All of today’s texts have themes that are important to children. But, the children will not hear them as the texts are read. They will depend on the adults to present the themes in words and ideas that connect to their world.
* One church sang and signed the chorus only of “Christ , Be Our Light” as the Advent candles were lit each week. Consider doing this during Epiphany as a sung response to prayers for the world. The prayers might be oral prayers or could be a soloist singing the verses with the congregation responding with the sung and signed chorus.
Christ be our light
Right hand moves from above head straight down to waist with thumb toward your body
Shine in our hearts
Move both hands to cover your heart
Shine through the darkness
Arms bent in front of you with palms turned up as if looking up for God’s light
Christ be our light
Right hand moves from above head straight down to waist with thumb toward your body
Shine in your church
Turn both hands out in front of you
Spread hands out to the side to include whole world
* Before singing “I Want to Walk As A Child of Light,” point out the Lamb of God in the chorus and introduce it as a code name for Jesus. Save explanations of why that is so until Lent. For now simply rephrase it, “Jesus is the light of the city of God.” Then, encourage worshipers to watch for all the light words as they sing.
* “Will You Come and Follow Me” ties to both Isaiah’s message that God is calling our names and to using the gifts Paul says God gives us in I Corinthians. Though the words are simple enough, the message they carry is hard for children to grasp at first. They probably learn their way into this song by catching a phrase here and there (the repeated phrases first) and then knitting them together as they sing the song many times.
The Texts for Today
This is a poem for the Bible students. To follow it the reader needs to understand the situation of the returned exiles and interpret all the wedding images. Children do neither. But, they can appreciate what Isaiah is saying if it is unpacked for them.
The bottom line is that God does not let people who are in really bad situations stay stuck there forever. God works to get justice for everyone.
* Isaiah lists several hurting names God’s people have been called and the loving names God calls them. Think about the names people get called or the labels that are attached to them. You are dumb, silly, clumsy, weird…. You can’t sing, play soccer, do math, etc. … The assumption is that not only are you that way now, but you will probably never be any different. You are hopeless. When we are called such names we can start believing them. Isaiah insists that we must not do this. Even when we look less than wonderful, God is at work in us making us into the amazing people God created us to be. We are to think about what God wants for us not the names we get called now. There is hope. This can also connect to the gifts God gives as described in today’s epistle.
* Serendipitously January 18-22 is “No Name Calling Week” this year. This week is sponsored mainly in schools to combat the name calling that underlies bullying. Go to No Name Calling Week to find a wealth of resources. Simply mentioning this campaign in worship lets children know you are aware of what is going on in their world. Exploring it further in worship using some of the resources on the site can help children see name calling as a religious as well as ethical issue. This year’s theme is “Celebrate Kindness”.
* Ellen’s Broom, by Kelly Starling Lyons, is one way to explore the wedding images in the psalm and to connect to Martin Luther King’s Birthday celebration themes. It is the story of a couple who jumped the broom as slaves going with their children to the courthouse to get a real wedding certificate as a legal couple. The story which is told by the daughter can be read aloud in 8 minutes. But, you could simply show the last picture in the book (a stone fireplace with the broom and wedding certificate hanging above it) and explain in your own words what happened. Urge families to check the book out of the library or send a copy with the children to read and discuss further in classes.
BTW I learned of this book on the website Storypath: Connecting Children’s Literature with Our Faith Story which is a gold mine. Check it out at StoryPath.
* Tie the phrases “the Lord delights in you” and “God shall rejoice over you” from verses 4 and 5 to conversation about Paul’s message that we each have been created with gifts. If worshipers name/draw their gifts on a worship worksheet, gather the sheets and repeat the phrases over them. Offer prayers about God’s pleasure in us and how we use all the gifts created into us.
* The Roman Catholic reading for today is Psalm 96:1-10. Both of these psalms are filled with short statements praising God’s power. To help children follow either one, have them read responsively between halves of the congregation, a leader and the congregation, or a choir or children’s class and the congregation. Before the reading explain that the psalm is a collection of praises for God and invite worshipers to join in the praising by reading their part aloud and reading the other parts silently. Both aloud and silently remind them to talk to God. The TEV is the easiest translation of these psalms for children to understand as they read.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
* The Roman Catholic lectionary reading starts with verse 4 and so keeps the focus clearly on gifts. Not a bad idea for the sake of the children who can get lost in the first three verses before getting to the ones that are key to the day.
* This is the first of three readings about gifts from 1 Corinthians. To avoid stealing your own thunder, plan ahead. My take on the three is
This week we identify and celebrate all the gifts God gives us and recognize that we are meant to use these gifts not just for our own good but for the good of the people around us.
Next week focuses on the fact that all the gifts support and add to each other. No gift is more special than any other gift. All are needed.
Finally, whatever our gifts are we are to use them lovingly. The love is more important than the gift.
* Spend time in worship identifying some of the many gifts God has placed in the people of your congregation. Start with the obvious ones like the musicians and teachers. Go to those who organize whatever needs organizing and those who are good listeners and “are there” whenever someone needs a friend. Be sure to include gifts seen in children and youth as well as in adults.
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* After identifying and celebrating gifts, reread and explore verse 7’s insistence that the gifts are given not just for us to enjoy for ourselves but to use for the good of people around us. Use specific examples, e.g. there are gifted athletes who use their abilities to win competitions and maybe make money for themselves and enjoy being famous. There are other gifted athletes who also use their gifts to coach others in the sport and the fame that comes from their gift to rally many people to reach out to those who need help. Paul wants us to be like the latter.
First, cup hands together in front of you as if holding water in them. With your imagination put in your hands some of the gifts God has built into you. (Give people time to think on this one.)
Raise your hands still cupped up to God. While all hands are raised thank God for all the gifts given to each of the people. Name the ways we enjoy and benefit from those gifts.
Hold your cupped hands out as if offering what is in them to the world. While hands are in this position, promise God to use our gifts to love and take care of others.
Fold your hands in prayer. Pray for God to help you use all these gifts wisely and lovingly and sing “This Little Light of Mine” for the gifts that are part of the one of a kind light God put in each one of us.
* Ann Weem’s poem “Gift of God” (Reaching For Rainbows, page 34) includes images that are too complicated for children. But the opening lines and the closing line, “Gift of God, I thank God for you” could be used to celebrate the gifts we are to each other. Use it as a congregational response to prayers about gifts God has placed in your congregation. This could be used today or next week.
* Wild About Us!, by Karen Beaumont, celebrates the differences in the animals at the zoo – and us? The author is content insisting that each animal is happy the way it is. For today, take it a little further. Identify why the thing that is special about each animal is a gift, e.g. with its long neck the giraffe eat leaves high in the trees and the porcupine is safe inside its quills. Instead of reading the entire book read a selection of animals. Take it another step by challenging children to draw pictures of people at the church showing what they do that is different and beautiful. This could be done this week to celebrate gifts or next week to celebrate the diversity of gifts in the zoo/church.
* One of the preachers on Sermon Brainwave said “What you do and love connects you deeply to God.” That is an idea we need to explore with children. Too often they think that God really is not interested in the things they most love and enjoy. Explore it using Olympic runner Eric Liddell’s statement about his running that God made him fast and that “when I run I feel God’s pleasure.” Ponder with the children the possibility that God is delighted when you ace a video game or are really into playing your musical instrument or excelling at your sport…
* Together assemble a banner/poster by adding photos of your church doing what it is gifted to do inside an outline of the church building. As you add each photo identify the gift displayed in it and celebrate it is importance (What can we do because we have that gift among us? What would we be like without that gift?) Display the banner prominently for the remainder of the service. Save it for next week to explore the fact that no gift is more important than any other, all are needed.
To go all out with this, enlarge each photo to full page and print it on a piece of card stock. Cut the edges to turn the photos into meshing puzzle pieces. Put the puzzle together as you talk about the gifts in the church.
* Adults get the mental picture of how much water was changed into wine when they hear the text read. To help children get that picture and to celebrate the abundance here,
Display a gallon milk jug. Talk about how many glasses of milk or juice you could pour out of it. Even pour out the cups as you talk. Then read verse 6 and imagine how many glasses could be poured from 20-30 gallon jugs. Then do the math. If each stone jug held 20 gallons how many gallons would the six jugs hold? Marvel at how much wine this was!
Or, gather 20 one-gallon milk jugs to give an even clearer picture of how much water was in each stone jug. For impact, start with a single milk jug up front and have a group of children bring 19 more in to pile around you.
Or, I guess you could go over the top and gather 120 or even 180 milk jugs – if you could find that many! Leave them piled in the front of the sanctuary around the Table – especially if God’s abundance is the central worship theme of the day. (If anyone does this, please take a picture and share it with the rest of us!!!!)
* Jesus turned ordinary water into fine wine. Jesus can also turn everything that seems ordinary in our lives into something amazing – like water into wine, coal into diamonds, sand into glass, or bits of fabric into a quilt. (This idea came from Lutheran seminary professors.) With children I’d present fabric scraps and a quilt. This may be an opportunity to feature a quilter in your congregation. You could use it today to explore how what looks plain on its own can be turned into something beautiful. Or, you could save it for next week’s text about the importance of each gift to the whole body.
If you don’t have a quilter on hand consider other groups who make wonderful things using plain resources – maybe knitters in the prayer shawl ministry or cooks who turn plain food ingredients into tasty meals to take to those who need them….
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* “In Cana at a Wedding Feast,” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, is a great hymn for beginning to think about Jesus’ ministry. The new words are set to the familiar tune of "I Sing the Mighty Power of God." Each verse recalls a familiar story with the last verse summarizing their significance. To help children identify and follow the stories, before singing it present a prop for each verse: a wine glass, a basket with rolls and fish (maybe plastic ones from the nursery toy box or cardboard cutouts), a toy boat, and a pair of glasses for healing a blind man. Or, give children the illustrated word sheet above.
If you are celebrating abundance, enjoy a light hearted reading of The Wedding, by Eve Bunting. Miss Brindle Cow cheerfully gives rides to a collection of animals who are having trouble getting to the church where each has responsibility for part of a wedding. When the tower of animals arrives at the church the surprise is that Miss Brindle Cow is the bride. Noell Rathbun-Cook notes on Storypath that things have a way of going wrong at weddings. Miss Brindle Cow’s was certainly headed for trouble as was the wedding in Cana where they ran out of wine. But with an attitude of abundance many of the problems can be easily solved. What is true at weddings is also true on most ordinary days.
(I might also save this book to read with Good Samaritan as an antidote to the two travelers on their way to church and therefore too busy to stop. If the bride could stop to help others on the way to her wedding, most of us can stop to help on most days. )