Worship for Kids: March 31, 2019

January 24th, 2019

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32. Most church children will be familiar with this story since it is included in much church school curriculum. The message of the story is that God is like a father who keeps on loving his child no matter what the child has done. The promise to children is that nothing they can do is so bad that God will give up on them. Children who feel they never meet their parents' high standards, children who are constantly in trouble with parents and teachers at home and school, and children who do not have loving parents draw special security from this promise-story.

Be careful about using "father" language. Remember that the parable says God is like a father, not is a father. God is also like a loving mother, an always-there-for-you grandparent, or a special aunt or uncle. To help children stretch their understanding that God is more than any of our images, and to protect those children who do not have loving fathers, avoid phrases which imply that God is a father.

Any child who has a brother or sister can appreciate the older brother's position. It always seems that the other one is getting away with murder. Older children feel that younger siblings go to bed later than they did at the same age, are given less demanding chores and rules, and are "let off" more easily when the rules are broken. Frequently, they are right. Parents often learn as they raise a first child that they need not "sweat the small stuff." Expectations of the younger children are relaxed. Family schedules change as the shape and age of the family as a whole change. And of course, different children have different needs. All this is hard for children to see and to interpret as fair, loving behavior. It is so easy to decide that "they love her more than they do me" and to cry "Unfair!" with the older brother.

The challenge to the preacher is not to convince children that they are equally loved (some are not), but to urge them to be friends with their siblings—even if they are spoiled and petted. Children are not to judge their siblings harshly, but to judge them with love.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 5:16-21. This is what happens when a trained preacher (Paul) puts the meaning of Jesus' parable into his own words: The simple is made beautifully profound in ten-letter words. Although Paul's big words and complex sentence structure are intimidating at first glance, all that children need in order to understand Paul's message is a good definition of reconciliation. The Good News Bible provides the best definition: "God . . . changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also." In other words, God (1) has treated each of us with all the forgiving love the father bestowed on the lost son; and (2) asks us to reach out to other "lost sons" as the father asked the older brother to welcome the returned brother.

Old Testament: Joshua 5:9-12. Before reading this passage, remind worshipers of the story and purpose of manna. With this background, children can hear that God kept the promise. God fed the people until they were able to eat the food of the Promised Land.

Psalm: 32. The sin vocabulary of this psalm makes it difficult for children to understand as it is read. But it includes a description of a situation that is familiar to them and parallels that of the runaway son in Jesus' parable. The psalmist, like children, knows what it is like to hide after having done something wrong. It feels awful! It can make you feel sick. Fortunately, the psalmist also knows how good it feels to admit what you have done and be forgiven. Then you feel happy enough to shout for joy (verse 11).

Watch Words

Reconcile, reconciliation, and reconciling are key words in these texts, especially in 2 Corinthians. This word group is worth introducing, defining, and using again and again to build familiarity. The Good News Bible translates these words as phrases about "making enemies into friends." Peacemaking and peacemaker are good parallel words.

Let the Children Sing

"For the Beauty of the Earth" and "Now Thank We All Our God" praise the God who is Lord of a world united by love.

"Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me" gives us the opportunity to commit ourselves to the ministry of reconciliation.

The words of "In Christ There Is No East or West" and "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" are difficult for children. Make the message of either song visual by asking everyone in the congregation to hold hands or to put a hand on the shoulder of the person holding the hymnbook.

The Liturgical Child

1. To create a responsive prayer of confession, the worship leader offers a series of brief prayers about our stubborn sins (greed, wanting our own way, etc.). To each, the congregation responds: "Lord, forgive us when we act like stubborn mules." For example:

Lord, we admit that even when we know what you would have us do, when we know your will, when we know what the loving thing is, we ignore it. Instead, we do what we want. (RESPONSE)

2. As the parable is read, have three actors pantomime the action. Although it is possible for children to do pantomiming with some practice, teenage or adult actors can express feelings with their faces and bodies more forcefully and with more insight. The richness of their performances will add to the understanding of worshipers of all ages.

Begin with all three actors at the front of the church. The younger son can "run away" down the middle aisle (perhaps throwing party confetti), "eat with the pigs" near the back of the church, then walk "home to meet his father" in the chancel.

3. If you sing "In Christ There Is No East or West" or "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" as a closing hymn, begin the charge and benediction before hands can be dropped. Say something like this:

God in Christ has changed us from enemies into friends. We are God's friends, and we are friends to one another. Now go out into the world, supported by God's love and the love of your friends in this congregation. Make friends with other people. Reach out in love to draw others into God's worldwide family. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us. Amen.

4. Remember to pray about spring vacations (from school) the week before they occur. Pray for safety, a good time, a chance to be outside, and so on. Remember as you pray that not all children will leave town on exciting trips.

Sermon Resources

1. Tell stories in which children take the lead in peacemaking. School children in Illinois welcomed AIDS victim Ryan White after another community had forced him and his mother to move. Every summer, Catholic and Protestant children, who would not speak to one another at home in Ireland, visit America together. In the process they form friendships they can use to build understanding between warring groups back home.

2. List some of the sinners God loved and used: tricky Jacob, braggy Joseph, hate-filled Jonah, Saul/Paul, and Jesus' disciples (a temperamental fisherman, a fiery troublemaker, a cheating tax-collector). The stories of these people are further proof of God's love. They challenge us to befriend the "impossible" people we live with at home, at school, and in the community.

3. One verse of "Jesus Loves Me" particularly fits the story of the loving father:

Jesus loves me when I'm good.
When I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I'm bad,
Even though it makes him sad.

About the Author

Carolyn C. Brown

Carolyn C. Brown is a certified Christian educator and children’s ministry consultant who believes children read more…
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