When life gives you lemons…

To the best of my ability to remember, this script reproduces a children’s sermon I presented at Newsoms United Methodist Church in Newsoms, VA about six years ago.

In order to prepare for this children’s sermon, I had to practice making lemonade. I also had to make my simple syrup in advance – this basically involves taking a large Mason jar and filling it ¾ full with granulated sugar, and then pouring boiling water over it until the jar is nearly full. The sugar will completely dissolve – though it will take some stirring to help it along.
For props, I had my jar of simple syrup, some small bottles of soda water, a bag of lemons, one lemon sliced into wedges in a sealed container, some very small drinking cups, a lemon squeezer, a pitcher, a wooden spoon, and a cutting board with a very big very sharp knife – all of these were hidden away in a large paper Cokesbury bookstore bag. (That was sort of my signature item for most of my children’s stories – the Cokesbury bag. I kept it next to my seat behind the pulpit, in hopes that the kids would be consumed with wondering “what is in the bag today?” On the rare days that I did not need the bag, that was a fun distraction, too – “Where is the pastor’s bag?!” ) Behind the door in the front of the sanctuary, I had stowed a low table to lay all of my props out on.

Pastor: I invite the children to come forward at this time – let’s find out what I have in my bag today!

The kids came forward pretty quickly – one advantage of a very small sanctuary! I had them in the habit of sitting in the (naturally empty) front pew, while I sat on the floor in front of them, so that they would be higher than me – and also so that they would not be on display for the congregation as much as might be otherwise. But this time, when they arranged themselves onto the front pew, I surprised them by not taking my usual position. Instead…

Pastor: [Leaving bag beside communion rail] Oh! I forgot something very important!

I really had forgotten. So I kept talking to explain, because keeping on talking is something that is part of who I am – and as I talked, I walked to the door at the front of the sanctuary, grabbed the small table, and brought it just a bit off to the side from the kids – because there wasn’t room for me, the table and the kids all there in front of the altar rail:

Pastor: I was just looking into my bag and remembered that I have way too many things in my bag today – so I had hidden this little table to put all of my things on. Because I don’t want to make too much of a mess for Miss Johnnie! [Johnnie was our custodian.] So let’s see what I have in here… [pulling out the bag of lemons] Ah, yes! Lemons! There is something grownups say sometimes, maybe you have heard it – “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Have any of you heard this one before? [They hadn’t. Pretty cool that none of them pretended that they had – I liked that they knew it was okay to not know.] Well maybe we can figure out what it means. Let’s see – what do we know about lemons?
Kids: [gave answers like] They are a fruit! They are yellow! They smell good! You have lots of lemons, Pastor Sarah!
Pastor: Do they taste good?

The kids disagreed on this matter. Some thought that lemons might taste good, because lemon pie, lemonade, etc etc taste good. Others had heard lemons were sour, or had personally discovered through trying them that lemons were sour.

Pastor: I think lemons are pretty sour, myself. But I haven’t tasted a lemon in a long time. [Pulling out the baggie of pre-cut lemon wedges.] Would any of you like to try a lemon?

Lots of kids raised their hands at first, but then when presented with a wedge, balked, and asserted that they had just been kidding. The adults began to laugh at this – but as it was my general policy to break the adults of the habit of laughing at the kids’ responses, I took this head-on.

Pastor: [To the children] I wonder what they think is so funny?  [Then, to the grown-ups behind them] Perhaps one of you would like to taste a lemon for me?

I had no takers on this one – but I had been prepared either way.

Pastor: See, none of them want to do it, either!

Then one kid, who I will call Jeff, mainly because there was no Jeff at this church (I have similarly changed the other names), volunteered to try it. He was the quintessential “good kid” – always wanting to help out the pastor. I didn’t want to martyr himself on this one, so I gave him the option of an out.

Pastor: Wow, Jeff, are you sure?
Jeff: Yeah, why not?
Pastor: Well, just so you know, I can still do the rest of my children’s sermon without ANYone trying a lemon –
Jeff: No, I’m actually curious about it now.
Pastor: OK.

I handed Jeff a lemon wedge, and he took a healthy bite of the pulp and immediately made the sour face.

Jeff: Oh! [Then, trying to minimize it] That was not so bad, I guess.

Naturally, the congregation laughed again.

Pastor: That’s alright, Jeff. They are just laughing because they think that it probably was really bad after all, and they appreciate that you are trying to be polite about it. Thanks for making the effort, Jeff!  Now, what can you tell everyone about how lemons taste?

Jeff: They are really sour. They are not all that good, really.

I lucked out here – I have since learned that some children actually like to munch on lemon wedges – my own daughter for example. I was totally not prepared for that possibility. Just FYI.

Pastor: So, Jeff, if you had a guess about that phrase, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” – What do you think that might mean?
Jeff: Well, lemons are pretty bad on their own… and lemonade is good… and you have a lot of lemons on that table… they aren’t really good for much unless you make them into something else. So I guess it means, don’t eat lemons!

This was a pretty typical literalistic response – kids don’t get metaphors so much. Which is why I tried to use metaphors like this only very rarely in children’s sermons. But I love making lemonade, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. But working with a metaphor with younger kids means being open to a longer children’s sermon – long enough to walk them through the metaphor.  Be prepared to cut your sermon short for a children’s sermon like this one!

Pastor: That’s right! Nobody buys lemons because they want to eat lemons – lemons don’t taste good by themselves! But somehow we can take these bad tasting, sour fruits and make wonderfully tasty stuff with them – like lemon meringue pie and lemon cookies and lemonade!!  So… I happen to have some lemons here [indicating lemons on table], and luckily, I know how to make lemonade…

I pulled out the simple syrup, the knife, the cutting board, the lemon squeezer, the pitcher, the little bottles of soda water one by one, and the wooden spoon as I told the story of how I learned to make lemonade.

Pastor: When I was in college, I had lots of different jobs. One of my jobs was working at a pharmacy lunchcounter in Richmond. I bet some of you have had lunch at the pharmacy in Franklin [a nearby big town.] The place I worked was called the Stuart Circle Pharmacy. I see some of the grownups nodding – some of them must be familiar with the Stuart Circle Pharmacy! It closed, oh I guess about 8 years ago, so you can’t go there anymore.  Which means I went to college a long time ago.  Anyway, in addition to being the waitress, I washed the dishes and made the drinks. We were famous for our lemonade and limeade, so I had to learn to make those drinks in order to work there.

At this point everything was laid out on the table, so I brought my attention back to the task of making lemonade.

Pastor: OK – first we have to cut the lemons! Any of your parents let you use a big knife like this one?

Some of the kids looked a bit scared, while others looked eager, and turned back to look at their parents hopefully, but all ended up indicating that they were not allowed to use big sharp knives.

Pastor: OK then, I had better cut the lemons. [Begin halving lemons.] Now, at the pharmacy, we made lemonade by the glass, but I wanted to make a whole pitcher to share with you all, so I had to experiment with the recipe at home. I have to cut up a lot of lemons!

When the lemons were cut, I asked:

Pastor: Have any of you ever used a lemon squeezer like this one? [None of them had] Would you like to try? Great! We have plenty of lemon halves here – enough for everyone to get a turn squeezing – so line up if you want to try it.

Everyone ended up in the line. Some of them needed me to help them squeeze – it takes a lot of hand strength! Basically it was only the kids who were about 8 or older who were able to do it themselves.

Pastor: Wow! That was hard work! But look how much lemon juice we have! Now I need to add the simple syrup. [Begin measuring / spooning in syrup while continuing to talk] I had to make this simple syrup at home – I filled this jar almost full of sugar, and then I poured in hot boiling water from my tea kettle. Do your parents let you pour boiling water?
Jane: [ruefully] I can’t even use the stove!
Pastor: Well, I guess you would need some help making simple syrup, then, right? It looks like most of you would. But that’s okay – you would already have an adult in the kitchen with you to help with cutting the lemons.

Next, I began opening a couple of bottles, pouring soda water into the pitcher of lemon juice and syrup.  Then I took the wooden spoon and began stirring.  Meanwhile…

Pastor: At the pharmacy, we always used soda water to make our lemonade and limeade – so that it was like a soft drink! I think it tastes better this way than with plain water, but if you are going to make it like this you have to drink it right away.
Wow! This takes a long time – none of you grownups are going to mind if I have to shorten the sermon, are you?
Annie (a parent) shouts back: Not if we get some lemonade, too!

That inspired a lot of laughter – and also some nodding from the other grown-ups.

Pastor: You’ve got a good point, Annie!  I am always leaving you all out, aren’t I? The kids get all kinds of cool stuff, and you grownups are left out! It’s not fair! Well, not today – I made enough for everyone to have a little lemonade.

I brought the little paper cups out of the bag, and began pouring about 3 oz of lemonade into each one.

Pastor: OK kids, I promise that there will be enough for you, too – but I would really appreciate it if you would help the ushers – oh, right! Could the ushers come forward please? – So kids, you and ushers make sure all the grown-ups out there have some lemonade, and then come back for yours.

There was about 2 minutes of scurrying around – this would have taken forever in a bigger congregation. Meanwhile, I began putting things away.  I did not want a distracting mess up front after the children’s sermons – but neither did I want a long pause in the service as everyone watched me clean up between worship elements.  Finally the kids came back for their own lemonade, and I turned my attention back to them.

Pastor: After you have picked up a cup for yourself, could you sit back on the front row for just a minute? You can drink your lemonade while we talk.

I finished putting things away, and carried it all back through the door at the front of the sanctuary while the kids arranged themselves on the front pew.  I came back into the sanctuary holding a cup of lemonade myself.

Pastor: So how about that lemonade?

Some kids nodded while drinking – a couple called out, “Good!”

Pastor: That’s pretty cool!  Jeff was right – lemonade is a lot better than lemons! But when grown ups say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” they mean somehting else, too! They mean to say that you can do this with anything in your life that seems not very good – They mean that if something makes us feel sad or angry, we can use that experience and turn it into something good!  That can be pretty hard to understand.  So let’s try to think of an example – Has anyone ever said anything mean to you? Or said something mean about you to someone else?

There was lots of nodding and hands shooting up – and one child, unable to wait to be called on (he was probably bursting to tell – to have someone commiserate) spoke up right away:

Joey: Someone on my team told me I was a slow runner, and a bad baseball player.

Pastor: Oh no! I bet that really hurt your feelings! That is terrible! Is it even possible to make lemonade out of a really sour lemon like that one?  Is it possible to turn that bad thing someone told Joey into something good?

Blank looks all around. Which is about what I expected.

Pastor: Well, let’s see. Maybe… maybe now that you have shared how terrible that felt when someone said that to you, I hope that all of us will remember that, and try not to say mean things to other people. Because none of us would want to hurt Joey’s feelings. And everyone has feelings, just like Joey.  So if we remember that, and say nice things to other people, and try not to hurt their feelings, then that is something good.
[Then, addressing Joey directly again]: I hope that that teammate of yours was not trying to be mean, but was just not thinking about how much saying that would hurt you. But either way, they never should have said that. And I sure hope they learn to be nicer in what they say.
[Back to addressing everyone]: Now I have a problem with the idea that we can take the sad things that happen to us, and make them into something good. I noticed that Joey had a hard time thinking of a way to make something good out of the bad thing that was said to him. It is too hard, sometimes, to make our own bad thoughts and feelings into something good. It is very very hard to take something bad that has happened to us – something that makes us sad and God sad with us – it is hard to take that bad thing and turn it into something good – something that makes us kinder, or makes the world a better place – it is hard to take a bad thing and turn it into a good thing, something that makes God happy.
It is SO hard that we are not expected to do it by ourselves. Remember making the lemonade? You need a grownup to help you make lemonade from real lemons, right? In the same way, we need help – help from our friends, from grownups that we trust (like our parents or our pastor or a teacher or an aunt or uncle) – we need help from our friends – and help from God!! – to turn the bad things that have happened to us into things that give God glory – things that make God happy and make the world a better place.
So remember – when life gives you lemons, ask for help – from God and from your friends and family – ask for help making lemonade. We can’t make yucky things better all alone, by ourselves.

Let us pray:
Dear God, Thank you for helping us. Thank you for listening when we pray. And thank you for giving us people who love us and will help us feel better when bad things happen. Amen.

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