Here’s a children’s sermon on Matthew 5:38-48. As I write, we’re coming up on the 4th Sunday of Lent, but I already have a children’s sermon and a Monday meditation on the Gospel text for that day. So I’m filling in on the Gospel I didn’t write about last time it came around.
In fact this is the Gospel for the 7th Sunday after Epiphany, which isn’t always on the Church calendar — it all depends on when Easter happens.
So my children’s sermon on Matthew 5:38-48 comes out of sequence. Maybe you’ll find it useful some week where it fits the theme of your Sunday service. Or maybe you could use it as a bedtime story for your kids. Or maybe you can just enjoy it for yourself!
I suppose it’s no wonder that this passage got relegated to a Sunday that often doesn’t actually happen. It’s tough stuff, like turning the other cheek. The lectionary committee was probably being merciful to preachers.
This passage is particularly challenging to present to kids, knowing that some of them face bullying and abuse. I don’t want to make them think Jesus wants them to have even more mistreatment. I think “turn the other cheek” in its literal application is very much for grown ups.
But I think there’s a good kids’ angle hiding in here. The thing to keep in mind is that I don’t have to emphasize every point in the text, every single time. I need to find the most helpful part. You can tell me of this this children’s sermon on Matthew 5:38-48 seems useful and faithful.
Oh yes: and for my interpretation of the teaching to be “perfect,” it is all about the meaning of the Greek word. You’ll find many pointing out that the word has the meaning more of “complete” than “moral perfection.” I’m pondering the root of the word, “teleioi/teleios” which is derived from the word “telos,” meaning the “goal” or “completion” of something. People who study ethics may know the related English word “teleological,” used regarding the ultimate thing accomplished by ethical choices.
A Children’s Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48
Good morning, Kids! I’m so glad to see you here in worship today. Thanks for coming up to hear the children’s sermon. Today’s reading from the Gospel isn’t really a story about Jesus. It’s one part of a long speech Jesus made when he was teaching one time. But I think it makes a lot more sense if we imagine it as a story where Jesus was talking to some of his friends, later that day.
Jesus had spent all afternoon talking to a big crowd of people. Now, in the evening, just a few of them were sitting around the campfire. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was there.
“You know, Jesus,” said Mary, “I kind of disagreed with something you said today.”
Jesus smiled. “Oh good!” he said.
“What do you mean ‘Oh good’?” she said. “I thought maybe you’d be mad at me for disagreeing.”
“Nope,” said Jesus, “I you disagree, it shows you’re thinking. And that’s a good thing.”
“Oh,” Mary said.
“So what did you disagree with?” asked Jesus.
“You said we should be perfect, just like our heavenly father is perfect.” she said.
“That’s right,” said Jesus. “God has adopted you as his beloved children. And no matter what your human father is like, your heavenly father is perfect.”
“But it’s impossible for me to be perfect like God,” said Mary. “God is all-powerful! God is present everywhere! God has been alive forever, and God will always be alive! I can’t be like that.”
“Well of course not,” said Jesus “But that’s not what I meant. The way God is really perfect is he’s always aiming at the right target.”
“What do you mean,” asked Mary.
“God is always aiming to show love — no matter what,” said Jesus. “And you can aim for love too.”
“Is that all there is to being perfect?” she asked.
“That’s the heart of it,” said Jesus. “The thing is to watch what God does, then try to love like God does. That’s your target.”
“So then I’ll do things that look like what God does?” Mary asked.
“That’s right,” said Jesus. “People will start to notice the family resemblance.”
“Family resemblance?” asked Mary.
”You’ve seen it before. Kids growing up in a family often learn to do things just like their parents. Same thing should happen with God’s children.”
All this while, Peter was listening to what Jesus and Mary were saying. Finally he spoke up.
“That’s all fine for friends and family,” said Peter. “I love my friends and family, just like anybody. But some people have been really mean to me. I just hate them. They’re my enemies.”
“That sure sounds painful,” said Jesus. “I’m sorry you were hurt. But figuring out how to love them is something you can work on.”
“What?” asked Peter. “You mean I can’t even hate my enemies?
“Remember, Peter,” said Jesus. “God’s target is always love. You ever know any farmers?”
“Farmers?” asked Peter, “Sure. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Work with me, Peter,” said Jesus. “What kinds of farmers have you known? Were they all nice people?”
“Well, I know one who is the nicest guy,” Peter said. “But this other farmer, just down the road? He’s totally mean to everybody. My frend used to work for that mean farmer and—”
Rain and Sunshine?
“Okay, hold on,” said Jesus. “So you have a nice farmer and a mean farmer. When they are growing vegetables, which farmer needs rain?”
“Jesus! They both need rain, of course,” said Peter. “But the mean farmer? He said to my friend one time—”
“Hold on, Peter,” said Jesus. “So they both need rain. Which one does God give rain to?”
“Well both of them, of course,” said Peter. “God makes it rain on everybody.”
“Okay, so God gives rain to kind and generous farmers,” said Jesus. “And God gives rain to mean and nasty farmers. How about sunshine?”
“What about sunshine?” asked Peter.
“Which farmer needs sunshine?” asked Jesus
“Well, they both do, of course!” said Peter. “But—”
“And which farmer does God make the sun shine on?” asked Jesus.
“Both of them, of course,” said Peter.
“That’s God’s way,” said Jesus. “God is always aiming toward love. God sends rain and sunshine for all the people who love him — and for all the people who hate him too. And you can do that too.”
“Wait—I can make the sun shine?” asked Peter.
“No, Peter,” said Jesus. “You can show love even to people who do mean things to you.”
“But not my enemies,” said Peter. “I just hate my enemies.”
“I know how you feel, Peter,” said Jesus. “But tell me, could you at least pray for your enemies? The way God sends rain to the mean farmer?”
“I don’t know,” said Peter. “What would I pray for?”
“You could ask God to help your enemies learn to be kind,” said Jesus. “To help them find out what it’s like to be loving.”
“I guess I could do that,” said Peter.
“Well I think that’s probably good enough for now,” said Jesus. “Pray for the people who are mean to you. That’s aiming for love — just like God does.”
“Okay,” said Peter. “But can I also ask God to keep me safe from the mean people?”
“Of course,” said Jesus. “It’s always good to ask God to save you from times of trial.”*
*That’s in the Lord’s Prayer. See Matthew 6:13, NRSV
- I wonder what it feels like to choose to aim for love like God does?
- I wonder if Peter was really able to love his enemies by praying for them?
- I wonder if there are people you can say a prayer for today?
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