Worship for Kids: January 13, 2019

December 2nd, 2018

From a Child's Point of View

Today's texts focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism, a difficult subject. But for children the basic message is that just as God's Holy Spirit was with Jesus, giving him the power for his work, God's Holy Spirit is also with us and works through us. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit is not something we deserve or earn but is given to us by God at our baptism. God gives the Holy Spirit to every Christian—even those who are different from us or those we do not like much.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. The focus in this story is not on what happened in the water, but on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Before the Holy Spirit descended at Jesus' baptism, Jesus worked in the carpenter shop, studied the Scriptures at the synagogue, thought deeply, and prayed. After the Holy Spirit descended, he began his work of teaching and healing. Children are interested in the difference the Holy Spirit made in Jesus' life and can make in ours.

Children need help to move past the appearance of the dove and identify other ways we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit (e.g., a sense of of deep peace at times in worship; knowing exactly what God wants us to do and feeling God with us as we do it; take a brave disciple's stand that we know we would not be brave enough to take on our own; feeling God very close to us; and so forth).

Old Testament: Isaiah 43:1-7. Though Isaiah addressed this message of hope to a people in exile, promising their return to their homeland, in the context of today's lections, it also could have been addressed to Jesus at his baptism and to us today. Children do not grasp the phrases that include references to Old Testament geography and speak symbolically of fire and water. But they do hear and claim scattered phrases that promise safety: "Do not fear, for I am with you" (vs. 5), and "I have called you by name, you are mine" (vs. 1b). These offer the security children crave and tie in with God's promises to Jesus and to us at baptism.

Epistle: Acts 8:14-17. The Holy Spirit is the mark of all Christians and is given by God—even to Samaritans and today's outsiders. The challenge to children is to follow the example of Peter and John, welcoming all who are baptized and recognizing that God's Holy Spirit lives in them and works through them too.

Psalm: 29. Psalm 29 celebrates the power of God felt in a thunderstorm. The psalm traces the path of a storm as it comes in from the sea, crosses the mountains, and moves into the desert. Children will not appreciate the connection for which this passage is read today (i.e., the connection between the water, wind, and fire of baptism and that of a thunderstorm). However, they will respond to the psalmist's invitation to the fearful child in each of us—not to fear the power of the storm but to let it remind us of God's great strength.

Watch Words

Check your Holy Spirit vocabulary. Holy Ghost sounds like a friendly sort of Halloween spook. Holy Spirit comes closer to the realities of the power that moves us to action. The ways we sense the presence of God's Spirit and respond to it are similar to the ways we sense and act on team spirit or patriotic spirit.

Avoid the harvest imagery (winnowing shovel, threshing grain, burning chaff). Today's nonagricultural children understand harvesting as gathering the good products, rather than as separating the good from the bad.

Let the Children Sing

The inner verses of "How Firm a Foundation" parallel Isaiah's promises. When fifth- and sixth-graders are told that these verses are God's promises to them, they can understand the promises as they sing them.

None of the hymns about Jesus' baptism is particularly attractive for, or make much sense to, children. However, "Open My Eyes, That I May See" is a prayer to be as responsive to God's Spirit as Jesus was. Children understand and share its specific, everyday requests.

"The Lone, Wild Bird" and "I'm Goin' a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing" are simple folk tunes about the Spirit that children enjoy.

The Liturgical Child

1. Highlight regular elements of your worship that mention Spirit: the Gloria Patri, Doxology, etc. Put each one into your own words. For example, in the Gloria Patri we praise God whose Spirit gives us the power to live and work as his people, and we remember that God's Spirit has been at work in God's people since the beginning of time and will be until the end of time. Note in passing that Holy Ghost is an old name for the Holy Spirit. (This might be done as the references come up in worship or during the sermon.)

2. If there are baptisms, invite children forward where they will be able to see. Point out the ways the Spirit is mentioned and involved in promises made and actions taken. Put one of the key traditional phrases into your own words, or tell what we mean when we say it. For example, in infant baptism you could say, "When we pray for God's Spirit to dwell in name, we are praying that name will learn about God and Jesus as he/she grows up and will be a loving, kind person. We pray that one day name will stand before a congregation to make his/her own profession of faith and become Christ's disciple. None of that is possible without God's Spirit working in him/her."

3. To emphasize the sense of the thunderstorm in Psalm 29, invite the congregation to accompany the reading of the psalm by following a "hand-choir" director. The director stands near the reader and shows the congregation what to do:

verses 1-2 hands folded in lap
verses 3-4 pat lap in strong, slow cadence
verses 5-6 beat the pew seats or pewbacks a little faster
verses 7-9 clap hands still faster
verses 10-11 fold hands in laps again

The reader will need to read with a strong voice to be heard and to emphasize the strength of God's voice in the storm. If you cannot imagine your congregation doing this, ask a children's class to serve as a hand choir to accompany the reader. This group and the reader should practice together.

Sermon Resources

1. Explain the use and purpose of a breath prayer and suggest that worshipers use God's baptismal promise—"I have called you by name, you are mine"—as a breath prayer several times a day this week. Lead worshipers in practicing the prayer with the breathing. Describe what it would mean to pray the prayer in a variety of situations, such as getting up in the morning, when you feel very capable and good about yourself, when you've received a bad grade or someone has made you feel very stupid, and so forth. Encourage members of households to share their experiences with this prayer each day this week.

2. Tell stories about times you have sensed the Holy Spirit's presence in the life and work of this congregation. Include activities such as worship services, retreats, mission projects, and educational moments in which children have participated. Describe what happened, how it felt to be there, and what made you sense that the Holy Spirit was involved.

About the Author

Carolyn C. Brown

Carolyn C. Brown is a certified Christian educator and children’s ministry consultant who believes children read more…
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