Isaiah’s message to the Jews living in Exile or recently returned is that God is with them and loves them always. Children will hear that most clearly in verses 15c -16a, “I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you in the palm of my hand.” The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn, captures this in the story of a Mother Raccoon who sends her fearful child off to his first night at school after kissing the palm of his hand and instructing him to press his palm against his face any time he needs to feel his mother’s love. Many children go off to school, summer camp, or scary new situations having heard this story and carrying parental kisses in their hands.
Read the whole book - less than 5 minutes to read aloud. (Your public library will probably have multiple copies.) Then read the phrases from Isaiah and state that you believe there is a connection here. Isaiah says that God has your name written in the palm of God’s hand and God will never forget about you.
If this is a children’s time and the children are seated near you and not too many in number, remind them that Chester also kissed his mother’s palm and gave her the same instructions. Then, write “God” in the palm of each child’s hand with a marker reminding each child to remember that God loves him or her always. If possible, say each child’s name as you do this.
The last page of the book shows the American sign language sign for “I love you” being given by a raccoon paw. Use it to teach the congregation the sign and tell them to make it when they need to remember that God loves them and will not forget them and that they love God.
Consider reading this psalm from the Today’s English Version (The Good News Bible). It does not use the term “weaned child” which is unfamiliar to children and not something you want to explain in the sanctuary and it translates the second phrase of verse 1 “I am not concerned with great matters or subjects too difficult for me.” Most children have experience with subjects at school that are “too difficult for me.” That can be the entry into discussing with the whole congregation how it feels to be coping with issues or subjects that are just too hard.
This psalm is so short that it can be read in worship more than once. So, invite worshipers to listen to it as you read it through a first time. Make some comments about trusting God. Instruct everyone to relax in their seat, maybe stretch their neck a little, and close their eyes. Then, read the psalm again slowly and thoughtfully. Conclude with “Let’s God’s people say, Amen”
At any age it is easy to sing a hymn without thinking about the words. For children it is hard to read the new words and string them together into meaningful sentences as you sing. So invite the congregation to follow in their hymnals as you talk your way through the words of the first verse of “Be Still My Soul” before singing the whole song together.
Be still my soul; the Lord is on your side.
God loves you and is on your side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Having God on your side doesn’t mean that everything will always go the way you want it to; but you can get through the bad times knowing that even in them God is on your side.
Leave to your God to order and provide.
Remember that God is in charge.
In every change God faithful will remain.
God will be with you in all the scary changes. For children those changes include a new school, moving, the arrival of a sibling, parents divorcing, having to learn something new and hard, going away to camp or live with relatives….
Be still me soul, your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Recall the thorny part of the crucifixion that led to Jesus’ joyful resurrection and note that Jesus is with us all the way through both our joyful and thorny times.
Walking through the first verse gives children a sense of it and is about all they can absorb. It also encourages the adults to pay attention to what they are singing in this verse and all others.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
To get everyone into this text, point out that you feel some real connections to Paul. You are both ministers. You both do a lot of preaching and teaching. You both help people in churches solve problems and visit with people when they are sick or getting married or dying. You even know what Paul was talking about here when he said that people were “judging him.” They were comparing him to another preacher named Apollos. They were saying things like, “You surely don’t preach like Apollos” or “Apollos would have never done that” or even “Apollos is a better minister than you are, Paul.” Ouch! Point out how that hurt Paul and how it hurts you and other preachers when it happens to you. Then, dig into Paul’s response. Paul said that it didn’t matter what they thought about how he did his job. It didn’t even matter what he thought about how good a minister he was. The only one that had the right to ”judge” Paul is God. So, Paul’s job was to do the very best job he could at what he thought God wanted him to do and not to worry about what other people thought about how he was doing his job. After noting that ministers often have to reread this passage when people compare them to other ministers, suggest that this is probably also true for people in other jobs. Even children are often compared to better students, piano players, athletes, or kinder, sweeter children. Maybe the worst is feeling compared unfavorably to siblings. We all have to take Paul’s advice that no one can judge us but God. So, all we can do is do the best we can. Note that this is not easy advice to take and that you bet even Paul reread what he had just written and thought, “I know that is what I WANT to think, but man it isn’t as easy as it looks on paper.”
This could be a children’s sermon or it could be the beginning of the real sermon. In the latter case, older children especially can be drawn into hearing about your feelings about being judged as a minister. Though they may not stick with you for the entire sermon, they will listen for a while and conclude that, at least occasionally, sermons might be for them as well as for the grown-ups.
Name-calling is one of the most damaging form of judgment for many children. “You are such a….” “only a … would do that” or “You are so…..” are phrases hurled at other children to embarrass them and put them in their place. If we follow Paul’s example, we do not call people names and when others call us names, we remember that only God can judge us (not these other kids) and that our job is to do the best we can and remember that God loves us (even if some other kids do not).
To explore name-calling among children further, go to http://www.nonamecallingweek.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/resources/index.html. This is the resources page for a group that sponsors a rapidly growing No Name Calling Week campaign in schools K-12. The week was January 24-28, 2011; but the resources can be used any day.
Judging by lectionary helps on line, most worship planners will use this passage to explore our tendency to worry – about almost everything. Adults can think about worrying in the general seeing similarities in worrying about money, love life, safety, etc. Children think in the specific. For them, pick one or two worry targets to explore in detail. For example,
worrying about how tall and good looking you might get. Kids dreaming of being basketball stars want to be tall. Gymnasts and dancers want to stay small. Everyone wants to grow beautiful and can hardly believe that one day they will look anything like the glamorous teenagers or adults they admire. They need reminders that they can’t worry their way taller or shorter. Or,
prodded and even spooked by ads that insist that unless they wear a certain brand of clothes, they will have a miserable life, many children, especially the girls, but also the boys, worry about wearing the right clothes. They need help from as many sources as possible to realize that the ads are wrong. They, like the lilies of the field, can be beautiful without the in-brand of clothes.
Introduce children and older worshipers to the practice of the breath prayer as a way of coping with worries. A breath prayer has two parts: one a name of God that fits the prayer and the second a very short request for help in dealing with the problem, e.g. “God, help me feel OK at school.” God’s name is said while breathing in and the request is said while breathing out. Breath prayers can be planned out in advance and then prayed silently throughout the day as needed.
“Mammon”, which looks a lot like mammal to early readers, is best translated for children as “stuff.” Stuff includes clothes, toys, books, electronic gadgets, and other things we think we “gotta have.” The text says you can’t serve God at the same time as you spend all your time thinking about, playing with, and taking care of all your stuff. Jesus says the most important rules in the world are ”love God” and “love other people.” Mammon says “love your stuff” or the most important things in the world are having the right stuff, having all the stuff you want, and taking care of your stuff.
The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, is the story of older elementary school girls who harass a new girl who wears the same faded dress to school every day but boasts of having 100 dresses of silk and velvet at home. Finally, the abuse takes its toll and the girl’s father withdraws her from school and moves away in search of a place where they will be more welcome. Wanda leaves behind as her entry student art contest 100 drawings of beautiful dresses. Her drawings win the contest and the embarrassed admiration of the girls who had judged her so harshly. This classic story speaks both to the epistle theme of judging others and to Jesus’ insistence that getting so very focused on what we wear leads to trouble. The 96 page book will need to be read in advance by a worship leader and retold in his or her own words. Available in public and elementary school libraries.