Lectionary Reflection for The Baptism of Our Lord, Year A
January 12, 2014
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…’ Acts 10:34-35
Today the Church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord, and the most obvious lectionary choice is Matthew’s short gospel account of the event. However, neither Matthew nor Jesus spends much time dwelling on the baptismal event: just five verses and Matthew moves on, and Jesus immediately heads for the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. We can take the cue and give Jesus’ baptism it’s due, but then “walk wet” right out of the water and into proclamation. But how? Here we can segue to the Acts passage, where Peter brilliantly summarizes his faith to a Gentile (i.e. non-synagogue) audience.
As with Jesus and Peter, we have work to do, dear friends. We have good news to share. We need to make sure we are equipping one another for the work of God here on earth in whatever context we find ourselves. Time is precious. Time is elusive. Time is fleeting. Jesus knew this. Peter understood it. And just as Peter did, it’s time to make sure you have your discipleship “elevator speech” ready to roll.
Huh? Yes, your discipleship “elevator speech” (borrowing a term from corporate culture). Notice in Acts how Peter concisely describes the broad sweep of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How many Christians can actually articulate the basics of their faith in the time it takes to ride an elevator in a high rise office building–two to three minutes at the most? The answer, unfortunately, is not very many, and it is certainly not realistic to assume that one Sunday sermon is going to give folks the tools to do so. However, what this one Sunday sermon or small group discussion CAN do, is to ignite a holy curiosity and start the process.
Peter’s “elevator speech” to the Gentiles came as a result of his prophetic dream and his encounters with non-Jews. He was shaped by these things, and in turn, he shaped his sharing of the faith in a new way. He drew on context, experience and on the firm foundation of his faith to craft a simple explanation for his audience. We need to facilitate a similar process within our communities so that each one of us can take into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and chance encounters the good news of Jesus Christ and–importantly–how this good news makes a difference in our lives.
Yes, celebrating the Baptism of Jesus is a good place to start. Remembering one’s own baptism is a mighty fine springboard for action, but we need to move forward with Jesus into the wilderness of our own faith journey. In baptism we are incorporated into God’s family, we are signed sealed, and delivered, but we are also sent. And in that sending we learn, grow, and share in community; in effect, we walk wet into ever-wider witness, just as ripples flow outward from a stone cast into a pond. Unfortunately, we often lack the words to articulate the story.
Today, Peter gives us a good example of how our faith journey can be shaped, crafted, refined, and articulated effectively. Every one of us has a faith story. Each disciple is on a faith journey. The joy is in the sharing. Jesus came to you, and Jesus comes to all people. So let us shake off the living water, drink the wine of salvation, eat the bread of life, and tell the story. Every second counts.
Why not introduce a process to help your congregation develop their own faith “elevator speech”? If you have one of your own, consider sharing it. If you have enough time prior to worship, invite others in your congregation to share their faith elevator speeches. If your congregation is accustomed to interactive sermons and worship experiences, consider having folks work with others to craft a draft of a faith elevator speech during worship. Invite them to either post their completed drafts in a designated place or to keep perfecting their work to post on your congregation’s Facebook page.
Here are a couple of good links to the basics of crafting an elevator speech from a business perspective:
A couple of changes you’ll want to make for a faith speech include knowing not only yourself, but more importantly knowing Jesus and what Jesus means in your life. Consider answering these questions:
1. What has Jesus done in my life? What is God doing in the life of my faith community?
2. What adjectives can I use to describe God as revealed in Jesus?
3. What do I want others to know about Jesus in general and about my faith community in particular?
4. Why is it important for the person you’re talking with to know about Jesus and about your faith community?
5. Taking a cue from Peter, how can you make your words relevant to a particular audience (unchurched, Nones, etc.)? What speaks to their needs, hopes, dreams, and fears?
6. How can you say all of this in 100-150 words or less?
Peter gave the basics of his faith to a new audience in today’s lesson from Acts. He was speaking to Gentiles. Read the entirety of chapter 10 so that you’ll have adequate context. Peter used new tools for a new audience in an effort to share the good news. How can you use the tools of social media (Twitter, Instagram, Vine, for example) to share your faith? Give youth some time and space to discuss and come up with ideas. Discuss your ideas and consider how you might share your faith journey and your congregation with others through these media.
No Umbrella Needed
Today we hear again about Jesus’ baptism. Consider showing up in rain boots, with a raincoat, and an umbrella. As you talk, gradually remove your “rain gear” to illustrate that baptism is a way of walking wet in the world that doesn’t require a lot of external support.
You might discuss with children about how baptism happens in your congregation and/or faith tradition. Tell them baptism is the only bath we take that never needs repeating, always keeps us wet, and doesn’t require an umbrella or rain boots. In water and Word, like Jesus, we are signed, sealed, and delivered–incorporated into God’s one big family of faith. How can that little dab of water and that one time do such wonderful work? Because our baptism never leaves us, we walk “wet” in this world. We are always God’s beloved children and the Spirit goes with us wherever we go. We don’t need special gear like an umbrella, slicker, or galoshes to walk wet in this world. We just need to go, to keep walking, and to share the love of God with everyone we meet. End with a prayer of thanksgiving for baptism, and consider letting the children sprinkle the congregation with water as a tangible reminder of their own baptisms.