The Heavens are Opened!

After Epiphany: The Great Invitation Worship Series Overview

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

We witness the baptism of Jesus, reaffirm the baptismal covenant, and enter anew into the mystery of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from “opened heavens” for the work of evangelism that lies ahead of us during the coming weeks.

Reading Notes

NRSV texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé

Isaiah 42:1-9
"Here is my servant . . . my chosen . . . I have given you as . . . a light to the nations."

Psalm Response: Psalm 29 (UMH 761)
The response is to a familiar tune. Sing the Psalm with the sung response, using Tone 1 in C major.

Acts 10:34-43
Peter, preaching to Cornelius and his household, summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus, "beginning in Galilee after the baptism . . ."

Matthew 3:13-17
Matthew's account of the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan.

Calendar Notes

“The Heavens Are Opened”

Today, a new season begins, the Season after Epiphany, and with it our new series, “The Great Invitation.”

The theme for this season historically and in the series we have provided is evangelism. It’s a time for the church to invite people to “Come and See” who Jesus is, what following him means, and what he teaches about life that is truly life. The season traces out the arc of the life of disciples of Jesus, from baptism to resurrection in the age to come, by tracing out the arc of the ministry of Jesus himself, from his own baptism to his transfiguration. So by walking through this season the church is strengthened in the basics of its life and ministry as it invites others to consider walking this journey with them. The season concludes with an invitation to prepare for discipleship during Lent.

In the Series: Overture

Today is the opening of a season designed for evangelism and invitation. As with all series, the first service functions as an overture for all the services to follow. In addition to the particular focus for this day, be sure to provide ways for your congregation to know where you’re going, and especially, why. This season of evangelism and invitation is an opportunity for your congregation to invite others who have not been part of the church to “come and see” what Jesus is about and what following him with you might mean for them.

This series may functionally have two “opening days.” This week might be primarily about getting those who are already on board ready for their work of evangelism and invitation during the weeks to come. Next week might be the launch you specifically target for the first invitation to newcomers in your publicity and marketing for this series. So keep in mind you may actually have two “overtures,” one this week for your existing congregation, and another next week to make sure those invited to begin the journey with you are also oriented.

However you decide to handle the “series opening” (single starting this week for all, or double including next week as a new start for newcomers), keep in mind that a good series overture is more than a list of topics you’ll explore. What you do in overture is not so much explanation as foretaste. One of the ways we’ve built a bit of foretaste into this series is through the use of the hymn “We Would See Jesus”in a variety of ways throughout the season. In today’s service, it shows up as a Communion anthem. If you use projection, consider displaying a series outline using our series graphics in your opening announcement set and accompanying the set with the tune in the background, either live or recorded within the slide set. If you do not have projection, consider placing the themes and images for each week either around the worship space or in a place where folks can easily see them all at once upon entering or leaving the worship space. Overture is best when it is more about showing than telling.

Today: The Heavens Are Opened!

Today’s service is about radical new beginnings. The opening of the heavens (see Sidebar in preaching notes for this service) at the baptism of Jesus signals and is a foretaste of the breaking of the powers of this present age and the inflowing of the age to come. Our baptisms participate in this beginning of the renewal of all things. Every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows, as we do this day as a Response to the Word, we are saying “Refresh in us this all-renewing love, grace, and power.”

We begin this season with baptismal reaffirmation not only because baptism marked the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, but because we really need such refreshing in the all-renewing love, grace, and power of our Triune God as we undertake the work of evangelism and invitation for the season ahead. Starting today.

Act of Commitment to Invitation
Starting today. But not on hiatus until next Sunday! There is work to do between now and then, work for which the Holy Spirit prepares us through our reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. This is work for each and every one of us to do. It is not up to the church office, the pastor, or whatever marketing your church has done for this new series. It is primarily up to each of us, individually, to invite people we know and perhaps some we don’t yet know to the life of God’s kingdom made known in Jesus Christ.

So pastor and planning team, there is additional work for you to do, or make sure is happening, this week! In this service, ask those present to identify one partner who is present in the service today. This may be a spouse, a friend, or a person on seat nearby. This includes children and youth! Ask them to write down (on paper or their phones or other devices) the names of at least three people they know whom they will invite personally this week to come to worship next Sunday morning. Then ask them write down the date on which or by which they will issue that invitation. Then ask them to make a copy of this and either give it or send it electronically to their partner. During the week, the instructions are to check in with the partner to see how each person has progressed, and to challenge each other to complete the list (or more!), and encourage each other along the way. You might do this immediately after the reaffirmation of baptism.

Then starting Monday and at least two other times during the week (maybe Thursday and Saturday), send out reminders via email and social media to encourage and challenge folks to follow through with one another and with those they said they would invite.

The heavens have been opened! Invite all to “come and see” what this is all about!

Additional Resources

2014 Planning Helps for Baptism of the Lord

Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Iran, Iraq

In This Series...

Come and See — Planning Notes Follow Me — Planning Notes #Blessed— Planning Notes Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding — Planning Notes This, Not That — Planning Notes And Now Your Reward — Planning Notes Shine! — Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Come and See — Planning Notes Follow Me — Planning Notes #Blessed— Planning Notes Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding — Planning Notes This, Not That — Planning Notes And Now Your Reward — Planning Notes Shine! — Planning Notes