Gemma's Worst Day
Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, we sometimes fail to appreciate little children.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, we sometimes fail to welcome children into our lives and our church services.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, help us to welcome all age groups into our community and to learn from each other.
Lord, have mercy.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;  for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again."  But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.  Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"  But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.  He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."  Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,  "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Jesus was aware that we can meet with God through small children. They are unselfconscious, innocent, trusting and they offer unconditional love. But we often can't be bothered with God, just as we can't be bothered with small children.
In this story, Gemma discovers something of what her small brother Tommy offers her and it makes her feel a lot better.
Gemma's Worst Day
Gemma's little brother always followed her around. Occasionally Gemma played with him, but he was too young to understand the games properly. Gemma much preferred playing with her own friends. The trouble was, when Gemma brought her friends home, they often wanted to play with Tommy because he was so cute. He had big blue eyes and blonde curls, and Gemma's friends played with him just as though he was a living doll.
Mostly Gemma played with her friends elsewhere, so that Tommy couldn't join in. When she was at home she sometimes played with Tommy, but often she pushed him away. He was boring. Then Tommy would cry and Gemma would get into trouble and she always felt angry with Tommy after that. It was his fault. If he wasn't around, Gemma wouldn't be expected to waste her time playing stupid baby games which she hated. But it didn't matter what she did to Tommy or how nasty she was to him, he still kept following her around.
One day, everything went wrong. Gemma felt cross when she got up in the morning, although she didn't know why she felt cross.
"You're in a mood," remarked her mother, which made Gemma feel even crosser.
The first lesson in school was a maths test, and Gemma did badly. She'd never been any good at maths. But she did worse than ever before in this test and felt ashamed that she was near the bottom of the class. To make things even worse, Gemma's best friend Ruth, came second out of the whole class.
"Think you're so clever," sneered Gemma at break, munching her way through a chocolate biscuit. She immediately wished she hadn't said it, but once the words were spoken, they couldn't be unspoken. And she wasn't in the mood to apologise.
Ruth looked stunned. "You pig!" she exclaimed. Then she glanced at the chocolate biscuit and grinned. It was actually a grin to make things all right again between them, but Gemma connected it with the word "pig" and chose to interpret it as implying that she was greedy.
"Stuck up cow!" she retorted and turned her back.
Ruth was furious. "I'm never going to be friends with you again," she shouted, and ran off.
Later that day, Gemma got into trouble for talking in class when she should have been working. Her mood slumped lower and lower.
When she got home, she thought it was the worse day she'd ever had. And just to crown its awfulness, Tommy came toddling up to her to throw his little arms around her legs. She kicked at him and caught him in the stomach. Tommy began to scream and their mother rushed in. She cuddled Tommy but angrily scolded Gemma and sent her to her room.
Gemma flung herself on the bed and began to cry. She hadn't meant to hurt Tommy or anyone else, but now it was too late. Nobody loved her and she hated everybody.
After a while there was a gentle knock at the door. "Go away," Gemma said. But the door slowly opened, and she spotted blond curls tentatively peeping round. "Go away, Tommy," she muttered. "Don't you know when you're not wanted?"
But Tommy inched towards the bed. He had something tightly clutched in his hand, and he thrust it towards Gemma. In spite of herself, Gemma was curious. She opened his hand. In it was a very squashed and melted chocolate button. Most of it was smeared all over Tommy's hand.
"Oh Tommy!" sighed Gemma. And despite herself she wrapped her arms around him and cried into his soft hair. Tommy remained quite still. When her tears were spent, Gemma ruffled his hair and took his hand. "Come on," she said, "let's play a game. What would you like to play?"
Tommy's face lit up and his mouth widened in delight.
And suddenly, Gemma discovered she felt better. "Thank you, Tommy," she whispered, "and thank you, God."
Lots of pictures of babies or small children
Plain paper for each child
Felt tip pens or crayons
Spread all the pictures out and ask each child to choose whichever picture they like best. Ask the children why they like that particular picture best - it may be something to do with what the child is wearing, or the colour of their hair, or a smile - talk about why we like some people better than others. Point out that often, we like or dislike people for strange reasons. Sometimes we dislike people without knowing anything about them. Ask the children how they think Jesus views people. Why does he love everybody? Because he knows and understands them. Jesus doesn't get hooked up on what people wear or what they look like outside, but sees deep inside to the small child that is at the heart of each of us.
Get the children to draw a line down their paper, dividing it into two columns. Head one column, "I like this child because..." and head the other column, "Jesus loves this child because..." The children should then stick their chosen picture in the middle of the paper. They should write in the first column all the things they like about the picture, and in the second column all the reasons they can think of why Jesus loves that child. At the bottom of the paper in big letters they should write, "Jesus loves me! And you!"
Diary Time: For details, click here.
Talk to the children about friends, but be wary - some children may not have any friends. Ask why they like their friends. Talk about the importance of friendship. Ask whether the children have ever had any arguments with their friends and felt upset, and whether they have still been friends afterwards. Point out that real good friendships can withstand arguments (which often arise because somebody has told the truth about their feelings). Talk about Jesus as the best friend ever, because you can tell him anything but he'll never dump you. He'll always be there for you. Remind the children that Jesus always welcomed children, and even told the grown-ups that they needed to become like little children if they wanted to follow him. Let the children write or draw any of this in their diaries.
Jesus, friend of little children, may we in the church learn to appreciate each other. May young and old learn to worship together and to enjoy each other's company. May we learn to spot each other's gifts and to listen to each other's insights, and to draw closer to you, together.
Jesus, friend of little children, we pray for all the children in the world. Especially we pray for those who are alone with no-one to look after them; those who are so hungry that they cannot grow properly or learn properly; those who suffer cruelty at the hands of their parents or carers; those who live in war zones and are always terrified. May they all know that you are their friend and that they can turn to you in times of need.
Jesus, friend of little children, we pray for children who are robbed of their childhood through exposure to drugs or alcohol or sex or crime. May those who feel that their situation is hopeless, find hope in you.
Jesus, friend of little children, we pray for all who are sick, especially any children who are sick or dying. May they know your strength and your comfort and your healing power. We name those who are sick before you...
May you learn the innocence,
the trust and the unconditional love
of childhood, within the arms
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you now,
be in your homes and in your families
and with all those whom you love
and for whom you pray,
now and always.