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Worship, prayers and Bible teaching resources

The Baptism of Christ

Liturgical Colour - White or Gold

Introduction

Why has God taken human form and been born in Bethlehem? We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus and now we move quickly to think about his baptism as an adult. It is a big leap forward in time but it is very helpful because the baprtism of Jesus tells us much about why has been born. When all the people were baptized by John, Jesus was baptized too. We get a real glimpse of who Jesus is by the fact that he was baptized. This is the kind of Messiah that Jesus will be.

We know that Jesus will in many ways be different from John. He is a real contrast from the austerity of John, the anger of John and the harsh teaching of John. Jesus is a man who eats and drinks and loves to be with people, enjoying their company. There is none of the remote prophet seen in John, wearing coarse clothes and living in the desert.
Indeed so different was Jesus from John and what John expected, that it is little wonder that when John was in prison he sent word to Jesus to ask whether Jesus was really the Messiah or should they expect another!

Nevertheless, in spite of all the differences between John and Jesus, there is in the baptism of Jesus a recognition that Jesus wants to be associated with John, not with the religious authorities. Jesus is not found in the palace of the king, he is in the same river as the ordinary people, who were acutely aware of their own poverty, both spiritual and material. In the baptism Jesus gets into the river with ordinary folks and the scene is set for a Messiah who will having nothing to do with the trappings of the religious and social elite.

Opening Verses of Scripture Joshua 24:14

Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.   Common Worship

Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son: may we recognize him as our Lord and know ourselves to be your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen.  Common Worship shorter form

God our Redeemer, through Jesus Christ you have assured your children of eternal life and in Baptism have made us one in him. Deliver us from the death of sin and raise us to new life in Christ; for he is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  Methodist Worship


First Bible Reading  Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.

Second Reading   Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.


Gospel Reading  Mark 1:4-11

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." 

Post Communion Sentence

Lord of all time and eternity, you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son: by the power of your spirit  complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through the waters of the new creation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

Commentary: New Creations
The background. 
The Gospels were not just thrown together, and neither are they just collections of bits of information passed down over many years about Jesus. Rather they are very carefully written literary works and the authors had specific objectives in mind, which they wanted their readers to understand. 
The Gospel of Mark was most probably the first to be written, perhaps thirty years or so after Jesus died. In these opening verses of Chapter 1 we are given a clear indication of what it is that the author wants his readers to know about Jesus. 
Note that there is no mention of the nativity stories which we find in Luke and Matthew. We cannot be sure whether or not Mark knew stories about the birth of Jesus, but clearly he had a structure in his mind for this Gospel which did not need to include them. 
The Gospel of Mark has both a clear beginning and end, with beautifully crafted chapters in the middle. 
This middle bit is divided carefully into stories about the life and teaching of Jesus and stories about his passion and death. These are carefully separated by the episode on the mountain which we call the Transfiguration, where Jesus is seen speaking with Moses and Elijah. Just as that episode showed the approval of the Old Testament Law and Prophets upon Jesus, so in the opening of the Gospel, Mark wishes to demonstrate the authenticity of Jesus as validated by the Old Testament. So let’s take a look at the passage! 
It is unfortunate that the reading today misses out the first verses of the chapter which begins ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ 1:1. 
That is an emphatic statement about who the author wants you to believe Jesus really is. It is also reminiscent of the opening verses of the Old Testament. Imagine the author putting his writing on the same footing as Genesis! 
Both passages are about creation: Genesis deal with the creation of the universe and Mark with the new creation in which we participate as believers in Jesus’ gospel. Mark wanted to show that with Jesus came a new beginning, he was the one that the Jews had been promised throughout their history recorded in the Old Testament. This is shown again in verse 2 when Mark quotes the words of the prophet Isaiah. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"--"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" John the Baptist is the link between the old and the new. He fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy and he is himself a prophetic figure. In dress and message he is especially reminiscent of the prophet Elijah.


The Baptism. 
There is much which we could say about the baptism of Jesus. Jesus is seen at this time publicly demonstrating the type of ministry which he has chosen. When we baptise a baby, it is more than putting off of the old self, it is a putting on of the new, perhaps this is made more explicit when we baptise a baby which it is hard to recognise as steeped in sin. So too the baptism of Jesus is not a washing away of the past, but rather a putting on of the new, preparing himself for the great task, setting out his style of ministry
The baptism of Jesus shows God entering flesh and become one of us. At his baptism Jesus goes down into the waters with us. Privilege and power can remove powerful political and religious leaders from the people they are called to serve. The ordinary person can feel leaders live in a very different world. But Jesus enters the waters this day, comes up close to us, lets the waters that covered the repentant sinners flow over him. He takes what is weak and wavering, makes us his disciples and strengthens us who would follow him.
The baptism of Jesus is also a symbol of his death, here is the one who came "not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many." Baptism is a defining moment and Jesus is recognised by God as having chosen the right course for his life. What he sees and hears will bring God’s life and energy to his ministry. .
I mentioned that the author of the Gospel makes a clear beginning in this episode, we can note the way in which this is related to the ending. There must surely be a connection in the mind of the author of the Gospel of Mark between the tearing of the heavens at the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:10) and the tearing of the temple veil at the death of Jesus (Mk 15:38). In the dramatic moment when the sky was torn apart, Mark makes the point that the old world order is being ripped up by God and a new age has come. Charles Royden 

Meditation

“The single eye” is Wesley’s powerful phrase to mean concentration and dedication. He used the term when he was attempting to distil into a few pages what a Methodist was not and (much more difficult) was to be. Wesley had many sources for his spirituality. His admiration for the Moravians has often been discussed and of course traditional Anglicanism was a powerful influence. For the Covenant service Wesley turned back to the English Puritan writers who, in the age of Charles II oppression of religious dissent, courageously distilled and refined Bible teaching. The work of Bunyan’s generation was marked by dedication, determination and a veneration for the Old Testament sense of a covenant between God and His chosen people. Writers such as Bunyan, and Wesley’s primary influence, Joseph Alleine, clung to the idea that God had selected them and given them his grace in return for cleansing their generation of sin and error. The Covenant service is a central part of Methodist tradition, and one which I as an Anglican, hold very dear. It seems to give form to a profound spiritual need, which we all have, to periodically realign ourselves with God’s will and submit ourselves to it. Wesley’s marvellous words have a directness and simplicity retained from those Puritan writers. Abandoning ourselves to God’s will is scary and demanding. We give ourselves over to Him for His disposal. We glimpse through the words some of the preoccupations of Wesley’s own age, social rank, for example. But in sum Wesley’s prayer is a masterpiece of timeless, heartfelt prose.
 

Hymns

  1. All praise to our redeeming Lord (Tune Lucius)
  2. Praise him on the trumpet
  3. Take my life and let it be
  4. O happy day

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

 

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it all. All is Thine; dispose of it wholly according to Thy Will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. For with these I am rich enough and desire nothing more. Amen Ignatius of Loyola

My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Thomas Merton

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me. Amen. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

Additional Material

Opening Verse of Scripture—Matthew 3:3
'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" 


Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray
Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen
creation pictureFirst Bible Reading Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.


Second Bible Reading Mark 1:4-11
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 
John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

Post Communion Prayer
Lord of all time and eternity, you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son: by the power of your Spirit complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through the waters of the new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Meditation: The Glory of War?
Arthur Wellesley was born in Dublin on 29 April 1769 having defeated Napoleon in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, in 1827, he was made the Duke of Wellington. After defeating Napoleon, Wellington heard someone say that war was glorious. His reply was: “Take my word for it: if you had seen but one day of war, you would pray to Almighty God that you might never see such again.” 
The Duke of Wellington died on the 14 September 1852 and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, London. According to Queen Victoria, the Duke was "the pride ..... of this country. He was the greatest man this country ever produced .....To think that all of this is gone; and that this great and immortal man belongs now to History."

Hymns

  1. On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
  2. How lovely on the mountains
  3. Hail to the Lord's Anointed
  4. I cannot tell why
  5. Onward Christian soldiers,


Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.
Creator God, we praise and worship you for your infinite power and love. We thank you that you have washed us clean and that you continue to inspire and refresh us. Please bring to our minds now those things that go against your Word and your desires for us. We sincerely pray that you forgive us, free us from these things, give us strength and wisdom, and lead us to be more like Christ. Amen.

Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ, faithful in their calling to be your children and inheritors with him of everlasting life; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

God of love whose compassion never fails; we bring before you the griefs and perils of all of the people and nations, the pains of the sick and injured, the sighings of prisoners and captives, the sorrows of the bereaved, the necessities of the homeless, the helplessness of the weak, the despair of the weary, the failing powers of the aged. Comfort and relieve them, O merciful Father, according to their needs and your great mercy; for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

 

Material for Covenant and Renewal of Baptism Vows

Material and Bible Readings for the Covenant and Renewal of Baptism Vows

Verse of Scripture Joshua 24:14
Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.

A Collect Prayer - Before we read we pray
God of grace, through the mediation of your Son, you call us into a new covenant. Help us therefore to draw near with faith and join ourselves in a perpetual covenant with you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Reading Exodus 24:3-11
When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.


Second Reading Jeremiah 31: 31-34
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, " declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."


Third Reading Romans 12: 1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.


Gospel Reading John 15:1-10  
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.


Commentary
I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen.

If you had been alive the middle of the seventeenth century, which side would you have been on? Roundheads or Cavaliers? King Charles or Parliament? I think you can tell quite a lot about people from the side they choose. Can you guess which side I would have been on? The Royalists have got the lovely clothes, they have the culture, Rubens, Van Dyck, great musicians and architects worked for the King. He certainly had good taste. However Charles I was an absolutist monarch who believed in bullying tactics to get his own way and was prepared to dispense with silly old Parliament when it didn’t do what he wanted. But on the other side the Parliamentarians had very dull clothes, dodgy haircuts. …as Charlie told us last year, they abolished the celebration of Christmas. They got rid of maypoles and tried to ban FUN. But the puritan faction had very exciting, progressive ideas about personal freedom, about men and women having a personal relationship with their Maker. If they didn’t like dancing and drinking, the Puritans had idealism. They loved language, wave upon wave of wonderful preaching, extempore prayer, writing about God and the way that His people could serve Him. What the Puritan position boils down to is summed up in just two words: discipline and commitment.

Wesley was influenced by many traditions. We know of his interest in the Moravians, for example, and also his love of early Anglican writers. But for this service, Wesley turned back to one of his passionate loves, the Puritan writers. In particular he admired Joseph Alleine’s great book on the Old Testament Covenant and his linking that covenant with the people of his own age, who were to be the new Chosen Race. Wesley borrowed from Alleine’s magnificent language, prophetic warnings and Apocalyptic threats. What Wesley achieved was a linguistic balance between his source and the needs of his own, Methodist people. You will see from the prayers in Partnership News this week that very similar thoughts occurred to the devout Catholic Ignatius of Loyola.

Writing on “The Character of a Methodist” Wesley tried to sum up what Methodism was not and then, more demandingly, set out what it was to be. “…the one desire of his life” (a Methodist’s) shall be “to do not his own will, but the will of Him that sent him; his one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He has the single eye.” I really like that phrase, the single eye, suggesting as it does, an ability to focus on just one thing, the most important thing.

It is a very real problem when you have a great many material possessions, as most of us do, that our attention is constantly being distracted from important matters. We have television, DVDs, video, radio, the telephone, the kids have texts and email and the Internet. We live at a highly privileged time in history. We don’t for the most part have to worry much about lack of food, we certainly don’t have to forage for it, or hunt or grow it. We aren’t under pressure about the rains failing or the health of the harvest. We live longer and healthier lives than any generation before us. But are we making use of the time that our culture has allowed us? Do not most of us live in constant search of distraction, from reality television, soap operas, music, shopping, gossip? All these ephemeral things absorb our interest only fleetingly before we flit off to the next temporary preoccupation.
I expect people in the Puritan era or Wesley’s eighteenth century had their distractions too. I expect, instead of watching soaps, people gossiped about the aristocracy. Instead of watching Celebrity Big Brother they went to a bearbaiting or a cockfight. Perhaps the banning of dancing and Christmas was an attempt to make people focus on God and important things. The trouble is that kind of bullying doesn’t work. I don’t think God wants forced recruits, He wants volunteers. You can’t shove other people into a right relation with God. And so the Covenant service offers us a space to make our own choice. To gently bring our minds back to the essentials. To make again the commitment to love and serve God.
The original Covenant service was prepared for in a three hour catechism and self-examination, in which symptoms of back-sliding, spiritual laziness and weakness of oral life were rooted out, thoroughly addressed and later repented of. Psychologically I suppose these exercises were absolutely right, that they involved real self examination, the gaining of self-knowledge and a determination to begin again. Now I am not proposing a three hour confession of sin, but it does make you wonder whether it might not be helpful for us to allocate time to ask deep questions about the way we live.

I am going to take some time now to analyse what Wesley is saying in the prayer of Dedication, to help us focus on what he meant and what it might mean to us. I am no longer my own but yours. The first line is about letting go of control and acknowledging God’s power over our lives. What that really means in practical terms is explored in the next sentence. “Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will” these lines remind us of one of the preoccupations of the eighteenth century, with social rank, mixing in the right society. In our age we have other obsessions, more to do with wealth than class. But for Wesley’s age, loss of rank was truly terrifying, and the willingness to be placed in the wrong order of society was a brave, heroic self-sacrifice.
“put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you”. These lines further submit to God’s will in how and where we serve him. It acknowledges the possibility that God might seem not to want our service! A friend who was ordained with me, had ME for about six months and wrote to tell me that he had found Wesley’s words very helpful, that inactivity might as much a part of God’s plan as activity. That God might desire our willingness to be patient and wait upon Him.

Let me be “exalted for you or brought low for you” these few sparse words are rich in content, hinting at the whole issue of success and suggesting that they are not of any importance, that it is for God to decide what constitutes success not the admiration of the world. Obsessed as we all are by self-esteem and seeming in control, this phrase cuts us down to size.

“Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing” these words are very clever because they could just be about having possessions, or life’s blessings, they could also be about health, spiritual and mental.

The last lines in this section of the passage pack the decisive punch “I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal”. It marks a total giving over of self into God’s hands, to be used or not as He chooses. It takes incredible courage to acknowledge that God has the power over us and courage to offer ourselves, not just as and when we feel like it, but as God requires.

The final section is a kind of drawing together, reminding one almost of a marriage service, an exchange of selves. “Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen”. We don’t just give in this service we also receive. We gain, in exchange for our self- giving, the presence of God. We gain far more than we are giving. The great conundrum of self-giving is that we gamble ourselves and always win. But giving over of power takes courage. Right at the end of the Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail film, Indie, the hero, has to step out into what appears to be an empty space, over a bottomless canyon. Only faith and courage allows him to do anything so stupid, but of course he is right to make the leap of faith and so are we. In the words we say collectively, we promise again to make the leap of faith and to give ourselves without knowing the outcome, what it will mean, where it might take us. But we have our tradition, the experience of those who have gone before us, to encourage us to step out into the future. Joan Crossley