Jesus passes through childhood in the blink of an eye this lectionary cycle, with only one Sunday in the season of Christmas before we enter Epiphany. There are so many occasions to mark, and not enough Sundays in which to do so! While the brief attention given to Jesus’ infancy and childhood is faithful to the Gospel accounts, there are many stories that people are expecting to hear every year that may be missed this time around.

John baptizes Jesus - Matthew 3:13-17Last week might have been Christmas 1, or Name of Jesus, or New Year’s Day, or honoring the Holy Innocents who died in place of Jesus. This week might be Epiphany or Baptism of Our Lord, or a chance to squeeze in one of the occasions that you had to skip last week. The Narrative Lectionary includes Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, with a long description of John’s ministry, but without him explicitly being the one to baptize Jesus. What are you doing this Sunday? Which stories or celebrations are important to your community? To your personal theology?

If you are preaching on Epiphany this Sunday, I encourage you to choose your words carefully. This week one of our musicians asked why we’re not singing “We Three Kings.” My answer is that we don’t know how many of them there were, and we do know that they were not kings. While the song is familiar to many, it perpetuates a traditional story that is only one interpretation of the biblical account of the Epiphany… and people need to hear more than just this one interpretation. Might there have been women among the magi? What if there were two wise ones, or twelve? Instead of using royal imagery for them, consider what a different impression the story might make if we described the magi as scientists. (Or, for a more humorous interpretation, see the below photo from an irreverent game I received as a Christmas gift this year, Santa v. Jesus  🙂 )

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If you are celebrating Baptism of Our Lord, there are many details to address and many questions that naturally arise. Why would Jesus need to receive a baptism of repentance? Could Jesus alone see the heavens opened and hear the voice of God, or did everyone see and hear God’s presence? What was the relationship between John and Jesus – did they know each other well before this encounter? And why does any of this matter for our faith life today? If you happen to have a baptism during worship today, perhaps that ritual can do the preaching for you – and if not, you’ll get to anticipate the questions and discover the answers as you prepare your sermon!

Additional resources can be found at TextWeek, or Vanderbilt’s lectionary resource page, or Working Preacher. If you are interested in doing Epiphany “star words” with your congregation this year, you can learn more at Marci Auld Glass’s blog. Jan Richardson’s Women’s Christmas Retreat might also be helpful either in your worship preparations or your personal spiritual journey.

Please share your ideas below, ask questions, and point us towards other places where you have found inspiration! I have tea and wine to share – join the party and join the conversation!

 


canoeistpastor is Katya Ouchakof, co-pastor at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, WI. She is a certified canoeing instructor, occasional hospital chaplain, aunt to the best kids in the world, and a devout Star Wars fan. Katya is a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, and blogs periodically at Provocative Proclamation.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

53 thoughts on “11th Hour Preacher Party: Choose Your Own Adventure Sunday

  1. I’ve been sick all week. Finally went to the doctor this morning. She gave me antibiotics and prednisone, and told me to stay home all weekend. I have to go to church Sunday, obviously, so I need to come up with a sermon. I’m working on the theme “Jesus’ baptism and ours,” and that’s all I’ve got at this point.

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    1. Sounds like this might be the week to invite folks to turn to their neighbor and share the story of their own baptism, or that of their children 🙂 Glad you’ve finally got antibiotics and hoping you feel better soon!

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    2. revsharkie, is there no other option. If there isn’t a lay preacher available, how about a hymn sing, or a short movie. I am sure the RevGals can come up with more options than that. If the doctor says stay home, maybe …..

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      1. I was on vacation last week and they had a video sermon then, so I do sort of feel like I have to be there and do my best. I don’t think this group of rural Iowa folks would respond well to a “turn to your neighbor” type exercise. But I’m not getting very far on the sermon.

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  2. we are with Epiphany this Sunday, and i have a sermon from many years ago, pre-ministry training i was thinking of using, but ti is way longer than I now preach. That means tonight i will be cutting it down, or writing a whole new sermon. Thinking about our response to Jesus.
    Visited a lovely lady in hospital today who has gone downhill suddenly and has liver cancer. She tells me it can’t be treated. A month ago this 87 year old was active and involved and looked the picture of health, today she is in a hospital bed, very yellow and weary. Though her whole face lit up when grandson and wife came to visit.

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  3. I am feeling slack [ not sure if that word is familiar outside Australia, lazy and guilty] becasue I have stitched a few previous sermons together for tomorrow. Before the readings there is an introduction, noting some OT parallels. All of Matthew 2 will be read, then a radio play Michael Mouse [ from Cloth for the Cradle]

    Matthew 2 Introduction
    Response to Incarnation

    I look forward to lots of wonderful ideas on the Baptism of Jesus becasue I have moved the Baptism to next Sunday.
    the kettle is about to go on, and there are still plenty of Christmas biscuits, help yourself, hopefully I will be in bed shortly.

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  4. Using the NL the reading is from Luke – and this treatment of Jesus baptism is so much more about John – Jesus baptism is something of an afterthought.
    So I am playing about with talking about John’s ministry as an introduction to Jesus. They were cousins, and we know their mothers were close, so maybe they know each other really well? John was the first person to react to Jesus when they were both in utero – so there is a special relationship already.
    And, also, John was able to be aggressive and accusatory but still they came in their droves to ask him what to do about it.
    I’m full of a cold – have been for two weeks – went to doctors yesterday and now have antibiotics – my sinuses are very sore – so I want to keep it short.

    And – to cap it all one of my elders came to talk to be through the week – wanting to talk about difficult stuff; members he cares for have told him they don’t like me – and he is trying to work out what we can do about it. It was a long conversation, and I thanked him for taking the step of talking – it’s not easy. SO I am working through what to do with a general malaise which this may be the tip of…

    All of the above are just ideas – not a word actually committed to paper and its already after 1 pm here on a dull grey Scottish afternoon!

    I have Christmas Cake – please come and help yourself!

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    1. Almost 5 pm
      I now have groceries so we can eat tonight
      but still no real words yet
      I am so distracted
      and – to cap it all – I just heard my baby grandson has been admitted to hospital for a sickness / coughing bug which has prevented him from eating for two days. At not yet three weeks this is a huge worry

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      1. Many, many prayers for your grandson! Blessings and peace also in the difficult issues that seem to be arising in the congregation. Hopefully your thoughts about John’s ministry are coming together. Happy preaching.

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  5. 1. We are celebrating Jesus’ baptism with a reaffirmation of baptismal vows, which no one but me knows about – I am slipping it in with the Apostles’ Creed. 2. We are singing We Three Kings and having a little fun with the procession, although no costumes — after last week’s mad and murderous Herod and a sermon on immigration, we need some tradition and light-heartedness, regardless of how off base same may be. 3. The stewardship sermon is based on the story of the magi. When I was at the Presbyterian stewardship conference a couple of years ago, we had a wonderful presentation on creating a January stewardship season around Epiphany giving. Since I fell flat on my face in my efforts from January – October to engage the congregation in a stewardship effort, I find myself using some of those ideas in a final move to get the pledges in. I think my sermon is more than a bit contrived, so am editing today as I finish the un-decorating of the house.

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    1. A sermon about giving on Epiphany seems quite appropriate to me! I also love the reaffirmation of baptismal vows being “slipped in” with the Creed. Giving of our selves and our money, like the magi did – I hope it all comes together as nicely as it sounds.

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  6. The church is still decorated for Christmas, families will just be returning from Christmas break and school starts on Monday, but I will be preaching on the texts from the RCL for the Baptism of Jesus. It’s always a mixed up crazy Sunday…I am pondering ideas from the theory of Bioconsciousness, the idea that our conscious exits before we are born and continues after we die and that how we see the world is influenced by how we perceive it through our consciousness. It’s kind of the John 1 understanding of in the beginning was the word…I’ll connect it to the idea that in the baptism of Jesus God is doing a new thing, God is being transformational. We too can be transformational in how we see the world and therefore how we choose to act. We can choose to be a people of hope, making a difference in the world rather than be a people of fear…for example. But for now I think I need more coffee…

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    1. That all sounds very cosmic, Terri, starting with the concept of bioconsciousness… but then bringing it down to earth with how we experience the world around us. Blessings to you in your preparation and your preaching.

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  7. We have a bit of a three ring circus tomorrow: baptism of Jesus, communion, ordination/installation of elders, reception for me as the new stated supply pastor. The sermon has gotten short shrift this week, as we’ve been consumed by preparing for my husband to have surgery, and then its cancellation due to an insurance mixup. Now it’s rescheduled for next Friday, and I hope to reclaim part of my week next week, so I can feel like I’m doing better job in this new position.

    All that is to say that, though this sermon needs to be short, it still needs to *be*! I have an opening story but now am not sure where I’m going with it, or rather how to connect it with where I’m going. I’m using the Isaiah servant song and Matthew, both from the RCL.

    My mom is here (to help out with the surgery that didn’t happen) and is trying to head home today, but icy conditions at home may delay her departure.

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    1. Monica – I believe Amy-Jill Levine connects the Isaiah idea of servant leadership to Matthew’s ideal of leadership throughout the Gospel: those who lead by serving, beginning with Joseph in Matthew’s gospel – then the Magi seeking and following the star and scripture of another religion – now Jesus being baptized and John dong the baptism – both fulfilling what God has called them to do VS Herod, the Pharisees and Sadducees who all know the scripture/law and can recite it, but seem to do nothing in response to God or to serve others.

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    2. Blessings to you in this hectic time! Hoping that tomorrow will be a rich celebration for your community… and hoping that this sermon comes together quickly so that you can take a breather before diving in to another busy week.

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  8. I am writing a sermon for the biggest service and there will be two baptisms. I have not preached at that service since last October, so it feels more intimidating than usual. I know it’s all in my own noggin through, so I will power through 🙂 I need to get the words on paper – I have coffee made with french vanilla creamer handy, and there are still a few Christmas candies on the counter – please help yourselves!

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  9. Baptism of Jesus here. I’m starting with something I remember from a presentation by Rev. Ed Searcy in which he reminded us that when God proclaims Jesus as Beloved at his baptism, Jesus hasn’t actually done anything yet. No healing, no teaching, no miracles…just baptism. His belovedness, like our own, is not a reward for righteous living, it’s simply grace.

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    1. Yes, I remember resonating with that interpretation the first time I heard it. What an example of God’s grace! Run with it 🙂

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  10. In the NL and so have the JtB fire and brimstone sermon and baptism of Jesus. I really am hugely unmotivated. Lots of general malaise. My 7th grader had a concussion with loss of consciousness Tues evening (but he did block the layup so it’s all okay…smh…). Dying church, indifferent people. I need a baptism of my own thoughts and heart.

    What I think we will do is this: Talk some generally about baptism – our memories, our thoughts, hopes, fears and how they might have changed. I will tell a story of baptizing my dying dog when I was 15, using Luther’s Small Catechism and water from the water bowl next to his rug by the heater and my own tears. I couldn’t imagine living without him and the idea that I might see him in heaven gave me some hope. I will tell of struggling with the decision to baptize my sons shortly after their adoptions. I no longer believed in the fire insurance aspect of baptism but didn’t have anything to replace it yet. Still working on it. I may tell of the fetal deaths that I baptized in my CPE residency and of the heartbreak. What does it mean? What was it if not a naming and claiming that the 20-something week old baby was a beloved child of God and resting in God’s heart. I will ask people to remember their baptisms if they were old enough to remember and to remember that of family members or others that they witnessed. What does it mean to them? I think I will say something about the HS coming on Jesus and how that Spirit empowers us also. I think I will end by asking everyone to turn to their neighbor, all 12 to 19 of us there (or less because one family is having their 12th night party and as many of them get pretty drunk, they don’t come the next morning), and say “you are God’s beloved.” Maybe we will let my son sprinkle water on them while they do that.

    I think I just wrote my sermon.

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  11. There seems to be a theme of malaise here…and in my congregation we’re dipping our toes in that pool too. I’ve been trying to reframe it as a season of rest, and fatigue over a general long-term anxiety.

    We’re observing the Baptism of Jesus. I was a little dismayed a few days before Christmas when the new funeral pall arrived in the mail and I realized I should dedicate it during worship asap. January in Minnesota just seems a cold and somber time to do that…but then I looked at the lectionary. So…my “sermon” tomorrow will be preached at the font, and will include a participatory thanksgiving for baptism (children pouring the water while we speak a litany), the dedication of the funeral pall, a reflection on the belovedness of the community, and the singing of “Baptized in Water”. Technically the (very short) reflection is the sermon I guess…I tried to separate the sermon out from the activity and it just didn’t work so it’s just going to be all together during the time reserved for sermon. Which is pretty symbolic of the life of the baptized, now that I think of it, anyway–all mixed up, active and moving in all directions!

    Praying for all who are struggling with this quiet winter season, whether it’s due to illness, weather, apathy or anxiety. May we all see a spark of joy and new life, in small or dramatic ways, tomorrow.

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    1. Your plan for worship sounds beautiful! The funeral pall, while generally used on sad occasions, is meant to be a reminder of the eternal life we are promised at baptism – so hopefully your people can hear the promise and good news that the pall represents. And maybe the blessing and reflection you’re offering tomorrow can bring additional meaning to upcoming funerals that will use the pall. I hope that all goes well and wish I could be there to experience it.

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      1. Thanks! I just accidentally hit “do not save changes” on my final draft, thinking it was the bulletin announcement draft, and lost most of it…so a rewrite is happening now. Oops. Onward.

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  12. Two years ago I was scheduled to preach on epiphany and the service was cancelled due to a storm. So, I thought I’d pull out that sermon and reuse it as it was never preached, and same readings. It was an interesting process as I rarely go back to sermons. I didn’t realize how much my style had changed, even just in two years. So, it’s updated now and ready to go, but, wouldn’t you know, we’re getting 30-40 cms of snow tonight and church will most likely be cancelled. I don’t think I was meant to preach on epiphany.
    Went to the store to buy the essentials, chips. You’re all welcome to come to Halifax and share.

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    1. Glad you could re-work something you had already written, especially if you may end up not preaching it anyway. Hopefully one of these years you’ll have the chance to share an epiphany sermon!

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  13. Introducing the season of Epiphany as manifestation and including the reading of Jesus Baptism as the beginning of his ministry. In this season, and in our living, we move from the Manifestation of God’s love to our Ministry. Planning to invite the congregation to come forward to receive their Star Words (first time using this great RevGal idea!) and to then pause at the font to remember their Baptism.

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    1. Manifestation to ministry, with reflection on baptism and personal faith life. Sounds like a rich day for your congregation. Blessings to you!

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  14. Baptism of Jesus – lay preacher preached Epiphany last Sunday when I was on vacation. Remembering GA this summer and the admonition to “Travel wet!” in the opening worship service. Found a great picture of the huge font near the entrance to the convention hall – I’d share it if I could figure out how. This is the passage I wrote my exegesis exam on a few years back so the rest of the sermon should come….sometime…

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  15. This morning there was an anti-racism meeting at my church with folks from across the synod, which was good but took more time than I expected. After lunch with my husband, I’m now settling in to write. Normally I have a direction before Saturday, but I’m still undecided about this week. I know we’re doing Epiphany, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten! Hoping that the many ideas bouncing around my head (some of which are inspired by your suggestions above!) will settle in to one sermon, ideally without taking all day 🙂

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  16. I spent a good portion of today cutting out stars. Epiphany tomorrow with minimal references to the wise ones and texts from Isaiah. “Arise, Shine….” This is a message I think we need just now along with the prophetic voice of Psalm 72 and poetry for the star words to guide us this year.

    Next Sunday we will do the baptism as the Gospel is John’s account of that event.

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    1. I think I just decided to do star words, which means I’ll have to get up very early to cut up my stars! Unless you did a few extra for me? 🙂 Hoping that Epiphany goes well for you tomorrow.

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      1. It might be too late for this year, but FWIW, a couple years ago I decided to do this with my youth group at the last minute. I had gotten the words here, but knowing that cutting out stars was going to eat into my cooking time (I’m in charge of supper for the youth group), I used a picture of stars with the words on business card stock, which is perforated, ten cards to a sheet. Voila. No cutting.

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        1. Awesome. I just printed up a whole bunch of start to cut up in front of Netflix before bed, but this would have been a better idea!

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  17. It’s getting on toward 8pm so time to get down to work here…NL baptism of the lord, with a seasonal theme of “Listen Up” beginning tomorrow and running the 8 weeks until Lent. I have a vague mental theme about John’s post-baptism instructions (if you have 2 coats, give one away, if you have food, share it, etc) and something about living like baptized people. Even as I typed that I thought “this is basically every sermon I’ve ever preached about God giving grace and us responding with gratitude.” …May need to think more about that before I put it on paper. lol.

    I still have peppermint bark, and it is still delicious. Help yourselves. 🙂

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    1. There are definitely worse sermon themes than “God give us grace and we respond with gratitude.” Blessings on your writing and your preaching!

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  18. Epiphany here…well, tomorrow, that is. Spent most of Friday with glitter and obsessing about new house that I have to make a decision about by monday per contract (closing is supposed to be end of January but seller isn’t negotiating yet I love the home, and would welcome end of renting…) — which means that there wasn’t much brain space for sermon… It did come together though today– though I hired help for my little ones and she is helping me to finish stars which have glitter, words, and ribbon.

    I am just so tired. I laughed earlier in the week when I found a reading–actually call to worship– that talked about following even “when the star alights over a dubious home” given the prospective house situation. Anyway– the sermon is called “Dragonfly Dreams” and basically, I talk about/ponder course corrections– how the Magi–together– changed direction and how dragonflies can manuever quickly (not advocating, just sayin’) and playing with that metaphor –and how we often follow more dubious things than our dreams…

    Checking in here before I tackle last prep for last class of bible study that ends tomorrow (it was an Advent study that goes into Epiphany).

    Did I mention being tired?

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    1. Lots going on in your world! How exciting about the new house, if it works out and isn’t too dubious. Good luck with the Bible study and the sermon tomorrow!

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