As we move into Ordinary Time there are two streams of Old Testament readings. My current plan is to work in the “semi-continuous” stream, possibly dipping into the other when the texts there are “better” for children. That plan could be flexible. So, if you follow the “complementary” stream and would like it included, leave a comment to persuade me.
|From The Family Story Bible,|
by Raph Milton.
Used with permission.
This story may be the scariest story in the Bible for children. They hear it from Isaac’s point of view and ask, “Would God ask my parents to kill me and if God did would they do it?” God looks really threatening. Pondering this question makes it almost impossible for children to get to a positive message about trusting or obeying God.
If you must read the story in worship, introduce it as the scariest story in the Bible and promise a happy ending. Even suggest that parents and children hold hands to hear it. IMMEDIATELY after reading it, FORCFULLY point out that Isaac was never in danger. God had other plans (there was a ram hidden in the bushes). In fact, in those days other religions insisted that parents sacrifice their first child to their god. God, however, does not, never did, never will. Given that, this scary story is actually a wonderful, happy story. Invite parents and children to give each other hugs and the whole congregation to say “alleluia!” or the usual congregational response (e.g. The Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God!) with great joy.
Preachers generally use this story to explore the importance of trusting or obeying God. There are better stories to do this with children, e.g. the Hebrew slaves walking away from slavery through the sea and into the desert with Moses or David facing Goliath trusting God.
Spend some time with this psalm as it is read. Choose The Good News Bible (TEV). Before reading it, introduce the complaint “how long?” citing times we say it today, e.g. when waiting for our turn, when waiting for a child to stop whining about something, when waiting for anything you don’t like to end, etc. Note that this is a “how long” psalm with the psalmist asking God how long all the bad stuff will last, then asking God to help, and finally remembering that God does help us when there is trouble. Invite the congregation to join you and the psalmist saying the “how long’s” like you mean them and reading the ending like you do remember that God is with you in the tough times.
All: How long
Leader: will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
All: How long
Leader: will you hide yourself from me?
All: How long
Leader: must I endure trouble?
All: How long
Leader: will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
All: How long
Leader: will my enemies triumph over me?
Leader: Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.”
Don’t let them gloat over my downfall.
All: I rely on your constant love;
I will be glad, because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord, because you have been good to me.
Based on Today’s English Version
This is Paul at his long, complicated, repetitive, best. Children are quickly lost as it is read. But, Paul IS speaking to them. They will however depend on worship leaders to present Paul’s message in a way that they can understand.
Paul’s bottom line is that people have to make choices between serving the good and serving the evil. Their choices have consequences. It is the old “choices lecture” that kids hear repeatedly this time on a cosmic scale.
All fantasy literature (e.g. Narnia or Lord of the Rings) are built on heroic characters choosing to ally with good against evil. Harry Potter is the most currently popular fantasy saga among older children. Two boys Tom Riddle and Harry Potter are born with the same wizarding powers. Tom chooses evil and becomes the monster Lord Voldemort. Harry chooses good and becomes a hero who saves people. In these stories evil and good are clearly forces with great powers at work in the world. Each person must side with one of them. Choices matter – a lot! The challenge is to suggest to children that good and evil are as real in our world as they are in Harry’s world. Just as it was sometimes hard for Harry and his friends to know who was on which side (Professor Snape constantly puzzled people), it is sometimes hard for us to know what is good and what is evil. And, it is just as important that we recognize and choose to side with good. As examples, try
Clothes, food, games are advertized to us as things we MUST have to be OK. When we buy into that, we become greedy and jealous and spend our whole lives worrying about what we have and wear. That is a bad choice and is a way of siding with evil.
If the crowd is cutting someone out, calling them cruel names, and treating them badly, when we go along telling ourselves “it does not matter,” we are siding with evil. On the other hand if we stand up to the crowd, we are siding with good.
The Contemporary English Version provides the translation that makes most sense to children. (NIV is a close second.) Before reading it, tell listeners that Jesus was speaking to his disciples sending them out on a mission trip. He has given lots of instructions, then says….
40 Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who welcomes a prophet, just because that person is a prophet, will be given the same reward as a prophet. Anyone who welcomes a good person, just because that person is good, will be given the same reward as a good person. 42 And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will surely be rewarded.
In context this is comfort for disciples taking on a big task, i.e. the people who welcome you will be welcoming me, those who give you something as little as a cup of cold water will be rewarded. In worship, however, these verses are often used to explore the possibility of seeing Christ in other people and treating them accordingly. Work with this by
Ø Projecting faces of people from around the world while reading these verses – or even just verse 40.
Ø Instead of projecting pictures, give each worshiper a picture of a person to hold and think about as you talk about the verse. Challenge them to see Christ in that person. Urge them to keep the picture and pray for that person this week. (Portraits, by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, is a soft bound book of hundreds of postcard size photographs of people. It is easily cut apart into a collection of individual portraits, each a prize winner.)
Ø Or, instruct worshipers to look at the faces of people around them as you read verse 40. Next ask them in their minds to recall the face of each person in their family before reading the verse again. Finally, ask them to think of the faces of people they will see at work or wherever they will go this week before reading the verse a third time.
Ø Go to Anna's Hossanas for a script for a children’s time which explores what it means to see God in another person.
In a lighthearted spirit, read verse 42. Offer all worshipers (or children gathered at the front) a small cup of cool water. After drinking the water and savoring it, point out that nice as that was, Jesus wasn’t telling his disciples to give people cups of cold water to drink, but to provide what they need. Then, introduce the ministry of hospitality.
Identify a variety of hospitality ministries in which your congregation shares, taking care to cite some in which children participate. In my congregation those would include:
Ø Volunteers provide lemonade, coffee and cookies after worship services so people can get something to drink and so they can stand around and visit with each other.
Ø The deacons organize the delivery of meals to people who are sick or have other problems that make it hard to get meals on the table.
Ø All the churches in the community take turns hosting homeless people during the winter months. Dinner and breakfast are served, beds provided, even laundry done. Church members (including families with children) spend the evening talking, playing cards, and getting to know these guests.
Ø Food drives for the local emergency food bank and an international disaster relief offering include children in giving “cups of cold water” in Jesus’ name.