Trinity Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the liturgical year. As I read blogs and preacher helps I was surprised to learn that not all worship planners share this love. In fact most worship leaders seem to rather dread it or knock it as “the only festival of the church year that celebrates a doctrine.” I suspect the reason for this is that many begin planning thinking about the sermon and so start by feeling the need to preach a sermon on the Trinity that would wow their seminary theology profs and also be meaningful to the people in the pews in front of them. Old tapes about impossible term papers start playing - and it goes downhill from there. Not having to preach a trinity sermon, I begin by saying “It is God Sunday, the call is not to explain God but to celebrate God’s mysterious, more than we can ever explain presence. What could be better!” Of course it is a chance to do a little worship education about the Trinity, but since even the Trinity is an inadequate definition of God, I suggest that this may be a better week to celebrate God to explain God.
p Introduce the trinity. Most children know “God and Jesus,” but fewer hear much about the Holy Spirit – unless they heard the word during Pentecost celebrations last week. So the task is to add the Holy Spirit and to tie all three together. One way to begin is with Trinity images. Point to those in your worship space. Identify the three separate parts that are bound together, e.g. each circle of the intertwined circles. Name the three persons of the Trinity and briefly mention things we know about each one. Early in the service challenge worshipers to be alert for “father, son, and holy spirit” in your songs, prayers, and stories today. Even fill your pockets with wrapped candies for anyone who can tell you as they leave the number of those references in today’s worship.
|God is like a clover leaf???|
p Warning: Images of the Trinity feature three things that together make one thing, e.g. clover of 3 leaves, egg (yoke, white, shell),apple (either tree, food, seed or peel, core, flesh), even Neapolitan ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). Grasping these images requires the ability to transfer qualities of one thing to something unlike it – which is easier for adults than for children. Children have an easier time exploring different names of a single person, e.g. a person who is Granny, Mama and a Darling (wife). The transfer is easier because children are asked to relate qualities of people rather than qualities of inanimate objects to qualities of God who is more like a person than like an inanimate object. One way to do this is to identify all of your names, including your full name and your nicknames. You may want to identify times when you are called by different names and note that no matter which name is used, you are still you. Also hear the full names of several worshipers and make similar comments. Then ask if anyone knows God’s full name. From there discuss the three names for the Trinity.
p If you regularly use musical congregational responses that name the Trinity (The Doxology, Gloria Patri), interrupt after they are sung today. Ask, “What did you just sing?” Then, briefly walk through the words defining difficult words and explaining the meaning of the whole song as sung where it is. Then, invite the congregation to sing it again. (Do warn the musicians of your plan.)
p Celebrate God who is more than we ever understand. Many children assume that the adults all know everything there is to know about everything – including God. If during their childhood they are told repeatedly that this is not true, when they begin asking important questions about God they will know they are not being outrageous, but doing what everyone does and has done for years. That makes a big difference. So, today celebrate both what we know about God and the God who is more than we can ever fully understand.
As you do, cite the unanswerable questions people of all ages ask about God, such as but definitely not limited to
- What was God doing before God created the world?
- How can there never be a time before or after God?
- How can God pay attention to each person in the world all the time?
- Why did God create rattlesnakes and mosquitoes?
p If there is a conversational time with children, gather “I wonders” about God. Begin by telling some of the things you wonder about. Invite them to tell some of the things they wonder about. Be sure all worshipers knows that no honest “I wonder” is too funny or too bad to be pondered.
p To explore the fact that our understanding of God changes and grows, share some of your “used to thinks” about God and tell what you now think and how the change occurred. For example, I used to think God was a very old man but now think God is neither a man nor a woman. Also, express the expectation that what you now think may become a “used to think” in the future. (This could be done in a children’s time, but if it is done as part of the real sermon, children realize that you are talking to the adults too and expect their ideas about God to change and grow.)
p Sandy Sasso’s beautifully illustrated book In God’s Name notes that after creation all animals and people had names. But God did not. So, each the animals and people came up with its own name for God, none of which was complete without the others. The book is a bit long. To shorten it, read only pages 5 and 16-31. (Read only the names on page 29 that you have read aloud.)
p Invite children (or all worshipers) to write a poem about God during worship using a simple format. You might offer it on a worship worksheet and then invite folks to post theirs in a set spot with or without their name or to take it home to post where they can read it and talk with God about in the coming week.
p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p
2 words that describe God __________, __________
3 ing words that God does _______, ______, ______
What you want to say to God today _____________________
A name for God ____________
By YOUR NAME by__________________
p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p p
p Offer children a Trinity coloring sheet composed of a big triangle divided into three sections titled something like -
Something Jesus did.
A favorite places in the world God created.
A time I felt very close to God.
p Celebrate the three persons of the Trinity by singing one familiar hymn about each one. “For the Beauty of the Earth” or “This is My Father’s World” are good choices for creator. (To stretch worshipers’ understanding of God, challenge them to sing this is my mother’s world.) “Jesus Loves Me” is of course the most child friendly Jesus hymn. Select the Holy Spirit that is most familiar and uses the simplest language. This might even turn into a lessons and carols service honoring the Triune God.
p “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” is filled with long complicated words that describe God who is more than we can fully understand. If this is pointed out, children enjoy all the impossible words praising God who is more than we can fully understand.
The Texts for Year C
This year’s texts are mostly beyond children. That makes it a good year to focus more on celebrating God using the ideas above than on exploring these texts. Still, a few words about them….
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Reid, Robert, 1862-1929. Wisdom Mural,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library,
[retrieved April 24, 2013]. Original source:
p If you want to stretch all worshipers’ understanding of God, this is a great text with which to start. Before reading it display this image of Wisdom noting that we all say God is neither a man nor a woman and that this is a picture of God as a woman. Explain that the reading from Proverbs that we are about to hear describes God as a woman at work caring for the world. Challenge worshipers to see God in this reading.
p After introducing Wisdom as a picture of God as a woman, have a woman read the text.
p Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root, tells the creation story in its biblical seven days featuring Big Momma with a baby on her hip as the Creator. It is a wonderful way to challenge worshipers to think about God in the feminine. Though it takes at least 8 minutes to read aloud, the easy dialect makes it will worth the time. It would, however, be possible to select just one or two days to read during the sermon to make your point. (FYI, I learned of this book by searching for Trinity on Children's Literature: A Resource for Ministry and found a copy in my public library.)
p This is the most child friendly text for today. The language is simple and it enjoys God rather than explains who God is. That may make it a good day to preach the psalm rather than one of the more esoteric texts.
p To respond to the psalmist’s call to celebrate God’s majesty, invite the whole congregation to echo the worship leader in reading this psalm with interspersed comments, song snippets, and hand motions. (It is improvisation based on the old practice of lining out scripture readings.)
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 (lip 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
p If you focus on this psalm to explore the partnership between God and people, read “Partners” from Marc Gellman’s story book, Does God Have a Big Toe? “Partners” retells the creation story ending with a conversation between God and Adam and Eve in the garden in which they agree to be partners in “finishing the world.” When asked, God defines partner thusly…
"A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. O the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.”
Children will not understand this passage as it is read. They depend on the worship leader to describe in their own words how God acts through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Even when this is done, it is meaningful to children only as a summary of the three persons of Trinity. Connect it to Trinity images in the sanctuary or to frequently-used liturgical responses that mention the Trinity.
This is another passage that children will not understand until they are older. The language and ideas about the Holy Spirit are simply too abstract for them at this point in life.
J J J J J J J J J J J J J J
p And again, a reminder that the end of the school year is coming up. That event is hugely more important to your children than any ideas about the Trinity at this point in their lives. So, go to School Is Out!!!! for ideas for recognizing it in the congregation’s worship on the appropriate Sunday.