Rather than the text of the sermon, this week I'm posting the entire order of worship. Sources are cited wherever we could. The opening song is sung to the tune of "Morning Has Broken," and the words were adapted from the Presbyterian Hymnal song, "Baptized in Water." The James Howell story came from an article he wrote in Christian Century magazine in 2007. Some of the liturgy was adapted from a baptismal article on the website of Reformed Worship magazine.
The acolyte enters and lights the candles.
Baptized in water, called as disciples;
we are the lights of Christ our King;
flames of the Spirit light up our pathway
Following Jesus, we joyfully sing.
Person one comes up as the musicians sing, sets the candle on the communion table and lights it, and after the singing is finished, announces, “The light of discipleship.” They stay at the table.
Baptized in water, nurtured in scripture,
teaching the world of Christ our King;
we have his promise, he is still with us;
thankfully now God's praises we sing.
Person two comes up as the musicians sing, brings a Bible to the lectern and after the singing is finished, announces, “The book of our story.” They stay at the lectern.
Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit,
marked with the sign of Christ, our King;
born of the Spirit, we are God’s children,
joyfully now God's praises we sing.
Person three carries in a large pitcher and places it at the font, and after the singing is finished, says: “The waters of our identity.”
Each stands at font, table and lectern, then Christina says “People of God, welcome home!”
Surely The Presence of the Lord is In This Place
Nan: Today is Rally Day, the day when we kick off our fall programs and lift up the teaching ministries of our congregation. Today is the day we call to mind the truth that in our baptism, we begin a lifelong journey of learning and teaching, as part of the baptismal community. Jesus called us to go and make disciples, to baptize them and teach them. This is our calling – to reach out to all the world, and to attend to the spiritual formation and nurture of every disciple. Go. Make Disciples. Baptize. Teach.
*Call to Worship (Nan)
Leader: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
People: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Prayer of Confession (Christina)
In our baptism, we are called to renounce evil and its power in the world. But all too often, we let the power of evil overtake us. Trusting in the promises of God, we know that we can confess our failings, and be forgiven. Let us pray together:
Gracious God, we are a people formed by your Word in Christ; but we wander away from your truth and fail to trust your promises. Ground us again, O Holy One, in the written wisdom of Scripture and in the living Word which is Christ Jesus. Renew us at the fountain of his wisdom, and make us true disciples, so we may find joy in obedience and freedom in giving ourselves to you. Amen.
Silence is kept
Assurance of Pardon
Leader: Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. (Romans 8:34)
Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!
Sharing the Peace of Christ (from the communion table)
Leader: We have been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, so let us be reconciled to one another with signs of peace, saying “The peace of Christ be with you.”
People: And also with you.
Leader: Let us share Christ’s peace.
Scripture reading: Matthew 28:16-20 (read by Nan)
Go and Make Disciples (read from the table)
Through baptism we enter the covenant God has established. Within this covenant God gives us new life, guards us from evil, and nurtures us in love. Jesus calls us to go and make disciples. Bishop Will Willimon tells this story of a young disciple named Jeremy.
Once upon a time I went out to a small rural church to baptize a twelve-year-old boy whom a pastor had been instructing in the faith. I was happy to oblige until the pastor said, “Jeremy very much wants to be immersed. Can you do that?”
“Er, uh, sure. I can do that,” I said, unwilling to admit that I had rarely baptized anyone by immersion.
I arrived at the church that Sunday morning, and sure enough, there was the pastor standing on the front steps of the little church with a small boy.
“Jeremy, this is the bishop,” the pastor said proudly. “It’s an honor for you to be baptized by the bishop.”
Young Jeremy looked me over and said only, “They tell me you don’t do many of these. I’d feel better if we had a run-through beforehand.”
“That was just what I was going to suggest,” I said.
We went into the church’s fellowship hall where the pastor showed me their newly purchased font, dressed up by a carpenter in the congregation, surrounded by pots of flowers. Jeremy said, “After you say the words, then you take my hand and lead me up these steps, and do you want me to take off my socks?”
“Er, uh, you can leave them on if you want,” I said.
Well, we had a wonderful service that Sunday. I preached on baptism, the choir sang a baptismal anthem then the whole congregation recessed into the fellowship hall and gathered around the font. I went through the baptismal ritual. Then I asked Jeremy if he had anything to say to the congregation before his baptism.
“Yes, I do. I just want to say to all of you that I’m here today because of you. When my parents got divorced, I thought my world was over. But you stood by me. You told me the stories about Jesus. And I just want to say to you today thanks for what you did for me. I intend to make you proud as I’m going to try to live my life the way Jesus wants.”
Though I’m now weeping profusely (Jeremy asked, as I led him up the steps into the pool, “Are you going to be OK?”), I baptized Jeremy and the church sang a great “Hallelujah!”
Response: Servant Song
Teaching Them All I Have Commanded You (Read from the lectern; James Howell article)
Nan gives an introduction about the reading and how it ties in to our commission.
What have I learned from 25 years of this labor? You can’t download theology directly into people’s brains. They think, they love, they question, they are reckoners. If I help them at all, it is by the tone I set, my own observable zeal for the material, and my trust that God is the agent of formation. I create nothing but the space where discipleship might happen if the Spirit blows.
I have learned to worry about technology. Not that technology is somehow inherently evil. But when my staff and I scramble to learn PowerPoint, snazz up the Web site, craft hands-on activities that involve everybody, the unspoken assumption is that theological education will happen if we just get our technique right. I wonder if Christian education isn’t comparable somehow to kissing or even to having sex: it’s not the mastery of technique that is essential; it’s the love. The fumbling, awkward misstep elicits mercy and tenderness, and a profound sense that love is happening precisely in the thick of faltering technique. Do parishioners look at me, at our staff, at the teachers, and think, “There is someone who loves—who loves me, who loves God”?
I remember my sixth-grade Sunday school teacher, Floyd Busby. Mr. Busby would score a flat zero on teaching technique or age-appropriate planning. He was old and had a whiny voice, and his “technique” was to open his Bible and read—for an hour. But I remember Mr. Busby’s name, and the profound moment when he simply stopped reading. We suspected that he had died. But when we looked up, we realized that he was crying—back in the ’60s, when men didn’t cry. We were tempted for a nanosecond or two to poke fun at him—but even as 11-year-olds we knew the moment was to be reverenced. Mr. Busby gathered himself and read further, about how they arrested Jesus, mocked him, beat him, pressed a crown of thorns into his forehead. He stopped again, looked up at us boys with tears streaming down his face and dripping onto his open Bible, and pleaded with us: “Don’t you boys see what they did to my Lord?” I will never forget it. This was my first encounter with someone who was so deeply in love with Christ. Can I teach like that? Can I deploy teachers like Mr. Busby?
Response: Thy Word
The Promises We Make in Baptism (read from the font)
Christina describes the nature of our baptismal promises, and the promise that we have in from God in our baptism – that though we may be drowned in the waters of baptism, we are brought to new life in Jesus Christ.
“Fayette was an African American woman struggling with mental illness and lupus, living on the streets of Detroit. She came to sit on the steps of the church one day, refusing to come in, just listening from outside. It was hot; we had the door open, and I guess she heard the singing. She kept coming...arriving late, and leaving early, and for weeks never coming in the door. But eventually she did come...came in the door, sat at a table, and even joined in our new members class. In the class we talked about baptism, about what it means to be named by God. I told them it was a holy moment, a moment when you could hear God saying, “you are a beloved and precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.” Fayette liked that part. No matter what else we were talking about, she would bring us back to baptism. She'd begin, “When I am baptized I am ...”and soon we would learn to respond:“You are a beloved and precious child of God and beautiful to behold.”
“Oh yes”, she'd reply, and we'd go on until she brought it up again. The day came.
The choir gathered around the pool singing, “Wade in the water.”
The choir gathered around the pool singing, “Wade in the water.”
Fayette went under, came up spluttering out of the icy cold water, drew in a new breath, looked around , and said, “and now I am....”
And we replied, “you are a beloved and precious child of God and beautiful to behold.”
“Yes!” she cried and she danced around the fellowship hall.
Two months later I got a call at 2:00 am.
Fayette had been beaten and taken to the hospital. So I went. I could hear her voice long before I could hear what she was saying. But I knew it was Fayette. As I got closer to the room, I saw her pacing back and forth, her hair sticking up everywhere, tears marking her face, bruises starting to form. When I got to the door, she saw me, looked me straight in the eye and declared,
“I am a beloved and precious child of God...”
At that moment, she caught sight of herself in the mirror, turned back to me, and said, “I am a beloved and precious child of God and (again she looked in the mirror)...and God is still working on me. If you come back tomorrow I'll be so beautiful it will take your breath away!”
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Response In All Things
Prayer of Dedication
Holy God, in Jesus Christ you have called us to you, redeemed us in the waters of baptism, and taught us how to live in your light. Accept our gifts as a pledge of our lives, and help us to live in gratitude. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Litany on the Waters of Baptism
Leader: Many are the gifts of God given to us.
People: Living water to quench our thirst, pure air to fill our lungs
Fertile earth to cultivate our food, passionate fire to warm body and soul
Leader: Many are the gifts of God given to us, and we remember God’s claim on us
By the water of birth we are brought into the world; by the water of baptism we are brought into the church. By water and the Spirit we are brought into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new life.
People: Many are the gifts of God given to us.
Leader: In thanksgiving, we pray. Eternal God, when nothing existed but chaos you swept across the deep water and brought forth light. Through the sea you led your people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a promised land. You sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of the womb, baptized by John, anointed by your Spirit, washed by a woman’s tears, who call us to follow him and to go proclaim the good news to every living creature, making disciples, baptizing, teaching, and remembering that he is with us, has called us by name.
Pour out your Holy Spirit and by this gift of water call us to remember:
People: The gift of grace given to us in our baptism
Leader: Call us to remember
People: The claim upon us to go and make disciples
Leader: Call us to remember
People: To teach your name and your love to everyone in all the world
The people are invited to come to the front, dip their fingers into the bowls provided, and gratefully remember their baptism.
Song (as people come forward) You Are Mine
Leader: Child of the covenant, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.
People: Alleluia! Amen.
Sent Out In Jesus’ Name