Greater Gifts Worship Series: YOU ARE BELOVED
January 13, 2019 — Baptism of the Lord Sunday
Jeff Campbell serves as the Executive Director of Conference Relationships at Discipleship Ministries. In this role, he connects with conference leadership to strengthen intentional disciple-making across the connection. Jeff is an ordained elder of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and served churches in NJ prior to coming to Discipleship Ministries. He received his undergraduate degree in English, Linguistics, and Speech from the University of Mary Washington and his Master of Divinity degree from Drew Theological School.
Week 1, The First Gift: Grace for Us
This is the first week of our “Greater Gifts” sermon series, and today we will be exploring how baptism, as a “first gift” from God, leads us in life toward paths of discovering and rediscovering God-given gifts, activating those gifts through the Holy Spirit, understanding how our gifts are interrelated to the gifts of other disciples in the body of Christ, and how important it is to stay true to the heart of our God-given gifts — the love of God in Christ.
Week 1: The First Gift, Grace for Us Baptism of the Lord (Jan 13)
Week 2: Discovering & Activating Our Gifts Second Sunday after Epiphany (Jan 20)
Week 3: Interrelated Gifts, Being Needy Third Sunday after Epiphany (Jan 27)
Week 4: The Heart of Our Gifts Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Feb 3)
For this first week, consider moving from the sermon into a service for reaffirming baptism:
- At the end of this service, invite those who have been baptized to come forward to touch the water from the baptismal font, perhaps making the sign of the cross on their foreheads, while the pastor offers: “Remember that you are baptized and rejoice!”
- Invite those who have never been baptized to come forward for prayer with leaders of the church. Train leaders to pray with those who come forward, asking the leaders to make a note if individuals indicate that they would like to be baptized. Perhaps build in time during the second Sunday of this series for these new baptisms.
- Although we touch on some elements of this service in the sermon notes, if you choose not to incorporate the service of reaffirming baptism, we suggest you familiarize yourself with the service and highlight important elements from your perspective.
Children’s Moment Suggestions:
Gather children around the baptismal font and explain what a font is (piece of furniture, place for holding baptismal water). Indicate that this is not like any old piece of furniture, but it is to be treated with great respect. It holds the water that we use for baptisms, and it is to be treated with great care. Invite the children to touch the water as you reflect with them.
- What do we use water for? (answers such as cooking, cleaning, washing . . .)
- Connect to: Newness of life, forgiveness when we mess up — to wash clean
- Invite them to look around at the congregation. Explain that many of the people here were baptized with water, some from this very font; some were just babies when their parent or guardian brought them to be baptized.
- Connect to: In our baptisms, we recognize that we belong to Christ’s church — this community of disciples— here to love and support you as you grow as a disciple
- Some elements you may want to lift up about baptism:
- God’s grace and love is available to all
- Baptism is God’s gift to us, offered to us without price. (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 33).
- You could talk about what a gift is; then ask the children why they think God gives us this gift of baptism.
(v.15) “As the people were filled with expectation . . .”
The people in Israel were waiting for a Messiah, a king, who would right the wrongs of their current reality and restore Israel. Many were gathering to be baptized by John in expectation that something would soon happen — the Messiah was coming.
Since this series falls just after the Christmas season, a good place to start might be to reflect on the expectations each of us has around Christmas. Think back to when you were a child. What expectations did you have? How are they different as an adult? As a child, what gifts did you expect to get? What was the excitement like around receiving gifts? At what point did you have equal excitement about giving gifts?
(insert your story here) I remember the joy of Christmas morning —seeing and opening all the gifts around the Christmas tree. I remember immediately wanting to go and tell my best friend Kevin and to see what he had received. It was never a competition. It was simply joy, delighting in each other’s gifts.
As I remember, there was an initial joy when I first received the gift; but I remember receiving even more joy when I shared the gift with Kevin. When was the last time you received something and you could not wait to tell someone? An engagement ring? A new car? Often the full joy of the gift is not fully realized until you finally tell someone.
(insert your example here) My friend and his wife recently found out that they were pregnant, and they were being cautious in the first couple months until they knew things were progressing well. They had told their parents, and his wife had told a close friend; and my friend was trying to figure out whom he could tell. His wife said, “Why don’t you tell Jeff”? I received the call from my friend, and I could tell that he was bursting at the seams with excitement. The sharing of this good news, this gift, completed his joy.
So what about this gift of baptism?
Some of you may have never been baptized. Later in the service, we want to give you an opportunity to sign up to be baptized next week if you feel God calling.
Some of you were baptized more recently; some recently confirmed the baptism of your childhood; and for some, perhaps it has been many years since your baptism.
What do you remember leading up to that moment? Or, what did your parents or guardians tell you about that moment? Who was present? What did it mean to them?
(insert your story here) I was eight years old. We were singing the closing hymn, and the pastor invited all who heard Jesus calling them to come forward. I told my parents I wanted to go and slipped out of the pew and walked down the aisle. I was the only one. While the congregation finished the hymn, the pastor knelt down and asked me why I had come forward. I told him I wanted to follow Jesus my whole life and I thought it should start with being baptized. In those moments, the sanctuary became a thin space. The heavens did not open, but I felt God’s presence all around. As Wesley said, “my heart was strangely warmed.” On January 9, 1983, I received the gift of baptism and was forever changed. As a matter of fact, I remember telling my good friend Kevin about the experience right away. He was also a Christian, and he told about his experience of baptism, showing me a silver cross around his neck. In our young friendship, our faith was not something we talked about. In that moment, we shared God’s gift to us, and our joy was complete.
(15) . . . all were questioning in their hearts . . .
At the same time, the people gathered were questioning whether or not John the Baptist was the messiah. (16) John answered all of them by . . . (pointing to Jesus)
Much of my experience around baptism remains a mystery, a mystery that God continues to help unravel question by question in my life. What I have learned is that God was always there and always will be there for me. In the Wesleyan tradition, we call this prevenient grace — a grace that goes before us. This is why we baptize children in the United Methodist Church. God's gift of grace is always present in our lives. If we were not baptized as children, it does not mean that God's grace was not present. A loving God is constantly reaching out, wanting to be at the center of our lives. And although we might still have questions even into adulthood, we are directed to Jesus, just as John directed those gathered who were seeking a Messiah.
At some point, each of us usually craves more — a deeper understanding of life and our purpose in it. Sometimes we feel God calling, and we feel a deep need to respond. It is different for each of us. For some, there is a distinct moment that we can recall and point to. For others, it might be a series of moments over time, drawing us closer and closer to God.
As adults, baptism can be a moment when we clearly see a gift held in outstretched loving arms, and we say yes. Through this gift, we find newness of life, union with Christ, God’s Spirit filling our lives, and true belonging to Christ’s community. A moment when we hear a small voice of God saying, “I love you. You are my son. You are my daughter. I will love you forever.”
Most describe during this moment a different feeling flowing through us — that’s grace — that’s God’s Spirit — that’s love. And from that moment on, we are forever changed, placed on a path following Jesus.
(21) Now when ALL the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
(21) the heaven was opened.
(22) and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
(22) . . . And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Next Sunday, if there are any who come forward wanting to baptized, we will celebrate at the beginning of the service, and then we will explore the passage from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11—next steps in how we discover and activate God-given gifts.