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.

What a Dog Teaches Us About God

Bjorn_With_ElsaThis past summer, one of the members of our congregation at West Tokyo Union Church passed away. He was an unusual member, but he ran to church every Sunday and waited outside in the courtyard next to his water bowl until the service was over. Snack time often spilled over into the courtyard and Bjorn was always there to opportunistically clean up any leftover treats. He knew the value of a vigorous post-prandial roll in the grass and he was often joined by the children of WTUC in his antics. He was our before and after church greeter. He would have wanted to greet everyone one last time, but he died at Lake Nojiri in August and was laid to rest next to the Ingulsrud cabin. This post is dedicated to Bjorn.

Spell “God” backwards and you get “dog.” While this may just be a coincidence in the English language, it reminds me of how much a dog can teach us about God. Without becoming too far-fetched with this analogy, take a moment to sit and stay and chew on it for a while.


I’m thinking about our extremely enthusiastic Golden Retriever.  Keep in mind that the very word, “enthusiastic,” has God right in the middle. The “-thu-“ or “theo” part of enthusiastic, means God. To be full of God means to be enthusiastic. Bjorn must have been full to the brim.

What Bjorn was most enthusiastic about was welcoming people. His best days were when he could welcome lots and lots of people. He absolutely loved Sundays. He was our best greeter. He was also our hairiest greeter and he did drool on folks occasionally, but he was always enthusiastically welcoming. How very appropriate for church. God welcomes one and all to the Christian community. We should follow Bjorn’s example; but perhaps with less drool.

Bjorn loved to share everything and he loved to deliver gifts; that’s what retrievers do. God loves a generous giver, so I’m sure that God loves Golden Retrievers. Bjorn shared anything that he could find on the floor. He would pick up items and he would bring them with wagging tail as welcoming gifts to anyone who came to our door. He shared slippers and balls and cans and wrappers and socks… and underwear. Among other things, Bjorn taught us the importance of using the laundry basket.


Although Bjorn may not have been a very smart dog, he was emotionally intelligent. He knew when someone needed comfort and company. When I was sick, he would climb into bed next to me and put his nose near my face. Apparently dog breath has healing qualities because this treatment always helped. He didn’t mind at all having someone crying into his fur. Dog hair is very good at absorbing tears. Our God in heaven invites us to come to him for comfort and he will wipe away all of our tears. God is very good at absorbing tears too.


Bjorn was a gift, an answer to prayer, really. When we broke the news to our family that we were moving to Japan, we attempted to stem the flow of tears with the promise of a dog… finally. Our oldest daughter had been wishing on birthday cake candles for many years for a male, Golden Retriever puppy, (she’s very specific with her wishes), so when we got to Japan, we looked in the pet shops for a pup and were shocked at the cost. We would have to pay the equivalent of almost $3,000 which we could not afford. I admit that I prayed about this dilemma. A couple weeks later a friend called. “Were you looking for a puppy? An acquaintance of mine has sold all but three pups left and they’re giving the remaining pups away for free to good homes. They’re Goldens and there is one male left.” I couldn’t believe it, even though I know God answers prayer. The owners, an elderly couple, delivered the puppy to our home along with a basket of gifts. They were so happy that he was being adopted by a family with kids. Bjorn has been a constant reminder to me that God hears every prayer, even the ones that we are embarrassed to offer. Bjorn also reminded me that God’s gifts go beyond what we could possibly imagine.

So although Bjorn is no longer with us, the memories of this dog keep pointing me back to God, and I am very thankful to God that we were blessed with Bjorn for so many years. We will miss having him as part of our congregation.

With love and faithfulness,




Junk Food

For the 13th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 18

(From “Saving the Ants.” Purchase book at left.)

Scripture Reference: Psalm 119:37  kid-watching-tv

Preparation:  Bring one candy bar along with a bowl of fruit to share. (Grapes make for tidy eating in church.)

Does anyone here ever eat junk food? What is junk food? Can you describe it or give some examples? (Wait for answers.) Yes, junk food is usually sweet or salty and crunchy, and we eat it just for fun. It doesn’t really make a very healthy meal, does it? If we read the nutrition label on this candy bar, we can see how healthy it is for us. (Read some of the information on the label.) The candy bar doesn’t do our body much good, even though it may taste good.

Do you think there might be any way that junk could get inside of us, other than eating it? When we look at something or listen to something, it goes into our brain, and we often remember it, don’t we? Is there anything that we watch or listen to that might be of no value?

Think about that as I read again a verse from the psalm for today. Psalm 119, verse 37 says, “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word” (NLT). Another translation reads, “Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless; be good to me as you have promised” (TEV).

Do we sometimes pay attention to what is worthless? I can think of some television shows and movies I’ve watched that seemed to have no real value to them. They might have been fun to watch at the time, but after they were over, I thought, “That didn’t teach me anything good; that was really a waste of time.” They were like junk food for my brain.


Turn It Off

Some of the “junk food,” such as movies, television shows, or books that we take in, may not just be worthless, but harmful. If the things we watch have a lot of punching or swearing or people saying mean things in them, or if we watch movies or read books that are scary and bloody, it’s like eating junk food that has gotten moldy. If I showed you some food that was old and moldy, would you eat it? No! None of us would put that into our mouth, would we? We need to be just as careful about what we put into our mind. If there’s something yucky on television, what can we do? (Let children give suggestions. Examples given might be, “Turn the television off,” or “Leave the room,” or “Suggest something better to do.” Affirm the good suggestions.)  

I do have something with me this morning that’s very healthy and worthwhile, and you can eat it. Before you go back to your seats, help yourself to some fruit! (Pass around the fruit bowl.)

Prayer:  Help us Lord, to turn away from the harmful, evil things of this world. Help us to seek the good and helpful things that turn our thoughts toward you.

Jesus Is the Rock

For the 11th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 16

(From “Saving the Ants.” Purchase book at left.)

Scripture Reference: Isa. 51:1 and Matt. 16:18

Preparation: Bring a box of large rocks that can be knocked together without chipping or crumbling.  kid-with-ambergris

Do any of you collect rocks? (Let children respond.) I brought a rock collection along this morning. These are all rocks that I like for one reason or another. I’ll show you some of them. (Show your rocks and talk about them.)

Isaiah, chapter 51, talks about rocks. It says, “Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance; all who seek the Lord! Consider the quarry from which you were mined, the rock from which you were cut!” (v. 1 NLT). Does anyone know what a quarry is? (A child may offer an answer.) It’s a place where you get rocks. If you want to get granite, you have to go to a granite quarry. If you want sandstone, you have to go to a sandstone quarry. Could you get sandstone from a granite quarry? No, not very likely. The two kinds of rocks are formed in very different ways and are found in different areas.

When it says, “Consider the quarry from which you were mined, the rock from which you were cut,” the prophet Isaiah is reminding God’s people to remember where they came from; to remember their ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, and how they trusted in God and in his promises. God’s people came from that family of faith, like rock comes from a quarry. Abraham and Sarah are our faith ancestors, too. They put their trust in God.

God’s promises are dependable and solid, like rock. There are a lot of hymns about Jesus being the solid rock on which we stand. It is a good way to describe Jesus. He’s solid. He doesn’t get washed away by trouble or time. Jesus has promised that he will always be with us, and he is always with us.

To celebrate Jesus being our rock, this morning I thought we could have some rock music. Would all of you like to be a part of our rock band? I’d like some of you to take two rocks and knock them together. Those are your instruments. The rest of you can clap your hands while you sing the chorus. The part I’ll be singing is pretty simple, too, and everyone can join in as soon as they feel like it. Ready? Let’s rock!

(Jesus is a Rock, by Larry Norman)

(E) Jesus is a rock, and he rolls my blues away… (Bop shoo bop, shoo bop, whoo)

(A7) Jesus is a rock, and he (E) rolls my blues away… (Bop shoo bop, shoo bop, whoo)

(B7) Jesus is a (A7) rock, and he (E) rolls my blues away (B7)… (Bop shoo bop, shoo bop, whoo)

(Repeat song several times, inviting kids to clap and congregation to join in.)

Thank you. You make an excellent rock band.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you are our solid Rock, and we put our trust in you.


Dear Kidsermons Readers,

Sorry that I have been remiss in posting timely sermons recently, but I am taking some time to deal with the death of our beloved Golden Retriever, Bjorn, who passed away while we were at the family cabin. Bjorn was an outgoing and exuberant example of unconditional love. It is no accident, I think, that the word “dog” is so close to “God.” Bjorn welcomed everyone and went out of his way to meet and greet all who would come within range of his wagging tail and soft nose. Bjorn&Hydrangeas

He trotted to church at West Tokyo Union with us every Sunday and would wait patiently outside. After the service was over,  he would enthusiastically greet all of the church members. Bjorn was a very compelling reason for many of the younger church members to get to church on time. They relished getting to play with him before and after the service. At times, Bjorn was invited into the sanctuary as he was an excellent object lesson and helped to teach important spiritual truths during the children’s sermon.

Bjorn was a retriever and he loved to offer gifts. He always met me at the door with slippers or a ball. He met visitors at the door with socks or at times, some other more embarrassing pieces of laundry. He even attempted to lead some folks into the house by pulling on coattails, sleeves or wrists… but always gently and with an encouraging wag of the tail. Bjorn loved everyone. He wanted to bring everyone home.

Whenever members of our family would hug, Bjorn would saunter over and look up at us, expecting to be included in the embrace. Our family hugs almost always included one hairy dog. Bjorn knew that love was for sharing. When one of us would get sick, Bjorn would climb onto the bed and lay down, staying with us until we were well. Dog breath may not smell the greatest, but it has some amazing healing properties.

Bjorn was an answer to prayer. Nine years ago, when we told our children that we were moving to Japan, there were wails and tears of protest. We tried to soften the blow by promising them that we would finally get a dog for them in Japan. Our older daughter had always wanted a Golden Retriever pup, preferably male. In fact, every birthday wish from the time that she was about four, she later told us, had been for a puppy. Upon arrival in Japan, we learned a couple of things… not many places in Tokyo would rent to a family with a big dog, and Golden Retriever puppies were prohibitively expensive (over $2,000 each). I felt sheepish about praying for a dog, but I prayed anyways. Any dog would do, but a free Golden would be wonderful. Yes, I admit that I asked God for a dog.

A couple of weeks later, a friend called. Would I be interested in a free puppy? Of course! A family that she knew had three pups left that they wanted to give away to good families… all pure-bred Goldens and one male left. Wow. Bjorn joined our family amid tears of joy. After a year of intense training, we had a loving, gentle and amazingly patient dog.

Almost nine years later, Bjorn is gone, but many, many friends and piles of warm fuzzy memories remain. Thank you, Lord, for sending us Bjorn. We entrust him back to your loving arms. He was a very good dog. Thank you for letting him be part of our family.

With love,



For the 7th Sunday after Pentecost or Proper 12

(from Saving the Ants; purchase book at left)

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud
Scripture Reference: Rom. 8:26-39

Preparation: Bring with you a stuffed animal, preferably one that means something to you.

Do any of you have a favorite stuffed animal that you play with all the time? (Let children tell about their favorites, then introduce your stuffed animal.) I brought my favorite stuffed animal with me this morning. This is my bear, Winnie the Pooh. (Here, you can tell your own story. An example follows.) One Christmas morning, when I was four years old, I opened a big box and looked inside. There were all my friends from the Winnie the Pooh books! Kanga and Roo, Eeyore, Tigger and Piglet, and, of course, Pooh Bear. Winnie the Pooh was my favorite. I took him everywhere with me.

Now I want to read you a Bible verse from Romans, chapter 8. “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from (God’s) love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we’re high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God” (vv. 38-39 NLT). Continue reading Inseparable

Weeds in the Field

6th Sunday after Pentecost

Pentecost Proper 11

From “Saving the Ants” (click at left to purchase ebook)

Scripture Reference: Matt. 13:24-30 and 36-43 WeedingChild

Preparation: (Optional) You could bring some pulled up weeds to show the children, possibly from your own garden.

When Jesus talked to the crowds of people that gathered to hear him, he often taught them stories called parables. Jesus once told a parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a field that had been planted with good seeds. The seeds sprouted and wheat came up, but something else sprouted with the wheat that no farmer would want in their field. What do you think that was? (Wait for response.) Weeds came up, right alongside the good plants.

The field workers wanted to pull those weeds out right away, but the master of the field stopped them. The wheat and the weeds were growing right next to each other and their roots were probably all mixed up together. What might happen if you tried to pull a full grown weed out and its roots were wrapped around the roots of a good plant right next to it? (Wait for answer.) The weed could pull the good plant right out with it! So the owner of the field told the workers to wait and let the good and bad plants grow up together. Then at harvest time, the weeds would be collected and burned, but the wheat would be gathered up.

The disciples knew this wasn’t just a story about a field with weeds, and they wanted Jesus to tell them the meaning. So Jesus told them that the field represented the world and he was the owner of the field. Who do you think the good seeds are? I can see many good seeds from where I’m sitting. Those who love Jesus are the good seeds. Are there any bad seeds in our world? Yes, unfortunately there are people who do not love God and who do mean things to other people.

Do all the good people live in one part of the world and all the bad people live in another part? No, weíre all mixed together. God’s children live right next to people who don’t love God. And even inside of a child of God, there may be some bad thoughts right along with all of the good thoughts.

I’ve often wondered why God just doesn’t make all the people who do really bad things just disappear? But it isn’t that simple. Do bad people sometimes change? They certainly do. Many chapters of our Bible were written by Paul, someone who hated Christians at first, and then his life changed and he began preaching the good news of Jesus to everyone.

Jesus said that at the end of the world, however, everything will be sorted out. The good will be gathered into heaven to be with Jesus. In the meantime, we can tell the good news of Jesus’ love to those who are still trying to decide.

Prayer:  Help us to spread the good news of your love, dear Jesus, while we wait for you to return. May we reach out with the hand of love to those who have turned away from you.

Parable of the Sower

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5th Sunday after Pentecost

Pentecost Proper 10

From “Saving the Ants” (click at left to purchase ebook)

Scripture Reference: Matt. 13:1-9 and 18-23 


VanGogh’s “Sower”

The Gospel lesson for today is a wonderful story, and I thought it would be fun to act it out. Could you help me tell the story? I’ll need hungry birds, the bright sun, tough thorns, and some seeds.

Who would like to be a hungry bird? You birds stand over here. (Place birds stage right.) Who would like to be the bright sun? (Place sun at center.) Who wants to be the tough thorns? (Place thorns stage left.) And will the rest of you be my seeds? You seeds stand next to me. This big blanket will be the good soil. We’ll spread it out down here in the middle.

This is a story that Jesus told to a huge crowd of people, and it is called “The Parable of the Sower.” A sower is someone who plants seeds. Many of the people in the crowd listening to Jesus were farmers. They knew a lot about seeds and soil and planting, so they were very interested in this story. I’m going to tell the story and play the part of the sower and together we can act it out.

(Here you may paraphrase the parable of the sower, adding your own words and actions as needed. An example follows.) A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path. I’m going to move these seeds over that way. (Guide seeds stage right, over by birds. Continue with the story, guiding children in acting it out.)

Thank you for acting out the story with me. Let’s all gather on the good soil here and listen to what this story means. (Gather the children together onto the quilt.) The seeds are the good news about Jesus Christ. Some people hear the good news, but before they get around to really thinking about it and understanding it, Satan comes like a big hungry bird and snatches it away.

Others may hear about Jesus and get really excited, but if trouble comes along like a blazing hot sun, they may decide that they really don’t believe in Jesus after all, and their faith seeds just wither away.

Then there are some people who want to give their lives to Jesus, but so many other things spring up around them like choking thorns; things like money, new clothes, cool toys, and expensive cars. Those things, like the thorns, take over until there’s no room left for the seeds of Jesus to grow.

And, thankfully, there are the seeds that fall on the good soil. Those are the folks who hear the good news and believe in Jesus with all their heart and they love the Lord for the rest of their lives.

Prayer:  Lord help us to be good soil and to love and serve you all of our lives.

Crossed Wires

4th Sunday after Pentecost

Pentecost Proper 9

From “Saving the Ants” (click at left to purchase ebook)

Scripture Reference: Rom. 7:15-25  Robotic_Arm

Preparation: Bring a robot, a robotic arm, or a picture of a robot as a visual aid.

Has anyone here ever seen a robot, or had the chance to operate a robotic arm? (Let children comment. Option to show visual aid here.) Robots are very reliable as long as they’re assembled correctly. If you push the button marked forward, the robot will go forward. If you push a lever to guide a robotic arm to the right, it will go right. What would happen, though, if someone made a mistake in putting the robot together? What if a couple of wires got crossed and, when the robot was ready to go, it didn’t work quite right? You push the button marked “Stand,” and the robot sits. You push the button marked “Sit,” and the robot stands. You realize something is wrong, so you push the button marked “Stop,” and the robot takes off running and you never see it again. That would be bad, wouldn’t it?

There are a couple of verses in Romans, chapter 7, that read, “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate… When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway” (v. 15, 19 NLT). Does this sound at all familiar? You’re playing with your brother or with a friend, and you’re trying to share and play nicely, but then suddenly he has something you want, or he does something you don’t like and some very angry words jump right out of your mouth before you can stop them. Or your hand shoots out and you find that you’ve just hit somebody. This is not what you had in mind when you first started playing. You don’t invite someone over to yell at him or hit him, you invite him over to play and have fun. It’s almost as if there are some wires crossed inside and you can’t stop yourself from doing things you don’t want to do.

We’re not robots, though, are we? We can’t blame our mistakes on crossed wires. We can’t claim that someone assembled us the wrong way. We’re children of God, and we want to do the right thing, but sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we do just the opposite of what we want to do.

So what do you think we can do when we feel like doing something that we know is wrong? (Let children suggest answers.) Jesus is the one who can uncross our wires. He can set us free from doing things that we hate. The next time you feel like you’re about to do something you know you shouldn’t, ask for help. Ask Jesus to help you do the right thing.

Prayer:  Lord, forgive us for our sins. Forgive us for doing things that we know are wrong. Help us to act the way that we know we should.