps us to know what is true. Even young children are confronted by a dizzying array of claims about what is right and good. Ads tell them they need certain cereal, clothes, and toys to be happy. Teachers tell them what they must do to be successful. Other children urge them into all sorts of activities from cheating to hunger-relief walkathons saying that they are fun and acceptable. God's Holy Spirit works deep within each of us, helping us to know which claims are really true.
Ezekiel 37:1-14. Children delight in the mental picture of dry bones coming together into skeletons, to which muscles and skin are added before God breathes life into them. Once they have had a chance to enjoy this picture and have identified the power that can achieve such a feat, older children are ready to hear the Pentecost point: that the Holy Spirit not only can bring dry bones back to life, the Holy Spirit can resolve situations that look hopeless. For example, the Spirit can lead people who are prisoners of war in a foreign country back home. We can count on the Holy Spirit to be with us in the worst of our problems and to work through us to solve them. Celebrating the power of the Holy Spirit gives us the hope of which Paul spoke.
Psalm: 104:24-34, 35b. The psalmist praises the Spirit's work in creation. On a day devoted to the Spirit's role in the church, this is peripheral, so save this psalm for a day when God's creation can be the focus of worship.
Use Pentecost frequently today to build familiarity with this holy day that is not celebrated at all in the larger society. Tongues of fire are small flames.
Speak of the Holy Spirit, rather than the Holy Ghost, which sounds like a somewhat friendly Halloween spook.
Let the Children Sing
"Breathe on Me, Breath of God" and "Spirit of the Living God" are good Pentecost hymns for children. And though they miss most of the verses, children do catch the repeated opening line and changing titles for the Holy Spirit in "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine."
"Open My Eyes That I May See" is a natural choice when the focus is on the Romans text. Children pick up the repeated chorus quickly and follow the verses about different parts of the body. They do need a paraphrase of illumine me perhaps "Fill me with understanding."
For an intergenerational Pentecost celebration:
—Ask a children's choir or class to sing the first two verses (the storytelling verses) of "On Pentecost They Gathered," with the adult choir or congregation singing verses 3 and 4 (the commentary verses). Or
—Invite a kindergarten choir or class to sing the choruses of "We Are the Church" (maybe with hand motions), with the congregation singing the verses. Sing the verses in reverse order starting with the verse about Pentecost.
Singing "Happy Birthday" to the church remains the most meaningful Pentecost song for young children.
The Liturgical Child
1. Ask each household to bring one candle (red if possible) in a sturdy holder to place on the central table. As worshipers arrive, have ushers instruct them to place their candles on the table before taking seats. (Provide candles for those who arrive without.) Begin worship by reading Acts 2:1-4a, and continue with: "Come, let us worship God. Let us be alert for God's Holy Spirit moving among us, filling us with the power to be God's people."
Then during an opening Pentecost hymn of praise, have acolytes or a class of younger teenagers light all the candles. At the close of the service, have them extinguish the candles. Invite worshipers to take their candle home and light it at mealtime each day this week, as a reminder that God's Spirit rests on each one of us, every day.
2. A prayer leader could describe a series of seemingly hopeless situations which children worry about, to each of which the congregation would respond: "Holy Spirit, come stay in us. Give us courage and hope. Work through us until your will is done." For example:
God, you gave us families as gifts. But often we treat our brothers and sisters worse than we treat bullies on the street, and we treat our husbands and wives with less respect than we give strangers. Simple chores cause major battles. Instead of friendly conversation, gripes about "Who gets what" and "Who gets to do what," instead of friendly conversation dominate the dinner table. Too often, our families seem like a terrible burden instead of a wonderful gift. (RESPONSE) God, it's hard to imagine being really hungry and not knowing when or if you're going to eat again. But we see pictures of people in faraway places, and in our own town, who know exactly how it feels. We want to help, but we do not know how. The problem seems hopelessly big for us. (RESPONSE)
1. Describe before and after experiences with the Holy Spirit: the disciples before and after Pentecost; the Hebrews in exile and returned (Ezekiel); feelings when we are trapped in a hopeless situation and when that situation is resolved through God's Spirit working in us (e.g., we accidently make friends with someone who had been making our life miserable).
2. Cite claims made in specific current commercials and describe how God's Spirit (the Spirit of truth) helps us to know which claims are "true." Cite several commercials, each aimed at viewers of a different age. Watching children's programs for an hour on Saturday morning will provide several good examples of what will promote happiness, friends, and strength.