SERMON FOR 9TH JUNE 2013: EVERYDAY MIRACLES
This morning we have heard the story of a child’s miraculous healing when a prophet prayed for him, a miraculous conversion when Paul changed from persecuting Christians to being an apostle, and a miraculous raising when Jesus brought the widow’s son back from the dead.
That may seem like enough miracles for one morning, but we have another one to celebrate now: the constantly repeated miracle that still remains fresh each time it happens, and that is the gift of a new life. Dan and Anneke and their family and friends have brought Olivia to church to be baptized and to give thanks for the amazing gift of becoming parents.
Look around for a moment and think about the people you see today in church. Every one of us represents an everyday miracle, a new life that came into the world, bringing a great mix of emotions to our parents, including most probably a mixture of joy, terror, relief, thanksgiving and pride.
Approximately 370,000 babies are born every day on this planet, but the miracle never dims. Even midwives with years of experience of delivering babies every day of their working lives will tell you that their emotion about it never becomes dulled. Each time it is a new creation, the world made new once more by God’s grace.
I am glad that here at St Mary’s, although we do have Sunday afternoon baptisms when the family prefers it, we encourage our congregation members to bring their children to the font in the middle of a parish eucharist. This has several advantages. The child is welcomed by name into the whole local household of God and everyone prays for her and her parents in their new responsibilities – that is a benefit for the baby and her family. But the rest of us benefit too. We get to celebrate an everyday miracle. We are reminded of the sheer amazing fact of our existence, which is not a necessary fact but pure unbounded grace overflowing from God’s love. And we participate in a reminder of our own baptism, which is our call to live as witnesses to that love.
Yesterday the PCC had an Awayday and we did Bible study on several passages about ministry. We thought about what Jesus said about his own ministry in Luke 4, when he uttered his manifesto in his hometown synagogue. He said he had come to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. All very well for the Messiah to say this, we might think, but it’s not our job.
But later we looked at the passage in Mark’s gospel when Jesus warned James and John that being his disciples isn’t all about sitting about on thrones and being special: he told them that he had come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many, and asked them if they were ready to do the same. OK, but they were specially chosen and commissioned as apostles, weren’t they? A different class of Christian from us.
But finally we looked at Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! So we are ambassadors for Christ.’ Paul won’t let us off the hook. This is not just about Jesus, or just about his special band of disciples. If we are in Christ, in other words if we have been baptised, then we are a new creation. Not just the everyday miracle of birth, but the new, extra miracle of becoming a member of God’s royal household. Once we have gone through the water of baptism, even as an infant with others speaking for us, we are in Christ, in a new and eternal relationship with God. And who knows where that will lead us?
It’s not too late, Dan and Anneke – you can still pick Olivia up and make a run for it! If you are staying in your seats, then you have made the choice for your child of the best that you can offer. You and every other mother and father here today want to give good things to our children – good things to feed them and protection from all that can cause harm. And terrifying though it may be when we read about discipleship in the Bible, God in infinite love wants to give us the best thing of all – the Holy Spirit of Christ that draws us into the life of the Trinity.
That is on offer this morning. It is not the work of a single moment like Elijah breathing life back into the widow’s son. It is the gift of a lifetime. It is a gift and calling that must be unpacked and used, slowly and repeatedly and with many false starts and stops. Over the next nine months or so Olivia will learn to walk by first of all rolling, squirming and crawling, probably backwards to her immense frustration, and then by starting to pull herself up with the help of the furniture.
We too learn to walk as Christians by crawling and stumbling, going backwards, falling down, screaming with rage, bumping ourselves again and again, until we trust the process enough to walk confidently on our two legs in the amazing discovery that we have become bipeds.
God is a tender parent and will pick us up each time we fall. But God is also a wise parent who knows that we need to learn for ourselves how to trust and how to take risks. The more bruises we get, the faster we learn, and the further we can travel.
No parent wants their child to remain huddled in the nest for ever. Even we baby boomers, the parents of the boomerang generation who cannot afford to leave home, long for the day when our adult children will be fully independent. And God desires for us the full stature of Christ, the complete humanity that we grow into when we appropriate our baptism in every part of our life.
That may mean risking everything for the gospel. Jesus showed us what ministry can lead to. His first disciples, after plenty of false starts, followed in the same path. And countless Christians down the centuries have offered the service of their whole lives in response to their baptism.
In just a few minutes I am going to ask Olivia’s parents and godparents, and all of you in this congregation, some very tough questions. Take just a moment to recall that all of us have the mark of the cross on our foreheads from our own baptism. Three weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday we were reminded of this when we were anointed with chrism as a sign that we have received God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
Three days ago, Malcolm and Steve stood up in St Paul’s Cathedral along with 900 other churchwardens and swore an oath to undertake their task as a spiritual calling, seeking through the power of the Holy Spirit to promote faith in Jesus Christ and peace and unity in his Church.
Every Sunday, having received Communion, we offer God our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice, and ask to be sent out in the power of the Spirit to live and work to God’s praise and glory.
We are not members of a club, who once admitted have nothing further to do. We are not an audience who come to enjoy the liturgy and music prepared by others. We are, rather, the holy people of God, a royal priesthood, part of the community of the baptized who incarnate Christ on earth in this generation and are ready to act in his name.
In the power of the everyday miracle of God’s gift of life and faith, can you answer with confidence, alongside Olivia’s parents and godparents, I believe and trust in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?