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 .
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!).