Worship for Kids: February 12, 2023

January 7th, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Elementary-school children learn slowly, through experience, that the choices they make every day have consequences. At this age—as in weak moments later in life—they blame others for the consequences of their decisions. But as they grow, children take more and more responsibility for their actions. This passage speaks to children who are learning to make choices and to accept the consequences.

Moses tells Jews on the edge of the Promised Land that they will need to make choices in their new home. If the children are reminded of all that happened during the Exodus, they will realize that God had clearly shown these people how to make choices. They knew what God promised and what God expected. "Standing in the sandals" of these Jews, older children can begin to identify the choices they faced and what God had shown them about what they were to do.

It is important to point out that Moses did not say that God would punish the people if they made the wrong choices. Rather, Moses insisted that following God's ways leads naturally to good results, while following selfish, wicked ways leads to bad results.

Psalm: 119:1-8. The vocabulary of this psalm makes it almost impossible for children to follow. However, when they know that this is an acrostic made up of short statements about the benefits of following God's ways, children may understand one or two statements. Older children are helped if they are alerted before the reading to the eight words that are used for God's rules in these eight verses: Law, testimonies, ways, precepts, statues, commandments, ordinances, and statutes (repeated).

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37. Only the most mature children can grasp Jesus' point about living by the Spirit rather than by the letter of the Law. Their understanding begins with recognizing the close connection between strong feelings and actions. Younger children, however, are still learning to understand and live by the rules. For both, it may be more helpful to focus on one of Jesus' three examples.

The first example is the easiest because it deals with a familiar problem: anger. Jesus insists, and children know, that calling brothers and sisters names or being furious with friends (no matter how much the names and fury are deserved) leads to trouble. When we carry angry feelings around with us, eventually they explode into name calling, kicking, punching, and even killing. Because of that, Jesus says it is important to get rid of angry feelings. It is so important that even going to church worship God should be put off until we work out angry problems with others.

Note: Jesus never says that being angry is bad, only that it is dangerous. Children need to be assured that everyone becomes angry and that angry feelings are an important sign that something is terribly wrong. Challenge children to recognize this sign—angry feelings—and find ways to resolve the problem to which it points.

Jesus' second example is adultery—or family loyalty. He presents God's intention that people should live together in marriages and families, and that they should love and trust each other in all things at all times. In today's culture, that is not the norm, so children need to hear Jesus' vision affirmed, while they also need to hear that failed marriages, especially those of their parents, are forgivable. (Just as God forgives us when we fail to be kind or to be peacemakers, God forgives husbands and wives who fail to make their marriages last a lifetime.) But they do need to know that God expects us all to work hard to make our families lifetime commitments, and they need encouragement to dream of lifetime marriages for themselves. Though Jesus speaks of husbands and wives, children also are expected to be loyalty to their families. This includes babysitting with younger siblings (or grandparents), paying attention to and really listening to each other, working to get along together, and so forth.

Though they need adult help to decipher Jesus' third example, children, with their love of elaborate secret club oaths and "cross my fingers, hope to die," understand Jesus' insistence that we simply do what we say we will do. We should be so dependable that oaths are not necessary.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. The problem in the Corinthian church and the language with which Paul addresses it are beyond the understanding and experience of children. Paul's message about the immaturity of arguing and jealousy, however, does speak clearly to them. Children, often warned not to act like babies, enjoy Paul's telling the adults that they are acting like babies when they fuss and argue. That chuckle opens the door to discussion of our tendency, at all ages, to such behavior, and the challenge to grow beyond it.

Watch Words

Avoid abstract terms such a good and evil or life and death in describing the choices people face. Instead, speak of obeying God's rules or following God's ways.

Instead of speaking of adultery or lust, talk about family and marriage loyalty.

Let the Children Sing

Commit yourselves to making good choices with "Seek ye First" and "Open My Eyes, That I May See." Though it is not familiar to most children and some of its concepts are abstract, the vocabulary of "God of Our Life Through All the Circling Years" is simple enough for older elementary children to read and sing.

Sing about the resolution of angry feelings and bickering with "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Praise God for the blessings of family and church in the concrete words of "For the Beauty of the Earth."

The Liturgical Child

1. Before reading the Deuteronomy text, set it in context by recounting events from Exodus in which Jews learned what God wants and promises. Invite worshipers to imagine themselves among the crowd gathered near the border of the Promised Land. Then assume the role of Moses, addressing his followers with great passion and dramatic flair. Use your hands to indicate the two options being offered. Point at the crowd as you warn them in verse 17; point to heaven as you call for witnesses in verse 19.

2. Ask eight readers (perhaps an older children's class) to read this psalm, each reader reading one verse. Before the reading, explain that in this acrostic (alphabet poem), each verse is a separate statement about obeying God's rules. In Hebrew, each line begins with the letter Aleph.

3. Build a prayer of confession on our failures to choose God's ways as they are expressed in the Ten Commandments. One leader could read the Commandments, pausing after each one for another leader to offer a brief prayer related to it.

Or a single leader could offer ten prayers, following the same structure: "You have called us to . . . [cite one command], but we have chosen to. . . . Forgive us."

4. Use the Ten Commandments in a responsive affirmation of faith. The congregational response to the reading of each command: "God, we want to choose your ways."

5. If you focus on family loyalty, provide an opportunity for couples to renew their marriage vows, or for members of families to make promises to one another. Informal congregations may enjoy gathering in family groups to hold hands as they make the promises. Be sure to urge those whose families are not present to imagine the other members around them. Then line out promises for family members to repeat.

Just because we live together, that does not mean that we are a family. Loving one another, taking care of one another, and sharing good and bad experiences makes us a family. So now, in the presence of God, who creates all families, I invite you to make these promises to the members of your family:

You are my family. Because I love you, I promise to . . .
• really listen when you talk to me;
• tell you about both the good and the bad things that happen to me;
• make time for us to do things together;
• put up with you when you are crabby and moody; and
• pray for you every day.

Let us pray. Lord, these are not easy promises to keep. Be with us. Help us to keep our promises on happy days when they are easy, and on miserable days when they are had to keep. Help us remember our promises when what is happening to us seems so much more important than what is happening at home. Help us to share your love with one another until it spills over to people beyond our family. Amen.

Sermon Resources

1. Many parenting books speak about disciplining children with the "logical, natural consequences" of other activities. Tell stories about such discipline—perhaps from your own childhood—and compare it to the way God disciplines us.

2. This three-step method of dealing with anger helps people of all ages:

Step One: Work off the angry feelings. Everyone needs to know some safe, satisfactory ways to work off the steam of anger. Children often find that shooting baskets by themselves or some other physical exercise does the job.

Step Two: Think it through. After the angry feelings have been reduced, ask yourself the following questions:
What really happened?
Why did he/she/they do that?
Why did I do that?
What needs fixing?
What can I do to help fix it?

Step Three: Go to work. Decide what you need to do and get any help you need to do it. It often helps for a family member or friend to work with you, especially if you need to talk with the others involved.

3. A story about family loyalty in spite of problems, Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary describes nine-year-old Beezus' difficulties with a very pesky preschool sister. The last chapter tells how Ramona ruined two birthday cakes on Beezus' birthday, and how their mother and her sister told of the problems they had getting along when they were little girls.

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