Saturday, June 14, 2008

Baptism sermon Romans 5 1-8

I always struggle with passages that start “Therefore”

I’m not the most logical person ever, and when it comes to matters of faith, I’m a little anxious that the verbal evidence won’t stack up, that having looked hard at the “therefores” one of you in the congregation is going to stand up and say “So what?”

But the train of logic that Paul lays before the Christians in Rome is a pretty clear one…provided we begin at a place where we know that we have peace with Christ. I’m not sure, though, that this is a common experience.
Peace isn’t something that we seem over familiar with in our culture today. Success, maybe. Fulfillment, probably. But peace – that’s thought of, I would guess, as the preserve of the elderly. We talk about people having made their peace with the world…as if it was part of the process of needful detachment that precedes the final detachment of death…
But if you asked the average person in the Co-op car park what they aspired to – I don’t know that “Peace” would be one of the first words to come from their lips.
Peace, you see, suggests acceptance of the way things are………and in many ways, accepting the way things are in our world is an anything but Christian virtue.
You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to recognise that there are literally hundreds of things that need changing – both great and small.
We’re not supposed to have peace where there are situations of outright injustice…We’re not called to remain silent while the weak go the wall, while the rich oppress the poor or while children starve
We are supposed to be filled with a deep disquiet that such things can be and to do all in our power to challenge and to change…but beneath that, there should remain the constant reassurance that our ultimate destiny is secure for Jesus has already done all that is needful.

Julian of Norwich, writing in the 14th century, understood this when she shared her vision of God’s ultimate certainty
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”
She wasn’t skirting round the realities of life – indeed, she preceded these words with a recognition that “sin is behovely” (inevitable) – but she was able to see where we are all heading…to know that despite all there is to engender grief and desperation, we can continue to hope.
Indeed, hope is, mysteriously, a direct fruit of the trials of life.
And we know that one way or another life will bring its share of suffering (much though we may hate to consider this when we cuddle Lily, and ask God to give her only blessed days, green pastures, still waters)
Within this scripture what we see is the way that God is able to take suffering and redeem it, make something good from it.
Suffering brings endurance, character and hope in God's hands.
Without God, we’re likely to respond to suffering with indignation, brokeness, bitterness and despair…but the secret ingredient, God’s love, changes everything.
Paul is so certain that this is indisputable…he uses the language of the law, of provable facts to present his case.
God has one message to get across to us each day, one message that he gives to the prophets, one message that lies beneath each and every event recorded in the Bible.
God wants to prove his love for us.
Last week I was talking to year 2 from St Matthew’s school about Baptism. Quite early in the service, we trace the sign of the cross on the forehead of those to be baptised. I told the children that this was an invisible label, establishing beyond dispute just who we belong to….From our baptism onwards, we belong to God.
But then we talked about the cross…about how when Christ hung there, his open arms were a hug that encompasses the whole of the world and everyone who has ever lived in it…
I told them that whenever they see a cross, they are to see it as a sign of just how much God loves them…how much he loves you.
(The cross on Lily’s forehead says “You are beloved of God…” as surely as it says “You are God’s property”)
We all know that there is nothing like being loved to inspire us to love in return….and when we see Christ on the cross, it reminds us just how loved and loveable we are to God…which inspires us to love in return.
“God’s love poured into our hearts…” God's love changes everything…God’s love in the waters of baptism.
When I was a curate, I baptised a toddler named Dylan.
His mum had MS and was confined to a wheelchair, a situation that Dylan knew exactly how to exploit whenever he felt the need.
No surprise then, that during his baptism service he raced around the church, played hide and seek behind the large pillars and generally made things as hard as possible for the priest ..until, that is, we came to the water.
You see, Dylan loved his bath…so, when I began to pour the water into the font he was all attention.
When I poured the first polite trickle over his head, he began to suspect that I didn’t actually have the right idea….so he splashed.
He splashed a little, and I got wet.
He splashed some more, and I got wetter.
By the time he had finished, his mother, father, godparents and all of us standing around the font were absolutely drenched and dripping and his poor mother was mortified.
But as I changed into dry clothes at home afterwards, I realised that in fact Dylan was the only one there who had the right idea.
If the waters of baptism represent God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, then that is in no way a retrained, polite, Anglican dribble.
Rather it’s a torrent…something overwhelming that can flood every corner, sweep us off our feet, change the whole landscape of our lives forever.
That overwhelming tide doesn’t depend on our love for God. It doesn’t depend on our response [(though the baptism service represents the very first step in a life time of response to God’s love)
God won’t love Lily more when we’ve brought her to Baptism and declared her formally part of God’s family…He already loves her completely and totally, as if she was the only baby there had ever been for God to love.
Actually, that’s how God feels about you too.]
There’s nothing the world you can do to make God love you more, or to make God love you less.
God just loves you, because that’s what and who God is.
God is love.
But God calls us, calls you, to respond…as surely as he called the disciples and gave them a task, to share the good news…We are called, invited, to respond of course…to live lives so full of love that we ourselves, with all our doubts, all our imperfections, all our uncertainties, can become Good News for our world…Good news of the God who loves us.


Songbird said...

Love this. Love you. Feeling loved by God, too, after reading this. Amen.

Anonymous said...

absolutely beautiful - and you did work in Julian. wow

Emily said...

Love it! Thank you so much for the anecdote - I'm a student on placement in a cathedral, and I get so frustrated by the formality that seems to bury people's hearts. This is classic!