Worship for Kids: June 19, 2022

January 21st, 2022

From a Child's Point of View

Old Testament: 1 Kings 19:1-4 (5-7), 8-15a. This story offers two themes of importance to children. If the focus is on Elijah's escape, the theme is that God takes care of us in difficult situations. Children need know only that Elijah had just killed all four hundred of Queen Jezebel's baal priests and that Jezebel was the meanest queen in the Bible; then they will understand why Elijah was frightened, running for his life, and ready to stop being God's prophet. With help, they can then identify the ways God took care of Elijah—feeding him on his journey, listening to his complaints, showing him God's power and quiet love, and granting his wish that someone else take over his job as prophet. They can trust that God also will be with them and care for them when they are scared and feel hopeless.

If the focus is on Elijah's encounter with God on Mount Horeb (vss. 1-4, 8-15a), the theme is "How does God speak to us?" Because children hear literally the biblical stories about God speaking, and because few have had personal experience with burning bushes or God calling in an audible voice, they often believe that God does not speak to them. They need to hear that for Elijah, God came not in a dramatic wind, fire, or earthquake, but in "the sound of a sheer silence." They should be urged to listen for God to speak to them in a variety of ways: through stories they hear, through other people, and through feelings of God being with them in difficult times.

A related, but often unnoticed, point is that even after the wind, earthquake, fire, and "sound of sheer silence," Elijah still told God exactly how frightened and unhappy he felt. Apparently he was not intimidated by God's presence, nor did God intend for him to be. We are invited to be as honest with God as Elijah was.

Psalm: 42–43. This is actually one psalm with three stanzas, each followed by the same refrain (vss. 42:5, 11; 43:5). The abstract language, poetic images, and geographic references make the psalm almost impossible for children to understand cognitively. Fortunately, the most understandable image, that of the thirsty deer, is in the first verse. If the deer catches their attention before they get lost in the more complicated image that follow, and if the psalm is read with deep feeling, children can follow its emotional sense. The refrain, especially if read from either the Good News Bible or the NIV, summarizes the psalmist's commitment to hope in a gloomy situation.

Epistle: Galatians 3:23-29. This is a very adult text. Its complex sentences deal in abstract language with an idea that is developmentally incomprehensible to children. Elementary children are at a stage of moral development in which ethical decisions are made by following or not following rules. They respond strongly to calls to follow God's rules and struggle daily with overcoming their wishes and feelings in order to follow rules. Paul's insistence that Christians are beyond the Law (or rules) baffles them. It will make little sense until their mental abilities develop enough to allow them to identify the principles behind rules. So read this passage for older worshipers.

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39. The demons make this one of the most difficult healing stories to share with children. Children want to know what demons are, why they made the man do what he did, and why the pigs ran over the cliff. They also want to know if there are still demons today? And if so, where? There are few answers that will satisfy literal thinkers.

The theory that this story is based on a prescientific understanding of mental illness is hard for children to accept because they have little understanding of mental illness. Alert older children may ask why pigs were needed.

Most children associate demons with evil beings that stalk innocent victims in horror shows, haunted houses at fairs, and scary campfire stories. Young children worry about monsters hiding in their closets or under their beds. To the fearful child, the story says that Jesus is more powerful than any monster or demon. Just as Jesus would not let the demons control this man, he will not let them "get" us.

One ambiguity that interests animal-loving children is whether the demons drove the pigs over the cliff (maybe to get even with Jesus by making the pig owners angry at him); whether the pigs were so frightened by the demons that they jumped over the cliff; or whether the pigs (being smarter than people thought) recognized the demons and, by jumping over the cliff, finished Jesus work of destroying them.

Watch Words

Decide on one definition of demons for today's worship, then stick with it to avoid confusion. Demons may be the evil powers we all battle every day. Or they may be the worst evil beings we can imagine.

Let the Children Sing

Sing about God's loving care in difficult times: "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know," "Now Thank We All Our God," "The Lord's My Shepherd," and "Be Not Dismayed Whate're Betide" (or "God Will Take Care of You").

Sing about God speaking to us through the Holy Spirit ("Every Time I Feel the Spirit") and in creation ("This Is My Father's World").

Commit yourselves to listen to God with "Open My Eyes, That I May See" or "Take Time to Be Holy."

The Liturgical Child

1. A dramatic reading is needed to hold children's attention for Elijah's long story. Read Jezebel's threat with cold, cruel fury. Whine Elijah's frightened complaints. And read God's lines with loving patience. Describe each power display on the mountain loudly, then whisper in awe, "But the Lord was not in the __________________."

2. Follow the format of Psalms 42 –43. Have one or three worship leader(s) read the "verses," with the congregation repeating the refrain. (To help worshipers get into the feel of the psalm, invite them to imagine they are Elijah, running away from Queen Jezebel.)

3. Create a litany prayer of confession in which the worship leader identifies the ways God speaks to us, and the congregation replies with the repeated admission that we do not pay attention. For example:

Leader: God, we wish you would speak to us, but we ignore the messages you speak all around us. Pictures from space show us the vastness of your creative power. Tiny flowers and intricate insects speak of your care for the smallest of things. The earth and the universe are full of messages about your power and loving care.
Power: But we do not pay attention. Forgive us.
Leader: You speak to us through people around us. If we listen carefully, we often hear your will in the advice of friends and leaders. If we care to, we sense your love in the love of those who love and care for us. When we watch, we can see people doing your work and join them.
People: But we do not pay attention. Forgive us.

Sermon Resources

1. To explore Elijah's experience, begin by talking about what scares people. Tell stories about being in storms or being lost (two big childhood fears) as well as stories about what adults fear. The Diary of Anne Frank offers excerpts about living faithfully with fear.

2. Devote the sermon to describing and calling on people to cast out specific demons that try to take over our lives and make us do terrible things. While younger children will hear only a sermon against "bad attitudes," older children will begin to identify selfishness, greed, and prejudice as demons.

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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