Baptism of our Lord, January 8, 2012
I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” –Mark 1:8
One of the wonderful things about Mark’s gospel is that the evangelist gets right to what is important, omitting all fluff and extraneous detail. In less than a chapter we’re at the Jordan for a holy collision of water, Word, and Spirit. In just a few short verses Jesus will submit to the baptism of the cousin/evangelist “unfit to tie the thong of his sandals” and will receive the heavenly stamp of approval in a dramatic scene involving heavens rent asunder and a dive bombing bird (aka Holy Spirit). Forget the delicate hovering dove and placid savior; this is intense drama that’s going to move along faster than a Clint Eastwood blockbuster. Have you ever had a gull swoop down on you at the beach? Do you know what it is like to feel the rush of wings at your ear? It might be a good idea to remind the congregation to hang on for a roller-coaster ride through Year B. Or, as Annie Dillard writes with great clarity and truth
“Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” (from Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982)
Yes, this is no “play it safe” Sunday. Today we celebrate this holy collision of water, Word, and Spirit. In celebrating the baptism of our Lord, we also remember our own baptism, our incorporation into the family of God, and into this wonderful, countercultural, dangerous discipleship journey. By water and Word God named and claimed us and gave us the gift of the Spirit. Nothing should ever be the same again; if it is, if the world is too much with you and you are distracted by worries and concerns then trouble those waters, my friend. Stir it up and remember whose you truly are. Let the grace and the wonder and the expectation wash over you again and again.
From the waters of creation to the waters of the flood, from the Red Sea to the Jordan River, and from the water of Baptism that quenches sin for all eternity to the water that slakes human thirst each day, this elemental substance is both mighty and merciful–the power to destroy and to ensure life. Water, Word, and Spirit are powerful images for this day. See, feel, and taste that the Lord Jesus Christ is near. Yes, Jesus is wherever we gather as a worshiping community, whenever we call on his name, and in, under, and through simple gifts of bread and wine.
May you be drawn out this day from your comfort and your slumber to the center of this holy collision of Word, water, and Spirit. Touch, taste, and see God’s goodness and remember the promises of your baptism. Refreshed and renewed, go forth into the world to walk in the light and love of God. You are beloved, so be sure to live like it! If you are preaching and/or teaching then also be sure to communicate this truth to the assembly. Peace, blessing, and spiritual crash helmets to you and yours!
Note: The United Methodist GBOD “Lectionary Planning Helps for Sunday” includes an important reminder about hospitality for those who have not yet experienced baptism or who are unfamiliar with reaffirmation of baptism. We would all do well to include this or a similar note using language appropriate for your own context in the worship materials for this day:
“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.”
Consider designing a PowerPoint presentation to accompany one of the baptism themed hymns you plan to sing today. Combine images of water with congregational photos you have that might be appropriate.
If you don’t have this option, consider one of these YouTube videos:
“Down in the River to Pray” by Alison Krauss and Union Station, or
“Wade in the Water” as performed by Chanticleer.
Another possibility is to design a visual for the Old Testament creation reading from Genesis. Involve some youth in creation of a PowerPoint or art that can be displayed or projected during this reading. Is it possible to have the children work on creation art for use in the assembly? How might they be involved in sharing their creations during the reading?
Consider this quote from the book Still Proclaiming Your Wonders, in which Walter J. Burghart, SJ writes: “It is not always easy to recognize Christ. He comes in unexpected ways, ways you and I are not prepared for. If you were living in Palestine at Christ’s first coming, and some prophet told you the Messiah would be coming soon, would you have looked for a baby wrapped in straw? Would you have looked for him on a cross? Would you have expected him to come to you looking like bread, tasting like bread?”
What are the unexpected ways youth in your context are experiencing Christ? How do they experience Jesus “looking like bread, tasting like wine?” How can we develop a watchful eye for “Christ sightings” in our everyday world? Be sure to share communion at the end of your time together if you are able. Keep it simple, perhaps communing one another in a circle.
Be sure to have the font open and displayed prominently if possible. If this is not feasible, consider placing a large crystal bowl near the altar. Invite the children to splash in the water, to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and even to help you “sprinkle” the congregation with water (use small, safely trimmed evergreen branches for the purpose) during the Affirmation of Baptism if rite is included in your worship today. Don’t forget to have a few clean white towels available to dry damp hands and faces.
If you are having a baptism, invite the children to help you set up before worship and to sit on the front row so they will have a good view. If time permits, have parents allow the children to bring copies of pictures from the day of their baptism to make a display near the font.