Words of Welcome & The Life and Work of Our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour the traditions and spirituality of all our indigenous brothers and sisters throughout this great land.
Time of Quiet Centering
As we prepare to worship together, let us take a moment of silence to prepare ourselves to enter this sacred time. Allow the care and concerns that you have brought with you this morning to be set aside, and allow the calm and the peace of gathering in the presence of the Divine, to wash over you.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ.
Call to Worship
God’s voice rang out at the beginning of time.
And God said, “Let there be light.”
God’s voice whispered over the water of the Jordan River.
And God said, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”
God’s voice spoke through the prophets, through the psalmist, through John, through Paul, and through many others.
God’s voice continues to speak today.
When we gather in worship, we take time to listen for God’s voice.
Come let us worship God.
In the roaring thunder and in the crashing waves we hear the power of your voice, O God. In the silence of a snow cover field and in the gentle cooing of a dove, we hear your silent whisper. But we do not always hear your voice in the voice of an angry protestor or in the cry of a hungry child. You speak to us, O God, in the beauty and peace of nature, but you also speak in the noise and chaos of everyday life. Help us to hear you not only where we expect, but to listen to you in the unexpected places. Open our hearts to hear and to respond no matter where your voice calls us. Amen.
Gift of Music
Our first reading this morning comes from the very beginning of our Bible, from the opening verses of the book of Genesis. It tells the story of the first day of creation.
Like our Hebrew Scripture lesson, our Psalm reading reminds us of the wonder and majesty of the Divine. It also picks up on the theme of water with the promise that “God’s voice is over the waters”.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul explains the difference between the baptism offered by John, the baptism of water meant to symbolize repentance and the washing away of sin, and the baptism of Jesus which is baptism not of water but of the Spirit.
Our gospel reading is Mark’s account of the baptism and the temptation of Jesus.
Reflection – God’s Voice
I love the image of God’s voice that is offered in Psalm 29. “God’s voice is power…full of majesty… God’s voice shakes the wilderness…causes the oaks to whirl…splinters the cedars of Lebanon…stripping the forest bare…” The vivid picture painted by these words is that of a mighty wind, bending everything in its path to its own will, the undeniable power of God’s voice reshaping and changing everything.
Yet we are also told that God’s voice “makes Lebanon skip like a calf”. What a totally different image that is! For me it brings to mind a picture of a young calf skipping and jumping around in a field, so full of life that it seems to explode out of it in a sheer dance of joy. It is an image of excitement, of exuberance, and of unlimited possibility. God’s voice is full of power and majesty, it can be frightening, awe-inspiring, and overwhelming. But God’s voice can also be full of excitement, possibility, joy, and hope.
And God’s voice whispered to Jesus at the River Jordon, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” God’s voice offers comfort, calm, and reassurance.
In the original Hebrew, the word used for voice can also mean wind or it can mean Spirit. God’s Spirit is powerful, awe-inspiring, frightening, joyful, exuberant, calm, reassuring, comforting.
The book of Genesis tells us that in the very first moments of creation, it was God’s Spirit or God’s voice that swept over the waters and called forth light. The power and majesty of that voice are abundantly clear in that first act of creation, but within that same act, there is also hope, excitement, joy, and unlimited possibilities. Despite the power and majesty, this moment of creation is not a moment of fear and terror. It is a moment of wonder, of anticipation, and of hope. It is also, only the beginning.
God’s voice continued to ring out over the waters of creation, calling forth sky and dry land, sun, moon and stars, plants and animals, and finally, even human beings. All of these were called into being by God’s Spirit or God’s voice. And we are told that God saw all that had been created, and God was pleased.
In our gospel reading, Mark tells us that Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized in the waters of the River Jordan, before beginning his ministry. Mark also tells us that as he rose up out of the waters of the Jordan, God’s voice spoke from heaven saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”
God’s voice spoke over the waters of creation. God’s voice spoke by the River Jordan. And both times the power, the wonder, and majesty of God was revealed. The excitement, the hope, and the endless possibilities of God were also revealed. And both times, God was pleased.
But just as that first day of creation was only the beginning, so too was Jesus’ baptism. We know basically nothing of Jesus’ life before he arrived at the River Jordon seeking to be baptized by John. We assume that he was raised and educated in the faith and culture of the Hebrew people. We assume that from a young age he worked with Joseph in the carpentry shop learning the trade. We assume that he always knew that he had a mission and call that was somehow unique, that was given to him directly from God. We assume that there was never a point where he doubted this mission or where he might have been tempted to simply forget about the whole thing and choose to walk away and live a normal life instead. We make these assumptions, but the truth is we really have no idea.
Whatever happened to Jesus up to this point in his life remains a mystery. All we know is that at some point, when he was around 30 years old, Jesus came to the River Jordon to be baptized by John. Luke’s birth narrative maintains that Jesus and John were cousins, yet none of the gospels, except for Matthew give any indication that John recognized Jesus when he came to be baptized. Mark simply tells us that “Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
According to Mark, there was nothing extraordinary about Jesus’ baptism for anyone except Jesus himself. The vision of a dove and the voice from heaven, according to Mark, were for Jesus alone. Only he realized that this moment was special … that this moment changed everything. For Jesus, the decision to be baptized by John set him on a completely new path.
Perhaps Jesus already sensed that it was time for him to set out in a new direction. Perhaps he was seeking confirmation of this decision. Or perhaps he was simply searching. But whatever the reason that he had come to the River Jordon, this became a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life. In this act of baptism, all that had happened before, all the normal things of life were washed away and he was set on a very different path.
We are told that when the Spirit of God descended on him he heard a voice saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” Perhaps this was the confirmation that Jesus was seeking. Perhaps this was the indication he needed to know that he was on the right path.
But that confirmation was not enough. We are also told that immediately, the Spirit drove him out into the desert, where he would stay for forty days coming face to face with all the temptations that would threaten to pull him off of the path that he was setting out on. Jesus had to be certain that he was willing to give up everything he had known until that point and that he was ready to fully commit to the new life he was about to embark on. This was his last chance to turn back. This was his last chance to say no. Once the decision was made, once the call was answered, there would be no turning back.
At that moment, Jesus had felt the presence of God’s Spirit resting upon him. Jesus had heard God’s voice calling him and claiming him. Jesus had faced the temptation to turn away, facing the reality that the road he was setting out on would not be easy. And Jesus had made his decision.
Now he was certain of what God was calling him to do. He had felt God’s Spirit resting upon him. He had heard God’s words of affirmation. He had answered the urging to spend time alone to evaluate what he felt called to do. His resolve had been tested. And now he was ready to begin his ministry.
But that could only happen to Jesus, right? Oh, and perhaps to a few of the patriarchs of our bible, like Abraham and Isaiah and Samuel and Paul. Surely God only speaks directly to people on those rare occasions that we read about in the Bible. Surely God doesn’t talk to people today. If you were to claim that God was speaking directly to you, chances are that someone would likely suggest that your mental state might need to be evaluated.
But listen again to the words of Psalm 29. “God’s voice is over the waters … God’s voice shakes the wilderness … God’s voice makes Lebanon skip like a calf”.
For the psalmist, God’s voice is not something that appears from time to time in a specific location to a specific person. When the psalmist says, “God’s voice is over the waters”, he is talking about his understanding that “the waters” are the very foundations of the world. The waters were both under and over the earth, surrounding everything. In other words, God’s voice was everywhere.
Like the psalmist, I believe God’s voice is everywhere. The problem is that we do not always hear God’s voice around us because we are not always listening. We are not always open to hearing God’s voice speaking. But that doesn’t mean that God is not there, calling us, affirming us, and challenging us to answer the call.
Jesus answered God’s call. Jesus committed everything he has and everything he was to follow the path God was leading him to follow. From the moment he answered God’s call through his baptism in the River Jordon, Jesus never wavered. He followed that path all the way to the cross.
Now I am not saying that any of us are ever going to be able to follow God’s path for us as perfectly as Jesus did. And I’m not saying that we will ever be able to hear and understand God as clearly and directly. But I do believe that when we open ourselves up to the possibility of hearing God’s voice speaking to us, we can not only hear that voice but we just might find that our lives are changed forever.
I vividly remember having a conversation I had many years ago with a man who began by saying, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but there is something I really have to tell you.”
He went on to explain that he could not swim and that he was terrified of water. But friends of his had invited him to join them at a cottage for the weekend. The cottage was on a lake known for its good fishing and the group decided to get into a small motorboat and try their luck. Not wanting to be left out, the gentleman decided to go with them. But partway around the lake, the boat lurched suddenly and the gentleman fell overboard. Not knowing the man couldn’t swim and perhaps having enjoyed a few too many beers during the trip, his friends started to laugh and call to him to get over to the boat so they could pull him back in. He was so terrified he could not even call out to them and he simply thrashed around madly, certain that he was about to drown.
Then, he told me, he suddenly heard a calm, quiet voice whispering in his ear, telling him to stand up. “This is crazy” the thought, but the voice continued. “Stand up”. Finally, exhausted from his mad efforts to stay afloat and feeling he had nothing left to lose, he gave in. As he tentatively put his foot down, he hit solid ground. It turned out that portion of the lake was extremely shallow and he was able to walk over to the boat and climb back in.
He told me, “I don’t tell people about that because I’m sure they’ll either think I’m making it up or they’ll say I’m crazy. I can’t explain it, but I heard that voice so clearly. I know it was probably all in my head … but still.”
Now you can choose to think I’m making this story up. You can choose to believe that it was someone in the boat calling out to him. Or you can choose to assume it was just instinct that told that man to stand up. But I can tell you that this day, that man believes that it was God’s voice speaking to him.
God’s voice spoke over the waters of creation. God’s voice spoke to the psalmist. God’s voice spoke through Paul. God’s voice spoke to … and through Jesus. And God’s voice continues to speak … in the roaring winds and the gentlest of breezes … in the thundering of the ocean waves and the gentle trickling of a brook … in the raging of a young bull and in the joyful prancing of a newborn calf … in the power and majesty of tongues of fire and in the quiet whisper of a still, small voice. The question is, are we listening?
Gift of Music
We Offer Our Gifts
God’s love is shown to us in so many different ways in the many gifts and blessings we receive from God. So, let us take a moment now to offer our gifts to God, whether those gifts are the tangible gifts of our money or the intangible gifts of our time, talents, and commitment. Whatever it is we offer, let us asks God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray; All that we have, all that we are, all that we long to be, we place before you, O God, asking your blessing upon it. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds, and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayer of the People
In his baptism, Jesus was identified as God’s beloved, chosen by God, called to do God’s work in the world. Like Jesus, we are beloved and chosen by God. Like Jesus, we are called to do God’s work in our world. Has God called us to be still in prayer and in silent meditation, to listen carefully for God’s voice? Has God called us to end conflicts and grudges within our family or within our social circle?
Has God called us to build up those who have a low opinion of their own skills, abilities, and worth? Has God called us to speak out directly against racial slurs, discriminatory jokes, and prejudice remarks? Has God called us to learn more about the threats to our environment and to advocate for change?
Has God called us to work with others in this faith community to help care for and provide for one another? Has God called us to reach out beyond this faith community to work in our neighborhood to help the needy and care for the sick, the lonely, and the isolated? Had God called us to be more alert to the needs of the poorest on our planet and find ways to meet their needs and advocate for them?
Has God called us to stand up to the bullies of our world in classrooms, in churches, in politics, in business, and in individual homes and families?
Has God called us to comfort those in pain, those suffering the loss of a friend or loved one, those suffering the loss of a marriage or relationship, those suffering the loss of good health, those suffering the loss of a cherished hope or dream?
Has God called us to encourage and support those whose work supports and cares for others, those working in our health care system, those working in mental health and counseling, those working with children and youth, those working in essential services, those leading through politics or activism, those working behind the scenes in ways we will never know? We are called to do God’s work in our world. We pray for the grace and the courage to answer that call. Amen.
Gift of Music
God sent Jesus out into the world. God sends us out. But we are not sent out alone. God is with us. Christ leads the way. And the Spirit guides and accompanies us, every step of our journey. Go with God.