By Carolyn C. Brown
From a Child’s Point of View
Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:4-10. The story of God’s call to Jeremiah speaks pointedly to children at the beginning of a school year. With help from the preacher, children can hear that just as God knew Jeremiah before he was born and had a plan for his life, God knew them before they were born and has plans for their lives. They are not to offer Jeremiah’s excuse, “I’m too young,” but to be willing to live as God’s people wherever they are—even at school. They appreciate God’s empathy for their fears, represented in both a warning and a promise. The warning is not to be afraid of them. (Them may be teachers who intimidate students; demanding courses and tests; other kids who are smarter or more athletic; or vicious bullies). God knows that it is easy to be frightened, so we are sent out with a promise: I will be with you and protect you.
Gospel: Luke 13:10-17. Children are interested in the possibility of being bent over. They imagine what a person would look like terribly bent over (maybe walking with a cane that could touch the chin) and how being that bent would affect what you could do. Some may have head the story of the hunchback of Notre Dame and have an idea of how hard life would be for such a person. Consequently, they are ready to join the crowd in being happy about what Jesus did for the woman.
Because sabbath observance is not currently an issue for most children, they slide over Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders that brought such joy to the crowd.
Epistle: Hebrews 12:18-29. This is a passage for advanced Bible students. Children and many adults will not understand it as it is read. Rather than introduce and explain the comparison between the people worshiping God at the foot of Mount Sinai and Christians worshiping God, simply state the writer’s message—that we are to worship God and be happy because God is so awesome. God rules all people of all ages and has acted through Jesus Christ to build an invisible, never-ending community which we are invited to join. For children, this is mainly an invitation to celebrate God’s love and power as they hear it described in the Bible (e.g., the healing in today’s Gospel) and as they experience it themselves.
To avoid the giggles that follow mention of wombs, use the Good News Bible for the Old Testament lessons and psalm.
Let the Children Sing
Praise God with rejoicing hymns. “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty” are two of the easiest for children to understand. Though the vocabulary of “Holy, Holy, Holy” is difficult for children, the repeated phrase describing the awesome God—”Holy, holy, holy”—sets the mood and can be sung by even nonreaders.
Choose hymns about healing carefully. Most of them equate physical and spiritual healing in ways that battle children. The seven verses of “When Jesus the Healer Passed Through Galilee,” however, are a happy recalling of the many people (including the bent-over woman) Jesus healed. It can be sung in unison by a children’s choir or the congregation. Or it can be sung responsively, with a children’s choir or soloist singing the verses and an adult choir or the congregation singing the double refrain in each verse. (Find this new hymn in The United Methodist Hymnal.)
The next several Sundays focus on themes of repentance and commitment. Choose one of the following to sing several times during the series: “Be Thou My Vision,” “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian,” or “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated.” Consider using one as a “hymn of the month” to build the children’s familiarity.
The verses of “Go Forth for God” do not make much sense to children, although they enjoy the repetition of the first and last lines of each verse and can sing them (if nothing else) when they are pointed out by the worship leader.
The Liturgical Child
1. Give the simple story in Luke a dramatic reading. Take the parts of the religious leaders and Jesus. Point your finger menacingly and speak with great indignation when reading the accusations of the religious leaders. Then, with hands turned up in resignation, voice Jesus’ amazed response.
2. In the mood of the people celebrating Jesus’ healing ministry among them, and of the writer of Hebrews describing God’s awesome activity, create a praise litany celebrating what God is doing in your congregation. In advance, ask several people to describe briefly one way God is at work in your congregation. Give each person a specific assignment, such as the church’s Bible school, youth mission trips or camps, special church-wide events, mission work of the congregation, seasonal glories, national and international events in which you see God at work, and so forth. Include people who represent all ages and groups in the congregation. To each person’s description, the congregation responds: Truly God is at work among us.
Have one practice session with speakers during which you can help them edit their statements (if needed) and prepare for a smooth presentation. In a small sanctuary, speakers may stand to speak loudly and clearly from their seats. In larger sanctuaries, they will need to be near microphones.
3. Use Jeremiah’s call for a “back-to-school” Charge and Benediction. Ask all worshipers who will attend school this fall to stand, then say: Hear the word of the Lord. I knew you before I gave you life. I chose you before you were born. I send you now to school. Study and learn. Be my people in the classroom. Stand up for my ways in the lunchroom and on the playground. Be my witnesses on the bus.
Ask all who will not be students this fall to stand also, then say: Hear the word of the Lord to you. I also knew you before I gave you life. I chose you before you were born. Do not say to me, “I am only a housewife,” or “I am the least important person in my office.” I am sending you to that office or factory or community. Be my people. Stand up for my ways. Speak my words to those you meet.
And all of you, students, teachers, business folks, homemakers, remember God’s promise to Jeremiah and to you. God says, “Do not be afraid. I will be with you to protect you. I will put my words in your mouth.” So go in peace.
Most sermons are aimed at adults, with some efforts to include children. Because the beginning of school is such an intense time for children, it is worth planning a “back-to-school” sermon aimed at the children. Because adults have been where the children are now, and because the whole culture gets in a back-to-work frame of mind as summer ends and fall schedules begin, adults resonate with the situation and translate school examples to their workplaces.
Jeremiah’s call is a natural text with which to remind children that God made them and has a plan for them. It is an opportunity to build self-esteem, especially for those children who do not do well in school. It Is also an opportunity to send children to school to be faithful disciples and witnesses to God’s love, forgiveness, and justice.