Worship for Kids: August 6, 2023

June 24th, 2020

From a Child’s Point of View

Old Testament: Genesis 32:22-31. Although the ambiguities of this text are beyond the understanding of children, most children, especially boys, enjoy the story of God coming to Jacob as a wrestler, to wrestle all night. Wrestling is an activity they know and generally enjoy. A God who will wrestle is a God who will meet them on their own turf and is therefore attractive. A God who will wrestle is also strong, active, and willing to get dirty—another plus. And since this particular match sounds as if it were between friendly rivals, rather than between enemies fighting to the death, God must be willing to wrestle with friends like Jacob, and like us.

For younger children, thinking about God as one who wrestles (like a father or older brother) is attractive and reassuring.

For older children, wrestling with God can begin to be defined as struggling with God about doing right and wrong things. Again, it is reassuring to know that this divine, basically friendly wrestler will “pin” them until they do what is right.

The story also describes conflict as acceptable, even inevitable. Jacob was always struggling with someone, but God still accepted him. Our lives may be as rough and tumble as Jacob’s was, and still be acceptable to God.

Psalm: 17:1-7, 15. This psalm, with its legal context and language, is one for adult Bible scholars. Children will find more meaning in the other texts for the day.

Epistle: Romans 9:1-5. With a little adult interpretation, children can understand Paul’s grief over the Jews and can admire his willingness to trade his salvation for theirs, but the passage has little significance for children or their lives.

Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21. The story of the feeding of the five thousand is familiar to most church children. From it they learn that Jesus cared about people’s needs. He used his powers to heal and to feed the crowd. We can expect God to be as aware of, and as responsive to our needs as Jesus was to the needs of those people. We are also called to follow Jesus’ example, using our powers to meet the needs of the people we meet.

With adult direction, children can connect the bread and feeding in this story with that of Holy Communion. For younger children, Communion is primarily a way to show that we remember and love Jesus and want to be one of his followers. They understand that when Jesus wanted to leave us a reminder of himself, a good choice was bread, such as that he broke and shared in his many meals. Remembering this story as an example of Jesus’ loving care is good Communion preparation.

Watch Words

The Genesis and Matthew texts, which are the most child accessible, offer no vocabulary traps. The legal language of the psalm is foreign to children, and Paul’s message is so filled with unfamiliar words that it is difficult to follow.

Let the Children Sing

“I Sing the Almighty Power of God” is a good praise hymn for either the wrestling God or the feeding Jesus.

For Communion, choose a hymn in which bread references are concrete rather than symbolic. “Let Us Break Bread Together” is a good choice.

The first and second verses of “Fight the Good Fight” speak of fights (wrestling matches) and races reminiscent of Jacob’s life.

The Liturgical Child

1. Even if you are not celebrating Holy Communion today, place five loaves of bread on the table to point to the connection between the five loaves with which Jesus fed the crowd and the bread of Communion.

2. Pray for hungry people in different places around the world, and for the hunger-relief efforts of your church. The congregation’s response to each prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. For example:

Father, some of us in our own town do not have food to eat today. Watch over the food we give to the food bank. Help get it to those who need it. And work through us for the day when no one in our town will go hungry. (RESPONSE)

3. If you focus on wrestling with God, refer to another “wrestling” match (Job 38-39) in the Call to Worship:

When Job challenged God to a debate, God replied from a whirlwind, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? . . . I will ask you questions and you can answer me. . . . Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . . Have you commanded the morning? . . . Can you send forth lightning? . . . Do you give the horse it’s power?” And Job was silent. Let us worship God.

Sermon Resources

1. Gilly is a sixth-grade foster child who has always struggled with her string of teachers and foster parents. She is bright but very difficult to love, though she desperately wants to be loved. Katherine Paterson’s award-winning novel The Great Gilly Hopkins (Harper & Row, 1978) describes the way Gilly wrestled with the love offered her by an angel in the form of Trotter, an unlikely foster mother. In the critical scene, Gilly is literally pinned under the overweight woman. Excerpts from this book or a recounting of its story provides a modern-day parallel to the Jacob story that both parents and children can understand.

2. Encourage the practice of mealtime blessings. Offer sample blessings for families, and others for individuals on their own in public places. Here are some suggestions for children and their families:

• “Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” (This traditional Jewish blessing is great for sandwich lunches.)

• Sing the Doxology together.

• Tell God one thing you really like about the meal you are about to eat, and say, “Thank you.”

• At home, take turns around the table, each member thanking God in your own words for one good thing you especially appreciate that day. The last person adds, “And thank you for this food. Amen.”

Provide a chart for the week, on which individuals or households can track their success at establishing the habit of mealtime blessings. Print the chart on the back of the bulletin or as a bulletin insert.

3. When preaching about Jesus feeding the crowd, explore the meaning of the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer. Children (and many adults) need to be reminded that we pray not just for ourselves, but for everyone and that we should think about what is required of those who pray that the hungry be fed.

Listen carefully to the Scripture reading. Then draw a picture of what happened in that story. If there are 2 readings, choose one to draw.

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