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.
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)
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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.
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.