These texts fall on All Saints Day some years. It all depends on the calendar. The gospel especially fits that Sunday well. It would be possible to use Luke’s discussion about life beyond death then and the Zaccheus story on this Sunday.
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 COURAGE
] The key word here is courage. Comparing “courageous” and “discouraged” will help older children grasp Haggai’s message to the discouraged people trying to rebuild Jerusalem. Since courage in many children’s stories is a matter of facing monsters and villains, children benefit from recognizing that courage is also sticking with it on really hard tasks that take a really long time. They learn to define themselves as courageous when they work hard on really difficult subjects at school or keep being kind to a person who is mean to them or living through tough situations at home.
] The church over the ages has courageously devoted time and money to repairing and rebuilding after natural disasters, wars, and personal traumas. It is one thing we do frequently and do well. Celebrate that today. Cite examples of ways your congregation has been involved. Be sure as you do to include projects in which the children are active. In my congregation that would include collecting food for the food pantry, packing a variety of disaster response kits, walking with families or classes on money raising walks and hosting homeless men at the church during winter evenings.
Our local paper annually recognizes a Distinguished Dozen, local people who are significantly involved in serving others. One year they were all teenagers. The article about each teen cited serving experiences during their elementary years as the inspiration for the teenage service. Many got their start by working with their families on community care projects. Scientific studies validate their stories. So encourage children and parents to work together repairing, rebuilding, and generally caring for their community.
] During the singing of Argentine folk hymn “Song of Hope,” stage a processional of placards, each naming one way your congregation is involved in repairing and rebuilding. The placards could be handed to children and briefly explained just before the hymn. The children then circle the sanctuary while the congregation sings the song several times. (It is only one verse.) Or, create a litany in which a leader names and briefly describes one project and the congregation responds by singing the song once. Feature as many projects or groups of similar projects as time permits. Four or five is probably enough.
] Even non-readers can sing along on “Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage” in each verse of “God of Grace and God of Glory.” Before singing the hymn point out the phrases and encourage all worshipers to sing that if they cannot sing all the other words. Doing this often leads parents to nudge their children each time the phrase comes up and to smile at them as they sing it together.
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
This psalm praising God begs for dramatic reading that includes the congregation. It is an acrostic, an alphabet poem. Each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That means the verses are independent praises. So,
] Arrange the psalm for responsive reading between congregation and leader or choir or between two sides of the congregation.
] Or to enjoy the acrostic nature of the psalm invite the children forward. Teach them the Hebrew letters in today’s psalm then with them say the appropriate letter as the congregation reads each line of the psalm. To streamline this, work with one class of children in advance then invite them to lead the psalm with you.
& & & & & & & & & & &
PSALM 145:1-5, 17-21
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh will bless his holy name
forever and ever.
New Revised Standard Version
& & & & & & & & & & &
] Psalm 98, a praise psalm filled with short simple phrases that children understand, shows up several times in the lectionary. God to this link (yes, Psalm 98 shows up again on Christmas Eve/Day) for a responsive reading script for a worship leader and two halves of the congregation.
] To capture the exuberance of this psalm gather all the rhythm instruments and noise makers you can. Invite the children forward to help the congregation read the psalm. Pass out the instruments. The children’s job is to make noise with the instruments and shout Alleluia! each time you point to them. Practice once or twice. Then read verses 1-3 without pausing. Pause after each of the remaining verses for the children to praise with their alleluias and instruments. The verses may be read by a liturgist or by the whole congregations (much louder and more in keeping in the spirit of the psalm!).
To do a low key children’s choir promotion, ask the children’s choir director to be the children’s conductor while you lead the reading parts. Include all the children, not just those in choir. Who knows?! This might inspire the non-choir children to try it out.
] Print selections from the psalm in the center of a page. Give pages to the children and invite them to illustrate the verses during worship. At the end of the service talk with children about their illustrations as they leave the sanctuary.
! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Praise the Lord!
Sing a new song to the Lord;
he has done wonderful things!
By his own power and holy strength
he has won the victory….
Sing for joy to the Lord, all the earth;
praise him with songs and shouts of joy!
Sing praises to the Lord!
Play music on the harps!
Blow trumpets and horns,
and shout for joy to the Lord, our king.
Roar, sea, and every creature in you;
sing, earth, and all who live on you!
Clap your hands, you rivers;
you hills, sing together with joy before the Lord,
because he comes to rule the earth.
He will rule the peoples of the world
with justice and fairness.
From Psalm 98 (TEV)
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] After reading the first lines of the first verse of the psalm, point out that it is the chorus of the hymn “Earth and All Stars.” Sing the hymn. The children enjoy the repeated chorus and also enjoy all the specific, modern items that are called to praise God.
] If “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah will be sung, point out the title phrase in Job 19:25. Briefly explain that Job was both very sick and very sad. Even in all his suffering he knew that God was his Redeemer and was on his side. That is as far as it is wise to delve with children in the sanctuary. Discussions of suffering with children are always specific and need to be held in private.
] Even if you are building worship around Job, I’d use Psalm 98 instead of this psalm for the sake of the children. The vocabulary and poetic images are too complicated to explain. Though some children have enough experience with suffering to share the psalmist’s prayer, there are other prayers that state the concern in ways a child can more easily grasp.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
] The message to children here is don’t worry about what will happen when you (or people you love) die and don’t worry about what will happen when you grow up or get to be a teenager or…. Instead, think about today. Live as God’s person today. Do the best you can and know that God is with you. Fortunately, this is the default setting of many children anyway. They live very much in the present moment.
] Turn 13-17 into charge and benediction using your own words.
Remember that God loves you. God chose you to hear about that love and to know the stories of Jesus. Do not forget them. Live by them every day. And may God who created the whole universe, Jesus who showed us how much God loves us, and the Holy Spirit who guides us be with you giving you courage and strength to be God’s people every day.
] The nasty trap the Sadducees set for Jesus and the way Jesus turned it back on them will go right past the children. Let it. Instead explore what it says about what happens to us after we die.
Jesus insists that life after death is different from life now. Debating to whom a woman who has had seven husbands will be married is just plain silly. (This is a special relief to children whose parents have remarried and who therefore may upon hearing the story wonder about the fate of their family.) The butterfly is a helpful symbol of this reality. The caterpillar and butterfly are entirely different, but they are different life stages of the same animal. Caterpillars crawl and eat leaves. Butterflies fly and drink nectar/ pollen. We will be as different after death as a caterpillar is from a butterfly, but we will still be ourselves.
We don’t know very much at all about what life will be like after we die. God has kept it as a special secret. We do know from Jesus that we will be with God and will be safe.
] Make a list of things that aren’t necessarily true about life after death, i.e. we may not walk on streets paved with gold, we may not all play harps (a relief to many), we may not have wings and fly (who knows how we’ll get around), etc. Balance this with the list of things we do know about life after we die, i.e. we will be with God, God’s love and care will continue.
] If you live in the northern hemisphere, display autumn nuts (acorns in my area) and bulbs. Note how dead they look and how hard it is to believe that they will ever be anything but rather dead looking “stuff.” Talk about what each item becomes in the spring. If possible give each worshiper a nut or bulb to plant at home. Talk about how long it will be until we see the results and encourage patience. Briefly ponder how it feels different to celebrate new life after death in the autumn rather than in the spring at Easter.
] If you live in the southern hemisphere, pull a blooming bulb or seedling out of the dirt. Gently brush away the soil until you find pieces of the nut or bulb from which it grew. It may also help to have an unplanted nut or bulb to help find the decaying one in the soil. (A smallish blooming potted bulb can be tidily un-potted over a bucket or small tub.) Briefly ponder how it feels different to celebrate life after death in the spring when new life is all around you rather than in the autumn when all the plants are dying back for the season.
] The Next Place, by Warren Hanson, is a poetic exploration of things we know and do not know about life after death. According to Hanson, it will be very different – no Mondays or months or body characteristics – but we will know we belong and will be close to all the people we have loved. The whole book can be read aloud, thoughtfully in just under five minutes and is appreciated by people of all ages. But, it would also be possible to select several pages/ideas to read and discuss mainly with children. (Heads up: With fresh grief in my life I could not read the whole book aloud right now, but I could read and discuss a good selection of key pages. There is something cumulative in reading the whole book that packs strong emotions.)
] If you are reading this text in connection with All Saints Day, explain the reason for reading the necrology before it is done. Also if you have a columbarium, memorial garden or other place for cremains on your property, bring an enlarged photo of the area to identify it to children and talk about how it is used and why that spot is special to people in your congregation. Point out any plaques identifying all the saints buried there. (Though it is not the aim of this discussion, once children know what these areas are they treat them with more respect.)
] If your congregation regularly recites the Apostle’s Creed in worship, before reading it today, point out the phrase “(I believe in) the communion of saints.” Define “saints” as God’s people. Name a few famous ones, like St. Patrick and Martin Luther King, Jr., and some less famous ones like your grandmother (or other important person in your life) and someone in your congregation. Finally, point to worshipers and identify each of them as a saint. Then, repeat the phrase “communion of the saints” and explain that all saints belong to each other in the family of God. That means we are connected to all God’s people who ever lived and all God’s people who are alive now and even all God’s people who will be born in the future. We are family with them. Repeat the paragraph in which it appears in the creed. Then, invite everyone to say the creed together.
] Either within the sermon or just before the celebration of communion, do a little worship education about the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. For most children (and more than a few adults) this is generally thought of as “that long prayer before communion.” They are more likely to join in on the sung responses if they are explained and rehearsed. So, point to the prayer in your prayer book or worship bulletin. Walk through the part that recognizes the communion of the saints putting it into your own words. Together name some of the individuals or groups you want to be especially aware of at the Table today. Take time to rehearse the parts the congregation says or sings. Suggest singing it at every communion service imaging yourself singing and eating with people of all times and from all parts of the world.
Leader: Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with the heavenly choirs
and with all the faithful of every time and place,
we forever sing to the glory of your name:
People: Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.