January 10, 2020 Worship (Baptism of the Lord Sunday)
Call to Worship .
All who thirst, come to the water and drink deeply of these living streams. Come, all who are weary; come, all who yearn for forgiveness. As the waters of the Jordan washed over Jesus, so the Holy spirit washed over you and me. Our gracious God beckons and blesses us. Let us give praise for new life in Christ.
Baptized in the Holy Spirit, O Christ, you are the fountain of life; refresh us. You are the cleansing spring; heal us. You are the well from which we drink and never thirst again; fill us. Amen.
1 In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
4 John the baptizer appeared[a] 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 baptized 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 baptized you with[b] water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized 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;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
Preparing for a Dangerous Journey
I hope you all had a blessed Christmas and New Year’s. Finally, the Season of Christmas is over with Epiphany, which was last Wednesday. We celebrate Epiphany after Christmas because we start witnessing the light of God revealed in the person of Jesus. The stories of Jesus – his birth, public ministry, death, and resurrection – reveal God’s light and kingdom. Through the life and teachings of Jesus, we can understand God’s reign. We are en-light-ened through Jesus.
Light is often used as a metaphor for knowledge and wisdom. When we learn or suddenly realize something, we say our eyes are opened, which is why the era of knowledge is called the enlightenment period. If light symbolizes our metaphorical eyes opening in knowledge and wisdom, it is not a surprise that the first thing God created was light. We cannot see without light. We cannot know anything without the metaphorical light. Only after God lights the world by creating light can we witness all of God’s works.
Today is the first Sunday after Epiphany and we read the story of Jesus’ baptism. After the act of baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove. At this initiation ceremony, Jesus sees God’s light and experiences God’s love proclaimed. Baptism is a lovely ceremony that initiates our lives and status as God’s children. Through baptism, we hear God’s love proclaimed to us. However, this journey as God’s children is not only filled with the warm feeling of God’s great love; it is a scary and dangerous journey. Just look at the stories of Jesus; after the lovey-dovey moment of being baptized and being called God’s beloved, he will be driven into the wilderness for 40 days and tempted by Satan; this is his training before being sent out among the people to preach about God’s reign. And what a scary place to be among the people of the world! He and his disciples will be hated, and their deaths will be plotted. Jesus and his disciples should be spiritually strong and ready to face their adversaries.
Today’s Christians, especially those of us who are not persecuted for being Christians, might not realize that the journey as the disciples of Jesus is a dangerous one. However, just because no one will persecute and kill us for following Jesus, it doesn’t mean we do not need to make sacrifices. During this beginning period of the Christian year, let us reflect on the cost of discipleship: the sacrifices we should make. Following God’s light requires spiritual strength and focus. To follow Jesus, to live faithfully according to the teachings of Jesus, we should “deny ourselves and pick up our crosses.” Those who were commanded to spread the compassion and justice of God’s kingdom cannot be selfish or negligent to the cries of the world.
For example, we are living through a global pandemic. There are places and people we would like to visit. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable, and in my case with my chronic upper respiratory allergy, it is especially difficult to breathe. But because we believe in Jesus who taught us to love one another and not harm others, we take the sacrifice of staying put and not spreading the virus. It may seem like nothing or too much, but this is one of the sacrifices we should make out of love for others.
Then this past week, we witnessed the followers of Donald Trump act in a truly insane and disruptive manner in their nation’s capital. Our American siblings have a sitting president who condones white supremacy and incites violence when he doesn’t get his way. I heard that Trump is a member of the Presbyterian Church, USA. We have seen, throughout history, Christians doing evil in the name of their religion. Meanwhile, in our United Church, we are daily challenged to examine our privileges and work toward a just world for the minorities. We should daily make decisions as God’s children about what to say and do, and what not to do. I do not believe any of us thinks this journey is a cakewalk. Just like Jesus and his disciples, and every Christian in history, we are living in a crazy world among hurt, troubled, and evil people. As people to whom God’s light is revealed in the person of Jesus, we should be spiritually strong so as to not make wrong choices in the midst of this insane world. This journey is a dangerous one, and not for the fainthearted.
I am not preaching these words at the beginning of this new year to scare you; I am doing so because, with so much temptation and evil in the world, we must be prepared. On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, let us remember our baptism and the times we felt God’s love for us. Let us hang onto this love whenever we have to make decisions. Let us look to Jesus and his teachings. Let us look to God’s light and follow it like the Magi who followed the star to Jesus. Let us not lose sight of this light because our world is full of distraction and temptation. At the beginning of the year 2021, let us hold onto God’s love for us and share this love with our neigbours.
Prayer for our US neighbours
As we follow our newsfeeds,
and observe with horror
what is happening in the capital of the United States of America,
we call on you, Creator of All Love.
We painfully remember peaceful protests of tangible and documented injustices,
led by Black and Indigenous peoples
who were sadly met with undue hostility and violence,
and characterized as rioters,
in contrast to how the violent clashes incited by Trump supporters
on baseless claims is being responded to
and reported on.
We pray for those who are most acutely experiencing the terror caused by these actions,
and those who deeply understand the hatred and racism that such acts fuel.
We call on you, Prince of Peace,
and pray for your wisdom, your guidance, and your love,
that those who are rioting would leave Washington,
so that elected decision-makers can go back
to their chambers,
to the lawful work that they have been given
by the people of the United States.
We pray, with all that we are,
―Moderator Richard Bott, Adele Halliday, and Alydia Smith
May God bless you and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God look upon you with kindness and give you peace. Amen.