Baptism Sermon - Trinity 13 - Luke 15.1-10
During this significant week of new beginnings it seems particularly apt that we gather today not just to celebrate the Eucharist or to give thanks for the faith and service of our late Queen, but to welcome a new member into our Church family. Today, we gather together to celebrate Harry’s baptism.
Baptism, the rite of initiation into the Christian community, is, of course, regarded as the beginning of a new life. Rooted in Jewish purification rituals, it is a ceremony which assumed the role of rite of initiation into the covenant which had been, and is, the purpose of circumcision in Judaism. In Judaism it is traditional for a male child to receive his first name at his circumcision and in more recent times specific naming ceremonies have been devised (in part developed to accommodate girls) with some including the ritual of immersing the baby in water or the washing of the baby’s feet. That “naming of the baby” we find reflected in our baptism service in which the names of the candidate are said aloud during the act of baptising.
In addition to marking, as one writer puts it, “a radical change of moral and spiritual perspective” in which sins are forgiven, old ways abandoned and believers experience the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, (with immersion in water a reminder of Christ’s burial and the emerging out of it a reminder of his resurrection), baptism also represents the affirmation of belonging to the Christian community, the community with which Jesus himself identified when he accepted baptism by John the Baptist.
At our baptism we become part of Christ’s victory, being taken through it into Christ and his conquest of death.
But what of the community into which we are baptised? And what of the nature of the God which that community worships?
Our Gospel reading today reveals something of both. It focuses on two well known parables, those of the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Read just a little further in Luke’s Gospel and you’ll also encounter the more famous parable of The Prodigal Son).
In the parable of the lost sheep we read of the level of care and investment of the shepherd and the lengths he is prepared to go to for just one member of his large flock. Each individual matters. Each is valued.
It’s important to remember that, in stark contrast to the society in which we live today, in Jesus’ world individuality was almost unknown. Corporate identity was such a strong phenomenon that Jesus’ preaching the importance of each individual would have been a radical message indeed. The parable of the lost sheep is an object lesson to the disciples to care for the weaker members of God’s flock.
In the parable of the lost coin we note the small value of the lost coin which might not look much to us but which was clearly of great importance and value to the woman who searched for it. Likewise, those who might not appear to us to be of great value are of supreme importance to God. People are equally valued by Him, no matter how society views or treats them.
Both of the parables begin with a “loss” with great care taken in the searching before the joy of finding is experienced. According to one writer, “being found” would be heard by Christians in Luke’s time as either a call to “welcome” others, or as the experience of having been “welcomed” into a church that is inclusive. Of note is that whilst the first parable very much references the male world of shepherding, the second speaks more to the women of the time. God welcomes all who fear Him.
One theme which emerges from Jesus’ parables is his treasuring of the ordinary and the everyday. Nothing and no one is ever too ordinary for God. (Queen or Cleaner, Prince or Pauper, He values us all just the same).
But both these two parables are also parables of joy, with the importance of celebration (when the lost are found and sinners return to the fold) being clearly highlighted. .
Now I don’t know if you’ve lost anything lately, but I was recently reminded of the simple pleasure occasioned by finding something which has been lost. Just before my Summer holiday I was locking up the house when I couldn’t find one of the back door keys. We searched high and low, emptying drawers, checking all manner of unlikely places, scouring the floors, lifting up cushions…. You name it. We looked there. As time passed, and the need to hit the motorway grew, we locked up using a spare key, puzzling what might have happened to the original and worrying that somehow it may have found its way into a bin. On our return from holiday we searched again, to no avail.
Some weeks later, in the course of having a bit of a clear out and defrosting the fridge, I found it………… underneath some ice lollies… in the freezer! It was only a small key (and we had a spare) but I tell you I danced for joy! I immediately called upstairs to my son who was equally delighted by the news.
The woman in the parable of the lost coin displays that same kind of joy, calling together her friends and neighbours to tell them that the small coin has been found, exclaiming “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” For joy, of course, is contagious, something we want to share with others, as opposed to being something to savour alone.
Welcoming someone into our Christian family is an occasion of great joy. We may face many trials and sorrows in our lives but welcoming others into (or back into) the faith we share is always a cause for great celebration. It is a particular joy to have Harry and his parents Alex and Alice (and of course his grandparents and other relatives) with us today.
In a week of profound sadness for many, it is more important than ever for us to savour such moments of joy. Our nation has just lost a Queen who shared our Christian faith and who many have described as having been a constant in the backdrop of their lives. Her passing has provoked not just sadness, but anxiety and discomfort in uncertain times as we face serious challenges ahead. As Christians we can, as she did, take comfort in our faith in an eternal and unchanging God, a God who loves and values each and every one of us, a God for whom social status is irrelevant, a God who grieves when we are lost, but rejoices when we are found.
On this special occasion for Harry and his family I’m going to end with a poem I address to him, but the words of which I think speak to us all.
Begin the Day - by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Begin each morning with a talk to God,
And ask for your divine inheritance
Of usefulness, contentment, and success.
Resign all fear, all doubt, and all despair.
The stars doubt not, and they are undismayed,
Though whirled through space for countless centuries,
And told not why or wherefore: and the sea
With everlasting ebb and flow obeys,
And leaves the purpose with the unseen Cause.
The star sheds radiance on a million worlds,
The sea is prodigal with waves, and yet
No lustre from the star is lost, and not
One drop is missing from the ocean tides.
Oh! brother to the star and sea, know all
God’s opulence is held in trust for those
Who wait serenely and who work in faith.
Richard Young (Rector)