Worship for Kids: April 30, 2023

April 1st, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: John 10:1-10. This text offers two shepherd-based images of Jesus. Children respond more readily to comparing Jesus to a shepherd than to the door of a sheep gate. The former compares a person to a person rather than to a thing, and the care given by the shepherd is more significant to children than the security and freedom provided by the door.

The point that the shepherd knows each of the sheep by name is crucial to children. It is the promise that God knows them, loves them, and calls them as individuals, rather than as members of any group. This truth is especially significant to children who spend most of their lives in groups (in a class at school, in after-school care, at a day-care center). Such children often sense that adult leaders know them simply by the way they act in the group rather than by who they are as individuals, with their own experiences, dreams, and feelings.

To understand what it means to recognize the voice of the shepherd, children need to hear about the practice of penning all the village sheep together for the night. In the morning, each shepherd would enter the fold with a unique whistle or call. The sheep of each flock recognized their shepherd's voice and followed it. Younger children are satisfied with knowing this background and hearing the text. Fifth- and sixth-graders are ready to explore the way we recognize God's voice. That is, it is a loving voice (the voice that says we are no good is not the Good Shepherd's voice). It calls us to love and share (the voice that says, "If you want it, take it," is not the Good Shepherd's voice). It directs firmly and gently, rather than threateningly (the voice that says, "Come with me, or . . ." is not the Good Shepherd's voice). And it invites and challenges us to be our best (the voice that says, "You don't need to worry about that—it's too hard," is not the Good Shepherd's voice).

Psalm: 23. Though many children and most adults know this as the Shepherd Psalm, it could be more accurately titled "God is Like." The psalmist compares God to two once familiar human figures—the shepherd (vss. 1-4) and the host (vss. 5-6). Unfortunately, those figures are no longer as familiar to today's children. Most children have little contact with sheep or shepherds, and no children have met a host who poured oil on their heads! Younger children are content to hear the jobs of a shepherd and a host described. Older children are interested, but they need help in identifying the details of those jobs in the phrases of the psalm. Once they understand the details of the shepherd's job, most children find great security in the psalmist's comparison. Pictures that depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd are often favorites with children. Perhaps they imagine themselves as the sheep loved and cared for by Jesus, the Shepherd, with the same love they lavish on their pets.

Epistle: 1 Peter 2:19-25. This text is difficult for children for two reasons. First, the shepherd image used to describe Jesus' suffering death is derived from atonement theology based on the Temple sacrifices. Adults who understand atonement theology can see the connection between the shepherd's suffering on behalf of the sheep and Jesus' suffering. Children do not have the ability to think in this way.

Second, the writer's main point, that we should suffer injustice meekly, as Jesus did throughout his trial and crucifixion, seems to contradict adult encouragement to stand up for their own rights and the rights of others. So either bypass this text, or focus on it by digging into its challenging instructions for our relationships with those in authority who treat us poorly.

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47. This is a description of the church on its best behavior. The activities described are familiar to children: studying God's Word, enjoying church friends, worshiping, taking care of one another, serving people beyond the church. The text comes to life for children when it is illustrated with current activities in which they participate in their own church.

Watch Words

Do not assume that children know all the shepherd words—flock, fold, rod, staff. The most familiar staff to many children is the “shepherd's” crook used at swimming pools to reach swimmers who are in trouble.

Let the Children Sing

Before singing a hymn based on Psalm 23, point out its biblical base. Choose a hymn version of the psalm with which your congregation is familiar and, if possible, one with contemporary, rather than Elizabethan, vocabulary.

The repeated phrases in the chorus of "He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought" almost make up for the complex vocabulary of its verses. Most other "shepherd" hymns involve abstract concepts that make little sense to children.

The Liturgical Child

1. Include Good Shepherd art in worship. Hang a banner featuring shepherd's tools. Carry a shepherd's crook in the processional and display it prominently during worship. Display and explain the shepherd's-crook cross Chrismon ornament. If your sanctuary includes a Good Shepherd stained-glass window or painting, be sure to refer to it.

2. Psalm 23 is one psalm many congregations can read in unison with more than the usual feeling. The New Revised Standard Version is most child accessible. But if the King James Version will be read by the worshipers in a way that radiates their love of it, children will hear the message of the psalmist in the feelings shown in the voices.

3. Create a responsive prayer about the care and leadership of the Good Shepherd. Praise God's loving care. Thank God for knowing us as individuals with unique talents, dreams, and needs. Ask for the willingness to develop those talents and work to make the dreams come true. Confess our tendency to ignore God's voice when it calls us to work we would rather not do. Pray for the attentiveness to recognize the difference between God's voice and other voices. The congregation's response to each prayer: "God, you call each of us by name."

Sermon Resources

1. Compare the work of a good shepherd to that of a good babysitter, a good tour guide or field-trip leader, or an older sibling who takes good care of younger brothers and sisters.

2. Describe (or demonstrate if you feel brave) the way people call or whistle for their pets. Then describe the way parents call their children and children call their parents. Point out that we can tell from a call not only who is being called, but what is expected, and even how the caller is feeling. This leads into exploring the Good Shepherd's call to the sheep.

3. "And Now Miguel" by Joseph Krumgold (Harper & Row, 1984) tells about twelve-year-old Miguel, who is working to become one of the men in his family of New Mexican shepherds. Chapters 4 and 5 describe the care of sheep. The painting of matching numbers on ewes and their lambs to keep them together catches the attention of worshipers of all ages and demonstrates the importance of the shepherd's work.

4. When discussing 1 Peter, identify some of the "masters" most likely to trouble us today. Some that trouble children include teachers, coaches, or group leaders who do not like or understand them; baby-sitters who view them as burdens rather than as people worth knowing; and older brothers and sisters who do not appreciate the persons they are now. Describe ways of following Jesus' example in dealing with such people.

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