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Baptism Renewal Sunday

Trinity 15 BCP

16 September 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

We welcome back with joy all who return to St. George’s this morning to celebrate the links brought about through baptism in this lovely place. The invitation was an open one, but we sent out letters to all families who have been associated with this church since 1990 or thereabouts. Fr. Bill Atkins will have baptised many of you, and married your parents, but even after the modest changes during the time of Fr. John Slater and Fr. John Cullen I suspect the impression will be of continuity rather than drastic change. A very helpful parishioner kindly showed me a copy of the brief entry for St. George’s written just six few years before 1990, during Orwell’s well known year of 1984 in a book entitled ‘The Church in Crisis’ :

In its religion, St. George’s has moved slowly with the times, but remains conservative, as suits the respectable congregation. It is best described as ‘High and Dry’. The clergy are vested. The choir – of men and women – surpliced. The service used is Series 1, the least radical of the experimental services. On Passion Sunday, April 8th, there was a congregation of about sixty…largely middle-aged or old…and running to four fur coats. (I take back my comment regarding continuity in the midst of this youthful and vibrant company…and I know for sure we still run to haute couture…I continue) The music – Byrd and Lotti – was well performed; the sermon by the rector sound and dry. There was nothing vulgar about the service, nothing enthusiastic, rather it was dignified and devout. It satisfies a loyal congregation which would not be happy with casualness, spontaneity or trendiness.

I can almost guarantee that those of you who have been baptised here, will not have been done so using the trendy language I was rather surprised at, when I recently filled in at short notice for a friend who couldn’t do a baptism.

The whole point about baptism is that it is an incredibly serious moment of change and decision in any life. A time of repentance, being washed clean of sin, and rising regenerate to a new life in Christ. So important a moment it is that for quite some time in the early Church it was put off until the last minute, in case of committing sin afterwards. Death-bed conversions were not uncommon. Normally the decision of repentance – of turning to Christ and renouncing the devil and all his works – normally the language used in the baptism service is unequivocal. But clearly I was in a place that seemed at ease with a modicum of spontaneity and trendiness, and where issues of inclusive language had expunged as many references to God the Father and God the Son as possible. And so the key moment of decision comes.

‘Do you reject injustice, intolerance and indifference?’ (Mmm – yeah – I fink I do’) I think anybody can sign up to that one.

Do you reject the misuse of our creative energies for selfish purposes? (‘Wot’?)

Do you reject divisiveness and prejudice? (‘Aow – go orn then…divisiveness and prejudice…corse I reject ‘em)

Many clergy would certainly claim indifference to be a given in their parish life. And regrettably intolerance and divisiveness seem to be de rigeur within the wider Anglican so-called Communion…but laudable as it is to reject injustice, intolerance, indifference, selfishness, divisiveness and prejudice…this doesn’t come across to me as forcefully as repenting of my sins, and renouncing evil, and turning to Christ.

‘Do you believe in the mystery of God?’ was another question that was part of this baptism. No. I don’t. I believe in God. I believe in God, who is a mystery. Not the mystery of God. It all sounds too vague to me, too wishy washy, and in danger of being sub Christian.

I talked about all this with a friend who is a minister in a different Christian denomination, and took her point that the Church needs to be as user friendly as possible, and to meet people where they are, and to nurse and delicately nurture whatever little hint of faith people have – not putting them off with the sledge hammer of too much Church regulation and tradition when it comes to baptism. Not asking people to make Christian promises and say things they cannot in all conscience subscribe to. Personally, I’d rather people waited until they could make the full promises of baptism. But she would prefer people made honest statements of as much belief as they have, than pretend. Of course I understand this idea, but then we still face the problem of making that dramatic decision at baptism to turn towards God, and renounce the vain pomp and glory of this world. Today’s gospel reminds us of this choice as well.

You cannot serve God and Mammon. No man can serve two masters. To go too far in making no demands on ourselves or on others is to collude with the wrong headed notion that all religions (and none in some people’s eyes!) are the same. To give in to the modern orthodoxy that God is just an add-on lifestyle choice amongst others. An after-thought gloss applied after the serious business of making money and providing for the family. Café-style religion it has been described as…or diet religion for the diet age. Christianity-Lite if you like – borrowing from Pepsi. Or maybe it might be more fun to follow Coca Cola and speak of Christianity-Zero. Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

The whole message of today’s gospel echoes the first of the beatitudes that Jesus taught his followers during the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

Money is an insidious and savage master wielding its way over everything and everybody. Its pursuit has caused wars between nations and within families. In a society ever eager to shake off the yoke of religion, money displays its tyranny and its voracity. Instead of being enslaved by Mammon isn’t it time for us to shake off the chains which shackle us, and abandon ourselves to the one who never abandons us? Baptism is a moment of decision – of renouncing the devil and all his works – turning away from the vain pomp and glory of this world, with all its covetous desires – not following or being led by the carnal desires of the flesh…to use the language of the Book of Common Prayer. Our parents on our behalf, or we ourselves again at confirmation, renounced the whole list. We are asked to live a life of complete trust in the midst of universal insecurity…to exchange our daily anxieties and worries for the single concern of seeking the kingdom of God and helping to bring it in. Holy builders of justice, tolerance, concern, generosity towards others, unity and forgiveness to echo the language of that rather trendier baptism service I poked fun at.

And so we come in a moment to profess our baptismal faith…our belief and trust in God the Father who made the world…God the Son who saves and redeems the world…and in the Holy Spirit who gives life to us and to all the universe…as we join in singing the Creed shortly.
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