King and Shepherd

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For the Last Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 29: Christ the King Sunday

From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Scripture References: Matt. 25:31-46 and Ez. 34:11, 16  “I myself will search for my sheep…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…”

Preparation: Bring a large cardboard or wooden shepherd’s staff to help ’round up the sheep.’

What does a king do? Can anyone tell me what the job of being king might be like? What sorts of things would you have to take care of? (Let children respond.) A king has to make laws. A king might have to be a judge and decide who is right. A king has to defend his country and his people from attacking armies. Do you think that a king has to take care of sheep? Does that sound like a job for a king? (Children can answer.)

Shepherding is a dirty, tiring job. You’ve got to chase after sheep all day, and then you have to sleep with them at night. If a wolf is running after your sheep, you have to run out and tackle the beast and protect your flock. Can you imagine a king in velvet robes and golden crown running around in a muddy pasture chasing sheep?

Well, today is Christ the King Sunday and we recognize that Jesus Christ is the Almighty King, ruler of heaven and earth. But the Old Testament reading describes the Lord God as a shepherd taking good care of his sheep. A king and a shepherd, those are the pictures we have of our Lord this Sunday.

Ezekiel 34 tells us what kind of shepherd our Lord is: “I myself will search for my sheep. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (Ez. 34:11, 16 NRSV). Even when the sheep are scattered all over the place, the shepherd will gather them up and bring them back. God always looks for us when we’ve turned away from him and have taken the wrong and dangerous path. Our Lord never gives us up for lost.

Would someone like to try shepherding this morning? (Choose a volunteer and hand them the shepherd staff.) Now, the rest of you are sheep. I’d like you to spread out here in the front. (You may have to set boundaries and say that sheep have to be on all fours so that your sheep don’t stray too far.) The shepherd needs to gather up his sheep and bring them back here to sit down again. The shepherd will walk around calling, “Here sheep! Come home!” And as soon as the shepherd touches you with his staff, you have to follow him. Make sure you touch everyone gently with your staff, shepherd. (Help if needed.)

Good job, shepherd. (Sheep sit again.) Jesus wants us to take care of each other just like he cares for us. He wants us to feed the hungry, take care of the sick, and even help people who have done bad deeds. By caring for others, we care for Jesus. Every one of you can be a good shepherd.

Prayer: Jesus, you are our Good Shepherd. Thank you for your tender care.

Use It Or Lose It

For the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 28

(Lectionary 33) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Scripture Reference: Matt. 25:14-30 “… to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

Jesus told many parables describing how we need to prepare for when he comes again. He really wanted his disciples to listen. Jesus’ return is something to look forward to, but it is also something for which we need to prepare.

Jesus told “The Parable of the Talents” as a way to show how we should get ready for Jesus’ return. Because “talents” can mean either money or something that you do well, it helps to think about what Jesus meant by telling this story in a new way. Here is a different version of that same story:

One day, a school principal had to go on a long trip. She called her three best students into her office. To the first student, she said, “God has blessed you with an ability to understand computers. I’m going to leave you with all these new computers. I know you’ll be able to make good use of them.”

To the next student she said, “You have been blessed by God with a sense of beauty and design. In the studio I have left bolts of fabric, paint, and other art materials for you.”

To the last student she said, “You have been blessed by God with a listening heart and the ability to solve conflict and to bring friends who are fighting together again. All that I have to leave with you with are kind words and a smile.”

When the principal returned to the school many months later, she went to see what her best students had done with the talents each were given. The first student showed her the library where students could access other libraries and classrooms with cameras that looked in on scientific experiments happening around the world. “Well done!” said the principal, “More computers will be delivered tomorrow for you to use.”

The second student showed her the assembly auditorium that had been transformed into a fantastic stage with scenery and curtains. The principal also saw that this student had painted large murals on the walls. “You have done a splendid job!” exclaimed the principal. “In the art room I have left brightly colored clay. Create any sculpture you like.”

The principal looked for the third student. She crossed the playground where many students were arguing and found the third student crouched behind a tree, ignoring the arguing. She glanced over at her friends fighting, but didn’t move from her spot. The principal was upset. “You could have used your gifts to bring harmony to the playground, but you did nothing,” she said. “Your friends needed you and you did nothing to help them. I am very disappointed in you.”

All of us have been given talents by God. If we do not share our talents, we disappoint God and our wonderful gifts are wasted. If we use our talents to help others, then we can be excited and happy to meet Jesus, knowing that we have done our best with what we have been given.

Prayer: Thank you Lord,  for giving us the ability to do so many wonderful things. We want to use our gifts to help others; help us to do this.

Be Prepared

For the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 27

From “Saving the Ants”

Matthew 25:1 – 13; “Jesus said, ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.’”  

Preparation: Bring two flashlights with spent or very dim batteries and extra batteries for only one of the flashlights.

In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus told a story about ten maidens. Five were foolish and five were wise. The maidens were waiting for a bridegroom to arrive so that they could go to a marriage feast. But since most of you probably aren’t real familiar with marriage feasts, bridegrooms, or oil lamps, I will tell you a little different version of the story, and I’ll need your help.

I need two volunteers to hold my flashlights. (Hand out flashlights, one with extra batteries and one without extra batteries. Try to give the batteries to a child old enough to replace them without too much help.)

One evening in the land of the Mighty King, there was a wonderful party planned. It would be held in the king’s own castle. There would be feasting and music and dancing. At the end of the party, all the guests were welcome to stay at the castle as long as they liked. All came to the castle walls to wait for the king himself to arrive. He had promised to walk them through the secret passages and doors that led to the very center of the castle, where the feast would take place. Only the king knew the way.

Jan Adam Kruseman (Haarlem 1804-1862)

Jan Adam Kruseman (Haarlem 1804-1862)

The king told all of the guests that they might have to wait some time, but they had to be ready for him when he came. “Watch and wait,” he said, “because you do not know that exact hour that I will come.” Two young subjects of the king were waiting for him to arrive. They both had their trusty flashlights along and as it got darker, they both turned their lights on and waited for the king. They waited for a long time. The lights got dim and the two almost fell asleep. Suddenly, a shout rang out. “The king has arrived! Get up, turn on your lights and follow the king.”(Have volunteers turn on their dim flashlights.)

One of the subjects was foolish and had no extra batteries and couldn’t follow in the dark. The other subject was wise and had brought along extra batteries. He quickly changed the batteries, got up, and followed the king into the feast. (Help child change batteries.)

The story is about what will happen at the end of the world when Jesus comes again. Nobody knows exactly when Jesus will return, but we know that Jesus will come to earth again. We need to always be ready, to be doing what God wants us to do. And with Jesus in your heart and God’s love in your life, you will be ready for Jesus when he comes again.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to return. Help us to be ready.


For the 20th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 26

(Lectionary 31) From “Saving the Ants”

Matt. 23:1-12 ” …The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Preparation: Bring a phylactery and a prayer shawl, or pictures of each to help illustrate.

We know that God is love and that God sent Jesus into the world to save us because of his great love for us. But is God always happy with what we do? (Let children answer.) Jesus loves us, but sometimes the way we act can make him sad. We know that our parents love us, but if we do something wrong, we’re going to get scolded, aren’t we?

In Matthew, chapter 23, Jesus was talking to the crowds that had gathered around him, and he had some advice for them. He told the people to listen to the scribes and the Pharisees preach from the Bible, but he warned the people not to act like they do. Jesus said, “They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden” (Matt. 23:4 NLT).

The burdens that the Pharisees were putting on the people were many little laws that the people were supposed to follow. For example, they expected the people to bring offerings of all kinds of food and spices. If someone used ten cups of flour to make bread one day, the Pharisees wanted them to bring one cup of flour as an offering to the temple. Most people were poor and worked hard all day long. They couldn’t take the time to obey such laws. The Pharisees were rich and had time to obey their own laws.

Jesus scolded the Pharisees for making a big show of how they worshiped and how often they went to the temple. Many Jews wore little boxes strapped to their forehead with a band of cloth; it was called a phylactery and it contained scriptures written on little pieces of paper. The Pharisees wore these also, but to make them more noticeable, they made them very large. The Pharisees also wore prayer shawls with very long fringes so that people would notice them and admire them.

The problem with all this was that the Pharisees didn’t really care about impressing God. The Pharisees wanted to impress their neighbors instead. In other words, they were big showoffs. Do you think God is impressed by a showoff? (Let children answer.) God is pleased with the opposite of a showoff. To be the greatest in God’s eyes is to be a humble servant. God wants us to serve him willingly just because we love him, not because we want other people to see the good things that we’re doing.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, may we always keep our eyes on you and not on ourselves. Help us to be your humble servants.

The Greatest Commandment

For the 20th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 25

(Lectionary 30) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Scripture Reference: Matt. 22:34 – 40 “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments are based on these two…”

Preparation (Optional): Bring heart-shaped stickers to distribute at the end of the message.

Some of you probably know many of the commandments listed in the Bible. Can anyone tell me one of them? (Let children respond.) The Ten Commandments are:

1. You shouldn’t worship anything or anyone other than God.

2. Respect God’s name; it is special. Don’t use it as a curse.

3. Remember the day of worship and keep it holy.

4. Respect your father and your mother.

5. Don’t kill anyone.

6. Husbands and wives, keep your  special love only for each other.

7. Don’t steal from anyone.

8. Don’t tell lies about your neighbor.

9. Don’t be jealous of your neighbor’s house.

10. Don’t be jealous of your neighbor’s family. Don’t want for yourself anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Paraphrase by author.)

There are other commandments found in the Bible as well. Which one do you think is the greatest, most important commandment? (Let children respond.)

This is a question that the Pharisees used to test Jesus. The Pharisees were a group of people who went to church a lot, but they were not very loving. They asked, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments are based on these two. . . .” (Matt. 22:36-40 NLT).

I want everyone to put up your ten fingers. Those stand for the Ten Commandments. Now turn your palms so that they’re facing you and cross your hands on your chest. That is the symbol for love. All of the Ten Commandments are based on loving God and loving others. If we really do love God, we will naturally obey all Ten Commandments. The commandments are based on love and respect.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for your set of rules based on loving you and others. Help us to keep all of your commandments out of love for you.


Pay Your Respect

For the 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24

Scripture Reference: Matt. 22:15-22

 Preparation: Bring coins with heads on them. You could bring a penny to hand out to each child at the end of the sermon.  istock-23533886-coin-quarter-washington

Has anyone ever asked you a trick question? (Children may respond.) Here’s an example of what I mean by a trick question. What if you had two best friends, and someone asked you, “So, which one do you like best?” Well, you like both of them, but this person is asking you to choose only one. So this isn’t really a fair question.

Jesus was asked a trick question by a group of Pharisees who wanted to get him into trouble. They asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matt. 22:17 RSV). This was a trick question because if Jesus said that you should pay taxes to Caesar, most of the Jews there would be angry because they didn’t like Caesar. But if Jesus said that you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar, then the policemen might come and arrest him, because you had to pay taxes.

So Jesus took their trick question and turned it into a question about not just where you pay your money, but where you pay your respect. Jesus asked the Pharisees to show him the money that they pay taxes with, and they showed him a coin that was like this quarter. (Show the quarter or other coin.) Then Jesus asked them, “Whose picture and title are stamped on [this coin]?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well then,” [Jesus] said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him, But everything that belongs to God must be given to God” (Matt. 22:20-21 NLT).

This quarter has a picture of George Washington on the front of it; he was the first president of the United States. Well, we can’t give this coin to George. He died a long time ago. But he represents the government, and we can pay our government the taxes that the country needs to provide us with roads, police officers, firefighters, parks, and so many other things.

We can give our money to the church to help support God’s work. We can use our money to help support people that are telling people about Jesus. Although God does appreciate our offerings, he wants more than just our offering on Sunday morning. God wants us to pay him our respect, love, and obedience. God wants us to offer our whole selves to him and be willing to serve with all of our heart.

Prayer: Lord, we offer to you our respect and our love and our obedience. We want to serve you with all of our heart.

The Gardener

For the 17th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 22

(Lectionary 27) From “Saving the Ants”

Isaiah 5:1-7  “Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter….”  

Preparation: Bring flower or fruit stickers to hand out.  getyourkidsinthegarden

In the Old Testament reading this morning, the prophet Isaiah tells a story about someone who planted a garden. I want all of you to imagine that you are planting a garden. You want this garden to be very special and beautiful, so you begin by carefully preparing the soil. You take out all the rocks and dig up any weeds you find. You mix rich, black compost into the soil and rake the dirt so that it’s soft and crumbly and ready to be planted. Then you start to plant your seeds. (At this point, begin to put one flower sticker on each child, while you continue talking. You may, however, choose to hand out stickers at the end of childrenís sermon.)

You choose only the best seeds to plant in your garden. The chosen seeds are planted with care. Every day the garden is watered, and watched. The birds that come to eat the seeds are chased away. The weeds that pop up in the garden are quickly pulled out and thrown away.

With a garden so well tended, do you think good, healthy plants will grow? (Wait for responses.) Your garden should produce beautiful, healthy plants, shouldnít it? What if you put all that work into your garden and the only thing it produced was weeds? No flowers, no fruit, only prickles and thorns. How do you think you would feel? (Let children answer.)

Do you know what happened to the gardener in the story Isaiah told? He planted grape vines and took good care of them, but his garden didn’t produce good grapes.

God is like that gardener, and we’re his plants. God takes good care of us and wants us to grow and do good things. When we turn away from God and do what we shouldn’t, it’s as if God’s garden is wilting and filling up with weeds.

Do you think God feels sad when this happens? I’m sure he does. This morning, you all received flowers to help you remember that you are part of God’s garden. Grow strong and bear good fruit!

Prayer: Lord God, our Creator, thank you for making us and caring for us. Help us to grow like healthy plants and produce good things with our lives.


For the 16th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 21

(Lectionary 26) From “Saving the Ants”

Matt. 21: 28 – 32  “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30 Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.”  TwoFaced_Janus

Preparation: Bring a couple of Halloween or theater masks that aren’t too scary.

I brought along a couple of extra faces this morning. (Put masks on briefly.) Here is one face, and here’s another. Is this really my face? No, it’s a mask, isn’t it? I don’t really have more than one face.

Have you ever heard of someone being “two-faced”? It doesn’t mean that you actually have two faces, but it means that you sometimes act in two very different or opposite ways. For example, if Jane told Mary, “I really like you, Mary. You’re my best friend,” and then later told Tom, “I don’t like Mary. She’s not my friend,” you could say that Jane is two-faced.

The Gospel lesson today, from the book of Matthew, has a story about two sons. The father tells the first son, “Son, will you go and work in the vineyard today?” and the first son replies, “i Will not.” Later, however, he decides to obey his father and he goes and worlds. The father also asks the second son to work in the vineyard and the second son answers, “I go, sir” (vv. 28 – 30 NRSV). But this son does not go at all.

Now, I’ll ask you the same question that Jesus asked his disciples after they had heard this story; which son did what his father wanted him to do? (Wait for answers.) Yes, the first son did the right thing.

Were these sons two-faced? (Wait for answers.) Yes. Both of them said one thing and did the opposite. The first son said the wrong thing and did the right thing. The second son said the right thing and did the wrong thing.

In the end, do you think it’s more important to say the right thing or to do the right thing? (Let children respond.) Actions speak louder than words. Of course, the best thing would be to both say and do the right thing.

After you go back to your seats, see if you can think of something you can do to show your family how much you love them. Then don’t forget to really do it!



Fair Wages

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For the 15th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 20

(Lectionary 25) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Matt. 20: 1-16  “’Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (NLT)

Preparation: Bring six fairly heavy books for volunteers to carry and four coins to pay volunteers.

Has anyone here ever worked to earn money? (Wait for a response.) What did you do? How long did you work? Were you tired when you got done? Those of you who have worked for money, did you think that the payment was fair?

Would anyone like to earn some money this morning? I need four volunteers. I’ll give each of you a job and pay you when you’re done. (Choose four kids and have them line up.) Now, I’ll ask my first volunteer; if I pay you one nickel, will you carry these three books to the back of the church and up here to the front again, three times? (If they agree, let them start right away, while you continue to speak.) Now, to the second volunteer; will you carry two books down the aisle and back, two times? (Let second volunteer begin their job.) Now, the next; will you carry one book down the aisle and back just one time?(They may begin.) And for the last one; your job is to walk to the first pew and back. You don’t have to carry any books.

Will all my workers come and receive their wages now? Here’s a nickel for each of you, and I’m going to pay last the person that I hired first. (Distribute the money.) Everyone got the same amount, didn’t they? Raise your hand if you think this is fair. Raise your hand if you think it’s not fair, if you think the one who did more work should get more money.

Thank you, workers. You can sit down now and rest from your labors. Did you know that Jesus told a story much like this? In Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a boss who went out early in the morning to look for workers to gather grapes in his vineyard. He told them what he would pay before they started, and he hired workers from early in the morning until late in the day. Some worked all day long and some worked for only one hour, but they all got exactly the same wage.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t think this was fair. They knew what the story meant. Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven. If you follow Jesus and obey him and love him, will you go to heaven when you die? Of course you will. What if someone asks Jesus into their heart just a few minutes before they die? They will go to heaven, too! It’s sad that they had to spend most of their life without having Jesus as their friend, but even if someone doesn’t know Jesus until the very end of their life, the Lord still welcomes them with open arms. It’s a good thing for all of us that God is loving instead of fair. Even though we are all sinners, God loves every one of us.

Prayer: Thank you for the free gift of eternal life, dear Lord. Thank you for welcoming everyone with open arms, no matter where or when they accept your love.


Seventy Times Seven

For the 14th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 19

(Lectionary 24) From “Saving the Ants”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Matt. 18:21-22  “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied to Peter, “Seventy times seven!” (NLT)

Preparation: Bring a large pad of paper and a fat marker.

Have you ever hurt another person? If you’ve either accidentally or purposefully stepped on someone’s foot, or pushed someone, or called your sister or brother a mean name, or made someone feel bad, raise your hand.

It happens to everyone, doesn’t it? And if we do something wrong to someone else, what should you say to that person? How do you apologize? (Let children respond.) Right, you say, “I’m sorry.” And hopefully, what does the other person say? (Wait for an answer.) Good. The person says, “I forgive you.” Those are very important words. Let’s all try saying “I forgive you.” Ready? All together . . . “I forgive you.”

Of course it feels bad when someone else hurts you, but how do you feel if you hurt someone else? That feels bad too, doesn’t it? And when you say, “I’m sorry,” and you really mean it, and the answer comes back, “You’re forgiven,” it’s so good to hear those words!

How many times do you think we should forgive someone? (Let children suggest numbers.) Peter asked Jesus this very question. In Matthew, chapter 18, it says that Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied to Peter, “Seventy times seven!” (vv. 21-22 NLT). How many times is that? Does anyone know? (An older child may figure this out.) 7 X 7 = 49, so 70 X 7 = 490! (Write equation on the paper pad.) That’s a lot, isn’t it?

If every one of you stepped on my toes and you said, “I’m sorry,” and I said, “I forgive you,” would I even come close to that number? No. This isn’t an experiment that I want to try. But the point is that Jesus wanted to make sure that we keep on forgiving others. We need to forgive so many times that we lose count! It’s something we need to be good at, so let’s practice. When I say, “I’m sorry,” you say “I forgive you.” Okay, let’s try it. (Practice call and response. You can even encourage children to try saying “I’m sorry” to the congregation and have them respond accordingly.)

You’re all getting very good at this. Now the next time you need to use those words, it will be easier, because you’ve practiced so much.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for forgiving us so many times. Help us to be always forgiving to others.