Sermons for baptism services are a challenge; trying to explain something about baptism, be welcoming and challenging, and say something for people who have been committed Christians for many years isn’t always the easiest balancing act! (For me anyway; I’m sure that there are people who do it much better!).
The reading was Acts 16:16-34, and I used Bob Hartman’s version in the Lion Storyteller Bible. As with most of Hartman’s writing it is very good, engaging, and brings the passage to life. I have, of course, changed the name of the child being baptised.
Salvation; Reading: The Earth Shakes
Do you know that sinking feeling? That sinking feeling when you realise that things have gone wrong and there’s nothing you can do about? That sinking feeling when you’re trapped? Trapped having messed up or where someone else has made a mess that you’re trapped in?
That was the feeling the slave girl had – she was trapped.
That was the feeling that Paul and Silas had – they were in prison.
That was the feeling that the gaoler had – if his prisoners escaped he would die.
I hope that you haven’t had anything that serious happen to you, but there’s probably times when that’s the feeling that you’ve had. Things have gone wrong and there’s nothing that you can do about it.
The slave girl was freed by Paul and Silas, by the power that they had been given by God.
Paul and Silas were freed by God, freed from their prison cell.
The gaoler was freed by Paul and Silas, who chose to stay in prison.
The gaoler and his family were baptised. They were baptised because they heard the good news about Jesus. The gaoler and his whole family. That’s why we welcome Jessica to be baptised today, to be welcomed as a member of God’s world-wide family. Because this isn’t just about us as individuals.
We’ve seen the election results this week. People might not think that their individual choice can make any difference. But, together, those individual choices make a big difference. People are elected, people are given the power to spend millions because of people’s choices. Politicians can and do make a difference, can and do offer competing visions of the future from which we need to choose.
We’ve seen the football promotions and relegations this week. The best teams are the ones that are just that, teams. The worst ones are often a collection of individuals who don’t work properly together. As baptised members of God’s family we’re called to work together, to use our God-given gifts and talents for good and not for ourselves, to rely on God’s power not on our own strength.
The power of God changed things. And didn’t change things. The power of God freed the slave girl. But she remained a slave. The power of God freed Paul and Silas. But they stayed in prison. The power of God freed the gaoler. But he stayed a gaoler.
We’ve baptised Jessica into God’s world-wide family. We’re celebrating the light of Jesus that shines in the darkness and praying that Jessica’s life will also be a light that shines into the dark places. We’re relying on God’s promises that he will give us the help of his Holy Spirit, and that we can have eternal life. We’re praying that Jessica’s life journey and faith journey will be a walk towards God, not away from it. And we’re reminding ourselves that those are the challenges for each one of us too. Whether we’ve been a Christian for 50 years, or aren’t really sure what it means.
God’s power has released us from the power of evil and the fear of death. It isn’t a magic spell or lucky charm. It doesn’t stop bad stuff from happening. Paul and Silas were hurt and put in prison.
God’s power is for a future better than that any politician can imagine or promise. God’s power is for a present where we are not alone, where we are given help and gifts for ourselves and others in the dark times and in the times of joy and celebration like today as we celebrate Jessica’s baptism. God’s power is for a freedom from past hurts and guilt.
It’s not easy. It never is. Ask any of the teams that were promoted. Ask the politicians who were elected. Look back on your own life. Achievements require work. But we are promised God will be with us and help us through the gift of his Spirit. And it is about the adventure of walking with our loving, powerful God and the freedom that brings. Amen.