Tearing Apart the Heavens

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Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Worship should be a celebration; this is the beginning of a new year. We survived 2020, and while there might still be lingering effects of the pandemic and the unrest, it is time to embrace a new possibility, a new hope. The heavens have been torn open. But this isn’t a threat; it’s a promise of something new, something better. Let us commit ourselves to a closer walk with Christ. Let the waters of baptism renew us and cleanse us for our mission and ministry as followers of Jesus.

As we stated in other places, we start this series with a two-fer: Epiphany Sunday and Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Choices of emphasis need to be made, of course, but we believe that the two events meld together well. The central theme of the heavens being torn apart to let the light be seen as the Spirit descends brings both elements into the center of the frame. The tradition of the wise men as central to the Epiphany proclamation doesn’t fit as well and should probably be reserved for another year.

We recommend a remembrance of baptism service to guide the outline of worship. It can be found on page 50 of The United Methodist Hymnal, “Baptismal Covenant IV: Congregational Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant.” If this is a regular practice of your congregation, then this will be a familiar environment with which to begin this new series of covenant and commitment. If this will be new experience, then please take time to walk the congregation through the various parts of the service.

Sometimes, especially when introducing a new ritual or experience in worship, it is helpful to create a “bifocal” way of seeing. By “bifocal” we refer to the ability to both engage in the ritual and to observe the ritual at the same time. Even as we do our reaffirmation, we pause and reflect on what we are doing. We consider the words that we say and their meaning, as we say them.

This series is calling for a new or renewed commitment to the path of discipleship, inviting both new and long-term members of the church to reaffirm and take up the challenge of new growth and new depth. We are called to follow Jesus, who went down into the waters of baptism and came up to new possibilities and a new world. The heavens were torn apart, not in destruction, but in removing the limitations and the divisions between this world and the coming kin-dom of God. Let us fully embrace the call to follow.

Call to Worship

(inspired by Isaiah 42:1-9, Mark 1:9-11, Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 3:21-23)

Today we celebrate a special baptism;
the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth.

God says:
Look! See my chosen servant,
the One in whom I utterly delight;
I have placed my Spirit on him,
he will bring true justice to the nations.

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened up,
and Spirit came down like a dove;
and there was a voice from heaven saying:
“This is my dearly loved Son,
with whom I am delighted.”

The joy of the Lord be with you all.
And also with you.

Opening Prayer

Most wonderful God,
foolish and flawed though we are,
we too delight in your beloved Son.
As in his name we gather in the house of many praises,
may the heavens be opened for us,
that we may catch a glimpse of that Light and Love
that transforms our common days
with a beauty not of our making.
Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Written by Bruce Prewer and posted on Bruce Prewer’s Home page. http://www.bruceprewer.com/DocA/10BAPTIS.htm. Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2014/01/call-to-worship-prayer-baptism-of-jesus.html)

Call to Worship (Mark 1)

Lost . . .
wandering without purpose, meaning, value,
acceptance, or place.

We wander lost. But the Spirit of God descends
like a dove upon us. We hear the ancient words
that name and claim us as children of God.
We are cleansed, refreshed, and made new
in the love of those words.

Contemporary Gathering Words

Water. Refreshing, cleansing, nourishing,
life-giving . . .
Water. Dangerous, life-threatening, powerful . . .
The waters rush over us in our baptism.
And we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Alleluia!

Bryan Schneider-Thomas, Ministry Matters https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/2213/worship-elements-january-7-2018

Prayer of Confession

“We Have Ignored the Prophets”

Unison: Loving Lord, we confess we have not always heeded your prophets’ voices. We admit we have not acknowledged John the baptizer who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We acknowledge in our failure to do so we missed John’s all too important declaration about the greater One who was coming. God, today we gather needing grace and the gift of forgiveness granted through your Son. Amen.


Words of Assurance

When we confess our sins and shortcomings, God shows up and shows out! Receive God’s forgiveness. Put regret behind you and walk in the joy of the Lord!

(Darlene A. Moore, The Africana Worship Book for Year B, Discipleship Resources, 2007, p. 147.)

Prayer of Commitment

(Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-23)

Loving Father,
you anointed Jesus at his baptism
with the Holy Spirit,
and revealed him as your dear Son.
Thank you for making us your children
by water and the Spirit.
Keep us faithful to you
throughout our lives.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

— from the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Worship Planning Page.

Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2011/12/prayer-of-commitment-epiphany-1-b.html

Intercessory Prayer

Sisters and brothers,
our baptismal vows call us to compassion and mercy
on behalf of those in need.
We offer our prayers for the church and the world.

Prayers of the People, concluding with:

Lord God,
you revealed your Son in the waters of the Jordan
and anointed him with the power of the Holy Spirit
to proclaim good news to all people.
Sanctify us by the same Spirit,
that we may proclaim the healing power of the gospel
by acts of love in your name. Amen.


Thematic Prayer

God of grace and glory,
You call us with your voice of flame
to be your people, faithful and courageous.
As your beloved Son
embraced his mission in the waters of baptism,
inspire us with the fire of your Spirit
to join in his transforming work.
We ask this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.


Litany: God of the Waters

(inspired by Mark 1: 4-11, Luke 3:21-22)

God of the waters. Water of birth,
moving us from safety into the world.

God of the waters. Water of connection,
engaging the playful Spirit,
the passionate Christ,
the challenging God.

God of the waters. Water of life,

God of the waters. Water of trouble,
journeying us from here to there,

from the known to the unknown.

God of the waters.
Birth us.
Connect us.
Live in us.
Trouble us.

— written by Scott A. Ressman in Immerse Yourself: Elements for a Liturgy on Baptism of Christ Sunday. Posted on the United Church of Christ website.

Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2011/12/litany-god-of-waters.html

Commission & Benediction

(based on Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-15, Luke 4:1-13)

Go now, and live in the spirit of your baptism,
even when you are led into wild and hard places.
With repentance and trust, give yourselves to God,
and with fasting and prayer,
strengthen yourselves against the ways of the tempter.

And may God enfold you in tender and lasting love.
May Christ be beside you in times of struggle.
And may the Spirit guide you back to the path whenever you stray,
that you may keep the covenant.

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,

In the name of Christ. Amen.

— Copyright © 2000 Nathan Nettleton http://www.laughingbird.net/

Reposted: https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/02/commission-benediction-mark-9.html

In This Series...

Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Transfiguration Sunday, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Epiphany/Baptism of the Lord, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Transfiguration Sunday, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes