Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Prayer Service and Meditation

detail from the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1516, by Matthias Grunewald


Loving God, you sent your prophet John
to prepare your way among us and to call us to repentance.
In worship, strengthen us to live lives of steadfast love and faithfulness
as we await the Messiah’s return.
Open our eyes to see your reign of peace
through your just and gracious rule. Amen.

LIGHTING THE SECOND ADVENT CANDLE                                                

Advent is marked by a spirit of yearning for peace.
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.  
We long today for peace among the nations.
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.
We long today for peace among races.
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.
We long today for peace in our hearts and in our lives.  
May the world be filled with the peace of Christ.

Today we light two candles—the candle of hope and the candle of peace. The light of this second candle reminds us that God’s purpose in sending his Son into the world was to bring peace. We look at the division, the fighting, and the turmoil around us, and we see a world in need. We remind ourselves that peace begins with forgiveness, and that forgiveness begins in our hearts. 


Gracious God, we thank you for your promise of peace. We know that because of Christ, peace is possible. We pray today for the nations of the world, that we may find a way to live together in peace. We pray for our brothers and sisters everywhere, that we may become more forgiving, more understanding, and more loving to one another. Flood our hearts with the light of peace today so that we may take that light and spread your love to the whole world. Amen.   

(excerpt from "The Story of Advent," Godly Play Sunday school curriculum by Jerome Berryman) 

Advent is the season of getting ready. Blue is also the color of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is about to have a baby. But this will be a very special baby. This baby will be a king. But the king who is coming is not the kind of king that people thought was coming. This king had no army, no great house, and no riches. This King was a baby who was born in a barn. The King who was coming is still coming. This is full of mystery. 

You know, a mystery is hard to enter sometimes. That is why this time of Advent is so important. Sometimes people can walk right through a mystery and not even know it is there. This time of year you will see people hurrying in the malls buying things and doing this and that, but they will miss the Mystery. They don’t know how to get ready or maybe they just forgot. This is such a great Mystery that it takes that long to get ready. During this time, we are all on the way to Bethlehem. We are all making the journey. We are all getting ready to enter the Mystery of Christmas, so let’s go with the prophets. Prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important. They pointed the way to Bethlehem. They didn’t know exactly what was going to happen there, but they knew this was the place. This Sunday is the time we remember the prophets. Prophets are the people who know the most important things. They knew which way to go. They are the ones who showed us the way. Because of prophets, we can go to Bethlehem, too.

OLD TESTAMENT READING                                                                            Isaiah 40:1-11

Is. 40:1    Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
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.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”And I said, “What shall I cry?”All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.  Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

NEW TESTAMENT READING                                                                                Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed, 
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; 
I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 
I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 


It is said that the 20th-century Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth wrote his most famous works in front of a reproduction of The Isenheim Altarpiece (pictured above), a work of art painted by Matthias Grunewald in 1516 for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim. The altarpiece shows an image of the crucified Christ with John the Baptist standing next to the cross, pointing toward Jesus. Barth liked the altarpiece for many reasons, but his favorite part of the work was said to be John the Baptist’s finger (detail pictured at the top of the page). Barth wrote that John’s extended finger represents the task of Christian life. “John the Baptist can only point,” Barth wrote, “point to the wretched, crucified, dead man.” Barth marveled at the ability of John the Baptist’s finger to “face the mystery” of Christ, the human Son of God, and call all Christians to do the same.

The book of Mark begins with a superscript that sounds a lot like John the Baptist’s finger looks in the Isenheim Altarpiece: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Many believe that this is the title of Mark’s entire book. It works as a cue that the story we hear in Mark is just the beginning of the gospel, a pointed finger toward the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, even at the end of Mark’s book, the reader is only at the beginning of the story. Mark invites us all to point toward this story, the beginning of the gospel, to prepare the way of the Lord, to face the mystery of Jesus Christ.

In Advent we may think first about the coming of Christ as a child, but we also look toward the crucified and risen Christ, toward the mystery of the whole “beginning of the good news.” We wait for God’s ultimate reign with pointed fingers.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 

We face the greatest mystery, the one the prophets pointed to; the one John the Baptist pointed to: the story of God-with-us in the midst of human life. We point to the day when God in Christ will gather the lambs in his arms; when the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain. We point to the beginning of the gospel; the Comfort of the generations; the Radiant Dawn that has been promised. 

from the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship, Daily Prayer

O Wisdom, coming out of the mouth of the Most High, 
pervading and permeating all creation, 
you order all things with strength and gentleness:
Come now and teach us the way to salvation. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Adonai, 
Ruler of all, 
you appeared in the burning bush to Moses
and gave him the gift of the law on Sinai:
Come with outstretched arms to save us. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Root of Jesse, 
rising as a sign for all the peoples, 
before you earthly rulers will keep silent, 
and nations will give you honor: 
Come quickly to deliver us. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Key of David, 
You open and no one can close, 
you close and no one can open:
Come to set free the prisoners
who live in the shadow of death. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Radiant Dawn, 
splendor of eternal light, 
Sun of justice: 
Come, shine on those who are sick or alone. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Ruler of the nations, 
Monarch for whom the people long, 
you are the Cornerstone uniting all humanity: 
Come, save us all, 
whom you formed out of clay. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 

O Immanuel, 
our Sovereign and Lawgiver, 
desire of the nations and Savior of all: 
Come and save us, O Lord our God. 
Come, Lord Jesus. 


As we await the coming of the Lord, 
May our hearts be prepared to receive him, 
in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer, 
now and forever, Amen. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Blue Christmas Prayer Service

Due to snowy weather, we had to miss the candlelit Blue Christmas Service at CHPC this year. Though it doesn’t make up for the beauty of community in a glowing sanctuary with contemplative music, here is a prayer service you may use at home. For many, the Christmas season may bring memories of loss as well as love, grief as well as joy. As a community, whether together or far apart, we affirm God’s presence in the midst of all our experiences and emotions, especially in this season of hope.

Opening Words                                                                        from 2 Corinthians 1:4-5
God consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

First Reading: Psalm 23
1             The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2                         He makes me lie down in green pastures;
            he leads me beside still waters;
3                         he restores my soul.
            He leads me in right paths
                        for his name’s sake.
4             Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
                        I fear no evil;
            for you are with me;
                        your rod and your staff—
                        they comfort me.
5              You prepare a table before me
                        in the presence of my enemies;
            you anoint my head with oil;
                        my cup overflows.
6             Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
                        all the days of my life,
            and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
                        my whole life long.

Covenant God, we come to you this day with a deepening anticipation for your birth among us. We pray for all who are in need: for the sick, the destitute, and the dying; for strangers in our land, for those who feel invisible; for those who sleep without shelter tonight, for the cold and vulnerable; for those lacking enough food to sustain them; for those who are overworked and for those who have no work. Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great. O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Second Reading: Psalm 130
1             Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2                         Lord, hear my voice!
            Let your ears be attentive
                        to the voice of my supplications!
3              If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
                        Lord, who could stand?
4             But there is forgiveness with you,
                        so that you may be revered.
5             I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
                        and in his word I hope;
6             my soul waits for the Lord
                        more than those who watch for the morning,
                        more than those who watch for the morning.
7                O Israel, hope in the LORD!
                        For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
                        and with him is great power to redeem.
8             It is he who will redeem Israel
                        from all its iniquities.

God our hope, you come to us in the depths of our darkest despair. You hear our prayers before we name them. In this season that we celebrate your incarnation, give us new light to guide us. Grant a sense of your constant presence with us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Reading: Psalm 121

1             I lift up my eyes to the hills—
                        from where will my help come?
2             My help comes from the LORD,
                        who made heaven and earth.
3             He will not let your foot be moved;
                        he who keeps you will not slumber.
4             He who keeps Israel
                        will neither slumber nor sleep.
5             The LORD is your keeper;
                        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6             The sun shall not strike you by day,
                        nor the moon by night.
7                The LORD will keep you from all evil;
                        he will keep your life.
8             The LORD will keep
                        your going out and your coming in
                        from this time on and forevermore.

God our refuge, you are strength greater than the mountains; you pay attention to our needs and stay with us through the night. Teach us to hold confidently to your grace, so that in times of fear we may know you are near. Amen.


Fourth Reading: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1             Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
                        you who lead Joseph like a flock!
            You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2                         before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
            Stir up your might,
                        and come to save us!
3                Restore us, O God;
                        let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4                O LORD God of hosts,
                        how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5             You have fed them with the bread of tears,
                        and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6             You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
                        our enemies laugh among themselves.
7                Restore us, O God of hosts;
                        let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8                You brought a vine out of Egypt;
                        you drove out the nations and planted it.
9             You cleared the ground for it;
                        it took deep root and filled the land.
17             But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
                        the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18             Then we will never turn back from you;
                        give us life, and we will call on your name.
19                Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
                        let your face shine, that we may be saved.

God our redeemer, we pray because we know you are faithful. In times of trouble, set us in places of safety. When we grow weary, feed us with your living word. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fifth Reading: Romans 8:31-39
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  36 As it is written,
            “For your sake we are being killed all day long;
                        we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God our steadfast companion, we give you thanks that nothing can separate us from your love in Jesus Christ. Send your Spirit to all who grieve, to all who are sick, and to all who feel alone this season. May we remember that we belong to you, in Jesus Christ, Amen.


Sixth Reading: Revelation 22:1-5
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

God our light, shine like a candle in the darkness, lighting the way for all who feel abandoned, forgotten, or hopeless. Mark our lives with your love, through Jesus Christ, Amen.


Closing Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
We thank you, God our maker, for the reminder that you have named us by your grace. Bring us closer, O God, to your vision for all of humanity. Be the goal of our pilgrimage and our rest by the way, a companion in heartbreak and joy. Hear us now as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us: (the Lord’s Prayer)

Benediction and Blessing                                                            
The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the peoples shall see it together.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace through the Holy Spirit,
In the name of Christ, our Savior, Amen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sermon, January 22, 2017
Rev. Sally Ann Sisk

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

Paul writes to the church in Corinth during a time of deep division. Tribes have formed around particular leaders. Believers are following the one who baptized them—Cephas, Apollos, and Paulinstead of Christ, in whom they were baptized. Members of the church in Corinth have turned to their corners and divided into camps.

In the US this weekend, indeed this whole year and this time in history, the state of the church in Corinth sounds too familiar. Many are calling it the divided states of America.We’ve seen a new president inaugurated one day, and millions of marginalized people protesting the next. We’ve heard from two camps that, in some ways, both feel they haven’t been heard in society. Even as diversity continues to increase in this nation made for immigrantshate crimes against people of color, immigrants, and muslims are also on the rise.  

And so this text may be a fitting one for us to read this weekend, but its message is also a difficult one to hear in a divided time. In a diverse world, I know that many families and communities find it difficult to talk about politics for fear of disturbing the peace. There are such intense feelings on both sides of a divided society that it is far easier not to discuss it. If we’re going to talk about our differences at all, there’s a tendency to use Christian unity as a band-aid, a convenient way to smooth things over and avoid the real issues of our diversity. 

But Paul doesn’t let us avoid the issues today. He addresses the issues head on—"what I mean is that each of you says, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong to Christ.'  Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you?" The reason I’m going there today is that Paul went there so long ago, calling us to consider his example. To avoid the division in our society today would be to betray the power of Paul’s proclamation and, most importantly, as Paul says, the power of the cross. 

According to Paul, when society is as divided as it is now, when society is as divided as it was in Corinth, it DOES matter that we think differently. We can't ignore it.

I’ve spoken before about my trip to the Middle East in seminary. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately not because of the places I traveled but because of the people I traveled with. It was a bus full of tribes. There were five or so students from five or so seminaries, 35 students preparing to be ordained in the next year, along with a few community members to add to the diverse collection of ideas and understandings of the world that each of us brought. There were students representing the Southern Baptist Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Methodist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church, and the United Church of Christ. The group even included a few agnostics and a person of the Jewish faith, who was also a 70-year-old baton-twirler, I might add. Among these students and community leaders were people of various cultural traditions, parts of the country, sexual orientations, and genders. 

We were a bus full of passionate, opinionated, emotional people, traveling through checkpoints and across walls of hatred and conflict between religions, between peoples of God, in the land Jesus once called home. Needless to say, it was an intense 3 weeks. It was not all roses and unicorns. It did matter to all of us that we thought differently.There were many conversations in which we were deeply hurt by the perspectives of others, and frustrated, asking ourselves if unity in the world was possible at all.

I will always remember a conversation with one of my Southern Baptist brothers in which he tried to rescue me from entering ministry because he worried I just wouldn’t be able to handle it as a woman. He also worried aloud about the health of my marriage because of my career-minded attitude. My African American friends faced some tough conversations as well, as did almost everyone on the bus. There were countless discussions about race, politics, religion, and sexuality. There was really no way of getting around it on this bus for 3 weeks. 

But between the conversations, we shared every meal together. Between the conversations, we shared our stories. I shared my call story and with my Baptist friend. I listened as he shared his convictions about salvation. I listened to the stories of my African American classmates about their experiences of racism in their daily lives and in their preparation for ministry. Upon hearing the testimony of another, I've learned, it's hard to deny the truth and importance of another's story.

In times of division and misunderstanding, the only way around is through. I learned that unity in Christ does not give us permission us to stop listening to one another about what really matters in our lives. When we do take time to see things from an alternate perspective, I believe that in that mess, through the Holy Spirit, we recognize the fact of our unity—we are bound to one another. We cannot retreat into our corners, because the story of one of us matters to the stories of all of us. 

It is relationship, story, conversation,  and sharing that we can experience the true meaning of our unity in Christ. Otherwise, our unity is false unity and our peace false peace.

Martin Luther King, Jr, whose birthday we celebrated this week, said in 1968, 
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

Paul refers to his hearers as brothers and sisters, over and over and over again. Brother can sound like an innocent enough word and idea—we’re family in Christ, and this is a lovely image. But no matter what family we’re in, we can likely all recognize that family relationships are not always lovely and easy. Our family relationships can be the most contentious in our lives. Family members can abuse one another in word or deed, betray one another, and abandon one another. Civil wars are often spoken of as battles, brother against brother. 

We have a blood bond with our families. We love them with everything we are. But when we disagree, we have to reconcile the deep love we have for one another and the pain we can cause one another. It’s easy for brothers to assume they know one another while failing to truly listen. 

And so Paul’s claim that in Christ we are brothers and sisters is not as easy to live out as it sounds. The fact that we are brothers and sisters does not mean we can ignore our differences as we seek God’s justice in the world. It does not mean that we are all the same, but that we are by nature connected…connected in the life of the one who died for us. The cross of Christ is serious business, Paul says, because of the radical unity to which it calls us. 

Christ is undivided, and so, since Christ died for all of us, we are inextricably bound together. The sister behind a wall in Palestine, the brother trying desperately to feed their family in Mexico, 
the brother who just lost their job in Michigan, the sister who waits on death row, the sister trying to find a safe place to escape the violence in their land—we are brothers and sisters. 
We are bound together, like it or not. What impacts the life of one impacts the lives of all of us.
This good news should change our living. With this good news in mind, we have the responsibility as disciples to listen to our brothers and sisters, to listen when one is hurting or hungry, marginalized or oppressed, imprisoned or ignored. We have a responsibility to get into one another’s shoes and to get into the shoes of Jesus, to love who he loves, and proclaim this to the world. We, like Paul, are not called to live in a false peace, but to proclaim the power of the cross in the midst of division. We are called not to speak pretty words that will make everyone happy but profound ones that reflect the depth of our faith.

Unity in Christ means that we have to get out of our corners, listen, and share. This is no small task—this is hard work in such a divided society. But Jesus' ministry and his death were no small matters either. 

On the last week of our trip around the Middle East, our group arrived at Jerusalem’s city gates
and stopped at the Church of St. Anne. The church is an ancient landmark, built in the 1100s over the supposed birthplace of Mary. The church is known for its acoustics, but as we entered we were not in the mood for talking, too tired of debate. After several minutes of silence, though, three of our group members got up calmly and stood at the front of the church, facing the chancel with their backs to us. 
They were the three singers in the group, but also three who had hurt one another time and again on the trip, so many times, I guess, that they seemed to know what the others where thinking as they got up and started singing together. They sang in perfect harmony. Their voices were different, but they sang in perfect unity, looking up to the high ceilings of the old stone church. For over 30 minutes we listened. Travelers from all over the world who stopped into the church while we were there sat in silence too and listened to this unlikely singing group from three different corners of our bus.  

The fact that Christ is undivided means that we are brothers and sisters. It means that we are responsible for being in relationship with one other, especially with those who are different from us, even at the expense of our own comfort. We follow a God who did this in life and in death, Showing us the radical nature of our unity.  


Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Snow Day Devotional

Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, a day when we celebrate both the person and the purpose of Jesus Christ at the beginning of his ministry. But today we are not in the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church sanctuary—hopefully, we are safe and warm for a Sabbath day at home as we wait for snow to melt outside our windows!

This a prayer service for us to read from home today. Separated from one another in body, we remember the one Lord, the one Holy Spirit, and the one baptism that unites us in spirit today. Though this doesn’t replace the experience of worshiping together, it invites us to reflect individually on the scriptures for the day and the meaning of baptism, for Jesus’ ministry and for us today.

Opening Sentences 
This is the day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Prayer of the Day
God of new life, your voice thunders above the sound of loud waters. You sit enthroned above the floods of life. As Jesus heard you speak to him in his baptism, may we also hear you calling us your beloved, through Jesus Christ, your son, our brother, Amen.

Psalm 29  
A Psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,                            
the LORD, over mighty waters.  
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  
God makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Gospel Reading Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River marks the beginning of his ministry. In Jesus’ baptism, God names him as God’s Son, the Beloved. This is a name that gives him an identity and a purpose.  He belongs to God. He is beloved by God. He is also commissioned to be God’s Son in his life and ministry. He is ordained for service, and his life’s work is begun in water and the Spirit.

Today baptism can easily become nothing more than a rite of passage, an event that happens and is over. But baptism is a powerful recognition that our whole lives will be shaped by water and the Spirit. Each morning we are named again as God’s very own beloved ones. Each day we are called again to live into our baptismal ordination as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Baptism is just the beginning. May we remember this beginning again and again as it continues to shape our lives of faith here and now!

Questions for Contemplation
1. Do you remember your baptism? If so, what was most memorable about it? If not, what does it mean for you to remember your baptism?

2.  Reflect on your journey of faith.
If baptism was the beginning, where are you now on the journey?
Has it been a straight, winding, or circular path?
Where are the places you’ve been lost and found along the way?
Where has your journey led you, and where do you think it will lead next?
What is your prayer to God as you continue this journey of faith?

3. The Apostles’ Creed is the baptismal creed of the Church. It unites us in faith across many Christian traditions and backgrounds. When we recite this creed, we not only profess our individual faith, but we also join with all the saints in recognizing our unity as one body in Christ.
Do you remember how you learned the Apostles Creed?
Who in the great cloud of witnesses has helped you to grow in faith?

The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving for Baptism
God our Mercy and Might,
We fear death and doubt your promises.
  Though we are made of earth, we plunder it.
Though we are made in your image, we abuse it in one another.
Yet in our baptism you have borne us in love,
bound us to mercy,
and turned us from the power of sin
to your reign of life.
Buried with Christ,
Risen with Christ,
We give you thanks.

In Jesus Christ you pursue us, forgive us, and unite us.
You are abiding mystery,
abundant paradox,
unending freedom,
infinite grace.
You are the rainbow in the rain,
the hope of the ages, most faithful God.
We are children of your covenant.
We trust your promises.
Buried with Christ,
Risen with Christ,
We give you thanks.

By your Spirit you ordain us to breathe in as we remember
and to breathe out as we live your dream:
a well for the thirsty,
a banquet for the hungry,
a name for the forgotten,
a home for the exiled,
a voice for the silenced,
a vision for the hopeless,
a new heaven and new earth.
Buried with Christ,
Risen with Christ,
We give you thanks.

Hear the good news!
In baptism we were buried with Christ.
In baptism also we were raised to life with him,
through faith in the power of God
who raised Christ from the dead.
Anyone who is in Christ
is a new creation.
The old life has gone;
a new life has begun.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

— Rev. Sally Ann Sisk