Baptism of Jesus
(have a small bowl of water on a table near you for this service)
The peace of Christ be with you all.
Call to Worship –
God’s strong voice calls us to worship, calling us to sing and offer praise.
God’s creative voice calls us to worship, calling us to life and light.
God’s loving voice calls us to worship, calling us to love and be loved.
Listen, for God’s voice calls to us now.
Spirit of creation and renewal, hover over our gathering this day, as you hovered over creation on that first day. Enter into our hearts and our lives, as you did at the day of our baptism. Descend on us like a dove, as you did on Jesus’s day of baptism, that we may hear again your words of love and adoption. Speak from the heavens into our minds, that we may perceive your words of guidance and wisdom.
HYMN– TIS 156 Morning has broken Eleanor Farjeon 1881-1965
- Morning has broken like the first morning;
blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning, praise for them, springing
fresh from the word.
- Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven,
like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung from completeness
where his feet pass.
- Mine is the sunlight; mine is the morning
born of the one light Eden saw play.
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God’s recreation of the new day.
Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Prayer of Confession-
When our hearts are hard as stone, soften us with your grace. When our lives are riddled with sin and pain, heal us with your mercy.
When our ears are ringing with self-doubt and cynicism, strengthen us with words of faith and love.
When our minds are muddled with confusion and fear, enlighten us with the radiance of your wisdom. Speak to our spirits from the truth of your being, the reality of your love, and the promise of your forgiveness, that we may hear your voice clearly and follow where you call us to go.
Gracious God, you know our strengths and weaknesses. You know when we need to listen. Forgive us for ignoring you so often. Forgive us when we fail to act when you ask us to move forward. Give us hearts to follow you that we might shine with the Light of Christ, we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Words of Assurance
God has drawn us out of the darkness into the light of Christ. You are God’s beloved – chosen and forgiven through the work of Christ, our Saviour.
Thanks be to God.
Sermon – Remembering your baptism
Do you remember your baptism? Some of us who were baptised as adults or older children may do so? Did your parents ever talk about your baptism if you were baptised as a baby? Do you have a Cradle Roll or baptism certificate? Did they give you a candle when you were baptised? Maybe people today being baptised in the Uniting Church have a few more tangible tokens of our baptism, but this sacrament remains best held as mystery to be perceived in awe as a spiritual act for which candles and certificates are like outer shells or souvenirs of a blessing we cannot fully grasp. Each time someone is baptised in the Uniting Church, the rest of the congregation are encouraged to “Remember your baptism” and invited to touch the baptismal water to their person again. We are invited to remember the mystery of God’s grace for us – forgiveness and symbolic cleansing from all that has sullied our relationship with God. Reborn and renewed as if we had taken a deep swim in a beautiful fresh water pool. Reminded that God declares us God’s beloved child just as Jesus was reminded. Most of all, reassured that God’s Holy Spirit is in us and working with us and through us as we let God direct our thoughts and actions. Where does the church get these beliefs? From the story of Jesus’ baptism and what baptism meant for the Jewish people at that time.
Ritual cleansing is still an important action for many religious groups – Jews and Moslems, Hindus and Bahai. Mostly it is a personal individual action, even if done with others in the community, or in a public place. For Jews in Jesus time, going to a flowing stream of ‘living water’ to wash away past sin was a sign that one wanted to start again, to be forgiven. Having a witness to this cleansing action of washing in a flowing stream was important for some, but it did not need a priest to be the witness.
John, we think, was part of the Essene group in Israel for whom ritual bathing was important. Calling people to repent – to turn back to God and ask forgiveness for their sinful behaviours – was the role of the prophets but adding the ritual of ‘baptising them’ as a sign of this seems new in first century Israel. How or exactly where on the Jordan River John did this baptising, we are not told – only that as Jesus was coming up out of the water, it seemed like the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and a voice from heaven spoke the words: “You are my Son, the beloved, and with you I am well pleased.”
We can be grateful for the compact storytelling style in Mark’s gospel. It should stop the speculation of how ‘proper’ baptisms are done using a certain style – dunking forwards or backwards in a pool ensuring all the person goes under the water – or making sure it is a flowing stream – or having a person do the dunking of you and not yourself. The church has suffered too many arguments about baptism. Thankfully the UCA, after a nasty time over twenty years ago, now understands that it is possible to use lots of water in remembering one’s baptism and pouring water over yourself – or sprinkling it – or making the sign of the cross on your forehead – or patting your head with a wet hand – all is OK for the correctness of the action and the amount of water are not the important thing. It is the meaning of what your baptism has done for you that is significant. How you have been changed in your relationship to God and to the people of God through what Jesus began at his baptism – and now you join with him symbolically – confessing your need for God’s grace and forgiveness; being reassured of that and the fact you are a ‘beloved child of God’, too; and also receiving the gift of God’s Holy Spirit into your life to guide and renew, strengthen and comfort you throughout your life as a Christian.
That is what the UCA believes and speaks about in the Baptismal liturgy we celebrate and join with ecumenical brothers and sisters in baptising ‘in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ Baptism is not into a branch of the church (denomination) but into the whole family of God. Our baptismal certificates emphasize this by naming the denominations who recognise the baptism in Australia. Some others want only to recognise ‘believer’s baptism’ – baptism after one makes a confession of faith as a conscious action of a teenager or adult. The UCA does baptise adults or older teenagers – using whatever form or place of baptism they desire, as far as possible. I have done a baptism in the Derwent River in Hobart in July and in the Merri River in Warrnambool in January because the persons so requested it and the congregations came down to be part of both. But the UCA also believes that baptism of infants or children is just as valid using the New Testament story of St Paul and the Philippian jailer’s family. The church throughout history has used both forms and accepts the faith of the parents in requesting baptism for their child to be brought into the family of God, to be nurtured in the Christian faith as the child grows and finally makes his/her own confession of faith in what we call Confirmation – confirming the promises made by the parents at the child’s baptism and affirming their own faith.
Baptism isn’t just about water and cleansing and being forgiven and receiving the Holy Spirit into our personal lives – baptism is a communal contract between God, the family and the Christian community. We have ‘promises’ or vows following the baptismal action of water which has been a sign of God’s gracious gift to us – never to be withheld by a minister or church group deciding the family is not worthy or not taking seriously the baptism, as sometimes happened in the past. None of us are worthy of God’s grace by our own actions or thoughts. Through God’s grace, we become more like Jesus Christ to whom we have been joined in baptism – ‘grafted into him’ is the phrase used in the baptismal liturgy.
The promises made by parents or the baptised person themselves, are that they will keep being a part of the church family, and will keep learning the faith of Jesus Christ or teaching it to the child. The church congregation as representatives of the Christian community generally, are asked to promise to maintain their worship and service providing the Christian nurture to this child who has been baptised and ‘to all children among you’ so that all of us will grow into Christ’s faithful disciples. If families are lacking diligence in teaching the faith to their children and bringing them regularly into the environment of the worshipping community, then congregations in recent years have been even more negligent in their following through of their baptismal vows to God and the families whose children have been baptised. Whether or not the child and family return to this particular church is not the issue – the issue is whether we are always open to providing ongoing Christian Education to all people in the congregation and to visitors who pop-in occasionally. That provision means we as adults need to keep learning the faith and sharing it with one another, even in little ways such as acknowledging that God has helped us this past week in certain ways – in answering prayers not even voiced perhaps.
The Qld Synod and Assembly have been talking of the priority of ‘discipling’ -especially children and youth once more, after shifting the focus some years ago to adults who need to be a disciple to teach others. BOTH adults and children as well as youth and aged folks need help to stay focussed on Jesus’ way of relating to God and other people. That is the ‘mission’ to which all of us are called as witnesses to Jesus Christ as God’s Son, our Saviour. As our UCA baptismal liturgy reminds us, Baptism means being commissioned by God to be a witness to others in our community – faith community and general social community. By our lifestyle and our words, we reveal our understanding of the Christian faith and its obligations to God and other people.
The Christian Education necessary for every church congregation includes prayer and bible study groups, individual personal bible study and prayer times being resourced – as we do in suggesting you buy “With Love to the World” or your own other Bible reading program resource. It means being part of the worshipping community – either by your presence with us or now in Covid times, reading this email service or watching a ‘streamed’ worship service – so that the prayers and hymns, the readings and sermon are allowed to enter our consciousness – so that we hear God speaking to us through the work of the Holy Spirit taking the words of hymns, prayers and the minister, and even the pictures and music we hear, and making God’s message to us become clearer in our hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, educating us in the way of Jesus who came to show us God’s right way of living together with one another under God. But the Spirit needs us to be open to learning afresh each day, to hear again each day we can be forgiven and start again with God. May you remember what your baptism IS for you – even if you cannot remember the event itself.
(Now put your fingers in the bowl of water and remember you are baptised and give thanks to God)
HYMN- TIS 491 Father welcomes Robin Mann 1949- Used with permission CCLI #217268
Chorus: Father welcomes all his children
to his family through his Son;
Father giving his salvation,
life for ever has been won.
- Little children, come to me,
for my kingdom is of these;
life and love I have to give,
mercy for your sin. (sing chorus)
- In the water, in the word
in his promise, be assured:
those who are baptized and believe
shall be born again. (chorus)
- Let us daily die to sin,
let us daily rise with him,
walk in the love of Christ our Lord,
live in the peace of God. (chorus)
- A) Cheques to be made out to ‘St Lucia UCA Parish account’ and posted to 7 Hawken Dr, St Lucia Qld. 4067, please. OR
- B) direct deposit to ‘St Lucia Uniting Church’ BSB: 334 040 acct#: 553 842 259 (St George Bank)
Prayer for offering –
Bless these gifts with your voice of creation, your healing, and your love, Mighty God. Transform our meagre offerings into abundant gifts for a world in need of your light and life. Amen.
Prayers for Others
Jesus Christ, giver of new life to all who will believe in you, today we give you thanks especially for your example to us in baptism. Thank you for the gift of water on this earth – so precious and yet we take it for granted so often. Thank you for its cleansing and renewing powers. Thank you for your gift of baptism by water and the Spirit. We pray today for those who are unsure of your love and forgiveness. Let your Holy Spirit come upon them like a beautiful rain shower to calm and bring peace.
We pray for those struggling with ill health – tired of taking medications and going to medical appointments. Grant them new hope and new strength to carry on for the sake of their loved ones. We pray for those medical researchers struggling to find cures and vaccines against Covid 19. Grant them your wisdom and the encouragement of their peers.
We pray for families trying to raise children in the knowledge of God’s love and grace. Grant them patience and inspiration to teach the children appropriate Bible stories. Let your Holy Spirit rest on all who today are preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Open the ears and minds of their hearers. Open our eyes to see all we meet as your beloved children and grant us the loving words we need to reassure them of our friendship and your grace, for we ask in Jesus’ name who taught us to pray together:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen
HYMN- TIS 409 O breath of life Elizabeth Anne Porter Head 1850-1936 Public Domain
- O breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power;
O breath of life, come cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.
- O wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore: for this we plead.
- O breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart;
come, love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in every part.
- Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating
while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting,
equip your church to spread the light.
Amidst a noisy world, make way to listen for God. In the busiest of days, find time to listen for God. For in the listening, we finally hear this truth:
We are beloved children of God – created in love, created for love, created to love.
Let’s go out there to listen and love. And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us always. Amen
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 10th January 2021 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2021 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA (owned by EN); gathering Pentecost Year A 2021, United Church of Canada (EN subscription); and Uniting in Worship People’s Book by Uniting Church Press (JBCE) 1988 Melbourne and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license 217268.