Welcome to worship for this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, January 8, 2023!
The worship bulletin can be found here. As we are in a new season again, we are going back to that new setting we learned a few months ago, Setting 12 out of the new All Creation Sings hymnal supplement. The music for this setting will again be in the bulletin and on your screen, along with the words of the liturgy and hymns out of the ELW. The sermon is also included in the bulletin as well as on this page below the worship video.
As always, you are welcome to light a candle in your space to enhance your worship experience. And if you want to participate in communion you can do so by having something small to eat and drink nearby and further instructions will be given to you during the service.
May God’s wondrous welcome and everlasting love be upon you this day and always!
Holy God, may your Word to us today be like the heavens opening and your Spirit descending on us like a dove, that we might see your love for us as your people in this world, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
A new series was recently released on Netflix that has the internet buzzing. It’s called Kaleidoscope, and the story itself seems to be a regular run-of-the-mill heist adventure, where a group of thieves each with some insanely impossible special skill work together to pull of an insanely impossible job where they steal an insanely impossible amount of money. So what’s the hubbub about this particular show?
Well, it’s in how the show can be watched. See the episodes aren’t numbered, but are given one of the colours of the rainbow, or kaleidoscope if you catch me, and with the exception of the finale, you can watch the episodes in whatever order you choose, with each choice giving you a different viewer experience and understanding of the characters. And because there are about 7 episodes that you can mix around in different orders, you have over 5,000 options of how to watch this show.
Intriguing, right? It’s like a “choose your own adventure” book in TV form.
But at the same time, it isn’t. Because your choice of episode doesn’t really determine the actions and decisions of the characters, rather it just changes the experience of the show for you and how you can interpret the story. A very strange and innovative concept, indeed.
One reviewer on the show that I read said that he actually thought this innovative concept is their downfall and eventually will be seen as unappealing. He said normal TV shows bring people together because it’s a shared experience of the same thing. But when a single show can have over 5,000 different experiences then that just pulls people apart instead.
I thought it was an interesting take and it got me thinking, the story should be the writer’s story to tell, so why should I be the one to choose how it’s told to me? I shouldn’t be given that choice, I shouldn’t be able to determine how the story is told, I shouldn’t have all that power.
And that is where this review’s take fell apart for me, because let’s be honest, no one wants to give up their power, especially when it’s just given to you like this. I think that is actually the appeal of this show to begin with. I mean, being able to determine how a show is presented to you gives you a power that no other show has given you before, and that draws us in. I don’t think we can help it. While we might not actually go watch the show, we’d at least find the viewing concept intriguing.
Or at least I hope you will, or else this sermon would be totally boring to you up until now.
But my point is, we desire power. Perhaps even crave it. It might not always be on the forefront of our minds, but we can’t deny that we want to be able to determine our outcomes, our futures, who we are and who we answer to. We want that choice to be ours.
Take John the Baptizer, for instance. He was there, baptizing away and telling people how he was right and essentially everyone else was wrong. He wanted to choose who to baptize and what brood of vipers to not. But as we learned on the 2nd Sunday of Advent which I’m sure you all remember, John does relinquish that power and baptizes all who come for it. So although he still has the tendency to assert his power, he also knows when to relinquish it like he does today. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John says in almost disbelief when Jesus comes to him to be baptized. I guess John recognizes his cousin as the Messiah at this point, and falls into place. Or at least, he falls to where he thinks his place should be.
We do this too, don’t we? In the perpetual climb for more power, we also relinquish that power to whom it is due, on the most part at least. We are told to be obedient to our parents, listen to our teachers, honour our spouses. We’re taught to fall in line with our superiors, answer to our employers, to not bite the hands that feed us. We’ve been conditioned to idolize celebrities, look up to the rich, give glory to our God.
So we don’t and can’t really blame John for his initial reaction here, as we’d probably do the same. If we saw God in the flesh we’d be all yes Lord yes Lord yes Lord and not try to assert any kind of power at all. “Ascribe to the Lord” so the Psalmist says. We’d know our place too.
I mean, there’s a hierarchy, right? That’s how our world is organized. There are the people up at the top and the rest… not so much. There are the extremely rich and extremely poor and everything in between. There are those who are able to give and those who have no choice but to only receive. There is the them, and the us who wish we were them.
And if I were honest, I see pretty much everyone vying for a piece of that power pie. While we might know our place, gaining more power is always in the backs of our minds. We work harder, we protest more, we ally with others and hope that there would just be more power in numbers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having power is bad, although we do know what they say about absolute power. I’m just saying that this is what I’ve observed about us and the people of this world. And I wonder if this has become the only point in life. Is this just who we are? Is this what we’ve become?
In response to John’s respect and submission, Jesus says something that I never really understood. “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” What righteousness? And how does John baptizing Jesus fulfill this? I mean, should John be able to do this? Does he get that kind of authority? Would he have that much power?
Well, thinking about it this time around, I’m starting to understand Jesus’ words in a different light. I’m starting to interpret baptism a bit differently. I’m starting to see a different view of what the point of life that truly is life actually is. And guess what, it isn’t to gain more power.
If it were, then Jesus would have been like, “oh yeah, totally John, be baptized by me,” but he doesn’t. If it were about gaining more power, then the Messiah would have come like the ancient Jews expected, with guns blazing and enemies being smote. If that was actually the point then Jesus wouldn’t even have bothered to come at all, God would have just flooded the earth again.
But God didn’t flood the earth. The Messiah didn’t come to condemn. Jesus was baptized.
Baptized not to gain power, but to gain community. Jesus went to John not because John was a baptizer but because John was Jesus’ cousin and brother and fellow human. Jesus went into the waters just as we did in our baptisms, and showed us all that he truly was sent to us not to condemn and lord over us, but to redeem and save us as one of us.
See the point of baptism isn’t about power but of community. The point of Jesus insisting that John baptize him and not the other way around wasn’t to submit or relinquish power but to reveal how God’s love for us all is equal and complete. The point of Jesus even showing up wasn’t to get us to step in line, but to reveal to all who we are and whose we are, not just in this race to gain more over others, but to be beloved children, part of the body of Christ, who are pleasing to God for the sole reason that we are created to be just this.
This is the point of us. This is the point of life. This is the point of this Epiphany.
See, while the Magi saw Jesus for who he is even as a toddler, so is Jesus revealed to us as the Messiah, our Saviour, our brother and friend. Just as the voice from the heavens declared to all Jesus as the beloved, so are we included in that proclamation informing us of just how much we are loved. Just as the Spirit alights upon Jesus and identifies him for who he is, so are we, through the mystery of baptism and the love and welcome and inclusion of God, informed of who we are.
So as we continue through this season after the Epiphany, may we see Jesus for who Jesus is, our Lord, our Saviour, our brother, that we might more clearly see who we are, equally beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased, not because of how much power we have gained for ourselves over others, but because of God’s eternal grace and everlasting welcome. Thanks be to God. Amen.