Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Image of his Father. Sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist with Holy Baptism, 2nd Sunday before Lent 8th February 2015

It's not always easy to be excited on a chilly Sunday in February...but today is REALLY exciting.
It's a day of new beginnings...for Sacha, as he returns to the Cathedral where he ministered as a Reader, but now as an ordained priest come to complete his curacy among us...
for Victory, as she is baptised into God's church and starts a new phase of her life journey as a member of the Christian family.

I'm tempted. indeed, to describe this morning as a "family service". But before you all head straight for the door, let me reassure you that I'm not about to launch into an action song and I promise I've nary a puppet concealed in the pulpit.

But nonetheless -  today is very much about family.
It's there in our readings and in our collect...which we might sum up by saying
“He's the image of his Dad”
That's a comment we often hear as joyful relatives cluster around the cradle of a new baby.
And really, we all know what they mean.
We aren't talking mirrors or plaster casts.
We recognise familiar features displayed in a different context, in another face – and are, for the most part, delighted
Family likeness matters to us, because we are embodied creatures...we recognise one another through our particular arrangement of physical attributes – height, weight, colouring – as well as through tones of voice, shared stories, habits of mind.
Our bodies will carry the gene patterns we inherit from our parents – and we live in those bodies.

Hang on to that thought for a moment – we'll return to it, I promise

But the image we're invited to reflect on by both collect and epistle today is of a rather different order.
Let's start with the epistle...a declaration on the same sort of grand, cosmic scale as the majestic text of John's prologue, which we heard as our gospel.
The Colossian Christians are invited to consider the amazing truth of Christ's nature...Christ who is transcendant, who has always been there, at the heart of all things, the one in whom all things hold together.
There is absolutely no doubt about his nature as the one “in whom all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell”
In other words, though God himself is invisible, Jesus is nonetheless the image of his father...showing all those features that we understand to be part of the nature of God.
“The Word was with God, and the Word was God”
Just as John takes us back to the dawn of creation, so does Paul, reminding us that Jesus is both the means and the purpose of creation “all things created through him and for him” and also its first expression...“The firstborn of all creation”.
The first-born – with more to follow, as our collect reminded us
“You have made us in your own image”...

Ordinary, everyday people like you and me – made to reflect God...and invited to look for that reflection in all whom we encounter.
That's what we're all about – and that's what I want to share with Victory, on this her baptism day.
Very soon your parents and godparents will make some big promises for you...and then I'll give you that invisible badge, the sign of the cross that I'll drawn with special oil on your forehead...the sign that says that from today and forever you belong to Jesus.
I know that you understand already that God loves you and that Jesus wants to be your friend and companion on every step of your journey through life...
But today is special – your church birthday, if you like.
Of course you've got a perfectly good family already – but today you get an extra one, just in case...because from now on WE are your family too, as are all the other Christian women, men and children that you'll meet in your lifetime.
We're your family because we belong to Christ's church...and because each one of us should share a family likeness. We too should be the image of our father, God.

And we don't have to wonder or worry about how that might work out.
God has made it easy for us to understand because, though Father God is invisible...Jesus – well, Jesus shows us exactly how God is...
In his paraphrase Bible, The Message, the American theologian Eugene Petersen puts this in a way that I find really helpful.

The Word became flesh and blood,
 and moved into the neighborhood.

As simple as that.
We understand the world through our God became flesh and blood.
We live in community, alongside friends and neighbours, so God moved in beside us.
God living among God's creation.
The fulness of God contained in a human body
Sharing everything.
Birth and birthdays.
Joy and sadness.
Life and death.
The word became flesh.

And that's still how it works.
Though we don't see Jesus himself walking among us, that's where our role as the “image of God” comes in.
WE are to embody God's love, his grace, truth and generosity.
WE are to become a reconciled and reconciling people, coming home to God and enabling others to do so too.
WE are to so live that we help others to understand what God is like.

Don't for a moment imagine that this role belongs only to the ordained. When a friend of mine was inducted to her new church in the States, she put her ordination certificate – her Holy Orders – up on a wall in her church office. Her PA responded by pinning her baptism certificate proudly to the wall beside it, because, she said “That's my ordination certificate...If priests are ordained to be signs of God at work, well so are all those baptised in his name”.

In other words, the message of today is for Victory as much as for Sacha...for you and me and the lady sitting next to you, even if you don't know her name.
Touched by the Holy Spirit at Baptism, receiving God's life week by week in bread and wine, 
We are God's children – called to live so that everyone who meets us recognises “the image of our Father”.