Thursday, February 24, 2011

Year A - The Third Sunday in Lent (March 27, 2011)

There are a lot of thirsty people in today’s texts.  To get worshipers of all ages thinking about thirst slaking water, borrow a bubbling fountain to display prominently in the worship center.  As the service begins urge the worshipers to listen both to the fountain and for all the thirsty people in worship today.  Offer as a hint, that some of the people are thirsty for water and some of the people are thirsty for something else.  If it fits your theme, encourage them to ponder what they are thirsty for.  During some of the prayers, leave silence in which people can simply listen to the fountain and remember God’s life giving love.

Exodus 17: 1-7

The key to presenting this story to children is Moses’ staff.  It is the staff that connects this story to all the important preceding Exodus stories.  Moses’ staff was turned into a snake at the burning bush.  Aaron turned the staff into a snake which ate the staff/snakes of the Egyptian magicians.  The staff dipped into the Nile turned it into blood.  Held over the Nile, it produced frogs.  Pounded on the dust, it produced gnats.  Moses raised it producing the great hail storm and later the swarm of grasshoppers.  Then, Moses held it out to divide the Sea so that God’s people could pass through safely beyond Pharaoh and his army.  So, bring a large walking stick to display during worship.  With it illustrate a brief account of how Moses used it on the escape from Egypt.  Then read Exodus 17:1-7 emphasizing, maybe picking up the staff as you read, the phrase "take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go..." (NRSV)  

I think God used Moses’ staff to remind people that just as God had been with them in the escape from Egypt, God was with them in the hard times in the wilderness.  God would be with them always. 

FYI - “Aaron’s Rod” in Wikipedia notes Jewish, Christian, and Muslim use of this staff that may be fodder for more adult exploration of the staff as a symbol of God’s powerful presence.

To set listeners up for Psalm 95, point out the significance of the names of the well and urge them to listen for those names in another scripture today.  Also note that God’s people camped there for a long time, maybe years, and drew water from that well every day.  Imagine going to a well that reminds you that you tested and quarreled with God about drinking water.

Psalm 95

Read this psalm AFTER exploring the Exodus story.

Start by reading verses 7c-11.  Note the names of the well and the connection to the Exodus story.  Briefly, celebrate being biblical scholars!  Then read the entire psalm.  It could be read by one reader, in unison by God’s people (the congregation), or the separate praises of verses 1-7b could be read by a series of readers with verses 7c – 11 read by another more pensive reader.  The latter would be a good worship leadership opportunity for an older children’s or youth class.

Romans 5:1-11

What Paul might have said to the children:

There is something you need to know that we grownups don’t like to talk about a lot.  Bad things are going to happen to you.  You are going to get sick or hurt.  People you love are going to get sick or hurt.  Or, those people are going to hurt you by what they do.  You may get caught up in war or be the victim of a crime.  Bad stuff like that just happens.  Also, sometimes when you try to do good important things, things that God wants, you might get hurt.  Paul got beaten up for preaching.  Some people in the middle East have been beaten up, even killed, this month for protesting against unjust rulers.  So, you need to know that bad things will happen to you during your life.  You can count on that.

But, you also need to know that God will be with you when those things happen.  You can count on that too.  Sometimes it won’t feel like God is there.  It is easy to get mad at God when bad things are happening.  We yell, “Why don’t you stop it, God?”   We worry that God must not love us if this is happening to us.  We wonder if we are so bad that God is punishing by letting the bad things happen to us.  Sometimes, we even wonder if God is there at all.  At times like this it is important to remember that God loves us always and is with us even when the bad stuff happens. (Say it again, slowly for emphasis.) God may even be working through us to take care of the world.  We can count on that.  We have to depend on our heads to remember this even when our feelings can’t.

Remember, even Jesus got whipped, nailed to a cross, and died.  But that was not the end of his story.  He was raised on Easter.  It is the same with us.  The bad times are never the end of our stories.  Remember that.

Paul might have gathered the children to tell them this.  Or, in the middle of talking to the adults  (aka , “the sermon”) he might have said, “Children, this is for you.  Listen up.” 

We don’t talk to children like this often.  For that reason, doing so can be memorable.  It can also prepare children for the bad times when they do come.


The cross is a reminder of Paul’s message about suffering.  Point to crosses in your sanctuary and tell stories of suffering in your congregation and community.  Describe how looking back we can see God’s presence in those times. 

Give the children ( or all worshipers) a small cross to carry with them as a reminder that God is with them in bad times as well as good.  Oriental Trading Company is one on-line source for such things.  Click on Oriental Trading Company crosses for a vast array of inexpensive crosses for distribution.  My favorite one for today is a polished worry stone printed with a cross.  Unfortunately, those are almost one dollar a piece – maybe a little pricey.


“There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy” again comes to mind as an appropriate child accessible hymn.  Perhaps it can be sung repeatedly this Lent.  If you do use it, remember to introduce “mercy” as “love” before it is sung.

Paul’s message is an opportunity to do a little worship education about the Benediction.  Ask the children to join you at the front to help you with the Benediction.  Briefly note that worship ends the same way every Sunday.  A worship leader stands up front and urges everyone to do something during the coming week and then reminds them that God will be with them as they do it. Then walk them through the benediction below.  Finally ask them to stand with you facing the congregation and to repeat each line after you.  If it is appropriate in your tradition, lead them in raising their hands to bless the congregation as they repeat the last 2 phrases.

Remember when good things happen this week
God is with you.
Remember if bad things happen this week
God is with you.
Go in peace.

John 4:5-42

Most of this story is a very sophisticated conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at a well.  Children, however, can skip the conversation about water and hear a calling a disciple story.  Jesus treated the total outsider with respect and kindness.  Nobody treated her that way!  In response, she left her water jug (like the fishing disciples left their nets and Levi left his tax office) and became the first evangelist, telling everyone in town about Jesus.  And, she was  successful.  The town believed her first and then believed Jesus.  That is a story worth remembering.  As they get older, children can appreciate the conversation that was at the heart of the story.

Children do need an introduction to the Samaritan woman before they can understand her encounter with Jesus.  They need to know all the things that meant Jesus shouldn’t care at all about her.  She is a Samaritan.  She is a woman.  She is so unpopular that she comes to get water in the middle of the day when she thinks no one else will be there to say mean things to her or call her names.  She is a real loser. 

If you want to explore the conversation:  The water image in this story is complicated.  It’s not just water, it’s living water.  Explaining the word play there simply doesn’t help children get the joke.  It is more productive to put John’s message into your own words for them.  Verses 31 -34 are a good place to start.  Jesus says it takes something other than food and water to make us feel “alive.”  Jesus felt like he had everything he needed after talking to the lonely lost woman and seeing her feel that she was “alive” again. 

Before reading the verses, list some of things that make people feel “alive” today – soccer, their music, spending time with a good friend, etc.  Note that those things can make us feel more “alive” than food or water.  Then read what Jesus said about what made him feel “alive.”

That something other than food or water makes us feel “alive” is not so surprising.  What is surprising is what Jesus says keeps him “alive.”  It is loving like God loves.  In this story it is making friends with a really outsider woman and in the process making her feel totally different about herself.  This can lead to descriptions about how people felt about working on congregational mission projects.  (Be sure to include projects in which children participate.)

I’ve been trying to identify a baptism connection to this story for children – but am coming up dry.  Anyone else have ideas about this?  Please, share in the Comments.

No matter how you unpack this story, it is a very long scripture reading!  It is mainly a conversation between Jesus and the woman.  To bring it to life and edit out all the “he said”s and “she said”s, present it with three readers.  The Narrator reads from the lectern.  Jesus sits near the center of the worship space.  The woman stands beside him.  All read from scripts inside dark binders.  A rehearsal in which emphasis is on reading dramatically will be essential.  Below is one simple script.


Narrator:  So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her,

Jesus:  Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

Woman:  How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus:  If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

Woman:  Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus:  Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

Woman: Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus: Go, call your husband, and come back.

Woman: I have no husband.

Jesus:  You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!

Woman: Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.

Jesus:  Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Woman:  I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.

Jesus:  I am he, the one who is speaking to you.

Narrator:  Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

Woman walks off and faces away from Jesus.

Woman: Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?

Narrator :   They left the city and were on their way to him. Turning back toward Jesus.  Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  But he said to them,

Jesus:  I have food to eat that you do not know about.

Narrator:  So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”   Jesus said to them,

Jesus:  My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’   I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.

Narrator:  Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

From New Revised Standard Version


Monday, February 21, 2011

Year A - The Second Sunday in Lent (March 20, 2011)

Today’s texts include several good stories.  The trick is not to lose the children in discussing those stories by using too many abstract theological terms.  Faith, salvation, and grace are all related and woven through the stories.  If they are all used in subtly different ways during worship, children will get lost.  So, select one of them to highlight this week.  My choice would be faith.  Faith is living like you are God’s person.  Faith is living your life trusting God every day.   Faith includes living by God’s rules and trusting God to love you and forgive you when you mess up.  Faith means living like Jesus. 

I’m beginning to think that each Sunday of Lent this year has a key word and that it would be possible to let that word “sponsor” each week in the same way a letter sponsors each edition of Sesame Street.  Go to the First Sunday in Lent for ideas about featuring the word each week.  If you do a poster for faith, consider putting big shoes or boots for people of all ages across the bottom of it to illustrate the fact that faith is about what we do and where we go.

One way to use these stories is to compare Abraham and Nicodemus as God’s faithful adventurers.  When God called Abraham,  Abraham left everything he knew to move to a place that had not been named.  That is brave and bold.  Nicodemus on the other hand had heard Jesus, thought he was right about a lot of things, but was very cautious.  He brought his questions to Jesus at night when no one would see him and maybe make fun of him.  That is not very adventuresome.  Abraham is the hero.  While wanting to be like Abraham, we are encouraged to know that Nicodemus did later act more bravely.  He stood up for Jesus at his trial and he helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus’ body after he was killed. 

There are lots of hymns about living faithfully. 

Probably the best for children is “Open My Eyes That I May See” in which we are called to use all the parts of our bodies to pay attention to God and what God is doing in the world. 

When the image of God’s Spirit as wind or breath is briefly explored, children sing “Spirit of the Living God” as the prayer it is meant to be. 

“The Lone Wild Bird” is a poet’s song about trusting God.  Before singing it invite worshipers to imagine themselves flying in migration like a bird or to remember times they have felt as “on their own” as a bird flying alone.  Any of these hymns could also have been sung by Abraham or Nicodemus.

Genesis 12:1-4a

Abram (and Sara) are the examples of faithful living.  They are God’s adventurers.  In their old age they set out for a new life in an unknown country. 
Suggestion: unless you really want to explain about the name change and decide when to speak of Abraham – as Paul does – and when to speak about Abram as this text does, simply call him Abraham today. 

Ask an elderly man who is active in the congregation’s ministries to read this passage.  (For fun, find one who is exactly 75 years old and note his age before he reads.) 

To further explore God’s call to us at all times in our lives, ask individuals of several different ages and life situations to reread this short story.  Then ponder how God’s call feels different in different situations, but is just as real.   Or, print the text in the bulletin and invite the entire congregation to read it together substituting their own name for Abraham’s.  Either of these could be done at scripture reading time or within the sermon.

Mark Gellman’s Does God Have a Big Toe? is a delightful collection of midrashim, stories about stories in the Old Testament.  In “Finding the Right Man” he suggests that God might have called several people who turned the offer down before Abraham accepted it.  The reason for rejecting God’s offer that children can understand is “what’s in it for me (rather than for my great grandchildren)?”  The other reasons make more sense to adults.  Using Gellman’s approach, explore other reasons for turning down God’s offer that children will understand.

Abraham might have said, “I’m too old!  I am 75 years old.  I’m not as strong and able as I once was.  I have aches and pains.  Thanks for asking, but I do wish you had asked maybe thirty years ago.”

Another person might have said, “I’m too young!  Everyone would laugh at me if I packed up what little I have to go to a place I can’t name just because you asked me to.  Give me a few years, the ask me again.”

Yet another person might have said, “That sounds too hard!  I’m not sure how to start.  I’ve never traveled before.  I don’t know what to take and I wouldn’t know how to act in new places with new people.  It would be scary.”

After exploring all the reasons for not doing what God asked, either point out that Abraham simply went or explore possible reasons for Abraham (and for us) to go, e.g.

God called ME to start a great nation!  God knows that I am alive and chose ME for a big job.  Wow!

God NEEDS ME to do something important!  I could keep on doing what I’ve been doing all my life which is OK.  Or, I could do something that is important to God.  God said the whole world would be blessed by what I do.  I could really count for something. 

This sounds like a really, big scary deal.  But if it is important to God, I am guessing will GOD WILL BE WITH ME, helping me when I need help.  So I won’t be on my own.  It might just work.

“The God of Abraham Praise” is an obvious hymn choice for this week.  Unfortunately, children are quickly lost in its unfamiliar, big words used to state reasons for praise in rather complex ways. 

Psalm 121

This is one of the psalms pilgrims sang as they trudged up the steep, dangerous road to festivals at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Verse 1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come?” is the question pilgrims asked themselves.  The rest of the psalm is a collection of answers with which they gathered their courage as they walked.

To get people into the picture, set the scene.  Ask them to imagine themselves on the road.  Point to the mountains that surround you, the rocks behind which bandits are known to hide, and the steep hot road to be climbed.  Get a member who has been there to describe the scene.  Or, project pictures of the road.  Then ask the congregation to stand to read the psalm in unison, perhaps even walking in place as they read.

Abraham and Sarah lived long before this psalm was composed, but I bet there were plenty of times as they traveled when they could have prayed the psalm.  Pray it imagining yourselves in Abraham and Sarah’s sandals. 

And/or make a list of situations in which the psalm is needed today e.g.  the first day at a new school, going away to camp alone, walking down a scary street on your own, doing something new and rather scary…

Tell a story about a time when your congregation did something brave for God and might have needed to sing this psalm.  One church I served started an integrated elementary school in its building during the civil rights era.  Another church that traces its roots back to colonial times, found itself one Sunday during worship surrounded by Indians in war paint.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Paul here is concerned about how Abraham was justified or saved.  For children the simple fact is that God does not love Abraham because Abraham did what God asked.  God loved Abraham long before God called him to move.  Even if Abraham had decided not to move, God would still have loved him.  To illustrate this point pass out heart stickers for people to wear on the back of a hand.  If you do this during a children’s time, you can personally stick a heart on each child’s hand saying “God loves you” as you do.  However, it is more effective if the hearts are passed out to everyone in the congregation and worshipers are asked to put a sticker on a neighbor’s hand saying the words “God loves you.”

Abraham did not obey God in order to get God to love him.  He obeyed God because he loved and trusted God and was willing to try out what God wanted.  So, talk about how we do hard things for people we love just because we love them.  For children examples include
Ø  playing a dumb game with a younger brother or sister just because he/she loves that game
Ø  putting a friend who is not very good at it on your team to play a game
Ø  letting your grandparent tell you old stories that you have heard before, but he/she like to tell

John 3:1-17

Children sympathize with Nicodemus.  Nicodemus came to Jesus with literal, left brained questions and Jesus answered him with poetic metaphors.  They understand Jesus’ answers about a second birth and the wind no more than Nicodemus did.  For them the part that makes sense is verses 16-17.  Here Jesus says to Nicodemus and to them that God loves you and everyone.  Indeed God is more interested in loving us than in judging us.  You can trust God to be like this.

This is another reason to use the hearts stickers described in the Romans section above.

Jesus is talking with Nicodemus about faith.  Behind what he says is the definition of faith as the way you live your life.  It is about what you do every day, not what you think.  Believing and doing are inseparable.  For example, you can think you can ride a two wheeler, but until you actually try to do it, thinking it isn’t worth much.  In the same way, you can say that God is in charge of the world and loves everyone, but until you start living like that every day, it doesn’t mean much. 

Being faithful often involves taking some risks.  Jesus is also trying to get Nicodemus to be braver about what he is thinking about God and Jesus.  Instead of coming to talk to Jesus at night, he wants him to be among Jesus’ followers during the day, no matter what others say.  At the end of this story we don’t know how Nicodemus responded.  Later we learn that he stood up for Jesus during his trial before the Jewish religious leaders (that’s brave!) and that after Jesus was crucified he helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus ‘s body (another brave act!)

Sing “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy” to celebrate God’s love in verses 16-17 after pointing out that “mercy” is another word for “love” and urging singers to pay attention to all the things we are singing about God’s love.

Matthew 17:1-9

For ideas about this text go to Transfiguration Sunday.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Year A - The First Sunday in Lent (March 13, 2011)

The texts for the first Sunday of Lent this year really do repeat the themes of Ash Wednesday – which may be good for all those who did not worship on Ash Wednesday.  You might want to review the ideas from the Ash Wednesday post to find some ideas that would transfer to Sunday.

TEMPTATION             SIN                 FORGIVENESS                   GRACE

If you have verbal announcements at the beginning of the service, make the last announcement an introduction to today’s theme.  Sesame Street often begins “Today’s show is brought to you by the letter …”  So, today announce that today’s worship is brought to us by the words sin, temptation, and forgiveness (or whatever your key words will be).  Have older children each holding a poster bearing one of the words over their heads, stand at the front of the sanctuary.  (Print the word/s about sin or temptation in heavy black and the word/s about forgiveness or grace in gold glitter.)  Briefly introduce these key words and encourage worshipers to watch and listen for them as you sing, pray, and read together.  Encourage children to underline or circle each word every time they find it in their bulletin.  The poster bearers may take their posters back to their seats with them or may leave them displayed at the front of the sanctuary.

This is a good strategy for any Sunday that has is built around a key worship word.  It works especially well for this Sunday.

There are several opportunities for worship education today.  One is to explore the phrase “lead us not in to temptation, but deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer.  This is one of the last phrases of the prayer for children to understand.  The Ecumenical version’s ”save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil” is not much easier.  The key is knowing what temptation is and having in mind some examples of temptations with which you are familiar.  Common examples for children include
a plate of cookies on the counter,
> an iced cake on the counter (no one would notice if you took one little finger-full
   of it),
> an item (maybe a cool jacket or iPod?) left unattended, or
> the student in the next desk has left his work uncovered where you can hardly
   help but see his/her answers. 
After describing one of these situations, point out that sometimes you see what’s there and just automatically do the right thing without even thinking about it.  But other times….   Describe how you want to have or do what you know you should not and how you rationalize your way into doing it.  Ponder the difference between those two reactions to the same situation.  Then put “lead us not into temptation” into your own words – something like “God, help me know what is right and wrong and be able to do what is right without even thinking about it.” 

This could be an introduction to the Old Testament and Gospels for the day.  If so, conclude it by encouraging children to listen to two stories about people in the Bible who really were tempted.

Gen 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Children, who are constantly pushed to take responsibility for their own actions, are puzzled by claims that Adam’ and Eve’s bad choice to eat the apple affects them.  They are more interested in exploring the story about how Adam and Eve made that bad choice.  Take time to explore each step Eve takes as she allows herself to be tempted by the snake and even draws Adam into her sin.  Then compare Adam and Eve’s apple temptation to tempting situations children face today.  (See the list in the paragraph above about the Lord’s Prayer.)

Instead of or in addition to telling the story of the Fall, read the story of the first sin between brothers.  Cain and Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace, by Sandy Sasso, tells the story of Cain and Abel in poetic terms that make sense to both adults and children.  It could be read as a children’s sermon or as part of the “real” sermon.  The art could be shared with a small group of children.  Or, the book could be read without sharing the art to a larger group.  (Read aloud time: about 8 minutes) 
     FYI – The story of this murder does not appear in the New Revised Common Lectionary.  I wonder why?

Psalm 32

Here is another golden opportunity for a little worship education about the prayers of confession and assurances of pardon - if they are a weekly part of your worship.  Psalm 32:3-5 gives you a good biblical example of sin that is confessed and forgiven.  Verses 3 and 4 describe what feels like to have done something wrong and try to hide it.  Verse 5 describes confessing the sin to God and being forgiven.  Before praying the day’s prayer of confession and assurance of pardon, walk through both these verses and the meaning of the prayers you will pray.  (Be sure to select prayers for your service that are child accessible. )  Only then, invite the congregation to pray and be forgiven.

In most services these prayers come early, before the reading of scripture and the sermon.  Today consider putting them after the scripture reading and sermon or repeat them in that spot as the affirmation of faith for the day.  Either will help worshipers of all ages participate more thoughtfully in this part of worship today and in the future.

Romans 5:12-19

Paul’s comparison of Adam and Christ is hard for children because children think literally.  I saw it yesterday in a fifth and sixth grade church school class.  My co-teacher had worked through the story of Jesus’ call of the fishing disciples.  He ended by saying that once the disciples had caught fish.  But after meeting Jesus, they caught people.  A bright twelve year old said, “Ah yes, cannibalism?”  He was not being sassy, but saying the first thing that came to his literal mind.  We took another shot at explaining what it meant to fish for people, but were not too sure in the end our explanations really made much sense to our students.  Given this, I’d not expect to meaningfully explore Paul’s complex comparison of Adam and Christ with children.

Matthew 4:1-11

In children’s words the three temptations Jesus faced and refused to give into were:
1.   To use his power just to take care of his own needs, to be sure he got what he wanted, in this case to turn stones into bread when he wanted bread (No one would even see him do it out there in the wilderness; so why should he be hungry when he had the power to turn stones into bread?)
Why not: The story began with God leading Jesus out into the wilderness.  Being out there and being hungry was part of God’s plan.  Jesus was out there to learn something important.  He was to do what God asked, even if it meant being hungry in the wilderness.
2.   To be a celebrity, to use his power in stunts to get attention and prove how important he was
Why Not: God does not want Jesus to show off or prove how powerful God is, but to  love and forgive people
3.   To be king of the world.  If Jesus is God, Jesus knows what is best and as king of the world could insist that everyone do what he wanted.  Jesus would make a very good king.
Why Not: God created people able to make choices.  God wants us to learn to make loving choices.  God didn’t want Jesus to force us to do anything.  

The first temptation is the easiest for children to understand and contains the basic reason for not giving into temptation.  Jesus and we are to trust and obey God.

To help children follow the action, present this story with three readers: a narrator standing in the lectern, Jesus standing or seated in the center of the worship area, and Tempter standing just behind Jesus to one side.  The readers could simply read dramatically in place.  Or, they might add gestures with the Tempter leaning over Jesus’ shoulder and Jesus firmly replying.  If confident actors are available for Jesus and the Tempter, they might even memorize their lines to be script-free to dramatize them with their whole bodies.

                                 Matthew 4:1-11 Reading Script

Narrator:          Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted
                        by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he
                        was famished.   The tempter came and said to him,

Tempter:          If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves
                       of bread.

Narrator:          But he answered,

Jesus:               It is written, “One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Narrator:          Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the
                         pinnacle of the temple, saying to him,

Tempter:          If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,”
        and “On their hands they will bear you up,
        so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”

Narrator:          Jesus said to him,

Jesus:               Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Narrator:          Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all
                        the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him,

Tempter:          All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

Narrator:          Jesus said to him,

Jesus:               “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’ ”

Narrator:          Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

                                                                              New Revised Standard Version


In the Disney Classic “Pinocchio,” the wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy is given a cricket named Jiminy as a guide.  Jiminy Cricket explains temptations to Pinocchio as follows:
Jiminy Cricket:   The world is full of temptations!

Pinocchio:           Temptations?

Jiminy Cricket:     Yep.  Temptations.  The wrong things that seem right
                            at the time but…even though..the things may seem
                            wrong, sometimes the wrong things may be right
                            at the wrong times… or..a…vice-versa… Understand? 
                            (talking faster and looking more confused as he goes)

Pinocchio:  But I am going to do right!

Either show this clip from the “Pinocchio” video or give it your best dramatic reading.  Then, work through one or two of Jesus temptations to point out how they might have seemed reasonable… but…  Finally, warn the children that just like Jesus and Pinocchio they will face temptations, hard decisions when it will seem like doing the right thing might not be necessary.  (This could be a children’s sermon, but since most adults and teens will remember the story of Pinocchio, it could also be part of the “real” sermon.)

In “The Littlest Mermaid” Ariel trades her best gift, her voice, to Ursula the Sea Witch whom she knows to be evil, to get what she wants most, the chance to be with the prince on the land.  It was a bad decision from which she was saved only by the bravery and strength of her father and a few friends.