- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Planning Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
The Baptism of Jesus. Fresco from Cappadocia, (Goreme) Turkey, ca. 1100. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário em português, Lecionário comum revisado
Isaiah 43:1-7 God will protect, ransom and re-gather the people Israel from all the corners of the earth.
Psalm response — Psalm 29 (UMH 761) The voice of the LORD speaks, and all heaven and nature shake and stand in awe. Use Tone 1 with the response, or the following based on the response tune in C Major: E-D-E-G; F-E-D-C. If you chant, be sure to add a "point" over "of" in the first part of verse 2 (accidentally omitted in the hymnal).
Acts 8:14-17 Peter and John complete the baptism would-be disciples of Jesus had received by laying hands on them so they may receive the Holy Spirit.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 John the Baptizer announces he is not the messiah but one mightier than he comes after him baptizing with Holy Spirit and fire. After Jesus was baptized by John and while he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended and a voice from heaven claimed Jesus as Beloved Son.
Worship Planning Notes
How you plan for today depends on how you are approaching today in your overall plan for these weeks prior to the beginning of Lent. Here are three approaches.
- Baptism of the Lord is an extension of Epiphany. So you may think about linking worship for today with last week’s celebration and then starting a new series (perhaps focusing on the readings on spiritual gifts grounded in love from I Corinthians) for the next three weeks.
- Baptism of the Lord is a “bookend” for the Ordinary Time after Epiphany, and so can also function to launch a coherent season of focus concluding with Transfiguration of the Lord on February 7. See “Getting Ready to Get Ready” for guidance on how to treat today as both a day in itself and a “launching pad” for a five-week series.
- Baptism of the Lord is also a day in itself. So you may choose to focus completely on baptism or services related to the baptismal covenant, without linking it to the past Sunday or the next several. While this option is certainly valid, it may also be the least helpful for generating a sense of cohesion in these weeks leading to Lent.
The Baptism of the Lord is one of the four named days in our Book of Worship recommended for celebrating services of the baptismal covenant (Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints are the others). See The United Methodist Book of Worship, 84.
There are several options for liturgies you may use depending on what you will be doing this day. If you are baptizing, reaffirming, and receiving new professing members, use Baptismal Covenant I as revised by the 2008 General Conference. If you are only reaffirming, use Baptismal Covenant IV as revised by the 2008 General Conference or the more interactive version celebrated at the 2008 General Conference (English, Spanish). And if you are baptizing infants or others not becoming professing members and reaffirming, but not receiving new professing members, you may use this adaptation of the 2008 General Conference service designed for persons not answering for themselves. And if there are some baptized persons whose sponsors have moved or died, and you need a way to bless new sponsors who take up this role today, use the appropriate additional material found in A Service of Reaffirmation for New Sponsors.
Ash Wednesday in 2016 is February 10. The color for that day and the Season of Lent is purple. For a light-hearted (and accurate!) take on the colors of the liturgical year, see and share “Chuck Knows Church,” Episode 1.
Resources for Planning Upcoming Seasons
The Season after Epiphany (introductory article from the Book of Worship)
Getting Ready to Get Ready: Planning for the Season after Epiphany 2016
Resources for the Season after Epiphany
Planning Lent and Easter as Seasons for Discipling 2016 (Webinar with links to handouts)
Resources for Lent
Resources for Holy Week
Resources for Easter Season
Upcoming Sundays and Special Days
January 10 Baptism of the Lord
January 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 17 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
January 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 24 Ecumenical Sunday
All Month Black History Month
February 7 Transfiguration of the Lord
February 10 Ash Wednesday, and Lent Begins
February 14 Scouting Ministries Sunday (or observe after Lent)
February 15 Presidents Day (USA)
All Month Women’s History Month
March 4 World Day of Prayer / (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
March 6 One Great Hour of Sharing (with Offering)
March 13 Daylight Saving Time Begins (Time Change Song)
March 20 Passion/Palm Sunday
March 20-26 Holy Week
March 24 Maundy Thursday
March 25 Good Friday
March 26 Holy Saturday (morning) Great Vigil (after sunset); Brief Version
March 27 Easter Sunday
Scouting Ministries Sunday is February 14, which is also the First Sunday in Lent on the Christian calendar. United Methodist denominational scouting leaders prefer that both Boy and Girl Scouts, as well as other scouting groups, be recognized on a day that does not interfere with Lent. Girl Scout Sunday is an alternate scouting Sunday on March 13, the fifth Sunday in Lent. Since both fall in Lent this year, you may wish to observe a Scouting Sunday at a different time, either during Ordinary Time (before Transfiguration) or during Easter Season (after Easter Day, before Pentecost). A Litany on the Scout/Guide Promise is also available.
On this “bookend” Sunday, the Old Testament and Epistle are chosen to relate to the gospel reading. Keep that in mind as you consider how to address each one in planning and preaching.
Isaiah declares powerfully that God is out to save God’s people. That salvation there and then (deliverance from exile) involved crossing a desert with few oases, fording rivers where there were no bridges, and braving wildfires where there were no fire departments to extinguish them. Deliverance then and there—the actual return from Babylon to Judea—concretely meant those returning home would very likely face all these things.
These were serious obstacles. And the word of the Lord is “This is part of my redemption, and I am with you.” They were thus at once obstacles and pathways of redemption.
Early Christians claimed the same things around this text and their understanding and practice of baptism. The process of deliverance included such ordeal. The process of preparing for baptism came to take at least three years by the second century, three years of trial in learning how to live in the community and the way of Jesus before they ever experienced baptism much less ever witnessed Holy Communion. Early Methodists had a similar experience --- a six month period of working in a trial class meeting to make measurable progress in living into the General Rules before being admitted into the Methodist Society. Why? Because they wanted to make sure people were ready to live the covenant they would make.
Every time we reaffirm the baptismal covenant we’re saying we want to do that, too. The question is whether and how we actually do. Deserts, rivers, and wildfires in the baptismal journey are both obstacles and pathways.
There’s another clearly baptismal angle in this text as well—God’s determination to initiate salvation for God’s people on a global scale. “I give peoples for you, nations in exchange for your life,” (verse 4) the prophet cries in God’s name. “From the east and from the west I will gather you… I will say to the North… and to the South ‘do not withhold” (verses 5-6). In the prophet’s day, this was a promise to bring people back to Judea from all the places they had fled or been carried away. Early Christians also connected this promise with the visit of the Magi (last Sunday) and with their calling to carry and participate in God’s mission “into all the world” (Matthew 28:20 ff), which includes the call for us to baptize as an integral part of discipling them in the way of Jesus.
Very often, we tend to look at baptism as a local or individual act. This text and the witness of early Christianity, as well as the language of the baptismal liturgies, call us to remember the historical, global, cosmic, missional, and eschatological elements of what God is doing with us here as well.
The reading from Acts 8 is selected to reinforce that Christian baptism is with water and Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit makes a huge difference!
Luke never tries to explain why folks in Samaria hadn’t received the Holy Spirit at their baptism. (He does explain how that happened in Ephesus, in Acts 19:1-7). Rather, he tells the story of how they did come to receive the Spirit. It happened as devout Jewish Christians from Jerusalem and the newly baptized believers in Jesus in Samaria were joined through the hands of the apostles. There, itself, was a miracle only the Holy Spirit could pull off. Judean Jews blessing and embracing Samaritans would have been considered unthinkable, yet here it was.
But it’s also obvious from the very next verses, not read today, that something more obvious happened as these persons received the Holy Spirit. We just don’t know exactly what it was. Perhaps they began to prophesy. Perhaps they spoke in tongues. Perhaps they were “slain in the Spirit.” Perhaps they were filled with joy and began praising God and dancing.
We don’t know what happened, but we do know something impressive did. Something impressive enough that Simon, a recently baptized convert himself, tried to offer Peter and John money to receive the secret to being able to cause the Holy Spirit to fall on people on whom he would lay hands (Acts 8:17-19).
What happens when people receive the Holy Spirit where you are? Maybe it doesn’t happen all at once. But the witness of Scripture and millennia of Christians is that the Holy Spirit does in fact begin, in baptism, a marvelous work in each of us that will cause others to marvel when they see it.
How do you help the baptized where you are anticipate and discover the Holy Spirit at work in and through their lives?
In Year C, we read of the baptism of Jesus from Luke’s gospel. Each gospel writer tells this story slightly differently, expressing a slightly different perspective that has integrity with the whole of that gospel’s telling. Pay close attention to Luke’s version without conflating the others into it. And do consider adding back the verses the lectionary omits (verses 18-20). They are critical to Luke’s telling, even if they may seem to divert from the story of the baptism itself.
The way Luke tells the story does three things.
First, and primarily, it establishes that Jesus was baptized with water and the Holy Spirit-- and possibly (depending on how you read it) fire. The One who comes will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire, John says. And indeed, just after the baptism of Jesus, while he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him “like a dove” here, just as the Spirit descended on the 120 disciples in an upper room at Pentecost as a “rushing violent wind” and “in divided tongues of fire” (Acts 2:2-3).
The imagery of water, wind, and fire here is far from comforting. This is no “Hallmark moment.” It is, instead, in line with moments of “Holy Spirit-possession” described throughout the Bible. “The wind blows where it will, and you hear its sound, but you have no idea where it came from or where it’s going. This is how it will be with all those born of water and Spirit” (John 3:8). This is what is at stake when we are baptized with water, Holy Spirit, and fire.
This leads us to the second thing Luke is doing here. The baptism narrative leads into the desert narrative. Jesus, “filled with the Holy Spirit, turned back from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert for forty days, being tested by the devil.” (Luke 4:1). We’ll have that encounter more fully unpacked in Lent. But today, it’s essential to note what the effects of “being filled with the Holy Spirit” are. This is less of a “sealing” and more of an “uncorking” or “unleashing” of God’s power in our lives to “resist evil, injustice and oppression in every form they present themselves.”
Third, Luke sets the baptism of Jesus precisely in the context of the ministry and fate of John the Baptizer. We have recently encountered the story of the hopes around John’s birth and his proclamation during Advent. Today, we encounter something of the influence his truth-telling was having. No one had seen the like of someone like this who dared to challenge the way things worked at every level—religious, personal, economic and political/societal-- and tell all these people how concretely to change the way they lived in the light of what God was about to do. His message was so powerful and convincing and inspiring (if also fearsome!) that people all over the region started considering the possibility that he might be the Messiah.
This is why you shouldn’t omit verses 18-20. Jesus’ baptism is part of the overall ministry of a man who ended up being perceived as such a threat to the Herod of this era (though less powerful than the King Herod of the earlier days) that he ends up jailed and later executed. Jesus’ own baptism and the baptisms of all John’s followers were seen as a clear and present threat to the powers that be.
Baptism was then and is in its actual vows and symbolism still a revolutionary act, a treasonous act. Its vows demand we take sides, pledge allegiance against the claims of every other reign but God’s. Baptism meant then and means now that we’re embracing as of first importance not ourselves or even each other but rather God and then each other as agents with God to enact the repentance and change that God’s kingdom both demands and makes possible.
In baptism, water cleanses us and Holy Spirit purifies us. In baptism, water covers us and Holy Spirit possesses us. In baptism, water surrounds us and Holy Spirit becomes our very breath. In baptism, water buries us and our former allegiances and Holy Spirit raises us to newness of life pledged to God’s kingdom alone. In baptism, water refreshes us and Holy Spirit and fire drive us to places we may never have imagined we would go.
In Your Planning Team
So, what are you doing today?
Are you using Baptism of the Lord as a continuation of Epiphany, as the launch of a new series, or as a stand-alone special day?
The one you choose should determine how you plan for today and the weeks ahead.
My own recommendation: Pick the second option. These “bookend Sundays” really are designed to be the launch (Baptism of the Lord) and culmination (Transfiguration) of the season they bookend. And this Season after Epiphany is designed as a season of evangelism that gathers candidates for baptism, which is the topic of this “kickoff Sunday.” For more about this season and how it fits into the pattern of disciple making in the church year, see “Getting Ready to Get Ready.”
If you use today as a launch day, remember the keys for effective launches.
- Make today big—big music, big ritual, big themes. The texts for this Sunday and the resources for baptism and reaffirmation listed above are a great way to start.
- Overture!—Preview the theme of your series through the coming weeks, whether it’s more focused on evangelism (OT and Gospel stream) or preparing the church for its role as spiritual midwife during Lent (Epistle).
- Make your series promise—and make it compelling. Today is the day to say not just what you’ll cover, but why what you’ll cover matters and how people can expect to grow or be changed (or at least challenged) because they are part of it.
Today: Water, Wind, and Fire!
The persistent images throughout today's texts are of water, fire, and Spirit/wind (the same word has both meanings in both Hebrew and Greek). Isaiah speaks of protection through waters and rivers and wildfires. The Psalm sings of God's voice thundering over the waters, ripping the forests of Lebanon bare like a tornado and flashing forth flames of fire, while God sits forever enthroned above the flood (a sign of conquest over chaos). Acts establishes the norm of Christian baptism in water and Spirit and connects the gift of the Spirit with the laying on of hands. And in Luke we have the Jordan River, John announcing the Coming One would baptize with Holy Spirit and fire, the Spirit descending like a dove, and the Voice declaring the sonship of Jesus.
Water, wind, and fire are nearly everywhere here, presented consistently as powerful forces far beyond human control. Giving ourselves over to God, being given into baptism, is to be given over to God’s power known in water, Spirit, and fire.
Make your musical selections and arrangements work not just textually, but aurally—picking up on the sounds of water, wind, and fire.
Offer whatever visual and tactile experiences in worship you can today to embody the richness of these biblical images surrounding the waters of baptism.
And whatever else you and your worship planning team do with these texts today, be sure the font is visibly central in your worship, that it is full of water, that you use water abundantly either in baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. If you have a Paschal Candle, light it today and place it by the font.
Baptize or reaffirm powerfully today— but not in your own power. Let the many sensory ways you evoke water, wind, and flame point the way to the Coming One. Let the Holy Spirit be the possessor and driver of the lives God created us for.
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) with links and other suggestions
WORD AND RESPONSE
Ritual for Services of the Baptismal Covenant: (See above under Calendar for which services to use for what circumstances)
Baptismal Covenant I as revised by the 2008 General Conference Baptismal Covenant IV as revised by the 2008 General Conference
Reaffirmation as used as GC2008 (English, Spanish)
Baptism of Those Not Speaking for Themselves with Reaffirmation
A Service of Reaffirmation for New Sponsors
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Iran, Iraq
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Great Thanksgiving: BOW 58-59
Dismissal with Blessing
Deacon or Lay Leader:
In water you were born.
By water and the Spirit you have been given new life.
With Spirit and fire you are driven forth
to proclaim and shine forth the glory of the Triune God.
And as you are driven forth,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Creator, Savior and Sanctifier,
be upon you, and abide among you,
now and always.