09 January 2022

The first Sunday after Epiphany gives us a “God’s-eye-view” of Jesus. We get a sense of the person and calling of Jesus from a divine perspective, and the message is clear: in Christ, God partners with us, and invites us to partner with God. In addition, God gives us the power we need, through God’s Spirit, to fulfill our calling to be co-workers with God. The possibilities that this theme presents for worship are very exciting.

May our worship this week immerse us in the depths of God, and fill us with the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 43:1-7: God’s people have no reason to fear, for God has redeemed them, and they will not be harmed when passing through water or flame. God will bring the children of God’s people from the four corners of the earth, and will bring together blind people who can see and deaf people who can hear to bear witness to how God has saved and liberated God’s people.

Psalm 29: A song in praise of God and of God’s mighty voice which is strong and majestic, and which shakes the earth. Yet, God gives strength and peace to God’s people.

Acts 8:14-17: The apostles, having heard the news that the Samaritans had accepted God’s word, laid hands on the Samaritan believers and prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit, which they did.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22: The people wonder whether John the Baptiser is the Christ, but he denies it and proclaims that another is coming who is more powerful than he is, and who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Then Jesus is baptised by John along with the other people, and the Spirit descends on him and he hears God’s voice affirming him.

The theme this week, as with every first Sunday after the Epiphany, is the baptism of Jesus. However, this year, the focus is less on Jesus, and more on how God’s people are invited to participate in the baptism and to receive God’s Spirit. In the Isaiah prophecy, God’s people are promised liberation and salvation, even though they pass through water and fire, and they are called to witness to God’s saving acts. In the Psalm, God’s voice is celebrated, which shakes the earth, but which also – by implication in the Psalm – strengthens and brings peace to God’s people, even as God’s voice affirmed Jesus. In the reading from Acts, the Samaritan believers, who have been baptised in the name of Christ, now receive their own “baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire” when the apostles lay hands on them. Finally, in the Gospel, Luke reminds his readers of John’s prediction that Jesus is the one who will baptise them in the Holy Spirit, and, in this context, Jesus baptism is related, along with the voice of God that affirms and strengthens him. What this means is that our meditation on Jesus’ baptism this week is not just an exercise in holy remembering. It is not just about Jesus. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that God is still at work in the world, and still invites us to participate in God’s saving and liberating work. But, to do this, we, like Jesus, will need to be strengthened and empowered. We will need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.

Global Application:
This era in history finds the world facing huge, inter-related crises. Symptomatic or one-dimensional approaches have been shown and recognised to be ineffectual and the need for inter-disciplinary, systemic, and collaborative approaches is clear. Increasingly, though, people of all disciplines are recognising that there is also a need for Divine partnership – an active drawing on God’s creative, inspiring, and empowering Spirit – to address the challenges we face. The celebration of the Baptism of Jesus is an ideal opportunity to open ourselves to the Spirit that Jesus offers, and to reaffirm our commitment to God’s call to be participants in God’s saving work. It is easy, in this world in which scientific method, measurability, and materialism are so highly valued, to fall into a functional atheism as we work for justice, liberation and healing of our world and its peoples. It’s easy to believe that the only resources we have or need are financial, organisational, social, and very human. But, this week we are reminded that God is at work in the world, that we are not initiators of justice, and that all the good we seek to do is simply a participation in the “trajectory of compassion” (to quote Bruce Sanguin) which God is constantly sustaining in the universe. So, in order to fulfill our role in this work of God, we need God’s resources, the power of the Spirit, to guide, sustain and strengthen us, and we need God’s voice, God’s living word, to affirm and direct us.

Local Application:
In every community, in every life, there is a need for resources that are beyond our human capacity. Maintaining faithful marriages, keeping families strong, resisting the siren call of greed, addiction, immediate gratification, expediency and personal satisfaction, and making a contribution to the needy around us, all require more of us than we are capable of giving on our own. However, even as God calls us to live with integrity and wholeness, God enters our world and gives us God’s Spirit to help us to do it. Jesus’ act of being baptised is the assurance of his commitment to partner with us, and is the invitation for us to participate in the work of God’s reign. Then the promise of God’s Spirit to empower us, and the gift of God’s living word to challenge, guide and strengthen us, assures that we have all the resources we need to participate in God’s work. In addition, the message of the Scriptures, which reminds us that even the outcast Samaritans were able to receive God’s Spirit, is a call to embrace all people and to invite all people to share in God’s saving work, and to be empowered by God’s Spirit.

God Speaks
Partnering With God
God’s Ability

To God Be The Glory
A Charge To Keep I Have
Come Holy Ghost Our Hearts Inspire
Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
More Love, More Power (Link to YouTube video)
Spirit Of The Living God (Link to YouTube video)
Breathe (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Spiritual Feast