A sermon on the gift of Baptism at St James and St Bartholomew’s Churches.
I thought I would share a bit of an insight into baptism services and my thinking behind that. The Church has a gift to gift to offer in Baptism, a gift of grace…
Everyone has the right to be baptised in their local parish church and this gives me a huge amount of joy: to be invited to baptise people of all ages. I’ve baptised babies and adults and sometimes people want to be Godparents. I’ve even baptised the Godparent at the same time as the baby they are the Godparent for. This is one of the most enjoyable events in the Church’s life, that new life in God’s family.
I love the story of John baptising on the banks of the Jordan. The people of the local town were curious and came out to see what he was doing. At that time, society was more in touch with God, there was a mixture of superstition and cultural awareness that speaks of mystery more readily than it does today. These days we like to think there are no mysteries: only things science hasn’t figured out yet. As a result, our society is sometimes embarrassed by the yearning for understanding, and instead of embracing doubt and ‘giving it a go’ – we hold back in case someone makes fun of us.
Bringing a baby for baptism (or being an adult and wanting to be baptised) takes a bit of courage. Courage to message the Vicar and say, “Hey, can we have a Christening?”… but I hope our communities don’t find me scary!
Importantly, you don’t have to understand all the mysteries of faith before asking. Everyone’s reasons are different – a bit like on the banks of the Jordan all those years ago. The people of Jerusalem didn’t have much more understanding than we do… they were asking themselves, “Is John the Messiah” and he had to say,
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.’The Gospel of Mark
John was baptising people and helping them to begin to get to know Jesus. And this is what we do in Church. We baptise, and we begin the journey of getting to know Jesus.
I said that the church has a gift to offer – but so do you when you come for baptism. There are two gifts. The gift is given to God, and the gift God gives us:
- One is time
- The other is love
We are creatures of time: we are mortal. We have a life and whether it is only the life of moments, or whether it is the life of a hundred years, it is finite. What we do with the time in between is important. Money can be found and lost. Health too. But time is only ever being used: going away from us. It is more precious than money because you can’t ever get it back. So when you take time, like a Sunday afternoon, to have a Christening, this is time that you have intentionally taken out of your life to do something that feels important to you.
And God draws close to us.
There is an honour that we have given God by taking the most precious thing we have: a bit of this mortal life, and offered it to God. Taking time to bring a baby in front of God and say: “Hello. Hi God. This is my baby – we love our child. Do you?”
God replies: “Yes.”
God looks at your baby and says, “Hello twinkle toes. I know you. I knew you before you were born. I knew you as you were formed in your mother’s womb and I love you. You are precious to me. I know the length of your days. I know your going out and your coming in. I know the laughter and the tears. I know the joy and the grief that you will live through. I will be with you throughout.”
We know that life has pain. Every one of us knows how hard life is. God gave us this gift of life and doesn’t take away the fullness of the experience of that life. The tickling of toes or the devastation of war, we have the freedom to live, and to die. What God offers is presence. God is with us.
“I will be with you, your whole life. I love you” God says.
The thing is, that if you were baptised as a baby, someone took time out of their life to bring you before God and ask the same thing, “Here is my precious child… are you there God?” God looked at you and said, “Hello gorgeous. I know you. I knew you before you were born. I knew you as you were formed in your mother’s womb and I love you. You are precious to me. I know the length of your days. I know your going out and your coming in. I know the laughter and the tears. I know the joy and the grief that you will live through and I will be with you throughout.”
And God is not a liar: God has not failed in that promise to you.
You give the gift of time. God gives you the gift of life before death.
Baptism is not a finishing line. Not a passport to heaven where we get to sit and eat plain yoghurt on a cloud while cherubs play harps. Baptism is an intentional moment of giving time to God and receiving God’s blessing in return. It is a starting point of a relationship with the eternal “I Am”.
Everyone, young and old, everyone, has a right to be baptised in their local parish church: and once we can open our buildings again it would be the biggest joy in the world for me to start baptising again in St James and St Bartholomew’s. We will be having dedicated Christening services where we focus on the family. Yes, they are public services, but probably about 30-40 minutes long on a Sunday afternoon for you and your friends and family to celebrate the gift of love that God gives us.
So I will be inviting, and I invite you to be invitational too – to invite everyone to come and receive the gift of life before death and the presence of the eternal with you.