So apart form being away from home, trying to sort out a final draft of the wedding sermon & get ready for Sunday (given that Saturday is all mush too exciting!), I'm fairly relaxed this week!
here is first draft of Sunday's (baptism) service:
If you stop to think about almost anything you do in life it can seem a bit strange. I spend quite a bit of my leisure time staring at an electrical device which produces a changing patterns of dots on a screen – we call it television: it brings me news reports, amazing scenery, and the everyday goings-on in Albert square, to inform & entertain me.
And then there’s church – singing together, listening to a book which is thousands of years old, and perhaps oddest of all – sprinkling water on a baby.
Why do we do it? What does God want from us?
Well there are people who might say that God wants us to be good.
Help old people across the road, remember birthdays, come to church, that sort of thing. These are the sort of people who talk about religious duty, or about being a ‘good church-goer’. But actually Jesus never said anything about going to church.
In the gospel reading we heard Jesus getting into trouble with the religious authorities of his day for not sticking to some of the religious rules. Jesus followers are criticised for not performing a ritual washing of their hands before eating. The point of the criticism is not about washing dirt off, but about obeying rules to show that their hands were clean in God’s sight. Their answer to the question ‘what does God want from us’ is “God wants clean hands and a pure heart”.
They believed that God wanted them to be clean, to be part of the club who followed careful rules about what to touch and what not to touch, what to eat and what not to eat, even how to wash your hands, and food and pots and pans.
But Jesus says that he is more concerned about how people really live their lives, not whether they’re sticking to rules about being clean. Jesus wants people to know they are loved – he wants them to open themselves to God’s love which does not depend on them following any rules. Then when a person is open to God’s love, they will live a life which is loving to others.
So this baptism of Jessica is not about washing her clean, about us doing something so that God will love her. We only use a small amount of water, because it’s only a symbol of the way in which God’s love is there for her. We are acknowledging something that God has already done for Jessica and for every one of us here. God’s love was there the moment she was born – and it will be there for her every step of her life – a love that can fill her and change her and make her more clean and new than any washing could ever do.
What does God want from us?
To accept the love he wants to pour out on us, and to allow that love to change us. James writes, in his letter
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.”
We don’t care for others so that God will love us: God’s love in our lives enable sus to respond by being loving. Coming here to church is about being reminded of God’s love, in our worship, in our Bible readings, in our hymns, and in this baptism. When we remember how loved we are we become better people, who live as God made us to live. Or as Jesus puts it – we learn to love God and love others.
We pray that Jessica will learn to do both those things.
By the grace of God. Amen