Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Baptism of our Lord, Year C
January 13, 2018
Lessons: Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people listen to God with their ears, eyes, hearts, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit received in baptism.
Key Scripture: … Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” -Luke 3:21-22
In 2004 the United Church of Christ launched the Stillspeaking campaign with the tagline “God is still speaking.” This campaign and denominational rebranding was aimed at extending a message of extravagant welcome to encounter an “an all-loving and inclusive God.” Our lessons for this week remind us that God has been speaking to God’s beloved people for a long time in many and varied ways.
Yes, God still has a lot to say, but to hear God speak we have to listen. Yet, listening seems to be problematic for humankind in all generations. You’d think we might learn a thing or two over a few thousand years, but sadly we seem to miss the divine point more often than not. It’s not that we don’t want to listen to God; it’s more than likely today that we have too many things competing for our attention.
Think of all the things that vie for your attention and time with God. What would you list? I’ll bet you could come up with a pretty wide and varied selection of options that vie for your ear—not to mention your heart, your wallet, and your time.
This Sunday may be a good opportunity to explore the gift of baptism not so much as a remembrance but rather as an opportunity to listen to God. If you grew up in a liturgical church, chances are you don’t remember your actual baptism day, aside from stories and photos that relatives have shared. Yet thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit that you received that day, you continue to be given opportunities to listen for and to God every day of your life.
Three of the four lessons (Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22) deal directly with God’s voice, so that indicates an important theme to tease out in preaching and teaching. One might explore what it means to listen for God in our 21st century Western world, or the ways in which God speaks to us. Another tack might involve the concept of active listening, or even listening not only with our ears but also our eyes, heart, and every atom and molecule of our being. How can we be fully present, clearing our minds of all the noise and stuff, to allow room for God to speak, guide, and love us? Finally, it might be helpful to help folks articulate what gets in the way and prevents us from hearing God’s still small voice in a world filled with noise.
Importantly, we dare not let the world’s noise and competing claims drown out God’s voice proclaiming to us, just as God did to Jesus, “you are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” We are beloved, and love is all about relationship. God desires to be in relationship with us and has given us the Spirit to accompany us for our entire life. God loved us so much that the Divine One slipped into human skin and walked among us to show us what love embodied looks like. And, yes, by water and word we have been named and claimed and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Listen. Do you hear God calling you? Open your ears, your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the wonder of God’s amazing grace, endless mercy, and abiding love.
Consider using the baptismal font (or a large clear bowl) to illustrate how the competing claims and noise of our lives dilutes our ability to listen to and encounter God. If you are using a large clear (punchbowl size) container, fill it about 1/3 full and use enough blue food coloring so that the water appears visibly blue. Fill a pitcher or several small containers with clear water. Invite congregants to name the competing voices that prevent them from listening to and for God. Pour some clear water into the font or bowl. Notice how the water becomes more and more diluted with every pour. Finally, the water should be very pale. Remind worshipers that God still speaks—even when we do not listen. Drop in a few more drops of blue food coloring so that the color deepens again. Our God continues to come to us, speaking to us, guiding us, and calling us beloved.
What does it mean to have the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism. Explore this subject with youth, using Acts 8:14-17.
If you have a group of older youth, you might consider using Langston Hughes’ short story “Salvation” as a discussion starter about baptism, the pressures of family and community, and the role of faith.
This week’s focus verse is Luke 3:22b: And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Gather the children around the font. Ask them if they remember anything about their baptism. If you have a photo from your own baptism (or from your child’s baptism), show them that and describe what you remember. Remind them that when Jesus was baptized, the sky between heaven and earth split open, the Holy Spirit came down like a dove, and God spoke the words in verse 22 (printed above). Tell them that they, too, were named and claimed by God when they were baptized and that the sign of the cross was marked on their forehead, showing that God will always love them, never leave them, and speak to them through the Holy Spirit, in scripture, in Holy Communion, and through other people. Give each child a blessing, marking them with the sign of the cross on their forehead.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Have you ever thought about stewardship of listening to God and one another? If not, this week’s lessons remind us that God speaks to us in many ways. Our job is to learn how to really listen.
Stewardship at Home
Spend time reminding your circle of family and friends that God loves them and so do you. Write notes, send emails, texts—however you can get the message across. In doing these simple acts remember how much God loves you. Be sure to take time this week to listen for God.
Why not block out 15 minutes each day to sit quietly, try to empty your mind of distractions and allow time and space for God to be present with you? If sitting quietly is not appealing, take a short walk in nature each day, breathing deeply and appreciating the beauty of creation.
Check out this short article about five ways to listen to God!
Here’s a look back at our 2016 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/01/lament-repent-relent/
And here’s the 2013 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/01/remember-your-baptism-live-it/
Photos: vincepal, United Church of Christ, and aka Tman. Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2019, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.