Contributed by Aaron Matson, Waterton, SD
How many different ways do we humans use water? List as many as you can.
Water is an amazing thing. According the EPA, water is the only substance on Earth found naturally in three forms: liquid, solid, and gas. Water makes up anywhere from 55-78% of a person’s body weight. Water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface. Water is also necessary for human life; an average person cannot live for more than 3-5 days without drinking water.
As necessary as water is to drink, we use it for much more. We use water to shower and bathe, to swim, to boat, to cook, to flush toilets, to generate hydroelectric power, to water plants and give pets and livestock the water they need, and to clean things: our hands, houses, laundry, dishes, cars, and more. The United States uses approximately 400 billion gallons of water every day, and the American uses 100 gallons of water a day (Compare that total with Europeans who use 50 gallons of water a day, and sub-Saharan Africans, who use 2-5 gallons of water a day).
Water is also very important in our lives as Christians, as we use it in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. In this sacrament, as Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism, we receive forgiveness of sin, redemption form death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Of course, it is not water that does “such great things,” but the “word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water.” (ELW pp.1164-1165)
- What are the different ways you have used water today?
- What is your favorite memory of a baptism?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 12, 2014 (Baptism of our Lord/First Sunday After Epiphany)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
The gospel story for this week tells Matthew’s story of Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist, probably like many of us, wonders why Jesus needs to be baptized. Jesus answers it is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. It is only after his baptism that Jesus begins his public ministry. His ministry and mission flows from the identity he received in baptism (the beloved Son, with whom God is well pleased).
In much the same way, in baptism we Christians are given an identity, “child of God,” and a mission; in the words of the Holy Baptism liturgy in the ELW, our responsibilities include proclaiming Christ through word and deed, caring for others and the world God made, and working for justice and peace. As Christians, we should think of our primary identity not in terms of where we are from, our ethnic backgrounds, how much money we have in the bank, or our political opinions, but as who we are as children of God united through Christ. In our life together, in good times and bad, agreements or disagreements, our conversations should begin at the baptismal font.
At the baptismal font we were all claimed by God. There we received the Holy Spirit and were joined into the body of Christ. It was at the baptismal font where we first received the promise that death and the grave are not the end of our story and that neither death nor life, neither heights nor depths, or anything else in all of creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our baptism does not give us escape from this world, nor an excuse to run away from the world, instead it gives us an identity and trust in the promises of God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world; to be the light of Christ in a world with too much darkness.
In the height of our joy and in the depths of our despair and sorrow, we can trust that God is with us, no matter how overcrowded or alone we feel. When you have nothing else to cling to, cling to the promise of your baptism: Child of God, you are sealed in the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And nothing, and no one, can change that.
- What are some ways we can proclaim Christ in word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace? Can you think of examples?
- What are some of the other names and labels we use to identify others (family, social status, culture, etc.)? How would we treat each other if we saw each other as children of God? What does it mean to label yourself first as a child of God, rather than being defined by other labels?
- Review the Baptism liturgy in the ELW (p. 227). What parts of the service stand out to you? What do you find most important or meaningful about them?
- Gather around the baptismal font in the sanctuary. Take turns making the sign of the cross on your forehead with the water as the rest of the group repeats the promise that was given to you when you were baptized: “(Name), child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
From the “Thanksgiving at the Font” in the Baptism liturgy (ELW p. 230):
We give you thanks, O God, for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and by your Word you created the world, calling forth life in which you took delight. Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family, and through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery into freedom. At the river your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. By the baptism of Jesus’ death and resurrection you set us free from the power of sin and death and raise us up to live in you.
Pour out your Holy Spirit, the power of your living Word, that those who are washed in the waters of baptism may be given new life. To you be given honor and praise through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.