Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Third Sunday in Epiphany, The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (January 23, 2011)

Isaiah 9:1-4 and Psalm 27:1,4-9

Both of these texts include references to the light.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” and “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”  If you have not already explored light as part of Epiphany, these readings offer you an opportunity to do so.  Go to Year A Epiphany Sunday and Second Sunday in Epiphany to find suggestions for exploring light with children.

1 Corinthians 1:10 - 17

Remember all of the fine things Paul said about the people of Corinth at the beginning of his letter last week.  This week he isn’t so complimentary.  So, gather the children around the pulpit Bible, recall what you learned last week about this letter and then read the verses dramatically.  Almost overstate the “I belong to”s to emphasize the cattiness of what was being said. 

The people in Corinth were bickering.  In the middle of the dark cold days of winter, cooped up in the house with no big holidays to look forward to, it is easy to bicker.  Talk about all the silly fights that get picked in the back seats of cars or in the back room when it’s too nasty to go outside and everyone is bored.  Briefly outline the usual advice in such situation, i.e. whenever some says I am better than you or my WHATEVER is better than your WHATEVER, just shrug your shoulders and say “who cares?”  Don’t get drawn into a silly argument.  Paul gave similar advice to the people in Corinth.  He said that it didn’t matter who had baptized whom.  What did matter is that all were baptized followers of Jesus.  End of silly argument.

This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  So pray for all the denominations and/or churches in your area.  Be as specific as possible so children will recognize the names and connect them to churches their friends attend. 

If you gather prayer requests as a congregation, take time to get worshipers of all ages to call out the names of other churches in the area.  Note informally any activities you share with this or that congregation as it is named.  Then in the prayers, pray for neighboring churches.

In a Children’s Time gather the names of the churches, identify what you do together, and hear who has a friend who goes to a named church.  Then, offer a prayer for all the congregations.  Pray for individual well being and for community cooperation.  Ask God’s blessing on them all.

There are several child-friendly hymns about unity that might be chosen for this day.

“Blest Be the Tie That Binds” has simple words.  Still, walk through the verses putting some phrases into your own words.  Then ask the congregation to “bind themselves together” by holding hands or putting a hand on a neighbor’s shoulder.  (Creativity is required to do this AND hold a hymnbook!)

“In Christ There Is No East or West” focuses on the division between East and West.  Before singing it imagine other pairs that meet in Christ, , i.e. In Christ there are …
… no athletes or geeks
… no “ins” or “outs”
… no young or old
… you (or worshipers) name other pairs….

“I Am the Church” is an Avery and Marsh song that is frequently sung in church school and children’s activities.  If your children know the chorus and the motions that go with it, invite them to teach it to the congregation.  Then sing the two verses that are key for today.  Find the words at http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/558 .

Matthew 4:12-23

I know verses 13-17 are important to Matthew and his Jewish readers, but they are incomprehensible to today’s children.  Before the reader can get to the stories about Jesus starting his ministry and the calling of the fishing disciples, the children get lost and tune out.  So, for the sake of the children, consider omitting verses 13-17.

A boat (a wooden rowboat is best, but any boat will do – even a canoe, if that is what is available) filled with nets in the front of the sanctuary immediately grabs the attention of young worshipers.  If you can’t get the boat, drape the pulpit and central table in string fishing net.  There are several ways to use these props.

Simply point to them before reading the gospel announcing that in today’s story there is a boat and some fishermen.

At some point note the nets and describe how they are used to catch fish.  If you generally use projected images, project pictures of people fishing with nets to show worshipers how it works.  Then, ponder the equipment needed to fish for people – a Bible, a text message device (for communicating with others), even a Meals On Wheels cooler (to reach people by caring for them), etc.  If you do this as a Children’s Time add each item to the boat – or place them in front of the boat where they will be visible for the remainder of the service.

Fishing requires strong able hands.  Fishers have to be strong enough to haul in a net full of fish and nimble enough to mend nets when they got snagged.  They have to be able to quickly clean lots of fish to get them to market.   Fishing for people also requires strong able hands.  You have to be able shake hands, pat people on the back, reach out to let people know you care, tend to the needs of people, etc.  

The FISH is a symbol for Jesus and for the church.  Tell the story of its use as a secret sign during Roman persecution of Christians.  A Christian could casually draw a two line fish in a dusty road with a sandal.  If the person they were talking with was a Christian, that person could also draw a fish in the dust.  If the person was not a Christian, the sign would not even be noticed.  Then, note that one reason it made a good symbol because the job of the church is to fish for people.

Point out any fish symbols in your sanctuary and connect them to fishing for people.

Two more hymns children enjoy singing today:

“Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult” is an old hymn that refers to the call of the fishing disciples in simple language.  Many verses end with a call from Jesus to us today, e.g. “Christian, love me more than these.”  Find the words and hear the music at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/e/jesuscus.htm .

“Tu Has Venido a la Orilla” (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore) tells the story of the call of the fishing disciples.  With its Hispanic music and language (most hymnals print the verses in both English and Spanish) the song ties many congregations to the 1 Corinthians message about celebrating what holds us together rather than what divides us.

A challenge:  If all the talk is about fisherMEN, all the little girls will assume that the call to fish is not for them.   So, hard as it is, try to speak of “fishing disciples,” “people who fish,” and the job “fishing”, in addition to “fishermen” (Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen!).   

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Year A - Second Sunday in Epiphany, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 16, 2011)

Isaiah 49:1-7

Reading this text in which the speaker is telling a story and within that story quoting God extensively requires practice.  If worshipers of any age are to follow the passage, the reader needs to imagine himself/herself speaking dramatically before a large crowd.  Think ahead about how you will show with your voice the difference in what the Servant says and what God says.  Plan how to emphasize the words to communicate the ideas in each sentence.

In verse 6 the task of the servant Israel is to be a light to the nations.  Explaining to children who think literally what it means for either God or people to be light is not easy.  Describing the difference lanterns, flashlights, even candles make in the dark is easy.  But, connecting that difference with the difference that kind words and deeds of love and mercy make is quite a stretch.  Children’s brains simply have not developed the necessary transference ability. 

Instead use this as an opportunity for some worship education about the use of candles in worship and even the responsibility of acolytes who light them or carry them in or out.  Many congregations place two candles on the worship table.  One means God/Jesus is the light of the world.  The other means we are called to be light for the world.  Some congregations intentionally carry a taper lit from one of these candles out of the sanctuary at the end of worship in order to remind us to follow God out into the world to serve and worship there.  Describe and even deomonstrate how your congregation uses candles in worship and explain in simple terms the significance of what you do. 

Without getting tangled up in the “light to the nations” image, it is possible to explore Isaiah’s insistence that God doesn’t want us just to look out for ourselves, our church, and our community, but to be concerned for everyone in the whole world.  Reread  just verse 6, putting some of the ideas you’re your own words.  Then,

-     describe at least one way your congregation reaches out to people far away.  If possible select an activity in which children are involved, such as packing disaster relief kits.

-     think together of a prayer to offer for the people who live on each continent.  (Follow you progress using a globe.)  Then offer those prayers.

Psalm 40:1-11

Verses 9 and 10 are the key ones for children.  The psalmist declares that he has spoken about God’s saving action.  Children can be encouraged to speak about God in two ways.

Like the psalmist they can sing God’s praises.  Singing songs praising God with others at church and singing songs praising God on their own are important disciplines to cultivate.  Today children are more likely to listen to music than to sing it.  Encourage them to sing by telling stories in which singing is important and by doing a lot of congregational singing during worship today.  Assign worshipers a familiar hymn you have sung and discussed in worship today to sing in the car on their way home.  (Encourage them to do this whether they are singing a solo or with a “choir”.)

Children can also speak up on God’s behalf every day.  When the group is doing something that is wrong, even young children can say so.

This weekend the psalmist reminds us of Martin Luther King who spoke to the American nation on God’s behalf of the injustices being endured by African Americans.   He said, “I have a dream…” but he meant “God has a dream and will make it come true.”   His words about this dream inspired people to make difficult changes to right the injustices.  King and his followers also sang songs, spirituals that echoed his words.  Together the speaking and singing of God is powerful.  King spoke to and sang with millions of people.  Few of us do.  But, we can sing songs for God and we can speak up among our friends.  We can stand up for God’s ways and point out when people are starting to do things that are wrong.  Martin Luther King had to be brave to speak up for God and so do we. 

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

For the next seven weeks we will be reading from 1 Corinthians.  This may be the first generation of children who need to learn what a letter is.  Strange, but true!  They are increasingly used to communicating in short emails or even shorter text messages that are sent quickly, read and generally deleted.  They have little experience with a several page letter that was carefully composed, read and reread, and then kept to reread in the future.  So before reading from this letter, take time to explore what it was and meant to the early Christians.

-     Bring a stamped envelope containing a several page handwritten letter, a handheld computer with an email or text message displayed, and the pulpit Bible opened to the beginning of 1 Corinthians.  If Harry Potter mania is still alive, refer to the messages the owls carried.  Talk about the similarities and differences in each one.  Some take more time to write.  Some are harder to deliver and take longer to reach the receiver.  Some are considered more worth saving to reread and to share with others.  Explain that Corinthians is a letter sent from Paul to the Christians in Corinth and that they thought it was so important that they saved it, copied it, shared it with others. 

-     Display pictures of Corinthian ruins and modern day Corinth and have a map on hand to point out where Corinth is.  Ask if anyone in the congregation has been to Corinth.  The point is simply to realize that Corinth is a real place with real people.  (The photos below were found by googling “Corinth pictures.”)


-     Briefly introduce Paul telling how he knew the people in Corinth.  Point out some of his other letters to other churches in the Bible.

-     Read verse 2 that tells to whom the letter is sent.  Stop as you get to the parts that describe the saints beyond Corinth.  “Hey, wait!  That is us.  We are….  You and you are…   We have mail!”

Then invite worshipers to listen to what Paul says as the letter begins.

If you are going to explore the gifts Paul recognized in the members of the church in Corinth and in us, offer children a worksheet printed with a large gift box.  Invite them to write about or draw into the boxes some of the gifts/abilities/talents God has given them.  Point out that God wants them to use those gifts to love other people in the world.  Invite them to drop their drawings into the offering plates as a way of thanking God for those gifts or to share them with you as they leave the sanctuary.  Suggest that in one part of the box they draw a cross or a heart for the gift of God’s love.

John 1:29-42

This is really two stories in one.  To help young readers follow it as it is read, plan for two readers and three actors to pantomime with them.  Find actors who are able to communicate with their faces and gestures.  They will probably need to be high school students or older.  The following script is based on NRSV.


Narrator (reading from lectern):  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared,

John:   “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  And, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Narrator:   The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
John points at Jesus and faces two disciples.
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
Disciples follow Jesus to one side and John retreats off the other side.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
Jesus turns and give hand gesture for question.
They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
Disciples reach out to ask question of Jesus.
 He said to them, “Come and see.”  
Jesus gestures with hands to come with him.  They all move to other side.
They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).
One disciple goes to bring Simon who is seated in first row to join him and Jesus.
He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Jesus looks at Simon and places his hands on his shoulders to welcome a friend.


Lamb of God is a nickname or a symbol for Jesus.  But, it is a hard one for children to understand.  To understand the Passover connection it will be necessary to retell that story.  To make the connection to the thank offerings, it will be necessary to explain the thinking behind that practice to children to whom it tends to sound cruel and weird.   Instead,

-     If your sanctuary includes Lamb of God images, point them out and simply say that they remind us of Jesus.
-     Point out in the worship bulletin the places you will pray, say or sing “Lamb of God” today.  Maybe suggest that children underline the name every time they find it in the bulletin.  Then instruct them to think “Jesus” as they use the term.

This is a story about people who told others what they knew and introduced their friends to important people.  John pointed out Jesus to his disciples.  Andrew brought his brother to meet Jesus.  It can be tied to theme about speaking your testimony in Isaiah and Psalm 40.  In this story the speaking is done in everyday situations among people who know each other.  It may be used to challenge children to speak up to their friends and siblings or to invite their friends to church.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Year C - Christ the King/ The Reign of Christ (November 21, 2010)

The “Reign of Christ” has been suggested as a substitute for “Christ the King” as the name for this Sunday in order to de-emphasize hierarchy.  That is a worthwhile goal.  But especially non-reading children hear “Rain of Christ” instead of “Reign of Christ” and are confused.  So if you use Reign, define it and point out with a laugh what it is not.

Or, explore Christ the King in children’s terms.  In children’s stories kings may be good or bad or simply may be people in a set role.  The king has the right and power to make all the rules and demand that people do what he wants.  When the people do not obey the king has the right to punish them.  Good kings use this power and right well.  Bad kings do not.  Jesus is the very best king ever.  Jesus has all the power and chooses to use it to take care of people.  When they disobey him (think crucifixion), he forgives them.  In the context of today’s texts, King Jesus chooses to be a Good Shepherd and a forgiver.

Unless you want to save this for Palm Sunday, display a crown of thorns and a king’s crown from a costume shop.  Talk about the choice Jesus made about the kind of crown he would wear and the kind of king he would be.

If you are using white and gold paraments today, point them out, explain the significance of their color and any symbols on them.  Recall the other holy days on which they are used.

To put the Lord’s Prayer in the context of Christ’s kingship, use the phrase “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory” of the Lord’s Prayer as a congregational response to each of the other lines of the prayer. 

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Especially in the United States this month, most people of all political persuasions, resonate with Jeremiah’s wish for political leaders who are good shepherds, i.e. leaders who have the well being of the people as their focus.  In the context of today’s theme, Jesus is that leader.  He is a king who has the good of the people as clearly in mind as a shepherd has the well being of the sheep in mind. 

For children shepherds are people who take care of sheep.  They will need to be clearly told that in the Bible Jesus is often referred to as a shepherd not of sheep but of people.  One way to do this is to show a picture of Jesus with sheep in his arms (Google “good shepherd pictures”) and a picture of Jesus with people (you may have a picture of Jesus and the children in the church school).  Note that when we say Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we do not mean that Jesus takes care of sheep.  Instead we mean that Jesus takes as good care of people as a good shepherd does of sheep.

The earliest painting of Jesus is this painting of Jesus as a good shepherd. Help the children find the sheep on Jesus' shoulders and the water he is carrying for the sheep.  Note how young and strong Jesus looks.  The painting is found in the catacombs  (tunnels under the city of Rome) where the first Christians hid out from Romans who wanted to feed them to the lions.    This painting on the wall reminded them that Jesus would take care of them.


This psalm celebrates what the other texts for the day describe.  We are safe in the presence of God.  We don’t have to be afraid.  Verses 10-11 sum it up most simply for children. 

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is based on this psalm.  Martin Luther’s words are difficult for children to understand.  What they can get is the feel of fearlessness and the passion with the congregation sings this familiar, loved hymn.  Before singing it, note that Martin Luther wrote this song while his friends were hiding him in a castle from people who wanted to kill him.  Invite singers to imagine how they felt as they sang his song together.

Luke 1:68-79

Before reading Zechariah’s song, briefly tell the story behind it.  Elderly, childless Zechariah had not believed the angel who told him he would have a son.  Because he had not believed, he was unable to speak until the baby (John the Baptist) was born.  These were his first words after nine silent months.  Either invite worshipers to imagine old John holding his newborn son in his arms saying these words to God and everyone around him.  Or, if your congregation includes an older man who could speak the words dramatically from memory , ask him to present the reading (perhaps holding a wrapped baby doll in his arms).

Colossians 1:11-20

The hymn to Christ in verses 15-20 is the heart of this text.   Unfortunately for children, it is filled with so many pronouns and interchangeable names for Jesus that it is hard to follow.  Choosing to read either Today’s English Version or The Contemporary English Version rather than the King James  or NRSV may help.  But, even they need to be interpreted.  The hymn boils down to six statements about Jesus.  Children will recognize some of them and be interested in exploring them as a set of ideas about Jesus.

Jesus is God made visible. 
Jesus is better than anyone else or anything else in all creation.
God made the world through Jesus and for Jesus.
Jesus (and God) existed before anything else.
Jesus is the head of the church and what keeps it alive.
God  forgave us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

If you must offer a children’s time, invite the children to join you with the big Bible from the front of the church.  Introduce the text as a song about Jesus that the very first Christians sang.  Pause in your reading to put each big idea about Jesus in your own words.  You might want to reread this without interruptions later or this might be the epistle reading for the day.

No matter which translation of this song you use, three names appear – Jesus, Christ, and Son.  Before reading the text, point out these names and briefly explain each one.  To add a visual, present each name on a poster that can be left in full view during the reading.

Jesus is the name his family and friends called Jesus – like Susan or Lu.

Christ is actually a title rather than a name.  It is not Jesus’ last name (a common misperception among children).  The title means God’s Chosen One and applies only to Jesus.

Jesus is called God’s Son or simply the Son.  Just as people say of a son that he is just like his father, people say of Jesus that he not only is like God but is God in human form.

The text refers to Jesus at both the beginning and end of time.  If there are Alpha and Omega symbols on today’s paraments or elsewhere in the sanctuary, point them out and explain them.  Enjoy the children’s question “but what came before that…” and the mysterious answer that before anything there was God and Christ.  And, after everything there will be God and Christ.   

Luke 23:33-43

Luke’s account of the crucifixion centers on Jesus’ forgiving those who crucified him and the thief who asked for forgiveness.  On this Sunday it emphasizes Christ’s work forgiving us.  In children’s stories kings don’t have to forgive.  But, King Jesus, the king of the universe, chooses to forgive us at great cost to himself. 

It is a good day for worship education about confession and assurance of pardon as they are practiced in your worship.  Point to that section of worship in a bulletin.  Walk worshipers through the prayers and responses, putting things in your own words as you go. 

In my congregation it would go something like this:  We say together that we all know we do things that are sinful, then in the silence we each tell God some of the bad stuff we have done in the last week.  We ask God to forgive us and then hear the minister remind us that God will forgive us.  We respond with a happy song thinking God for forgiving us and shake hands to “pass the peace” that we get from God to those sitting around us. 

Rehearse any standard responses or refrains together.  For example, explain that “Kyrie Eleison” means “Christ have mercy” or “Christ forgive us,” then sing it through once.    

To emphasize the purpose of the prayer of confession, create a responsive prayer.  The congregation’s response to each plea is “Christ, forgive us.”