Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee.
— George Herbert, ‘The Elixir’ (from The Temple, 1633)
Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. — Bro. David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness: the heart of prayer
When I began to think about preaching through August, I thought we’d follow along with the Gospel Reading and have a four-week series on Christ, the Bread of Life.
That was before I found that today would be my last Sunday here. So the series is cut short, just like my time here. So I would like to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul and ‘give thanks for everything to God the Father’. I want to speak about gratitude and grace on this occasion of Hudson’s baptism.
Baptism is based in gratitude for Jesus Christ. We are baptised to share in the salvation that Christ has won for us; it is only because Jesus has saved us that we can ‘become his faithful witness and servant’.
We see this especially in infant Baptism. When an older person is baptised, they have a story to tell, a story of faith in Jesus.
H. has no such story. It is clear that he is baptised as a sheer act of God’s grace. We baptise H. out of sheer gratefulness for God’s grace. It is obvious that he has done nothing to ‘earn’ Baptism, it is given to him.
We have clearly seen today that baptism is a gift from God; we receive it with gratitude.
I said that H. has no story to bring to his baptism, but there is a story to tell and H. is an integral part of it. We heard this story when we were about to baptise him:
for you Jesus Christ has come,
has lived, has suffered;
for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane
and the darkness of Calvary;
for you he uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you he triumphed over death;
for you he prays at God’s right hand;
even before you were born.
In baptism, the word of the apostle is confirmed:
‘We love, because God first loved us’. 1 John 4.9
These lovely words come to us via the Baptismal Service of the French Reformed Church.
I’m grateful for the work of Jesus, for his life of faithful love, for the death he endured for us, and for the new life he offers to us. I’m grateful that Jesus makes it possible for us to welcome H. and his parents M. and E. into this fellowship of people who are trying to be a community of good news for everyone.
But you know, everything is a gift really. I always have a wry smile when someone says they’re a ‘self-made man’. No one is self-made. We drive on roads built by others, we send emails along information highways that most of us do not understand, and we rely on medical services when we are sick. Self-made men depend on a whole heap of other people who play their part in society.
More than that, we didn’t make ourselves. H. needs his parents right now for his very life. He will never be a self-made man, he’ll always be an E. and M.-made man. (And I know that you are both grateful for that.)
Of course, what he does with that is beyond the power of M. and E. to control. The day will come when he makes his own way in life, and when his mum and dad will let him do it. As he is brought up in love and security, we can surely hope that he will make a good path through life and leave the world a better place than he found it.
Ultimately, H.’s life comes, as all life comes, from God. Baptising him is therefore a reasonable thing to do. Being baptised is like being born—we are born, but that’s not the end. We must grow and mature, and we need the love of family and community to grow well.
Being baptised is like being born—in fact, it is a sign of being born of the Holy Spirit. Of being born again. Here too, baptism is not the end, just as being born isn’t an end. We haven’t reached the goal by getting H. ‘done’. In baptism, H. has been given an identity as a child of God; our task is to help him to grow into that identity. To become more like his elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
We need help to do that. There is an African saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. Likewise, it takes a community of committed and loving people to raise a Christian. It is this congregation’s calling to be that community.
M. and E., I encourage you to plug in to this community, so that H. will grow in faith, hope and love, so that he will become like his older Brother Jesus.
Friends, we stand on the ground of God’s grace freely given to us; we respond with joyful gratitude. Thanks you for allowing me to be part of your life and journey for a while. May God bless you as you go onwards.
Preached at Wellington Point Uniting Church, 19 August 2018