One writer titled an essay about this set of texts, “Just a Kid, Just a Seed, Just a Church” and pointed out that the texts insist not only that God CAN use small things to do big things, but that God’s preferred method of operation is small things. This is a welcome message to children for at least two reasons.
First, children who are often sent to eat at the kids table and are shuttled aside at interesting looking events often feel over looked and undervalued. They, like David, have been left behind when the rest of the family went off for a sacrifice and feast. So they appreciate God’s making everyone wait until David can be included and God’s insistence (in front of all his big brothers and father) that David is “the one.”
Second, children are growing up with superheroes and heroines who “save the world” with splashy deeds. They admire real life people who make the big plays in sports and other parts of the real world. They long to do something “special,” “important,” “big,”… . They sense in the question, “what will you do/be when you grow up?” the need to have a plan or at least a wish to do something important that will “save the world.” So they tend to devalue what they can do here and now, every day. David's anointing and Jesus’ small-seeds-that-grow parables challenge them to value and to seek out opportunities to do small deeds of kindness and justice knowing that God will work in them to do big things.
The Quarreling Book, by Charlotte Zolotow, seems rather mis-titled to me. It is not so much about quarreling as it is the story of a day made miserable for everyone by a cascading series of little hurts people inflict on each other in turn. The day changes when the dog licks the hand of a boy who has just pushed him off the bed. That begins a reverse cascade of small kindnesses that rescue the day. Read it in about five minutes to remind worshipers how small things can make a big difference for either good or bad.
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
_On Father’s Day bring this story to life, by having it read and pantomimed by a group of men and boys. The seven brothers can simply step out from the group and stand in place (maybe in the military “at ease” pose) as the brothers are called out in the story. Old Samuel looks at each one shaking his head with surprise as God says, "not him." Finally, young David is brought in. Or, send Jesse to the side door to open it and whistle for David who then appears, kneels to be anointed, then goes back out the side door. A rehearsal will be needed so all actors are sure of their movements and to work with everyone on using their faces to react to what is happening. This should be a fun bonding time for the group.
NOTE: As I write this the week after Mother’s Day, I am aware of all the sensitivity to women who are not mothers on that day. I suspect there are also men who do not need another reminder that they are not fathers or who know they have been less than fine dads. So, include among these readers some fathers, sons, and even grandsons, but also some men of all ages who do not have children.
_The story as presented in the Bible is fairly easy for children to follow if they are invited to listen with an introduction like, “Today’s reading is the story of a boy named David who has seven, count them – seven!, older brothers.”
_If you want a shorter version of the story turn to “King David Is Anointed” in Children of God Storybook Bible, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
_Hiccup (How To Train Your Dragon – animated summer of 2010 blockbuster movie from Pixar) is the son of a Viking chief, who expects him to be the next chief. Because Hiccup is not the brawny warrior his dad is, Dad and everyone else looks down on him and belittles him. Hiccup however is paying attention to the dragons who attack the town. Rather than kill the young dragon he finds, he befriends it and uses what he learns about dragons from it to befriend all the dragons. This could be useful today to explore a familiar runt who turned out to be special (like David, Hiccup is a future leader who will be great) or you might want to use it next week as a companion story to David and Goliath. Next week it offers a young hero who wins the day by turning the enemy into a friend rather than by killing him - which is welcome, but more about that next week.
_If your congregation uses anointing in worship, this is a good chance for some worship education. Name and even walk through the different kinds of anointing you do. Then, introduce anointing a king as practiced in the Old Testament. You might even anoint children (or all worshipers) with a dap of good smelling lotion or simply olive oil saying to them something like, “God chose David to be a king. God has work for you to do too.” This could be done during a children’s time, as worshipers leave the communion rail, or as they leave the sanctuary.
_To focus on Samuel rather David, preface the reading with brief remarks about Samuel the great prophet who had anointed Saul the first king. Read 15:34 – 16:2a. Pause to reread “Saul will kill me!” with feeling and note why Samuel might have been scared to do what God wanted. Read 16.2b -4. Pause again to note why the town leaders were trembling. Read 16:5-6. Stop and remind worshipers that Samuel was called “The Seer” and what that meant. Read the remaining verses using your voice and facial expressions to emphasize the fact that “the Seer” was not seeing well here. Then comment on God’s seeing and human seeing. This could be a children’s time, the reading of the day, or the beginning of the sermon.
Psalm 20 is a prayer for the king to be sung during a ceremony in the Temple. For adults to dig through the details of royal liturgy and theology might be interesting and set the stage for preaching about governing leaders today. But children will miss most of this. For them I’d read Psalm 23, connecting the line “he anoints my head with oil” to David and imagining David singing this psalm when he is back in the field looking out for the sheep – and nothing much has changed yet. In this situation it becomes a way for David to remember happily being singled out and wondering what the anointing will mean for him in the future.
THINKING AHEAD: We assume that everyone knows Psalm 23, but in this day that is not always true, especially for children. This summer’s stories about David invite worship leaders to connect different verses in the psalm to events in David’s life. You might even
- give children small journals with one line of the psalm written on each page. These pages could be illustrated or journaled on during the summer. Or,
- challenge children to learn the psalm by heart during the summer. Offer a small prize for any child (or any worshiper) who can do it. If an older worshiper already knows it, invite him/her to recite it for the congregation and say briefly why they are glad they know it by heart.”
This is a parallel to the parables about growth in the gospel. For children it requires another round of explanations and does not add anything to the parables. So, I’d read it for the adults or skip it entirely.
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
On a Sunday with so much rich material for children, I’d skip this psalm too. Really Psalm 23 makes more sense for this day.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
_This complex logic about life beyond death is for the adults. Children’s ideas and questions about death tend in other directions. If you plan worship around this text, click on "Death" in the word cloud to explore other resources and ideas about death that you may want to use with the children.
_Verse 17 offers children an interesting to them idea – “you are a new creation.” For them it is the promise of endless second chances. Tell stories of children who go off to camp or join a summer sports team where they know no one and become a different person because no one knows what to expect of them. They can be “a new creation.” Insist that God says they don’t even have to go to a place where no one knows them to be a new creation. Every day they can get up with a fresh start and be a new creation, living as God’s person. Create a litany in which the congregation responds to descriptions of situations in which we might feel stuck because of what people already think about us with “Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new creation. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.”
_Celebrate the truth in these parables with the old children’s folk song “Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow.” The song tells what the farmer does but admits in every chorus “you, nor I, nor anyone knows how….” Below are links to ta video of children singing and a site with the lyrics.
Kindergarten class singing at Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow
Find the lyrics at Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow.
_There are several ways to explore the seed metaphor with children. If you use any of them take time to work with both sides of the metaphor. Children have trouble getting the “teaching point” in metaphors.
Show or give each child a seed of one of the flowers being displayed in the sanctuary today. Ponder how such a small, dull little thing becomes such a colorful, wonderful flower. Make Jesus’ point that just as the flower grows from the seed, God’s Kingdom grows from each of our little gifts and deeds.
Display a single mustard seed (found in the spice section of grocery stores) and a photo of a mustard tree. Be amazed that such a small lump can turn into such a big shrub. Make Jesus’ point that every small thing we do can make such a big difference. Then, inform worshipers that one little mustard seed doesn’t just produce one bush. Mustard bushes are weeds. One quickly becomes several and several soon take over the whole field. That tells us something else about God’s Kingdom – it is unstoppable. It is going to fill the whole world.
Cut open an apple. Slice it and core it with the children. Together count the seeds in it to figure out how many trees could come from this one apple. (There were five in the one I ate for lunch.) Then point to one of the seeds and ask, ”If we planted this seed and it grew into an apple tree, how many apples would that tree produce?” Enjoy wild guesses and the possibility of this many apples every season for lots of seasons. Marvel at what comes from one little apple seed. Then go to Jesus’ point that just as much comes from each of our words, deeds, and gifts. If you have a small number of children, give each child an apple slice to eat. (I got this idea from someone who couldn’t remember where it came from. If anyone knows, let the rest of us know.)
_The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, is the simplest of stories about a little boy who plants a seed a waits for it to grow. Everyone tells him it will not grow, but he keeps tending it, and it does grow into a carrot. The book can be read aloud in about 2 minutes, but enjoying the pictures might add another minute. Today it is a child’s version of the growth parables and proof that when small things are done by small people with commitment, wonderful things can happen.