Thursday, September 27, 2012

Year B - Thanksgiving Day, October 8, 2012 in Canada, November 22, 2012 in the United States

RThe RCL offers a different set of readings for Thanksgiving for each year.  They are unique but share common themes.  Go to Thanksgiving Day (Year A) for suggestions about Thanksgiving in general including:
Ø Ways to include children in community Thanksgiving services
Ø Commentary from child’s point of view on the traditional Thanksgiving hymns
Ø One children’s story book about gratitude
Ø A Thanksgiving homework assignment for worshipers
R To those I add:

In the congregation’s prayers include prayers for the long holiday weekend.  Some children are looking forward to seeing extended family members. Others are dreading a boring, nothing special holiday.  Those excited about family gatherings often face undesired seating assignments at “the feast,” uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and long trips in cramped cars.  All are worthy of prayer.

Focus on the word “blessings” in the Doxology.  Define blessings as the good things that make life worth living and that you know are gifts.  Name a few of your own.  Invite worshipers to name some of theirs.  Then sing the song.

This could be done as a children’s time just before the singing of the Doxology or could be done with the whole congregation in their seats.  For fun, let the congregation start to sing the Doxology.  Interrupt after the word “blessings” to have this discussion.  Then, pointing out that now we are now ready to truly praise God for all our blessings, invite the congregation to sing the Doxology.  Obviously you need to let the musicians in on your plan.

This Year’s Texts

Joel 2:21-27

R Often when children list things for which they are thankful they jokingly list lots of seemingly silly things.  Pick up on that with a “thank God for dirt” discussion.  List all sorts of wonderful things about dirt
Ø Mud pies
Ø Good smell of freshly plowed dirt
Ø All the worms, snails, etc that live in dirt and help enrich it
Ø It turns seeds into flowers, trees, and food
Ø Clay that makes jars, mugs, even bricks with which to build houses
Ø Minerals we use for medicines
Then read verse 21.  From there you can jump to Matthew’s flowers of the field.

R Repeat the process with animals and Matthew’s birds of the air.

Psalm 126

R This may be an especially good psalm to read after a less than bountiful harvest.  Verses 1-3 recall how it felt to be thankful in a really good year (after they had returned from Exile).  Verses 4-6 are filled with hope during a bad year that the good years will return.  To emphasize this, have each half of the psalm read by a different half of the congregation.  The reading groups might be the choir and the congregation or two halves of the congregation.

REMEMBER that farm children will be quite aware of the problems with the “bad year.”  Urban children are less likely to even register that it has been a bad year.  It may help the urban children to hear about higher food prices and even foods that are harder to find in the stores after a “bad year” on the farms.

R This psalm plus the Joel text may be an opportunity to identify what makes a “good year” and a “bad year” – both agriculturally and in all of life.  With this as background, you can then explore the differences in saying thanks in good and bad years.

I Timothy 2:1-7

R Paul instructs Timothy to lead his people in praying for community and national leaders.  In the US after an election in which people were anything but respectful of each other ( I am posting this in September), praying for our leaders no matter whether we voted for them or not, is part of much needed healing.  Children miss out on such prayers when they are voiced in broad general terms.  To help them join in…

Ø Together make a big scribble on a poster.  Write the names of a leader or governing body in each section.  Then go through the list identifying prayers for each one.

Ø In an “eyes-open prayer” display pictures of people, locations, even events from the last year.  Offer prayers for each one being specific.  This could be a matter of projecting pictures for all to see as a prayer leader prays about them.  Or, it could be a prayerful discussion with the children or the whole congregation.

Ø     If your ritual includes prayers for leaders on a regular basis, chances are good they are general lists of officers and types of leaders.  Take time today to identify the people who currently serve in those offices and put the prayers for them into your own words.  

R Commentators point out that the leaders Timothy and his friends were to pray for were Romans who were trying to kill as many Christians as possible.  In a polarized nation and world this is a call to pray for people with whom we agree and for people with whom we disagree.  Create a responsive prayer in which the worship leader describes a person or group on one side of an issue and then the leader or group on the other side.  After each petition the congregation adds, “Lord, bless them and keep us living together in peace.”  Pray for countries on different sides of international conflicts, political leaders, and local groups.

R The Christological hymn describing Christ as the mediator is hard for children to understand.  First, they need a definition of mediator.  Then, they need help to get around the idea that God is big and scary and Jesus is the good guy who helps us deal with God.  On Thanksgiving I’d simply read this part without drawing much attention to it.

R This text is also read on Proper 20 in Year C.  Go to Proper 20 (Year C) for ideas about God’s love for all the people of the world that may or may not be applicable on Thanksgiving.

Matthew 6:25-33

R This passage shows up twice in the lectionary - on Thanksgiving Day and on the Eighth Sunday after Epiphany which falls just before Lent.  It reads differently and asks for different consideration at these two moments in the church year.  On Thanksgiving it calls us to look to God with gratitude and trust.  Before Lent it admonishes us not to get all tied up in our clothes and financial worries.

R  Adults worry about aging.  Children worry about growing up.  If they play basketball, they want to be tall enough.  If they are a dancer or gymnast, they want to be small enough.  All want to grow up to be good looking. 

Show pictures of baby animals and adults animals.  Marvel at how they change.  End with pictures of humans at different ages.  Note that God has a different plan for each one – and that God’s plans are good.

Read and enjoy the opening of Peter Spier’s picture book People.  Skip all the information on the opening page.  Start with “We come in all sizes and shapes…” and read through “All of us want to look our best.  Still what is considered beautiful or handsome in one place is considered ugly, and even ridiculous, elsewhere.”  Point to and briefly enjoy all the differences in the pictures.  Do be aware that this book was published in 1980 and so includes some cultural distinctions that are no longer accepted.  So focus on the pictures rather than the verbal country identifications on the page about clothing.  Then reread verse 25 and connect it to all the Spier drawings.  

R Ask children’s classes to prepare banners by pasting birds and/or flowers and/or people all over a large swath of paper or cloth.  There may be one banner with all mixed in together or three topically separate banners.  For a community service children from several churches could gather the pictures and turn them over to children/adults of one of the churches to put together.  Adults could mount the banners on poles for older children to carry in during an opening processional.  Plan for them to be displayed throughout the service.

Thinking About Children During Stewardship Season

If you are getting ready for or into Stewardship season in your congregation, it might be a good time to check out the post on Children, Money and the Sanctuary.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Childrens Sabbath

I was given this poster by a friend I met in Australia.

“Anonymous” asked about Children’s Sabbath in the comments for October 14th.  That is a good question.  I’m replying here rather than in the comments for that day both in the hope that more people will be alerted to this rich possibility and also to give everyone some lead time to plan and think ahead.  It is still possible to at least add a Children’s Sabbath stream to worship in mid-October, even to plan a day built around those issues.

Children’s Sabbath is a weekend when worship gatherings focused on the needs of all of the nation's children are encouraged in all faith traditions by The Children’s Defense Fund, a nationally based American non-profit whose goal is “to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start on life.” The Children’s Sabbath is generally held the third full weekend in October, but congregations are free to celebrate it when it fits their schedule.  For that reason many in the United Methodist denomination hold Children’s Sabbath’s on the second weekend of the month.

This is not like a “children’s Sunday” in which the children of a congregation take leadership in planning and leading worship in order to learn more about worship and for the congregation to give them attention.  Instead this Sunday is focused on the justice needs of children of the whole world. 

The children of the congregation may be involved in two ways:
1.      By their presence, they remind the rest of the congregation of all the children of the world.
2.     They are taught to be aware of the needs of other children, both those they encounter every day and those around the world they see on television.

There are lots of ways to pursue these goals:
1.     Include children in the visible leadership of worship on this day.  (This is probably not a day for the children to shape the content of or write parts of worship.)  Older children can read a scripture reading.  A children’s class or choir can sing a song.  Children can serve with adults as ushers and greeters.  Children can serve as acolytes. 

2.     Children can draw pictures that can be turned into bulletin covers and/or banners or projected art.  They might be asked to illustrate the Biblical texts or the hymns for the day.  Or, if they have been exploring the needs of some children, they could draw pictures of children in those situations.

3.     Tell the stories of groups in your congregation who are working on behalf of children.  Honor specific people describing what they do for children in need.
4.      Have a collection of something for children with a specific need, e.g. new underwear for children at the homeless shelter (call it “Undie Sunday”), stuffed animals to be given children as they are taken into foster care.  Explain to children and their families in advance what is needed and why it is needed.  Encourage children and parents to shop together for their contribution.

That is a starter list.  Go to National Observance of Children's Sabbath Manual  for 200 on-line pages of very specific ideas and prepared parts of worship for services of many faiths worshiping separately and for multi-faith community services. 

Anonymous, this is more than you asked for.  I suspect you already know all about the Children’s Sabbath and are mainly interested in ways to tie this Sunday to the lectionary texts for that day.  I will think about that as I work on the texts for October 21 later this week.  But you mentioned Oct 13 rather than the 21st- a Methodist perhaps???  So, I took a brief look at the texts already posted for October 13th. 

      1. There are unfortunately lots of very young children who live the life of Job.  Below are some story books that explore their worlds.  Any of these stories could be read or retold in worship.   All are available on and were available at my public library.

A Shelter in Our Car, by Monica Gunning
A little girl and her mother cope with living in their car
Changing Places: A Kids’ View of Shelter Living, Margie Chalofsky
A collection of brief statements from children living in shelters
Fly Away Home, Eve Bunting
Description of life of a father and son living in a large airport
Someplace to Go, Maria Testa
The daily after-school schedule of a older boy who lives at a shelter
2. Saint Nicholas, by Ann Tompert, which I cite as a way of talking about use of money in the gospel, is a good fit to Children’s Sabbath since Nicholas uses his wealth to care for poor children.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Year B - Proper 23, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 14, 2012)

Today’s texts explore complicated adult concerns.  Children will be lost in many of them.  But, we can explore with the children some of the literal basics that underlie these adult conversations and in the process enrich the thinking of the adults too.

“Jesus Loves Me” may be the summary song for the week.  Like the young man in Mark we all depend on Jesus who it turns out does love us and stand with us (see Hebrews).  We know that because of the Word we find in the Bible (also Hebrews). 

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

L The RCL skips over the “consolations” of Jobs friends and goes straight to Job’s complaints today.  The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, offers a summary of the arguments of the friends and Job’s insistence of his innocence and complaint to God in “Cheering Job Up?”  It can be read in 3 minutes by one person or as reader’s theater by a Narrator, 3 friends, and Job.  I might read it before reading the biblical text.

L This story is important to children for two reasons:
1. It insists that Job did not suffer because he had done something bad.  Children, even more than adults, tend to blame themselves for doing something bad that caused pain in their family – a death, parental divorce, illness of a family member or themselves, a devastating accident, etc.  This is an opportunity to tell them directly that God does not do that to Job or to us.  They will not hear it in the story, but will depend on us to tell them directly.

2.  It is OK to feel lost and lonely and angry with God.  Since the vast majority of the stories and talk they hear about God describe God as loving us and with us all the time, children assume that everyone but them feels God’s loving presence all the time.  This is an opportunity to tell them directly that that is not so.  Everyone has times when we feel God is far away from us.  There are also times when we want to yell at God.  Lots of the time we pray “thank you, God” or “you are great, God” or “help me, God.”  But it is also OK to pray “that is not fair, God” and “I don’t like this, God” and “why did you let this happen, God.”  Just as we can tell our best friends and people in our families the things that hurt us and make us angry, we can tell them to God. 

One way to conclude this discussion is to collect and pray complaining prayers.  An informal congregation might do this together.  More formal ones will have to depend on the worship leaders to make the list.  Complaints children might offer include illness, the death of pets, fights that they cannot control, scary storms,….

WARNING: The RCL saves God’s answer to Job’s complaints for next Sunday and the resolution of the story for the following Sunday.  Young attention spans are not that long.  At the very least let them know that God answered Job, that Job thought it was a good answer, and that you will hear about the answer next week. 

Psalm 22:1-15

L Introduce this as a prayer Jesus prayed while he was dying on the cross and that Job might have prayed when everything was going so wrong for him.  Encourage children to listen for “how bad it is phrases.”  Translate the opening line “My God why have you abandoned me?,” to “God, why have you left me on my own when I need you most?”

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

G This prophecy that Israel will be punished for their unjust treatment of the poor is probably included among today’s readings to expand on the gospel message about wealth.  But it can confuse children if read the same day we read Job’s complaint.  So be careful.

G Because the vocabulary is hard for children, if I did read this text, I’d read it from the TEV which makes more immediate sense.  It is also important to set the verses in context before reading them.

Psalm 90:12-17

Consider reading more of this psalm.  Go to  Year A - Proper 25 for ideas and a script for reading more of this psalm.

Hebrews 4:12-16

& Children do not understand verse 12 as it is read.  However, the verse can be used as an invitation to explore the role of the Bible in worship with them.  Begin by saying that God’s Word is another name for the Bible.  Then, try some of the following:

1.  Print WORD on a poster.  Define it at the beginning of the service and let it sponsor the day’s worship ala Sesame Street.

2.   Give each child a strip of Bible stickers to put in the order of worship every time they read or sing from the Bible.  Older children will match it to lines in the order of worship.  Younger children will simply use the Bible stickers to decorate their page.  Both will have celebrated the connection between the Bible and worship.

3. Explain any prayers or rites your congregation follows around the reading of scripture.  In some churches that would include the response “The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.”  Point it out, say what it means, and practice it.  In churches which carry a Bible into the sanctuary in procession, explain why you do this and re-enact the processional.

4. If your congregation uses special Bibles in worship, introduce them.  Tell the history of those with interesting stories.  Explain why you display a special Bible in the worship center.  If this is a children’s time bring the Bible down so the children can see and even touch it.

5. After explaining the worship Bibles, point out that the books themselves are not what is special.  What is special is the words in those books.  Encourage the children to listen carefully to and learn those words.


G Verses 13-16 are about the fact that God/Jesus knows everything we do.  The big word is OMNISCIENCE.  The child version is ALL-KNOWING.  If you started a poster of Hebrew's words describing Christ last week, add one of these words today.  If you are not keeping a running poster, turn one or both of these words into a big poster or banner.  Present it at the beginning of the service.  Take time to pronounce and define the word/s and to encourage worshipers of all ages to listen for it and for ideas about God knowing us completely during worship.

Christ Pantocrator at Hagia Sophia
from Wikipedia Commons

G The idea of God judging us may be new to children who hear more about God’s unending love.  Introduce the idea with two pictures of Jesus.  First, go to one of Jesus with the children.  Elaborate a little on ways we know God loves us.  Then produce a picture of Christ the Judge.  Identify the differences.  This Jesus looks very powerful and important.  This Jesus looks a little scary.  Read Hebrews 4:13 noting that it goes with this picture.  Insist that both pictures are of Jesus.  That the same Jesus who loves us also judges us.  So we are safe.  But, we also try to be our best for Jesus the Judge.

There is nothing that can be hidden from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.  (TEV)

G WARNING: Children can misunderstand this passage from Hebrews to say that God is the scary Judge and Jesus is the nice guy who protects us from scary God.  The clearest way to avoid that is to name it and say it is not the way things are.

G If you use the Apostles’ Creed in worship regularly, point out the phrase “he will come to judge the living and the dead.”  Put it into your own words.  If you use the traditional “quick and the dead,” be sure to explain that the quick are those who are alive – us!  Only then invite all worshipers to stand to say the creed together.  (It might be helpful to direct people to open their hymnals to the Apostles’ Creed for this discussion and the following reading.)

G Most children have made yarn God’s eyes.  Display one and explain its meaning as a symbol of God watching us all the time. 

Take it to another level by giving children (or all worshipers?) a plastic bag filled with two craft sticks and several lengths of colored yarn with which to create their own God’s eyes while they listen to a sermon about God’s knowing us through and through.  Help them get started by having the craft sticks already tied together and the central diamond started.

Mark 10:17-31

$ In today’s world when many cannot sew, children may need a prop to understand “the eye of the needle.”  Demonstrate threading a needle using either a tapestry needle or a plastic child’s needle and a piece of yarn.  In a smaller room you might also want to display a real sewing needle and the thread that must go through that tiny hole.  Then with your hands show how big a camel is.  Finally, reread what Jesus said and put his message into your own words. 

$ To recall the “eye of the needle” at the end of the service, prepare children to form arches with their arms (similar to the bridges in the game “London Bridge Is Falling Down”) at each of the exits.  Worshipers will have to stoop to go through those arches (or needle eyes) and into a week as disciples.  Coach the children to say “Go in peace, God loves you” to each worshiper who passes through their arch.

$ The basic message of the story of the rich young man for children is that Jesus wants us to share our money with others who need it.  Because children are less familiar with the intricacies of money and because they think concretely, we often involve them in collecting food, books, and other items for people who need them.  But, they need to hear early that we are also meant to share our money.  Go to Children, Money and the Sanctuary on my blog for a collection of ideas about how to explore the use of money with children in the sanctuary.  This might be especially useful if this is the stewardship season in your congregation.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau, is a parallel to the story of the rich young ruler, but with a happy ending.  An old quilter makes the most beautiful quilts in the world, but only for the poor.  A king so greedy that he decided to have two birthdays every year and demanded gifts from all his subjects on each birthday heard of her quilts and wanted one.  He hoped that it would make him happy, though none of his other possessions did.  She refused to give him one.  He punished her, but each time she escaped his punishments through kind deeds.  Finally he vowed to give away all his gifts and she promised to add a square to his quilt for each one he gave away.  In the process he does indeed find happiness.  It takes at least 15 minutes to read aloud – and could be a great stewardship season all by itself.  Save 5 minutes by omitting the story of bear and the sparrows who save the woman from the king.

The illustrations are part of the magic of this book.  If you do projections during worship, enlist the aid of a techie with artistic flair to scan pieces of it to show as the story is read.  (A seminary professor tells me that if you have purchased a copy of the book and share the scanned show with no one else, you are not in violation of copyright laws.)

$ The real Saint Nicholas’ rich parents died when he was young leaving him to be raised by his uncle.  The uncle taught Nicholas the importance and joy of sharing his wealth.  Throughout his life Nicholas found ways to use his money to help people.  He is best known for leaving money to save children from being sold into slavery or to giving poor girls dowries so they could marry.  Wikipedia has a good basic article about his life.  Saint Nicholas, by Ann Tompert, is a collection of stories about his giving ways.  The book is too long to read in its entirety but one or two stories could be told or read.

$ Many point out that this story is more about grace than about what we do with all our stuff.  Real happiness and meaning are not found in stuff.  Another Christmas story that makes this point is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss.  Because it is so familiar, all you may need is a few lines,

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:  “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

$ Before singing “Take My Life and Let it Be,” identify all the parts of us that are mentioned – life, hands, voice, silver and gold, moments, feet, lips, intellect, will, heart, love, myself.  (It is easy to find them in the Presbyterian hymnal because they are at the beginning of the first two lines of the song as it is printed on the page.)  Next, point out “take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”  Explain that silver and gold are not just metals.  They stand for money.  A mite is a little tiny bit of something.  Rephrase the hymn “take my money, not a penny would I hold back.”  Talk about how hard that is to sing, then invite worshipers of all ages to sing it together.

Worshiping With Pencils and Crayons

We all know that children often thrive doing more than one thing at a time – especially when one of those things is listening.  So one way to draw them into worship is to provide things for them to do with their hands while they listen to readings and preaching.  For years parents have handed children a pencil with which to draw in the margins of the bulletin.  Some congregations provide doodle pads – maybe even labeled “Little Lutheran Doodle Pad” in the pews.  Others provide paper on a clipboard and crayons.  All good starters.

To take it to the next level, rather than let them draw simply to endure the talking what about asking them to draw things that connect them to what is being said?  For example,

Before a scripture that you can easily visualize, ask the children to listen then draw what they hear.  In some cases you can leave it general, e.g. draw a picture of the slaves walking to freedom through the sea.  In other cases hone the task, e.g. ask the children to draw the faces of Mary and Martha during their spat about who did all the work. 

At the beginning of the sermon pose a question asking the children to draw a picture of their answer to the question.  Suggest they might listen to the sermon for ideas.  “We are going to be thinking together about using money to help others.  While you listen, draw pictures of ways you can use money to help another person.”

Early in the service give children a sheet of paper with the words of a prayer or one verse in a hymn that you will sing later in the service to decorate or illustrate and then use when singing or praying.  Creation hymns are especially easy candidates for illustration.

Encourage children to draw their prayers.  On a sheet of paper they can simply draw and write words of everything they want to talk with God about today talking to God as they do.  Their drawings might be in the sections of a scribbled pattern or simply splashed all over the page.

To convince the children that their work is an important part of worship….

Invite them forward to show you their art and talk briefly about it. 

Invite them to tape their art to a rail at the front of the chancel or tack it on a special bulletin board in the back.  One preacher I know has a bulletin board on his office door especially for the children to leave him drawings and notes. 

Invite children to drop their drawings into the offering plates as they are passed as a gift to God.

Take time to talk briefly with children about their drawings as they leave the sanctuary.  Shake hands with the adults, talk art with the children.

With their permission, use children’s art as the cover of or in the margins of the printed order of worship.  Or, display it as an illustration of a sermon point.

The children are drawn into worship in these ways.  Being public about them also lets all the adults in the sanctuary know that drawing during worship is part of worship rather than undisciplined behavior.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Year B - Proper 22, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion Sunday (October 7, 2012)

This week is World Communion Sunday in most congregations.  For children that means raising awareness that Christians all around the world are one big family.  We may have skin of different colors, wear different clothes, speak different languages, and do all sorts of different things, but we are all baptized and we all share communion.  Children enjoy imagining people in tropical jungles, way up in the mountains, on the beach, etc. all eating bread and drinking the cup to remember and honor Jesus.  Go to Proper 22 (Year A) for general ideas about drawing children into the congregation’s celebration of this day.

This week is also The Festival of Saint Francis.  Many congregations celebrate this day by blessing the pets on Sunday.  Next year (after I have completed the lectionary cycle J) I promise to do a post on this along with posts on the season of Creation.

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

L The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, by Mary Batchelor, provides a children’s version of the story of Job in three sections that match the first, third and fourth readings in the RCL series.  (RCL has no account of the friends’ bogus comfort.)  These stories also fill in many of the details omitted by the lectionary readings.  I actually prefer this division of the story and would use it rather than the RCL divisions.  It would be possible to read them as the scripture lesson for each week.  It would also be possible to turn them into readers’ theater.  Create the script by assigning the paragraphs of it to the appropriate readers and omitting all the “he saids” and the one “she said”.  Staging could be as simple as readers standing in different spots in the chancel or include planned movements and a few simple props or costumes.  Presenting it is a good worship leadership assignment for a youth or adult class or a team of five thespians.  The Narrator, Job, God could be read by the same person each week.

“Troubles for Job” tells the story of all Job’s woes.  It can be read in 3 minutes and would need a Narrator, God, Satan, Job and Job’s wife. 

“Cheering Job Up?” summarizes the arguments of Job’s friends.  It can be read in 3 minutes and calls for a Narrator, Friend 1, Friend 2, Friend 3 (the fourth person) and Job.

“God Talks to Job” recounts Job’s conversation with God.  It can also be read in 3 minutes and would need only 3 readers – a Narrator, God, and Job.

L If you plan to worship around Job’s story only once, “The Story of Job” in The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton, condenses the entire story into two pages that can be read in 5 minutes.  If I were reading it, I would edit it here and there to reflect my understanding of the story.  But, the basic format is solid.

L Especially if you are going to make this into a worship series, children need to know a few things about the book of Job.

First, and most importantly, they need to be told straight out that this is not a story about real things that happened to real people.  It is a made-up story that people have told for thousands of years to think about why people suffer.  God would never kill children to test their father or make a person sick just to see what the person would do.  God is not like that.

One way to introduce this literary form is to point out that the Bible is a library of many kinds of literature.  There are letters, poems, court records, and important made up stories that people have told each as they try to understand the world. This is one of the latter.

Older children might understand the comparison to “The Tortoise and the Hare” or some other fable designed to make a point.

Satan needs an introduction.  To most children Satan is the same as the Devil and is evil.  Satan tries to lead people to do bad things.  Satan is also the “president of Hell.”  In Job Satan is not trying to lead people to do bad things.  Instead Satan is the tester, the evaluator.  He is like a sparring partner who boxes with an athlete to push him to do better.  His question in Job is whether Job will only love God so long as he has an easy life. 

Related point: Children see t shirts that say “the Devil made me do it” and recognize its claim that the wearer is not responsible for what he or she does.  The book of Job insists that the Devil can’t make us do anything.  We, like Job, are our own bosses and can decide what we do and say in any situation.

L Job knows what the writer of Hebrews also knows.  God/Jesus is awesome, bigger than anything we can imagine, and would be dangerous if God was not so loving.  Older children can be directed to this truth.  God is not like an over the top grandparent who will give whatever we want.  We don’t love God just when things are going great for us.  We can pray, “God I need…” and “God, thank you for…”, but must also pray “God, I don’t understand…” and “God, help me get through…”

L Children’s books that parallel Job’s story include:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, begins “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  And, he was correct.  The book recounts all the awful things that happened to this little kid in a single day.  In the end his mother reassures him that some days are just like that.  Most children know this book and love it.  Though Alexander’s woes are not as serious as Job’s, they can be a good introduction to Job’s woes and to the question about why there are days like that.  It is too long to read in its entirety in owrship.  But, citing one or two pages, and listing in your own words all the other things that went wrong gets the point across and piques children’s curiosity to listen to what happened to Job on his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.  This book is almost surely available in your public library – if it is in.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket, bears a letter to the reader on the back cover of the first of 13 books in the series.  It is a good introduction to the series and parallels the situation of Job for children.

Dear Reader,

I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant.  It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children.  Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe.  From the very first page of this book, when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels.   One might say they are magnets for misfortune. 
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast. 
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

Psalm 26

If this is introduced as a prayer Job might have prayed while sitting miserably scratching his sores, children will catch an occasional phrase.

Genesis 2:18-24

AThis passage could be tied to the gospel discussion about divorce or to Psalm 8 and the Hebrews comments on human responsibility for the world. 

AIf you focus on human responsibility for the world, try one of two stories from Does God Have a Big Toe, by Marc Gellman. 

“Partners” describes how God got the world “almost finished” then told people to take over as partners.  Adam asked for and got a definition of partner that fits with the picture in psalm 8. 

“Adam’s Animals” is a somewhat longer story and explores Adam’s difficulties naming the animals with lots of comical missteps before he decides to let the animals tell him what they are.  Introduce this story with comments about how knowing a pet’s name gives you the power to call the pet and tell the pet what to do.  It also gives us the responsibility to care for the pet you named.  This story connects us to all the animals in the world in the same way.

AAsk young artists in advance to draw pictures of animals.  Make a collage of their pictures for the cover of the printed worship order.  You can even fill the margins of other pages with animals.

AIf you read this with Mark’s gospel, be careful.  Explain that this story tells what God’s plan for marriage is.  AND, note that we often fail to make that plan happen.  When we fail God still loves us.  More on this in the section on Mark below.

Psalm 8

Invite the whole congregation to echo the worship leader in reading this psalm with interspersed comments, song snippets, and hand motions. 


Psalm 8 Echo Reading

O Lord, our Lord,
your greatness is seen in all the world!

“This is my father’s world” (sing this )

Your praise reaches up to the heavens;

Praise the Lord!  (LOUD)

It is sung by children and babies.

Praise the Lord! (LOUDER)

You are safe and secure from all your enemies;

You stop anyone who opposes you.

When I look at the sky (sweep the sky with arm),
which you (look up) have made,

at the moon (form circle around your head with arms) 

and the stars (sprinkle the sky with stars with your fingers)

which you set in their places-
What are human beings, that you think of them; (make a questioning gesture)
What are men that you think of them? (point to boys)
What are women that you think of them? (point to girls)
mere mortals, that you care for them? (hands out to include all)
Yet you made them inferior only to yourself;

You crowned them (make yourself a crown with your hands) with glory and honor.

You appointed them rulers over everything you made;

In charge of everything you made

Responsible for everything you made,

You placed them over all creation:

sheep and cattle,

and the wild animals too;

the birds and the fish and the creatures in the seas.

Air we breathe and pollute (take a deep breath)

Food for many or a few (lick your lips with satisfaction)

Energy to keep us warm and moving (hug self to keep warm)
O Lord, our Lord, (throw hands up toward the sky)
your greatness is seen in all the world!


                                     Based on the TEV translation


Hebrews1:1-4; 2:5-12

V This text about Jesus the Christ needs a little organizing and restating for the children.  Basically it is saying that…

Jesus was one with God at the beginning of everything and will be one with God after everything ends.

Jesus worked with God on creating the whole world and keeps taking care of it.

In Jesus of Nazareth God lived among us as a person and allowed himself to be crucified.

Jesus is God in human skin.  Everything we know about Jesus tells us what God is like. 

Jesus Christ forgives us.

V Do a little worship education.  Instead of just reading the Apostles’ Creed in unison, focus on the phrases about Jesus in the Creed.  Read through those phrases commenting very briefly on each one.  Then reread the phrases pausing after each one for the congregation to respond, “Jesus is Lord!”

V Use this text to connect the story of the Old Testament with the New Testament.  Hold a Bible open to the Table of Contents, even ask worshipers to open their pew Bibles.  VERY briefly, point out familiar Old Testament stories about how God spoke to people, e.g. in Exodus we hear how God saved the people from slavery.  Then, point to the four gospels that tell us about how God spoke to us in Jesus, Acts that describes how the first Christians tried to follow Jesus, and the letters that show us what people were thinking about God and Jesus then.  Finally, direct everyone to Hebrews 1 and read the text for the day.  Close lifting the Bible saying, “The Word of the Lord” to which the people respond, “Thanks be to God.”

V To help the children grasp all the glory ascribed to Jesus in Hebrews begin a poster today that you add to each week you read from Hebrews.  Today’s word is GLORY!  This text summarizes Jesus’ glory.  Children often see Jesus mainly as their powerful friend and supporter.  This text insists that Jesus is also much bigger than just that.  Jesus was there at the beginning and will be there at the end, Jesus judges the whole world.  Print GLORY! in large letters somewhere on a banner or big poster in gold metallic pen.  Leave the center of the page open to add “LORD!” in the center in glitter pen on the last day of your series. 

Note from the end of this series:  If you try this growing poster/banner, look ahead now.  It got more complicated as I worked through all SEVEN weeks of Hebrews.  Here is what Lou Pennebaker ended up doing with it:
Last month I emailed you regarding your Hebrew Jesus poster idea. For the last 5 weeks I have been using one or two words each week for the children’s message in worship as we have followed the Lectionary through Hebrews. It has been a challenge and has taken me all 5 weeks to completely figure it all out! (I have changed the upcoming words several times.) Like you noted in your blog the verses get very repetitive. I appreciated all your notes each week in your blog and was able to incorporate some of them over the 5 weeks. I was able to use one or two words each week so that when we end this Sunday we will have spelled “Hebrews” (although I had to take a little creative license to do so).

For reasons specific to the life of our congregation we began a few weeks late with Hebrews 5:1-10 on 10/21 with High Priest. The following week (Heb. 7:23-28) we added Eternal. The third week was Communion Sunday (Heb. 9:11-14) so I used Broken (I had considered Blood but decided Broken was better for children and tied it into the words spoken at communion). After that I had to get creative. The 4th week (Heb. 9:24-28) was foR Everyone. And this Sunday (Heb. 10:19-25) we will add Worship JeSus as our response to Jesus who is our Eternal High Priest who was Broken foR Everyone.

The final Poster looks like this:
    High Priest

Thanks for letting me share your plan, Lou!

V World Communion Sunday makes this a good day to point out that Christ is the host at the Table.  In the Presbyterian rite we say “this table is not my table, it is not your table, it is not the table of NAME OF CHURCH, it is not the Table of the Presbyterian Church.  It is the Table of Jesus Christ and…”  Perhaps have the children or the whole congregation echo each phrase with you.  Briefly expound on the privilege of the host to decide who to invite.  Name places and people around the world who are joining you at Jesus’ Table today.  If you use projectors in worship, project photos of people from all around the world as communion is served.

V “Come Christians Join to Sing” and “When Morning Gilds the Sky” are good ways to sing of Christ’s glory today.  Point out the repeated phrases and urge even non-readers to sing them.

V If you are worshiping around theme of the environment perhaps celebrating St. Francis, take time to point out and enjoy the connection between Hebrews and Psalm 8.  Read Hebrews 2:6 -8a emphasizing “as someone once said.”  Have worshipers hold one finger in their pew Bible and turn to Psalm 8  (I’d give them page numbers.)  Read verses 4-6 saying, "guess who is the someone who said that!"  Then invite the congregation to read all of Psalm 8 – possibly using the script above.

Mark 10:2-16

A This text includes two rather separate stories.  To emphasize that and to be sure both stories get heard, have them read by two separate readers.  Ask an older child to read verses 13-16 about Jesus blessing the children.

To add a visual element have several readers move through 3 scenes in the chancel.  Start at one side of the chancel with Jesus, a disciple or two, and a Pharisee or two for verses 2-9.  Jesus and the disciples then step to the center for verses 10-12.  A woman and some young children approach from the other side as the disciples step between them and Jesus.  Jesus steps through the disciples for verses 14-15.  A narrator speaking from the lectern can knit it all together.

A If you are going to speak at length about this hard teaching about divorce remember that children who have experienced divorce are listening too.  They are as hurt by divorce as the adults are – maybe more hurt.  And, they are even more likely than the hurting adults to hear Jesus’ statement as proof that they are no good.  So, it is critical to make two points to them.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.      <!--[endif]-->God intends for marriage to be permanent.  Refer to the marriage vows.  Help children aspire to permanent marriages for themselves. 
<!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]-->
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.      <!--[endif]-->Divorce is a failure.  Children need to be constantly told that their parents’ divorce is their parents’ fault not theirs.  (Many children at some point feel they are to blame.)  Once they are clear that divorce is their parents’ failure, they then get defensive for them.  So, the church needs to help them understand and live with what their parents have done.  We can tell them that divorce is just one more sin – like greed and lying.  One way we know divorce is wrong is that it causes so much hurt for everyone involved.  But, we are humans and we all sin in lots of ways.  We know it is wrong to be greedy, but we all have greedy, grabby moments.  We know it is wrong to lie, but we all do.  All marriages start with high hopes of lasting forever, but some just do not make it.  That is sad, but true.  The good news is that God forgives us for being greedy and for lying and for our divorces. 

COMMENT: I am certain I’ve not got this last paragraph right for all people.  It’s my best stab at it.  I trust you to gather from it what looks right to you and go from there.  This is hard stuff in today’s world!

N Children hear in verses 13-16 that Jesus likes children.  They enjoy the fact that while adults tell them to grow up every day, Jesus tells the adults to be like children.  There is a lot more going on in the story for the adults, but for children it is that simple.

N This is a good day to pray for the children of the church – and to do so in a way that the children will hear.  A general prayer for the precious children of the congregation stuck in the middle of lots of other petitions will be missed entirely by those children.  So, in smaller congregations name all the children.  In larger congregations offer a prayer for each way or group in which the children participate in the church, e.g. “Lord, be with the children as they read the Bible with their teachers.  Help them listen and understand the important stories in it.”

N And of course, it is a great day to sing “Jesus Loves Me”  If you do, remember that older children consider it a baby song and resent being asked to sing it with just children.  So, invite the whole congregation to sing the song together from the hymnal.  Doing so helps them begin to reclaim the song as worthy of keeping as they continue to grow up.