There are at least two possible themes in these texts that speak to children.
F The people in the Elijah story and in the churches of Galatia need help making and sticking with choices. Both groups tend to go this way one day and that way another depending on what felt right at the time. They needed to know what was right and wrong and do it, always. During the summer, many children are a bit more on their own and so face more choices than they do during the structured school year. Things happen in the back room, at the pool, on the sports field, even in the back seat of the van that require they make choices. These stories challenge them to choose wisely.
F The people in the Elijah story needed to learn to trust God as much as the centurion did in the gospel story. (Though it is tempting to use the word FAITH here, TRUST is really more on target – and also saves the word FAITH for one of the future weeks of Galatians readings.)
F Summer could be a good time to focus on important faith words – like TRUST or CHOOSE. Having only scanned what is ahead, I would not commit to an every Sunday word series, but might start “an occasional series” of words. Before the call to worship of each service featuring a word, display a poster or banner with the word printed in large letters and maybe some decorations. Briefly say it, spell it, define it and encourage worshipers to listen for it in stories, songs, and prayers. This may be done like the sponsorships at the beginning of Sesame Street, e.g. “our worship today is brought to us by the word TRUST. T-R-U-S-T, trust. Trust is what you do when you jump from the side of the pool into the arms of an older friend who has promised to catch you. TRUST is deciding to do what a coach asks, even when it is a little scary. TRUST is doing what you think is right even when friends around you are not. At the end of our lives TRUST is dying knowing that God will be with us always. Listen today for a story about a soldier who trusted Jesus and for the word TRUST in our songs and prayers.”
1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39
F This story is calls for listeners with good imaginations. To encourage them describe the situation. Then ask listeners to close their eyes and try to see what is happening as you read. Read dramatically, even interrupting yourself to make points like “It almost sounds like there are two altars here, but there is only one altar made with 12 big rocks. Can you see it in your head?” or add information “These were not little peanut butter jars. They were big water jars that held maybe 6 or 7 gallons of water. That is a lot of water! Listen for what Elijah did with all that water.” Use your voice to contrast all the frantic action of the baal priests with Elijah’s quiet, deliberate action and prayer. With one big swoop of your arm illustrate the fire coming down on Elijah’s offering. (One way to encourage yourself to be dramatic is to invite the children forward to sit with you as you read the story from the big Bible. Sometimes their presence, even with closed eyes, frees us adults up to get more fully into the drama of the story.)
F Another way to encourage children to listen to the story, is to give them paper and crayons with which to draw as they listen. Before starting the reading tell them they are going to need wood brown, stone gray, and all the firey colors they have – maybe red, yellow and orange -to draw this story. Encourage them to work on their pictures as you explore the story in the sermon, then to show their pictures to you either at the door as they leave or by coming up front to talk to you as the offering plates are passed.
F Remember that children like adults are a bit jealous of the people in this story. They wish God did such fantastic things that they could see today. They feel better about wishing this when they hear that adults share the wish. If you read both this story and the gospel story, you can point out that the centurion did not need anything fancy to make him trust Jesus. The challenge to us is to be more like the trusting centurion and less like the wishy-washy people of Elijah’s time.
Psalm 96 or just verses 1-9
F To keep the focus on God’s power in the Elijah and/or gospel stories, read only verses 1-9. To recall God’s work in creation on the first day of summer, read the entire psalm. No matter how many verses you read, do not read them with “inside voices.” Instead challenge all readers to read them with “loud, happy outside voices.” The script below calls for three groups of readers – a leader, the choir, and the people. (The last two groups could be different parts of the congregation if there is no choir.) Before reading, practice the first line together reading it loudly to fill the heavens with your praise. (If the leader and choir set the volume up, the congregation will follow. A brief rehearsal or conversation with the choir before the service might help.)
Psalm 96: 1-9,10-13
Leader: O sing to the Lord a new song;
Choir: Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
People: Sing to the Lord, bless the Lord’s name;
tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Leader: Declare the glory of the Lord among the nations,
and God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
Choir: For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
The Lord is to be revered above all gods.
People: For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Leader: Oh, the honor and majesty of the Lord’s presence!
Oh, the strength and beauty of God’s sanctuary!
Choir: Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
People: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
bring an offering, and come into the courts of the Lord.
Leader: Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before God, all the earth.
Choir: Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
People: The world is firmly established;
it shall never be moved.
The Lord will judge the peoples with equity.”
Leader: Let the heavens be glad,
Choir: Let the earth rejoice;
People: Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Leader: Let the field exult, and everything in it.
Choir: Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for the Lord is coming,
for God is coming to judge the earth.
All: The Lord will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with truth.
Based on the New Revised Standard Version andThe Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
F Solomon’s prayer and the gospel story about Jesus healing the foreigner’s slave may lead courageous worship leaders to explore issues related to immigration. For adults this is a complex “hot” topic. For, children it mainly deals with how they interact with the young immigrants they all encounter at school and in the community. So, the challenge for children is simpler. We want to teach them to treat those children with respect and to help them as they confront the difficulties of new language and culture.
The only story book I know that deals with this issue is Angel Child, Dragon Child and dates back to the Vietnamese War. It is not easily available. Does anyone know of a more recent book?
F Display a large map of Galatia and point to some of the churches in the region. Paul does not identify any churches by name. But, it would be possible to point out several churches whose stories from Acts might be familiar to your congregation. The purpose is to help listeners hear this as a real letter to real people.
F Print text on stationary folded and sealed in an envelope. At the time for reading scripture announce that we have mail. Briefly, describe how letters were written and delivered in those days. Note that letters were read aloud repeatedly and saved carefully. Compare that to the disposable, terse nature of today’s emails and texts. Call worshipers to imagine themselves receiving this letter and gathering to read it. Then, open the envelope, unfold the paper, and read it as if reading a letter. Show your pleasure at the greeting and your dismay as Paul lambasts the readers. Talk about how it felt, then begin exploring what was going on in the churches of Galatia and what Paul wanted them to do about it.
F To emphasize both Paul and Elijah’s calls to say what we believe, present the Apostles’ Creed or other affirmation of faith as a series of questions, e.g. “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” to which worshipers reply “Yes, we believe that!” or “Yes, we believe….REPEAT PHRASE.”
F Though this is a fairly short straight-forward story, children easily misunderstand one part of it. They frequently hear that the soldier was so used to giving orders and having people obey him, that he ordered Jesus to heal his servant and expected him to obey, too. This seems way too bossy and children are amazed that Jesus does obey. So, they need to hear that what the soldier said to Jesus, “when I give a command to my men they do it. So, I know that if you command the disease in my servant to go away, it will. You are that powerful.” Children also appreciate that the soldier did not need Jesus to do anything fancy or even come into his house in order heal his servant. He trusted Jesus to do it however he wanted to.
F The centurion trusted Jesus to heal his slave. There are two wonderful children’s stories about Adam and Eve facing the first night and in the process learning to trust God.
Adam and Eve’s First Sunset, by Sandy Sasso, is a picture book that can be read in about 6 minutes. Adam and Eve alarmed as the sun sets for the first time do all sorts of things to try to stop it, blame each other for it, and finally admit they are unable to do anything about it. God teaches them how to make fire to get through the night, but that does not solve all the problems. At last the sun rises again and they are relieved and bless both day and night. (To shorten the reading, omit the pages about fire.)
This book is beautifully illustrated and could be projected.
“The First New Year” is a short story in Does God Have a Big Toe?, by Mark Gellman. In it Adam and the animals are frightened when the sun sets, then relieved when it rises the next morning. That night they try to stop it when it begins to set again. God explains about days, weeks, months, and a year. It would be possible to stop reading after this explanation (about 3 minutes into the story). Or, keep reading to learn about Adam’s panic when he realized that he had come to the end of the year and God’s explanation of decades, centuries, and millennia. (The whole story can be read aloud in about 7 minutes.) It concludes “When Adam woke up, he smelled the flowers, heard the birds singing, and thanked God for making time way big enough.” Knowing that God makes everything “way big enough” and has “way big enough” power and love to meet any situation is why we can trust God. The centurion might have said, “Jesus, your power is ‘way big enough’ to heal my slave from wherever you are. You don’t have to come to my house and touch him.” (There are no illustrations with this story.)
F See notes about TRUST as the word of the day at the beginning of this post.
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 hugely important to your children. So, go to School Is Out1!!! for ideas for recognizing it in the congregation’s worship on the appropriate Sunday.