Text used – Luke 3:1-22 (embedded in the text this week)
This week, we didn’t have a traditional sermon because everything about this week was anything but traditional. So instead of posting my sermon as I usually do, I’m posting the worship write-up.
Centering Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
As you breathe in, pray, “Lord, make me an instrument.”
As you breathe out, pray, “Of your peace.”
Friends, I tried to write a regular service for today – for Baptism of Jesus Sunday. But after the scene that unfolded in our nation’s capitol on Wednesday, a “regular service” just wouldn’t come. So today we are going to remember the vows made during our baptisms and re-immerse ourselves in the grace of those waters. We are going to read Scripture and some other powerful words of witness, of hope, of healing, of lament. And we are going to pray.
Prayer (based on a prayer from the Book of Common Worship):
Gracious God, the news of this week has ripped our hearts and torn our souls. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. In the depths of pain and anger, we gather before you, O God, our rock and our refuge. You are our only comfort. You are our only hope. Merciful God, you know the depth of our suffering. We have only begun to mourn the violence and upheaval, the death and havoc inflicted in Washington D.C. this week. Uphold all those who hurt, fear, and grieve, especially the families of those who died because of this violent uprising and in particular the family of Officer Brian Sicknick. Faithful God, surround us with your everlasting arms. Hear our cries of despair, heed our calls for justice, and do not let us lose hope, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, we pray. Amen.
A word before we read our Scripture this morning: You all know that we’re following the Narrative Lectionary right now which means that the passages I choose for each Sunday follow a plan that was laid out years ago. There have been times in the past, especially over this past year, when the pre-designated passage seems to speak powerfully and prophetically to current events. Those are the moments when we feel the thrill of the Holy Spirit stirring close at hand in our worship and in our hearts, and today is certainly one of those days. With the events of the past week in your minds and your hearts, friends, listen for God’s word this morning …
Scripture – Luke 3:1-22 (translation from the Common English Bible):
1 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 4 This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet, A voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight. 5 Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled. The crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth. 6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.” 7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.” 10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.” 14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?” He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.” 15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler had been criticized harshly by John because of Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife, and because of all the evil he had done. 20 He added this to the list of his evil deeds: he locked John up in prison. 21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
I confess to you this morning that preaching after an armed mob has broken into the nation’s capitol with the intent of damaging property, taking the lives of elected officials, and subverting our political process was not a subject that we covered in seminary. Those aren’t even words I thought I’d ever say in American in the 21st century. And yet this is where we find ourselves. Yes, I realize that there were many people in Washington D.C. this week that were there to lift their voices in protest without lifting their hands in anger, but we also cannot deny that there were many, many more who went with the intent of violence and hatred in their hearts. And they carried out that violence and that hatred in damaging and devastating ways – damaging to property, damaging to lives, damaging to the nation’s trust in the system of government that we have upheld for centuries.
I want to read part of a statement for you this morning. This statement was put out by Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the coordinator of the Office of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Incidentally, the physical location for the Office of Public Witness is directly across the street from the capitol building in D.C., but because of the pandemic, all those employed by the Office of Public Witness have been working from home since March. They were safe from the violence and threats that so many others enduring on Wednesday. Here’s Rev. Hawkins’ statement:
Wednesday, January 6, marked the day of Epiphany, Día de Los Reyes, as the end of the Christmas season. Sadly, on that same day, at 2:15 pm EST, the United States Capitol building was stormed by a mob of insurrectionists intent on disrupting the certification of Joe Biden as president of the United States. This was an alarming and sobering reality of the divisions within our country and the danger posed by those who are guided by extremist ideology.
… Domestic terrorists attempted to intimidate our nation’s leaders in an attempt to halt the certification. Using guns, clubs, and other weapons, terrorists overran the police and broke into the Capitol Building. They broke windows, spray-painted walls, ransacked offices, and left threatening notes. Two pipe bombs were left outside of the DNC and RNC local offices. A cooler of Molotov cocktails was discovered in a parked car. Members of both houses were ushered into safe locations for their well-being knowing that their lives were at risk. Many are still shaken by what happened.
The Office of Public Witness mourns the loss of life that occurred and we pray for the four families now in mourning.
… These actions were not just an attack on the Capitol Building, but an attack on American democracy. … Epiphany proclaims hope in the midst of despair. Let not the destructive events of [this past week] derail us from our goal of liberty and equity for all. No amount of resistance will quell our resolve to fight for freedom, justice, and democracy for all people.
Our country is changing and there is resistance, much of it through violent acts and rhetoric. But we will prevail because whenever you stand for justice, love and inclusion, you stand with God.
Friends, today is the day that the church calendar designates as “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. Many of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism are elaborate tellings compared to our Scripture this morning. And yet instead of lavishing all his details on the River Jordan and John the Baptist, Luke decides to dedicate his account of Jesus’ baptism to what is happening in the world around Jesus and John at that particular moment: corruption and injustice, dishonesty and intimidation, political intrigue and deception. It almost seems like Jesus’ baptism, a seminal event in the life of Jesus’ own mission and ministry, is but a footnote – an afterthought to which Luke devotes a mere two sentence: “When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.’” By spinning his gospel tale in this way, Luke inextricably links baptism with sacred integrity, with just actions and intentions grounded in God’s love, with a faith that is active and consistent – a faith that talks the talk and walks the walk.
As we hold all of that in our hearts and our minds this morning – what happened at the capitol and God’s word to us in our Scripture this morning and the meaning of baptism – I want to read you the vows that we ask parents/guardians/individuals to make when we baptize:
(From the Book of Common Worship): Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we enter the covenant God established in Jesus Christ. Within this covenant God gives us new life, strengthens us to resist evil, and nurtures us in love. Through this covenant, we choose whom we will serve, by turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ.
Questions for the individual or the parents/guardians: Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world? (Answer: I do.) Who is your Lord and Savior? (Answer: Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.) Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love? (Answer: I will, with God’s help.)
In the face of the evil perpetrated in Washington D.C. this week; in the hope of a life everlasting a grace that is greater than all our fears – past, present, and future; in the assurance of a God who is just and merciful who calls us to action in the face of oppression, fear, and hatred, this morning, we reaffirm our baptism in gratitude and in strength:
Beloved people of God,
our baptism is the sign and seal
of our cleansing from sin,
and of our being grafted into Christ.
Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ,
the power of sin was broken
and God’s kingdom entered our world.
Through our baptism we were made citizens of God’s kingdom,
and freed from the bondage of sin.
Let us celebrate that freedom and redemption
through the renewal of the promises made at our baptism.
I ask you, therefore,
once again to reject sin,
to profess your faith in Christ Jesus,
and to confess the faith of the church,
the faith in which we were baptized.
Trusting in the gracious mercy of God,
do you turn from the ways of sin
and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple,
obeying his word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.
In hope, in strength, in conviction, in call: remember your baptism and be thankful. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Lament Psalm Forty-two” by Ann Weems (from Psalms of Lament)
O God, I am struggling
preoccupied with dismal
that will not
let me go.
My blood pressure climbs,
and I have aches
that have no cause except
my broken heart.
Why have you turned
your back on me,
Why won’t you protect me
against my emotions?
I have nowhere to turn
if not to
I have nowhere to go
if not to your
I have no one to talk to
if you won’t
Break your silence
Open your door
so I can
Turn your face to me
and pay attention
to my problems!
Trouble surrounds me
like a fence
I need eyes in the back
of my head
so I can see
what’s coming next.
I’m worn down from trying
with one hell after another.
The pain in my mind
leaves no room
O God, return me
to a life of
Give me a reason
Can eyes weep
Can hearts race
Can minds agitate
Can my soul survive
O God, please
stop this revolving door
of emotional oppression!
Stop the outpouring
O God, on the wings of dawn
you come to my house,
in the palm of your hand.
You open my eyes;
you stand in
and invite me
to your house.
you are my peace!
Hymn – “This Is My Song” (Glory to God hymnal, #340)
Blessing (from the Book of Common Worship):
Go out into the world in peace;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you might abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.