1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8 – 15a
> If you already built the cave into an Elijah display, there is nothing to add today. Elijah wished there had been something spectacular. He would have preferred that God speak to him in the earthquake or maybe some fireworks. But God was there in sheer silence in a desert cave. The point for the children is that often God does not come in flashy or dramatic ways, but in the silence that surrounds us. If you add the mountain cave today, note how simple it is. There is no color or any special object to add, just the cave to which Elijah ran when he was feeling really, really bad and alone. Point to this cave before reading the text to alert listeners to where Elijah had gone and why he had run there. If you are using a chair for the Elijah displays, leave it empty this week. Point to it and note that it is empty because that is what Elijah found in the cave – silence of God.
> Elijah was having a very bad time. He was afraid that Queen Jezebel was going to kill him. He felt like he was the only one left who loved God. He worried that everything he had done was not going to matter. All together it made him wish he were dead. Children don’t have enough life experience to understand Elijah’s situation in the way adults do. But, they do have similar experiences of hopelessness and loneliness. Friends desert them. They move and have trouble finding new friends. A bully targets them. There is trouble at home that is poisoning everything and that the children cannot fix. Even though it may not be true, they feel that everyone else at home is more loved than they are. Like Elijah they want to run away. This story reassures them that God is with them even when they feel this bad.
> Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, or at least a couple of pages from it would be a good introduction to a sermon about times when everything is going wrong. You could start here, then proceed to list Elijah’s woes in a similar fashion.
> The “timeouts” that many children experience when they get too upset or tired or overwhelmed to keep doing whatever they were doing are a good comparison to this story. God gave Elijah a “timeout.” Elijah left the place where all the trouble was, ran to a quiet place where God could meet him, and thus was prepared to return to his work. Just as children sometimes give themselves a timeout when they know they need one, Elijah ran toward Mount Sinai. (Avoid using the term “running away” to avoid suggesting to unhappy children that running away is a good solution to whatever is making them unhappy. Even though it stretches the text a bit, insist that Elijah was not running away but running toward help at God’s holy mountain.) God helped Elijah along on his timeout journey and then sent him straight back into the work he had been ready to abandon.
> To explore “sheer silence” start by inviting everyone to listen carefully. Together identify sounds they hear in the supposedly silent worship space – outside noises, utility sounds, conversations in other parts of the buildings, etc. Have worshipers put their hands over their ears or their fingers in their ears, then note that we still hear the sound of our muffles. Imagine the silence of floating in the space – assuming the space suit makes no noise. Note that even near-silence can be either very comforting or rather scary. Give the whole congregation one full minute of near silence to experience. Then reread verses 11 ff. How far you read depends on where you are going next. You could stop with “what are you doing here, Elijah?” to ponder the question God often asks us in our silences. Or read to the end of the chapter to ponder God’s sending Elijah back to work.
> Storypath suggests that The Quiet Book, by Deborah Underwood, is another source of examples of different kinds of quiet or silence, e.g. “the last one to be picked up from school quiet,” or “top of the roller coaster quiet.” Reading a couple of these is another way to explore silence.
> It is tempting for us easing into summer to talk about summer as a timeout and to raise questions about how we use that time. If you go this way remember that children, who have not cycled through the year very many times yet, don’t feel that cycle the way adults do. For them time is a straight line. Summer is a period between this year and next year. It is what is next and what is now rather than a recurring part of a cycle.
> This long reading really has 3 chapters in it. To highlight those chapters and to keep listeners’ attention, have the text read by 3 readers. They could stand close together using one microphone, maybe even obviously passing a Bible from one to the other as they read. In the summer it might be easiest to enlist 3 readers from one family who can practice together at home. In any case choose readers of different ages.
Reader 1 The set up (verses 1-5a)
Reader 2 God feeds Elijah for the journey
(verses 5b -9 ending with “the voice of the
Lord came to him saying”)
Reader 3 Elijah meets God on the mountain
(start with “What are you doing here,
Elijah” in vs 9 and read through
either vs 14 or 15a)
> If you have a cave in the burlap display, give worshipers small slips of paper on which to write or draw about people who like Elijah are having really hard times. Invite them to put them into the cave. When all have been added, sit a rock on top of the pile and offer a summary prayer for God’s loving healing presence with all these people. Be sure to remove these slips before they can be read by others.
There are several good songs for children to sing into the silence:
> Before singing Spirit, read the chorus and verse 2 pointing out the connections to Elijah. Particularly define “placidness” as feeling hopelessly unable to do anything. Verse 2 mainly refers to the Exodus wilderness, but today it also connects to Elijah running from Jezebel through the desert and being called to continue speaking as God’s prophet.
> The repeated first phrase of each verse and the simple words of Breathe on Me Breath of God an easy song for children to sing at least in part.
> Especially verses 4 and 5 of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind have Elijah connections. Invite children to sing from a cave colored word sheet with all the quiet words highlighted and space in which to draw pictures or write about places they feel quiet and close to God. (To avoid the masculine language replace the opening phrase with “Dear Lord, Creator good and kind” or a similar phrase.)
> Hmmm, again there is no great Elijah quote to add to the prophet’s banner. His message seems to be presented in rich stories rather than memorable quotes.
Psalms 42 and 43
Psalms 42 and 43 together are too long to keep the attention of children. So select only Psalm 42, as the Methodist lectionary does, or select a few key verses here and there.
> Psalm 42:5 and 11 and 43:5 are the same verse and are the heart of the psalm for children. Much of the rest of it requires life experience and understanding that is beyond most children. But, when they list together times when they feel hopeless – everything from playing on a team that ALWAYS loses to feeling no one at all loves you to feeling horrible things are about to get you – children can then hear these words as a prayer for such times. Walk through the words with them, putting them into words that will make sense for your children, then pray them together.
> Enjoy the fact that this psalm was already around when Elijah lived thousands of years ago. If the Elijah story was read by 3 readers, have Reader 2 read this section introducing it as a psalm Elijah might have prayed as he walked across the desert toward the cave on Mount Sinai.
This text is for the adult Bible students more than the children. Listeners need to know about the return from Exile and all its problems to understand what Isaiah is saying. The one possible connection for children is that Isaiah is telling the people to stop blaming other people or God for their problems, but to recognize the fact that they are responsible. The problems are the consequences of their behavior. Children struggle to accept that kind of responsibility for their own actions. That said, this is a hard text with which to explore that fact with them.
Because this psalm is filled with so many unfamiliar images and references, it is not a good choice for children. I’d go with the idea for Psalm 42:5, 11, 43:5 above.
> As I’ve said before and will say again as we move through Galatians, children are not ready to hear Paul’s argument against living by rules. They are currently living under the tutor of the Law and cannot see beyond it. For them rules are good ways to understand what to do as they work their ways into the world. Telling them that obeying rules is not the best way to live baffles them. So, for them pick up on other aspects of this reading.
> To explore Paul’s insistence in verse 28 that all the everyday distinctions between people do not matter, get a show of hands on who supports which sports teams, goes to which schools, plays which sports or instruments, or was born in town rather than moved here from somewhere else. Then note that all of that is interesting, but none of it is the most important thing about any of us. The most important thing is that we are a child of God. If you are sitting with a group of children to do this, point to individuals underlining this with phrases like, “John, I know you are a really big Eagles fan and that is cool, but even more important than that is that you are a child of God.” Even, “John, you are an Eagles fan. Erica, you are a Redskins fan. But, you belong together because you are both children of God and that is way more important than what team you follow.”
OR, reverse the process. Start by putting a hand on each child’s head saying, “NAME, you are a child of God.” After doing this with several children, interrupt yourself - “hey wait, you are an Eagles fan and you are a Redskins fan. Can you both be a child of God?” Talk your way back to the truth that all sorts of very different people can be a child of God. Conclude by blessing the remaining children.
> Reread verse 27 and explore what it means to be “clothed in Christ.” Laugh at the picture of wearing Jesus. Then, point out some of the different clothes worshipers are wearing. Have fun noting the differences and pointing out what clothes tell us about the person wearing them. Finally, insist that it really doesn’t matter what we wear to worship or at any other time. The most important thing about us is that we are the children of God. In a way we are all wearing Jesus.
FWIW, Luke says the healed man was “clothed in his right mind.” I’m not sure how, if at all, this needs to be pointed out in worship, but it is interesting that talk of “being clothed in…” shows up in two of today’s text. For the last few weeks I’ve seen slide shows of movie stars at awards ceremonies with reference to the designer who clothed them as if that was the most important thing to know about them. Just the odd thought.
> If you have focused on exploring some facet of what it means to be a child of God and the children are near you and few enough in numbers, conclude by placing a hand on the head of each child saying, “NAME, remember you are a child of God.”
> If you are exploring accepting all people for who they are, read the humorous story “Adam’s Animals” in Does God Have a Big Toe, Rabbi Marc Gellman’s book of stories about stories in the Bible. It describes Adam’s failed attempts to name the animals, before a bear suggests that he asks the animals what they want to be called. It can be read aloud in about 4 minutes.
> If this text is leading to talk about baptism, view the Dollar Store Children’s Sermons video below for an idea about using a birth announcement to talk about baptism as a sacrament of belonging.
> Possibly the only way to tie any of these texts to Father’s Day is to focus on what it means to be children of God. Line up several generations of fathers and sons and/or fathers and daughters. Even add someone with no family at all in your congregation. As you line them up, identify the relationships noting that one man’s father is another man’s son and so forth. Then, push them all together and walk around them with your arms out wrapping them together. Insist that all these fathers and sons and daughters are also children of God. God loves and cares for them all.
> The simple repeated phrase of They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love make this a good choice for singing about our unity as the children of God. Point out the beginning “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…” inviting worshipers to think of all the people around the world with whom we can sing this song as God’s children.
> Scripture is meant to be enjoyed as well as just read. So, retell this story with the children using lots of socks. Before reading the story from the Bible warn the children to listen carefully because you are going to need their help retelling the story. After the reading invite them forward. Put a brown, black or beige sock over a hand on each child. Tell them that they are the herd of pigs. Imagine with them a very large lake in front of them. Then put one sock for Jesus and one sock for the demoniac on your hands introducing them as you do. Retell the story letting Jesus and the man do most of the talking. Expect a little chaos when the pigs dive into the lake. Enjoy it. Then help children settle down, maybe dropping their socks in the lake then sitting down again. This is one story all worshipers will remember.
Puppet note: All the socks can just be socks. But I would be inclined to weave some black yarn into the demoniac to form a wild appearance or use a frazzled dust mop instead. Jesus might be any other sock or could be a Jesus hand puppet, if you have one.
> Demons are tricky. What people thought about demons in Jesus’ day is largely replaced today by more metaphorical understandings and uses. Since most children have little grasp of what mental illness is, explaining the earlier understanding is challenging. At the same time for literal thinking children modern metaphoric uses are equally confusing. So, if you are going to talk about demons at any length, introduce them with children in mind. Show a picture of a demon from middle ages art. Tell about the evil little things that people used to think caused mental illness and other problems AND about the way we talk about jealousy and greed or drugs and alcohol as demons today. The connection between the two is that both refer to things that get us in trouble when we let them determine what we do and say. And, in this story Jesus proves that he has power over the nastiest of demons. So, we are safe.
> Animal loving children ask why the pigs jumped off the cliff. Possible answers include but are not limited to
1. The demons drove the pigs over the cliff to get even with Jesus for kicking them out of the man. (They knew the pigs’ owners would be angry with Jesus.)
2. The pigs were so frightened by the demons that they jumped over the cliff to get away from them.
3. The pigs, being smarter than most people expected, recognized the demons and finished Jesus’ work by drowning them in the lake.
> Kathy’s suggestion in the comments from 2013: One thing to do here, if you'd like to have fun with this story (or other bible texts), is to assign "sound effects" to be spoken after key words in the text. For example, have children listen hard for certain words, then make a noise when they hear them. For example, after the word "Jesus" they could say "YAY!" After the word "demons" they could say "Uh oh," or "BOOO!" "Pigs" of course would always be followed by snorts or "oink, oink, OINK!" It gets kinda goofy, but it's great fun!
> Commentators and preachers make all sorts of points with this story, but for children it is mainly a story of Jesus healing a man in a rather spectacular way. They enjoy Jesus’ power and his way of getting rid of the demons. Probably the best lesson in it for them (if it needs a lesson) is that Jesus did not send the man out to a new place to do something dramatic, but sent him back home to live like the healed man he was every day. Children can be challenged to do the same this week.
> Dear Lord and Father of Mankind includes references to both the healed man in this text (verse 1) and Elijah at the mountain cave in verses 4 and 5. I’d be more inclined to sing it with the focus on the latter using the cavy word sheet above.