Worship for Kids: May 12, 2019

March 28th, 2019

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel and Psalm: John 10:22-30 and Psalm 23. These passages are based on the image of God or Jesus as a good shepherd. It was a great image in Jesus' day, and it can be meaningful today if we know a little bit about shepherds. Most urban children do not. To them, a shepherd is as likely to be a large, sometimes fierce dog as a person who cares for sheep.

Psalm 23 is based on the care that a shepherd must provide for totally defenseless sheep in a hostile environment. Not only must they be protected from wild animals, but they must be rescued from problems they got into but cannot get out of. For example, sheep can become tangled in thorn bushes or lost from the flock. When they wade into a fast-moving stream to drink, their wool can get so heavily soaked that they lose their footing, fall, and drown. It is the shepherd's job to protect the sheep from attacking animals, keep them together in safe pastures, and find still, shallow water so they can drink safely. Good shepherds will risk their lives for their sheep. As Easter People, we know that God in Jesus does the same for us.

To understand John's passage, children must know that shepherds often kept all the sheep of their village in one fold (fenced yard). When it was time to separate the flocks, all the shepherds called their sheep, each using a unique call. The sheep of each flock recognized their shepherd's call and left the sheepfold only with that shepherd.

Easter People recognize Jesus' call. So when they hear the call to love one another and to love God, they follow. Other people (like the Temple authorities) stand around and say it is smarter to keep what you have than to share, or that some people really are not worth loving. Those people do not recognize Jesus' voice. Jesus promises that God is able to care for all who do follow.

The good-shepherd image offers children security. God knows them personally and is taking care of them.

Epistle: Revelation 7:9-17. This is a continuation of last Sunday's coded message to Christians under persecution. Every child (and Roman soldier) knows that if you wash something in blood, it turns red, not white. That's what makes the phrase "people in the robes made white by being washed in the blood of the Lamb" such a great code. To crack this code at its full depth requires appreciation for animal-sacrifice theology, which is beyond the thinking of children. So simply present the phrase as a code for all Christians. To enjoy the clever humor, imagine with the children a soldier who tried to make sense of the passage but did not have the key to the code.

Having cracked the code, children will be ready to explore God's promises to the people in the white robes in verses 15b-17 and the rest of Revelation. In children's terms, the promise is that God loves and takes care of each of us. Some terrible things may happen to us or to the people we love. We may need to make some brave stands that might make others angry with us (or, if we live in especially dangerous times, kill us). But in the end, we will find that God was with us all the way.

Acts 9:36-43. Children easily understand what happened as they hear this story read. Unfortunately, they generally hear it as an example of the truths stated in today's other readings. And that leads to hard-to-answer questions such as, "If God takes care of us and can do Easter surprises, why didn't God keep my Gramps from dying? Did God love Dorcas more than Gramps?" Hearing that God had different plans for Dorcas and for Gramps and that Dorcas eventually also died "for good" is not particularly satisfying. So this story might be best saved to read with other texts.

Watch Words

Use only the "shepherd" words (rod, staff, sheepfold, still waters) with which the children are familiar, or explain the words as part of worship.

Avoid using "lamb" imagery such as the blood of the lamb, slain lamb, or cleansing blood, beyond the simple code word Lamb. These "atonement" terms are beyond the mental development of the children.

Clearly describe Jesus as the Good Shepherd and as the Lamb. Help children see that these are two ways to describe Jesus, rather than two contradictory statements.

Let the Children Sing

To keep the Alleluias going, sing one of the Easter hymns with an Alleluia chorus.

Sing "The Lord's My Shepherd," Psalm 23, taking time to point out that it is Scripture set to music; or as a second choir, use the hymn "Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us." Children have trouble with the complex theological language of "He Leadeth Me" and "The King of Love My Shepherd Is."

The Liturgical Child

1. Psalm 23 is so well known and loved that congregations tend to read it in unison with more feeling than most unison readings arouse. It is often somewhat familiar to older children and therefore is easier for them to read with the congregation. If pew Bibles are not available, print the psalm in the worship bulletin to enable group reading.

2. Use Psalm 23 as an outline for the congregation's prayers of petition, for example:

Verses 1-2 Pray for the hungry and homeless.

Verse 3a Pray for people who need to be restored—criminals in prison, addicts, people who have been cut out by those around them.

Verse 3b Ask for guidance to do the right things at home, at school, at work, in our town, and in our world. Note specific issues in which God's guidance is needed now.

Verse 4 Pray for those who are facing death or illness.

Verse 5a Pray for all who are living in war between nations, races, or in families.

Verses 5b-6 Offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise, citing examples of God's loving care.

Both the Scripture and the prayers can be voiced by one worship leader; or one leader can read the psalm phrases, to which a second replies with the prayers; or the worship leader can read the psalm phrases, the congregation responding with either printed or spontaneous prayers.

Sermon Resources

1. Easter People know an important secret: Though at times it appears they are losing, God and the Easter People will be the big winners in the end. To explore John's coded reminder of this secret in Revelation, recall a popular children's movie in which the main character is constantly in terrible trouble and seems certain to lose or die, but escapes at the last moment. Compare that story to the situation of the early Christians who were being imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. Just as the movie character might have given up when things seemed worst, it would have been easy for early Christians to forget the Easter secret and give up. John wrote to remind them of the secret, to encourage them to "hang in there," and to give them hope. John's message is a good reminder for us, too.

2. Mention the Easter token again. Challenge worshipers to use it this week to remind themselves of God's love and care for them and others. Suggest that the token might comfort them if they get into seemingly hopeless situations, and remind them to watch for others in hopeless situations who need our prayers and supportive help.

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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