17 June 2018
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Revd Jonathan Cain
2 Corinthians 5: 6-17; Mark 4: 26-34
We welcome young children into this service occasionally, one such occasion being when we have a baptism like today. So welcome to Alfie and to his parents, Caroline and Guy, Alfie’s brother Henry, and their family. Alfie is six months old, and I want to spend a few minutes thinking about his life so far …
Of course his parents have something, quite a bit in fact to do with him being here, and yet most of what we see in Alfie has little to do with them. The creative mysteries that caused cells to divide into bone, muscle, ligament and organ, and then to take shape as arms, legs, head, hands, feet, fingers, toes, brain, heart, lungs and myriad other organs, don’t depend on human effort. They are of God. As a poet put it 3000 years ago …
“For it was you who formed my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am wonderfully and fearfully made.”
It’s like a farmer who scatters some seed on the ground. Beyond the scattering activity all that the farmer appears to do is to sleep and rise night and day, while by some mystery beyond his comprehension the seed sprouts, grows, and reaches ripeness. At this point I feel the need to say to Caroline that I know there’s more to pregnancy and childbirth than sleeping and rising. When she was pregnant Rebecca would say that she always felt like she was doing something. For me, as I remember watching Rebecca’s body change and marveling at what was happening, it wasn’t much more than sleeping and rising!
Seeds growing into plants, cells growing into people … always it is God to give the growth, miraculously, joyously, beyond our understanding.
Jesus uses examples from creation to help his hearers to understand God’s activity in the world – the new creation that is the kingdom of God. In the second image from this morning Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds on earth, which becomes the greatest of all shrubs. Again this transformation from tiny seed to mighty shrub does not happen because of human effort; it is of God.
How reassuring, how liberating perhaps to know that ultimately God’s purposes do not depend on us. Despite many appearances to the contrary, the kingdom of God is here, is growing, and will reach harvest, in God’s time and in God’s way, not by human effort or in accordance with human logic. Notice how Jesus does not compare the kingdom of God to a mighty tree, like the cedars of Old Testament religion, but to a proliferating shrub, the humble mustard.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Without too much theological manipulation we could restate this sentence from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth like this: “So if anyone is baptised, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
When Alfie is baptised in a few moments he will be formally identified with the community of believers that is the visible sign of God’s new creation, the kingdom of God. But this state is not achieved by any human effort. It is a fact of God’s grace.
When Jesus was himself baptised by John in the River Jordan we read that “as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’”. Well I can’t promise that a dove will land on Alfie this morning, but we will use three things: oil, water, and light as signs of the Spirit of God present with him now and forever. And I’m not sure we will hear the voice of God out loud in the Priory this morning either. But I can say with confidence that as a wonderfully and fearfully made child of God Alfie is beloved of his Heavenly Father. Maybe if we listen with our hearts this morning we will all receive that same confident affirmation of God’s love for each of us. Love that is not dependent on our own efforts. Love that just is.