Homily for a Baptism

John 10:7 – 15

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

Paul's response to Jesus in Romans 8:31 – 39

 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.* 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


What is it that we have actually done here today in this baptism?

We've said it means God loves Evie May. Indeed it concerns all of us who are here today, not just Evie May; God loves those of us who are in this building for the very first time, and those of us who've been coming here Sunday after Sunday for 50 years. In fact, God even loves the folk who will never come in here, too. But what does that mean?

Baptism is not just words and water. It's a promise. It's the promise that's in the reading from John 10 where Jesus says, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly." Some translations say, so "that you might have life in all its fullness."

But let's put this in really cold, hard, on-the-ground practical terms. Climate models predict we’re currently on track for an average global temperature rise of somewhere between 3C and 4C by the year 2100.  When Evie May is my age, 65, she'll be living in a fundamentally different world,  where climate scientists openly wonder about the very survival of our civilisation. The Emeritus Director of the Potsdam Institute... warns that “climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.” He says that if we continue down the present path “there is a very big risk that we'll will just end our civilisations. The human species will survive somehow but we'll destroy almost everything we have built up over the last two thousand years."  In 2018, Rear Admiral Chis Barrie told an Australian Senate inquiry that "after nuclear war, human- induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet." ((Breeze,N.2018.“It’s non-linearity, stupid”,​The Ecologist​,3 January 2019, accessed 18 March 2019, https://theecologist.org/2019/jan/03/its-nonlinearity- stupid) quoted in Existential Climate Related Security Risk.)

So how can there be any good news in this?   (And how can we fundamentally change the way we live as a people?) The good news is that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how terrible it is, no matter how awful, God loves Evie Mae. And in the words of the second reading that we heard, nothing on earth, nothing in all creation, neither height nor depth nor anything else... can separate Evie Mae from the love of God. And this does not only apply to a little girl called Evie Mae. It applies to you and to me. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.

And it gets better. What the reading from John's Gospel said was, "I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly." This is not about... money. And it's not about being affluent and pretending there is no problem with the world.  It's about life, and the meaning of life.

Think about the American president, Mr Trump: he has an unconscionable amount of money. But if you look at the man we see on the television and in the newspapers, what we see is a man who... doesn't have a life. What we have seen in these past couple of years is an extended tantrum from a 4 year old, who also just happens to be 70, who thinks that because he's got lots of money, that  people should love him, and that he can buy their love. He is the walking definition of an unhappy, unfulfilled man. He's petulant, spoiled... and miserable. As we say here in Australia, "he hasn't got a life." The man we see in the media shows no sign of what John's Gospel calls... abundant life. And whatever we may feel about his policies, he is someone to be pitied in his lostness.

So we're not talking about that a life with lots of money. What we are saying in the church is that no matter what goes wrong, no matter how terrible it is, there is meaning, and purpose, and direction, in this life that God has given us. This doesn't mean that bad things won't happen to us. You only have to look at all the Christian people being persecuted all over the world in this century, and the one before, and all the ones before that, to see that's not true.

God is not offering us that kind of magic, pretend protection— we will live with Evie Mae into a fight for humanity's very survival during the next decades. But God is inviting us, and enabling us, to be able to see the world with new eyes; God offers Evie Mae a life where she can see the world as God sees it, and love it as God loves it. This is the life of a person who knows at the bottom of her soul, that she is loved... and that her being is secure. This is about knowing that no matter what happens, no matter how much we have failed, no matter how much we have stuffed things up in our life, or how much terrible stuff has been done to us, we still belong to God, and our life will be made whole.

This is something almost beyond our comprehension. Those of us who have been traumatised can very easily feel that there is no getting over it. We can't imagine a life without whatever it was... intruding into our days and undermining any happiness. But my experience is... that there is healing of such things.

Here is something that might give us a glimmer of understanding about how God can change us and make life abundant. Think about Paige's life in the last few months.  I am guessing that Paige had ideas about what it would be like to be a mother... just as I once had ideas about what it might be like to be a father. Although I suspect the experience is far richer from a Mum's point of view.

When this little girl was born, Paige, did you not find a new love within you that was deeper than anything that you ever imagined? I remember when my daughter— our first child— was born. I saw my wife holding her as she lay on the on the bed in the delivery ward, and I have never seen such deep love. Get between her and our daughter and you may as well be between a mother Grizzly and its cub. Something was changed in that woman.

Paige, in birthing this little girl, you have felt something of the love of God which walks with us through life. It's that love which is seeking to grow us all, so that we can love like that, and so that we can have a stability, and a depth, and a compassion, and a sense of the goodness of things, that transcends the everyday life in which we live. And which transcends the horrible things that can happen in that everyday life.

Where does that end up?  We are being offered a life that you often see in an old grannie. I'm thinking of one of those women who went through hell getting out of Europe after the Second World War, or who lived through pirate attacks on a boat from Vietnam. And now she's got horrible arthritis and lives with pretty much constant pain... and yet somehow... she always has time and room for a grandchild, and can make them feel at ease, and safe, in a frightening world. It's the kind of life which not only trusts in God, but which has already glimpsed the Glory of Heaven... and lives on its edges. This is the life which is being offered to us all.

You know, sometimes people want to say about that Grannie, "Doesn't she see how bad things are!?" And she says, "Can't you see how much we are loved even in all this?" She sees the world with God's eyes— that's the gift offered to us in baptism.

But there is one more thing to say. We live in a world where we're used to the idea that if we want something, we just go and buy it. And if we want to know something, we just look it up on the internet, or if we are really old fashioned, we just go to the library and find it in a book. And then we'll know how to do it.

Life with God doesn't quite work like that. Life with God is about becoming. It's about learning now. It's about practising living... really. It's about practising living the way Jesus lived.

And what happens with that,  is that  we can get to the age of 65 or 70, like President Trump, and we can find that what we've learned to do— what we've spent our lives practising—  is not much more than being a bully, and  being an eternal 4 year old having a tantrum.  

Or... ... we can find that we've actually become... a person something like that wonderful, wise old grandma... full of love, who somehow has peace in the most difficult of circumstances, even without all the President's money. We can't buy that life. It's given to us. It's been given to Evie Mae; that's what we celebrated today. We have to let that life grow in us, and if we focus on money and success instead of a life lived loving, that life can't grow in us very well.

The gift of being like that Grandma is what we are celebrating today. God is saying to Evie, God is saying to Paige and to Jonathan, and God is saying to me, and to you, "Jesus Christ has come that you may have life in all its fullness, in all its abundance. Follow him. Live like him. Learn what that means."

Don't just concentrate on the money. You know where that leads.  Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life, and life in all its abundance. And nothing, not the American president, not climate change, not even death, can separate you from that love of God. Amen

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Superb Message of Hope in Dark Times
Judith Stark 11-06-2019
This is a much-appreciated Reflection, Andrew - not only will it give hope to others, it gives hope to me! This is a "Keeper Sermon" that I will adapt in your name for future needs. Thank you so much from the Northern Hemisphere!

Re: ... Dark Times
Andrew 12-06-2019
Thank you Judith. I'm glad it's helpful. Andrew

Re: Dark Times
Andrew 14-06-2019
Judith, I’ve updated a bit of the sermon, a few minor changes, plus this, part way through: You know, sometimes people want to say about that Grannie, "Doesn't she see how bad things are!?" And she says, "Can't you see how much we are loved even in all this?" She sees the world with God's eyes— that's the gift offered to us in baptism. ... and a couple of other bits, too. Andrew

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