Worship for Kids: July 23, 2023

June 5th, 2020

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: Genesis 28:10-19a. Children need help to understand this seemingly simple story. First, the context needs elaboration. Jacob, on his mother's advice, has run away from his angry brother. Totally alone for the first time in his life, he is sleeping in the desert on his way to the home of his unknown uncle. Scared and alone, he meets God in a dream. The ladder to heaven is God's way of telling Jacob that he is not alone. There is always communication between heaven and earth—between God and people. The vision is reinforced by God's words, promising to be with Jacob, to protect him, and even to get him back home. The story invites children to claim for themselves God's promise that no situation is so bad that God will not be with them.

Psalm: 139:1-12, 23-24. Jacob might have prayed this psalm in the desert. It invites children to bask in God's complete knowledge of them and God's constant, caring presence. Some children can expect such care from no one, even in their own family. But children from secure homes also sometimes feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are overlooked, underloved, and unappreciated. So God's constant presence provides important security to all children.

Epistle: Romans 8:12-25. Paul describes the powerful work of the Spirit, which adopts us into God's family, is working toward the re-creation of the world, and prays for us. The most child-accessible image in Paul's complex argument is that of adoption. Most children have read about or have met children who were adopted. Most children have wondered what it would be like to be adopted and at times have wished that they could be adopted into another family.

So they are ready to explore Paul's idea that though all of us are born into a human family, we may be adopted into God's family. In this adoption, we gain the privilege of calling God our father and mother and of sharing in the hopes, joys, and sufferings of God's family. We look forward to the new world God is creating, we suffer with the rest of the family while we work and wait for the creation of that world (just as Jesus, our older brother, did), and we enjoy the protection and loving care of God's Spirit. Do not expect children to gather any of this from the reading of the text.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. The unstated problem in this parable is that the roots, stems, and leaves of the good plants and those of the weeds become so tangled that the weeds cannot be pulled out without damaging the good plants. This problem needs to be explained in detail for nongardening children. Even with this explanation, children will not comprehend the subtle entanglements of good and evil. They simply need to accept Jesus' claim that the good and evil must exist together for now. To children for whom next month seems like the distant future, the promise of harvest remedies means little.

Watch Words

Spirit is God at work in the world and in our lives. Speak of weeds rather than tares.

Let the Children Sing

Conclude each verse of "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" with the words "children of the Lord," rather than "soldiers of the cross."

"Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" is based on Jesus' parable. Explore it verse by verse in the sermon before the congregation sings it.

For Jacob and the writer of Psalm 139, sing the version of Psalm 23 most familiar to your congregation.

If Communion is celebrated, sing "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord," to emphasize that this is the table of God's family.

The Liturgical Child

1. Ask that the floral display illustrate Jesus' parable by including both weeds (perhaps thistles or thorny branches) and garden flowers. Refer to the display.

2. Lead a responsive prayer based on God's promise to Jacob. The congregation's response is that promise: Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.

When we are frightened by new places, new jobs, new responsibilities, new people, or hew ideas, remind us of your words to Jacob. (RESPONSE)

When we feel trapped by problems we cannot solve and stuck with people with whom we cannot get along, let us hear what you said to Jacob as he ran from his angry brother. (RESPONSE)

When we feel as totally alone as Jacob felt when he was alone in the desert, when we feel abandoned by our friends, when we feel lost, help us remember your words. (RESPONSE)

When we lose hope that anything will ever be any better than it is now, when our own problems seem too big to ever be solved, when hunger and injustice and war seem unavoidable, when it looks as though the evil always wins and the good loses, speak quietly to us. (RESPONSE)

Speak quietly to us, Lord, and give us the courage to rise up as your children. Make us constantly aware of your loving, powerful presence with us. Teach us to depend upon that power to do surprising things in your name. We pray, remembering Jacob, and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

3. If Communion is part of your worship today, present it as the dinner table of God's family. Mention the dream which promised a banquet at which God's children of all places and times will gather. Invite people to think of that feast as they eat and drink at the Lord's Table today.

4. Invite children (either all the children in the congregation, or a class that has received a prior invitation) to sit with you in the chancel. Explain that Jesus once told a story to a big crowd. Read Matthew 13:24-30. If children are comfortable with such conversation, talk briefly about what they think Jesus' story meant. Then point out that Jesus' friends were puzzled by the story too, and later when they were alone, they asked Jesus to explain it. Read Matthew 13:36-43 and make one of Jesus' points briefly before the children return to their seats.

5. To give worshipers an opportunity to pray Psalm 139 in the first person, as it is written, line it out (read one line at a time, the congregation repeating each line as it is read). The words and phrases of the Good News Bible are easiest for this.

Sermon Resources

1. At the bottom of the ladder from heaven, Jacob, running away from his angry brother, slept in the desert, frightened and lonely. Invite children to draw their own pictures of the ladder from heaven to earth and, at the bottom of that ladder, draw a situation in which they feel as frightened and lonely as Jacob did. Discuss their pictures with them briefly as they leave the sanctuary, and remind them that God will be with them in the situation they drew.

2. Tell the story of a person who was adopted into God's family. Tell how the person was adopted in baptism, what s/he did as part of God's family, how s/he suffered as part of God's family, and who knew and loved that person as a Christian brother or sister. The story of Nelle Morton, who lived as a member of God's family in the South, participating in civil-rights movements and caring for people with mental disabilities, is available on video or film from many church libraries. Her story speaks to people of all ages.

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