Christ: Jesus Calls the Twelve

When Christ calls a person, he bids them come and die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Introduction

The wonderful story of how Jesus calls the twelve disciples is one with which all of our children are likely familiar.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose birthday is today, by the way!) uses the story of Jesus’ call of the disciples to show how costly full obedience to Christ is. The disciples give up everything they have and (seemingly) without question follow Jesus as he gathers around himself twelve people for the term of his ministry (a term which, by the way, ends in their deaths). On this, Bonhoeffer writes: “Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering” (142).

The demands of Christ are steep for the disciples; their resolve to follow him in all things is admirable. What does Jesus require of us? What does it mean to follow God fully in this life? What does full obedience look like?

Hear the Story

Our story this week has several different sections: Matthew 4:18-22 (Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John); Matthew 9:-13 (Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector); Matthew 10:1-4 (a list of the disciples). You may also read the story in one of our children’s Storybook Bibles. You may find this story under the title “Jesus calls his Disciples” in The Children’s Illustrated Bible (210-11); “Twelve Helpers” in Jesus Calling Bible Storybook (156-7); “Let’s Go!” in The Jesus Storybook Bible (208-14).

Respond to the Story

(1.) Fish and Fishing for People: Fish are an important symbol for Christianity almost from the beginning (they appear in many of our stories–Jesus shares a small child’s loaves and fishes, Jesus eats a fish to show his disciples that he has really resurrected, Jesus make a fish breakfast for the disciples by the sea of Tiberius). The imagery and lifestyle that came with fishing would have been of great significance for many of Jesus’ early followers. What does it mean when Jesus says that he will make the disciples “fishers of people”? Is this to be the disciple’s new vocation and livelihood?

a. Cut out and decorate paper fish. Each child can make individual fish OR several fish that can be used on a mobile OR many fish that can all be strung together as a long classroom banner.

(2.) The Shields and Symbols of the Apostles: We remember the apostles not only by the stories they told about Jesus, but also by looking at shields, which help tell the story of each apostle.  Use the shields to help you explore the stories of the various apostles and complete some of the activities below. Find a Description for each of the shields here. Older children may want to take turns describing the shields.  Many of them show how the disciples died.  Help the kids imagine ways that the disciples followed Jesus in life and death.

a. Paper Doll Disciples and their symbols: Find information about each of the Apostles here (page 8 on the .pdf). Make a paper people chain of twelve using these directions and this template. Older students may be able to cut out the people chain by themselves. Then, using the information you learned about the Apostles, illustrate them with symbols and defining features of their ministries.

b.  Clay Shields: Invite each child to select one of the shields of the disciples to recreate in 3-d using clay. The colorful tub of sculpey clay in the supply closet would be great for this. Place each of the final creations on a piece of paper marked with each child’s name and leave them for me to photograph. Children may take them home next week.

c. Gifts of the Disciples/Gifts from us (Adapted from an activity written by Wren in 2012): Invite children to create their own crest. One half is a symbol of something Jesus might ask them to give up to follow him. The other half is a symbol of a gift they could use to help others follow Jesus. Jesus asked the disciples to give up an important part of their lives to follow him. Ask the children if they have ever had to give up something because they are Christians.  On one half of your shield, paint a symbol of something you have given up (or would be willing to give up) for Jesus, if you were asked.

Jesus also used the gifts of his disciples to help him spread the good news of God’s kingdom.  [Eg., Matthew, the tax collector, would have been an educated person in order to be a tax collector. So he knew how to write. How did Matthew use that gift to tell others about Jesus? (He wrote the Gospel of Matthew.) What is a gift or skill that you have that Jesus might use, i.e., Do you make friends easily and could invite someone to church? Do you play soccer well enough to help teach someone else? While you are teaching them could you tell them about Jesus? On the other half of your shield, paint a symbol of a gift or skill you could use to help others learn about Jesus.

(4.) Games

a. Jesus Says (like Simon Says): Jesus called each of the disciples “follow me” and they did immediately. They left behind work that needed to be done and family members who may have relied on them, but the call of God was very strong. With your class play a version of Simon Says in which one person plays “Jesus” while the rest of the class follows Jesus commands. Discuss what it means for us to follow Jesus in our lives together.

b. Red Rover and Follow the Leader: Jesus gathers the disciples around him one or two at a time until he has the twelve who will faithfully follow him throughout his ministry. Play Red Rover, Red Rover (send [name] right over). Appoint one child to play Jesus and ask them to gather their disciples. It’s okay if there are not 12 children. Once all of the disciples are gathered, have your students “Follow Jesus” on a walk around the church (outside if it isn’t too cold or wet).

(5.) Songs for Young Children

a. “Fishers of Men” (tune and lyrics for multiple verses may be found on this video)

I will make you Fishers of Men,

Fishers of Men, Fishers of Men.

I will make you Fishers of Men,

If you follow me.

If you follow me.

If you follow me.

I will make you Fishers of Men,

If you follow me.

b. “Jesus Called Them One by One” (to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”):

Verse 1:

Jesus called them one by one,

Peter, Andrew, James, and John

Next came Philip, Thomas too

Matthew and Bartholomew

Chorus:

Yes, Jesus called them, (x3)

He called them one by one.

Verse 2:

James, the one they called the less,

Simon also Thaddeus

Twelve apostles Judas made

Jesus was betrayed by him.

Close in Prayer and with a Feast

Christ: Jesus is Baptized

The Baptism of Our Lord Christ, Cappella Scrovegni of Padova

Introduction

One of the benefits of going through the Bible somewhat chronologically is that we can see the way particular themes developed in earlier stories emerge later, especially the ways that various themes–creation, crisis, covenant–come together in the ministry, life, and death of Jesus. These are similarities that we might otherwise miss, dismissing them as narrative details, but which the Biblical writers may have used to create intention connections between stories. People hearing these stories for the first time would have caught the repetition of some of these themes because they knew their Scripture (at the the time just the Old Testament) very well. This week as we work with the baptism of Jesus, we see several images, themes, and motifs from earlier Biblical stories and it reminds us of all that God has done for God’s people, and all that God is doing in the person and work of Christ. Let’s take a look at how some of our earlier themes repeat in the story of Jesus baptism in the synoptic Gospels (courtesy of Laurence Hull Stookey in Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church). Shall we?

Creation and New Creation

“In reading the accounts of the baptism of Jesus we regard the mention of water, the Spirit, and a voice as narrative detail; but the writers intended far more. Genesis 1:1-3 mentions water, the Spirit of God, and the voice of God in conjunction with creation. Specific mention of these three in the Synoptic narratives is intended to point to the fact that Christ is instituting a new creation” (94).

The Flood and the Dove 

“…at the baptism of the Lord, the Spirit is made manifest like a dove. We tend to suppose that the authors simply picked a metaphor according to whim [… but] it is intended to connect the baptism of Jesus with the story of deliverance in Noah’s day. After the deluge, it was a dove that returned with evidence of creation renewed” (95).

Jesus as the New Moses

“After passing through the sea, Moses led his people in the wilderness for forty years, during which time they encountered many temptations. After passing through the water of baptism, Jesus by going into the wilderness for forty days, recapitulates and brings to fulfillment the experience of Israel. […] Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses who fulfills the Law, and brings new revelation and covenant from God” (95).

The themes from our earlier stories are here repeating. In this we can affirm at once that God is doing a new thing in Christ and also working the way that God always has–forming and making a people who belong to God through water. It’s no surprise that in Epiphany, when we focus so much on the identity of Christ,  that the story of his baptism (which is the story for the first Sunday of Epiphany) should have so much to say about that identity. To add to this identity piece just a bit, our own baptism (which is a participation in Christ’s baptism) creates and highlights our identity as God’s people.

The River, a Mosaic by John August Swanson

Hear the Word

You can read the story of Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22, Mark 1:9-11, or Matthew 3:13-17. Alternatively, you can share the story from The Jesus Storybook Bible which, in addition to Jesus’ baptism, has details about John’s ministry in the story “Heaven Breaks Through” (200-7). The Children of God Storybook Bible shares the story under the title “God Blesses Jesus: Jesus is Baptized” (68).

Respond to the Word

(1.) Looking for the Story: Older students may like to compare the stories of Jesus baptism and think together about some of the stories that we have worked with so far this year. After reading through all three of the texts from the Synoptic Gospels, ask what images your students have seen before. In conversation, work out the significance of the similarities between the stories–does it matter that there is a dove in the Noah story and in Jesus’ baptism or is it just a coincidence?

(2.) Group Act-out: Divide your class into three groups. Assign one of the Gospel passages to each group of students (if they are of reading age, provide a printed copy of the text they are working on). Give the groups some time to plan a short skit and then present it to the class in whatever way they choose. Discuss how the passages are similar and how they are different. What do we know about Jesus and his ministry after his baptism?

(3.) Water Droplet or Baptism art: You can offer your students the opportunity to make a piece of water art similar to this (using paint, watercolors, or whatever else you might like to use; Ask them to first write something from the story–“this is my son, the Beloved”–in a white crayon so that as they cover their page with paint, the words appear). You can also use a coloring page, this one or this one are good options. If you don’t want to use these sheets in your class, you can send them home with your students.

(4.) Finger painting: Water is such a mundane and ordinary substance, and yet it plays such a significant role in sustaining our lives and in the story of salvation. Ask your students to reflect on why water is so important? Why does God keep using it in God’s work in the world? Think together of all of the stories where water plays a significant role (Noah’s ark, Jonah and the whale, the Israelites crossing the Jordan). Is this a coincidence? Could God have used something different? Is there something interesting about God’s work that could not be communicated without water? Paint water on large pieces of paper using blue, green, and white finger paint. (You can use shirts in the supply closet to protect children’s clothing).

(5.) Water songs: Think about worship songs that have water themes. “I’ve Got a River of Life” with motions is a great option for our young kids (and it will get them moving!). “Wade in the Water” is a song that our children know and love from VCS, music time, and church (some of them might even remember the movements for “God’s gonna trouble the water”). For this song, focus on just the chorus. Or, if your students are older and familiar with the song, focus on the chorus and one verse. “Down in the River” (“As I went down in the river to pray….”) is another one that is easy to introduce to your students. Contact a musician if you would like to bring music into your class.

Close in Prayer and with a Feast

The Baptism of Our Lord painted by Casera Bazile 1951

Christ: Jesus Teaches in the Temple

Introduction

Aside from the story of the Magi (from Matthew), and the story of Jesus teaching in the temple, we don’t know very much about Jesus’ early life. Even those stories we do have are vague, hardly satisfying our journalistic desire for details and  interesting stories. The story of Jesus teaching in the temple happens well before Jesus’  public ministry. Even then, we are already starting to see Jesus’ identity as a prophet and teacher. We also get a glimpse, albeit a vague one, of Jesus’ relationship with his family. Children may be interested in thinking about Jesus as a child just like them. It is a time when we can emphasize that Jesus was a real human: a living, breathing, growing, and learning person with a family and experiences ( most of which we know little to nothing about). It might be interesting to wonder why this is. Why did the Gospel writers not think to say much of Jesus’ early life? Why is this story one of the only one’s we have? Is it that important? What does this story say about Jesus and the other stories might not say? Did Jesus already know who he was and what that meant?

Hear the Story

Our story today may be found in Luke 2:41-52. Since it is a pretty short story, it’s an ideal one to share from a real Bible rather than one of the storybook Bibles.

Respond to the Story

Every once in a while, it is good to offer open-ended response opportunities to your students. It encourages them to identify something about the story that stands out to them, something that they find important. If none of the ideas below stand out to you, use the resources on the Hearing and Responding to Stories page to generate ideas.

Open-ended response: Choose one or two of the response types below, then set up your classroom space. After you share the story, tell your students that they can respond to the story at one of the stations. Allow students to work independently, and check in as their work progresses. Encourage them and help them if they get stuck by asking questions. You may want to ask them about the content by saying something like, “tell me about your picture here.” Keep all of the art at the end of the class so that we can hang them up. The biggest prep for this is the way you lay out materials, so think about items that you know are in the supply closet, and how they might encourage open-ended exploration.

1. Body Response: For this station, set out costumes, and objects that represent materials from the story and encourage your students to act out the story together. It might be especially helpful to ask them about the different characters in the story and how they reacted–How did Mary and Joseph respond to Jesus’ answer that he was doing his Father’s work? What story from the Old Testament might Jesus have been responding to?

Alternatively, they can tell the story to each other and come up with body gestures (every time someone says Scribes or teachers, everyone takes a particular body posture).

2. Artistic Response:  Provide blank pieces of paper, a variety of materials, and something like paint or colored pencils. Ask them to think about the part of the story that is most important to them. Then, invite students to create an artistic depiction of that part of the story.

3. 3-D Artistic Response: Offer play-doh or modeling clay from the supply closet. Cover the tables with brown craft paper and allow them to work with an image or theme from the story that was important to them. Ask questions and offer a listening ear as they work.

4. Written Response: For this response, provide writing materials and a couple of prompts to choose from. Encourage students to illustrate their writings. Here are some suggested prompts:

What part of the story is most important and why?

If you could change one or more things about the story, what would it be and why?

If you were asked to tell this story to someone, how would you tell it?

Ask your students to help you clean up the space before snack and closing in prayer. 

Christ: Simeon and Anna see Jesus

Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Psalter of Queen Melisende (1131-1143)

Introduction

In Advent, we talked some about Israel’s waiting for a Messiah. Last week, we saw that even people outside of the Jewish world were waiting and looking for a savior and king. The Magi’s search for the Christ child led them to meet and worship Jesus before returning to their homelands. In Epiphany, we meet some of individuals whose lives were set aside for the work of waiting for God to act in a savior. Simeon and Anna meet Jesus in the temple and prophesy about his role in the redemption of the world and Israel. Here is a short article/commentary on our text for today.

Epiphany is about the identity of Jesus as Messiah coming to light. The stories that we cover during this season are epiphanies of God’s work in the person of Christ. It is our task during the Season of Epiphany to take notice of how Jesus comes to be the Messiah of the people, how he is the light of the world, and a savior for all people.

As your students gather in your classroom, you may want to turn off the lights and light candles (I can put candles from our Epiphany event in your classrooms or you can find white votive candles in the CE Supply Closet).

Hear the Story

Strangely, this story is passed over in many children’s Bibles; I only found it in one–Children’s Illustrated Story Bible  by Selina Hastings. I am not sure why this story is left out because it is really wonderful and great for children. From a Bible, Read Luke 2:21-39. This story includes the detail that Mary and Joseph went to the temple for Mary’s purification according to Jewish custom, they meet Simeon who blesses Jesus and prophesies to Mary, and Anna who prophecies about Jesus as a savior for Israel.

Respond to the Story

(1.) The Song of Simeon: The Song of Simeon, also called the Nunc Dimittis, is found among the canticles (#17) for Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer (p.93). It is also one of two canticles that is selected for evening prayer (the other being the Magnificat or Song of Mary, this can be found on page 120).

Lord, you have now set our servant free

to go in peace as you have promised;

For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,

whom you have prepared for all the world to see:

A light to enlighten the nations,

and the glory of your people Israel.

Here are some suggestions for how your might spend your class period with the Song of Simeon:

  • Work together to memorize the prayer.
  • Make a prayer book of Simeon’s song. Students can write each line of the prayer on a different page and provide illustrations. Encourage them to pray the Song with their families every night this week.
  • Listen to some of the chants of the Song of Simeon. Here or here (in Latin). Alternatively, you can play this music in the background as your students work on any of the writing, art or prayer activities in this post.
  • Practice lectio divina, a way of listening to, meditating on, and praying Scripture. Read the prayer out loud slowly. With older children you can read the prayer multiple times (ask different students to serve as readers each time). Ask students to choose a word or phrase that stands out to them. Discuss what the word or phrase says about who God is in Christ. Younger students can reflect on their favorite word (try reading a sentence or two instead of the whole prayer) and illustrate the word in different mediums.

(2.) Create a living Montage: Instead of acting out the story, make a list of some of the people we have talked about who have encountered Christ (shepherds, Magi, Simeon and Anna, etc.). Choose a student to represent each of the characters. Use costumes if you would like. As a class, create a visual profile for each of the characters (it could look like a social media or newspaper page). For example, a page on Simeon might have his name at the top, a passport style photo, and a  that reads “waited for the Christ until he was very old.” At the end of the class, the characters can be presented and described using the profiles created by the class.

(3.) The Presentation in Paintings: This story is a popular one in art history. Print out different images of the presentation of Jesus at the temple–here, here, here, or here. Discuss the pieces together and then have children create their own painting or drawing  using the images for inspiration.

(4.) Make an Epiphany Banner: In the church Epiphany is an exciting time during which we celebrate that God comes into the world and makes Godself known in incarnation and the ministry and person of Jesus. Create a celebratory banner. Use bright colors (Gold and white are the liturgical colors for the season of Epiphany), stars, and (if you dare) glitter. Let the banner dry and I will pick it up and hang it up in the commons next week.

(5.) Sing Together: If you are musically inclined or if you would like a musician to come to your class, you may want to learn or sing one or all of the songs below. After you finish with each of the songs, you may want to talk about what it means for us and how it helps us remember that Jesus is the light of the world and the savior for all people. For This Little Light of Mine,

  • Marching in the Light of GodLyrics.
  • He has the Whole World in his Hands. You may want to prompt students to name the people who have come up in recent stories: “He’s got [Simeon and Anna | Kings of the world | Shepherds in the fields| Mary and Joseph | angels in the sky | Israel and the Gentiles | you and me brother/sister etc.]  in his hands.” Encourage them to name people in the story before singing the song. Talk about how God showed up for each of these characters.
  • This Little Light of Mine: you may want to discuss how Jesus being a light for the world means that we, as God’s people, should carry that light wherever we go.

Close in Prayer and with a Feast

Christ: Travelers from the East Encounter Christ

Take some time to adjust to your classroom and become reacquainted with it’s rhythms. If you have “rules or guidelines” for behavior, spend a moment on those. If your class is working on memorizing a particular piece of Scripture/song/prayer, work with that. Also take a bit of time to reconnect socially after our long break. Play a name game and ask you students about their Christmas celebrations thus far. Use this as an opportunity to share with them that the season of Christmas is still happening–in fact, it’s a 12 day celebration that wont end for a another two days (from Sunday)!

Illuminated Manuscript of Farnborough Abbey

Introduction

This week’s story is a favorite of mine and a familiar one for most of our students. Our Gospel from Matthew 2:1-12 highlights that Jesus is not just King and Savior for those who are near (the shepherds), but even for those who are far off (the Magi); Jesus is the King and Savior for all people.

Matthew shares that the Magi bring exotic and expensive gifts: gold (fit for royalty), frankincense (used in worship), and myrrh (an expensive perfume used for embalming). Each of these gifts represent something symbolic about who Jesus is. How do the Magi understand the birth of this Baby? This is a theme you may want to explore with your class.

As an interesting aside, Matthew shares with us the three gifts of the Magi, but not the number of visitors. In fact, early tradition held that there were 12 visitors–representing the 12 tribes of Israel–but Matthew offers no such detail. Noticing the differences in what we remember about the story and the fact that the text does not specify this particular detail reminds us to pay close attention, even to those stories we know quite well.

Hear the Story

In the new year, we would like to have our children grow more familiar with their Bibles. We almost always work on Bible stories, but we want them to know how to find stories in the Bible and develop skills for reading the Bible together. This is especially important for our older children (in 2nd grade and above), but our younger children (3 years–1st grade) need a good foundation too. Begin sharing the story with your students by sharing where this story comes from.  For this story, you might say: “Our story is from the Gospel of Matthew. It is the first book in the New Testament and it is called a Gospel because it shares with us stories about the good news of Jesus Christ. There are three other books that have these special stories. They are also called Gospels–they are Mark, Luke, and John. We read a story from one of these four special books every week in Church. When we read these stories in church we usually stand while we listen because they are so important to us.” Plan on doing this kind of brief introduction every week this year. In the future, I will suggest more hands-on ways for your students to become familiar with the Bible in concrete ways.

This story, Matthew 2:1-12, is wonderful for reading directly from a real Bible translation for most of our age groups. It is also a very popular story in our children’s Bibles and some of our storybooks (in the Christian Education library).

Respond to the Story

1. Act out the Story: After reading the story, grab some of the costumes and accessories from our supply closets and act out the story in groups of three or four. Discuss the long travel, the Magi’s experience in the company of Herod, their encounter with the Christ child, and their return home. What were their experiences? What did they think when the encountered Jesus and did it make any difference for them? Why did they return home another way, avoiding a second visit with Herod?

2. A Gift for Christ: Discuss the three gifts that the Magi bring to the Baby Jesus. Wonder together about what they mean and why these gifts would be given to a baby. What use did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have for these gifts and what do you think they did with them? I mentioned above what each of these gifts was used for, are these symbols significant? Do they help us reflect on the life (or death) of Jesus? Discuss also what gifts we bring to Christ. Teachers might share about a gift that they have given to Christ. Ask your students to create a poster of the gifts they have to offer to God and God’s people. Share our “gifts to God” with the rest of the class.

3. Star ornaments: You can make a star ornament for the children to put on their tree or near their household creche. A simple Popsicle stick ornament made from three overlapping Popsicle sticks may work well. For older children, invite them to write part of the story (Maybe Matthew 2:10) on the back of the ornament.

4. Three Magi Popsicle stick craft: Make this three Magi craft together. Crafts like this work well when we invite the children to share the story with us after. We are doing more than just creating a cute craft, we are helping them find and create resources to explore the story further when they go home. Ask you students to practice this by having them share the story with one another using their magi figures. Remind them to do the same thing from their parents, grandparents, or siblings.

5. Wise Men visit Jesus Finger Play (our 3+4 year old class will love this!): Learn this short finger play about the Magi’s visit to the Baby Jesus by watching this video.

6. Mosaics: By now you may well know my love for mosaic and collage responses. You can use this collage mosaic of a star (there is one of the three magi right below it) as inspiration for a class poster of your own.

7. We Three Kings: Teach your students all the verses to We Three Kings (lyrics can be found here), a carol composed by an Episcopal priest in Pennsylvania in 1857. In this song, all of the singers sing the first and last verse and the refrain. Each of the three kings sings about the gift they are bringing to the infant king. Spend a bit of time looking at the words and discussing what they mean.

Bonus: As a bonus activity, once you finish working with the song by talking about it and singing it together, each child may enjoy pretending that they are bringing one of these gifts to Jesus. Write a letter to a friend explaining why the gift is important and what it means. They may want to choose a different gift–maybe one of the gifts that they personally offer to God–and write a letter to a friend explaining what the gift it and what it means.

8. Bible Verse Memorization: First, each child can find the story in a Bible. Then, choose a part of the story or a verse that your class would like to memorize together (good options are 2:5-6, 9, 10, 0r 11). Use group and small team memorization games to learn part of the story by heart.

Close with Prayer and a Feast

We share a small