Writing a children’s sermon on Mark 7:1-23 (or the shortened version assigned by the lectionary, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) presents me with some dilemmas.
Telling this story to a grown-up, say someone who had never read the Gospels or heard them in church, requires a lot of explanations.
- Who are Pharisees and scribes?
- What are the Old Testament laws about washing?
- What did it mean to be “ceremonially unclean”?
- Who was Isaiah and why did he sound so cranky?
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say these background bits are not of great interest to your average 3-10 year old—helpful as they might be to serious study of this passage.
There is an additional challenge in the fact that to make his point Jesus shifts from one kind of metaphorical understanding to another equally metaphorical understanding.
It all has to do with different kinds of “cleanliness”:
- There’s bodily cleanliness.
- There’s ritual or ceremonial cleanliness.
- There’s moral or ethical cleanliness.
- And you might say the ultimate thing at stake is spiritual cleanliness.
The critics connect bodily cleanliness with ceremonial cleanliness.
Jesus says it’s more important to have the kind of spiritual cleanliness that leads to moral or ethical cleanliness.
Remembering My Game Plan
That’s all pretty airy fairy stuff for kid brains.
The founder of the Young Life ministry famously said “It’s a sin to bore a kid.” Whether that’s always true or not, I hope you’ll agree that if your children’s sermon bores the kids it has failed.
So… We just need to leave that kind of granular detail behind.
Best to remember my purpose: I’m not trying to cover every possible useful point when writing a children’s sermon on Mark 7:1-23. I’m trying to bring out one useful point from the text and convey it in a kid-friendly way—ideally in a kid-relevant way.
Maybe if I kind of switch it around a bit…
I’ve created my own narrative context here. Maybe you’ll like that, or maybe you’ll find it problematic. Basically I’m leaving out the Pharisees, and turning the Apostles into squabbling siblings. Other portions of the Gospel come pretty close to that portrayal!
A Children’s Sermon on Mark 7:1-23
Hello kids! I’m so glad to see you. Thanks for coming up to hear the children’s sermon.
One time Jesus was hanging out with some friends. It got to be lunch time.
“Hey you guys,” said Jesus, “did anybody remember to bring lunch?”
They all remembered the time when they didn’t bring any food. That time there were 5000 people. Thankfully they found a kid who had five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus had to do a huge miracle that day so that everyone had enough to eat.
“I have it right here!” said Andrew. “I have a HUGE basket of food.”
“I don’t think that’s gonna be enough!” said Thomas. “You never bring enough. I don’t think you’re smart enough to be a disciple.”
“Oh yeah?” said Andrew. “Says who?”
“Says me!” said Thomas. And he shoved Andrew, really hard, just to show him.
Well, then the basket fell out of Andrew’s arms, and some of the food spilled onto the ground.
“Hey!” said Andrew. “Look what you made me do! Now there’s gonna be dirt in our sandwiches! You are so mean!”
“Oh yeah?” said Thomas, “Well I say you’re just clumsy. I doubt you ever carry things without making a mess!”
And then someone else spoke up.
“Hey what about me?” said Bartholomew. “You guys get all the attention but I’m doing most of the work. Look! I brought another basket of food, PLUS water to drink. But nobody cares about me!”
“Water?” said Peter. “Great. Bring it over here so we can all wash our hands before we eat.”
“Um,” said Bartholomew, “I don’t think there’s enough water to wash our hands. I only brought enough to drink.”
“Well that’s no good!” said Peter. “We always have to wash our hands before we eat. That’s what our parents taught us. It’s even in the law of Moses, I think. You are being totally disrespectful to our traditions. You can’t be a disciple any more.”
“Hold on, everybody!” said Jesus, “Let’s just everybody cool down for a minute. Skip the hand washing for today and get some food.”
So they all ate lunch and drank some water. And, to be quite honest, they all felt better. They started to be a little nicer to each other.
“But Jesus,” said Peter, “I still think you should have made us wash our hands.”
“Peter,” Jesus said, “I have a question for you. For all of you, really. Which is more important? To be washed clean outside? Or to be washed clean inside?”
“What do you mean?” Peter asked.
“Look,” said Jesus. “If we don’t wash our hands, then we are dirty outside. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“Maybe God would punish you for breaking the tradition?” asked Peter. He had little gleam in his eye, like he’d kind of like to see that happen.
“Not likely,” said Jesus. “My Father is kind and merciful. He doesn’t punish people for having dirty hands.”
“Or,” said Thomas, “if we don’t wash our hands we could get sick—like if there is something bad on our hands and we eat it.”
“True enough,” said Jesus. “So, washing your hands is a good idea. But what about if you aren’t clean on the inside?”
“What do you mean?” asked Peter.
“Well,” said Jesus, “if there’s something kind of dirty or rotten hidden away in your heart, what might happen?”
“I know,” said Andrew. “If I have a lot of disgusting anger inside, I might be mean and push some one—just like when Thomas here shoved me before lunch!”
“Or,” said Thomas, blushing, “if I was full of rotten stinking pride, I might blame other people for stuff I did—like when Andrew here blamed me for getting dirt on all our lunches!”
Then they started talking over each other.
Andrew said, “You dirty rotten—”
And Thomas yelled “I’m gonna—”
Then the two of them were grabbing and shoving each other again.
“Hold it you two,” said Jesus. “You’re actually both proving my point. If you have something kinda messy inside, messy stuff starts to come out of you.”
“Is that what happened to me too?” asked Bartholomew. “I mean, I felt bad inside because everyone else got more attention than me.”
“That’s right,” said Jesus. “When things get dirty and stinky inside, those dirty things lead us to be jealous, or mean, or cruel, or bossy—or all kinds of other things. When those stinky things come out and hurt people, that’s a big problem.”
To Wash or Not to Wash?
“So,” announced Peter, “I’ve come to a decision. I will never wash again! I won’t wash my hands! I won’t take a bath! I will only work on being clean inside!”
“Ew!” said everybody else.
“No,” said Jesus. “You still need to wash your hands. And to take a bath.”
- I wonder if you’ve ever felt kind of rotten inside and found yourself doing something rotten outside?
- I wonder what Jesus tries to say to us when we get kind of messy and rotten inside?
- I wonder how we might come to be all clean and shiny inside?
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.
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