Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ by Daniel Bonnell
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INTROIT
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
by Elenyi & Sarah Young

CALL TO WORSHIP       
Today, we recall Jesus’ baptism.
In baptism, our Creator claims us and frees us from the power of hatred and death.
In baptism, we are joined to Christ and joined together.
In baptism, the Spirit of God anoints us for ministry and makes us signs of divine love.
We are the Body of Christ. We remember our baptism and celebrate our call.
Let us worship God!

PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Almighty God, strengthen us for ministry by granting us; 
Love for others, 
Joy in serving,
Peace in disagreement,
Patience in suffering,
Kindness toward all,
Faithfulness in temptation,
Gentleness in the face of opposition,
Self-control in all things.
In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Holy God of Wind and Water, Jesus was not simply a reformer. He was the bearer of a new covenant between God and the world. Confronting that mystery also confronts us. Lord, forgive us when we are reluctant to recognize the mystery of baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit that moves us to do ministry in your name. God of Love, when we remain bundled in our coldness and huddled in our fears, free us and move us to serve others and embrace your call. Amen.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
God was in Christ to reconcile the world. No longer does God hold misdeeds against us. Be humble and repent. You are forgiven. The old order is gone. God’s new order has already begun. God entrusts us to share this good news with the world. In hearing this good news, we say, “Thanks be to God.” 

GLORY PATRI
Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Isaiah 43:1-7
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

NEW TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Acts 8: 14-17
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


SERMON …………………………….… All Wet ………………………………….Rev. Mike Daly
Many years ago, on a Sunday morning, a minister called for the children in the church to come forward for the children’s message. About 35 kids came forward. Little five year old, Charlie rushed forward ahead of the other children. He took his usual spot, perching himself on the chancel banister so that he had the most visibility. “Don’t waste an opportunity to be cute and at the center of attention,” that was Charlie’s unspoken motto.  

The theme of the children’s message was about baptism and baptismal water. The message theme was a good fit for that morning because an infant had just been baptized moments earlier. Pointing to the baptismal font nestled amongst the children, the minister talked about how much fun water can be and how it can used for water slides or water balloons. It is cooling in the summer heat and how it turns to snow and ice in the winter. 

For little Charlie, that message wasn’t cutting it. Something else was on his mind. Some deeper curiosity had gripped him. The object of his interest was the baptismal font, which was right in front of him. He was almost straddling it from his perched position on that banister. 

And as the minister spoke, he could see Charlie with his peripheral vision staring down at the font. Charlie, who was usually the most vocal during the children’s message, was curiously quiet. The type of calm gets a minister’s radar for trouble on full alert. The little “attention seeker” was being “stealthy” and acting like he was the only one in the room. “What is he up to?” the minister thought inside his head while he was still talking with the other kids. 

Charlie looked left. Then, he looked right. Feeling as if he was in the clear, he reached for the lid of the baptismal font, lifted it a few inches, and reached in with his other hand. In one fluid motion, the wet hand was removed from the font and proceeded right for his forehead. You guessed it…a DIY baptism.  

In an effort to dry his hand, as if to get rid of the evidence, he shook it wildly. Water flung off his hand, provoking the kid next to him to say, “Hey, you’re getting us all wet.” The laughter in the church was deafening and little Charlie smiled with glee.

I think that is a marvelous way to understand baptism and how baptism works. Baptism is open to anyone and everyone. Jesus’ baptism touches us all. Jesus’ baptism gets us all wet (the effects stay with us).

It is interesting how Luke presents Jesus’ baptism to us. The gospel writer gives us a long detailed birth story. Two long stories actually – John and Jesus’ stories are told. But here, with very few words, Luke will quickly transition us from the end of John’s preaching mission and into the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. 

Baptism is the pivotal moment. For Luke, this “pivot” does not seem to require as much attention as the reason for why it is happening, and for what comes next. Luke offers Jesus’ baptism as the model for the church’s life in ministry. A time to mark our commitment to the work of God’s kingdom. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by his baptism, not described here but merely reported in half a verse: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” 

The people of that time wonder if John might be the messiah, but John lets them know that one more powerful is coming. John’s was a ministry of preparation for the messiah to come. He was preparing everyone for Jesus. According to Luke, the baptism of Jesus is with “all the people.” Jesus presented himself for baptism as an act of solidarity with a nation and the world of sinners (not the “saints”).  

Jesus simply got in line with everyone who had been broken by the “wear and tear” of this world. With people who had all but given up on themselves and their God because of being cast so far to the margins of society. As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, when the line of downtrodden and beleaguered people formed in hopes of second chances or even of new beginnings, Jesus joined them. At his baptism, he identified with the damaged and broken people—the people who needed God.

The questions worth asking are: do our churches truly identify with the sinners of the world? And are we willing to get in line with them too? Then, are we ready to do the work of compassion and justice so that the world will work for all? Luke doesn’t have Jesus say a single word out loud about his baptism, but after he is baptized, Jesus prays. Luke allows us to keep our minds -eye trained on what is happening. 

It would be interesting to capture John the Baptist’s thoughts here as well. He is warning everyone that Jesus was coming with his winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. It is a huge contrast, as it is Jesus, the gentle carpenter, who shows up along with the crowd to be baptized. 

BBT describes the revelation that occurs in this scene in simple terms – Jesus “goes into the waters of the Jordan a carpenter and comes out a Messiah. He is the same person, but with a new direction. His being is the same, but his ‘doing’ is about to take a radical turn.” It’s a subtle twist on the notion of “repentance,” which means, of course, a turning away or taking a new direction. Jesus doesn’t have to turn away from sin, but he is turning toward his ministry, according to Taylor.

Why in the world would those crowds, with Jesus among them, make the trek out into the wilderness to listen to a wild-eyed prophet warn them about fire and winnowing, and then to let him drag them down into a muddy river to (ironically) cleanse them of their sins and mark a new beginning to their lives? Biblical commentator Richard Swanson describes the desperate and deep hope of the people in those days. He says that John’s preaching doesn’t bring them out, but hope does. Jesus is right in the middle of that “multitude of Jews who are all waiting for the promises they heard about from their grandparents,” in a time when the backlog of un-kept promises is so enormous.

Maybe they can make a fresh start. Maybe they are thinking – this might be the moment they have been waiting for and longing for. Here is Jesus, about to start three years of desperately-needed ministry. He’ll be teaching and healing. He will feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. 

And even though the good news we celebrate at Christmas moves into action, there will be challenges and challengers. Jesus will develop ardent followers and determined opponents. People will follow him, and they’ll turn on him. They’ll praise him and wave palms and yell crucify him. And in preparation for the hazards of life ahead, God sends Jesus into the water for all of us.

We cling to the belief that this is enough. This assurance that God is so pleased with us, not because our lives have been smooth sailing, but because even in the deepest waters – we are always God’s beloved child. Just maybe these words will bring us a bit of peace where peace is so rarely found. 

We can take confidence and keep “our head above water.” As beloved and as beleaguered as we may be in the waters of life because we know with certainty this one thing: Jesus went into the LIVING water and came out again, and so indeed shall we. So shall we. Not only that, Jesus will be living water for our entire journey. 

As writer Kate Matthews says, in churches around the world today, people are still being baptized, still being washed in the living waters, still thirsting for God’s grace and a word of forgiveness and life, still waiting to be included, to find their place in the story of healing and salvation, still longing for the chance to start their life over. Just like those crowds coming out to the wilderness so long ago, with Jesus right there in their midst. 

The voice from heaven says, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.” These words may come from heaven, but they do not come out of the blue. They echo God’s words from Isaiah long before: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” (43:1b, 4a). 

The life of faith is a life of surprises, but in this Epiphany season, there is no doubt that we will be blessed to witness the workings of God’s Spirit in many and marvelous ways. From the smallest kindnesses to great healings; from stories of reconciliation and newfound faith to visions of ministry in this world that God loves. 

Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC
Joy Unto the World
by the Afters

DOXOLOGY
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

Benediction
May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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