Prelude to the Preacher and the Parent
Perhaps the main challenge to writing a children’s sermon on John 14:1-14 is finding a truly child-friendly angle.
There are at least three chunks here, each with its own subject matter. They sort of hang together, the way all of Jesus’ long speeches in John hang together — which is to say, rather loosely. It’s like the tangential bounces of a pinball. Every bounce has in common the shared ball and the shared game table, but they go every which way.
These long speeches are not so much soliloquies as much as one half of a complex conversation. You get a good sense of that in this passage, actually, because John has included tiny bits of dialogue from Thomas and Philip. These guys sound so dense maybe we know why John usually just includes what Jesus said.
Writing a children’s sermon sometimes amounts to imagining what everybody else said and did — reconstructing a story and a conversation.
But which part will I focus on?
It’s tempting to dive into “the way, the truth, and the life,” because it is familiar, and beautiful, and evocative. But that saying takes us so quickly to Christian claims of exclusivity that it feels risky.
Or there is the lovely part about prayer at the end. But Jesus seems to say that absolutely whatever we ask is going to be 100% granted. Clearly, my life experience as well as yours show us that that this needs a bit of nuance. Kids aren’t great at nuance. (Actually, there are a whole lot of Christian grown-ups that aren’t that great at nuance.) I don’t want to go there.
Same with the statement that we will do greater works then Jesus did. That just needs a lot of context and clarification to make sense of. Kid’s need something straightforward.
I could go on. But instead I ask what worries little kids in real life? Asking that question makes Jesus’ words at the beginning of the passage absolutely relevant. Kids fear abandonment. Jesus is about to leave, and he tries to comfort his soon-to-be abandoned disciples. I’m happy to focus this children’s sermon on John 14:1-14 right on that point.
A Children’s Sermon on John 14:1-14.
Good morning, kids! I am so happy to see you. Thanks for coming up to hear the children’s sermon.
We are still in the season of Easter. Easter is when we celebrate that even though he died, Jesus is alive again. Jesus is alive and we know he’ll be with us always — both now and after we die someday.
But our story from the Gospel today happened before Easter. It happened before Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross. This morning we hear about some of the things Jesus told his friends when he knew he was going to die — when they were feeling so sad and so scared because he would be gone soon.
On Thursday night of Holy Week, just before he was taken away and hung on a cross to die, Jesus had a long dinner with his friends.
Jesus said, “My friends, this is my very last supper with you for a long, long time.”
“Why’s that, Jesus?” asked Peter.
Jesus said, “You know how I’ve been telling you that I’m going to be arrested, and hurt, and killed? Well, it all starts tonight, after we’re done with dinner.”
“Oh no!” said some of his friends.
Some of them were too shocked to say anything.
Some of them started to cry.
A place to be together?
“Aw, you guys,” said Jesus. “I’m gonna miss you too.” And he started to sniffle some tears back, just like everybody else.
“It’s not fair!” said his good friend Mary, Martha’s sister. “How can you just go and leave us! We were getting so excited about the kingdom of heaven! We need you to stay here with us!”
Then she started to cry even harder.
“I know it’s hard, Mary,” Jesus said, “but it’s because of the Kingdom that I have to go.”
“What do you mean?” Mary sniffed.
“I’m going to be with my Father, in heaven,” Jesus said, “I need to go and make everything ready for you.”
“For us?” Mary asked.
“Sure,” said Jesus. “You are my best friend in the whole world. I want all my friends to be with me forever. I’m making places for all my friends in my father’s house.”
“Wow,” said Peter. “Your Father’s house must be big.”
“Yep,” said Jesus. “You have no idea. My Father’s house is so big there’s a whole mansion inside it for each of your families. And you’ll be with me forever.”
Thomas got a funny look on his face, like he was thinking really hard.
“What’s on your mind, Thomas?” Jesus said.
“Well it’s like this,” said Thomas. “You’ll be up in your Father’s house. And we’ll all be down here. How will we ever find our way to those mansions you’re talking about?”
“I’ll tell you a secret,” said Jesus. “You just stick close to me. If you and I stay connected, then when the time comes, you’ll already be with we. You see, I am the way to my father’s house.”
“But —,” sputtered Thomas. “But how can we stay close when you’re leaving?”
Jesus looked at them all with his big brown eyes all full of love.
Then he said, “Do you remember what I just told you at dinner? I gave you the bread and told you it was my body. I took the wine and told you it was my blood.”
“Yeah?” said Thomas, doubting.
“Well,” said Jesus, “how close to you is that bread and wine now?”
“It’s inside me,” Thomas said.
“Pretty close, then,” said Jesus, with a wink. “And so how close to you is my body and my blood?”
“Well —,” said Thomas, “I guess that’s inside me too.”
“Okay then,” said Jesus, “I’m as close to you now as the bread and wine we had at dinner. I’m inside you and I always will be. Keep listening for my voice. Keep loving me, and each other, and the world. Keep following. And when the time comes we’ll already be together.”
I wonder what it felt like to know that Jesus was going away?
I wonder if his friends understood when he said he was the “way”?
I wonder what you can do to stay close to Jesus?
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