Many of these texts read together could be a good antidote for the fall season’s over dedication to being the best, the greatest, Number 1. Proverbs describes an impossibly perfect woman who fewer and fewer women take seriously. Jesus in Mark insists that it is not about being "the greatest." James warns that a lot of our problems rise in our ambitions and strivings. Together they take us back to grace. It’s not wrong to do our best, but we mess up when we obsess about it.
X To help children understand how many women feel about this alphabet poem about “the good wife” read them the beginning of a similar poem about “the good kid.” The children might call out each letter of the alphabet with the leader responding with the verse based on that letter with emphasis on the key word or phrase. Talk about how this poem makes them feel. Laughing, suggest other poems like “A Good Dad” or “A Good Teacher” or “A Good Friend.” The point of all this is that none of us are that good and that is OK.
I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I
The Good Kid
A A good kid is able to do whatever is asked.
B “Be thoughtful and be kind to every person all the time” is the motto which a good kid follows every day.
C Clean rooms, clean clothes, clean papers, and clean desks show the presence of good kid.
D Doing what is right all the time is what a good kid always does.
E Everyone thinks a good kid is wonderful and praise comes to the good kid every single day.
F Football, basketball, baseball, soccer and all other sports come easily to the good kid. Good kids are sports stars.
G Good grades cover the reports of good kids. They are excellent students.
H Happy is the word that describes a good kid all the time.
This is my stab at it. Feel free to use it as is or to edit freely. Have fun.
I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I
XScornful, scoffers, and chaff are unfamiliar words to most children, so choose your translation carefully and point out strange words before reading if needed. (There is no translation that includes none of these words. So, choose the one that fits you congregation and introduce its “hard words.”)
X Psalm 1 is an almost over-simplistic comparison of “the good” and “the wicked.” To make the comparison visual, have it read by two readers (perhaps one wearing a dark shirt and pants/skirt and the other wearing a white or light colored shirt and pants/skirts). One reads the verses about the good. The other reads the verses about the wicked. They begin standing back to back in the center of the sanctuary. Each one turns to recite his or her verses facing the congregation then returns to the starting position. This is most effective if the readers actually recite their verses from memory.
Reader 1: Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Reader 2: The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
Reader 1: For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
Reader 2: but the way of the wicked will perish.
NOTE: I used the NRSV in the script because this psalm is well known in this version. For a translation with an easier vocabulary for children look at Today’s English Version.
X Visualize the major images in the psalm with a display that juxtaposes a lush leafy plant and a vase of dry brittle weeds/straw. (BTW, talk in advance with the flower arranger so the weeds aren’t an elegant display!) Point to the displays before reading the psalm or talk about them during the sermon to explore the psalmist’s message. Ceremoniously carry the weeds from the sanctuary following the reading.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22
X This is a very adult passage. It asks the reader to see the world through the thoughts (through the eyes) of the enemy. Children, however, have trouble learning to see what they do and say through the eyes of their friends. Seeing through the eyes of the enemy is simply beyond the mental ability of the younger children and is a stretch for the older ones. So, I’d skip this with the children.
X If you do read this text in worship consider the Roman Catholic lectionary suggestion that we read only 2:17-20. That focuses the reading considerably.
Jeremiah 11:18-20 and Psalm 54
Both of these are fairly sophisticated responses to the crucifixion and resurrection. They require a great deal of explaining to children. Today, I would stick with simply retelling the Passion story. See suggestions under Mark 8 below.
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
X The Roman Catholic lectionary again streamlines this rather long repetitive text to James 3:16-4:3. It is easier for children to stick with the shorter reading.
X Judy Blume’s picture book, The Pain and The Great One goes both with James’ teachings about not getting so tied up in ourselves and what we want and with the argument about greatness in Mark. An eight year old big sister, "the Great One,” and her six year old brother, “the Pain,” each rant about the unfair advantages the other has. It’s a conversation most families will recognize. It takes 7-8 minutes to read the entire book with the drama it demands. If needed, the book could be shortened considerably by editing out parallel parts of each child’s rant, e.g. leave out the part about the blocks and the parts about staying up late or having the blocks to himself. Or, you could select a few key phrases to say with great drama knowing that children and parents can fill in with all the others. If you use this book in exploring James’ insistence that many of our problems spring from our jealousies of others and our greedy wants, offer a few similar rants often heard from teenagers and adults – maybe from others at the office, etc.
X This reading falls into 2 parts: the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection and Jesus’ discussion with his disciples about what constitutes greatness. For children they are rather separate conversations.
IF THE "ADD IMAGE" BUTTON WERE WORKING I'D POST A PICTURE OF THE CRUCIFIXION FROM THE VANDERBILT LIBRARY GREAT ART SERIES HERE. BUT IT IS NOT WORKING. SO I'M GIVING YOU THE LINK TO THE PICTURE ( Crucifixion Painting ) AND ENCOURAGING YOU TO GO THERE IN SEARCH OF OTHER PICTURES OF HOLY WEEK EVENTS TO USE IN TELLING THE PASSION STORY WITH THE CHILDREN.
X Verses 30-32, the prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection, are an opportunity to retell the Holy Week story in September – without the distractions of Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs. Gather a set of pictures tracing the events of Holy Week or find a simple Easter Bible story book in the library with which to retell the events of Holy Week. I would use the pictures in the book to tell the story in my own words. This is a broad strokes reminder of the events, not a detailed retelling of them.
HINT: In September you will not find Easter books in the bookstores – even on line. Go dig in any cache of children’s books you keep at the church. You will more likely find useable art in an Easter picture book than in the Easter stories in a book of collected Bible stories.
X Verses 33 – 37 speak to children of something that is very real to them. They have had the “who is the greatest” conversation with their friends repeatedly. They have argued about who is the greatest ball player in the world, who is the best speller in their class, who among those present is the greatest at … whatever they are doing at the moment. They are encouraged to be the best, the champion, the greatest. We saw the cultural drive for this at the Olympics. It will show up again in all the reality shows this fall. From an early age we ply children with trophies, ribbons, titles, and more that mark their greatness at all sorts of things. Jesus’ message flies in the face of all of this. Jesus says God is not interested in who is greatest at anything. God is interested in who pays attention to the least of the people.
X Since children are children and feel quite important, skip or downplay Jesus’ use of a child as a symbol of the totally powerless and unimportant. They don’t get the point. Instead, they get the point from Jesus' insistence that the greatest one is not the one who has wins all the prizes and is extra specially talented, but the one who pays attention to and takes care of the people who need love and care most.
X Judy Blume’s The Pain and the Great One can be seen as a child’s version of the disciples discussion about who is the greatest. The trick is to recognize in the children’s rants feelings we all (and the disciples) have at all ages. We want to be special, the great one, and most loved. Jesus is telling us that those feelings are dead ends. We need to stop worrying about ourselves and start paying attention to people around us. The surprising thing is that when we do that we are happier.