Worship for Kids: January 7, 2018

Baptism of the Lord

The title this Sunday could be, "Oh, what a difference the Holy Spirit makes" to Jesus at his baptism, to the Ephesian disciples at theirs, and to creation.

From a Child's Point of View

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11. Children need help to understand the difference between John's baptism of the people, and the baptism of Jesus. The people who came to be baptized by John were repenting that is, they were admitting that they were not living the way God had taught them to live and were promising that they would work hard to do better. John warned that if they did not make the needed changes, God would punish them. John was like a stern teacher or coach. The people were like errant students, promising to work harder. It was up to the people to make the promised changes.

But when Jesus was baptized, something very different happened. Jesus did not make promises about what he was going to do. Instead, he turned himself over to God. In response, God called Jesus "My Son" and sent the Holy Spirit to work through Jesus. Jesus was like a boat owner who turns over command of his boat to a new captain, to be used however the captain wants.

Epistle: Acts 19:1-7. The disciples Paul met, like the disciples of John the Baptist, were trying to live better lives. But after they turned their lives over to God through Jesus, they found new power. They were surprised by what God could do through them that they could not do on their own.

Literal-thinking children wonder why they cannot speak in tongues, as those Christians did. The answer is that God's power works through different people in different ways. Some people become great teachers, some build hospitals, and so forth. These Ephesian disciples were able to speak in tongues. But no matter how God chooses to work through us, we are often surprised by what God can do.

Old Testament: Genesis 1:1-5. The story of creation offers a familiar example of God's power. Few children, however, will have noticed the presence of the Holy Spirit in the opening verses of the creation story, and they will not notice it today unless it is pointed out. But once it is pointed out, children are awed by the fact that God wants to put the power that created the world to work through them. Older children, who tend to be very ecologically aware, find meaning in hearing their efforts to clean up the world described as one of the ways God's Holy Spirit works through them.

Psalm: 29. This celebration of the power of God, displayed in a thunderstorm coming in from the sea, across the mountains, and out into the desert is meant to be enjoyed rather than analyzed. The frightened child in each of us is comforted by the fact that the power of the storm is God's power. The psalm can challenge worshipers of all ages to let this immense power be unleashed in their lives.

Watch Words

Identify Holy Spirit as God's power at work in the world and God's presence with us. If you use Holy Ghost, explain that it is not a good Halloween-type spook or God's ghost (God is not dead), but another name for Holy Spirit. You might also want to speak of God's Spirit.

Review the terms you use in talking about baptism and in your baptismal rite. Take time to explain terms that may be foreign to children.

Let the Children Sing

Hymns about Jesus' baptism are filled with difficult words and concepts. "Christ, When for Us You Were Baptized" can be sung by older children after the worship leader reads through the verses and explains their meaning. (This is also good preparation for adults who may be singing this for the first time.)

Celebrate God's great power with the concrete creation language of "I Sing the Mighty Power of God."

Even beginning readers quickly learn the chorus of "The Lone Wild Bird." Before singing it, explain that the bird you are singing about is the dove and that this is a song about and to the Holy Spirit.

Promise submission to the Spirit with "I'm Goin' to Sing When the Spirit Says Sing." Consider making up verses that coincide with the points of the day's sermon.

The Liturgical Child

1. This prayer of confession should be read by a worship leader (it is too hard for children to read):

God, you have baptized us with the Holy Spirit. You have filled us with your power, but we are afraid to use it. You have told us we can do great things in your name, but we say, "I've never done that before!" or "We couldn't do that!" You have promised that you will tell us what to say, but we are shy about speaking for you, even among our friends. You have given us eyes to see problems and minds to solve them, but we look away and say, "What a problem! That's too big for me to figure out!" Forgive us for ignoring the power you promise us. Forgive us for not trusting your power. Forgive us for not really wanting to try. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: God understands. God knows our fears and forgives them. God sticks with us and urges us on. God's power gives us the courage to try scary new ministries, to speak up when we know we should, and to say, "Let's try this." Thanks be to God.

2. If there are to be baptisms today, invite the children to come to the font or pool just before the baptism. Explain the ritual, paying special attention to the ways it reminds us that we are God's sons and daughters, and also to the role of the Holy Spirit. Allow the children to stay where they can see easily.

3. Remind worshipers of their own baptisms with water: Worship leaders could walk up and down the aisles, dipping a hand or evergreen branch into bowls of water, flinging the drops over the congregation, and saying such phrases as, "Remember, you are God's sons and daughters!" or "The power of God is with you and works through you!" Keep the phrases simple so that children understand them as they feel the water spray over them.

Sermon Resources

1. Introduce dove as a Christian code word. Recall other dove stories in the Bible and instruct listeners to expect stories of God's power wherever doves appear. Point out any dove symbols in your sanctuary.

2. Tell stories about the surprising power of God's Holy Spirit. For example, Robert Coles interviewed black children during the early 1960s when the schools in the South were being integrated. He was astounded by their courage in the face of daily threats from angry mobs. One eight-year-old girl from North Carolina told of a time when she was "all alone, and those [segregationist] people were screaming, and suddenly I saw God smiling, and I smiled. . . . A woman was standing there [near the school door], and she shouted at me, `Hey, you little n*****, what you smiling at?' I looked right at her face, and I said, `at God.' Then she looked up at the sky, and then she looked at me, and she didn't call me any more names" (The Spiritual Life of Children [Houghton Mifflin, 1990], pp. 19-20).


Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press

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