Baptism is how we are welcomed into God’s world-wide family. It’s an important step on our journey of faith. But, how to help people grasp something of that at a baptism service is something of a challenge! This is my latest attempt.
This is a re-worked version of my sermon Salvation, with a different emphasis and a slightly different reading. As usual, I’ve changed the name of the child being baptised. I’ve also written about some of the difficulties in translating verse 34, which informed the reading and my approach, but I didn’t refer to!
Baptism; Reading: Acts 16:22-34
This week, Nicola Sturgeon and Sadiq Khan were elected, along with a whole lot of other people. Nicola Sturgeon as first minister of Scotland and Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London. We’ve seen the election results this week across the country. 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’re seeing that very clearly at the moment in some of the appalling campaigns that went on.
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 Amy 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. Baptism is about being drawn into the church, about becoming part of something larger than ourselves.
Because, also this week, in one of the more improbable results, Leicester City are Premiership Champions. Meanwhile, Burton only need to draw today to be promoted. The best teams are the ones that are just that, teams, as Leicester showed when Vardy was injured. The worst teams are often a collection of individuals who don’t work properly together. Chelsea, I’m looking at you! 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.
Yesterday, quite a few of us gathered together to for a Vision Day, a chance to pray and think about what God is asking us to do as a church next. It was a great opportunity to share ideas and encourage each other, to do things that we couldn’t do on our own.
We heard in the reading that the power of God changed things. This is all that remains of the gaol where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, and which was later turned into a church. That’s a good image of what God is about really. Transforming prisons into churches. The power of God freed Paul and Silas. But the chose to stay in prison, so that the gaoler could see both the power and love of God. God’s power and love works in us and through us. We have choices that we need to make over how we live, what we do and don’t do. The adventure of following Jesus is that together we can discover what God is wanting us to be and do and that together we can discover more about his love and power.
So we’re going to baptise Amy into God’s world-wide family. We’re celebrating the light of Jesus that shines in the darkness and praying that Amy’s life will also be a light that shines into the dark places. As a symbol of that we will give her a candle and pray that with God’s power she will shine as a light in the world. And that’s also a reminder to the rest of us that we’re called to shine as lights in the world too. And as we do so we can rely 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 Amy’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 plus, 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. But, God’s power is for a future better than that any politician can imagine or promise. God’s love is for a present where we are not alone, where we are given help and gifts for ourselves and others. God’s love and power is with us, both in the dark times and in the times of joy and celebration like today as we celebrate Amy’s baptism. God’s power is for a freedom from past hurts and guilt.
That isn’t always easy. Ask the teams that are champions. 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 difference and freedom that brings. Amen.