Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Year A - The Baptism of the Lord (January 12, 2014)

Because it is “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday the first obvious worship theme is baptism, both that of Jesus and our own.  (If you are going this way, jump to the Matthew text below.)  But the texts also call for a review of Jesus life.  And, they introduce the Epiphany emphasis on Jesus being for all people everywhere rather than just those like us.  So there are lots of choices here.

For a totally different take on these texts:  Laura Dykstra at Voices of Truth insists that today’s texts are all about voices and using them to tell what we know.  So before the call to worship urge listeners of all ages to listen for voices in today’s readings, songs and prayers.  Even distribute lists of voice references to listen for and check off as they are heard – sort of a worship treasure hunt.  Gather the children near the end of worship to discuss what they have heard, restate the basic message, and encourage them to use their voices well during the coming week.

The Texts

Isaiah 42:1-9

> The Roman Catholic lectionary omits verses 5, 8, and 9.  The result is a shorter more focused reading.  If you are willing to make a totally Christian interpretation of this Old Testament text, read it immediately after the gospel story introducing it is as God’s “proud parent speech” about Jesus.

from Wikipedia Commons
> Use these verses to explore God’s amazing approach to bringing justice.  God does not stomp on the “bad guys” or those who make life difficult for everyone else.  God works gently with them to change them.  Celebrate this about God AND insist that God wants us to use the same plan when we deal with “bad guys” or unfair situations.  (As I write this, the news is full of remembrances of Nelson Mandela.  Certainly, he was a man who exemplified this approach.  His story makes immediate sense to children.)

> Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant of God can be 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 verses Jesus knew and may have thought about as he decided to be baptized and begin the work God asked him to do.

Psalm 29

Like many psalms this one needs to be experienced rather than explained.  So, try one of the reading plans that have been posted as this psalm appeared in the lectionary to date.  (It is popular with the lectionary creators!)

> Go to Baptism of the Lord (Year B) for a script that emphasizes the question “How strong is the Lord?”

> Go to Baptism of the Lord (Year A) for suggestions that explore this storm.  There are directions for creating a stormy coloring sheet and suggestions for accompanying the reading with small percussion instruments or people using their hands to make a sequence of storm sounds.  (If you sit on wooden backed pews, the second produces a truly awesome sound!) 

> Or use the script below to include the whole congregation in following the coming of the storm, its full power and its receding into the distance.  Before reading it, remind people of scary storms and the quiet afterward when we can reflect on God’s power that is even greater than the power of a storm.

Psalm 29
A Very Stormy Psalm

1     Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2     Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3     The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4     The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

GROUPS 1 and 2
5     The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6     He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

GROUPS 1, 2, and 3
7     The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8     The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

GROUPS 1, 2, and 3 even louder
9     The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”


10   The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11   May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Acts 10:34-43

> A couple of answers to the “how much do I read” question:

The Roman Catholic lectionary calls for only verses 35-38 which makes the reading shorter for children and more focused on Jesus’ concern for whole world.

Both these readings stop before Peter baptizes Cornelius and his household.  Add verses 44-48 to provide a second baptism story to the day.

> This sermon was preached as Peter met, ate with, and baptized the gentile Cornelius.  The whole story is more concisely presented in Acts 11:1-18.  Go to Fifth Sunday in Easter (Year C) for lots of ideas about presenting and exploring the whole story with its emphasis on Jesus being for all people of all races and cultures.

> 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.)

> 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.

> 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.

> If you use the Apostle’s Creed in worship, this is a good day to highlight the section on Jesus.  Walk through the words adding brief comments about each phrase as you go.  Then, invite worshipers to claim the phrases with a litany.  A worship leader reads each phrase with the congregation responding, “I believe in Jesus.”

Matthew 3:13-17

Reading about Jesus’ baptism often leads to exploring baptism in general.  There are lots of interesting ways to do that with children in the sanctuary.

> One minister emailed the entire congregation asking them to talk about the baptism of each person in their household before coming to church on this Sunday.  Those stories formed a personal context for each worshiper as they explored baptism together during worship.

> If you hang curtains of blue ribbons in the doors to the sanctuary on baptismal Sundays, hang them today in honor of Jesus’ baptism.  At the very least they provide an introduction to the story of Jesus’ baptism that connects his baptism to that of each worshiper.  It is also a chance to suggest to worshipers that as they pass through those curtains every time they appear people can remember and thank God for their own baptism.  In the charge and benediction, remind worshipers to do so as they leave the sanctuary today.  If you have a children’s time, explain the practice and lead the children out the doors and back through the curtains. 

> During the sermon walk through and comment on your congregation’s baptismal rite.  Even use a doll and adult volunteers to take the various roles in both infant and adult baptisms.  Show several baptismal certificates for members of the congregation.

> Sing a baptismal hymn for Jesus today.  If your congregation regularly sings one at baptisms, talk about its meaning and then sing if for Jesus today.  Two baptism hymns that are child accessible:

“Child of Blessing, Child of Promise” - Read verse 1 noting how it is true for Jesus and for every person baptized.  Then read verse 4 noting the same is true.  Jesus had to learn to listen for God’s call and to love and laugh and trust God more than all.  So do we.  (I’d skip verses 2 and 3 to focus everyone’s attention and for the sake of brevity.)
Feel free to copy this.
“Christ When For Us You Were Baptized” – To point out the connection of the first three verses to the story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew, give each child a sheet of paper with the hymn words printed in the middle.  Point to the highlighted words and phrases promising that they will hear them in the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Read (or reread) the biblical story challenging them to raise a hand each time they hear one of the phrases each time they hear it.  Point out that the first three verses are about Jesus’ baptism and the fourth is about ours.  Repeat the highlighted phrase in the fourth verse and briefly discuss what that means.  Then challenge the children to illustrate all those words about Jesus’ baptism around the edges of the sheet.  Invite them to post their sheets at an agreed upon place (baptismal font, altar rail, door to sanctuary, even your office door) at the end of the service.  This could be done as a children’s time or could be tied to the reading of the gospel for the day.  In either case the congregation should sing the song shortly thereafter.

from Wikipedia Commons
> What is different and the same with Jesus’ baptism and ours.  Meet at the font, show a photo of Jordan River.  Note all the differences in where Jesus was baptized and where most of us are baptised.  Then read “You are my beloved Son” and note the sameness of what God said to Jesus and says to us at our baptisms.

> Invite worshipers to dip their fingers into the water of the font saying “I am the beloved child of God.”  Or, place a mirror in the baptismal font and have children (or all worshipers) look into it saying the phrase.

> Challenge children to do as Martin Luther did - when they wash their face each morning, say “I am God’s loved child.” You might demonstrate with a bowl of water for a children’s time, and invite one or two children to do the same.  (Remember to provide towels.)

> Water Came Down: the Day You Were Baptized, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. describes how sun, cloud, rain, wind, and water are involved in a child’s baptism.  The idea is lovely, but a little over the top.  The whole universe seems to revolve about the child rather than the child taking his or her place among God’s people and the universe.  One way to use it in worship would be to read only the end of the book beginning with “Your family was there that holy day…”after walking through your congregation’s infant baptism rite.  Can anyone point us to other good baptism books to read in worship to children?

> 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.)

> In this story God gives Jesus a new name – Son.  Explore the importance of this and all names by listing “bad names” you have been called.  Invite worshipers to add to the list silently or aloud.  Describe the power of those names to make us “less.”  Then insist that God says the same thing to each of us that God says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son/Daughter/Child.”  In prayer a worship leader might leave silence for people to recall bad names they have been called and bad names they have heard hurled at others.  Then, thank God for giving us the good name and pray for help in finding good names for everyone we meet.

> 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. 


  1. If you need pictures of events in the life of Jesus, go to . It is a large collection of child friendly African art based on those events. They can be printed free with a printed attribution!

  2. Probably too late for this year, but I have a bunch of books on Baptism. First, you can simply read the story in one of the children's story bibles (Desmond Tutu's Children of God Storybook Bible is one of my favorites). I also have the Wangerin "Water Come Down" you mentioned, and agree that it is very abstract. For the youngest (under age 2) worshipers, I have a board book that is very simple, "Things I See at Baptism" by Julie Stiegemeyer, Pictures by Kathy Mitter. It introduces several vocab words. For a slightly older crowd, the board book, "At Your Baptism" by Carrie Steenwyk and John D. Witvliet, Illustrated by Linda Saport is decent. I've used this with a mixed ages group with success. Word of warning, it almost has 2 stories in it--one at the top of each page, and one at the bottom. You are better served to pick one and stick with it. Reading both is confusing. For our Catholic friends, "Child's Guide to Baptism" by Sue Stanton, Illustrations by Anne Catharine Blake, is very detailed and thorough. You would probably have to shorten it to use it in worship. It is *not* helpful to Protestants though. My personal favorite (saved the best for last!) is "God Makes Me His Child in Baptism" by Janet Wittenback, Illustrations by Janet McDonnell. The story centers around a young boy, perhaps 8 or so, who is going to see his baby cousin get baptized. A little long for worship, but solid. It takes you through the whole day. My only complaints are the masculine (non-inclusive) language for God, and that it is a male pastor :) All of the pastors depicted in these books are male (sounds like I need to write one...). I use the books in different ways as I prepare children for baptism, for teaching in worship, etc.

    1. Wow! That is quite a list and your comments really help. Amazon here I come!


    Is it possible to be saved without having your sins forgiven? Was Saul saved by faith alone before his sins were forgiven?

    If Saul was saved on the road to Damascus, then he was saved without having his sins forgiven.

    Saul believed in Jesus on the road Damascus, but his sins were forgiven three days later in Damascus
    Act 9:1-19......9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank....

    Saul sins were forgiven in Damascus, three days later, not on the road to Damascus.
    Acts 22:1-16.....10 And I said, 'What shall I do Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'.......16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins,calling on His name!

    Saul was not saved by faith only. Saul was saved by believing and being baptized in water.

    Jesus did not establish faith only salvation on the road to Damascus. Jesus confirmed what He already had said "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved"... (Mark 16:16)

    You cannot be saved unless your sins have been forgiven.

    In order to support the doctrine of faith only men have offered many reasons why the Scriptures cannot be trusted.
    1. The Bible is not the inerrant word of God, it has many errors and contradictions.
    2. You have to be a Greek scholar to understand the Bible. If you understand the original Greek language, then you would know water baptism is not essential for forgiveness of sins.
    3. You need to use extra-Biblical writings to understand the plan of salvation.
    4. The Bible has been mistranslated, therefore men are saved by faith only and not the way it is presented in the Bible.

    If God is not smart enough to give men an accurate translation of His plan for salvation and Christian living, then why would anyone trust in Him for salvation or for anything else.

    God has given us His plan of salvation in many translations, in different languages. You do not have to know Greek.You do not have to have a Greek dictionary. You do have to be Greek. If men had to be able to read and understand original Greek to understand the Bible, then all Bibles would be in Greek.


    Men are not saved by faith only and there is no verse of Scripture that states men are saved by faith only. Men are saved by faith, but not by faith only.


    1. Steve, I am posting your comment because I believe in free expression. I am not sure how much your comments will help people planning worship that includes children, nor do think it worth pursuing this conversation here. Peace.


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