Sunday January 8, 2023 – Baptism of Jesus
God reveal your presence: as we now adore you and with awe appear before you.
Like the holy angels gathered all before you, may we ceaselessly adore you.
Bow your ear to us here; hearken, O Lord Jesus, to our humble praises.
© Gerbard Tersteegen 1729. Frederick William Foster and John Miller1789, William Mercer 1859 alt. All rights reserved. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship ~ adapted from material written by Caela Wood~
The heavens open. The Spirit descends.
Jesus emerges from the water.
And a voice, echoes through the blue expanse.
“This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”
Jesus is named and claimed.
We gather here today knowing that we too are named and claimed.
We have been named as followers of Christ and claimed as God’s beloved children
So let us worship the one who names and claims us still.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we remember that Christ came embracing our live and joining in our humanity, we light our Christ Candle knowing that he still shares our lives and directs our path.
God of fire, water and spirit, you call us with your voice of flame to be your people, faithful and courageous. As Jesus embraced his mission in the waters of his baptism, inspire us with the fire of your Spirit to join in his transforming work. Teach us how to make straight our own pathway through life that we may help to guide and support each other as we walk together in his way. Amen.
Gift of Music Christ, When for Us You Were Baptized #99
The story of John the Baptist or John the Baptizer, plays an essential role in the beginning of Jesus ministry. Today we hear this story as it is told in the Gospel According to Matthew.
Matthew 3:1-17 Good News Translation
At that time John the Baptist came to the desert of Judea and started preaching. “Turn away from your sins,” he said, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near!” John was the man the prophet Isaiah was talking about when he said,
“Someone is shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare a road for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel!’”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair; he wore a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. People came to him from Jerusalem, from the whole province of Judea, and from all over the country near the Jordan River. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan.
When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him to be baptized, he said to them, “You snakes—who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. And don’t think you can escape punishment by saying that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these rocks and make descendants for Abraham! The ax is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. He has his winnowing shovel with him to thresh out all the grain. He will gather his wheat into his barn, but he will burn the chaff in a fire that never goes out.”
At that time Jesus arrived from Galilee and came to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. But John tried to make him change his mind. “I ought to be baptized by you,” John said, “and yet you have come to me!”
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now. For in this way we shall do all that God requires.” So John agreed.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.”
Between now and Easter this year, we will be focusing on the Gospel According to Matthew. The writer of this gospel was a faithful Jew and writes from a Jewish perspective to a Jewish audience. He frequently talks about the fulfillment of prophecy especially the prophecy of a Messiah who will come to bring a new and better life to the Jewish people.
Because he is writing to an audience that is familiar with the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures, he does not explain the context or meaning behind the words. This is different from the other gospel accounts. Mark, the first gospel written, is also the shortest and it is by far the most bare-bones account. Mark has no birth narrative nor does he have the familiar post resurrection stories found in the other gospels.
The Gospel According to Luke appears to have been written to an audience including both Jews and Gentiles. Although also focusing on Hebrew prophecies, Luke tends to explain them in context much more often. The Gospel According to John was the last to be written and focuses overwhelmingly on the divinity of Jesus. Because of all this, there are distinct differences in each of the four gospels.
When we look at the story of John the Baptist in the Gospel According to Matthew, it begins with a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. Matthew assumes that the people he writes to are familiar with this passage from Isaiah and he does not give any background to it. When we read it as Christians, we tend to think of it as foreshadowing John himself.
But the people hearing this prophecy would have placed it in a different context. Not only would they have been familiar with Isaiah, they also be familiar with the words of the prophet Malachi who promises a return of the prophet Elijah before the coming of the Messiah. Since John came preaching repentance, the same thing that Elijah called for, some people began to wonder if he might in fact be Elijah himself, returning to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
This, along with the political situation of the time and John’s apparent rejection of wealth and status, began to attract large crowds of curious followers. Add to this John’s apparent ability to captivate a crowd with his words, and it is no wonder that the Pharisees and Sadducees joined in.
Now we really don’t know why the Pharisees and Sadducees were there or what they hoped to find. Perhaps they were simply curious. Perhaps, like others, they were hoping that the Messiah might truly be on the way. But the Messiah they hoped for and expected was very different from the one that John was foreshadowing.
The issue for John was not that they wanted to have their sins washed away, but rather, their commitment to change their behaviour going forward. What John preached was not confession but repentance. John called people to not only face the wrongs they did but to turn away from their current behaviour and to return to God. It was not enough to simply confess what they had done. They must commit to change their behaviour and to listen to and following more closely the direction or will of God. The Sadducees and Pharisees did not seem to believe that their behaviour was something that needed to change.
The Sadducees were the wealthy upper class, who were very involved with and were often member of, the priesthood. Their lives revolved around the Temple and they saw the temple as the only true way to commune with God. The Pharisees on the other hand, followed the legal traditions that were ascribed not only to the scriptures but also to “the traditions of the fathers.” They were also well-known legal experts and placed adherence to the law above everything else, including the temple.
As the religious leaders of their time, both the Sadducees and Pharisees leaned heavily on establish practices and saw themselves as “righteous” in the sight of God. They focused very strongly on the fact that they were part of God’s “chosen people”. They were the descendants of Abraham, to whom God had promised not only many descendants, but honour and blessings. Because of this they were confident that God would never reject them of leave them without hope.
But John came insisting that it was not ancestry or heritage that mattered most. It was personal behaviour, especially sincere repentance and commitment to follow the ways of God. When John told the Sadducees, the Pharisees and everyone else who is listening, that the one who is coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, this is less of a promise then it is a threat. The one who is coming would not base his decisions on the past or on who you were descended from, but would judge each person by what their own behaviour, sincerity and willingness to repent and change the way they have been living.
It is at this point that Jesus shows up on the scene, coming from Galilee, seeking to be baptized by John in the Jorden River. For many people, the entire idea of the baptism of Jesus is an issue. If Jesus truly was without sin, how could he be baptized for the forgiveness of sin? And that leads into a whole discussion about the need for infant baptism.
But this entire dilemma is nothing new. The Gospel According to John skips over any reference to the baptism of Jesus other than to say that John saw the spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove. So, if this controversy goes all the way back to those first disciples, what are we to make of it today? Why not just skip over it like the Gospel According to John does?
According to Matthew, when Jesus first approaches John seeking baptism, John knows who he is. Although the Gospel According to Luke reports that John’s mother Elizabeth is a cousin to Jesus’ mother Mary, Matthew makes no such claim. He never explains how John knew Jesus, but he does tell us that John recognized him and protested against Jesus’ request to be baptized. “I ought to be baptized by you,” John said, “and yet you have come to me!”
But it is Jesus’ response that perhaps, offers us a different way of looking at this story. Jesus says to John, “in this way we shall do all that God requires.” What if the most important word in this sentence is not what God requires, but rather, “we”. What it, by the act of being baptized, Jesus is breaking down any perceived barrier between himself and us. What if it is here that Jesus fully embraces his role as one of us, as fully human. If we look at this act of baptism in this way, what might it mean for us today?
If Jesus is truly one of us, one with us, and yet still one with God, then our relationship with God, through Christ is not just one of God loving us and caring for us, it is much deeper than that. If Christ is truly one with us, then not only does God love us and desire to walk with us, but God also participates in our lives.
Exactly how that participation occurs is not something that can be defined or explained. But perhaps part of that involvement in our lives goes back to Jesus’ reference to “we”. Perhaps it is through each other that Christ and thus God, is able to not just touch our lives, but to become a part of them.
If we see our faith as something completely individual to us and us alone, then we miss the very thing that can give us the support and strength we need in our faith. It is only when we remain connected to others that our faith can truly be something alive and active.
One of the ways we do this is through the rituals we share. The ritual of baptism within the United Church is not about forgiveness of sin. It is about becoming part of, and hopefully one with, the Christian community. And there are many other rituals in our church that unite us. Many of them we don’t even think about. Gathering together on Sunday morning is certainly part of our ritual. But so is singing, praying together, sharing coffee, and so many other parts of our lives that we don’t always think of as rituals.
In sharing in the rituals of our faith, we are united with one another and through these rituals we are also united with Christ and with God who truly becomes one with us. Amen.
Gift of Music Comfort, Comfort Now My People #883
We Offer Our Gifts
As we remember the commitment Jesus made to follow the path that was laid out for him, we remember our own commitment to follow his example. Jesus cared deeply for all people and was always willing to share what he had with others. And so, as we gather in worship, we offer the gifts of our hands and our hearts to express our commitment.
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love
and the gift of the Spirit by which we live,
we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
© Abingdon press used by permission Onelicense #A723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Real-Time Relief Makes a World of Difference
First there was the pandemic. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, causing a global energy crisis and worldwide food shortages. These in turn worsened an already precarious food security situation for many communities.
According to UN OCHA, “the largest global food crisis in modern history is unfolding.”
At a time when it feels like there’s a new crisis confronting us each and every day, it’s reassuring to know that Mission & Service partners provide real-time relief around the world on a daily basis.
Program Coordinator for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Response at The United Church of Canada, Thivan Hoang, reminds us, “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are one community.”
The United Church is an integral part of a multinational network of partners and ecumenical relationships in over 120 countries. That means whenever there’s an emergency, Mission & Service is there to help.
In 2020, a major explosion ripped through Beirut, killing 200 people and injuring 7,000 more.
Thanks to generous gifts to Mission & Service, we were able to support partners to respond quickly, providing critically important tools that helped to free people who were trapped under the rubble. And as the city recovers, Mission & Service partners continue to assist in rebuilding schools, homes, and other infrastructure.
Although Mission & Service has recently focused on COVID-19 relief, there’s another looming catastrophe that requires our immediate attention. “Without a doubt, climate change worries me the most,” Hoang says. “We’re seeing increases of droughts, floods, and severe storms that have destroyed crops and agricultural land.”
The more we support Mission & Service, the better we can respond to climate calamities. “People who contribute the least to greenhouse gases are often the most impacted by climate change,” Hoang explains.
Your gifts have made―and will continue to make―huge differences around the world. Wherever an emergency strikes, thanks to you, Mission & Service is there to help.
Prayers of the People
Divine Promise, John warned the people to turn away from evil and to prepare a straight path for the Lord. We are still being called to turn away from evil and to help make a straight and just path through the wilderness of life. And so, as we once again commit ourselves to this task, we come before you in prayer. We seek your help and guidance to not only follow a straight and just path but to help make the way easier for others.
We pray that you will work with us and through us to become peace-makers. We pray for all those who are caught up in violence and war. We pray for the courage and wisdom to know how to stand up and speak out, calling to account those who profit from the devastation that fighting causes …
We pray that you will give us more generous hearts and teach us to share more equally the resources of our earth. We pray for those who are hungry, those who have no access to food or clean water, those who cannot afford healthy food for themselves or their family, those who must choose between food, housing or medication …
We pray that you will make us more compassionate and understanding. We pray for those who are ill, those fighting disease, those whose health is compromised, those who suffer from a lack of mental or spiritual wellbeing, those who are forced to watch loved ones suffer, those who are alone and lonely …
Loving One, we pray that you will guide us and lead us that we may be instruments of your love, help and healing to all people in Christ’s name. Amen
Gift of Music There’s a Voice in the Wilderness #18
May the path that Christ walked to bring justice to the earth, to bring light to those in darkness, to bring freedom to those who live in bondage, and to bring hope to all people be the path that we walk each day of our lives. And may we go out from here knowing that, wherever we walk, God directs us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirt walks with us, now and always. Let us go with God.
Choral Blessing MV#222
May the peace of God be your peace.
May the love of God be the love you show.
May the joy of God be the joy you know,
and may the world that God would see be found in you.
© November 2001 Neil MacLaren. email@example.com. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756