On the first Sunday after Epiphany (January 12), the church observes the festival of Jesus' Baptism. David Ackerman has chosen three intriguing passages of Scripture for this event. We begin with the story of the Fall always brings with it important theological questions about human nature. It has been the foundation for theologies of original sin and is often linked to the atonement and to baptism. There is much fodder for discussion in this reading from the Hebrew Bible. From Genesis 3 we move to Acts 15, where Luke provides us with the letter sent to Paul's churches after the Jerusalem council. Here the question is what are the essentials for Christian fellowship. Finally, in a passage most explicitly related to the Baptism of Jesus, David takes us to John's account of Jesus' baptismal activity, and the movement of focus from John to Jesus. We don't think of Jesus engaged in baptizing ministry -- so what is up here? Should you want to go in a different direction with your preaching or study from the Revised Common Lectionary, these texts are good starting point.
Epiphany 1/Baptism of Jesus
“Celebrate the Gift of God in Baptism”
Call to Worship: Isaiah 4:2-6 NRSV
One: On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.
Many: Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of burning.
One: Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy.
Many: It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
Gathering Prayer: We come together today, God, rejoicing in the gift of baptism. As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, may we be mindful of how you raise us from death to life.
Confession: God, we know that we have sinned against you, and we look to you to cleanse us and make us whole. Forgive us and change us, so we might be made new by your grace.
Assurance: God bursts into our lives and changes everything. In the gift of Jesus, we are transformed. All the wrongs of yesterday are washed away, and the joyful path of discipleship is laid before us. Let us follow our Savior, then, trusting in the promise of the resurrection.
Scriptures: Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24 – “The Fall”
Acts 15:22-35 – “The Jerusalem Council’s Letter”
John 3:22-30 – “Jesus Baptizes”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
· The story of “the fall” in Genesis 3 holds an important place in Christian theology. Do you think the author wrote this passage as a historical record of the total depravity of humanity (and by “extension,” creation) or do you think the author had other things in mind? Do you think human beings are born intrinsically good, evil, or with a “blank slate?”
· Do you think Adam and Eve were real people? How might Christians today reconcile the Biblical account of creation with scientific accounts of evolution?
· What do you think was the “original sin” of Adam and Eve? Who do you think the snake was and how did it get included in this story?
· If you were a Gentile at the time when Acts 15 was written, how do you think you would have received the Jerusalem Council’s letter? Why do you think it was important for the Council to include the part about abstaining “from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (v 29)?
· Does it surprise you to think about Jesus baptizing people, as he does in John 3? What do you make of John’s testimony about Jesus in this passage?
· What does baptism mean to you? How can we celebrate the gift of baptism in our churches in a way that includes those who haven’t been baptized?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: We are welcomed into the people of God, and as we feel the breath of life move in and out of our lungs, may we give thanks to the One who redeems us this day.
Benediction: God gives us life and sends us out into the world to give life. God forgives us and sends us out into the world to forgive. Let us go then, trusting that God goes with us. Amen.