Monday, March 30, 2015

Year B - The Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2015)

t  These are not easy texts for children.  That makes me inclined to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord which could be celebrated either on Thursday of this week or on this Sunday.  It is also a fact that the Ascension story both completes the Easter Season and sets the stage for Pentecost next Sunday.  Go to Year B - Ascension of the Lord (2015) for Ascension Day suggestions. 

t  Whether you use the Seventh Sunday of Easter texts or Ascension texts, enjoy the final Sunday of Easter with lots of alleluias in songs and prayers.  “Come Christians Join to Sing” is one choice with a repeated chorus of alleluias for the young readers and verses that praise the risen, ascending Christ in simple words for the older readers.

t  Schools close for the academic year anytime between mid-May and late June.  That event is intensely important to all the children and most of their parents and teachers.  Go to School's Out!!!!  to explore ways to include the joys and trials of the end of the school year in your congregation’s worship.  I will also include some text-specific suggestions in the upcoming Sundays.

Texts for Today

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

t  The end of the school year is all about achievement.  Awards are given for academic achievements.  Grades are reported.  Even the fun stuff like the annual field day is all about winning ribbons and trophies.  Add to that the pressure to be chosen to be on the team and get off the bench to play in summer sports and to be accepted for special summer camps and May becomes a month of wanting to be chosen.  We know nothing about either Matthias or Justus except that Matthias was chosen and Justus was not.  Ouch.  Shortly thereafter there was an election of deacons and Justus didn’t make that list either.  Double ouch.  After pondering Justus’ unchosen-ness, go back to Matthias.  Point out that though he is the chosen one here, we don’t hear a single thing about what he did.  You might also run down the list of the 12 disciples pointing out how many of them we know nothing about.  Then point out that these un-famous, unknown people started the church that spread across the entire world.  God seems to use average, un-special, un-famous disciples (like us?) to do important work.   From there you can go straight to praying for everyday disciples or explore the places everyday disciples will be needed every day this summer at pools, on sports fields, in the back seat of cars, at home, etc.

Sing “Guide My Feet” with its repeated phrases to prepare to be God’s everyday disciples every day this summer.


t  The over simplification of the difference between good people and bad people in this psalm appeals to children who do not yet realize that almost no one wears a totally white or black hat.  So direct the psalm to them.  The adults, who struggle with the nuanced differences between the good and evil, will listen and get the psalmist’s point too. 

t  Scornful, 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.”)

t  To make the comparison between “the good” and “the evil” visual, have the psalm read by two readers (perhaps Reader 1 wearing light colored clothing and Reader 2 wearing dark clothing).  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 their verses facing the congregation then returns to the starting position.  This is most effective if the readers actually recite their verses from memory.

Psalm 1

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.  You may prefer Today’s English Version.

t  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.

t  Reread “They are like a tree planted by the river of waters.”  Laughingly note that we are not plants.  Plants don’t have any say in where they are planted.  But, people do.  We can plant ourselves in front of a video game screen or on a soccer field or in lots of other places.  We can also plant ourselves at church.  Note that spending some time planted in front of video screen or planted on a soccer field is fun and fine.  But, this psalm insists that we also need to plant ourselves at church.  We need to spend time reading and talking about what God has said in the Bible.  We need to spend time with people who think God’s ways are important.  We need to sing and pray and laugh with God’s people.  When we do we slurp up God’s love just as a tree slurps up water and we grow big and strong, and bear lots of really good fruit.

t  Alice in Wonderland is not all that familiar to children today.  But, Alice’s problems with choosing the bad advice of signs that said “EAT ME” and “DRINK ME” could be explored as examples of what happens when we follow the advice of the wicked.

1 John 5:9-13

t  Before reading this passage introduce the term “eternal life.”  Point out that often when we use it we are talking about our life with God after we die.  Insist however that eternal life means our life with God right now as well as after we die.  Jesus is as interested in our having full rich good lives every day right now as he is in that we have good safe lives after we die.  Then encourage worshipers to listen for eternal life in John’s letter.

t  A discussion of John’s message about eternal life with children has to begin by exploring the possibility of being physically alive but feeling dead.  To children to be alive is to be breathing, eating, and active.  If you describe the possibility of being physically alive, but being so mean, crabby, sad, unhappy, and greedy that you might as well be dead, older children will catch the difference, but the younger ones will not. 

t  To further explore eternal life, present a series of pairs of mini posters.  Each pair offers an example of being alive but dead and an example of being eternally alive.  Present each pair citing examples and comparing how it feels to live in each one.  (Younger children appreciate the clue offered if the life words are printed on bright yellow paper with a glitter pen and the death words are printed in black on gray paper.)  The conclusion of this discussion is that Jesus came to bring us real life, eternal life.

It is MINE! – Let’s share it
I hate you! – Let’s be friends
ME! (what I want and need)
         – You? (what do you want and need)

John 17:6-19

t  Children will quickly get lost in John’s convoluted version of Jesus’ prayer.  They count on worship leaders to tell them what is going on and to summarize Jesus’ prayer.  What is going on is that when Jesus knew that he was going to be killed very soon, he prayed not for himself but for his friends.  He loved them.  He told God that he had taught them everything God sent him to explain to them.  He asked God to protect them.  The protection he wanted was not that they have easy lives, but that they not get trapped into evil.

t  Invite children to pray for their friends as Jesus prayed for his. The youngest can draw pictures of their friends (maybe even of them playing with a particular friend) talking to God about that friend as they draw.  The oldest children may prefer to write prayers for friends thanking God for what is special about each one and writing out prayer wishes for that person.  For them it might be the beginning of a “praying for friends notebook.”

If it is very near the end of the school year, challenge the children to follow Jesus’ example.  Jesus prayed for his friends before he went to be with God.  Their challenge is to pray for children and adults with whom they have shared this school year as it comes to an end. 

Another way to pray for friends is to make a large scribble on a sheet of paper, write the name (or draw a picture of) a friend in each section, then decorate each section with parking pens as you tell God about that friend.  Children could take these prayers home, drop them in the offering plate, or mount them at a designated spot after worship.

t  Continue Jesus’ prayer for disciples by praying for groups or individuals in your congregation and around the world with the congregation responding to each petition with Jesus’ prayer, “Holy Father, keep them safe in your name.”  To help the children participate in this, point out the prayer response in Jesus’ prayer, note it’s meaning, and practice saying it together once before praying together.

t  To introduce the phrase “in the world” list with children all the places they will go during the coming week.  Then identify those places as “the world.”  Explain that Jesus knew that it is sometimes hard to be God’s people in those everyday places so he prayed that God would be with and protect his friends “in the world.” 

To do some worship education go from this conversation to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer.  Identify this as a way we pray for God to be with us and protect us every day “in the world.”  Conclude by simply praying the Lord’s Prayer together or by praying a responsive prayer in which you name some of the places people will be this week and ask God to be with us and protect us from evil as we work and play there.  The congregation responds to prayers about each spot by praying aloud the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer.


t  Especially if you are a Methodist, this may be a day to explore the phrase “sanctify them”.  Make the word sanctify or sanctification the sponsor of the day - ala Sesame Street.  At the beginning of worship present it on a large poster which will remain displayed throughout the service.  Enjoy saying the impossibly long, complicated word together.  Briefly define it and encourage worshipers to listen for it in your songs and prayers.  Does somebody have a good, child-friendly definition of this word?  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Year B -The Ascension of the Lord (Thursday, May 14 or Sunday, May 17, 2015)

The Ascension of the Lord is 40 days after Easter Sunday and thus always falls on a Thursday which means most people never worship around that story.  Thus, The Revised Common Lectionary suggests that worship planners might want to use the texts for that day on the Seventh Sunday of Easter at least occasionally.  This is an especially good option for children for two reasons:

1.    The Ascension story answers the child’s question, “where is Jesus now?”  His life walking around on the earth is over, but he lives with God and continues to love the whole world from there.  As he left, he clearly passed the baton to his disciples – and to us. 

2.    As you complete the cycle of liturgical seasons about Jesus’ life and passion (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter), Ascension Day is a chance for worship review (How did we follow and celebrate Jesus in each season?) and a peek ahead to the rest of the liturgical year. 

The texts for the day are the same all years of the lectionary cycle.  I have gathered ideas from other years in this blog and added one or two new suggestion.  So, there is no need to search for other posts on this blog.  What I have to offer is here.

t  Even if you focus on Ascension Day, remember that it may also be the last week of school.  Actually children feel that rising from one grade to the next is similar to Jesus rising from earth to heaven.  They expect their lives in the next grade to be totally different – and hopefully more wonderful.  It is an important day to recognize in some way during the congregation’s worship.  There is one text-based suggestion below.  Go to School Is Out!!! (2014) for more general ideas. 

t  If you have been adding ribbons to the paschal candle, complete it by adding one last gold mesh ribbon to the top.  Add it after reading the Ascension story noting that Jesus disappeared in a light-filled cloud.  Ponder aloud all the disciples and we learned about Jesus between the amazing empty tomb and the cloud into which he ascended 40 days later.  Also note the shiny mysteries that are beyond anything we understand. 

Ascension of the Lord Texts

Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11

Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved April 9, 2012] 
Original source: .
t  The Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s great on-line art collection includes a variety of artist’s depictions of the Ascension – with directions on using them without fee for non-commercial purposes if you print their attribution.  (Go to Vanderbilt Divinty Library - Art in the Christian Tadition .) The art ranges from a very simple painting of Christ with arms outstretched to a very abstract twirling tower of metal bars.  Before reading the ascension story, briefly display a variety of these noting with amazement that each one is one person’s idea about the same event.  Read the story.  Then, revisit the pictures pondering the similarities and differences.  Enjoy the mysteriousness of the event.  No one today can know exactly what it looked like.  Then, provide children (all worshipers?) with paper and colored pens or crayons with which to create their own picture of what happened.  Invite them to post their pictures in a prepared space or tape them to the altar rail at the close of the service.
Tonkin, Mike and Liu, Anna. Singing, Ringing Tree (Panopticons), 
from Art in the Christian Tradition
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 
[retrieved March 25, 2015]. 
Original source:

While surfing, I bumped into more information about the tower of metal tubes.  As far as I can gather, the artist did not create it as an Ascension statement.  I do not know for sure why the Vanderbilt folks categorized that way – but I can see their point.  Go to This link for recordings of the sounds made by the wind moving through the tubes.  There might even be a Pentecost connection there.

t  Display pictures of Jesus’ birth, healing, teaching, Palm Sunday, Crucifixion, Empty Tomb, and Ascension.  With the children review Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Then tell the story of the Ascension in your own words.  Stress that during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked rooms but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams.  Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God. 

t  Instead of using pictures, bring out seasonal paraments from Advent through Easter.  If you have seasonal banners, hang them all in sequence and walk your way through them.  Or, lay out your stoles in order and match them to their seasons.  Recall things you did during each season to remember that part of Jesus’ life.  Even add them (or let a different child add each one) to your robe as you talk about their seasons and then wear all of them for the rest of the service. 

t  Sing the review of Jesus’ life with “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem” or “I Danced in the Morning.”  The first is easier for children to follow.  But before singing either, walk worshipers through it in their hymnals.

t  Today’s texts include two versions of the same story.  If both are to be read, have them read by different readers.  Even add a third reader to read Matthew’s Great Commission.  Challenge worshipers to listen for similarities and differences in the stories.  Raise the question, “How does Jesus’ story end in all these versions?”  The answer is that it ends with the disciples (and us) being sent to write the next chapters.

t  Near the end of school many elementary schools have field days featuring, among other events, relay races.  Describe or ask some children to help you demonstrate the passing of a baton in a relay race.  Children could run the perimeter of the sanctuary, carrying a baton which they pass to the next child at the front of the sanctuary.  Then explain that though Jesus did not actually pass a baton to his disciples, he did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  His earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting. 

If you have a wood worker in the congregation, ask him or her to prepare a baton for each child or each worshiper.  Dowels can be cut into 8 inch lengths and the ends sanded.  Wood burn or draw with a marker a cross on each baton.  As you give one to each child say, “NAME, Jesus needs you to be his disciple.”  At the benediction raise a baton in one hand offering it to the whole congregation with words of challenge.  With the other hand bless them, reminding them that God will be with them as they carry their baton.

Mary from Australia last year made the batons using PVC pipe and had the children write short prayers asking Jesus to help them be his disciples in the world to insert in their pipe.  Bill Waterstradt gave the children copies of the eyes-hands-feet of Jesus worksheet at the end of this post to fill out and insert in their PVC pipes. 

t  Tell the story with movements which you invite the children to do with you.  Begin with hands and faces looking up (as Jesus ascends).  Drop your hands to your sides (as you ponder what the angels said).  Then, go into marching pose pumping your arms (as the disciples take up the task).  Repeat these motions and the angels words during the benediction at the end of worship.

“He ascended to heaven and
sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”
t  If your congregation often recites the Apostles’ Creed in worship, this is a good day to highlight the phrase, “he ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  It is often lost in the all the phrases toward the end of the creed.  Rehearse the previous phrases about Jesus connecting them to stories the children know.  Stop with “he ascended to heaven” noting the connection to today’s story.  Next say, “he sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  Conjure up an image of God sitting on a heavenly throne and laugh at the mental picture of Jesus sitting on God’s hand.  Restate the phrase so that Jesus sits right beside God on God’s right.  Note the importance of that position in old stories about kings.  The most important person other than the king always sat on the kings’ right hand.  Conclude that what we are saying about Jesus is that he is right with God and that he is more important than any angel or any person who has ever lived.  Finally, invite the congregation to say the whole creed together saying this phrase especially as if you know it is true on this day.

Acts 1:1-11

t  Have children bring pew Bibles with them to the front before the scripture reading.  Help everyone find the Table of Contents, then the list of New Testament books.  Together read the names of the first four books aloud.  Briefly note that these books contain all the stories about Jesus.  Then read aloud “The Acts of the Apostles” and introduce it as the story of the beginning of the church.  Without reading all the long complicated names of the letters, point out that all the rest of the books, except the last, are letters that people wrote to each other during the stories that are told in Acts.  Then, help the children find Acts 1:1 (give the page number) and read it stopping immediately after “In the first book, Theophilus.”  Identify Luke as “the first book” and introduce Luke – Acts as a two book set that was written for a friend named Theophilus (maybe Theo today).  Then read the rest of verses 1-5.  Briefly summarize the big change that is happening here as the disciples move from being with Jesus to becoming the church.  Send them back to their seats with their fingers holding the place to follow along as you read the whole text for the day.  (This will obviously work only when most of the children are readers.)

Psalm 47

t  Psalm 47 begins with a call for applause.  After pointing this out, teach the congregation a simple short clapping pattern which they then repeat after a worship leader or the choir says each verse or after verses 1, 4, 7, and 9.  You might try clapping the rhythm of the first line of “Peoples, Clap Your Hands!” (Genevan 47 which is # 194 in The Presbyterian Hymnal) or enlist the aid of a music leader in selecting another good pattern. 

t  Tie Psalm 47 psalm to the Ascension by reminding people that Jesus was God in human skin.  That makes this a fitting praise for Jesus as he ascends.

Psalm 93

t  Psalm 93 celebrates God who is more powerful than the flood waters or the sea surf.  If you have a sound team, work with them to produce a recording of powerful water sounds to play as the congregation reads the psalm aloud – loudly to be heard over the recording.  (Hint, hint: if you produce such a recording, could you post it, and let the rest of us know where to find it, the less technically able among us would be oh so grateful J.)

Verses 1,2,5 any water sounds
Verse 3          rushing water sounds 
                      (flood or big waterfall)
Verse4           heavy surf sounds

Go to the Comments at the end of Year A - The Sunday After the Ascension of Christ for an idea about doing this without recording it.

Ephesians 1:15-23

I think the Contemporary English Version (CEV) may offer the best translation of this text for children.  Today verses 19-23 can be heard as Paul’s comments to the Christians in Ephesus about the Ascension.

t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t

19 I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. It is the same wonderful power he used 20 when he raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven. 21 There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will rule in the future world as well. 22 God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything. 23 The church is Christ’s body and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.

t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t  t

Verses 19-21 describe Jesus Ascension power.  Verse 22-23 then describe the passing of Jesus’ ministry to the church.  Jesus is the Lord of the church.  The church is Jesus body present to do his ministry in the world.

t  Spin out specific examples of today’s “forces, authorities, powers, and rulers” and celebrate the fact that Christ is more powerful.  For the children, list all armies (whether ours or theirs); terrorists who kill people to get their way; all presidents, prime ministers, and kings (the ones we like as well as the ones we don’t), any bully, etc.

t  The church as the body of Christ is a metaphor.  To help children explore both sides of the metaphor describe how different people and groups in your congregation serve as different parts of the body.  This would be an easy way to draw children into the “real” sermon.  Laugh with everyone about the idea that the minister might be the mouth of the church.  Then, point out that your mouth will not be around at the swimming pool or at the office this summer when someone needs to stand up for Jesus’ ways or say Jesus’ kind, loving words.  Insist that each of them must be Jesus’ mouth where they are.  Then go on to imagine who are the hands describing what they do being sure to include children serving as hands and so forth.  (Hmmm, I wonder how Jesus’ feet would play soccer?)  Offer children a sermon worksheet with outlines of the body parts you will explore.  Invite them to write or draw in each part at least one way they can be that part of Jesus’ body.

Get someone to improve on this and adapt it to feature the parts of Jesus’ body discussed in the sermon or as a last resort copy it with my permission and print as is.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Year B - The Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 10, 2015)


t  This is the tail end of the story of Peter being called in a vision involving lots of food to witness to Cornelius, a Gentile with whom Peter a Jew would not eat.  The whole story, which is very interesting to children, appears in the lectionary on The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C.  Today’s text, however, is filled with generalities and summaries related to the story.  To add context, read the first part of the story from a children’s Bible story book.  One good choice is “Cornelius Becomes A Christian” from The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton.  Stop just before “Peter looked at Cornelius.  He looked at the other people….”  Then, invite everyone to listen to what happened next and read today’s text from the Bible.

t  This story includes lots of inviting.  Cornelius invited Peter to his house to tell him about Jesus, Peter invited Cornelius to join the followers of Jesus, the Christians invited Cornelius to be baptized and be part of their group, and the new Christians invited Peter to stay with them a while.  Display several printed invitations – maybe a fancy wedding invitation, a e-vite displayed on a laptop, and a paper invitation for a party.  Point out all the ways we invite people without using paper  - verbal invitation to come sit with me, a phone call to come play with me, etc.  What is similar about all invitations is that they reach out to a person to be sure they are included.  To be a good inviter, you need to pay attention to people who need to be included and to people you want to include.  Being a good inviter is one way we love others as Jesus asked us to.  (This conversation could be a children’s time or it could be folded into the “real” sermon.)

t  “O Sing to the Lord.  Sing God a New Song” is a happy Brazilian song taking off from Psalm 98:1.  It appears in many hymnals.  Simply sing it as it is printed or find one or more people who speak another language to sing one verse in that language to honor of all the “foreigners” who praised God in the Acts story. 

t  All Join In, a book of wonderfully illustrated poems by Quentin Blake, is a book to savor and discuss with a small group of children who can see the details in the illustrations.  For today, use only the last poem that notes that whenever the house needs cleaning, a mouse needs catching, granny is fainting, or a big cake needs eating “we all join in” and maybe the first poem about how much “better” things are when everyone adds their particular music or angry noise together.  Identify all the different ways people help in the last poem to celebrate the diversity of ways of doing things that Cornelius and his Gentile friends added to the lives of Peter and his Jewish friends in today’s story.

Psalm 98

t  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 congregation (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.

t  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)

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

t  Or give children a large cross outline or cross shaped piece of paper to turn into their own psalm listing in words or with drawings marvelous things God has done – in their opinion.  (The cross directs artists to think of God's Easter gifts as well as other gifts.)

t  After reading the first lines of the first verse of the psalm and pointing out that it is the chorus of a hymn, sing “Earth and All Stars.”  The children enjoy the repeated chorus and also enjoy all the specific, modern items that are called to praise God.

t  “O Sing to the Lord.  Sing God a New Song” is a happy Brazilian song taking off from verse 1.  It appears in many hymnals.  Simply sing it as it is printed or find one or more people who speak another language to sing one verse in that language to honor of all the “foreigners” who praised God in the Acts story. 

1 John 5:1-6

t  Neither this passage nor the gospel reading for today will be understood by children as they are read.  The children will count on worship leaders to explore the message for them.

t  Preschoolers obey people rather than rules.  They do what the oldest, strongest, most important person in the room tells them to do.  When they admire and love that person, they will do almost anything asked.  That person gets to make all the rules.  As they enter elementary school, children begin to understand that rules can be negotiated by the group and that they can choose to obey or disobey a rule.  But throughout our lives they (and we) tend to defer to or obey those we admire and love.  Scouts follow and obey the rules of respected adult leaders.  Young athletes emulate the training disciplines of their sports hero/ines.  Christians follow Jesus and obey his rules.

t  Young athletes aiming for the Olympics often move to live near or even live with their coaches.  Their whole lives - what they eat, where they go to school, and how they train in their sport - are directed by those coaches.  In terms of this text, they obey their coach in all things.  That is the kind of obedience John is calling us to as Christians.

Sing “Lord, I Want to be a Christian” to commit yourselves to this kind of obedience to Jesus.

John 15:9-17

t  Since children will not follow this as it is read, choose one or two ideas or phrases in it to highlight for them.  Verse 12 ("This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you") is key phrase.  Friendship with Jesus is a key idea that is important to children.

t  To explore verse 12,  display pictures of Jesus ministry identifying how Jesus loved the people in that picture and how we can love people in similar situations today. 

t  Between the ages of 5 and 10 friendship as practiced by children grows significantly.  At five a friend is someone to play with now.  Whoever will play and work with me now is my friend.  They will proclaim adamantly to be friends forever, but then move on to other friends without recognizing what they are doing.  By the time they are ten these same children have a strong sense of the loyalty due friends, appreciate nuances of friendships, and experience deep pain in making and losing friends.  So, at different ages children respond to Jesus’ statements about being his friends differently.  The younger children can simply claim Jesus as their friend.  The older can explore what it means to be Jesus' friend.  One must be loyal to Jesus, following Jesus’ rules always wherever you are.  One must spend time among the friends of Jesus learning about Jesus and remembering Jesus.  One must do what Jesus wants done. 

Partner is another good term to use to describe our friendship with Jesus.  Partners do things they both think are important together.  Jesus calls us not to be his servants, but to be his partners working with him to love the world.  Describe several ministries in which the children can participate as things we do as partners with Jesus. 

t  Ask the children to lead the congregation in praying about being friends.  If children are comfortable talking with you in front of the congregation, have them join you to get the congregation ready to pray about being friends/loving others.  Together answer the following questions and turn the answers into prayers.  (You may want a scribe with you to record the prayers while you talk with the children.)  When you are ready read/pray through the prayers with the whole congregation.  Try these or other questions:

What is good about having and being friends?
Leads to “thank you” prayers
When do we have to ask God and our friends for forgiveness?
Leads to confessions of ways we fail to be good friends
What is hard about being good friends?
Leads to prayers for help as we try to be good friends

t  There are LOTS of children’s books about friendship.  Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Wiliams and Khadra Mohammed, (see  Storypath for a review) tells of two little girls in a refugee camp in Peshawar who come away from a scramble for used clothes each wearing one beautiful yellow sandal with a blue flower on it.  Neither girl has other shoes.  Rather than fight over the sandals they decide to take turns wearing them one day each.  Some days when they are together they each wear one just for fun.  When one girl’s family is moved on to America, the girls decide to each keep one sandal as a memory and as hope that one day they will again share together in America.  (Read it aloud in just under 5 minutes.)

Though neither girl lays down her life physically for the other, each one at one point gives the only shoes she has to her friend.  That is a big thing to give away.  To explore this before reading the story, imagine aloud what it would be like to walk miles barefoot and to have no shoes at all. 

t  For older children one of the best known books about friendship is the Harry Potter series.  It is filled with the stories of a group of friends growing up together.  In the last book, Harry does physically lay down his life for his friends.  Go to Harry Potter and the July Worship Planner.  Younger children may not have read or seen this rather grown up part, but many older children will and will appreciate hearing the preacher refer to it to make a point in the sermon.

t  “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” is the hymn of the day for children and youth.  Its simple words carry the message of the gospel reading.

t  And, yes I know it is Mother’s Day in the USA.  One would think these passages about love fit the day perfectly.  But, young children view all their mothers’ activity on their behalf as simply what mothers do.  They will paste the label “love” on it, if you insist.  To insist, present a series of pictures of mother’s taking care of children.  As you identify what each mother is doing, label it as love and put a heart sticker on each one.  Give each child one or more heart stickers to put on their mothers (remembering that some children have more than one mother or mother figure in their lives).  Suggest they give these people a hug and say “I love you” as they put the sticker on them. 
If you do this be careful.  Remember that some children do not have mothers who truly love them or do not perceive their mother as loving them on this particular morning.  Be honest that sometimes mothers and their children do not get along well or have bad days or don’t feel very sweet about each other.  That is just reality.