This week's author is the Rev. Mary Nelson, South Central Regional Minister for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.
Scripture: TEXT (NRSV)John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Reflection:New Years: resolution time. AGAIN. How’d that work out for you last year? And the year before that? And the year before that?
I stopped making New Years resolutions a long time ago—if I ever even really started making New Years resolutions in the first place. They (the famous “they”) say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Somehow that seems like both more time than I want to spend, and yet less commitment than it ought to take, to change my behavior.
That may be part of what’s so compelling about baptism, as we seem to understand it in some popular use: sprinkle a little water, say a little prayer, and become a whole new person! It’s so easy!
On first reading, that sounds like the promise that John the Baptizer made to the crowds who came from the Judean countryside and the streets of Jerusalem. A “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” sounds so simple. Say you’re sorry, and know you’re forgiven! (Jesus, after he was baptized, told his followers to both repent AND believe. That sounds so much harder, say the crowds who still flock to John at the Jordan.)
But that’s not what repentance is. Repentance is so much more than saying you’re sorry. Repentance is genuine change.
The word we translate as “to repent” actually means “to turn around.” Repentance is not a one-time saying of “Oops! My bad!” and carrying on with life; repentance is the beginning of a process of total upheaval. A revolution. Turning away from sin, turning toward God. Turning your life around, so that your are oriented toward God rather than toward anything else. Turning, and turning, and turning, until your life revolves around God.
Repentance is actually following through on that New Years resolution.
If we’re serious about changing our habits, we need to spend more than 21 days. We need to spend a lifetime. We need more than a forgettable New Years resolution: We need a “New Years Revolution.”
Prayer:Help me to turn toward you, Holy One. In this New Year. Every day. Turn and turn and turn until I am revolving around you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Special Prayer Requests:
- Those grieving or suffering after an apartment fire in NYC left 12 dead on Dec. 29;
- those grieving or suffering in Afghanistan after a suicide bomb attack killed over 40 and wounded dozens more on Dec. 28;
- those affected by a winter storm that dropped over 60 inches of snow in parts of western Pennsylvania since Dec. 23;
- Robert G. Hale Sr., grandfather of Emily McKenna, Office Manager of the CT Conference, who struggles with health issues and is waiting for surgery scheduled next month; and
- those in need of shelter and warmth as dangerously low temperatures plague the northeast.
- Those grieving or suffering after a train derailed in Washington state, killing several and leaving dozens injured on Dec. 18;
- the family and friends of Rev. Hebert Kelsey, retired UCC pastor, who died Dec. 10;
- the family and friends of Marion Zappula, mother of Rev. Jack Zappula, and mother-in-law of Rev. Dave Peters. Marion died on Dec. 11;
- those affected by wildfires in the Santa Barbara County are of California;
- those grieving after a school shooting in New Mexico left 3 dead on Dec. 7;
- those grieving or suffering after an attack on U.N. peacekeeping forces in eastern Congo left 15 dead and over 50 wounded on Dec. 7;
- the family and friends of Rev. Betsy Bloomfield, retired pastor and long-time active member of the CT Conference, who died Nov. 13;
- the friends and family of Rev. Hugh Penney, paster Emeritus at South Church in New Britain, who died on Nov. 12;
- the people of Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria caused massive devastation on Sept. 20;
- the millions of people currently worried about losing health insurance as the White House and Congress consider and enact changes to the current health care system;
- the thousands of child immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as their future becomes unclear after the President's announcement that the program will end in the near future;
- Mark Engstrom, member of the CT Conference Board of Directors, and his wife Nina, who are facing health issues;
- the community of Conway, MA, and the United Congregational Church, UCC, Conway after a tornado touched down on Feb. 25 causing significant structural damage;
- the members and staff of Thompson Congregational Church after a fire severely damage the building on Dec. 29;
- Michael White, former Operations Manager at Silver Lake Conference Center, who was diagnosed with colon cancer;
- Juliane Silver, the daughter of the Rev. Jim Silver of Middletown, who is in dire need of a liver transplant. We pray that a donor will come forward giving the gift of life and a portion of their liver to Juliane;
- Chacy Eveland, husband of the Rev. Marcia Eveland, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Ansonia, who has been moved to a full-time facility for care of dementia;
- the thousands of migrants worldwide who flee from violence and persecution in search of safety;
- our ecumenical partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery in South Korea;
- the Conference's partners working for peace in Colombia amidst violence;
- the leaders of this nation, that they may meet the challenges of the day with insight, wisdom, and compassion;
- this nation, that it may continue its difficult work to end the practices of racism; and
- those serving or living in war or conflict zones around the world, or where terrorists have struck.
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
The First Congregational Church, Canton Center
Brenda M. Pelc-Faszcza - DT
Central Village Congregational Church
Kenneth A. Ferguson - IN
Gordon C. Johnson - PE
First Congregational Church of Cheshire, UCC
Mark D. Montgomery - IN
Alison G. Mccaffrey - AP
Todd Skryniarz - Y
Caroll Cyr - CE
Joe D’Eugenio - MM
The United Church of Chester
W. Alan Froggatt Jr - P
First Church of Christ Congregational, UCC
Christopher C Horvath - P
Mary Nelson's primary work is with congregations in transition and crisis and providing leadership resources. She works with clergy of the Region in offering counsel, support and advice as well as pastoral care. Raised in Plymouth UCC in Des Moines,...