Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Year A - Baptism of the Lord (January 9, 2011)

Isaiah 42:1-9

Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant of God has been seen as a either a description of or a job description for Jesus.  Walk through it verse by verse with children helping them understand some of the poetic images and connecting those images to stories about Jesus.  Point out that these were verse Jesus knew and may have thought about as he decided to be baptized and begin the work God asked him to do.

Psalm 29
The Voice of God in a Storm

In baptism the water is gentle.  In this psalm the water is a powerful thunder storm.  Just as God’s power is seen in baptism, so it is seen in the storm.  By celebrating the storm, the psalmist reminds us (and maybe himself) that God’s power is greater than and created the power of the storm (and all other powers of nature).  In the face of such power we are amazed, OK even scared.  My parents helped their children manage their fears of storms by comparing the thunder to God moving the furniture around up there or God bowling.  We kids quickly realized that these were not literal explanations of thunder, but ways to put thunder in its place within the loving power of God.  It became a storm game to come up with new things God might be doing to make all that noise.  Gathering other childhood explanations of storms can be a fun way to get into the psalmist’s frame of mind before reading the psalm.

Children enjoy knowing the path of the storm traced by the psalmist as it starts out over the sea, crashes into the mountains, and moves out into the distant desert.  To further celebrate storm power add storm sounds to the middle verses , leaving verses 1-2 and 10-11 unaccompanied as reflections on the storm.

-          Invite the whole congregation to become a sound orchestra tracing the storm.  One section snaps their fingers (the sound of the beginning rain).  A second section stands and slaps their hands on the backs of the pews in front of them (hard driving rain).  A third section lightly rubs their palms back and forth (rain receding into the distance).  A conductor rehearses each section, then directs them in and cuts them off as the whole congregation reads the psalm in unison.

-          Or, accompany the congregation (or choir) in reading the psalm with a variety of percussion instruments (snares, maracas, several kinds of drums, a rain instrument, even a gong for the height of the storm).  Percussionists will enjoy orchestrating themselves to follow the path of the storm.

Offer children a sheet of paper with the psalm printed in the middle.  Invite them to draw storm pictures all around it.  Especially those who live in the northern latitudes, may want to include blizzard as well as rain pictures.  A poetic worshiper might even undertake writing a blizzard psalm that could be enjoyed by the whole congregation later.  Suggest that worshipers put their posters somewhere where they can get them out when storms hit and they need to remember God’s power.

Acts 10:34-43
Summary of the life and ministry of Jesus

For children today is the hinge between all the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany of Jesus the Baby and the stories of Jesus the adult that will dominate worship from now until Easter.  They both enjoy and need help stringing the stories together so that they feel they know all of Jesus.  Peter’s sermon offers a good summary.  If you did not do this on the First Sunday After Christmas, today present a series of pictures of Jesus including birth, baptism, teaching, healing, calling fishermen or Zacchaeus, the cross, and resurrection..  Pictures may come from the church school teaching picture file, enlarged pictures from Bible story books or projected images collections.  As you present each picture ask who is in it and what they are doing.  This is both a chance to rehearse the whole story of Jesus and an opportunity for a little worship education about the seasons of worship.  Note how you celebrated birth at Christmas, will celebrate resurrection on Easter and will be telling stories about Jesus every Sunday between  Christmas and Easter.  (If you do this, look ahead to Jesus stories during the next few months to include in your summary story this morning.)

“O Sing A Song of Bethlehem” and “I Danced in the Morning” are songs that trace Jesus life and celebrate all of Jesus life on the day of his baptism.  Before singing one of them, point out the connection to Peter’s sermon and invite worshipers to follow the story of Jesus’ life in the verses.

The context of Peter’s summary of the gospel is preaching to the gentiles for the first time.  Peter prefaces his summary with “I realize that God has no partiality” or “I know now that God treats everyone the same” or “God doesn’t play favorites.”  There are better texts to explore this truth with children.  But, if that partiality is to be the focus of worship, explore it with children as follows:

-          Ask who God loves more
students with good grades or those with not-so-good grades
rich people or poor people
people who wear cool clothes or people who always look weird
athletes or nerds
Conclude that God made and loves all these people equally.  These people are God’s loved children.  We are to treat every person we meet as God’s loved child and we are to remember that we are God’s loved child.  (This could be developed into a low key anti-bullying pitch and/or remember who you are when you are being bullied pitch.)

-          Present pictures of children of many different cultures asking who God loves more.  National Geographic is one good source.  Portraits, by Steve McCurry, is a collection of 234 5 x 7 portraits of people from all over the world which can be ordered from Amazon.com.  In conversation make the points that God created and loves each person and that God wants us to treat each other with love and respect.

-          Dr. Seuss tells the story of a silly division between the star bellied sneetches and the plain bellied sneetches.  Both kinds of sneetches , like Peter, had to learn that they were all valuable.  Find this tale at the public library in Sneetches: And Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss.

Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus is Baptized

This text is an opportunity to talk about baptism in general as well as about Jesus’ baptism.  Show certificates of baptism.  Tell what baptism means in your congregation.  Walk through the baptism ritual explaining what each part means.  Sing any music that is generally sung at baptisms taking time to put it into your own words.  (Do this for the children realizing that many adults will be learning with them.)

If your congregation practices infant baptism and most baptisms are infant baptisms, this story introduces the idea that older folks can be baptized, too.  Tell the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Then, tell about an adult being baptized.  Note that when babies are baptized they do not understand what is going on.  Everyone else remembers that God loves us even before we can know it.  When youth and adults are baptized, they know what they are doing.  They decide to become followers of Jesus.  Be sure to point out that people who were baptized as babies, get their chance to say publicly that they want to follow Jesus when they are older and explain when that happens, e.g. in the Presbyterian church it is at confirmation .  (Do this for idealistic older children who are looking for a chance to take a public stand.  Be sure these children know that their parents have not robbed them of that opportunity and tell them when it will come.)

If your congregation does not practice infant baptism, you can go straight to the story about Jesus deciding to do what God asked and comparing it with the questions asked in baptism today. 

After exploring the story of Jesus’ baptism, invite worshipers of all ages to dip their hand into the filled baptismal fount and say to themselves, “I belong to God.”  This could be done as people leave the worship area.

In many congregations, new officers are installed in early January.  In this case, Jesus baptism links to their installation (maybe ordination too).  Jesus in being baptized is telling God and the people around him that he is ready to undertake God’s mission.  Officers are agreeing to undertake missions to which the church is calling them. 

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