Worship for Kids: May 14, 2023

April 6th, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31. Older children will be interested in Paul's strategy in this sermon. To understand that strategy, they will need to hear about Paul's visit to Athens and some of the gods and goddesses people there worshiped.

Paul's sophisticated sermon leads children to ponder what God is like. Paul says God is bigger and more powerful than anything we can imagine. God is too mysterious to be painted or carved into a statue. God created the whole universe and everything in it. God created all the people and spread them out around the world. This means that all of us are God's children, part of one human family. But even though God is so much more than we are, God is very close to us, loving us and caring for us. And God wants us to know God. God lived among us as Jesus so that we could know God. Paul's final point—that because we know about God through Jesus, God will judge us—raises questions about the responsibility that comes with knowledge. These questions complicate the day's theme for children. So, for clarity, focus on what God is like and save the matter of responsibility for another time.

Gospel: John 14:15-21. This complex theological statement is not a text one would choose to explore with children. But when it is linked with the Acts lesson, it offers another opportunity to explore the mysterious God. The phrase in verse 20, "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you" (NRSV), invites further exploration of the ways God is close to us. Children quickly agree that because God was in Jesus, Jesus loved people, healed them, and even died rather than stop loving them. But they need encouragement to believe that God is also deep within each of us, loving us and giving us the power to love others—if we will listen. One of the best ways to listen is to follow Jesus' commandment to love others. Part of the mystery is that the more we love others, the more aware we become of God's loving presence; and the more we are aware of God's loving presence, the more we are able to really love others.

Epistle: 1 Peter 3:13-22. This text urges Christians who are suffering because they love others, as Jesus commanded, not to give in but to keep loving, and be ready to explain their actions to those who ask why they are doing what they are doing. The writer reminds them that Jesus also suffered for loving them. If the passage is illustrated with examples of children who suffer the consequences of trying to love the unlovable at school or in the neighborhood, the lection offers children the same encouragement it offers adults.

The allusions to Noah's ark and to baptism require more explanation than their meaning for children merits.

Psalm: 66:8-20. This psalm requires that readers know the broad sweep of Old Testament events and understand the significance of Temple sacrifices. Verses 10-12 are a series of poetic images, each requiring some explanation for children. These problems and the psalmist's understanding of God-sent suffering make this psalm inaccessible to children.

Watch Words

Introduce the word mysterious to describe God, who is more than we can even imagine. Surround the word with everyday examples of God's power and love, which provoke wonder and security rather than fear of the unknown and incomprehensible.

Avoid describing the mystery of God in big theological words such as omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient.

Let the Children Sing

Praise the mysterious God by singing "I Sing the Almighty Power of God," "How Great Thou Art," or "For the Beauty of the Earth."

Sing "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" only after pointing out some of the mysterious words and phrases that describe God, who is more than we can ever imagine—immortal, invisible, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, unresting, unhasting, and silent as light.

Ask a children's class or choir to lead the congregation in praying for God's presence by singing "Kum Ba Yah, My Lord." They may want to illustrate the song with hand motions as they sing.

The Liturgical Child

1. Praise God with a litany. The congregation's response: Praise God, who is greater than we can imagine.

God, you are the Creator. You created the world and everything in it. You spun out galaxies and stars. You formed the mountains and the oceans. You imagined and made elephants and ants, whales and minnows, corn and roses and people. (RESPONSE)
God, you are forever. We know that everything you made has a beginning and an end. Even mountains are born and die. But you always have been and always will be. (RESPONSE)
God, you are more than a father or mother. You made us, and you know all there is to know about each of us. You are always with us, always ready to respond when we pray. (RESPONSE)
God, you are greater love than we can imagine. You came among us as Jesus to show us that love. You care for us and forgive us, even when we do not deserve it. (RESPONSE)

2. To set the Acts reading in context, tell about Paul's visit to Athens, describe some of the city's shrines to gods and goddesses, tell how he came to the Council, then clear your voice and assume the role of Paul. Read the words as you think Paul would have said them to that erudite crowd. With your hand, sweep the crowd as you read verse 22. Then point behind you to imaginary shrines in the distance.

4. If you sing the Gloria Patri weekly, feature it today. After it is sung at its usual spot in the service, interrupt briefly to examine what we sing about the mysterious God, and why we sing that at this particular point in worship. Then invite the congregation to sing it again.

Sermon Resources

1. Begin the exploration of what God is like by citing some of the unanswerable questions children ask about God. Who was here before God? (No one. God always was. Before anything else, God was.) Who made God? (No one. God has always been. There was never a time before God.) How can God hear everyone's prayers at once? (We don't know how. We just know God can.) How can God care for everyone in the world at the same time? (We don't know how. We just know God does.) Where does God live? (God is everywhere.) What does God look like? (We cannot see God.) Point out that most of these answers do not really satisfy our curiosity, because God is more than we can measure or describe or understand. People have been thinking about God and living with God for thousands of years, but we still do not know everything about God—and never will

2. Tell stories about God's presence as experienced by people doing mission work, people observing the beauty and power of God's creation (mountains, rainbows, intricate flowers), people worshiping with other Christians (Christmas candlelight services, Communion in different situations), and people struggling with difficult problems (illness, fears, family fights).

3. "The Great Gilly Hopkins" by Katherine Paterson (Harper & Row, 1987) is the story of the persevering love of fat and simple Trotter, the last in a long line of foster mothers and the sixth-grade teacher of Gilly Hopkins, a very difficult child to love. The book is filled with realistically humorous examples of suffering love that can be appreciated by worshipers of all ages.

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