RCL Reflection: Baptism of our Lord, Year A, January 8, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people walk wet in this world, remembering their baptism and sharing the good news with everyone they encounter—using words if necessary.
Key Scripture: 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 baptism: 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 its brief due but then “walk wet” right out of the water and into proclamation. But how? We can segue to the Acts passage, where Peter brilliantly summarizes his faith to a Gentile (i.e. non-synagogue) audience. As do Jesus and Peter, we have work to do, dear friends. Because we are stewards of the story, 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 knows this. Peter understands. And just as Peter does, 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 or 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 comes after his prophetic dream and his encounters with non-Jews. He is shaped by these things, and in turn, he shapes his sharing of the faith in a new way. He draws 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 in our communities so that each 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 God incorporates us 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. Each 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 be sent to tell the story. Every second counts fellow stewards, every single second.
Consider a theme of “holy listening” today. Three of four Lectionary lessons make mention of God speaking. In a world of noise it can be difficult to discern God’s voice above the clamorous and competing claims of the world. So many voices call for our attention. Helping congregants focus on active listening for God’s call and presence is a true gift and most needed spiritual discipline. You might include the hymn “Listen, God is Calling” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #513) or “Will You Come and Follow Me” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #798).
Explore Peter’s speech from Acts 10 with your youth, particularly verses 34-35. God shows no partiality. People of every nation who fear God and do what is right are acceptable. This is very good news! However, it’s good news that involves action on our parts. We are the ones who must carry forward this good news by testifying to and sharing it.
In a world where it is all too easy to draw lines of division and difference, how can we be agents of peace and hope in proclaiming this good news for all people? What does it look like to lead with our lives, using words as necessary? How can youth be prophetic in today? How can we best hold one another accountable as stewards of the faith?
Invite the children to gather with you around the font. Perhaps you’ve done this frequently—whenever there is a baptism, each year when we remember our Lord’s baptism, or on other occasions. Remember that for children, repetition is key to learning (and helpful for adults, too!), so don’t shy away from spending time encouraging children and their families to share these stories of faith, love, and growth.
Pour fresh water into the font, recall some of the words that are spoken at baptism, let the children dip their fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross. If you use oil to make the sign of the cross at baptism, allow the children to see and touch the oil, perhaps marking each other. Gather small evergreen branches and let the children splash water on congregants. Remind the children how much God loves them, and that God is well-pleased with them too, and has named and claimed them as children. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” Just as God was pleased with Jesus, God is also pleased to name and claim us in the waters of baptism. In baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, that gift that stays with us and keeps on giving while we’re living. This week consider how you are being a faithful steward of the gift of the Holy Spirit and your baptismal identity as a beloved Child of God. How might you share this important part of yourself and your life with others who need to hear the Good News?
Stewardship at Home
This is a good week to celebrate baptism and how as stewards of the Good News we remember our own baptism so that we can share with others. This is a good time to get out any pictures, copies of bulletins, candles, shells, and other remembrances of baptism to retell the stories of the day each family member was baptized.
If you live alone, consider calling or emailing family members to share your baptism memories and stories. Remember your baptism every time you use water this week. Make the sign of the cross and say a simple prayer of gratitude for the saving gift of life that comes through water and baptism.
Consider making a gift to a water charity in thanksgiving for your baptism. Practice telling the story of your baptism and why it is important to you and to your life as a disciple of Christ.
Photos: Waiting for the Word, Samantha, and divine in the daily, Creative Commons License. Thanks!
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