Today, by special request of a faithful reader, I offer you a children’s sermon for Ash Wednesday. (You can see a more historical and exegetical post on Ash Wednesday here.)
If you are a regular here, you know I publish a children’s sermon each week based on the Gospel reading assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for the coming Sunday.
I haven’t (yet!) been doing them for non-Sunday services. But when I get a special request, how can I say no?
For Ash Wednesday I decided to talk instead about the significance of the day and the season of Lent.
I think the Gospel assigned by the Lectionary is problematic as an Ash Wednesday text. It’s a perfectly wonderful bit of Christ’s teaching, but not for Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday that passage sets us up as hypocrites: the Gospel reading tells us to wash our faces and practice our penitence in secret, but then we go up to receive a visible mark of penitence—and most will wear that mark out onto the world.
That’s a spiritual and theological puzzle grown ups have a hard time with. Maybe it’s possible to extricate ourselves from it, I don’t really think I can make it clear to the simple and literal-minded eyes of children. I can just picture certain kids looking at me through narrowed eyes with the look that shows me they just don’t buy it.
You are, of course, free to use this children’s sermon, or adapt it as you find most useful. But, if you use it, please do one (or more!) of the following.
- You can let me know that you are using it, either in the comments below, or using the contact form above.
- You can put a little notice in your church bulletin that your children’s sermon is adapted from one published on GaryNealHansen.com.
- You can support my work over on Patreon. (Just $1 per month brings my children’s sermons straight to your inbox about two minutes after they go live. And every little bit keeps me going…)
So here you have my children’s sermon for Ash Wednesday, on the day and the season at hand.
A Children’s Sermon for Ash Wednesday
Hello kids! Thank you for coming up for the Children’s Sermon. I’m so glad you are here in worship.
Today is a very important day in the life of the church. It’s called “Ash Wednesday” and it is the first day of Lent. Ash Wednesday isn’t a happy joyful celebration, like Christmas or Easter. It is more of a serious day.
- You may have noticed that the church is a little darker than usual.
- Maybe you noticed that the music is less cheerful than usual.
- Or maybe you noticed that people are speaking more softly than usual.
Those things all help us get ready for something important and serious: Ash Wednesday and Lent,
Lent is the 40 days (plus 6 Sundays) that we spend getting ready for the most important, the very best, the most joyful thing you can imagine. We are getting ready for Easter, when Jesus rose from the grave, alive again forever.
At Easter Jesus gives us the gift of new life, forever life, with the God who made us and loves us.
Easter is so important that we need to spend 40 days getting ready.
We get ready by turning our hearts to God, drawing close to God, and listening for ways we can live as God wants us to live.
So Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent. Maybe you wonder why we call it “Ash” Wednesday. You’ll see, a little later in the service.
One by one, we’ll come up to the front of the church.
And, one by one, someone will take some dusty ashes and mark a cross on our foreheads.
The person marking us with dusty ashes will say some words from the Bible:
Remember that ‘you are dust,
and to dust you shall return‘.
Genesis 3:19 RSV
Then we’ll each go back to our seats.
- Some people will leave the ashes on.
- Some people will wipe the ashes off.
But those words from the Bible remind us all of something very important. It’s something about who we are.
You Are Dust
Those words come from near the very beginning of the Bible.
The Bible tells the story of when God first created human beings.
God had already made heaven and earth.
And God had filled the earth with land and oceans, plants and trees, fish and birds, animals and insects.
God wanted to make one more kind of creature.
- That last creature would be like the animals, walking around on the land.
- But that last creature would also be like God, able to create, and love, and learn, and bless.
That last very special creature was humanity. That’s you and me!
Now the way the Bible tells the story, when God created humanity, God scooped up a handful of the dust of the earth and molded it into a person.
In Hebrew, the ancient language of the Bible, the word for the dust of the earth is “Adam.” So the first name of humanity was “Adam”—in English that’s like the name “Dusty.”
Then God breathed into the person made of dust—God’s own breath, God’s own Spirit.
God’s life came into good old Dusty, and Dusty lived—and humanity could always know from its name that they came from dust.
To Dust You Shall Return
God warned humanity that, if they didn’t live as God intended, death would come into the world. Everyone who lived would one day die and return to dust.
And sadly, quite soon, just two chapters of the Bible later, that’s what happened.
Human beings started to make bad choices. We stopped living the way God intended us to live—creating, and loving, and learning, and blessing.
So, when humanity chose death instead of life, God gave them a reminder. God said those words,
You are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
On Ash Wednesday, the dusty ashes on our foreheads, and the words of the Bible, remind us of all those important things.
- God made us from the dust of the earth.
- God breathed life into us to make us like God
- And, eventually, someday, we all die and our bodies return to the dust of the earth.
Lent is a time to remember, and to return to the life God first breathed into us—the life of creating, and loving, and learning, and blessing.
- I wonder what you’ll think about when the ashes are put on your forehand?
- I wonder if you’ve ever felt like you were made from the dust of the earth?
- I wonder whether creating, or loving, or learning, or blessing feel most familiar to you?
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Steven Niccolls says
Your issue with the gospel reading for tomorrow is why I went with a portion of the epistle reading (preaching on 2 Cor.5:20 – 6:2). I think you children’s message would a good lesson for us older people as well. Before becoming a pastor, I found that often the children’s message was more meaningful than the sermon itself.
Gary Neal Hansen says
Feel free to try out any of my children’s sermons on your grown-up congregation! I’d love to hear how they respond.
David Cloyne says
Enjoyed the section “You are Dust”, thank you.