Celebration of the Baptism of Jesus
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
Sons of God are made not born. (ref. St. Jerome)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
LIGHTING THE CANDLE (If you are using a candle at home)
May the light of this candle remind us of the possibility for everyone to achieve truth and goodness in our lives, if we only seek it.
R: a baby’s first cry, the petals of a rose, mist-covered hills, the restless tides of the seas, human love, human hope.
L: We respond:
R: with gratitude, with joy, with wonder, at life’s boundless possibilities.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
As we gather in this place of worship, challenge us, O God, with your truth and inspire us with your love. Then as we return to our worlds of work and learning and living, enlighten us with your wisdom, and empower us with your strength. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation “Awareness” by Cynthia Brown.
Small feet taste the wave-washed sand. Black and white, white and black.What matter? It’s another friend.
The sea, deep turquoise, meets azure sky arching high above. The sun is warm, it sparkles on the ocean. Space. Peace. Timelessness.
Two children meeting. I watch and am touched by the Glory of God.
Let us gather together in the silence of this place, which now we make holy by our every act of worship. (30-second silence)
OPENING UP TO GOD’S GRACE
God our Creator and Saviour, we are creatures who need your constant assistance. Without it we will never completely break free from those forces, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, that compromise our spirit, and make unholy alliance with the evil in the world around us. Our need is not for a quick-fix, with cheap forgiveness followed by pious but impractical good intentions. Rather we pray for an ongoing radical transformation within our deepest being.
We ask for more and more of your saving grace. For the ability to discern our own secretive sins and to muster the desire to sincerely repent. We need a mercy that reaches into those depths where spiritual hungers and furtive corruptions co-exist. We want you to forgive our self-treachery, to eradicate any mutiny, and then liberate those holy desires which long to rise up into loving thoughts and faithful deeds.
Please immerse us in your healing waters of your love. Baptise us with your Spirit. Let us know that we are truly made in your image and destined for heights more beautiful than we can ever imagine. Through Christ Jesus, who for our sakes was baptised by water and the Spirit. Amen!
My fellow Christians, dare to be cheerful. Jesus said: “I have come that you may have life, and possess it to the full!” You are not hopeless! And so I can declare to you the door to life has been opened to us./ Thanks be to God!
FROM THE PSALMS – Ps. 29: 2-11
Of note in this psalm is the image of God that it conveys: mighty, powerful, terrifying. Contrast it with the image of God that is presented in the gospel reading. “The voice of the Lord upon the waters,” which shakes mountains in the psalm, alights as gently as a dove in the gospel.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
11 The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.
FROM THE EARLY CHURCH – Acts 19:1-7
19 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7 altogether there were about twelve of them.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 1:4-11
We know nothing about Jesus prior to his baptism. For thirty years or so – an entire lifetime in those days – he lived in anonymous obscurity. Then from this moment he became a wandering rabbi who made an indelible mark on the world in three short years. What happened to him? What happened to God? Perhaps we can gain a clue as we explore this significant experience.
4 John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Chaos, Creation & God”
“And the Spirit brooded over the waters of creation…” The Christmas season has ended, and we pick up the story with Jesus’ baptism. For Mark, who cares nothing about birth stories, the baptism of Jesus was THE beginning, where the spirit brooded over the waters of the Jordan. The readings remind us that the one born of our flesh, one like us, is the servant of God, a Son of God who brings a promise of justice and hope to a world in desperate need.
According to Isaiah, the ministry of a servant of God is concerned with justice for all and tenderness toward those who have been broken. That same ministry, with the same divine approval, has now been given to us in the same way it was given to Jesus. Our own baptism brought us into the circle of the children of God and commissioned us to continue the work begun by Jesus. And what might this entail?
We live in a time of great unrest. The world seems poised on the brink of chaos; businesses and individuals face financial instability from the impact of the Covid pandemic; the turmoil within the parts of the worldwide church threatens its longstanding foundation, wars rags on many fronts and, now, the very environment that sustains life is threatened. No one is untouched by some form of the chaos that threatens to swallow us alive. Where can we turn when the institutions meant to give refuge from chaos are themselves the source of its threat?
In the Bible, chaos is frequently portrayed as unruly water threatening to wipe out every living thing (for example, the flood in Genesis). Today’s Psalm reminds us in no uncertain terms: “The Lord is enthroned above the flood.” It assures us that God rules over the chaos in which we find ourselves. Indeed, God was at the divinely creative best as the spirit brooded over the primordial waters, and God brought order out of the chaos; newness out of the old.
As Jesus came forth from the waters of the Jordan, his life took a new direction. As his followers, we emerge from the waters of baptism as new people, who with God’s help are willing to counter the chaos of our world. In the midst of chaos it is not always easy to be patient for the new creation that will arise from it. Faith is always a threat to be submerged under the seas of anxiety and fear.
It won’t help much for me to simply stand up here and tell you that it will all be okay in the end, but while you are waiting for the storms of life to abate and chaos give way once more to order, perhaps a story might help pass the time. I am told that it is a true story, and I trust my source; however, if it is not a true story, it certainly could have been.
A young vicar was delivering his sermon to his Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) congregation in downtown Macon, Georgia in the late sixties. For those of you who are not familiar with US geography, Georgia is in the deep south, which is very pertinent to the story, for you may recall that the late 60’s was a time of uproar, some might say chaos, particularly in the southern states of the U.S. There were the protests against the Vietnam War, women were waking up to the feminist movement, the civil rights movement was shaking the very fabric of the segregationist south and young people were finding even more ways tha6 usual to be outrageous. As a university student, I thought they were marvellous and exciting times, but not all of the older generation agreed.
Well, all of this was swirling around the young vicar’s congregation, which included some of the city fathers, who made it clear to their young pastor that on Sundays they wanted some rest from the unrest. They wanted to come to church and slip peacefully into the rhythms of the their prayerbook, and then hear an uplifting, well-thought-out sermon about love or some-such-thing, sing a few rousing well-known hymns, say the old familiar prayers, including the one about ‘bewailing their manifold sins,’ and then they wanted to be done with it and go home to their roast dinners.
It so happened that newcomers were showing up in church these days, some in jeans and long hair, even rock musicians. The newcomers got involved in outreach ministries, such as serving the poor, which was sort of okay with church leaders. But the newcomers also wanted the poor, and anyone else, to come to church, which was not okay. These newcomers even put an advertisement in the newspaper with the Sunday service schedule and a picture of a black sheep, followed by the words, “Come As You Are.”
Inviting even more strange people to flock to the church through the newspaper with connotation that some of the sheep might be black? Well that was the last straw for the traditionalists. One woman posted a letter to the entire parish in which she stated that the reach of the outreach people had exceeded the grasp of any sensible person by a long shot.
Before you drift off, thinking that this was almost 60 years ago, and the church has changed, had better think again. A while back I showed you a TV commercial the Churches of Christ had launched nationwide, portraying the church as welcoming; welcoming anyone. There was such an uproar over it, that two of the three major TV networks refused to air the ad as well as many regional networks. All it showed was people being welcomed into a church; all kinds of people, some of whom were obviously poor, others who probably were leading an alternative life style of one kind or another, some who an addiction to one substance or another, others who dressed funny.
So let’s get back to our story of 60 years ago, but timeless nevertheless.
The lack of appreciation of the efforts of the newcomers and their outreach ministry pervaded the atmosphere on the Sunday in question. The scripture lessons for the day included Mark’s description of an encounter between Jesus and some Pharisees, where Jesus reminds them of a passage from Isaiah, “…as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’…You abandon the commandment from God and hold to human tradition.”
Well, what more solid scriptural platform could the young minister want? He quoted the text and then launched, subtly of course, into repenting the sins of the traditionalists. He spoke with assurance, deftly weaving the stories of Isaiah’s community, Jesus’s crowd and the world of Macon, Georgia. He described the parallels in a gently ironic tone, and as he looked out over the congregation, everyone in the crowded church seemed transfixed. If the truth be told, he was rather pleased with himself. Then, as he paused for breath, it happened.
A lady stood up. Not one of the new, casual types who might be standing to applaud and say, “right on.” Oh no, the lady who stood was one of the old timers; the one, in fact, who had written the letter denouncing the vicar’s newspaper ad. It flashed through his mind that she definitely was not standing to applaud or shout, “right on!”
Instead, she talked back. In contrast to modern congregations where people are encouraged to participate in a dialogue, talking back in the Episcopalian city church of Macon, Georgia in the 1960s was not done. She said to the vicar, “Do you mean to say that, for all these years, we have been wrong?”
The young man opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. He stood mute in the pulpit and for a few moments all was silence, while the Spirit brooded over Macon, Georgia. Then another voice in the congregation spoke up, and then another. Some people talked about trying to become part of the church and being frozen out. Others mourned the loss of respect for traditions long held dear. Some yelled in anger and others spoke about their fear of what the church and the whole world were coming to. And many people cried.
The members of the congregation argued among themselves for 20 minutes, while the vicar stood in the pulpit….and listened. Then for a moment, all was silence again. He said, “I don’t know what to do. What do we do now?”
Someones said, “We might as well have the Lord’s supper,” and so they had communion. By the time he got home, the vicar said that he was a changed preacher, because he never again climbed into the pulpit without remembering that the possibility existed that someone might talk back. And he never again spoke from the pulpit without recognising that perhaps the gospel would not be heard in his well-chosen words, but would be heard instead by him and everyone else through an interruption.
You can guess the rest of the story. Like Paul and the Gentiles and Richard Nixon and China, the enraged traditional woman became the instrument of reconciliation between the old-timers and the new people. She was first woman ever on the vestry of that church (i.e. church council) and, largely through her sponsorship, the first female priest in Georgia came to that congregation. And through the grace of God shining in her and some others, the doors to that church were opened even wider to invite strangers in and send disciples out to love and serve.
The story of the Macon, Georgia church is a dramatic story, but it is not an isolated or even unusual one. Over the centuries millions of people have become children of God, not only in name through baptism, but in practice. It is all too easy to get caught up with our failures, our omissions, and be rendered inert by the chaos and anxiety around us. Look instead at the times God has made a difference in and through our congregation. Here among us there are any number of people who have done things so undeniably faithful, so undeniably right, that it can be said that their doing could only be described as a gift of a loving God. Let us celebrate this on the way to serving even more faithfully.
We may not hear a verbal voice; we may not see the Spirit descending like a dove; but I believe God still utters the affirmation, “This is my beloved child with whom I am well-pleased.” On this day we do not look back to Christmas, but forward to the task ahead, trusting that some day it may be said of us, “Here is my servant whom I uphold.”
While researching the subject of chaos, Rev. Bob became interested in the role of chaos in creation, which resulted in a paper entitled “Chaos, Creation and God.” If you are interested in reading further, and would like a more academic treatment of the subject, you can download Bob’s paper by clicking here: Chaos, Creation and God
LITANY – ‘Travelling On”
L: In response to the word reflected on, let us share together a special litany. When hope invites us to journey elusive, beckoning onward, but never in our grasp:
All: God of wisdom and promise give us courage to travel on.
Wn: When dreams glimmer in the distance, fading, clouded and hidden or shining with new brightness:
All: God of wisdom and promise, give us courage to travel on.
Mn: When established patterns collapse into the uncertainty of the unknown and security dissolves into a memory:
All: God of wisdom and promise give us courage to travel on.
Wm: When the illusion of success threatens to divert us and silence our souls’ yearning:
All: God of wisdom and promise give us courage to travel on.
Mn: When we think our journey has ended in the star-lit glow only to find the end is a new beginning:
All: God of wisdom and promise give us courage to travel on.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
Most Holy Friend, please teach us to pray for others, with our feelings and well as our minds, with our actions and well as our words.
Teach us to pray for any who fear that their wrong doing has closed the heavens forever against them. Let there be light and hope; /Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Teach us to pray for the people who think they are too unimportant for God to notice, or their worries to trivial to mention. Let there be light and hope; /Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Teach us to pray for some whose loss of work, or broken marriages, or poverty and homelessness, makes them feel forsaken. Let there be light and hope;/ /Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Teach us to pray for the victims of emotional or mental illness, and believe that God has withdrawn completely from them. Let there be light and hope;/Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Teach us to pray for those in bondage to gambling addiction, alcoholism or other drugs, and who find that their religion seems unable to help. Let there be light and hope;/Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Teach us to pray for some who have been too arrogant to believe in God, and now in desperate need are too stubborn to contemplate faith. Let there be light and hope;/Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Teach us to pray for each other in this church, not thinking that some have a faith too strong to need our prayers, or others too shallow to deserve them. Let there be light and hope; /Let there be faith, love, joy and peace.
Holy Friend please keep us close to the beloved Son, in whom you are well pleased, that through him and with him, we may celebrate the joys of an open heaven and a. redeemed earth. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORD OF MISSION
L: Time has now come for us to leave this sacred place. As we do, may we embrace the challenges of our lives and our world, and as we prepare to leave this sacred place of celebration, may we live lives of hope, be nurturers of a vision of wholeness, and serve as healers in a wounded world.
R: Grant us wisdom. Grant us courage. Grant us peace.
THE ROAD AHEAD IS BLESSED
The windows of heaven are open, whether we realise it or not, the Spirit is moving like a dove whether we welcome her or not, this is the new age of Christ whether we celebrate it or not.
I send you out into the world you with a sharpened realisation, a open-hearted anticipation, and a fulsome celebration, of the God who will be with you every step of the journey.
The baptismal grace of Christ Jesus, the unshuttered love of God, and the holy friendship of the Spirit, will be with you now and always. Amen!
1. Have you ever met a person who, wittingly or unwittingly, acted as an agent of God’s kingdom? How was it manifest?
2. How might your baptism make a difference in your life?