Jan. 10, 2020 Baptism of our Lord

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading:  Genesis 1: 1-5

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm:  Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;  the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. 

5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7The voice of the Lord bursts forth in  lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 

9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.  And in the temple of the Lord all arecrying, “Glory!” 

10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forevermore.

11O Lord, give strength to your people;

Second Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He 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.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.

Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared[a] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with[b] water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.”

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.”

John August Swanson’s The River

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

As much as the gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us about Jesus’ birth, scripture tells us little about Jesus’ upbringing and formation. We know he was brought up in the faith by Jewish parents. According to Luke, Jesus was teaching in the temple at age 12. But none of those stories fill us in on Jesus’ awareness of his identity. Did he know he was the Messiah? Did Mary tell him he was the son of God? Scripture keeps that a secret. It does not matter enough to make it onto the pages.

What did get recorded in all four gospels is Jesus’ baptism. In today’s telling of that event, there are few details about Jesus himself, many more about his cousin John—clothing, diet, words coming out of his mouth. No such details are given about Jesus. That lack of information helps shine the spotlight on what we are told; that he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Whether or not Jesus knew his identity before this moment, we’ll never know. But Jesus could have no doubt now. He is the Son of God. What’s more, he is Beloved.

The remainder of the Gospel is the story of Jesus and what God did through him. After the baptism there is no going back, no containing God. One scholar is famous for saying that after the baptism, God through Jesus is loose in the world. Full of God’s Spirit, Jesus will finish the story with his own crucifixion when the temple is torn apart. 

What difference does the story of Jesus’ baptism make after the events that unfolded this week? I can speak most clearly for myself. On Wednesday afternoon, as I watched the new from Washington D.C. unfold, I felt anger and sadness. I may not have a laundry list of feelings, but I felt anger and sadness deep in the core of my being. Trinity members shared feelings ranging from surprise, embarrassment for our country, and a knot in the stomach that would not go away. 

If you think Wednesday’s events were isolated, a one-off, please begin to see them in the context of 2020 (pause), if not our country’s entire history (pause). What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ today, next week, this year?

Our identity as followers of Jesus is made possible through Jesus himself and the gift of baptism into the Holy Spirit. At birth we are born into a life on earth; in Baptism we are adopted into a life in the family of God. In neither birth do we take the initiative. Even when an adult comes to the baptismal font, it is God who does the acting. We never asked our parents to be our personal parents. We never ask God to be our personal god. In both cases we can turn away from the relationship, but the relationship stands. Even if we turn our backs on it, even if we leave God, God waits for us to come back. 

What precisely does it mean to follow Jesus, to live a life of discipleship? There have always been different understandings and different paths within the Christian family, but the contrasts were on full display this week.

When the mob breached the Capitol and violently stormed the Senate chamber Wednesday afternoon, one insurrectionist could be seen carrying a white flag with a cross in the corner: the “Christian flag.” And after the mob took over the Capitol, some demonstrators unfurled a massive banner outside. It read “Jesus 2020.” 

This is not the Christianity that I signed up for and I believe whole-heartedly that it is part of our baptismal identity, our walk as disciples to denounce these actions.

The events of Wednesday also served as a reminder that we must continue to call out and denounce the white supremacy that is still so seeped into our national fabric. An interfaith prayer group gathered outside Luther Place Memorial Church in D.C. early Wednesday morning. Near the end of the two-hour service, a gaggle of men adorned in patriotic clothing and “Make America Great Again” hats approached. One walked into the middle of the circle, pretended to fall, and laid on the ground while another man knelt on his neck—an apparent attempt to mock the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. There is much to renounce and there is so much work to be done.

A colleague asked me during a continuing ed event what we all thought was at the heart of our call as congregational pastors. I do not remember how others responded, but I know that I said “hope—my job is to bring hope.” My hope is rooted in the story of Jesus found in the gospels. 

I admire the Humanists and Agnostics and Atheists in my life. If people are willing to come together to work on housing, hunger, and human rights, I will meet them at any table, and I know so many members of Trinity Lutheran who will do the same. 

But during weeks like this one, I depend on the deep well of my faith, which includes the promises made in my baptism. Despite everything this week, I have hope, not fleeting hope, but deep and abiding hope. I have hope because of those pastors and faith leaders who prayed for peace for several hours at Luther Place. 

Among them was Bishop Leila Ortiz of the ELCA Metro D.C. Synod, who said, “My hope and my mission is to highlight the humanity and the belovedness of all of God’s creation, and this particular violence—this particular permission to be violent—is so profoundly disturbing and antichrist.”

Ortiz was speaking, in a very contextual way, about the promises each of us makes in the Affirmation of Baptism. This week especially I have heard echoing in my mind the final three promises: to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

In other words, we are called not only to have hope but to be and bring forward hope through our words and actions. We do this through denouncing evil when we see it, including when people do evil while bearing the name Christian. We are vessels of hope when we truly advocate for people seen as less-then through who we vote for…how we spend our dollars, and how we use our voices. 

Naïve as it may be, I continue to have hope in government. I have hope because despite the forces pushing against them, civil servants across the country worked to ensure a safe and fair election. Their dedication to their vocations gives me hope and I have hope because our election system, though certainly imperfect, is still working. 

I have hope because various states and local municipalities across this country continue to experiment with policies, laws, and funding to correct past injustices and create a path for abundant life for all people. There are loopholes and bad laws and much work to be done, but we can learn from state and local trials.

I have hope because of teachers. So much has been done to put down education as something that makes me an unfeeling elitist instead of an informed citizen. Despite every criticism and funding cut, teachers seem committed as ever to ensure that every child receives an education and becomes a critical thinker.

I have hope because, as awful as Wednesday’s events were, as difficult as the last year was, many people are decrying the assault on the nation’s capital as well as those who have tried to stop the peaceful transition of power, always something we could simply trust in before. There is, I believe, a growing curiosity about how in the world we arrived at this moment. There is curiosity about those who see the world differently than you do. If that curiosity can be paired with love, then our hope will grow. As Bishop Ortiz said, “My hope and my mission is to highlight the humanity and the belovedness of all of God’s creation.” None of the United States citizens who stormed the capital truly knew their belovedness. Of that, I am sure. But that can change.

As followers of Jesus, our hope is most strongly rooted in the promises of baptism, the promises made by God, for new life with Jesus Christ, for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the belovedness of all God’s creation. Hope is ours today because the God we worship is a God of love and mercy and also proximity. God is not a puppeteer far off in some distant heaven. The Holy Spirit is with us today.

The Spirit is here among us—in relationship with us and with all creation. God is not done with any of us. More important, God’s love is bigger than all of us. We must have hope today and tomorrow and next week and month. It is our calling, our identity and it is the only thing that can truly root out violence and hate and finally, someday, bring lasting peace and abundant life for all of creation. 

References:

Video Message from Bishop Leila Ortiz

Religion News Article, “As Chaos hits Capital, two forms of faith on display.”

Prayers of Intercession

Guided by Christ made known to the nations, let us offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all people in need.

A brief silence.

For the body of Christ gathered throughout the world and for all servants of the gospel, that following Jesus, the church lives out its calling every day, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

For the well-being of creation, for plants and animals, and for all that God has marvelously made, that we serve as wise stewards of Earth, our home, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

For police officers and firefighters, for attorneys and paralegals, for peacekeepers and military personnel, and for the leaders of governments, that they provide protection to all people, especially the most vulnerable, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

For those lacking food or shelter, for those who are sick or grieving, and for those who are imprisoned or homebound (especially), that God console all who suffer, let us pray.

Have mercy, O God.

For our neighborhood, for visitors joining us for the first time or returning, and for those absent from our assembly, that all who seek to know God are nourished by word and sacrament, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

In thanksgiving for the saints who have gone before us (especially Antony and Pachomius, renewers of the church), that their lives give us a vision of the gospel in action, let us pray.  Have mercy, O God.

Merciful God, hear the prayers of your people, spoken or silent, for the sake of the one who dwells among us, your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior.

Amen.

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