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A Noisy Parade

Palm Sunday

From “Saving the Ants” (Download book at left!)

Scripture Reference: Matt. 21:1-11 BjornwPalm-300x289

Preparation: Bring a large palm branch to signal the shouts of “Hosanna!” If possible, bring palm leaves to hand out to the children.

Today is Palm Sunday! Do you know what happened on Palm Sunday? There was a parade. How many of you have been to a parade? They’re exciting to watch, aren’t they? There are lots of people lining the streets, waiting to see the action. There’s lots of noise; marching bands and horns; people yelling, laughing, and dancing; clowns throwing candy and kids running around. It’s bright, colorful, and noisy.

I like parades. I want you to imagine that you’re all sitting by the side of a dusty road, waiting for a parade to start. You got up early to get a good seat and you’re waiting. You wait for a long time, but you don’t hear anything. Finally you hear voices, shouting, singing, laughing. You see dust rising at the end of the road.

Someone’s coming! First you see the people with palm branches, waving them around, and throwing them on the ground. Then you see colorful blankets thrown on top of the dust, making a tapestry path for someone important. Finally, you see the guest of honor, the King, making his triumphant entry into Jerusalem! You expect him to be riding in a fine chariot drawn by splendid horses, or at least in a fancy seat carried by servants. But that is not the way that this King arrived in Jerusalem. How did he make his entrance? (Children may answer.)

He came riding on a young donkey. Have you ever seen a parade that consisted solely of one man riding on a donkey? It may not sound that exciting, but this was King Jesus, the man who could do miracles and heal people. The crowd knew who he was, and they went wild! They yelled, waved palm branches, and threw their coats on the road! Did they make a lot of noise? They sure did! The whole city heard them! Everyone came running.

We’re going to hand out these palm leaves for you to wave, and I’d like everyone on this side to yell, “Hosanna!” and everyone over here to yell, “Blessed are you, King Jesus!” When I raise this big palm branch, you can start yelling. If I raise it really high, you can yell really loud. When I lower the branch down, stop yelling, okay?

Let’s see what Palm Sunday might have sounded like! (Raise palm branch and encourage everyone, including grown-ups, to join in.) Hosanna to the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Prayer:  Blessed are you, King Jesus. We honor you today as the Messiah and our Lord and Savior. Hosanna! 

Out of the Shell and Into the Light

Out of the Shell into the Light

Biblical Reference: Matthew 5:13 – 15  Snelly and Joel

A conversation with a snail:

Pastor speaks to a puppet snail who is pulled most of the way into its shell.

Me: Hey, Snelly! How are you doing this morning?

Snelly: I’m fine. As long as I can stay inside my shell, I’m fine.

Me: Are you going to stay in there all day? Aren’t you going to come out and be part of the worship service this morning?

Snelly: I don’t think so. It’s much safer in here, inside my shell. So if you’ll excuse me… (starts to pull back into his shell).

Me: Wait, Snelly. If you pull back into your shell and just stay there all day, you’ll miss out on a lot of fun things. Life happens here in the light. Jesus calls us to step into the light.

Snelly: Hey, I’m just trying to protect myself here. I can pull myself into my shell where it’s dark and I am protected.

Me: But, Snelly, you are already protected. Jesus is your Good Shepherd.

Snelly: You ever seen a shepherd with a flock of snails? No. I don’t need a shepherd. I’ve got a shell.

Me: Yes, Snelly, you’ve got a shell, but if you stay in your shell all the time, afraid of the world outside, then you are really just a prisoner.

Snelly: A prisoner?

Me: Yes, you are trapping yourself inside your shell in the dark where all you can do is sit and hide and let life pass you by.

Snelly: What else can I do? I’m a snail!

Me: You can look to the light. Trust God to take care of you and don’t be afraid. Life is to be lived! You are not meant to hide in your shell in the dark your whole life.

Snelly: Well, it is kinda boring. Not much to see inside my shell. Can I really trust God to take care of me?

Me: God will take care of you. Psalm 27 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” God is your light and God is your stronghold; stronger than your own shell.

Snelly: Ok, I guess I can slide out into the light. I will BE the light in this world. Just don’t ask me to be salt. Snails don’t especially like salt. With Jesus’ help, I will be a light.

A Glimpse of Glory

Transfiguration Sunday; Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Adapted from “Scolding the Snakes”

Scripture Reference: Luke 9:28-36

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration means to change the way something or someone looks. On this day, we remember how Jesus went up on a mountaintop with his disciples and showed them just how special he was.

Jesus had told his disciples, his close friends, that he would be killed and later rise from the dead. How do you think the disciples looked when Jesus told them that bad things were going to happen to him? Show me how the faces of the disciples must have looked. (Let the kids act out the sad emotions.) They must have been very, very sad.

Eight days after he had told them this, he chose three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John to climb up a mountain with him. Let’s all pretend we’re climbing together. (Pantomime climbing motions.) Whew! Let’s sit down and rest like the disciples did when they got to the top. (Sit down together on steps or floor.) Jesus took the disciples with him up that mountain to pray, but the disciples were very tired. The disciples prayed with him for awhile. Let’s all pray like the disciples. (Fold your hands with children.) But pretty soon those tired disciples fell asleep. Show me how you can fall asleep on the ground. (Let kids act out sleeping.)

While Jesus was praying, his face and clothing began to glow like a light was shining inside him. His clothing turned white and glowed brightly. Two famous prophets, Moses and Elijah—men who had lived many, many years earlier—suddenly were right there talking to Jesus. The disciples woke up and saw the brightness and glory of Jesus, and they saw the two prophets talking with him. They were so surprised, they couldn’t speak.

What do you think the disciples looked like when they saw Jesus glowing and those old prophets standing in front of them? Show me what they might have looked like. (Make a look of amazement on your face and invite kids to do the same.) I’m sure that this was a day that those disciples remembered for the rest of their lives.

Jesus was showing his disciples that he was truly special, that he was the Son of God. How do you think that made them feel about him? (Let children answer.) Jesus wanted to remind them that no matter what might happen, and no matter how sad they might feel or how bad things might seem, Jesus was very, very special. He was God’s Son. He would always be there to help them. This is what we remember and celebrate on Transfiguration Sunday.

Prayer:  Jesus, thank you for always being nearby to love and help us. Remind us over and over again how very special you are and how very lucky we are.

Nativity Rat at the Manger

Jean-Baptiste_Marie_Pierre_-_Nativity_-_WGA17676Every typical nativity scene includes a few animals, usually a sheep, a cow and a donkey. Sometimes the camels show up and every once in while, a dove or two. Do you see any rats? Do you think they were possibly hiding in the straw that holy night of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem? Here is a Christmas Eve script that sticks up for the ones who tend to be pushed out of the scene on Christmas and at other times of the year. Not all of us show up in our Sunday best to the manger, but Christ accepts all of us, the ratty and the tattered. We all matter. All are welcome.

This script’s cast calls for one human (Ruth), a lamb (Baabara) and a rat (Grudge the Rat). It was performed at West Tokyo Union Church (WTUC) on Christmas Eve, 2015.

Christmas Eve Children’s Sermon:

Baaabara: This is wonderful! I love imagining that we are at the manger on the night that Jesus was born. I think some of my ancestors were there the night of Jesus’ birth.

Ruth: They probably were. We know that there were sheep nearby because there were shepherds.

Baa: And the sheep followed the shepherds when the shepherds followed the star that led them to the manger.

Ruth: There are so many Christmas carols that mention sheep because shepherds and sheep are a big part of the Christmas story.

Baa: That makes me feel all warm inside. I mean, I do have wool to keep me warm on the outside, but the Christmas story makes me feel all warm inside.

RAT: (Rat pops up in back.) Well, isn’t that nice. And while you’re all warm and toasty inside and out, I’ve been locked outside, freezing my poor little rat tail off! I suppose now that I have managed to sneak inside, someone is going to pick up a broom and yell, “Dirty rat!” and chase me back outside.

Ruth: No, no! Don’t worry. No one is going to chase you out. You can stay. Everyone is welcome at the manger.

RAT: The RAT knows that everyone is welcome at the manger, but most people don’t know that. We get chased away all the time.

Baa: Oh, that’s sad. You’re welcome to stay here with us. You can be part of the nativity scene.

RAT: You ever seen a nativity scene with a rat in it? No, probably not. But did you know that some of MY ancestors were there at the manger the night that Jesus was born?

Ruth: I didn’t know that. There aren’t any rats in any Christmas carols.

RAT: No, and that’s a shame, since so many words rhyme with “rat.” Someone should write us into a Christmas carol. We were there at the manger. Of course we were. Every stable has its rats.

Baa: That’s true. There are rats in almost every country in the world.

RAT: Yeah, we get around. But here’s the important thing: while everyone loves a cute and fluffy sheep, no one loves a rat. We get left out or thrown out of every celebration… but not this one. Christmas is different. God became human and was born into this small, dangerous and dirty world that we call earth.

Ruth: It was a very risky thing to do.

RAT: Can YOU imagine being asked to be born a rat instead of a human? Would YOU jump at the chance, to be born a rat, just to show a bunch of other rats that God loves them more than anything in the world?

Ruth: That is hard to imagine.

RAT: Humans think they’re pretty grand. But compared to God, they’re not all that. People accuse rats of spreading disease and chewing up things and making messes… well, compared to humans and the damage they have done to the earth, rats are angels.

Ruth: Yes, I see your point.

RAT: So compared to the Creator of the Universe and all things good and amazing, humans and rats are almost on the same level. But God loves us anyway. God loves the ratty and the tattered. God loves us even though we are small and mean. God loves even the rat.

Baa: No one chased your ancestors away from the manger?

RAT: No one chased us away. It was a holy, special night. We were there to worship the baby King. We knew that God loves us all, even those of us who are rats.

Baa: That’s wise observation. I think that rats should be part of the Nativity scene. If the sheep get to be there, the rats should get to be there too.

RAT: Thank you, Baabara. I appreciate that. That actually makes we feel all warm inside, and I’m not even covered with wool.

Baa: You’re always welcome here. WTUC is a church “Where all are welcome.” It even says so on the bulletin. All are welcome.

RAT: Even rats?

Ruth: Even rats.Ratty and Ruth

RAT: Well, thank you. I will stay for the rest of the service. But I see Mary coming…  and just in case she gets nervous around rats, I’m going to find a warm corner to curl up in. I don’t want to get stepped on.

Baa: Thank you for joining us at the manger. And I’ll ask the Pastor to add a rat figurine to the Nativity set.

RAT: Thank you very much. I appreciate the gesture. Merry Christmas Baabara. Merry Christmas, WTUC.

Ruth: Merry Christmas to you, dear Ratty!


Leap for Joy

Fourth Sunday of Advent

From “Scolding the Snakes”

Scripture Reference: Luke 1:39-55

Preparation: You may have a song queued up to play at the end of the children’s time. 

Today, how many candles are lit on the Advent wreath? (Children may respond.) It’s the fourth Sunday in Advent, isn’t it? It’s almost – almost – time for Christmas! We want to be ready for Christmas and we want to be ready when Jesus comes to earth again.

Is everyone ready? The Gospel lesson for today shows us two women who were ready for God’s son to come. Mary had just been told by the angel Gabriel, that she was going to be the mother of Jesus, God’s Son. The angel also told her that her cousin Elizabeth, who was very old and had never been able to have children, was pregnant. This was a lot of amazing news for Mary to take in, but Mary was ready. She believed what the angel said. She said she would be willing to be the mother of this special baby. Mary was ready for Christmas.

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was ready too. Elizabeth was much older than most mothers, and she was having a baby for the first time. She knew something special was happening. God was at work. Elizabeth’s son would be named John the Baptist, and he would help make the world ready for Jesus. Elizabeth was ready for Christmas.

Even the tiny baby inside Elizabeth – John the Baptist – was ready. Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. And as soon as Mary stepped through the door and said, “Hello,” the baby inside Elizabeth moved and Elizabeth knew that Mary had a wonderful secret. God told her that Mary was going to be the mother of God’s Son. Elizabeth told Mary, “The instant I heard your voice, my baby jumped for joy! You are blessed because you believed the Lord’s promise to you.”

Mary was ready. Elizabeth was ready. Even  John the Baptist – who wasn’t even born yet – was ready. The world was getting ready for Jesus, ready for the first Christmas. God was getting their hearts ready. All of these people were believing in God. Mary sang a song of joy, and the baby, John, leaped for joy. They were excited and happy.

We get excited before Christmas, don’t we? As Christmas gets closer and closer, sometimes it’s hard to hold all that excitement in. We just have to jump up and down or sing or yell. (You may share a childhood memory of your own or an expression that shows your excitement.) What do you do when you’re really excited and happy? (Let children share.) 

It’s a good thing to be excited about Christmas! Jesus is coming! Let’s all leap for joy! (You may leap and yell, “Hooray!” with the children or play a short, happy song to celebrate the coming of Christmas.)

Prayer:  Jesus, we love you and can’t wait to celebrate your birth once again. Thank you for coming to be born.

Tiny Big Gift

Pentecost Proper 26

From “Sitting on the Rainbow”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Scripture Reference: Mark 12:41-44

Preparation: Bring two bags containing stickers or some other kind of prize or treat. One bag should contain just a few items, the other, many items. Have extra items yourself to give to the helper with the meager prize-bag. 

I have two bags of prizes with me this morning. I’d like two volunteers to help me hand them out. (Pick your helpers and give them each a bag.) As you can see, one of the bags is more full than the other. I’d like my helpers to start handing out prizes. They have to take turns, though, as they hand out their prizes. First one person will give out a prize, then the other person will give out a prize until everybody has been given a prize. Then, after everybody has gotten a prize, these two helpers get to keep for themselves whatever is left in their bags. We can help by counting as they hand them out. (Let the volunteers begin. Try to make sure that the one with the meager bag has few or no prizes left when finished.) Does everyone have a prize?

Which one of these two helpers gave out the most prizes? (Let children respond.) They handed out about the same number, didn’t they? But one has very few prizes left and the other still has a bag full. So they may have handed out the same number, but which of these two do you think was the more generous? (Children may answer.) The one with just a few prizes to begin with gave away almost all that she had. The one with lots of prizes still has plenty left. (Give your extra prizes to the helper with the empty bag. Then have the two helpers sit down with the rest of the children.)

Something like this happened when Jesus and his disciples were sitting at the temple, watching people drop their money in the offering box. As they watched the crowds come by, they saw many rich people put in large amounts of money. It was an impressive offering the rich people gave. Then along came a poor widow. She put just a small amount into the box. But Jesus saw her, and he said to his disciples, “This poor widow has given more than all the others have given. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has” (Mark 12:43-44 nlt).

When we give our offerings of money or time or talent to God, he doesn’t compare our offerings to those of other people. Some of us have more time or more money than others to begin with. God looks at what we have to start with, and God looks at the attitude we have about giving. When we give with a generous and thankful heart as much as we possibly can, God is very pleased and happy.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, help us be generous in sharing all the gifts that came from you in the first place.

The Greatest

Pentecost Proper 24

From “Sitting on the Rainbow”

Artwork by Elsa Ingulsrud

Scripture Reference: Mark 10:42-45

Preparation (optional): Bring in a low stool that you can cover with a rich-looking robe or piece of fabric. You may even bring a crown for the servant royalty.

This morning I’d like to set up a royal kingdom here. I’ll need a king, queen, princes, princesses, dukes, and duchesses. And I’ll need a servant to wait on all the royal people. Are there any volunteers to be in our royal court?

(Choose volunteers for the royal titles. Using the child’s own name, announce their roles: King Alec, Queen Laura, Princess Elsa, etc. Have the children stand in a line at the front of the church with the king and queen at one end. Announce each member of the royal court with appropriate pomposity.)

We have a very fine court here this morning. We have a king, a queen, princes, princesses, dukes, and duchesses. Do you know what we’re missing? We need a servant to wait on all of these important people. Will someone volunteer to be the lowly servant? (Wait for a volunteer or, if necessary, choose a likely candidate from the “royals” to stand at the end of the line.)

Can someone tell me, in the eyes of God, who of all these people is the greatest? Is the king the greatest? Is one of the dukes the greatest? (Wait for answers.) In the eyes of the Lord, the servant is greatest of all. I’d like for our servant to come up here to the top step to stand above everyone. (Have the servant come to the top step at the front of the church or provide a stool draped with a rich-looking cloth for the servant to step onto.) In God’s kingdom, the lowliest servant is the greatest.

Could the entire royal court, including any lowly servants, come and sit down again? I have something I’d like to read to you. These verses are from the book of Mark, chapter 10. Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, wanted to be very important people in heaven. They wanted to sit right next to Jesus by his heavenly throne. The other disciples grew angry with them. Why should James and John have the best seats? So Jesus had to explain something to them.

“Whoever wants to be great must be a lowly servant,” Jesus explained, “and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a payment for many” (vv. 43-45 author’s paraphrase).

Jesus is the Almighty King, but he didn’t come to earth to demand that people serve him. Jesus came to be a servant to all and to give up his life, so that we might have eternal life.

I hope that all of you will become great in God’s kingdom by serving others with all of your heart!

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, thank you for leaving your throne in heaven to come here to earth

World Community Communion

Children’s Message on World Communion Sunday

Scripture Reference: John 13:2 – 17;

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

Preparation: Cut from cardboard tubes or create from stiff paper enough elbow sleeves to accommodate at least a couple of volunteers. These segments of tube will be slipped over the children’s arms to help illustrate the sermon. 

Makeshift Elbow Tube

Makeshift Elbow Tube

You know what “communion” means, right? When the congregation comes together to have bread and wine and to remember how Jesus gave his life for us, it is called communion. Today is World Communion Sunday but it doesn’t just mean the communion meal in church. The word “community” is a lot like “communion.” On World Communion Sunday, we remember that believers all over the world are part of our church community.

For a community to be healthy, all of the people in that community must take care of each other. We must learn to serve each other. On the evening of Jesus last supper with his disciples, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. This washing of the feet was usually the job of the lowliest servant in the household, but Jesus himself did this for his disciples to show them that this humble way of serving one another was the best way.

I brought something with me today to show you how community works, but first I need two volunteers. (Choose a couple of children whose arms will fit the cardboard sleeves you have made, and slide the sleeves onto their arms so that they can no longer bend their elbows.) Now that your “community sleeves” are in place, you can both enjoy a snack. (Place a bowl of round crackers in front of them and help instruct them in finding a way to eat the snack.)

You will notice that you can no longer feed yourself. In a community, if people are only concerned with feeding or helping themselves, the community will not be healthy. Some will be hungry or lonely or left out. But if you concentrate on feeding or helping the other first, then it works. (Encourage the volunteers to feed a cracker to each other.) When we help each other, everyone in the community will be fed.

In most churches, communion is given by the worship leader directly to the person receiving communion. In some cases, the bread is placed directly on the tongue of the person who is receiving communion. This is done to remind everyone in the congregation that it is God who has done the saving. It is not our own doing. God provided us with salvation through Jesus. God has given us so much, it is only right that we serve others in the community that is our whole world.

(Optional:) I’d like everyone to take a snack, but don’t eat it yourself. Serve your snack to someone else as a reminder that we live in a community that needs to help each other.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us the way of servant. Give us the strength and honesty and humility to serve others in our world community in your name.

Giving Up the Grudge

Children’s sermon from August 2015 at Lake Nojiri:

Swatting vs. Sympathy

Children’s Message on Prejudice vs. Sympathy

Scripture Reference: 1 Peter 3:8 – 9  

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”



Preparation: Bring a fly swatter and an example creepy crawly with you to illustrate the sermon.  

Have any of you ever been scared by an insect or an animal? (Let children respond.) What is your reaction if a moth or a grasshopper or a spider lands on your arm? If you are nervous or frightened of the creature, you shoo it away or go find the swatter and kill it. (Here you may share your own story of an encounter with a creepy crawly. My example follows.) The other night, I was climbing the steps of our cabin to turn the light on at the top of the stairs, when my shin brushed a spider web. I stopped and looked down to see that a spider had built a large web across the top of the staircase. This spider was huge! It seemed like it had built the web just to trap me and wrap me up. Compared to me, of course, this spider was small, but because I was scared, I still felt intimidated. I went back downstairs, grabbed a swatter and finished off the spider before it could scare me again.

We don’t like to feel scared. Some things that scare us, are just living their lives and not trying to scare us, but we sometimes react by wanting to hurt the thing that frightens us. If we are not scared of something, like butterflies, for example, we tend to leave them alone.

If I were a spider myself, would I want to go around killing all the spiders like me? Probably not. I would understand spiders better and consider spiders to be beautiful.

In 1 Peter 3:8, the Bible says, “be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” To be sympathetic or to have sympathy, you must understand another person and share their feelings. If you have sympathy, you will feel sad if you see someone else crying. If you have sympathy, you will no longer be afraid of another person. Perfect love casts out all fear.

God wants us to first understand the person, to first love the person, and then to share the Gospel. Although we might want to make another person more like ourselves so that we would no longer fear that person, God does not want us to make clones of ourselves. God wants to make each person more like Jesus. God wants a direct connection with each individual. Each person is very different, but God loves each individual for who they are.

Spiders have a job to do that is different from the job that I am meant to do. They are very different from me, just as many people in this world are very different from me. God calls us to be sympathetic; to humbly put ourselves in another person’s place.

So, think about swatting vs. sympathizing. Which is the best way to share God’s love? If I swat a spider, do I learn anything about spiders? Do I learn what they eat or why they build webs or how they are good for our environment? No. I just learn that I can kill a spider by swatting it. If I never listen to someone that is very different than me explain why they are the way that they are, do I ever learn anything about that person? If I swat them down with my words when they try to talk to me, will they listen to me when I tell them that Jesus loves them? Probably not. Sympathizing is better than swatting. Jesus sympathized. He did not swat. Jesus listened and loved and shared the Good News of God’s love.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for listening and loving. Teach us not to swat at those who are different than us. Help us instead to sympathize and love and listen. Help us to be humble witnesses for you.