See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Darkness, chaos, waters, and then the Word that brings order to them all; the emergence of light from the midst of darkness. The Hebrew reads "Day 1."
Psalm 29 (UMH 761).
Floods, tornadoes, lightning strikes, devastation, and God reigning in the midst of it all — images of the awesome and dangerous power of God. Consider singing this as refrain: "[God's] chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, and dark is God's path on the wings of the storm" (UMH 73).
This story is a reminder of the influence and extent of the ministry of John the Baptizer — reaching all the way from Judea to the western shores of Asia Minor (Turkey) by mid-century (probably some 25-30 years after his execution). John had taught people to live differently in light of the coming Kingdom. What they didn't know was how the Holy Spirit would give them the power of life.
It is probably no accident that Luke tells us the number of these believers was about 12, a symbol of the 12 apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel, for Ephesus became the seat of apostolic ministry in and from western Asia Minor for decades to come.
While John's baptismal ministry seems to unite folks from Judea and all Jerusalem in confession and repentance, his baptism of Jesus "splits the heavens" (like lightning). The announcement of the voice from the heavens (like thunder) answers the hope for the arrival of one chosen by God to pour out the Holy Spirit.
Baptism of the Lord and a new season begins.
This Sunday marks the beginning, or opening bookend, of the Season after Epiphany. The closing bookend of this season is Transfiguration Sunday. The stories we tell during this season mark out the space between our baptism and glorification, from our call to discipleship to our final appearance with Christ in glory. This season thus recapitulates the whole path of discipleship to Christ, and thus prepares the church for its Lenten calling to walk alongside those preparing for baptism so they can learn this way with us and from the Holy Spirit through us.
Baptism of the Lord Sunday is one of the Sundays most appropriate for baptism or baptismal reaffirmation.
The texts this year make clear how momentous baptism and its reaffirmation can be. We hear of frightening storms (Psalm 29), chaotic seas (Genesis 1) and the sky splitting (Mark 1). That's why it's always important that we prepare people for what God will do to them, and then through them, in baptism. Use Baptismal Covenant I (note: official version only available online!) if there are baptisms or new professing members to be received. Use Baptismal Covenant IV (also only available online) or our new Reaffirmation (Spanish) if there are no baptisms.
Whichever version you use, be sure also to plan for the service of the Table today as well. Use the Great Thanksgiving for Baptism of the Lord (BOW 58-59). Communion is doubly important on this day: first, to express the fullness of the grace of God offered to us; second, in light of these texts, to give thanks for and receive the spiritual food and strength we need to live the dangerous life into which we have been reborn.
See Planning Worship for the Season after Epiphany, Year B for an overview of this season.
Calendar and Colors
This is the last “white” Sunday until Transfiguration of the Lord (February 15). Next week, the color changes to green, and we begin a four-week series of readings in two distinct streams. The Old Testament/Psalm and Gospel all focus around themes of calling to discipleship and the ministries into which Jesus calls his disciples. The Epistle reading (from I Corinthians 6-9) focuses on basic “lifeways” or “practice patterns” of Christian discipleship. For more information on these two different emphases in the lectionary, see “Planning for Worship during the Season after Epiphany, Year B” on this website.
January 11 Baptism of the Lord (also this) Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 18 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 25 Ecumenical Sunday in The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
All Month: Black History Month (USA)
February 8 Scouting Ministries Sunday (USA)
February 15 Transfiguration of the Lord
February 18 Ash Wednesday
This week's texts declare the mystery, power, and terrible beauty of the saving power of God. The images are powerful and potentially mindblowing — chaos, darkness, light, storms, winds, floods, trees being uprooted, calm in the midst of storm (God enthroned on the flood), all in the temple crying out "Glory!," "wild-man" John, the heavens splitting. If you do not have a projection system, consider renting one or asking a church member to borrow a home projector for the day to help your congregation experience the texts fully. If possible, borrow several, and project not just onto a screen, but onto walls, ceilings, anywhere you can.
And don't ignore the sounds suggested by all these images! The soundscape of these texts is overwhelming, perhaps terrifyingly so at times. Only the voice of God in Genesis 1 and Mark 1 seems the least bit tame and orderly; but God's voice in Psalm 29 certainly isn't tame! Think psychedelic or orchestral/organ cacophony (pull all the stops!); or think about drums in wild beats on the one hand, contrasted with "Let there be light" and "This is my beloved Son" on the other (if you think of God's voice in these instances as being apart from the other kinds of sounds).
The creation imagery in this week’s text points to God’s powerful and direct activity in the world in creation, destruction, and re-creation, particularly around images of water (storms, floods, the deep). All of these images apply to Jesus’ baptism and our own. We hear echoes of this imagery in the Thanksgiving Over the Water in the various official forms of the Baptismal Covenant of The United Methodist Church (I, II and IV— III has been superseded and should no longer be used) and perhaps even more obviously in the new Reaffirmation used at General Conference in 2008.
In Your Planning Team
Where Are You Heading?
Today, a new season begins, the Season after Epiphany.
As with all beginnings of new seasons, or series, the first service functions not only in its own right, but also to launch and preview where you are headed in the season or series to come.
Baptism of the Lord can provide the platform for a marvelous launch. The sacrament of baptism is perhaps the most concrete and powerful sign of new birth and new creation in the Christian faith. As we have seen, the texts we read today are rich in images of the awe-full power of God in creating the universe and claiming Jesus, as well as in recreating us now and the universe in the age to come.
The question you must decide as worship planners is which direction you most need to head from here.
During the four intervening weeks between this Sunday and Transfiguration (February 15), the lectionary provides two different streams of texts to follow. Both are designed to help your worshiping community prepare for its work of helping persons live the way of Jesus during Lent in preparation for baptism at Easter.
The Old Testament and gospel stream focuses primarily outward. The Old Testament reading was chosen to relate to the gospel reading. The gospel readings were chosen to help your congregation focus on inviting persons to discipleship and extending itself through ministries of deliverance and healing, beginning with the next two week’s readings in which we see Jesus calling his disciples.
The epistle stream of semi-continuous readings from I Corinthians focuses more inwardly, on strengthening the life of the congregation as a “community of love and forgiveness” (Baptismal Covenant I), so you are ready to fulfill your role of accompanying persons on the journey toward baptism during Lent.
Discern together which of these two foci is most significant for you to pursue this year. Keep in mind it could vary from year to year. Keep in mind, too, that whichever you choose for worship, you can (and should!) support in other venues of formation, whether Sunday School, small groups, or ongoing communications or social networks in the intervening weekdays. With good collaboration between worship and formational opportunities, you could even pursue both. However, all will go better if worship stays focused primarily on just one of these two foci throughout the season, while other groups reinforce that focus and supplement with the other.
How Will You Get There? Start Here!
Whichever path you choose, remember to go for strong beginnings and endings, both of each service and of the series itself.
So for today, start strong, as the Scriptures themselves do. Inhabit the fullness of the wildness of the imagery and soundscapes in these texts, especially the gospel.
Jesus came to the wild prophet, John baptized him, the heavens were seen to split, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, and there was a voice from the sky declaring to Jesus (and perhaps others who stood by) that he was the Son, the Beloved, in whom God was well-pleased. This is powerful, visceral stuff. Find ways to convey how powerful this is in worship today.
All of that lay behind the baptism of Jesus, and all of that lies behind the baptismal covenant we either enter or reaffirm this day: creation, new creation, water, wild prophets, storms, heavenly creatures crying “Glory,” sky-splitting, declaration of our status as God’s children and God’s love for us.
Let that same attention to the powerful imagery and soundscapes of the text inform the ways you celebrate our ritual of baptism or baptismal reaffirmation today. (See below, In Your Planning Team). This needn’t mean you have a light show and thunderclaps booming during the acts of the baptismal covenant (that really may be more distracting than helpful!). But it does mean to be attentive to how you voice and enact our ritual—giving it the powerful, gracious and joyous gravity it -- and these texts -- requires. Baptism and its reaffirmation are earth-shaking, cosmos-renewing events, not casual or sentimental occasions. You and your team may find Voicing and Enacting the Baptismal Covenant a helpful guide as you prepare for baptism or reaffirmation on this and future Sundays.
But do not just baptize or reaffirm today. As we have affirmed in the Book of Worship, By Water and the Spirit, This Holy Mystery and our Ordinal, every celebration of the baptismal covenant properly leads to the Table. So plan to celebrate around the Lord’s Table as well, inviting those who are baptized or individually reaffirmed today to stand with the presider at the Lord’s Table, to receive first, and then to assist in serving the congregation. Great Thanksgiving for Baptism of the Lord is designed for our use for this day.
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How Will You Get There? Today as Overture to the Series
The overture to an opera or ballet lays out the musical themes, and in a real way, the musical and dramatic direction of all that is to come, and does so without distracting from the power and beauty of the overture itself.
Today’s season opener for the Season after Epiphany needs to do the same things.
So, as already noted, make today primarily about today—a day for celebrating around font and table, a day for baptism and reaffirming the baptismal covenant. This is front and center. This is foreground.
And in the course of what you are doing on this day, indicate the direction you’ll be heading in the weeks to come, culminating in celebrating the mystery of the transfiguration of Jesus that prefigures our own resurrection and life in the age to come. If you’re going to focus in the weeks ahead on outreach— inviting persons to discipleship and reaching out with deliverance and healing—indicate something today of one or two ways you will do that, and conclude by inviting all to join you in this journey, and invite others to come with you. If you’re going to focus more on community building, indicate one or two main ways you’ll do that in the coming weeks, and how worship, preaching and other groups will help guide that journey.
The key word is “indicate.” You’re pointing to what lies ahead, with enthusiasm and hope, rather than explaining or giving great detail to everything that is going to happen next.
Hospitality on Baptismal Sundays
Not everyone who attends today will have been baptized or even know what baptism or baptismal reaffirmation may be. Consider including something like the following in your worship bulletin today:
"Today we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus, and we are remembering our baptism when God claimed us as sons and daughters in a lifelong covenant. If you have not been baptized, you are fully welcome here. Enjoy the ritual! Be among us in peace. Feel free not to say words that may not yet apply to you. If you would like to know more about the life of discipleship and about being part of the baptismal covenant, be sure to speak with the pastor(s) or lay leaders."
Choral or sung call to worship: UMBOW 457 (Genesis)
Additional Resources for Baptism of the Lord UMBOW 300-301
- "Baptism of the Lord," UMH 253
Act of Praise: UMBOW 507 (Genesis)
Prayer of Confession: UMBOW, 494 (Genesis) — Add the pardon sequence.
Prayers and Baptismal Choruses:
- "At the Birth of a Child," UMH 146
- "Baptism of the Lord," UMH 253 (Baptism, Mark)
- Prayer: UMBOW 509 — "In Time of Natural Disaster" (Genesis)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Cyprus, Greece, Turkey
- Call to Baptism: UMBOW, 173, "Come, Be Baptized" (Song)
- Baptismal Response: UMBOW, 174, "Baptismal Prayer" (Song)
- Baptismal Response: UMBOW, 175, "God Claims You" (Song)
The Great Thanksgiving: UMBOW 58-59.
Dismissal with Blessing:
- A deacon or assisting minister/lay person could dismiss the people using UMBOW 559. The pastor could then speak the blessing, using UMBOW 561 or UMH 669.
- Or the following could be used:
Deacon or other assisting minister/lay person addresses the people:
In baptism, we are all God's daughters and sons.
You are the Beloved and the Holy Spirit rests upon you.
Go forth to love and serve God and your neighbor in all that you do.
The elder or pastor blessing the people says:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Amen! Thanks be to God!