Posted by: Michael Chance | April 24, 2011

Resurrection of the Lord – Sunrise Vigil – April 24th

Greeting: Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ our Lord.
My brothers and sisters in Christ:
On this most holy morning in which Jesus Christ passed over from death to life,
We gather as the Church to watch and pray.
This is the Passover of Christ in which we share in Christ’s victory and death.
(from The United Methodist Book of Worship)

Opening Prayer: God of life, through Jesus Christ you have bestowed upon the world the light of life.
Sanctify this new fire, and grant that our hearts and minds may also be kindled
With holy desire to shine forth with the brightness of Christ’s rising,
That we may attain to the feast of everlasting light;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The United Methodist Book of Worship)

Lighting of the Paschal Candle

The Light of Christ rises in glory,
Overcoming the darkness of sin and death.
Christ is our Light!

Opening Hymn: Christ Has Risen (John Bell/William Moore)

Reading from the Word: Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Proclamation

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shing splendor, radiant in the brightness of our King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!

Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
– excerpted from the Exsultet

Hymn: Now the Green Blade Riseth (J. M. C. Crum/Traditional French carol tune)

Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant

Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

Through the reaffirmation of our faith we renew the covenant declared at our baptism,
acknowledge what God is doing for us, and affirm our commitment to Christ’s holy Church.
(from The United Methodist Book of Worship)

Hymn: Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise (Charles Wesley/Robert Williams)

Blessing: We are sent forth in the power of Christ’s resurrection. Alleluia!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Posted by: Michael Chance | April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday – April 17th

Litany of the Palms

Proclamation of the Entrance into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11

Hymn: Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord (Stephan Schwartz)
               Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (Jeanette Threlfall/”Ellacombe”)
               Hosanna (Carl Tuttle)

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, on this day your Son Jesus Christ entered the holy city of Jerusalem and was proclaimed King by those who spread their garments and palm branches along his way. Let those branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may every hail him as our Lord, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life. Amen.
(United Methodist Book of Worship)

Hymn: We Sang Our Glad Hosannas (Mary Nelson Keithahn/John D. Horman)

Readings from the Word:
     Isaiah 50:4-9a
     Psalm 31:1-16
     Philippians 2:5-11

Litany of the Passion

Hymn: Lead Me To The Cross (Brooke Fraser)

Prayer: Almighty God, you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to suffer death on the cross. Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and ever. Amen. (Laurence Hull Stookey)

Proclamation of the Passion Story: Matthew 27:11-54

Response to the Word:

This week, there is no sermon. The story of the Passion, told here only in its’ abbreviated form, it powerful enough to stand on its’ own. Instead, I urge each of you to engage in prayer and reflection each day in the week to come, and to prepare your hearts to hear the full message of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and the Passion on Good Friday, so as to be able to observe a faithful Easter Vigil next weekend. May God bless you with his Holy Spirit, so that you may be true disciples of our Savior, the Christ. Amen.

Hymn: We Sang Our Glad Hosannas (Mary Nelson Keithahn/John D. Horman)

Blessing: The Lord Jesus Christ be
     with you to defend you,
     within you to refresh you,
     around you to preserve you,
     before you to guide you,
     behind you to justify you,
     above you to bless you;
who lives and reigns with the Father,
and with the Holy Spirit, one God for evermore. (10th Century prayer)

Posted by: Michael Chance | March 13, 2011

Transfiguration Sunday – March 6th

Hymn: O Wondrous Sight! O Vision Fair (Sarum Beviary, trans. John Mason Neale/William Knapp)

Opening Prayer: Holy God, upon the mountain you revealed our Messiah,
     who by his death and resurrection would fulfill both the law and the prophets.
     By his transfiguration enlighten our path
     that we may date to suffer with him in the service of humanity
     and so share in the everlasting glory of him
     who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
     One God, for ever. Amen. (Lawrence Hull Stookey)

Readings from the Word:
     Exodus 24:12-18
     Psalm 99
     2 Peter 1:16-21
     Matthew 17:1-9

Reflections on the Word

The Gospel story this week marks the beginning of Jesus’ final journey towards Jerusalem and his passion and resurrection. It’s an unusual story for Matthew, and one that doesn’t easily fit into the “standard” narrative of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus takes his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, as he climbs to the top of a mountain, where he becomes “transfigured” – his face and clothes glowing bright – and is suddenly joined by both Moses and Elijah. Stunned, the three disciples try to make sense of the spectacle. Peter, ever the man of action before thought, jumps up and, in a fumbling attempt to respond to the dazzling display, offers to build three structures to shelter Jesus and two of the most important figures from Jewish history, the lawgiver and the great prophet. It’s an altogether too human response to a heavenly event.

But while Peter is still rambling through his building plans, the voice of God sounds, and proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved – listen to him!” Once again, as He did with Moses and Elijah, God reminds us that, in the presence of God, it is not action that is needed, but stillness, wonder, adoration – and for awed reverence of the majesty of the Creator.

Yet no one can experience the full presence of God, even as a mere witness, without themselves being changed. This event on the mountaintop was the beginning of not only Jesus’ final ministry, but of the disciples – soon to become the Apostles – ministry, as well. Peter, James, and John had seen the undisguised truth of Jesus’ divinity, had heard the voice of God proclaim it, and it surely changed their lives forever. Even two millennium removed, we can experience these “mountaintop” moments, just as they did, when God reaches down and speaks to us. The question is, how do we respond? In fumbling attempts to “do something”? Or by stilling our own voices, and listening to the call of Christ? Because by listening, and then responding, we, too, become “transfigured”, and prepared for our own journey of ministry.

In Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love, she writes: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” When we accept God’s grace and love, we become new people, transfigured. And as we live out our transfigured lives, following in the example of Christ, everyone we touch becomes changed, as well.

Rev. J. Carl Gregg writes: “We each reflect different aspects of the image of God, and practicing transfiguration allows God’s image to shine more brilliantly through us in all our uniqueness and diversity.” As we reflect in awe and wonder as the majesty of God reveal in Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop, let us use the experience – and our own transfiguring encounters with the presence of God – to prepare ourselves for our journey through Lent and toward Calvary, so that we may truly be ministers to the Gospel of Christ, and a transfiguring force in the world.

Hymn: Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word (Tobias Clausnitzer, trans. Catherine Winkworth/Johann R. Ahle)

Blessing: Come down from the mountain with mountainlike faith.
     Walk on God’s paths as bright, shining lights.
     Live in God’s ways with faith, hope, and love.
     Go into the world transformed and renewed! Amen. (The Abingdon Worship Annual)

Posted by: Michael Chance | March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday – March 9th

Hymn:  Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days (Claudia F. Hernaman/”Land of Rest”)

Invitation to the Observance of Lenten Discipline

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
the early Christians observed with great devotion
     the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection
and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration
     there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season, converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
     and had separated themselves from the community of faith
          were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
     and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way, the who congregation was reminded
     of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
          and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
     to observe a holy Lent:
     by self-examination and repentance;
     by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
     and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.
To make a right beginning of repentance
     and as a mark of our mortal nature,
     let us now bow before our Creator and Redeemer.
(United Methodist Book of Worship)


O God, maker of everything and judge of all that you have made,
from the dust of the earth you have formed us
     and from the dust of the earth you would raise us up.
By the redemptive power of the cross,
     create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit,
that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worthy of your calling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(Lawrence Hull Stookey)


The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.  Amen.

Posted by: Michael Chance | March 6, 2011

7th Sunday After Epiphany – February 20th

Hymn: Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word (Tobias Clausnitzer, trans. Catherine Winkworth/Johann R. Ahle)
              Blessed Be Your Name (Matt Redman)

Opening Prayer: Almighty and merciful God,
     you have taught us through your Son
     that to love is to fulfil the law.
     Help us to love you with our whole heart,
     and our neighbours as ourselves.
     We ask this through your Son,
     Jesus Christ our Lord,
     who lives and reigns
     with you and the Holy Spirit,
     one God, now and forever.   Amen.  (LCA Worship Resources)

Readings from the Word:
     Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
     Psalms 119:33-40
     1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
     Matthew 5:38-48

Reflections on the Word

This week’s reading from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is one of the most familiar, yet one of the most misinterpreted in the Gospels. It has been alternately used to justify absolute pacifism, even in the face of horrific massacres and genocide, and to advocate vengeful public shaming of those that merely disagree with a given opinion or position on a controversial issue. Both ends of this spectrum completely miss the point that Jesus is trying to make, as do many other interpretations.

It’s unfortunate that this reading appears on the lectionary calendar so infrequently, as the last time there was a seventh Sunday after Epiphany in year A of the lectionary cycle was over 20 years ago. Typically, this passage is only pulled out after some violent, tragic event, or as part of a planned sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. But it’s important enough that it should be read and taught on a more regular basis. Perhaps that would create more thoughtful discussions about the meaning of Jesus’ teaching, and how we should apply it to our lives.

“Do not resist evildoers, but turn the other cheek.” “If your coat is demanded, give also your cloak.” “Go the extra mile.” “Love your enemies.” Taken in isolation, each of Jesus’ lessons can be used to justify all manner of behavior, most of which is not what He intended. These verses are a continuation of the examples from the previous weeks’ readings from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is trying to shape his followers’ understanding of what is expected of them as children of God. These are more examples of not merely fulfilling God’s law as given to Moses, but of going beyond it, toward a new “perfection” in our relationships with each other. “Turn the other cheek” tells us to go beyond the laws against vengeance and retaliation, to cause the aggressor to recognize our shared humanity by our loving, instead of hateful, response to their violent disrespect. “Give also your cloak” says to go beyond the laws that require fair dealings and justice, and show the true justice that God’s love demands. “Go the extra mile.” commands us not just give “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, but to be generous with those who hire us, and with those we employ. “Love your neighbor” whom you like is easy; “Love your enemy” takes God’s love to a whole new level.

While we may not ever get there completely, Jesus challenges us to go beyond the conventional, the ordinary, and being merely compliant with God’s law, to “be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Paul, in his letter to the early church in Corinth, reminds us that we are the temples of Christ’s church, laid on the foundation of His sacrifice for us. As holy, living temples to God, we should always be working toward that perfection in grace and love, according to the example of Christ. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” May we always strive to be acceptable temples for God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and working toward perfection in the love and grace of Christ. Amen.

Hymn: Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life (George Herbert/Ralph Vaughan Williams)
God of Justice (Tim Hughes)

Blessing: Wonderful God, you call us to do the impossible:
     to love our enemies, to confront injustice, to share bountifully with the poor.
     You do not give us an inch: you call us to be perfect in our imitation of you.
     And yet, you give us everything:
     love abounding, the foundation of Christ, and the gift of creation.
     Bless us, therefore, as we depart this place:
     give us the blessing of a faithful spirit, a willing heart, and a kingdom of grace. Amen!
(Rev. Elizabeth Dilley)

Posted by: Michael Chance | February 13, 2011

5th Sunday After Epiphany – February 6th

Hymn: The Voice of God is Calling (John Haynes Holmes/William Lloyd)

Opening Prayer: Perfect Light of revelation,
     as you shone in the life of Jesus,
     whose epiphany we celebrate,
     so shine in us and through us,
     that we may become beacons of truth and compassion,
     enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy. Amen. (from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers)

Readings from the Word:
     Isaiah 58:1-12
     Psalms 112:1-10
     1 Corinthians 2:1-16
     Matthew 5:13-20

Reflections on the Word
“You are the light of the world.”

“Your light shall rise in the darkness…”

“They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright…”

As we progress thru the season after Epiphany and into the late winter days, our readings are still proclaiming “Light!” to the world. But this week they take on a different dimension. Instead of continuing to declare Jesus as the light of salvation to a world lost in darkness, both Isaiah and Matthew (joined by the psalmist) are now reflecting God’s light onto us, followers and would-be disciples.

The reading from the Gospel this week continues with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. In this next portion of chapter 5, Jesus begins to explain what exactly it means to be a disciple. But what they heard was very different from what they thought they knew of how to serve God. The people of the time were used to a practice of faith that revolved around performing specific tasks at specific times in a rigidly specific manner, believing that these practices would earn them God’s favor and blessings. In some ways, this isn’t very different than what many Christians still believe today. “If I attend church every week, and memorize the right Bible passages, and say the right prayers, and give my tithe, and work at the homeless shelter, and go on enough mission trips, then I’ll get to heaven when I die.” Sound familiar?

Jesus explains that those who follow him are in the spotlight, and will be watched, even when they may not know it. Consider the three examples that he uses: salt, a candle, and a city on a hill. Salt was and is an important ingredient of food, and whether it add or subtracts from the taste of the food depends on how well it’s been kept. How well we keep God’s commandments determines whether we enrich the lives of those we touch or sour them. Candles aren’t of any use if hidden away, no matter how brightly they burn. Living a pious life in isolation, away from others, doesn’t share God’s love. A city built on a high hill will be see for miles around, and everyone will see how well the city walls are maintained. As Christians, people will see how our lives are maintained, and where our priorities are by the very actions we take.

Have you noticed that Jesus’ examples are things that are not much use by themselves, but work in relationship to others to be of value? Salt is rarely eaten by itself, but used to add to the flavor of other foods. A lit candle in an empty rooms isn’t of much use, but in a room full of people allows them to see each other clearly. The Christian life isn’t meant to be lived alone, and following God’s commandments isn’t meant to be a solitary exercise, (as Jesus noted was the practice of many so-called “pious” scribes and Pharisees).

So how do we live a life in relationship with others and “fulfill the law and the prophets”, as Jesus said that he came to do? A look at the readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Psalms begin to give examples of some of the things that Christians should be doing. Isaiah talks about loosing the bonds of injustice, breaking the yokes of the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing those without clothes, and opening your own house to the homeless. The Psalmist calls for lending generously, conducting your affairs with justice, and giving to the poor. Jesus, later in the Gospels, will echo these examples, and more. And in all of these examples, we are not doing things for ourselves, but for others.

Here in these examples we see the embodiment of “the greatest commandment”.  We show our love for God and our obedience to his law by serving others, by being “salt and light” for those we interact with every day. We do these things, not because the law tells us that we have to do these things to get to heaven, but as a offering – the “fast” that God chooses to accept – in thanks and praise for the love and grace that God has shown to us, through the sacrifice of Jesus and the granting of the Holy Spirit.

“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” Jesus calls us to live out our faith through our relationships with those around us – neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and all those who we meet in our daily lives. We are all called to be the “city on a hill”, and to “let your light so shine before others” that we will, through our lives, glorify God and help make disciples of all the earth. Where will your “salt” enrich someone this week? Where will your “light” brighten the lives of another? May Jesus guide us to fulfill God’s law and truly become the “city on the hill”.

Hymn: Gather Us In (Marty Hagen)

Blessing: God sends us forth, promising to strengthen us for the work we are called to do. The grace of God is given us; the peace of Christ goes with us, and the presence of the Holy Spirit strengthens us for our tasks. Go, be the light of the world. Amen. (Rev. Dr. Steven F. Plymale)

Posted by: Michael Chance | February 2, 2011

Candlemas – February 2nd

Reading from the Gospel – The Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32)

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Blessings for Candlemas

Dear friends: forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people. As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified, as we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory. In this eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

Lord God, the springing source of everlasting light,
pour into the hearts of your faithful people
the brilliance of your eternal splendour,
that we, who by these kindling flames
light up this temple to your glory,
may have the darkness of our souls dispelled,
and so be counted worthy to stand before you
in that eternal temple where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen  (Excerpted from The Promise of His Glory)

God our Father,
Source of all light,
today you revealed to Simeon
Your light of revelation to the nations.
Bless + these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them to praise your glory
walk in the path of goodness
and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.  (New Saint Joseph Weekday Missal)

Posted by: Michael Chance | January 26, 2011

Ecumenical Sunday – January 23th

Hymn: O Church of God, United (Frederick B. Morley)

Opening Prayer: O Christ, who commanded the apostles to go into all the world, and to preach the Gospel to every creature, let your name be great among the nations from the rising up of the sun to its going down, now and forever. Amen.
(Lancelot Andrewes)

Readings from the Word:
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Liturgy for Christian Unity
Let us ask the Lord to strengthen all Christians faith in Christ, the Savior of the world.
Let us ask the Lord to sustain and guide Christians with his gifts along the way to full unity.
Let us ask the Lord for the gift of unity and peace for the world.
We ask you, O Lord, for the gifts of your Spirit.
Enable us to penetrate the depth of the whole truth, and grant that we may share with others the goods that you have put at our disposal.
Teach us to overcome divisions. Send us your Spirit to lead to full unity your sons and daughters in full charity, in obedience to your will; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from Pope John Paul II)

Reflections on the Word
Midwinter can be a part of the year that definitely feels like a time of “deep darkness”. Although we’re past the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), it doesn’t feel like we’ve yet turned the corner back to longer days, and the promise of spring still seems far in the future. While we mostly think of Christmas lights brightening up the winter darkness, by the end of January, most of us have taken them down and packed them away until next December, leaving us in the midwinter darkness. But, here and there, I often still find someone that has left a single electric candle light in a front window. In the deep dark of winter nights, that single light shines forth as bright as a beacon, driving away the darkness and casting a warm and welcoming glow on the cold landscape.

It’s fitting that on this Sunday, which is celebrated as Ecumenical Sunday in many churches, that we have the combination of the reading from Matthew of Jesus starting his ministry, leaving his home in Nazareth and moving to Capernaum, gathering the first of the disciples, and beginning to lay the foundation for the Christian church, and Paul’s letter to the fractious early church in Corinth. Rather than loudly proclaim the creation of a new faith with grand announcements or celebrations in Jerusalem or any of the other capitals of the world, Jesus moves to town populated by people from many cultures, in what many of his contemporaries considered a backwater part of Israel, so that, like with his baptism by John, God’s promises as foretold by the prophets can be fulfilled. Jesus starts his ministry not intending to split the world or to bring salvation to only one people, but unite them in a new relationship with God, as Paul reminds the new Corinthian followers of Christ.

Look at who Jesus calls to be his first disciples. Not the high priests in Jerusalem or the leading rabbis of the Pharisees, or the most learned scholars among the scribes and Sadducees, no royalty or great military leaders. Fishermen. Plain, hard-working commercial fishermen, from the shores of Galilee. As we learn later in the Gospels, Jesus called to be his closest followers those from everyday, ordinary occupations and backgrounds. People just like us. Ordinary people who became the foundation for the kingdom of God, and of his church.

And like that single candlelight in the window on a dark winter night, each of those first disciples was drawn to leave their old lives and walk into the light of a new life in Christ. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the call that Jesus makes, to the people of his time and to ours. Jesus asks us to turn away from the darkness, from our old lives and temptations, and to follow him to a new life in God.

Jesus came into a world that was lost and confused, like someone stumbling around in the darkness, and provided a light of hope and salvation. In many ways, our world is still full of lost and confused people, seeking in the dark for that source of light that will lead them to a new, grace filled life. Christ calls to him followers that, having themselves repented of their old lives, will become beacons of hope and healing for a broken and splintered world, drawing all the world to God like fishermen pulling in their nets.

Christ has found us, and calls to us, “Follow me!” Will we not turn again, and become a light in the darkness for someone lost in the world?

Hymn: We Are Called (David Haas)

Blessing: Jesus, the light of the world, calls us to follow.
Go and tell the news of God’s love.
Cast the nets of grace wide,
that all may see the glory of God.
Go forth and shine with God’s light!
May God–Source, Word, and Spirit–
bless you with the radiance of love. Amen.
(The Abingdon Worship Annual)

Posted by: Michael Chance | January 16, 2011

Human Relations Sunday – January 16th

A prayer for Human Relations Sunday:

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.

As we gather today in this place, allow your Spirit to fill our very being.

As we worship today, we remember our brothers and sisters who are worshiping elsewhere throughout the world.

Inspire each of us to work more faithfully for justice and dignity of life everywhere.

Raise our vision above the barriers of color, culture, and creed that separate us.

Give us wisdom as we deal with one another.

Help us to recognize and to respect different ways, rather than to judge.

In the Spirit of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve, we now must walk in the world.

We mus reach out our handls with help and open our hearts in love.

Awake in us the desire to seek your way of serving you in the world.


(Nancy R. McMaster)

Posted by: Michael Chance | January 8, 2011

Baptism of the Lord – January 9th

Hymn:  “I Sing the Almighty Power of God”, Isaac Watts/”Forest Green”

Opening Prayer: Gracious and loving God – you call to us across deep waters and dark places.  Yours is the light which guides us and the voice which we follow.  We pray that you would open up your heavens and send your Spirit upon us.  As we worship you let us hear your voice once again.  May those without hope be encouraged and those who are sad be given new joy.  Indeed, O Lord, may all who hunger and thirst receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and may your name be glorified, both now and forevermore.  Amen. (Rev. Richard J. Fairchild)

Readings from the Word:

  • Isaiah 42:1-9
  • Psalm 29
  • Acts 10:34-43
  • Matthew 3:13-17

Baptismal Reaffirmation Liturgy

 Brothers and sisters in Christ:  Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.  We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.  All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.   

Through the reaffirmation of our faith we renew the covenant declared at our baptism, acknowledge what God is doing for us, and affirm our commitment to Christ’s holy Church.

The Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

                 (from the Congregational Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, United Methodist Book of Worship)

Reflections on the Word

“Hey, I want to get washed up!”

That line, spoken by Jesus toward the end of the opening scene of the musical “Godspell” as he splashes thru the river towards a confused character portraying John the Baptist, is one of my favorite expressions of baptism.  There’s an enthusiasm expressed in this declaration, a fervent desire to be made whole in the sight of God and God’s people.  Jesus actively sought out John, insisting, against all of John’s arguments, that he be baptized.  There’s an unspoken sense baptism was something that Jesus felt he had to do, so that he could begin his work in ministry on Earth.

For Christians, the need for baptism is fairly commonly understood.  Through being baptized, we are forgiven of our sins, receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, and are welcomed into the family and community of Christ’s holy church.  It is how we proclaim our acceptance of God’s grace, our wish for salvation, and our desire to join with other believers in their journeys of faith.  But why, if he was the Son of God, the Deity Incarnate, etc., did Jesus need to be baptized?  Wasn’t he already “one with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit”?  What sins did Jesus need to be forgiven of?  Why did he need to seek repentance?  If, according to John, Jesus was bringing a new baptism of the Holy Spirit, why did Jesus need a baptism of water?

The early followers of Jesus wrestled with these same questions, but the answer is there in Matthew’s Gospel: “For it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  This act of meeting John at the Jordan River was his first public declaration of his ministry.  It marks the end of his old life as just another person from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, and starts the beginning of a new life, a life of declaring the “Good News” of God’s love and grace, and bringing the means of salvation to the whole world.  We hear this need echoed in the reading from Isaiah: “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”  Just as our baptism declares us to be “given new birth through water and the Spirit”, Jesus’ baptism was necessary to “clean away” his old, secular life, and start him afresh on his true life’s purpose.  Part of “fulfilling all righteousness”, of being obedient to God’s will and plan, meant that he needed to be baptized, and publicly declaring himself to be, not above or apart from humanity, but fully and willingly part of it.  And this is the part that John didn’t understand when Jesus first asked to be baptized.  Jesus’ first act of his public ministry wasn’t a bold declaration of kingship, or the announcement of a grand campaign to overthrow the government, or issuing orders to obey and worship him.  Instead, his first act was to humble himself before God, and to be obedient to a plan greater than his human incarnation.

This is Jesus becoming the “Servant” of Isaiah’s song.  Not a domineering priest-king; not a conquering warrior; not a political dictator; but a servant – a servant of God, for the benefit of humankind.   Instead of bold proclamations in the public square, Jesus speaks to us in the quiet voices.  Instead of grand public gestures announced with great fanfare, the Gospels tell of simple examples, and the oft told, “Tell no one of these things.”  The Servant doesn’t break the injured or quench the remaining fires of the faint of faith.  Instead, he lifts them up, and gives them hope and justice.  By becoming the faithful Servant, God sees his commandments fulfilled, and bestows on Jesus his full blessing – “This is my Beloved, my Chosen One, with whom I am well pleased.”

And the best part is that this great gift of God’s – his offering us His Servant to bring His grace, His hope, and His justice – isn’t limited to only a select few.  Hear again the declaration of Peter in the reading from Acts: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  We, too, no matter where we come from, no matter how our lives have unfolded, are also called by God to live as servants to His people.  The gift of God’s grace, freely given, can be accepted by all of us, by following the example of Christ – “fulfill all righteousness”, humble ourselves to God’s will, earnestly repent of our wrongs, and declare that we, too, wish to live in the community of faith with the believers of God, and become the faithful servants whose lives bring hope and justice to all we meet.  In doing so, we will, along with Jesus, receive the blessings of the Holy Spirit, that we may share that blessing with all God’s people.

And so, on this day when we remember when the Son of God, at the banks of the Jordan River, publicly and humbly began his ministry of servant faithfulness, let us also recall when the Holy Spirit entered our lives and set us on the path that leads to life.  Let us renew our vows to be faithful servants of God and disciples of Christ.  And let us always hold this in our hearts: “Remember your baptism, and be thankful!”

Hymn: “Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters”, Ruth Duck/B. F. White

Blessing: Go now as a light to the nations.  Honor the Lord; preach what you know of the risen Christ, and fulfill all righteousness.  And may God strengthen you and bless you with peace; May Christ Jesus bring forth justice for you and among you; And may the Holy Spirit alight on you and affirm you as God’s beloved ones. Amen. (Nathan Nettleton)

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