Call to Worship
LEADER: Like a whisper that lures us to safety,
PEOPLE: Strong as a shout that bids us to come,
LEADER: Gentle as a prayer that eases our worry,
PEOPLE: Like a clear bell that rings out our name,
LEADER: Your Word comes to us, Loving God.
PEOPLE: It calls us, comforts us and urges us to depart from evil and do good, to seek peace and pursue it.
LEADER: Talking God, open our hearts to hear you
PEOPLE: And free our voices to praise you.
*Hymn of Praise # 383 “Are Ye Able,” Said the Master
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) O God of all power and majesty, you created the heavens and stretched them out. You spread forth the earth and what comes from it. You give breath to the people and spirit to those who walk on the face of the earth. You are our Lord; glory is due your name. The former things have come to pass; we now await the new things you shall bring forth. We do praise you as we gather to worship your name. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever. AMEN.
Psalm Response Psalm 29
(print out psalm)
Our Offering to God Deut 16:17 all shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.
Prayer of Dedication We acknowledge our baptism, O God, and the call to become members of Christ’s body. Accept our gifts, that others may be led into your way. Help us so to arrange our priorities that we may seek first the reign of God on earth.
*Hymn of Prayer # 215 Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine
Pastoral Prayer Your voice is upon the waters, O God. It is a voice full of power and majesty. You show no partiality; you judge the nations with fairness. You sent the message of peace to all people through your anointed one, Jesus of Nazareth. He commanded his disciples to proclaim to all the good news of reconciliation. We hear that commandment and seek to respond. Fill us now with the same Spirit of truth. // We confess before you that Jesus Christ is our Lord. As a sign of our trust in him we seek boldly to follow his way. We know that the paths of obedience and love will test us, yet we accept the risks of mission, relying on your Spirit to sustain us.
O God, you have called us to be a part of the ministry of Christ. We are part of his body with a task to perform., and the gifts of Christ are ours. We join sisters and brothers in one household of faith. Let each voice be heard as worthy of trust, so that envy and suspicion will not arise. When unity is breached by alienation and strife, may the diversity of strengths keep the body intact.
In baptism you cleansed what we have been, so that we may become what you meant us to be. Let the waters of new life be poured over us each day. Send down your Spirit, Lord, to infuse us with power and ignite our zeal. In all we do may you receive the glory due your name.
Thank you for the timeless and endless good news: God shows no partiality. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ receives forgiveness of sins through his name. The burden is lifted; we are free to live and love.
*Hymn of Praise #214 We Bless the Name of Christ the Lord
Scripture Reading Matthew 3:13-17 (NIV)
The Baptism of Jesus 13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Message Listening for God
Much of the church today is based on speaking before listening. There are lots of policies and procedures for speaking in the church but none for listening.
There is a cartoon of a little boy sitting under a tree with his dog. The boy is reading the Bible. He reads, "And then a voice came to Moses from above ..." He turns to his dog and asks, "Have you ever heard a voice from above? " You can see the dog's thoughts in a bubble above its head: "Attention K-Mart shoppers ... " (As cited by Bob Olmstead, 15 March 1992, Reno, Nevada).
Today we are bombarded by disembodied voices and background noises. Radios blare at us in our cars, stereo systems squawk at us in our homes, elevators sing to us at work and computer generated "voices" nag us about the empty gas tank or door that is ajar. While we routinely live with all this noise, we remain highly susceptible to the messages shouted by these various voices, or we learn not to listen to the noise that we hear. The commercial ads on radio and television pay the station's bills as we pay for the products they advertise. It is not just people who "hear voices" who are locked away or medicated into a state of suspended thinking. In truth, we all hear voices "from above," and the voices we hear from "above" control our lives, even locking us in "rooms with open doors" (Ernest T. Campbell) and suspending us in alien states of animation or thinking. Voices determine what we buy, what we eat, what we expect from others, even what we think about ourselves.
Why isn't God's voice more discernible than all those other shouted sounds? Perhaps our problem is that we only listen to voices that sound like our own. We have become overly enamored of our own tonal qualities. The popularity of "saloning" and "dialoging" is not based on giving everyone a chance to listen, but because everyone expects to have an opportunity to speak. Voices that sound too different - that have a different accent, that speak a different language, that are higher or lower in timbre than our own, that use too large a vocabulary, or ignore basic rules of grammar - too often fall on dumb ears and dull hearts.
Americans have enjoyed a kind of cultural monolingualism for too long. We insist that everyone speak our languages - English, scientific rationalism, free-market consumerism. These are powerful, persuasive languages. But in the 21st century we are being called to listen ever more attentively to multilingual voices that are carrying different messages. //
God sent Jesus to a multicultural, polyglot population. Jesus was raised to be a multilinguist. Yet Jesus could always discern God's voice among all the dialects he encountered throughout his ministry.
Orlando E. Costas, who at the time of his untimely death was Dean of Andover Newton Theological School, presented what he calls a "Galilean model" for evangelization. He has emphasized the central importance of Galilee to understanding Jesus' ministry and New Testament christology. (see his "Evangelism from the Periphery: A Galilean Model," Apuntes 2 , 51-50). In Jesus' day, Galilee was a cultural crossroads. Literally meaning a ring or circle, Galilee was a ring of land that encircled peoples of a variety of nations and cultures, with new peoples infiltrating the region all the time. In its history, Galilee was controlled by Babylon, Persia, Macedonia, Egypt, Syria and Assyria. In the words of religious education professor Robert W. Pazmino, "In the first century, Galilee, with a population of approximately 350,000 persons, had a large slave element of about 100,000. God could hardly have chosen a more multicultural context into which to send Jesus of Nazareth."
Galilee is a symbol of the anchoring of biblical faith not in the centers and corridors of power, but in the periphery and margins of the social order. Jesus' Galilean evangelistic model means that wherever there is the forgotten and voiceless, the "lowest level or most marginated space of society," writes Costas, there is the base for evangelization. (See Costas, "Evangelism From the Periphery The Universality of Galilee," in Voces: Voices from the Hispanic Church, ed. Justo L. Gonzalez [Nash ville: Abingdon, 1992], 17.)
In an attempt to experience firsthand the world's "shanty towns" as the "new universal" - seeing global evangelization from the perspective of the favelas (Brazil), the villas miseries (Argentina), the arrabales (Puerto Rico), the tugurios (Central America), urban ghettoes (United States) -Costas and some other seminary professors went on a plunge experience (he calls it "immersion exposure") into urban Colombo, Sri Lanka. While listening to the vast chorus of sounds God's voice embodied there, Costas encountered this local song that describes the horrid conditions of the "Galilees of the nations":
Cardboard and tin cans all straightened out,
Patched up with these and blocked round about,
Every man's junk we've built up our house.
That's one of many in old shanty town.
A million mosquitoes, we wait for the rain
To wash away all the dirt-filled-up drains.
The water we get comes down from the skies,
But the drought's going on and our home's full of flies.
A slum is where the world forgets who you are,
They close their eyes, no time to care,
They pass you by, faces full of frowns,
Turned-up noses at our shanty town.
The song ends in this compelling call:
Come take my hand.
Some time can you give
To open your heart and see how we live.
Visit my home, I'll take you around
The Forgotten People of old shanty town.
--Costas, "Evangelism from the Periphery: The Universality of Galilee," Voces: Voices from the Hispanic Church, ed. Justo L. Gonzalez (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992), 21-22.
Who can fail to hear God's voice in a cry such as this? //
With immense care Matthew records the first dramatic action of Jesus' ministry - his baptism at the hands of John. Matthew shifts the mood from the stark shortcomings of humanity to the accepting obedience of Jesus.
Galilee was not a great place from which to hail. It housed too many different kinds of people with suspiciously hybrid backgrounds to make it a prestigious address. Yet Matthew begins his baptismal narrative by reminding readers that Galilee was Jesus' home. When Jesus appears before the impressive John seeking baptism, the Baptizer is transformed from a commanding figure to a humble servant. Indeed John is so awed by Jesus' presence that at first he despairs of even carrying out Jesus' wish.
Jesus seeks baptism out of obedience to his Father's call to "fulfill all righteousness," John also had to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and carry out the baptism as a sign of his obedience. Jesus submits to John's baptism and John submits to Jesus' command that he baptize him.
The baptismal rite that John practiced was not something new to his first century audience. As a symbol of cleansing and of rebirth, it was used by various sects. Within Judaism it was the step taken to initiate proselytes into full membership in the Jewish community. While any water was ultimately acceptable for this procedure, the preference was for a clear, running stream of water - it best symbolized to the participants the symbols of cleanliness and purity. No wonder John chose the forceful waters of the Jordan for his baptismal font.
There is little doubt that this was a full immersion baptism. // This scene appeals so because it feeds all our senses - the sight of the glistening river, the sound of the running waters, the feel of its coolness, the smell of its freshness. When Jesus "came up from the water" he must have been a sight - soaked and dripping. It is not clear whether the opening heavens or the descending Spirit (v. 16) were apparent to any but Jesus. What is clear is that this is an experience intended for all future believers.
The words that follow this vision are even more astounding than the signs Matthew recalls for his readers. The voice of divine approval resounds with both authority and genuine delight. God's words serve two purposes. First, they recall the Old Testament messages affirming Jesus' true identity. Second, these words also commend Jesus, the divine is "well pleased", for Jesus act of obedience and acceptance in submitting to baptism. Obedience to God's will opens Jesus' mission on earth in baptism, just as it closes out his earthly life in obedience to the cross.
Jesus identifies his need for baptism as the action "to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus' fondness for fulfilling righteousness through action was one of the qualities the religious authorities of his day found most unsettling. While the Pharisees could enjoy a good theological sparring match over the nuances of Torah with someone as gifted in debate as Jesus, they could never get used to him stepping out from the Word and into the world - healing, preaching, touching, talking. While Jesus loved the Torah, he never hesitated to move beyond its traditional interpretations when reformist action was needed. ////
E. Rosenstock-Hussey wrote: "The Christian is one who listens to God speak before speaking - the Church is a group of listening people." In his Encountering Jesus (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), Zan W. Holmes, Jr., goes so far as to talk about the "Preaching congregation and the listening pastor" (53-54). It is time to rediscover and recover this biblical tradition of listening before speaking. Are you listening for God in the midst of all the voices that clamor for your attention everyday? We can't expect to become skilled all at once at picking out God's voice from the other voices, but perhaps the way to start is as Jesus did: at the moment of baptism - your own or one witnessed.
Baptism is a commissioning moment. The church has tried to dress up baptism in sacramental finery and sacerdotal fancy, but the reality of the event is more radical than a sanctuary occurrence. Baptism is no less than our symbolic death to sin and rebirth in Christ to righteousness and justice and peace (hence the bird). At this moment of new beginnings we should listen for Christ's voice introducing us personally to the Father for the first time: "This is my beloved brother;" and "This is my beloved sister .... I am well-pleased with them and am sending them out with a mission in the world."
Perhaps baptism needs to get liberated from its ecclesiastical prison. In the early church, the favorite time of baptism was Easter morning. Baptisms usually took place out-of-doors, in a river or lake. As the new believer stood in the water, the Easter story would be read, after which the new Christian would be immersed. The bonds of baptism connect us through Christ one to another - it is based in Christ's life, death and resurrection, not some human friendship or warm community. Through baptism we are truly "one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
Baptism should be the event that makes it possible for us all to become multilingual - listening for God, hearing God, in the voices of all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
*Hymn of Response # 483 We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
*Sending forth May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! May the Lord be with you all!
"This morning," said the minister, "I'm going to speak on the relationship between fact and faith. It is a fact that you are sitting here in the sanctuary. It is also a fact that I am standing here speaking. But it is faith that makes me believe that you might be listening to what I have to say."
In moments of despair and doubt and desolation, Martin Luther would say to himself as a reminder, "I was baptized."
"The journey inward is the journey from the issues of this world toward God. It is a journey toward the mind of Christ, beyond feelings of expediency or fear of what people will say, to truth itself. It is followed by the journey outward, back from the depths where we meet God, to the issues facing us in our everyday life, a journey which we now undertake with a new sensitivity to the will of God in all things."
--John Dalrymple, The Longest Journey: Notes on Christian Maturity
Philip Yancey tells the story of a friend of his who went swimming in a large lake at dusk. "As he was paddling at a leisurely pace about a hundred yards offshore, a freak evening fog rolled in across the water. Suddenly he could see nothing: no horizon, no landmarks, no objects or lights on shore. Because the fog diffused all light, he could not even make out the direction of the setting sun." Yancey then tells how his friend splashed about in absolute panic. "He would start off in one direction, lose confidence, and turn 90 degrees to the right. Or left - it made no difference which way he turned. He could feel his heart racing uncontrollably. He would stop and float, trying to conserve energy and force himself to breathe slower. Then he would blindly strike out again. At last he heard a faint voice calling from shore. He pointed his body to the sounds and followed them to safety."
--Yancey, Disappointment With God
It will do us well to remember these words of Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church: "The difference between Christianity and religion is how they are spelled. Religion is spelled 'do' - do this, do that, do, do, do. Christianity is spelled 'done'. Christianity has already done everything needed. We just need to receive the gift of 'done.'"
"Two men were watching a man drive a herd of sheep through the main street of a small town. 'I thought shepherds led sheep. I didn't know they drove them with a whip.' 'They do,' the other fellow remarked. 'That's not a shepherd. That's the town's butcher."'
--R. Robert Cueni, The Vital Church Leader
"For years, historians have written papers, theses and volumes, clucking over [General George] Custer's headstrong, fatal gesture. [Biographer Evan S.] Cornell finds a witness who encapsulates the personality of [Custer] in three sentences. Sitting Bull, the Sioux leader whose men massacred the U.S. cavalrymen on the fateful afternoon of June 25,  recalled, 'they tell me I murdered Custer. It's a lie ... He was a fool and rode to his death.' The proof lay on the battlefield. After Little Bighorn, two Cheyenne women found Custer's corpse. They punctured the enemy's eardrums with a sewing awl, to improve his hearing in the next world; in this one he had not heeded predictions of death on the battlefield."
--Kenneth Turan, "Yellow Hair's Final Ride," Time