Monday, December 19, 2011

Year B – 4th Sunday After Epiphany, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 29, 2012)


The first question to this text is “what is a prophet?”  The adults who think they know will benefit from listening in as you tell the children what a prophet is.  First,help the older children differentiate between a prophet and a profit.  Then introduce a prophet as someone who speaks for God, someone who tells others God’s message.  A prophet does not predict the future so much as tell the truth about the present from God’s point of view.  The child who stands up to friends saying “that is not right,”  “someone is going to get hurt,” or “we’ll get in trouble” is a prophet.  So, it is possible to encourage children to both listen for prophets and to be prophets for God.

If you used a crèche figure to represent John the Baptist during Advent, display it again.  Recall people asking John the Baptist if he was a prophet.  Explain that what people wanted to know is whether John spoke for God.  Note that when Jesus taught in the synagogue, everyone was very impressed, but wanted to know if Jesus spoke for God.  Both John and Jesus did.

Have worshippers of all ages turn to the table of contents in their pew Bibles.  Point out the prophetic books of the Old Testament.  Explain that each has the name of the prophet who wrote it.  For fun, try reading all the names together.  Note that these are not the only books in the Bible about people who speak for God.  Prophet’s stories are everywhere.  The four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament are about Jesus, who spoke and lived God’s message.

After exploring what a prophet is and does, read Deuteronomy 18:18 and wonder aloud if God is raising up prophets among them.

Psalm 111

The structure of this psalm of praise suggests two different readings.  First, one can highlight the fact that it is an alphabet poem by providing 22 children (or worshipers of all ages or choir members) with cards bearing the Hebrew letter and English alliteration that goes with each phrase.  Each one is read aloud before the congregation reads the corresponding phrase.  Readers could stand at the front and flip their card up so the congregation can see it as they read it.  Verse 1 is read in unison to get the praises started.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Psalm 111

I give thanks to Yahweh with all my heart,
in the meeting–place of honest people, in the assembly.
2Great are the deeds of Yahweh,
to be pondered by all who delight in them.
3Full of splendour and majesty his work,
his saving justice stands firm for ever.
4He gives us a memorial of his great deeds;
Yahweh is mercy and tenderness.
5He gives food to those who fear him,
he keeps his covenant ever in mind.
6His works show his people his power
in giving them the birthright of the nations.
7The works of his hands are fidelity and justice,
all his precepts are trustworthy,
8established for ever and ever,
accomplished in fidelity and honesty.
9Deliverance he sends to his people,
his covenant he imposes for ever;
holy and awesome his name.
10The root of wisdom is fear of Yahweh;
those who attain it are wise.
His praise will continue for ever.

                                           From the New Jerusalem Bible

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! 

Since emphasizing the letters at the beginning of each phrase breaks up the praise thoughts, it is also possible to have a group of worshipers (maybe a children’s class) read the psalm with one person reading each verse.  Before they read, point out to the congregation that this psalm is a collection of praises about God.

Invite children to create their own praise of God by filling in the spaces on a Praise Sheet with either words about or pictures of their reasons  for praising God.  I would fill one section of mine with snowflakes because it so amazing that God makes no two snowflakes alike.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The problem the Corinthians faced, whether to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, makes no sense to children.  The underlying message about acting in ways that take care of the weaker or younger makes sense when presented with plenty of current examples such as
-          giving extra strikes to younger ball players,
-          going to bed earlier than you need to so younger siblings who do need the sleep will go to bed, 
-    sitting at a children’s table when you could act right sitting at the grown table, and so forth.

Mark 1:21-28

On the simplest level this passage introduces what Jesus is going to do.  He is going to teach and heal.  You might point out to children some of the things Jesus taught (golden rule) and some of the people he healed (the blind, the lepers, etc.) and encourage children to watch for things Jesus did and people he healed as you continue reading Mark this year.

If this passage leads you to speak of Jesus’ power and authority, remember that while the word authority may be beyond them, children are intensely interested in power.  They want to know who has it and how they use it.  Mark insists that Jesus has great power.  He has powerful understanding of what God means for people to be and he can share that understanding in ways that make people want to be more like God wants them to be.  That’s powerful!  Jesus also has the power to heal people from diseases and he uses that power to help people. 

Connect these stories to thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” in the Lord’s Prayer.  Have the congregation repeat the prayer together, stopping them on the last line, repeating it, and commenting that Jesus had God’s power and authority.  No one or no thing (like the demons) are a match for Jesus.

There are two ways to explain demon possession.

One, is that it is a “used to think,” i.e. something that we once understood in a way that we have learned is wrong.  For example, people used to think the world was flat and the sun moved around it.  Today we know that the world is round and that the earth moves around the sun.  In Jesus’ day people “used to think” that what we now call mental illness was caused by invisible evil spirits that took over our bodies making us do and say things that make no sense. 

The second way is to identify demons as evil urges we all have, e.g. jealousy, greed, success, hatred.  The Eugene Peterson paraphrase, The Message, has the demons cry out, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus?   Nazarene!  I know what you’re up to!  You are the Holy One of God and you’ve come to destroy us!” and notes that as people talked after this event they said, “He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!”

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, tells of a little boy who acts up, is sent to his room from which his imagination takes him to romp in the land of the Wild Things, who make him their king.  It is fun for a while, but then he decides to go home where he is known and loved.  The Wild Things try to persuade him to stay, but he goes back to his room and finds his supper laid out for him “and it is still warm.”  If you begin by identifying the demons as evil urges, reading this book could capture the sense of healing and coming home that is possible when we walk away from our demons.  This is a stretch for most children.  The youngest will simply enjoy hearing a well-known children’s story read to the whole congregation.  For this reason I would be more likely to incorporate it in the real sermon than read it during a children’s time.

This is my drawing.
Feel free to use it or to pass it
 to another artist for improvements.
Display a poster of a demon – like greed – to help children understand how evil urges can take over our lives.  Brainstorm with them other demons we face today.  Challenge them to draw one of these demons to post in a designated place or to show you after worship.  (This is an activity for older rather than younger children.) 


  1. Hey Carolyn,

    Thank you for posting these ideas and resources. Its a great help to folks teaching kids.

    A third way to explain demon-possession is this: That it was a demon-possession. And that, with the power of Jesus, we don't have to be afraid because He has been given all authority on heaven and earth...

    We need to be teaching kids to pray against nightmares and bind this stuff in the name of Jesus. There are many things that cannot be broken down into a neuropathic chemical imbalance or a misguided self-interest. Such things include God, the Holy Spirit, Angels, Demons, Miracles, Answered Prayers, etc.

  2. Thank you for that post. I agree.

    I would also like to add that this online resource that Carolyn has created is wonderful and I really enjoy using it each week! Thank you for the time and effort of putting this together!

  3. Thanks for this Post, it is a great help for me in teaching kids. It is easy to understand and thus relay to the kids.

    I also agree that we must teach our kids to Pray against nightmares and bind them in the name of Jesus. That is something that I do with my kids, but passing it on to other kids so that they too know that they have the authority and power given by Jesus as long as they do so in Jesus name. They can rebuke all evil.

  4. Two folks have now expressed support for teaching children to pray against their nightmares, binding them to Jesus. I want to go on record as not supporting that practice. I am also leaving those comments posted for others to read because I think it is important to hear all ideas on any given topic or text.

  5. Thank you Carolyn, for both the spirit and the content of your posts each week. You have become an essential resource for me as I research and prepare my children's sermons every week.

  6. On the issue of demon possession, I'll side with Carolyn here. In the Mark reading Jesus comes to do away with everything that seeks to rob us of all that God hopes and intends for us. Often that is the demons within us - fear, worry, jealousy, greed, etc. It is much greater than simply those nightmares we have. Evil can be found within us, even as it was found in the synagogue - in the only one who knew who Jesus was even - in the Mark reading.

  7. Re nightmares
    With my own children I used to teach them Pslm 4 verse 8. I will lie down and go to sleep in peace, for you alone, o Lord, keep me perfectly safe. I have taught this verse in church with actions and find that it is a help to adults too.

  8. Eileen, what a good verse for nightmares! Psalm 4 comes up in the lectionary on the third Sunday of Easter this year. Any chance you could describe the motions to the rest of us?

  9. One version of the sign language for Psalm 4.8 can be found on youtube here:

    Or, you can search You Tube with the words, Faith Inkubators, Psalm 4:8

    1. What a great way to teach this verse to kids. Thank you!

  10. Soo...why did the pigs cast themselves into the sea? And, I personally had nightmares of demons attacking me since I very young and nothing stopped these until a group of friends sat me down and prayed for me, in the name of Jesus. Now I confront the dreams as they come and I'm not afraid. What is faith if not a belief in the power of Jesus over a spiritual and physical battle? Do you know that my generation (20-something) is leaving the church because we don't actually see any faith in it? There is so much more going on. This breaks my heart.


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