In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen
All things being well, we will be baptising the newest and youngest member of the church family this Sunday in the service at St Peter and St Paul church. I say all things being well, because of being on holiday and recording these thoughts a bit ahead of time and in today’s topsy turvey world – who knows if we will or we wont do things a few weeks away!
2020 has been a very unusual year in which to be born, I want us to imagine what we might want to say in a few years times – to our little one being baptised today about the circumstances of the year of her birth. By that time she would be old enough to understand sufficiently (in her teens perhaps – when she will be preparing for confirmation and taking on a faith commitment for herself). By then we will have foresight and hindsight and somehow all that besets us currently will have moved on to the next big thing and then the next.
Interestingly as with all things in the future we just don’t know how it will all pan out for us and for her. Will even the words sound strange? – coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, face coverings. Or will they all still be with us part of how things always are by then.
Despite this in our strange times it has been a time to take stock and work out what matters in our life (and not some of the things that had taken too much prominence that were just glitter and froth!)
For once it would probably be easier to be talking about our faith instead of talking about the times around our little one’s birth because what it means to have faith is constant. In talking about why having faith in God matters with a young person preparing for confirmation, we would be on stronger and more certain ground and would probably find it easier to string the words together.
Why faith matters to us and what it is all about in our day to day life – This kind of statement is what Paul is doing in our extract from the letter to the Romans this morning. One of my commentaries described this passage as being like a string of beads – like these.
The beads are each of the pithy sayings in that passage that will help us live our faith well. Pearls of wisdom like let love be genuine, rejoice in hope, and weep with those who weep. The string that binds the beads together is God’s love for us. Showing us a way to live well following the example of Jesus. These are all things we will want the little one we are baptising to know, experience and grow in to in her walk of faith.
We want her to experience love that is genuine, people outdoing one another in showing honour and serving the Lord. We want these things to be foremost in her walk from this day and as she grows. It is the responsibility of her parents and godparents to particularly help in this but also the responsibility of her church family to support and aid them in their endeavour, and to be encouraging everyone in their walk of faith.
The very first phrase ‘let love be genuine’ could be the heading for this whole reading. The first half about how we should be as the body of Christ his church, and the second how we should be with our wider society – showing we are Christian by our love.
It is always worth digging into to which word is being used for love in that phrase let love be genuine. In our language we have one word for love, in the languages of the Bible there are many – which are used differently. The word used here is the intimate sort of love – conjugal love between a man and a woman. Love that made our little one in the first place in the heart of God’s love for us, but also to indicate the intimate relationship we now have with God through the death of Jesus and the work of the Spirit in us.
We know the difference between love that is sincere or genuine and love that isn’t too! It can be deeply hurtful when we find that in our human relationships when love we thought was sincere and genuine turns out to be a façade or fake!! We will not experience this in our love for God – because his love is the source of all love we experience surrounds us, fills us and overflows. Our little one being baptised on this day is a beloved child of God as are we all beloved children of God – we may be a little older and sometimes wiser, but God never stops loving us – with genuine and sincere love. Love for us in this life and the next whenever our time comes.
The depths in this Romans passage would be well worth reflecting on further; for both our community life as a church and our life in the world. Paul does not make out the going will always be easy in either sphere. Be patient in suffering for example or bless those who persecute you. There is a particularly strong section about not avenging or taking revenge. The old 2 wrongs don’t make a right adage is helpful.
There is also much there to build us up and encourage each other. So important in our days and so important for the little one we baptise today as she grows in the faith from this day. Encouragements to
Rejoice in hope
Persevere in prayer
Outdo one another in showing honour
Honour is a bit of an old-fashioned concept – respect, value, cherish might be good ways to understand it. I have bought our little one a bracelet to mark this special day. Obviously not for now, but as a keep sake of her baptism. Her family will be able to remind her of these beads of teaching. The beads themselves are from Nazareth (where Jesus grew up) and the string holding them together represents God’s love for us all. The beads form a circle which reminds us of the never ending love God has for us – for yesterday, today and forever. I have put this passage from Romans in with it, in the most child friendly version I could find.
Those near enough will see there is one other bead on the bracelet which is a little cross to remind us of the saving love of Jesus. For as we heard in our gospel passage Jesus said If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
This symbolises the cross bringing new life and genuine love for this little one and for all of us Amen The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995