Worship for Kids: February 9, 2020

January 1st, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12). Isaiah's basic message is that God is more interested in the way we treat other people than in religious observances such as fasting. Before children can understand the passage, they need a thorough explanation of fasting, as it was intended to be practiced and as it was misused. Children are generally interested in the idea of not eating and of wearing sackcloth and ashes in order to focus attention on God. They understand how easy it would be to become "crabby" while fasting and how fasting could be used to draw attention to "what a neat person I am."

Older children need to explore the difference between religious fasts, which focus attention on God, and hunger strikes, which people use to try to force governments or other groups to meet their demands. Because fasting is not part of the Christian experience of many children today, it is easy for them to see the point Isaiah was making to those who were misusing the practice. The challenge is to help children see that we can misuse worship attendance and our other religious activities in the same way.

When exploring the list of activities in verses 6-7, be sure to include some in which children participate.

Psalm: 112:1-9 (10). Psalm 112 is an acrostic which describes the righteous. The lines are a somewhat disjointed series of statements which include abstract vocabulary (gracious, merciful) and unfamiliar phrases (conduct their affairs, deal generously, will never be moved). Older children, if encouraged, can understand a line here and there as the verses are read. In general, children will learn most as the ideas in the psalm are discussed in more familiar terms.

Epistle: I Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16). Children will make little sense of this passage as it is read, but within it are two points about wisdom ("being smart") that they need to hear. To children, "wisdom" is being able to understand what is going on around them and knowing what to do in all situations—"street smarts" for their particular streets is the wisdom they crave.

Paul's point in verses 6-11 is that there is a specifically Christian "wisdom" that is different from what many people today think is wise. Others may suggest that it is wise to cheat, be nice only to people who can help you, grab the things you want and need, and even steal when necessary. But Paul says that wise Christians tell the truth, share, and treat everyone lovingly—especially those who have nothing to give.

In children's words, Paul's message in verses 1-5 is, "I am not a smart person who figured out all this about God on my own. Everything I have told you comes from God. God's wisdom is better than any ideas people have ever come up with."

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20. This passage uses everyday things—salt and light—to encourage people to be disciples and to describe the world's need of disciples. But do not assume that children on their own will be able to list the characteristics of salt or follow what is said about lighting a home at night. They will need to hear these things reviewed in detail.

The discussion of keeping the Law in verses 17-20 requires knowledge of "the righteousness of the Pharisees" that is beyond the understanding of children.

Once they recall the functions of salt and light, children will be ready to compare them with the functions of disciples. They can also appreciate the picture of a world without salt or light and recognize that their discipleship makes a big difference.

Watch Words

Righteous does not have positive connotations among children. They are most likely to have heard it as self-righteous and associate it with unnecessarily strict and prudish approaches to life. They would prefer to be among "disciples" or "people of God" than to be "the righteous."

Do not use fasting without explaining the practice. Clarence Jordan, in Sermon on the Mount (Judson, 1970), defined true fasting as working so hard or being so committed to something that we forget to eat. In this view, fasting is a verb form of the adverb fast and means to move so quickly and intently toward a goal that all else is forgotten. Children enjoy identifying times they have fasted in this sense.

Let the Children Sing

Most hymns about light focus on Jesus as the light and include very difficult vocabulary and concepts for children. Probably the best choice of a discipleship hymn is "Lord, I Want to be a Christian."

If it is familiar, sing "Be Thou My Vision." Consider using the hymn as an outline for a sermon that compares God's wisdom with that of the world.

The Liturgical Child

1. Before reading Isaiah 58:1-12, introduce both the intended practice of fasting and the way people were abusing it. Briefly point out the question/answer format in the passage. Then have the passage read by two readers, one taking the prophet's part, reading accusingly verses 1-2 and 3b-12; the second reader interrupts in the role of the surprised people, to pose the question in verse 3a. Both readers should use voice inflection and facial expression to emphasize both the format and the meaning of the exchange. Practice reading so that the rhetorical questions in verses 5-7 imply their answers.

2. Prayer of Confession: Lord, we can taste the difference salt makes on food, and we can see the difference light makes. We also know that you call us to make a difference in our world, but we confess that much of the time, we would rather not make a difference. We are not brave enough to take a stand for what we know is right. We prefer to stay with our own friends rather than make friends with the friendless. We would rather do what we want to do than take care of others. We want to be one of the crowd and safe. Forgive us. Give us the power to light up the world with your love and to season it with your justice. Amen.

Sermon Resources

1. To explore the significance of Isaiah's message to nonfasting Christians, describe the actions and feelings of a family as the members get ready for, go to, and return from church on Sunday, without ever experiencing or sharing God's love. Include griping about having to go, arguing about what will be worn; children bickering in the car; children calling other children in their class cruel names; adults making negative comments about the sermon; and so forth.

2. Compare the uses of salt with the functions of disciples. Just as salt is used to clean and heal (e.g., gargling with warm salt water), so Christians are to work on healing people who are hurting. Just as salt is spread on sidewalks to melt ice and snow, Christians can work on "melting" the hatred and similar attitudes which make the world dangerous. Just as salt makes popcorn and fries tastier, Christians can make life happier by doing little kindnesses and saying friendly words. Just as salt works with the ice to make unnecessary but delicious ice cream, Christians, out of love, work to provide some of the things people need in order to enjoy life. Christians know that God wants everyone to enjoy some of the good things of this world.

3. Advertise a new product—saltless salt. It looks like salt but does not taste like salt. It shakes and pours like salt, but it does not melt ice or make food tastier. It burns like salt burns on a cut or sore throat, but it does not heal. Compare this useless product with people who claim to be Christian but do nothing to help those who are hurting; who spread bitter feelings instead of happy ones; and so forth. Suggest that such Christians are as useless as saltless salt.

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