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2018-2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

January 13, 2019, Baptism of the Lord, 1st Sunday of Epiphany, 1st Sun of Ord Time

 

 

LectionAid 1st Quarter 2018-2019

January 13, 2019, Baptism of the Lord, 1st Sunday of Epiphany, 1st Sun of Ord Time

GOOD NEWS AND BRUNCH

Psalm 29, Isaiah 43:1-7, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Theme: God Is For Everyone

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

What is true in this text is the unrestrainable desire of God to make disciples of all peoples. God is claiming his people from the descendants of Abraham. He is claiming them from the despised Samaritans. Now in Luke God reaches out and claims Jesus. This creates theological problems. Jesus was without sin, so what kind of baptism did He receive? One understands, "Repent! And be baptized." Jesus' baptism could not have had the element of repentance, so what was going on? Jesus emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-11) and God sent Him among us. His baptism was undertaken to show solidarity with our sinfulness. He who knew no sin became sin for our sakes. It was also the occasion for clearing up who was the Messiah. Luke says that some thought John the Baptist might be the one. Jesus is both revealed by God as the Messiah and marked by sinful men as the one who must die.
The Baptism of our Lord reveals the profound truth that God is for everyone.
His desire is revealed: that none be lost. What will be the result of Jesus being revealed in our world as its savior? The world waits on tiptoe to see the salvation of our Lord revealed. They have heard it will be Good News.
In a world full of bad news daily, it is little wonder that people struggle to believe good news. Sunday seems to be the one time we can hear good news, but mostly it if filled with meaningless programs about what will happen next week. The news that God is for each of us and is with us seems to be lost.
What Jesus teaches us and shows us is that God is for everyone. God wants everyone to be a part of a huge family with God as father. In baptism we show that we are one family together Jesus included. Jesus came to help us all no one excluded.
After all Jesus is the One who empties himself, not clinging to His equality with God but becoming a slave for the sake of our salvation. This is so beautifully articulated in the kenotic hymn of the second chapter of Philippians. God could have saved us in any manner that He chose, but He seems to embrace the most difficult and arduous way — the path of Incarnation and accompaniment.

Exegetical Comments

Understanding the times is required to appreciate how radical Isaiah's prophecy was in his day. When Jerusalem fell in 587 BCE, Zedekiah, a descendent of David, was king. He was made to watch the killing of his sons. He was then blinded. David's line on the throne of Israel ended after nearly 400 years. The 350-year-old temple of Solomon was also destroyed. This ended the priesthood that had served the people during the high festivals and holy days. The land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants was now totally under foreign control. A crisis of faith and identity fomented throughout the land as the people, whose identity was their "chosenness" by God, were led away.
Why has this happened? What will become of us? Has our God been defeated by Babylon's god, Marduke? These and other questions tormented the people as the fabric of their common life was torn asunder. Many settled into Babylon culture and did not return with the exiles when Cyrus the Great allowed the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. The ones who remained in Babylon remained an outpost of the faith for the next thousand years. They lost their faith's connection to the historic land. Into this Isaiah spoke his prophecy.
How can this band of returning exiles reach such a lofty goal as bring the shalom of God to the whole world? Isaiah 43:1-7 speaks to this. Verse 1 proclaims their rescue by God and His ownership of them. Verses 2-3 refer to rescue from water and fire. This is referring to the Red Sea miracle and the crossing of the Jordan. The fire refers to the fall of Jerusalem. God does not say that there will be no more water or fire in their future. He says He will be with them as a Savior. Why? God is sincerely in love with Israel and cannot abandon her forever. Through Jesus we have been included in His people and become heirs of His great love.
The fact that Isaiah 42:1b is used in Luke 3:22 in reference to Jesus' Baptism cements the biblical view that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah. When Jesus called us (the church) to also be baptized, He expanded the circle of servanthood to include each one of us. The children of Israel crossed over Jordan and we got our feet wet! Jesus was baptized, and we found our heads wet!
The passage in Acts 8 reveals that God is doing a new thing theologically. He is including children in his family that are not the descendants of Abraham. The reaction in Jerusalem was like an only child finding out he or she has siblings. It was good news, but it was shocking. The point of including this text for the service is to not to settle the debate about baptism; rather it is to get to the deeper meanings of the text.
The story centers on Philip. He was supposed to be a deacon, serving tables, but there he is down in Samaria preaching. He was successful in proclaiming the Good news.
Did not Philip know that the Samaritans were not on the "A list"? Nothing about them even hinted that God loved them. They were half-breeds, outcasts, and despised. The phrase "despised Samaritan" was a proverb of rejection. Luke recounts that the apostles heard that the Samaritans had accepted the gospel. Their first question was not "how?" but "who?" was so foolish as to preach to them! In Luke 9:54 John and James wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village that rejected them. A few months later here are Peter and John sent to call down the fire of His Spirit on a Samaritan village. The irony is inescapable.

Preaching Possibilities

The main emphasis for this week is the importance of baptism. How baptism includes us in God’s family. The final emphasis is on how God wants everyone as part of his family. Jesus showed that with his baptism.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

The baptism of Jesus is described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John's gospel does not directly describe Jesus' baptism.
Most modern theologians view the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist as a historical event to which a high degree of certainty can be assigned. Along with the crucifixion of Jesus, most biblical scholars view it as one of the two historically certain facts about him, and often use it as the starting point for the study of the historical Jesus.
The baptism is one of the five major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, the others being the Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Most Christian denominations view the baptism of Jesus as an important event and a basis for the Christian rite of baptism (see also Acts 19:1–7). In Eastern Christianity, Jesus' baptism is commemorated on 6 January (the Julian calendar date of which corresponds to 19 January on the Gregorian calendar), the feast of Epiphany. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches and some other Western denominations, it is recalled on a day within the following week, the feast of the baptism of the Lord. In Roman Catholicism, the baptism of Jesus is one of the Luminous Mysteries sometimes added to the Rosary. It is a Trinitarian feast in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The Gospel of John (John 3:23) refers to Enon near Salim as one place where John the Baptist baptized people, "because there was much water there". Separately, John 1:28 states that John the Baptist was baptizing in "Bethany beyond the Jordan". This is not the village Bethany just east of Jerusalem, but is generally considered to be the town Bethany, also called Bethabara in Perea on the Eastern bank of the Jordan near Jericho. In the 3rd century Origen, who moved to the area from Alexandria, suggested Bethabara as the location. In the 4th century, Eusebius of Caesarea stated that the location was on the west bank of the Jordan, and following him, the early Byzantine Madaba Map shows Bethabara as (Βέθαβαρά).
The biblical baptising is related to springs and a Wadi (al-Kharrar) close to the Eastern site of the Jordan River, not the Jordan itself. The pilgrimage sites, important for both Christians and Jews have shifted place during history. The site of Al-Maghtas (baptism, or immersion in Arabic) on the East side of the River in Jordan has been deemed the earliest place of worship. This site was found following UNESCO-sponsored excavations. Al-Maghtas was visited by Pope John Paul II in March 2000, and he said: "In my mind I see Jesus coming to the waters of the river Jordan not far from here to be baptized by John the Baptist". The Muslim conquest put an end to the Byzantine buildings on the east bank of the Jordan River, the later reverence took place just across the river in the West Bank at Qasr el Yahud.

The baptism of Jesus is generally considered as the start of his ministry, shortly after the start of the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke 3:1–2 states that:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea ..., the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
There are two approaches to determining when the reign of Tiberius Caesar started. The traditional approach is that of assuming that the reign of Tiberius started when he became co-regent in 11 AD, placing the start of the ministry of John the Baptist around 26 AD. However, some scholars assume it to be upon the death of his predecessor Augustus Caesar in 14 AD, implying that the ministry of John the Baptist began in 29 AD.
The generally assumed dates for the start of the ministry of John the Baptist based on this reference in the Gospel of Luke are about 28–29 AD, with the ministry of Jesus with his baptism following it shortly thereafter.

Most modern scholars believe that John the Baptist performed a baptism on Jesus, and view it as a historical event to which a high degree of certainty can be assigned. James Dunn states that the historicity of the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus "command almost universal assent". Dunn states that these two facts "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical facts" that they are often the starting points for the study of the historical Jesus. John Dominic Crossan states that it is historically certain that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan.
In the Antiquities of the Jews (18.5.2) 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus also wrote about John the Baptist and his eventual death in Perea.
The existence of John the Baptist within the same time frame as Jesus, and his eventual execution by Herod Antipas is attested to by 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus and the overwhelming majority of modern scholars’ view Josephus' accounts of the activities of John the Baptist as authentic. Josephus establishes a key connection between the historical events he recorded and specific episodes that appear in the gospels. The reference in the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus to John's popularity among the crowds (Ant 18.5.2) and how he preached his baptism is considered a reliable historical datum. Unlike the gospels, Josephus does not relate John and Jesus, and does not state that John's baptisms were for the remission of sins. However, almost all modern scholars consider the Josephus passage on John to be authentic in its entirety and view the variations between Josephus and the gospels as indications that the Josephus passages are authentic, for a Christian interpolator would have made them correspond to the Christian traditions.
One of the arguments in favor of the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John is that it is a story which the early Christian Church would have never wanted to invent, typically referred to as the criterion of embarrassment in historical analysis. Based on this criterion, given that John baptized for the remission of sins, and Jesus was viewed as without sin, the invention of this story would have served no purpose, and would have been an embarrassment given that it positioned John above Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew attempts to offset this problem by having John feel unworthy to baptize Jesus and Jesus giving him permission to do so in Matthew 3:14–15.
The gospels are not the only references to the baptisms performed by John and in Acts 10:37–38, the apostle Peter refers to how the ministry of Jesus followed "the baptism which John preached". Another argument used in favor of the historicity of the baptism is that multiple accounts refer to it, usually called the criterion of multiple attestation. Technically, multiple attestation does not guarantee authenticity, but only determines antiquity. However, for most scholars, together with the criterion of embarrassment it lends credibility to the baptism of Jesus by John being a historical event.

But if the baptism performed by John the Baptist was meant as a sign of repentance of sin and conversion to a new way of life, it’s reasonable to ask: Why did Jesus, as the sinless Son of God, receive baptism?
Narrated in each of the four Gospels, the baptism of Jesus marks the inauguration of His public ministry — His emergence from a life of seeming obscurity into a life of growing popularity on account of His preaching, miracles, healings and proclamation of mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus steps into the Jordan River and into His mission of redemption through this public religious act. The descent of the dove symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus receives as the Christ, Greek for “the Anointed One.”
This mark of divine blessing is accompanied by the voice of the Father in heaven who proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). This mysterious utterance reveals Jesus as the Son of God, the One sent from the Father to accomplish the salvation of the human race. In this dramatic scene we already grasp the identity and function of the Most Blessed Trinity — we see the Father as the One who begets and sends the Son to redeem the human race, the Son as the obedient servant who accomplishes the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier who empowers the mission of redemption.
Already at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus’ fundamental identity is situated in this Trinitarian relationship. In the early Church, the visit of the Magi, the baptism of the Lord and the miracle at Cana together constituted the meaning of Epiphany, for each of these three events reveals, manifests and unveils who Jesus is.
Drawing profound parallels between Jesus’ baptism and our own, we can see that, just as Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son at the Jordan, so, too, we receive a new identity in baptism as adopted children of the Father. The fruit of Christ’s victory over the power of sin and death is the divine invitation for us to share in the very life of the Trinity. Jesus Christ — namely, the Son — freely shares His very nature with us through the transforming waters of baptism. At the moment of our spiritual rebirth in the font, the Father beholds us with delight, exclaiming, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.” Christianity first and foremost is about whom we have become in Christ before it is about what we do or how we act. This saving act of spiritual adoption draws us into the very life of God and His merciful grace.
In his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI insightfully offers another facet of the baptism of the Lord. The baptismal action of John the Baptist was markedly different from any other religious rituals that had preceded it. The baptism he offered the crowds that came from Jerusalem occurred only once, signifying a radical break from a former life of sin and a new way of thinking and acting — all of which was framed by the imminent emergence of One greater than John who would “baptize with fire.” The crowds responded to John’s baptism as a reaction to his fiery preaching against sin and the call to conversion.
The retired Pope Benedict sees Jesus’ baptism as an expression of His fundamental submission to the will of the Father and His complete identification with sinners. By submersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus is publicly seen as one in need of repentance and forgiveness himself, although He has no need of it. Jesus is already embracing the enormous weight of humanity’s sinfulness, just as He will do again in a definitive and final way on the cross — labeled then as a criminal and blasphemer. The mysterious events at the Jordan River already foreshadow the saving acts of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Pope Benedict notes that the icons of the Eastern Church visualize this intrinsic connection between the baptism of the Lord and the Paschal Mystery by depicting the waters of the Jordan “as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades, the underworld, or hell.” Just as the Lord descends into the swirling waters of death at His baptism, He goes down to the netherworld after His crucifixion to rescue the souls of lost humanity.
In this downward descent, this complete identification with sinners, we grasp the radical humility of Jesus. He is the One who empties himself, not clinging to His equality with God but becoming a slave for the sake of our salvation. This is so beautifully articulated in the kenotic hymn of the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. God could have saved us in any manner that He chose, but He seems to embrace the most difficult and arduous way — the path of Incarnation and accompaniment.
Christianity is the only world religion that believes the omnipotent and mysterious God humbled himself to become one of His own creatures, embracing the fullness of our humanity in order to redeem us from inside our own nature and condition. The Church has never gotten over the wonder of this divine condescension. We celebrate the Word made flesh not only in the glory of Christmas, but in the fullness of the liturgy, prayer and moral life of the Christian tradition. (https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Article/TabId/535/ArtMID/13567/ArticleID/21352/What-Is-the-Meaning-of-Jesus%E2%80%99-Baptism.aspx)

God the Son became incarnate for the sake of our salvation (Phil. 2:5–11), displaying marvelously His love and grace. Yet we should not miss the necessity of the incarnation. By this we do not mean that it was necessary for the Lord to save us. His choice to redeem sinners was entirely free, and He was under no compulsion to save anyone. Having made the free decision to save us, God was bound by His own character and revelation to use specific means to save us. Among other things, this means that since man sinned, only man can pay the price for sin. Many Scriptures point us in this direction. First Corinthians 15:21, for example, tells us that “for as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” The fact that Jesus is God incarnate means that His work has an infinite significance and can be applied to all of His people. Nevertheless, the work itself can be effectual for human beings only if is performed by a human being.
Matthew 3:13–17 records our Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River, and as we read the account we can relate to John’s confusion. In verse 14, John essentially asks Jesus why He needs to be baptized. John wanted to deny baptism to Him, and we have to admit that John was not entirely off-base. After all, John preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4), and John recognized that Jesus had no sins for which He needed to repent (Matt. 3:14). When it came to Jesus and John, if anyone needed a baptism for the remission of sins, it was John.
Jesus did not dispute John’s point, for as the sinless God-man, there was nothing for which He needed to repent. Nevertheless, our Savior said His baptism was necessary “to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). This statement overflows with Christological significance. First, it shows that by His baptism, Jesus fully identified with His people as their representative. He did the same things that we do, albeit without sin, so He can stand in our place. Second, by this act of obedience in being baptized, Jesus shows us that our salvation would not be possible through His death alone. We have broken God’s commandments, and to make up for that, there must be full obedience to His statutes. John’s baptism was a command God gave to His people, and so it had to be obeyed. If our Savior had neglected this rule, His obedience to His Father would have been lacking, and He could not have saved us. (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/baptism-christ/)

Baptism in the early Church was called a "sacramentum." This is the Latin word for the soldier's oath of absolute devotion and obedience to his general. Therefore, anything called a sacrament by the Church contains the essence of this ancient understanding.

One day in class Dr. George Morris, Arthur J. Moore Chair of Evangelism, Candler School of Theology, told about his baptism. He was raised in the Appalachia coal mining region off the south. His father was a miner and a rough and tumble guy. He did not go to church with his wife and the children. One day an evangelist came to the region to hold a revival. He walked the valleys and hills and met Mr. Morris on his front porch. He invited him to the meeting and then left. Young George had already stopped going to church in emulation of his father's decision to stay away. Something the minister said took root. That night Mr. Morris got dressed and went to the revival with his wife and children. At the altar call he went down and joined the church and was baptized. He came back home and found young George and told him, "Tomorrow night you are going with me to church and get baptized too." The next night they all went and when the altar call was given young George went forward. The minister asked if he wanted to confess his sins and be baptized. George asked, "Is that what my Daddy did?" "Yes it is." "Then that is what I want to do too."
He was baptized. He never felt anything, but years later, his life is still given to God in full-time service.

John was confused about baptizing Jesus because he understood God only as a stern judge. He knew he was unworthy to baptize Jesus. Jesus revealed God's grace to John by allowing him to see that God was coming to participate in the suffering, not inflict it.
As John proclaimed the judgment of God, the God of Grace thrust Himself upon the faithful prophet.

After the christening of his baby brother in church, a three-year-old boy sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied: "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I want to stay with you guys!" (Cal Samra, Holy Hilarity [Carmel, New York, Guideposts, 1999], p. 26)

Seen on a bulletin board at Mayo Clinic (author unknown):
Cancer is limited.
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
It cannot lessen the power of the Resurrection.
Therefore, let the baptized rejoice.

Baptism has been an important event in a number of movies, with varied emphases upon its meaning. In The Godfather it contrasts the innocence of the Mafia child being baptized by the priest to the hypocrisy of the vicious don who has ordered that all of his gang rivals be killed while the ceremony is taking place. Thus as water of grace is sprinkled on the infant, the camera cuts to the series of ungracious acts of murder. Of a much lighter nature is the baptism of an escaped convict in the Coen brothers' film with its Bible-flavored title O Brother, Where Art Thou. The not-too-bright Delmar leaves his two buddies to wade into the river and crashes the line of believers waiting to be baptized. The no-questions-asked preacher baptizes him and newly cleansed Delmar, exuberant that his recent sins are forgiven, invites his two fellow escapees to "Come on in, boys, the water's fine!" The tenderest baptism scene is in Tender Mercies when former country-western star Mack Sledge is baptized during a church service, along with his young stepson Sonny. From his brief exchange with Sonny following the service we see that Mack regards his renewal as an on-going process, "not yet" completed. The same actor, Robert Duvall, is featured in a far more unusual baptism in the film, which he wrote and directed, The Apostle. Duvall portrays a Pentecostal preacher, once known as Sonny, who flees from the law after killing the assistant minister who is carrying on an affair with his wife. Changing his name to E.F. Apostle, he baptizes himself in a river after going through a long struggle with God in a borrowed camping tent. His baptism symbolizes the turning point in his life: whereas once he probably preached as much for his own glory as for God's, from now on he places himself completely into the hands of God.

Fred Pratt Green has written one of the few hymns about the baptism of Jesus, "When Christ Came to Jordan." In the first verse he affirms that it was not for repentance that Jesus came, but to show he was "God's Holy One." He did come to "share repentance" and temptation and to bring the good news that concluded with his dying on the cross. The last verse sees the baptism as a turning point, for with the descent of the Spirit like a dove, Christ's "hidden years" have come to an end, and "the age of grace" has now begun.

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring. He sends you a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He listens. He can live anywhere in the universe, but He chose your heart. Face it friend, He is crazy about you!

During the Second World War, one of Winston Churchill's advisors counseled him to "keep his ear to the ground." In other words, the advisor was urging him to pay close attention to what the people around him were saying and doing. The prime minister dismissed that advice, saying that "the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in this position." Instead of keeping his ear to the ground, Jesus looked to the heavens to receive direction in his life.

The ancient Romans had a saying: vox populi vox dei. Translated literally, it means "the voice of the people is the voice of God." In modern times, the prevalence and importance of public opinion polls demonstrates that that Roman adage is still adhered to. In particular, many politicians pay close attention to what people say and think. The good side of that is that government leaders show they are responsive to their constituents. The bad side, however, is that if the public's voice is considered to be the highest authority, ultimately that voice will fail as a guide toward bringing about good. After all, the voice of the people at one time advocated slavery and segregation, and politicians obliged by giving government sanction to those evils. Through his baptism, Jesus reminds us that there is a higher voice that we most need to listen for, the voice of God.

The Sabaean Mandeans of Iraq are a little-known sect, whose followers especially venerate John the Baptist. Their most important temple had been along the Tigris River near Baghdad, but Saddam Hussein's government confiscated it so they could put up a power plant there. With the loss of the temple, the Mandeans now rent a space along the river each year so they can observe their holy day, the Golden Day of Baptism, where worshipers don simple white robes and are baptized up to their chests in the water. The day is meant to mark the anniversary of John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus. The exact origin of their religion is not entirely clear, but it did originate sometime during the first three centuries A.D. The belief system is somewhat of a mixture of Gnosticism, Judaism, and Christianity. Mandean leaders say they have about 10,000 followers in Iraq, with small groups of Mandeans scattered throughout other countries around the world. One of the central Mandean teachings is that Mandeans are only permitted to marry other Mandeans, in order to preserve the purity of their bloodlines. Anyone who marries a Christian or a Muslim must leave the sect. For the last two thousand years no one has been able to enter the Mandeans. All of its followers have been born into the religion. Their holy book, the Ginza Raba, includes some of the same books that are found in the Old Testament, including the book of Genesis. They view Adam as God's first messenger, and they consider Jesus to be a false messiah. For the Mandeans, Sunday is their holy day. Like with Islam, divorce and drinking alcohol is forbidden. Religious leaders are required to wash themselves three times in water before performing any religious function. Weddings are also performed almost entirely in water. Followers are required to participate in several baptisms each year, reminding them that living water is the source of life. When Mandeans pray, they face north, using the North Star to provide direction.

Twenty years or so ago water was water. It was practically unheard of back then for anyone to buy bottled water, and it would have been somewhat difficult to imagine a world where different manufacturers would compete to offer the most fashionable "designer" water. At its core, water is water: two atoms of hydrogen bonded to one atom of oxygen. It's what we do with water that makes it different. By polluting it with chemicals and waste, we make water something less than it's meant to be. But by consecrating water and baptizing with it, we put water to its highest possible use.

The Baptism of Christ is one of the major holidays in the Russian Orthodox Church. In preparation for the festival, church members carve holes in the ice that cover local rivers. At midnight on that day, the priest blesses the water. Afterward, those who bathe in that ice hole are believed to be cleansed from their sins. Throughout the day people are seen in Russian cities walking toward the river with robes over their swim suits, briskly hurrying through the snow. Generally speaking, no one stays in the icy water for more than a minute. Although Russians realize that there could potentially be a health risk by going into the freezing water, such as a sudden heart attack, they firmly believe that the ritual makes a person stronger, physically and spiritually.

Part of the liturgy in many churches on Baptism of the Lord Sunday involves a renewal of baptismal vows. The ritual is not a re-baptism, rather it is a ceremony in which worshipers are reminded of the promises and vows that were made at the time of baptisms. That rite usually concludes with the minister placing a hand into the font, lifting up some water for all to see, and then while making the sign of the cross saying, "Remember your baptism and be thankful."
When it comes to remembering, some people are more gifted than others. The current world memory champion displayed an ability to memorize 100 decks of playing cards. Andi Bell took five hours to commit the order of each deck to memory before being tested by having a random card pulled from each deck. He was able to successfully recall 89 out of 100 cards he was asked to identify. The thirty-five-year-old also holds the world record for memorizing the order of one deck of cards in 34.03 seconds.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday is a particular day to consider the centrality of water in our world. Water is present in many ways that we might not even be aware. For instance, a potato is composed of 80% water. A cow is 74% water. And a tomato is almost nothing but water-95% water. Water makes up about 65% of the average human being, meaning that we are almost twice as much liquid as we are solid.

Jesus' baptism was an occasion when Jesus' Father was definitively identified. More and more people in the world today are left to wonder who their fathers really are. The first wave of children who are the result of sperm donations are now growing up, and many are beginning to wonder about the identities of their biological fathers. In the United States right now about one million people who were born as a result of sperm donation are now approaching adulthood and are asking those questions. In 1999 a couple started the Donor Sibling Registry to help link up children who were conceived from the same sperm donors but whose mothers were different. Right now that Registry has nearly 1,000 members, and more than 70 matches have been able to be made. The overall question of whether or not donors and offspring should be connected has not been fully resolved. The entire industry is primarily self-regulated. At present the American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends that no more than 25 children should come from one donor in a population of 800,000 people. But that means that in a state like New York, one donor could end up having as many as 250 offspring. The Sperm Bank of California limits one sperm donor to no more than 10 families in the world. In 1983, that bank instituted the first "donor identity release" program, which gives donors the option to sign up to be contacted when their offspring reach age 18. Although this whole subject might still seem like a page out of science fiction to many people, the church in the very near future is going to have to be prepared to offer Christian guidance to those who face these kinds of dilemmas as they search for their identity.

After hearing God's voice at his baptism, Jesus commenced his public ministry. Many denominations in the United States today, however, have been discovering a serious shortage of men and women who likewise are willing to be in ministry. On the surface it doesn't appear that there's much of a problem. Of the 16 Protestant denominations that submitted data last year, they reported having 135,000 clergy and 89,500 local congregations. The problem, though, is that 71,000 of those clergy are not serving congregations. They're either retired or serving in institutions as chaplains, teachers, or in other capacities. About 1/3 of all Presbyterian churches in the United States do not have an installed pastor. In 2000, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reported 2,102 vacant pulpits. Similar shortages are being reported by the American Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and United Methodists.

God's gift of grace is what gives us the ability to live new lives, unfettered by the seemingly endless cycle of revenge and retribution. Two American veterans were standing in front of the Vietnam Memorial. They had traveled to Washington to see the names listed on those black walls and to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. The one soldier asked the other, "Have you forgiven those Vietnamese soldiers for holding you as a prisoner of war?" The man replied, "I will never forgive them." The first man said, "Then I guess they still have you in prison, don't they?"

"God will never bestow mercy on you because you deserve it, but only because you need it." (Jonathan Edwards)

"No athlete is admitted to the contest of virtue, unless he has first been washed of all stains of sins and consecrated with the gift of heavenly grace." (Ambrose)

"Baptism signifies that the old Adam in us is to be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and perish with all sins and evil lusts; and that the new man should daily come forth again and rise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever." (Martin Luther)

"Baptism points back to the work of God, and forward to the life of faith." (J. Alec Motyer)

"Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected." (Jonathan Edwards)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship (Based on Is 43:1-7)

Leader: Come, let us worship the God who formed and created us.
People: Yes, for God is the one who has led us through the waters of baptism and of life.
Leader: God holds us precious, for he has given his son as ransom for our souls.
People: Therefore, we will not fear whatever befalls us,
All: Because we believe that God will gather around the table of his son all who believe and serve him. Let us worship the Lord our God!

Prayer of Confession

Gracious and loving God, You have brought us through the waters of baptism, but we still fear the waters and storms of life. You have named us and called us Your children of the covenant, but we live as if we were still children of darkness, chasing after the false gods of society-wealth and prestige, popularity and comfort. Forgive us for failing to serve You with our whole hearts, minds and souls. Renew us by Your Spirit and enable us to live up to our baptismal vows, for we ask it in the name of the one who was baptized as a sign of his solidarity with our human condition, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Prayer of Dedication

Bless, O Lord, this offering that we bring to Your table. As we stand before the table of our Lord and remember his call to serve, may the gifts we have placed in these offering plates truly represent our determination to serve him every day with our talent, time and treasure. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Dear God, You created and You sustain us all our days. We thank You for the visible sign of our acceptance into Your covenant signified by our baptism. As You watched over the children of Israel and guided them through the terror of pursuit through the sea, so You watch over us amidst the storms that beset us. You led Your children into freedom from Pharaoh's bondage, and so You continue to beckon us to that perfect freedom found in serving Your son Jesus Christ. We are grateful for his great love for us, giving his own life for us on the cross. Daily You show us a world still living in Good Friday, and so we pray for the hungry and the sick; the victims and the perpetrators of violence and oppression; the shunned and the despised; the lonely and the left out. Fill us with Your Spirit so that our prayers will lead to Easter deeds of compassion and resistance to all forms of evil. We pray for the leaders of our nation, that they might execute justice and mercy in our laws and decisions. Bring together those currently at war with one another, that they might seek ways of dealing with their conflicts in ways of understanding and nonviolence. And last of all, we pray for the church and for ourselves, that our dreams and goals might be large enough to conform to Your will. This we ask in Jesus' precious name. Amen.