Hello! Well today is a very happy occasion! We have gathered to celebrate the baptism of a baby, with her parents, her grandparents, her Godparents and all her family and friends; and it’s a real delight for the Church to celebrate with you all! In baptism we aim to give children the best spiritual start in life that we can.
Children are baptized at the back of the Church building; the font is traditionally located near the entrance to the Church, because baptism symbolises entry into the Church. And part of what we are doing today is welcoming a child, baby though she still is, as a full member of the Church of God. Today in baptism, this child will receive the Holy Spirit.
She will be signed with the sign of the Cross in oil, an old tradition representing wholeness and healing. And then baptised with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, which represents dying to sin, and rising to new life with Jesus Christ.
At the end of the service, she will receive a lighted candle to represent the light of Christ in the world, a reminder to us all to go out into the world and share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Church is for people of all ages – and Jesus made a special priority of welcoming children.
Nevertheless, some of the language we use in our Service is quite grown up. And, intelligent though this child no doubt is, it will be a few years yet, before she appreciates its significance. In a moment or two we shall be making our way to the Font, when her parents and Godparents will make six weighty declarations on her behalf.
Parents and Godparents pledge on her behalf that they will reject the devil; renounce evil; turn from sin; and submit to Christ as Lord; as truth and as Saviour. Before she is even a year old, this child is being committed into a particular religious and ethical sense of direction in the world. Well some might say it’s a little premature to be laying such a heavy burden on such a young and innocent child.
However, when little ones start developing teeth, we teach them to clean their teeth. We buy them a little toothbrush that will encourage them to clean their teeth. (I have bought a little pink one as a gift for this child, to remind her and her parents of her Baptismal Day and their promises). Teeth are always a problem, aren’t they? They hurt when they’re coming, they certainly hurt when they’re going, and we’ve only got to clean them while we have them.
But after encouraging children to use a toothbrush, we then ‘insist’ that they use it every day!
We don’t say “We’ll leave it until they’re grown up, then they can decide whether they want to clean their teeth or not!” No, we start them off by getting them into good habits! The same principle applies to the Christian Faith, and moral questions. All children are a little uncivilized really, until we teach them otherwise, often one of the first things they learn to do is pull your hair and poke your eyes!
Children also need to be taught how to share their toys with other children. We teach them what belongs to them and what belongs to others, and that taking someone else’s things is stealing, and a thing you get punished for. We teach them to tell the truth, and that not telling the truth is lying. We don’t say, “Well, we won’t bother with all that! Let them decide when they’re adult whether they want to be selfish or unselfish, honest or dishonest, truthful or untruthful people.” We don’t do that!
And it’s a bit like that in the Christian Faith, the reality is that the world in which children will be growing up, is one that is full of uncertainty, disagreement and moral conflict. This world is not perfect, it’s a world in which each of us has to stand our ground somewhere, and here and now this child is being committed to stand as a baptized Christian, with all that that entails.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus is out on the lake when a storm blows up and the boat was filling with water, the disciples wake Jesus up shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!!”, and Jesus rebukes them saying, “Where is your faith?”.
The disciples were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” You see, as much as Jesus loved his disciples, he stands his ground, when he says to them, “Where is your faith?”
Today, at the heart of several ‘professions’, we also find the commitment to live according to a ‘promise’ – e.g. in the Law, in the field of Medicine, even in the Armed Forces. And there was a time not so very long ago when ‘Banking’ was founded on a ‘promise’: “My word is my bond!”. Entry into ‘The Professions’ normally required a commitment to live and act according to a ‘promise’.
So too, this child is today undertaking to live according to a ‘promise’. It will be the first significant promise of her young life, albeit her parents and Godparents are taking on the Promises for her. Other promises may lie ahead for her – e.g. professional vows, marriage vows one day perhaps, but these fundamental baptismal promises made today underlie all of them, and it gives to her, as it gives to all Christian people, a fundamental religious and moral sense of direction in life.
Today, this child’s parents and Godparents are making the ‘promises’ together; upholding each other in the ‘promises’ they are making for her; and we as a Church; we also ‘promise’ to uphold her in her new life.
However, as Christians there will be times when we do have to make a stand, to stand up and be counted. Sometimes it will be necessary to put our head above the parapet! There will be occasions when, we must say: “This is where I stand, no sorry, I can’t be moved on this one!”. And this child’s parents may well have to do that on her behalf from time to time during her young life.
When those moments come, and they come for us all from time to time, may God keep each one of us faithful to our Baptismal Promises and may each of us, whatever our ‘calling’ in life, do our best to live out the Christian values of Jesus Christ in the world today.
The Rev'd Jackie Fish, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 24/02/19