This sermon was given by Rev Deborah at St Margaret’s on Sunday 12 May 2019 – and the service featured a baptism.
Today is a very special day because in a few minutes Katie will be baptised. It’s a special day for her, even though she won’t remember it, for her parents and godparents and for the rest of us, too. Because we are adding a new member to the Christian church. She is joining not just St Margaret’s, not just the Church of England, but the whole church of Christians everywhere. Angela and Richard, you are not alone in the important and perhaps daunting task of bringing up Katie in the Christian faith. Not only do you have the help of the godparents, but everyone here is going to promise to support you and to encourage Katie in her new life of faith.
We all belong to different groups for different things. Some of us are sociable people, who like to join clubs and societies, or who have large friendship groups. Some prefer to keep themselves to themselves, and rely on close family and a few friends. But a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. One of the reasons that Brexit has been such a difficult issue is because people have different senses of their identity as citizens. Do you consider yourself a European? Or do you feel a natural affinity with English speaking nations? Or do you see yourself as English, or British, and don’t want to identify too strongly with anyone beyond our islands? This isn’t a question of politics as such, its about our identities as citizens and the deep emotions that go with that. But as well as those loyalties, Christians have a higher loyalty to the church, by which I mean not a building, a congregation or a denomination but all people everywhere who proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. Some of us enjoy the social aspects of church life – meals together, trips out listening to speakers or just chatting over a cup of coffee. Others enjoy worship but for them that is enough – at the end of the service they are happy to shake hands and come back next week. But either way, baptised into the Body of Christ we have a fundamental loyalty not just to God, but to each other.
One aspect of that life is learning together about God and the Bible, so every week we hear the Bible read, we say together the creed that sums up what we believe about God our creator, Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit who speaks to us in our hearts. We listen to sermons, that explain the Bible for us and help us to relate it to our everyday lives, and for the children we have the Sunday School so that they can learn these things, too. The other side of the coin is trust – we not only believe in God, but we trust him, too. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday when we remember that Jesus looks after us in the same way a shepherd looks after his sheep. Jesus knows each of us by name, and that we can recognise his voice in our lives. One thing that we can be sure of is that Katie, like everyone of us will have ups and downs I her life. Jesus the shepherd will lead her beside the still waters, and there will be times of peace and joy in her life, but in the dark days, the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus will be there, too, holding her hand as he holds the hand of each of us every day. We believe in God, but more than that, we believe that Jesus will hold us in the power of his hand.
Now, I don’t know what Katie’s family have planned for the rest of the day, but I’m guessing it will involve eating and drinking! We often mark the important events in our lives with a meal together. Whether it’s a Christening, a wedding or just a birthday. We are often told these days how sad it is that families find it difficult to sit down and eat at the same time, because we recognise the power that eating and drinking together has to reinforce our togetherness. Week by week we come together on a Sunday morning, not just to learn and to pray, but to share together the bread and the wine. By eating the one bread and drinking from the one cup we are proclaiming our unity both with Christ and with each other. One day Katie can decide for herself whether she wants to repeat the promises made on her behalf today, at a service that we call confirmation, which marks the desire to be fully included in the life of the church. That might be in a few years, it might be as an adult. Until then she can up to the altar rail for a prayer of blessing said especially for her. So, can I encourage everyone today to come forward at communion, to receive the bread and wine if that is your practice here or in any other church, or to receive a blessing, a short prayer for the good things of God in your life.
And lastly there is the exciting question about what sort of person will Katie be? We want so many things for our children. Perhaps we would like them to succeed at school, to be popular and have lots of friends, to get good jobs, settle down and maybe have families of their own. But none of those things are in our control. Nor will we value them any the less if things work out differently from those that we would choose. But what we can give them, by what we say, but much more by our example, is a set of values to live by. The Church of Christ is a community of people who seek to put love at the centre of our lives. We fail again and again, but that is our deepest desire – to love God and to love each other. We believe that every human being is a child of God, and as such commands our respect whatever they do or say. And above all we are committed to loving the ones who are on the margins of society – the poor, the mentally ill and the homeless, for example, for these are the ones who Jesus sought out and called his friends. I’m not talking here about sentimental feelings, but about a commitment to justice, compassion and respect. And those attitudes extend beyond the human race, to animals, plants and the whole of creation. We pray that Katie will grow into both a happy child, and one who follows the example and teaching of Jesus to make love the centre of her life.
And as we pray these things for Katie, it is time to remind ourselves, too, of why each one of us is here. Together we believe in the God who is our shepherd and keeps us safe in the palm of his hand. We belong to him and through him to each other, and so we behave in ways that are a witness to the love we have for God and for all of his creation. As Angela, Richard and Katie’s godparents make promises on her behalf, let’s turn our hearts to God and make those promises again for ourselves.
And now the moment we have all been waiting for – it’s time to welcome our newest member of the church.