This is the tail end of the story of Peter being called in a vision that involved lots of food to witness to Cornelius, a Gentile with whom Peter a Jew would not eat. The whole story, which is very interesting to children, appears in the lectionary on The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C. I’d either go with whole story today or save it for next year because the details are what make this important story so memorable. Today’s text, however, is filled with generalities and summaries.
If you are going to read and talk about just this text, consider reading the rest of the story from a children’s Bible story book to set the context. One good choice is “Cornelius Becomes A Christian” from The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton. Stop just before “Peter looked at Cornelius. He looked at the other people…”. Then, invite everyone to listen to what happened next and read the text from the Bible. (This reads aloud in only 2-3 minutes.)
U To capture the exuberance of this psalm gather all the rhythm instruments and noise makers you can. Invite the children forward to help the congregation read the psalm. Pass out the instruments. The children’s job is to make noise with the instruments and shout Alleluia! each time you point to them. Practice once or twice. Then read verses 1-3 without pausing. Pause after each of the remaining verses for the children to praise with their alleluias and instruments. The verses may be read by a liturgist or by the whole congregation. ( The latter is louder and more in keeping in the spirit of the psalm!).
To do a low key children’s choir promotion, ask the children’s choir director to be the children’s conductor while you lead the reading parts. Include all the children, not just those in choir. Who knows?! This might inspire the non-choir children to try it out.
U Print selections from the psalm in the center of a page. Give pages to the children and invite them to illustrate the verses during worship. At the end of the service talk with children about their illustrations as they leave the sanctuary.
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Praise the Lord!
Sing a new song to the Lord;
he has done wonderful things!
By his own power and holy strength
he has won the victory….
Sing for joy to the Lord, all the earth;
praise him with songs and shouts of joy!
Sing praises to the Lord!
Play music on the harps!
Blow trumpets and horns,
and shout for joy to the Lord, our king.
Roar, sea, and every creature in you;
sing, earth, and all who live on you!
Clap your hands, you rivers;
you hills, sing together with joy before the Lord,
because he comes to rule the earth.
He will rule the peoples of the world
with justice and fairness.
From Psalm 98 (TEV)
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U After reading the first lines of the first verse of the psalm and pointing out that it is the chorus of a hymn, sing “Earth and All Stars.” The children enjoy the repeated chorus and also enjoy all the specific, modern items that are called to praise God.
1 John 5:1-6
U Neither this passage nor the gospel reading for today will be understood by children as they are read. The children will count on worship leaders to explore the message for them.
U Preschoolers obey people rather than rules. They do what the oldest, strongest, most important person in the room tells them to do. When they admire and love that person, they will do almost anything asked. That person gets to make all the rules. As they enter elementary school, children begin to understand that rules can be negotiated by the group and that they can choose to obey or disobey a rule. But throughout their lives they (and we) tend to defer to or obey those we admire and love. Scouts follow and obey the rules of respected adult leaders. Young athletes emulate the training disciplines of their sports hero/ines. Christians follow Jesus and obey his rules.
U Young athletes aiming for the Olympics often move to live near or even live with their coaches. Their whole lives - what they eat, where they go to school, and how they train in their sport - are directed by those coaches. In terms of this text, they obey them in all things. That is the kind of obedience John is calling us to as Christians.
Sing “Lord, I Want to be a Christian” to commit yourselves to this kind of obedience to Jesus.
U Since children will not follow this as it is read, choose one or two ideas or phrases in it to highlight for them. Verse 12 (This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you) is a key phrase. Friendship with Jesus is a key idea that is important to children.
U To explore verse 12, display pictures of Jesus' ministry identifying how Jesus loved the people in that picture (healing them, befriending them, teaching them, etc) and how we can love people in similar situations today.
U Between the ages of 5 and 10 friendship as practiced by children grows significantly. At five a friend is someone to play with now. Whoever will play and work with me now is my friend. Five year olds proclaim adamantly to be friends forever, but then move on to other friends without recognizing what they are doing. By the time they are ten these same children have a strong sense of loyalty due friends, appreciate nuances of friendships, and experience deep pain in making and losing friends. So, at different ages children respond to Jesus’ statements about being his friends differently. The younger children can simply claim Jesus as their friend. The older ones can explore what it means to be Jesus friend. One must be loyal to Jesus, following Jesus’ rules always wherever you are. One must spend time among the friends of Jesus learning about Jesus and remembering Jesus. One must do what Jesus wants done.
Partner is another good term to use to describe our friendship with Jesus. Partners do things they both think are important together. Jesus calls us not to be his servants, but to be his partners working with him to love the world. Describe several ministries in which the children can participate as things we do as partners with Jesus.
U Ask the children to lead the congregation in praying about being friends. If children are comfortable talking with you in front of the congregation, have them join you to get the congregation ready to pray about being friends/loving others. Together answer the following questions and turn the answers into prayers. (You may want a scribe with you to record the prayers while you talk with the children.) When you are ready, read/pray through the prayers with the whole congregation. Try these or other questions:
What is good about having and being friends?
Leads to “thank you” prayers
When do we have to ask God and our friends for forgiveness?
Leads to confessions of ways we fail to be good friends
What is hard about being good friends?
Leads to prayers for help as we try to be good friends
U There are LOTS of children’s books about friendship. I found Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Wiliams and Khadra Mohammed, on “Children’s Literature: A Resource for Ministry” (http://storypath.wordpress.com/ ). It tells of two little girls in a refugee camp in Peshawar who come away from a scramble for used clothes each wearing one beautiful yellow sandal with a blue flower on it. Neither girl has other shoes. Rather than fight over the sandals they decide to take turns wearing them one day each. Some days when they are together they each wear one just for fun. When one girl’s family is moved on to America, the girls decide to each keep one sandal as a memory and as hope that one day they will again share together in America. (Read it aloud in just under 5 minutes.)
Though neither girl lays down her life physically for the other, each one at one point gives the only shoes she has to her friend. That is a big thing to give away. To alert children to this, imagine aloud before reading the story what it would be like to walk miles barefoot and to have no shoes at all.
U For older children one of the best known books about friendship is the Harry Potter series. It is filled with the stories of a group of friends growing up together. Though these friends happen to be young wizards, their friendship joys and problems are those every child recognizes. In the last book, Harry does physically lay down his life for his friends. Go to Harry Potter and the July Worship Planner for details. Younger children may not have read or seen this rather grown up conclusion of the series, but many older children will and will appreciate hearing the preacher refer to it to make a point in the sermon.
And, yes I know it is Mother’s Day in the US. One would think these passages about love fit the day perfectly. But, Mother’s Day is really about mothers, not children. Young children view all their mothers’ activity on their behalf as simply what mothers do. They will paste the label “love” on it, if you insist, but really see that kind of love as different from the love Jesus is asking us to commit to others. So, I don’t have any clear suggestions about how to pick up on the day. If some of you do, please weigh in.