Welcome and Announcements
Today we celebrate and give God thanks for the wonderful opportunity to witness Jesus’ baptism. Through his baptism, we learn more about how we are to live as those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for joining us for this worship service. It is always great to worship with you the very God who loves the world and did not withhold sending the Son so that we might live life full of love.
We are still continuing the measures of Stage 2 of Reopening Ontario. Please take precautions and be safe. If you are uncertain or not feeling well, join us in worship online. If you are intending to join us in person, do take the self-assessment for COVID. Vaccination is mandatory (a certificate with QR code will be asked) if you desire to attend. All worship will be in the sanctuary from now. We ask you to follow the restrictions to keep everyone safe.
Initially we scheduled our annual meeting to deal with financial matters on Sunday, January 30. We will monitor and assess the situation before we announce our adjusted plans.
Meditation prior to worship:
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 splendour.
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.
He 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 for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29)
Call to Worship: Isaiah 43:4-7
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth--everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
Come, let us worship God in whose grace we are gathered!
When I look into your holiness
Out from the world of fear we come, gathering together, to worship you with one voice. Our voices have been muted whenever we are gathered to praise you. Our sounds of cries are muffled, covered by masks that hinders us from breathing in your breath. Yet, with these restrictions we come because we heard your call through your Son our Lord. Be pleased. Receive our worship.
Our world is overwhelmed by the power of death. Through uncontrolled spread of this virus, we have been separated from each other and prevented from gathering as one. Be our Christ. In you, call us together so that by your Son we may be shaped in communion as one body. Give us courage to understand that distances do not hinder us from being one in your Son our Lord, to receive the wisdom that death cannot separate us from you and from one another, and to live the life where we live as your people in fullness of grace and love.
Help us by the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on you this day in this worship. All these we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Sermon: To be baptized
Baptism for us is a joyful event. Some of you remember the time when baptizing seven or eight babies was a regular event in this church. In one service, I read in one of the old bulletins that the Rev. McKeown baptized 13 children, one after another. Celebrations of baptism in churches are always full of joy and thanksgiving. Though baptisms are few and far between for us today, we still rejoice greatly and witness what God is doing in our midst thoroughly. After all, we get to witness the beauty of life beginning in a new way.
In Canada today, we really do not understand the significance of baptism as a beginning of new life. From the very beginning of the Christian Church, baptism was a visible sign of God’s invisible grace that has called someone to follow Christ out of the world. Everyone who received and believed Jesus was entitled to ask to be baptized so that they could follow Christ. This was a simple act of witnessing God’s grace in one’s life.
Baptism was introduced to us in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as something John the Baptist did. He proclaimed the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The symbolic act of repenting and starting anew was done through his water baptism. Many people came out to be baptised. As his fame grew, people wondered, “could he be?” This question rose because these people were expectant. They were wondering out loud. They were observing and trying to discern who God’s anointed one could be. They saw something different about John. He preached the right message. He appeared in the wilderness, unlike priests who were living in the comfort and privilege of the Temple. There was nothing for this man to gain by being in the wilderness. He was not out for power, riches, or fame. He was baptizing all those people in the River Jordan who came to him to hear and learn.
People did not know, but came out to him in hope. They projected their expectations on John. In the eyes of these people he checked all the right boxes. Right pedigree since he was born to a priest who belonged to the right clan of Abijah while his mother’s lineage was even more weighty since she was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest, brother of Moses. To them, John appeared with God’s authority. In his proclamation, they found something far more than words of priests, rabbis, Pharisees, and scribes. They wondered. They wanted to know. Could he be? Would he be the Anointed One they have been waiting for?
What they asked in their hearts, John answered out loudly so that all could hear. John told them that he was not the one. The Anointed One would come after him. He, John, could not be compared to this coming Messiah: he was at the Jordan River baptizing only because he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. He, John, should not be compared: he was with the spirit and power of Elijah, baptizing with water, unlike the one who was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He would not be compared: he was not worthy of untying the thong of Christ’s sandals.
Christians, who came long after John and Jesus, long, long after the four Gospels were written and shared with those who believed Jesus as the Messiah, could reference the passages where they give witness to the baptism of Jesus. Many centuries later, we, Christians, continue to witness Jesus as the Christ by pointing to these same passages where we read Jesus’ baptism, to remind ourselves and share with the world the good news of God being revealed to us and to the world at the baptism when a voice from heaven declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Today we give thanks to God for these witnesses of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus, according to today’s passage in Luke 3, came to the Jordan River to be baptized, just like everyone else. When John protested and prevented him, Jesus simply told him that it was important to fulfill all righteousness. This baptism was a symbol for repentance or being made righteous in God’s presence. Hearing John’s proclamation of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins led to confession of sins–owning up to their wrongs and turning back to God from this worldly ways that came from examination of self before God according to God’s commands. It was part of being right with God. With baptism one begins a life that is set right with God because forgiveness of sins is granted. By the act of baptism repentance was sealed. Baptism signified dying to or turning away from sinful life. At this stage we may explore whether Jesus had anything to confess. That, however, is a topic for another day.
Jesus’ baptism as fulfilling righteousness helps us to explore the nature of baptism as the act of confessing our sins and being made right with God. We can quibble about whether confession was a requirement for baptism or not. However, for today’s purpose, it is more than enough to say that when we read and meditate on this baptism of Jesus, we are made witnesses to Jesus’ baptism. We traverse time to become living witnesses who get to see Jesus coming to John at Jordan River, submitting himself to be baptised. As we read, we not only become bystanders but also those who participate in his baptism. We get to see the heaven opening, the Holy Spirit descending, and a voice reaching our ears, too, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When we become living witnesses to Jesus’ baptism as we read about it, something profound happens in us. Not only do we see Jesus, but in him we see ourselves. His baptism becomes a mirror that shows us what our baptism is. We stand there as Christ shows us the meaning of our baptism. Let us will look at two different aspects of this baptism where Christ becomes the witness in our baptism. First one, we will explore, is the understanding of the proclamation being addressed to the corporate or historic church. The second one has to do with how Jesus witnesses to our individual baptism and what it means for us to be baptized in his presence.
Often we do not think about how the call for repentance for the forgiveness of sins comes to the whole church of Jesus Christ. Because we have individualized all experiences, it never occurs to us to see an entire church being called to baptism. We do not think of the possibility that the whole church is the object of John’s call to baptism. Because we understand everything as affecting our own personal experience, we do not take time to look at the whole church as one body standing before God and the world to be baptized. In this sense, the church, in responding to God’s call through John, stands before the world confessing her sins so that the church, too, like the individuals, are to be renewed by it.
In our Canadian situation, the church has much to confess. If it is to be renewed through baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins so that we may participate in preparation of the coming of the Lord, then, we need to examine our very history and confess our historic sins before God and the world. What is one of the sins of the Church in Canada?
When the Church first arrived from Europe on these North American shores, the church was an active participant in establishing European rules that benefitted newcomers at the expense of those who were already here. Instead of loving (extending and sharing God’s mercy to the indigenous people) our historical action was to use baptism to tame, transform, and impose our European image of civilization on them. Baptism became a tool of power to force our ways on them. Baptism, the visible symbol of God’s invisible grace, was used to divide people into those who were us by baptism and those who are others because they were without baptism. To baptise them, we did our best to drum “Indians” out of them, replacing who they were with our European Christian ways, which at the time was filled with much violence as is now.
Our way of using baptism to assimilate the indigenous brothers and sisters ended up inflicting grave injury for many generations of the past, present, and future. We, as the church, thought we were doing the right thing when we let our government agents tear indigenous children away from their families and bring them to residential schools we ran. In these residential schools we did everything to impose ways to make them like us. We failed to see the evil of our ways. We were blinded by the ideology of assimilation as the way of God’s love. We, as the church, require baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins for what we have done against all our indigenous neighbours.
Secondly, we see that in Jesus’ baptism our own personal baptisms are reflected and made visible to us. We may have forgotten or may not remember. However, each time we read and give witness to Jesus’ baptism, we are confronted with John’s proclamation all over. John’s call for baptism reminds us to be the ones who have been baptized. The trouble is, the very moment we are reminded of our own baptism, we are confronted with our own reality. That is, in order to see whether we live righteous lives or not, we need to examine our current life deeply.
Out of this self-examination before God and others, we confess our sins so that we may once again reset our course to live the life of righteousness. Yes, we submit ourselves to this ritual of death so that we may gain life that is right with God over and over. Those of us, who have been baptized, do our best to stay right with God. Once baptized, however, as Paul said, we die everyday. We die to the Lord so that we may be raised in the living Christ daily. Because baptism is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace, we know we belong to the Lord. That is, we, who always fall short of God’s glory, are made Christ’s people when we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is received once in lifetime, but our life, always fallible, continually comes before God confessing our sins so that by the forgiveness obtained in Christ, we strive to live the life of righteousness always.
Every second Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate Jesus’ baptism. In his baptism we come to understand what our baptisms ought signify to us and the world. Indeed, intellectually we know that it is one of the two visible symbols of God’s invisible grace by which we witness God’s reconciling love in Christ. Since this is the case, we do not simply seek righteousness, but fulfil righteousness as Jesus showed us by getting baptized. If we are truly the recipients of God’s invisible grace, in and through our baptism we make God’s grace visible so that those who do not know Christ may see, hear, and come to know Christ. This is why it is more than our duty, yeah, it is our very way of being righteous or upright in the world that points others to Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Baptism is not a ticket. It is not a guarantee of salvation. It is the very symbol that displays God’s grace that loves the world.
Jesus’ baptism is like a mirror that makes us see who we are as baptized people. When we read, study, and meditate on the account of Jesus’ baptism, it reflects back to us our brokenness. It confronts us with our sins. This is not so that we can be judged or punished by it, but be called to realize that our baptism was the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is why as we begin the new year, we recite, remember, and meditate on our Lord’s baptism. With confession of our sins, then, we repent/turn back to God so that we may once again live righteous lives that glorifies God. By the grace of God, then, our continual acts of fulfilling righteousness not only renews us in Christ, but also becomes the very invitation by which others may hear the call from Christ to the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.
As we begin a new year, we come to bring who we have been and who we are today. We come with the expectation that in your grace and mercy, we may be made new. Now we put all that we were and are before you in your hand. Shape us in ways that we are created new each day. Make and mould us with your love so that we may share your love freely.
Our world is writhing in pain of brokenness. People are killing each other, fighting with anyone who gets in front of their way, berating and belittling anyone who voices different views, and hating just because they can. They abuse power. They suffer under the powerful. The cycle of violence has made this world incredibly dangerous for all. Out of this world we come as broken people, seeking your love that will cast out all our fears and give us courage to be the people of faith, hope, and love. Send and fill us with your Spirit. Make us to be your servants who love in places of hate and to bring life in situations of death.
Each of us have our own needs, O God. For some of us, it is failing health that makes our world unbearable or difficult due to pain. Some of us are suffering because we are fearful, always anxious of not knowing the future. Some of us are dejected as we face bigger and greater challenges each day. Some of us are down on ourselves after being rejected by so many. Fill us with faith in you. Give us strength to hold onto you as the true hope. By your Spirit, renew us as your servants who point to you in all circumstances.
O God of our future, you have been renewing, regenerating and reshaping us continually. Help us to discern your will in ways that we may be faithful to all that you are doing in and through us as you prepare this world. Reveal to us the narrow path that you have put us on to witness you in this world.
We pray for your blessings on all those who worship you this day as your people in Drummond Hill. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Offering (Now thank we all our God)
O dear God, we come, bringing you out of our poverty, simple tokens of our love for you. Embrace these gifts in the fullness of your riches. Help us to see the world in need and be your healing presence to all those around us. Give us courage to bring your good news to all those who are struggling in this world. We pray in your Son’s name. Amen.
Hymn: Great is thy faithfulness