Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus’ Baptism, Luke 3:1-22 (Psalm 51:6-17)
We begin the Revised Common Lectionary reading in this season after Epiphany with the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of Creation in Genesis 1:1-5. In the beginning, a wind from God swept over the waters, the formless void, and God called forth light. Wind in Hebrew is the same word as spirit and breath: ruach. God saw that it was good, and separated the light from the darkness, and the first day was created.
Psalm 29 is a song of praise to God the Creator who is revealed in creation. The psalm begins with calling the heavenly beings into awe and worship of God. God is the one whose voice thunders over the waters of creation. God’s voice is so powerful creation was brought forth, and can also break the strongest of trees, the cedars of Lebanon, shaking the wilderness and stripping the forest bare. Perhaps written about a thunderstorm, the psalmist marvels at God, who reigns over everything, especially through the forces of creation.
Paul encounters some of John the Baptist’s disciples in Acts 19:1-7. These disciples had not heard of the Holy Spirit and were only baptized into the waters of repentance that John taught. However, John did teach that one was coming after him, named Jesus. Paul laid his hands on John’s disciples to receive the Holy Spirit. He did not call them to go back into the water again, but instead, prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon them in the name of Jesus. There were “about twelve” of John’s disciples who received the Holy Spirit that day.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is short and to the point. John the Baptizer (note that the verb is active) appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the city and the country came out to John to be baptized, confessing their sins. John wore camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. Many scholars believe he was connected to the Essenes, a community that had separated themselves from other Jewish communities, waiting for the day of the Lord to come. However, John came away from them, to where the people were gathered, and told them one was coming after him that was more powerful, one whom he was not worthy to tie the sandals of. Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him, and the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove. A voice came down from heaven, declaring that Jesus was the Son, the Beloved, and God was well pleased.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s account. Contrasted with Mark’s account, Luke has several details to give us the setting—who was in power in Rome, who the local governor was, who the high priest was—all the important historical details to know what was going on in the world when John, son of Zechariah (according to Luke) began proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Luke links John to the passage in Isaiah of the “voice crying out in the wilderness” (Mark does this as well in the verses prior to today’s RCL reading). However, in Luke’s account, John warned those coming to be baptized, calling out to them “you brood of vipers!” He warned them that they must “bear fruit worthy of repentance,” to show that their lives had actually changed. John gave them examples: those with more than one coat needed to share. Tax collectors should collect no more than they were prescribed to collect. Soldiers should not extort anyone. Luke used the image of the Messiah as the one holding the winnowing fork, separating the wheat from the chaff. The wheat and chaff grow in the same stalk. The winnowing fork separates out what needs to be burned, so the wheat can be gathered up. Luke’s account also wrote of John’s fate at this point—that he was arrested by Herod. Jesus was baptized along with others, and when he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice from heaven said that this was the Son, the Beloved, with whom God was well pleased.
The psalmist in Psalm 51:6-17 desires to be made pure before God, to repent and turn back to God’s ways. They long to return to God, and teach others to repent and turn to God as well. This psalm is often attributed to David, after his admission of guilt in having coerced Bathsheba, who was married, to sleep with him. The psalmist truly desires to draw close to God, to be cleansed of their sin, and calls upon God for their deliverance, as well as the deliverance of Jerusalem.
Repentance simply means “to return.” To return to God, to turn back to God’s ways. This was the simple message of John the Baptizer, who probably came from the Essenes and took their particular understanding of the mikveh, the ritual cleansing bath practiced by many Jewish people, and used it as a ritual of repentance. But instead of separating himself on the shores of the Dead Sea with the other Essenes, John went to where the people had gathered. The Jordan was where people bathed, washed their clothes and dishes. And there, in that muddy and dirty water of everyday muck, John declared God was doing something new, and that God simply desired the people to turn back to God and God’s ways, to turn from their selfishness. Jesus came, and was baptized along with them, and God was well pleased.
Call to Worship (from Isaiah 40:3-5, 8b)
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
The uneven ground shall become level,
And the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all people shall see it together,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The word of our God will stand forever.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess our sins to You. We confess that we have failed to live into Your commandments. We have failed to follow Your teachings and ordinances in Scripture. We have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. As we come together today to remember our baptism and renew our baptismal vows, we renew our commitment to You. We repent of our sins. We ask for Your forgiveness. We pray that we might do better in this new year to live into Your commandments, to follow the teachings of Christ, and to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We pray all things in You, God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who sustains us now and forever. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Jeremiah 31:33-34)
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
God continually offers us forgiveness. Your sins are remembered no more. Remember instead your baptism, how God called your name, and still calls you beloved, and that God is well pleased with you. Go and share the Good News. Amen.
Holy Spirit, You hovered over the waters of the deep at creation, waiting for the Word. Draw near to us and hover over us, for You are calling our name, and You are waiting for us to turn. Call us to return to Your ways. Call us to return to our created intention: to care for this world as You have cared for us. And call us, again and again, by the name Beloved, so we may remember that we belong to You. In our belonging, may we remember our kinship with one another, and Your commandments to love one another as You first loved us. Holy Spirit, hover near us, and call us back. Amen.