The idea that God is with and for each and every person is often the focus of the children’s sermons I give. It’s a message that the children in our congregation easily accept and embrace. They see themselves and each other as children of God. They believe all of their friends and the adults in their lives are loved by God. But when we note that those they dislike, those who are unkind or hurtful, and those who cause damage are also God’s beloved, they struggle a bit with the completeness of God’s grace. Surely, God does love those people as much as God loves them, right? In this lesson, children will explore what it means for God to pursue each of us so that we might know God’s unconditional love.
Begin your time with the children by exploring some pictures from Where’s Waldo? books together. You can check out a Waldo book from the library or you can download several images here. If the children are unfamiliar with Waldo, explain the idea behind these puzzles. Note that the artist creates detailed, intricate pictures featuring lots of people and activities. Hidden within these images is a man wearing a red and white striped shirt and hat, glasses and blue pants. This is Waldo. We need to search the pictures to try and find Waldo.
Spend a bit of time looking for Waldo in several pictures. After you have found him, ask the children to share their impressions of the experience. Was it enjoyable? Why or why not? Was it difficult to find Waldo? Why do they think people enjoy Where’s Waldo? pictures?
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Luke 15:1-10. Provide some context for the passage. Share that the reading is another of Jesus’ parables. As we have seen before, people in the communities where Jesus is teaching ask him hard questions. In response, Jesus tells stories or parables. These parables offer lessons that answer the questions and encourage the listeners to think about God’s relationship with God’s people.
At the start of this reading, some of the religious leaders in the town are becoming concerned about the people Jesus is teaching. The “tax collectors and sinners” who are coming to Jesus aren’t respected or liked by the community. The leaders complain about Jesus spending time with these people. Encourage the children to listen carefully to the parables that Jesus tells in response to their “grumblings”.
Read aloud Luke 15:1-10. If you’re working with younger children, you may want to read a children’s Bible retelling of the passage. (Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible has a terrific child-friendly version of the reading.) After reading the text, focus in on the first parable. Ask the children to recount what the narrator is missing in this story. Then ask them what he does to find it. Note that the shepherd loses one of his 100 sheep. Rather than accepting this loss and continuing on with the other 99 sheep, the shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep. He searches for it in the wilderness, returning home with it on his shoulders. He calls the community together to celebrate. Have the children wonder about this event. What would they have done if they were the shepherd? Why does the lost sheep matter to the shepherd? Would they celebrate when the sheep returns? Why or why not?
Next, explore the second parable. Again, ask the children to recount what the main character (the woman) is missing and how the missing item is found. Here a woman loses one of the ten silver coins she has. Each coin is worth about a day’s pay. She searches throughout her home until she finds the coin. Like the shepherd, she calls together the people she knows to celebrate her success. Have the children wonder about this story. What would they have done if they lost this amount of money? Why does the money matter to the woman? Would throw a party to celebrate if they found lost money? Why or why not?
After recounting the stories, remind the children that each of these parables is about more than just the events that happen in them. They are meant to teach God’s people about God and God’s relationship with us. Have the children wonder what the stories might be saying about God. How are people like the lost sheep or the lost coin? What do the stories say about who is important to God? What does God do to make sure we know that God loves us?
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children connect the parables to their own lives by engaging in one or more of these activities. Before beginning the activity, remind the children that one of the lessons in the parables is that each and every person matters to God. God wants to be close to each of us. God loves each of us. Because we all matter to God, we should all matter to one another. However, sometimes not all people are treated with love, respect, and care. Some are forgotten. Some are treated as “less than.” We are called to show God’s love to all God’s people.
Choose one of these activities to work on with the children. You may also want to create your own activity.
- Ask the children to think of people in their communities who aren’t always loved or respected. Encourage them to focus on all the places and spaces where they spend time: school, church, activities, etc. Challenge them to think not only of people who are mistreated by others but also of those they would consider “enemies.” These might include people they consider bullies or kids who “get in trouble” at school. Talk about how the children might reach out to these individuals to show them the love of God. Have the children write the names of these people or draw pictures of them on sheets of paper. Then, ask them to fold the papers up and place them in the center of the table. Offer a prayer for each of us to extend God’s love and care to the people represented on these pieces of paper.
- Choose a local, national or international news event that has not been widely publicized or that you don’t think the children know much about. For example, recently there were devastating floods in Pakistan that have left a third of the country under water and have taken the lives of many people. Children may be unaware of the event because it took place far from where they live. Share an article or video about the event with the children. Be sure to select one that describes the event in a way that is informative but not traumatizing. Discuss how the children might extend God’s love and care to those experiencing the event. Offer a prayer for those involved.