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)