Writing a children’s sermon on Mark 9:38-50 presents both a very typical challenge and a more unusual one. (If you want to see my regular “Monday Meditation” on this passage, you can find it here.)
As is pretty typical, the lectionary gives us a chunk of text with several almost unrelated scenes or teachings. That makes it hard to do a coherent children’s sermon on the passage as a whole.
I’ll have to choose one part, despite the fact that every bit I skip could itself be the heart of another excellent children’s sermon.
The less typical thing here is that all four component parts (or three depending on how you count them) are really challenging to present to kids—or grownups, for that matter.
- There’s the case of the disciples complaining about a non-disciple casting out demons in Jesus’ name.
- Then there’s the attached tiny lesson about God rewarding people for being nice to Christians.
- Of course there’s the scary section where Jesus seems open to self-mutilation to prevent sin.
- Finally, there’s the ambiguous ending about salt, a naturally occurring mineral, becoming un-salty. Clearly a metaphor, but… what?
Sure, there are good grown-up sermons waiting in all of these parts. But how to build even one part of this into a children’s sermon on Mark 9: 38-50?
I could take the easy path, and jump to the OT lesson this week.
But no: by golly, I’m going to do this according to plan.
I’m going to jump right into the hardest bit and write a children’s sermon on Mark 9:38-50. I think that the scary story in the middle would be what sticks in the mind of any kid who hears the passage read in the service, so it seems wise to explore it in a kid-friendly way.
A Children’s Sermon on Mark 9:38-50
Hey, good morning kids! I’m so glad you are here today. Thanks for coming up to hear the children’s sermon.
I’m wondering if you like scary stories.
Some people really do. They go to scary movies, they read scary books, they tell scary stories around the campfire or on sleepovers. Some people love scary stories.
Other people really don’t like scary stories at all. If a TV show gets too scary they’ll cover their head with a pillow, or run straight out of the room. If a story is even a little bit scary, some people become totally miserable. They can’t even sleep at night after a scary story.
Well, one time, Jesus told his friends a scary story.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to tell the story. You might not like scary stories, and I don’t want you to be scared. Instead we’ll listen in while the disciples talk about the story, and hopefully that won’t be so scary.
So here’s what I imagine might have happened after Jesus told his friends that story.
After the Scary Story
Some of Jesus’ friends were laughing and laughing, retelling parts of the story to each other.
“That totally gave me goose bumps!” said Peter. “Can you imagine? That guy came hopping in on his one foot, and he couldn’t pick stuff up because his hand was gone too!”
“Oh man!” laughed Nathaniel. “That was so scary!”
They laughed and laughed.
But some of the other disciples weren’t laughing at all. They were looking down at their sandy feet and frowning.
“What’s the matter, you guys?” asked Jesus. “John? Mary? You look so sad.”
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to sleep tonight!” said Mary. “I’m just so scared after that story.”
“Yeah,” said John, “why did you tell such a scary story anyway?”
“I’m sorry I scared you,” said Jesus. “You know, that story was actually supposed to be kind of silly.”
Scary or Silly?
“Silly?” said Mary. “But the guy in the story cut off his hand and his foot! And he poked his own eye out!”
“I know, right?” said John. “It was totally gross to think about that. I’m still kind of creeped out.”
“You said he was trying to make sure he didn’t do bad stuff,” said Mary. “He didn’t want to go bad places so he cut off his foot. And he didn’t want to do bad stuff with his hand so he cut that off too! Is that what you really want people to do?”
“Yeah,” said John, “I don’t want to do bad stuff, but that just sounds—crazy!”
“You’re right,” said Jesus. “It does sound crazy. So crazy it was supposed to sound silly.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mary.
“Remember,” said Jesus, “in the story that guy thought his foot was making him go bad places. He thought his hand was making him do bad things. He thought his eye was making him look at stuff that he wasn’t supposed to look at. But is that really how it works?”
“I don’t know,” said John.
What Part of You Does Bad Things?
“Think about it,” said Jesus. “Say you see a big sign on a door that says ‘Warning! Do not enter! Danger!’ Then imagine that you walk in any way. Was that your feet’s fault?”
“No” they said.
“Well then why cut off your foot?”
“Well if it’s not my foot’s fault, or my hand’s fault, or my eye’s fault, what part of me makes me do bad stuff?”
“I wonder,” said Jesus.
“So,” said Mary, “You don’t want us to hurt our bodies?”
“No,” said Jesus. “Never. You are made in the image of God. You should never harm someone God loves so much.”
“But what about in the story?” said John. “That guy ended up with only one foot, and one hand, and one eye.”
“Well,” said Jesus, “I wish that guy had looked inside and figured out what really made him do bad stuff.”
- I wonder what really causes us to do things we know are wrong?
- I wonder how Jesus might help us heal the sad and broken places inside us?
- I wonder if you’ve ever been tempted to hurt someone God loves?
- I wonder if you’ve ever thought about how much God loves every single part of you?
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…)
Steven Niccolls says
Interesting way to handle the story. I think the children will like it. As I often state, I bet many of the adults will get more out of that story than they will get out of the sermon.
Gary Neal Hansen says
A high compliment indeed. And I certainly have had times when I preached both a children’s sermon and one to the grown ups, and the comments at the door showed that it was the children’s sermon that had the impact.
Which takes me it two directions:
1. One should remember the need for, and the power of, simplicity. Many sermons plumb the depths of the pastor’s smartness, and require more context and attention to understand than many listeners have to offer. The children’s sermon, focusing plainly on one matter, gets through.
2. One should avoid the temptation of aiming for the adult reaction when preaching to children. Many a children’s sermon fails to reach the kids because the pastor was actually aiming over their heads to speak to the parents — whether by humor or topic choice.
Grace B. says
Thank you! I was struggling with choosing which chunk to pick, and you gave my mind a creative boost.
Gary Neal Hansen says
That’s great Grace. I’d love to hear how you end up handling it. Feel free to zap me an email with the contact form.