Call to Worship
(from Psalm 29):
Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name;
worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.
HYMN 132 Immortal, invisible, God only wise
Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer:
Lord, open our lips,
that we may proclaim Your praise.
Blessed are you, our God,
maker of heaven and earth;
may Your name be praised throughout all time.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
may Your holy name be honoured.
As the light of Your Son dawns in our hearts
guide our lips in their talk of You
that we may share Your Gospel
and bring You praise throughout the earth.
Blessed be You, our God.
Lord our God,
in our sin we have avoided Your call.
Our love for You is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Have mercy on us;
deliver us from judgement;
bind up our wounds and revive us;
in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Genesis 1: 1-5
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.
Mark 1: 4-11
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
HYMN 334 On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Have you ever sat down to watch a film only to realise that you have missed the first few minutes? What do you do? Do you try to watch again from the beginning; do you give up and watch something else; or do you plough on regardless? The problem is that the first scene usually sets out the background to the story that follows. In other words, the opening sequence is vital to understanding the story. Scripture is no different.
Our first reading today, from the opening verses of Genesis, provides us with vital information that help us understand not only that book but all that follows. Contrary to contemporary, popular, understandings the Bible is not about humanity but about God. It is He who is the central character of scripture. It is God about whom the writings speak. It is not mankind that sets everything in motion but God, and it is Him who drives things forward to their conclusion.
The creation story portrays a situation where there is nothing but a watery expanse. The potential of life lies within it but without divine action, through the Spirit of God, nothing would happen. Throughout the opening verses and the first two chapters we see this happen again and again. It is a pattern that repeats throughout all of scripture even through to the New testament and the life of Jesus. Learning that we are not the centre of the story of life perhaps means we may need some consolation; it may be found when God creates humanity. All of the created order is described as ‘good’, but mankind is described as ‘very good’.
In the gospels the pattern of divine action initiating all that then takes place is found clearly in the baptism of Jesus. This apparently simple act has challenged and troubled Christian thinkers from the earliest days of the church. The problem is this: Christians believe that Jesus was without any form of sin, yet the baptism of John was one of repentance from sin. Theologians have been trying to ‘square that circle’ for almost two thousand years. There is no complete or simple answer to it, so perhaps a different approach is needed.
How would we understand Jesus and his mission if there had been no baptism? Without it we would be without a range of images that help us understand that mission. The first is that, in his baptism, Jesus identifies with us and our own baptism. Secondly, there is the parallel of the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea at the outset of their journey into salvation. Thirdly, there is the image of rebirth into a new creation as both he and we rise from the water. In this baptism the Spirit of God is at work bringing creation to bear just as in the beginning of Genesis.
There is more to this passage from Mark’s gospel than the image of the Spirit of God creating and recreating through water. This gospel also gives the account of God’s approval of Jesus, His Son. Although the relationship between Jesus and His heavenly Father is unique to a degree that is beyond our understanding, there is a parallel between the words of the Divine and our own baptism. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he reminds us that when we are baptised we become members of the body of Christ; like Jesus that means that we, too, are the beloved of God.
These two readings remind us that we are not the centre of the story; we are not the central characters in God’s plan for creation. They also remind us that images are important as they describe our mission in the world. Images also define how people will understand and respond to us. In other words, the images we use and the image we portray will impact on the mission of Jesus as enacted through us. These are challenges to us all. Yet, in these days of a second lockdown we find ourselves also in need of consolation. Perhaps knowing that we are created as ‘very good,’ and realising that we are also the ‘beloved’ of God may offer just that.
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
we call on the Lord to hear our prayer.
We pray that Your people
may worship in spirit and in truth.
We pray that the Church may work towards unity,
that being the will of Christ.
We pray that the nations of the world
may work in the ways that lead to peace.
As we hear the pain of the world,
we pray that all creation would be set free.
We pray that all who have passed from life to death
may rest in peace and rise in glory,
We commend the world, for which Christ died and rose again,
to the mercy and protection of God.
HYMN 396 And can it be, that I should gain
who makes all things new,
transform you by the riches of His grace.
And may His grace,
the fellowship of the Spirit,
and the blessing of God the Father
be with you all,
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayer of Confession is based on Hosea 6.