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BIBLE PASSAGE: Luke 15:11-32
BACKGROUND: This is another of Jesus’ well-known parables. Our outline doesn’t reflect on the older brother (Jesus doesn’t tell us what happened to either of the brothers), but focuses on the father’s love for his younger son. The concept of losing contact with someone offers a means of understanding the ‘lostness’ of the son.
Welcome the children. Talk about going away for the weekend or on holiday, or about someone in their family going away. Even if it’s for a short time, most people stay in contact with the people they love. How might they do that? Talk about when you go away and use your mobile, laptop or send postcards. How many children FaceTime someone they know or look at WhatsApp photos on a parent’s mobile?
You will need: several 50-pence pieces or several items that are special to you
Before the session, hide your treasured items or money around the room or outside. Explain that you’ve lost some special things and you need help looking for them. Keep looking until everything is found and cheer when you’ve recovered it all.
You will need: a rucksack
Gather the children together and tell this story:
As usual, crowds were gathering around Jesus, wanting to hear what he would say about God. Some in the crowd weren’t the sort of people you would like to have as friends: people who were in trouble with the law or were poor, sick or smelly! Others in the crowd thought Jesus was wrong to welcome people like that. So Jesus told the following story.
Here is a farmer with two sons. An adult sits beside you, pretending to be the father. Divide the children into two groups, either side of you, facing each other. One side pretends to be the big brother, Large, and the other is the little brother, Little. The two sons help the dad on the farm.
Large works hard, but he doesn’t get on with Little. In fact, the two brothers don’t speak to each other. Large acts out digging, driving a tractor and cutting a hedge. Little is angry all the time because he doesn’t like working on his dad’s farm. He wants to go travelling. Actually, Little doesn’t like his dad either. Little turns his back on Large, then turns back on his Dad. This is not a happy family.
One day, Little goes to his dad and says: “When you die, part of this farm will become mine. I can’t wait for you to die, so give me the money now.” Little turns towards Dad. When Large hears about this he is furious! Large stamps his feet. Dad loves both his sons. He listens to Little, then goes to his cupboard and brings out some money bags, which he gives to Little. Little immediately sets off on his travels.
Little picks up a rucksack, moves away a couple of metres and sits down. Large turns to face Little, arms folded and looking angry. Dad stands up, waving at Little.
Little lives far away and goes to fantastic parties. He thinks he’s happy. Large works hard and keeps stamping his foot angrily. Dad looks sad facing Little. Little sits on floor, drinking and eating imaginary food.
Little’s money runs out. He has no job, no home and no food, and Dad’s far away. He ends up taking shelter with some pigs and eating their food. Yuck! Little sits there looking glum. A couple of children pretend to be pigs.
Little wakes up one morning and says: “I’m stupid. Anyone who works for my dad lives better than this. I’ll go back to my dad’s farm and ask if I can work on it. I don’t deserve to be treated like his son any more.” Little gets up, picks up his rucksack and trudges home on a roundabout route.
As Little gets close to home his dad sees him. Dad is still standing, sees Little and runs to meet him. He hugs him and welcomes him back to the farm. Dad gives his son a special coat, new shoes and a ring for his finger, and they have a big party! Dad guides Little to sit in front of the narrator. Pretend to eat and drink and dance!
But guess who doesn’t join in the party. Large! Large turns his back on Little and Dad.
“I’ve always loved you,” Dad says. “I don’t want you as a servant, but as my son! You were lost but now you’re found. We’d lost contact with each other, but now you’ve come back we can talk together and love each other!” Dad is very happy. So is Little.
Discuss the story using these questions, making sure everyone has the chance to contribute:
- How did you feel as the story was told?
- How did Little feel? And Large?
- How did Dad feel? Imagine being out of contact with someone you love. It’s like losing them. (Refer to the earlier discussion.)
- Why did Jesus tell this story? (Reflect on God’s love for us, but say that we often forget him or do what is wrong, just like in the story.)
You will need: rings of card wide enough to go around a child’s wrist; wool, ribbon or tinsel; felt-tip pens
Dad gave Little a ring to put on his finger as a sign that he was treating him like a son rather than a servant. Give each child a ring of card and ask them to decorate it with the pens, wool, ribbon and tinsel. The aim is to make it as beautiful as possible. Talk about how happy Dad was to welcome his son, and how happy God is to welcome us. (Remind the children of the great banquet parable if you did that session.)
Sing a song about the greatness of God’s love for us.
Say the Lord’s Prayer together; the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Comment that we can call God, who is in heaven and here with us as well, our Father. Also in this prayer we can ask God to forgive us for anything we’ve done wrong…and he will forgive us. If the children don’t know this prayer they could repeat each line after you.
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