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Year A, Baptism of the Lord, 2017 – Connect the Dots

December 30, 2016 / Molly Douthett / Baptism of the Lord

Happy New Year!! We’ve been off for a couple weeks to enjoy our family time with now adult children and to get geared up for the new year. Welcome back to all of us! This week’s passages are connected to one another in some obvious ways. Isaiah introduces the mysterious servant whose identity remains a question of interpretation, but with whom God delights. (Draw a line to the Gospel passage where Jesus hears these words spoken to him). The passage also promises that the servant will bring God’s justice and teachings to the nations and the many coastlands. (Draw a line to the Acts passage where Peter speaks of God’s impartiality.) In Acts, Peter has just had a transforming moment with Cornelius, a Roman centurion and his gentile household. He then testifies to Jesus’ ministry, beginning with his baptism and God’s presence with him. (Draw a line to the Gospel again). As Jesus emerges from the Jordan River (Draw a line to Isaiah and Acts in recognition of the Jordan’s place in Israel’s history), he sees the heavens open and hears a voice call him the Beloved Son with whom the One in heaven is well pleased. Each passage can stand on its own with a message of God’s redemptive work for God’s beloved people and creation, yet they share connective elements that could draw an interesting picture. However you choose to go, the servant in Isaiah, the plan for all people in Acts, or Jesus’ baptism in Matthew, you have an outline for grace and mercy. Let us know how you fill in the rest of the work!


This week’s texts are:  

Isaiah 42:1-9 [02:00]  – This passage is the first time God’s servant appears in Isaiah. This figure will be fleshed out a bit more in later references, but here the servant is identified as someone who will bring justice. Of all the definitions of justice, the one that seems to come most readily to the front in our U.S. culture is the idea of retributive justice – righting wrongs. Unfortunately, this expression often bleeds over into vengeance or revenge, where the wrongdoer is not corrected but destroyed. In many ways we expect God to do just this – and we spend our time holding down who we deem to be the offender until God can come beat him up. This is not how God chooses to act – a “bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” In Eye smart, we find illustrations and special effects for the latter example. God intends for the servant to be that light for the nations, and in Body smart we consider how offering one’s hand in a covenant expresses the intention for relationship. In Nature smart, we take the references to the coastlands and God’s redemption springing forth as illustration and special effect.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [04:00] –
    • {MWD}  Eye – References to the “light to the Nations” always catches my imagination. It is evocative in a variety of ways: is the light a beacon that stands on high ground giving warning of obstacles and safe passage to a harbor? Or is the light something that moves across the landscape like high powered flashlights seeking the lost? Or is the light from home fires where the door is open and travelers are welcomed? Is it a night light keeping shadows at bay? Any of these illustrations are valid, and using them in worship could be very effective – how do you or your people need to see the Light?
    • {D2}  People – I chose People smart for this passage because, while there is some wonderful Nature and Body imagery, what seems to be at the heart of the text is the heart God has for the people, especially those in need of justice. God’s intention is to bring balance to human relationships through the work of the Servant, and to bring right relationships to those in the depths of dungeons and to the far-flung coastlands. God’s desire for justice across the earth sets my People brain humming.
  • Smarts – Eye – [05:17], Body – [06:55], Nature – [09:33]
  • Isaiah 42 worksheet   


Acts 10:34-43 [11:18] – As 21st century Christians, we read Peter’s first words in this passage and (mostly) agree with him: of course God shows no partiality! We Americans, land of the Rugged Individual, especially embrace this idea and believe it to be enshrined in our Constitution. [That we are pretty much in error on that is the topic for a totally different kind of post (3/5ths? Really, Founding Fathers?).] Yet for Peter, realizing that God shows no partiality was a huge change in perspective. Peter was a Jew – one of God’s own People. To acknowledge that “anyone who fears God and does what is acceptable” receives forgiveness was a major step outside the boundaries in which he had grown up. We use Math smart to illustrate the impact of this change in logical framework. Peter traces Jesus ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection to support this idea, and we wonder if his testimony can be written as an English sonnet. See Music smart for the formula. In People smart, we explore other major paradigm shifts in history to illustrate Peter’s experience of the resurrection and have some questions for your congregation to use in small group discussions.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [12:42] –
    • {MWD}   Body  – The Greek word translated as “forgiveness” in verse 43 is aphesis, which can also be translated as “release.” This got me to thinking about how being forgiven or offering forgiveness can feel like being unbound by guilt, shame, anger, or whatever darkness crushes your spirit. Peter has come to realize that God’s work in his former friend and mentor Jesus is thoroughly about releasing people in order to free them to be in relationship with God. I think speaking about this release in terms of one’s body is a good way to illustrate what forgiveness feels like. Sensing weight lifted off shoulders and lungs, feeling stronger in one’s arms and legs, being able to stand straighter are all ways to exercise release – forgiveness.
    • {D2}   Word – I don’t pick Word smart very often for the PEI, as it seems kind of “meta,” as they say. But here, there are so many references to speaking, preaching, testifying, and messages, plus if we look at the context we know that Peter’s preaching leads to the transformation of Cornelius’ household, so that it seems inevitable to pick Word.
  • Smarts – Math – [13:11], Music –  [15:17], People –  [16:14]
  • Acts 10 worksheet   


Matthew 3:13-17 [18:29] – Guess what? For the Sunday called The Baptism of the Lord, we’re looking at the baptism of Jesus as Matthew presents it. Surprise! The story is fairly short, even though it is the longest account of the Synoptics and includes the conversation between Jesus and his cousin John. When Jesus comes up from the water, he sees the heavens open up, and using Eye smart, we wonder how that experience might be illustrated for listeners? People have often questioned why Jesus insisted on baptism, and in Math smart special effect, we consider using the old game called Don’t Spill the Beans (link below) to show how Jesus decided to participate and tip the scales towards righteousness. Baptism is a physical action, so for Body smart, invite people to dip their hands in water in the baptismal font. The Jordan River is an important place in Israel’s history, and so in Nature smart, we wonder what other natural landmarks are important to a community’s identity. In People smart, we offer a contrast to God’s affirming words to Jesus with a clip from Chef Gordon Ramsay, renowned for his vicious criticism. In Self smart, we ask some questions about what it means to be told someone is well pleased with you.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [19:10] –
    • {MWD}    People  – We offer the clips of Gordon Ramsay’s expletive (bleeped) laden rants as an outrageous example of how NOT to address another human being. Yet, in our increasingly harsh culture, this kind of assessment of others seems to be the preferred method of expression. We pretty it up and try to rationalize our coarse language saying we are “telling it like it is,” which is just a lazy excuse to vent frustrations and unresolved conflict. God has a much different way of speaking to us. Yes, in this passage He calls Jesus His beloved Son, but God sent him for our benefit, so we are also well loved.
    • {D2}  Nature – Some of the gospel stories connect us with the landscape of Judea or Galilee with a word or two about the geography of the area, and several of the parables do so with mentions of plants or animals. This passage brings us into Jordan River, standing in the water, then turns our attention to the heavens, which are uncharacteristically rent. The dove-like descent of the Holy Spirit further engages our connection to the natural surroundings in this supernatural event. This passage grounds us in Nature smart in more ways than most others in the gospels that come to my mind.
  • Smarts – Eye – [19:54], Math – [20:19], Body – [21:44], Nature – [22:02], People – [25:15], Self – [25:42]
  • Matthew 3 worksheet   



… in Isaiah  


… in Acts


… in Matthew


Image credit: Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo. Used by permission.


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