On the first day of creation the earth is formless and God’s Spirit hovers over the waters. Then God speaks and begins to create the universe.
A psalm of praise for God’s voice which is strong and majestic and which thunders over mighty waters, where God is enthroned.
Paul finds a group of believers in Ephesus who have been baptised with John’s baptism, but not with that of Christ. He explains that John’s points to the One who came after him, and they are baptised in the name of Jesus.
John the Baptiser baptises people in the Jordan River, calling them to repent. He preaches that One is coming after him who will baptise in the Holy Spirit.
(All Bible reading summaries by John van de Laar, Sacredise)
Traditionally observed January 6th, the Epiphany is the celebration of three events that are said to demonstrate the significance of Jesus – that is the divinity of Christ. “Epiphany” means “to show, make known, or reveal.”
It started in the Eastern Church in AD 361 as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, additional meanings were added – the visit of the three Magi (which is our focus), Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River (next week’s Gospel reading), and Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana. These three events are central to the definition of Epiphany, and its meaning is drawn from these occurrences.
The Revised Common Lectionary readings focus on firstly on the visit of the Magi and the theme of light or being enlightened and on the second Sunday of Epiphany we focus Jesus’ baptism. The Magi were the first Gentiles to publicly recognise the significance of the baby in the manger and offer their gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
All the readings for this Sunday have light bulb moments where the people of God take responsibility for either being a light to those beyond themselves or that light comes to them from those outside their community or faith. The theme of God’s expansive love is prevalent and that this love can and does stretch way beyond our human limits to include those who we might want to exclude.
(by Rev. Chris Vermeulen, Church of Scotland, ‘Starters For Sunday’, 2013)
Call to Worship (Thom Shuman)
On that first day, when time began:
you gave birth to creation;
light danced through the darkness;
the waters of hope flowed free and clear.
On that first day at the Jordan, when redemption began:
you spoke of life for all your children,
as your Child stepped into the waters of forgiveness,
dancing in hope with his cousin, John.
On this first day of the week, when we begin anew:
you call us to faithfulness,
as we open our hearts to you,
your voice claiming us as your own.
A call to worship (based on Psalm 29) (Joan Stott)
We come, in response to God’s voice calling us to share in revering the Holy One.
We greet you, God of holiness and mystery;
Creator of all life and wondrous beauty.
We come, in response to God’s voice calling us to honour the name of Lord God.
We greet you, God of wisdom and truth;
God, the Quiet Centre of all life and hope.
We come, in response to God’s voice calling us to celebrate with joy the glories of
our Great and Glorious God; whose majestic voice thunders through all of creation.
We greet you, God of radiant light and splendour, the Lord God Almighty, glorious in power; yet God’s holy voice also overflows with tenderness, peace and blessings. Amen.
When the Christ candle is lit and baptismal waters poured we remember who we are: Christ’s own for the world.
We behold each other in community,
gathered in by force of Spirit, breathing oneness into our diversity:
Christ’s own for the world.
We entrust ourselves to the grace of God,
thread of goodness within, between and beyond:
Christ’s own for the world.
(Rev Christine Gilbert, St Andrews by the sea)
The Celtic Caim (The prayer of encircling – a prayer of presence and protection)
Imagine a circle round yourself.
God is with you in the circle.
God our Father, keep faith in and doubt out.
Imagine a circle round us as a group.
God is with us in the circle.
Jesus, Son of God, keep love in and fear out.
Imagine a circle round a person for whom you are concerned today.
God is with them in the circle.
Holy Spirit of God, keep hope in and despair out.
Imagine a circle round the planet earth – in all its beauty and tragedy.
God is with us in the circle.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our God, keep goodness in and evil out.
In the name of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. AMEN.
(by Rev Peter Neilson, Church of Scotland, ‘Starters For Sunday’, 2015)
Prayer of Approach
God of life,
you know us and you love us.
The light on these stone walls
has witnessed generations at prayer.
Be with us now and with those who pray with us.
Assure us of your presence and your promises.
Hear the words we can barely speak.
Bring hope and healing to the raw edges of our lives,
to those who are broken-hearted and hurting,
and to the torn and ragged parts of our world.
Strengthen our spirits,
soften our hearts
and keep us on your way. Amen.
(from a Service of Prayer for Healing, Iona community Facebook post, slightly adapted)
Prayer of the Day (Thom Schuman)
grace is the gift which flows to us from your heart;
joy is the seed planted deep within our souls,
that it might blossom into lives of service to all.
And we cry: “Glory!”
Servant of sinners:
you emerge from baptism’s water, to embrace us in your hopes;
you take our fears from us and toss them aside
as you lead us into your kingdom;
you shine the Light which brings us out of despair’s shadows.
And we cry: “Glory!”
Wind upon the water:
you move among us
sweeping aside our petty pride,
and offering us the gifts of humility and servanthood.
You whisper of your yearning for peace and reconciliation,
until it silences our angry voices and unclenches our fisted hearts.
And we cry: “Glory!”
Prayer of Praise (Genesis reading)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.
God our Creator,
We praise you for this wonderful world!
Not by chance, but by choice
You created this world
before we took a breath.
A theatre of your glory.
‘Let there be light’, you said.
A spotlight shines on the empty stage,
waiting for the scenery
the unfolding plot of creation.
Lord, as your light shines
on our creation today,
open our eyes to see
and marvel at all you have made.
We blink and marvel in the miracle of light.
God, our Creator,
We praise you for this wonderful world. AMEN.
(by Rev Peter Neilson, Church of Scotland, ‘Starters For Sunday’, 2015)
Call to Reconciliation (Thom Schuman)
You and I are now the ones who step forth out of the safe waters of baptism, to bring hope, to share a word of grace, to carry healing into the brokenness of the lives around us. Let us confess how we still struggle to follow in faith wherever Jesus leads us.
Timeless God, you cast Light into sin’s dark places and call us your Beloved.
when we still linger in the shadows;
when we treat others in hurtful ways;
when we speak ill of your friends.
As he knelt in the waters of Jordan,
you proclaimed Jesus as your Child,
pointing to him as the way to you.
when we put ourselves ahead of him;
when we think he is no longer needed;
when we fail to see him in the broken of our world.
Baptized and blessed in your living waters,
you would have us be your servants in our time.
when we fail to welcome the stranger;
when we refuse to forgive as we should;
when we believe we are too good to kneel down
and tie the shoes of the lost, the least, the last, the little. A silence is kept
Words of Assurance
Touched by the waters of life, fed at the feast of grace and hope, embraced in the warmth of God’s love and hopes – this is good news! Blessed by baptism’s tears, called to servanthood by the Beloved, filled with the peace of the Spirit, we are indeed God’s people – redeemed, restored, refreshed to serve. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Prayer of Dedication/Offertory (Thom Schuman)
Bathed in the waters of baptism, we are graced people. Graced people, we recognize the gifts which have been poured out upon us. Recognizing these gifts, we take them and give them back to you, God of the waters, so that others might be bathed in hope, graced with joy, gifted with your peace and love. Amen.
Sending (Thom Schuman)
Go into the world as God’s beloved children.
We will go to share the gift of grace which flows from God’s heart.
Go into the world as baptized sisters and brothers of Jesus.
We will go to bring the light of hope to all in despair.
Go into the world as those filled with the Holy Spirit.
We will go to hear the whispered yearnings for peace and reconciliation.
Remind us, Lord,
as we struggle
with the burdens of this life,
that when you walked
from the baptismal
waters of the Jordan
you submitted to a life
of divine service and sacrifice.
Blind would see,
lame would leap for joy,
and for our sake,
those not even born,
upon a Cross.
It puts our burdens
into perspective, Lord.
Forgive us, remind us
and encircle us
in those loving arms, we pray.
© John Birch, from ‘The Act of Prayer’ published by Bible Reading Fellowship
Psalm 29 (A psalm of David) – (paraphrase by Joan Stott)
1 Honour the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honour the Lord for his glory and strength.
2 Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders. The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes with bolts of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”
10 The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
11 The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace.
Prayers of Praise (based on Psalm 29) (Joan Stott)
We come, Holy One, to greet you in this sacred space where we come together
to worship and praise our Great and Majestic God. We come, in response to your
voice calling to us: “Listen, the voice of your God is calling, listen with the ear of
your heart; the voice of your God is calling…”*1 We come to listen with our hearts
to God’s words of blessings and peace, and to receive God’s gift of strength and
guidance for our daily pilgrimage. We offer to the Lord our God, the honour and
praises due to God’s Holy Name, for the splendour of the majestic holiness that
surrounds the Being of God, and for the blessings of being able to revere the God
of all creation; all time and space – past, present and future. Glory be to our God!
We come, God of all truth and wisdom, to learn from you the truth that only you
can speak to us, and to hear God’s voice that still calls to us: “Listen, the voice
of your God is calling, listen with the ear of your heart; the voice of your God is
calling…”1 We come to listen with all that we are – and can become – to what the
Lord God is teaching us about ourselves; our brothers and sisters; as we “…seek
after God and feel [our] way toward him and find him—though he is not far from
any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist….” *2 God, who is the Origin
of all life, we worship and praise you, and look to all creation for signs of your holy
presence and power, to help us receive God’s messages. Glory be to our God!
We come, God of all power and strength, who stirs us out of our apathy and the
indifference we have drifted into; to remind us again that we live in God’s world—
and not “our” world; that voice of God which challenges us to recognise who and
what we have become; and which calls us to: “…Listen, the voice of your God is
calling, listen with the ear of your heart; the voice of your God is calling…”*1 God
of the unexpected calling: arouse and provoke us to once again to worshipping you
with our whole being, with all our heart, soul and mind – and especially to worship
you with our mind! Help us to think about the “why” to what we are doing, when we
come to offer God our worship and praise, and how that impacts on our daily life.
“Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts. The heavens and earth are full of your glory…” *3 Amen.
*1. From “A hearts journey” CD track 4, “Listen, the voice of your God is calling”, Words and music by Sister Monica Brown © 2010 Monica Brown & Emmaus Productions)
*2. Acts 17: 27b-28a NLT
*3. The Sanctus
THE LORD’S PRAYER, with John the Baptist slant
God of all people, God of all creation,
your name is Holy, Hallowed, Sacred.
Prepare us for the coming of your reign.
May we repent of our wayward ways
so that we might, unhindered, do what you want us to do.
Give us only what we need for each day at a time.
May we know the peace of your forgiveness.
Forgive us for our mistreatment of others
and may others forgive us in turn.
Lead us down the path prepared for us
first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus.
In this Way, we will be safe from evil.
Blessed are you, Loving God, forever. Amen.
(Source: Ross Mackinnon, Glen Waverley, Victoria)
A PERSONAL MEDITATION (Psalm 29) (Joan Stott)
How many times have you heard people say that God’s voice had “called” them to a task or ministry? I have said it myself when I have felt “called” to be or do something! Yet, how did I know that God had really “spoken” to me? I “googled” the question: “How do I discern that God is calling me to a task”? The response was overwhelming! This question was answered in so many different ways, that I went back to my own experiences! These were: a feeling or awareness at the back of my mind of an issue; and when this persisted, I checked out what were the possibilities of it being a “call”. I tested it with trusted people, as well as gathering relevant information. The hardest step was the first step towards a positive response! If that response resonated with my heart, soul and mind, then the decision became easier; and then I waited for God’s next step in that whole process! If no confirmation occurred, I knew I had been mistaken or misheard a call; but that special journey with God, with my trusted mentors and my listening and learning from and with God was never wasted!
Creative pause: Listening and learning from and with God!
The first two verses of Psalm 29 called on all the heavenly beings to revere and honour God, for the glory of God’s name and the splendour of God’s own holiness. The next verses tell us why those heavenly being should worship God, and it was because of the earthly realities that this praise should be given. Yet for anyone who was at all susceptible, these expressions of praise could be very scary! The power of God’s voice “thunders over the mighty sea”; and its destructive forces split apart and shattered large trees; it was accompanied by earthquakes and lightning and God’s voice which “…twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare…”. The mountains became unstable in their responses to God’s voice; and God was in charge of the wild flood waters! Then the people in the Temple behaved erratically with all their shouting! It all sounded very noisy and rather undisciplined! Yet the last verse offered comfort and strength to the ones who had earlier been frightened: “…The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace…” Order was restored after all the chaos, and glory was followed by peace, as God’s kingly rule was established forever.
Creative pause: God brings order out of chaos and blesses with peace!
The physicality of this psalm is almost overwhelming, yet there is also a strong message about the spiritual realities of daily life! Our natural environment is physical and spiritual, yet there is a large part of it that also relates to the mind, as well as the body and soul. Despite all the powerful images expressed in this very old psalm, it is when the people were in the Temple that their minds urged them to recognise God’s powers, and to honour God with their shouts of “Glory!”
Creative pause: How often do we use our mind when we worship God?
Biblically speaking, to repent doesn’t mean to feel sorry about, to regret. It means to turn, to turn around 180 degrees. It means to undergo a complete change of mind, heart, direction. Turn away from madness, cruelty, shallowness, blindness. Turn toward the tolerance, compassion, sanity, hope, justice that we all have in us at our best.
(Source: Frederick Buechner, from Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons)
WCC Prayers (Week 3: 11-17 January)
Let us pray with the people of Cypress, Greece and Turkey: “O God of peace, good beyond all that is good, in whom is calmness and concord: Do those make up the dissensions which divide us from one another and bring us into unity of love in thee; through Christ our Lord. AMEN.” (from ‘With All God’s People’, WCC Geneva)
(More Prayers here – ‘In God’s Hand’s, WCC Geneva)
Song: John Preaches (Tune Kingsfold #518 TiS 262, 585)
The herald of the one to come,
Came preaching inner peace;
“Turn from your sins and be baptized,
And God will give release.”
This Baptist wore a leather belt
And clothes of camel’s hair;
Wild honey, locusts were his food;
He breathed the desert air.
“The one expected”, John declares,
“Is one who is unique;
“Much greater than I am, is he:
“Compared with him I’m weak.
“Not worthy to untie his shoes”;
John takes the lowest place,
And with him we can see in Christ
The wonder of God’s grace.
When John baptized him, Jesus saw
The heavens from above
Were op’ning and then coming down
God’s spirit like a dove.
Now Jesus stands before us all,
We see a man who’s free;
We ponder on his deeds of love
Lived out so wondrously.
(c) George Stuart – can be used freely with acknowledgement
Invitation to communion
Come then people, with the sages of old,
from east and west and north and south.
Come with those who are grieving.
come with those who are bewildered and confused,
come with the ones who have lost everything including hope,
come with the workers whose memories of their
experience will haunt them for many years,
come with the doctors and nurses whose tasks seem to be
to do the impossible.
Come with your needs, your doubts, your questions.
Come with your gifts of love and adoration:
Gifts for God’s work in this place and for places beyond.
Most of all, come as you are;
with the confidence you have
and the confidence you lack.
Come now and share in the meal of life and love.
Invitation to communion
This is the table where all are welcome;
It is the table around which we gather with Jesus
and with all who love him.
You who have much faith and you who have little,
you who have been here often,
and you who have not been here for awhile,
you who have tried to follow,
and you who have failed.
Not because I invite you: It is our Lord.
It is his will that those who want him should meet him here.
Liturgy for Communion (Thom Schuman)
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
May the Creator of heaven and earth be with you!
And also with you!
People of God, lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the One who gave his Heart to heal us.
Let us give thanks to the One who made everything and called it ‘good’.
How right it is to give our thanks and praise to the One who calls us ‘Beloved.’
Into the shadows of silence,
you hummed the first chords of creation,
Heart of Tenderness,
your Word crafting the sun to welcome each day,
the moon and stars to guide the night.
The Spirit gathered up the dust of chaos
and shaped it into vast universes,
flinging them into space and time.
Floating on the warm waters of Eden,
cradled in your love and joy,
we could have lived with you forever.
But we made mud pies from death’s dirt,
shaping our own foolish dreams,
chasing after sin, and always being caught.
Prophets came, sent from your heart
to call us back to you,
but we could not hear them
over the shouts of our desires.
So, when we had no hope,
you sent your Child, Jesus,
the One who was willing to take on
anything, and everything, which kept us from you.
With those who ran to the river’s side, and those who immersed themselves in grace,
with our beloved sisters and brothers in every time and place, we sing of your love:
Holy, holy, holy! Creator of Light and life.
Heaven and earth sing forever of your love and joy.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes to be baptized
by water and the Holy Spirit.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessedness is your nature, Holy Imagination,
and your Bright Morning Star is our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
When our hearts were hardened towards you,
he came to soften them with your grace.
Knowing we had lost our way,
he came to walk at our side,
unfolding the map of the kingdom
and pointing out the way home.
Standing with us in baptism’s waters,
he journeyed alone to the cross,
taking our place in sin’s grasp,
and leading us into your heart,
leaving death empty and alone.
On this day we remember our baptism,
we would proclaim the life which was his,
and the hope which is ours in that mystery we call faith:
Bathed in your tears, Christ died for us;
washed in the resurrection waters, Christ rose for us;
bringing the waters of life to us, Christ will come again.
As your Spirit changed chaos into creation,
may these simple gifts
of the bread and the cup
be transformed into
your life and peace for us.
We come to this table,
your baptized and beloved children,
hungry for your hope in our lives,
yearning for your peace to fill us.
And when we have been fed by you,
we would go forth into the world
to bring the homeless off lonely streets,
to feed the hungry with more than clichés,
to welcome the stranger as our sister,
to embrace the outcast as our brother.
And when time has ended its journey,
and we are gathered as your family
around the Table of grace,
we will join our hands and hearts together,
singing to you through all eternity
God in Community, Holy in One. Amen.
Other Recommended Worship Resources:
Revised Common Lectionary (Vanderbilt Divinity Library)
Now includes ART and PRAYER Suggestions
‘Starters For Sunday’ – Church of Scotland
Sermons and Liturgies by Richard J. Fairchild
‘Laughing Bird Resources’ by Nathan Nettleton
Lectionary Resources by Bruce D. Prewer
Sunday Prayers and Images from New Zealand (John Howell)