Saturday, June 2, 2012

More than We Can Ask or Imagine

RCL Trinity B
3 June 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17

[To hear an audio recording of the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. service, click here.]

The Baptism of Henry Brendan Murray

            Today is a special day in the life of the Parish of Saint Faith’s.  Today we celebrate the baptism of Henry Brendan Murray, a child of God who will today enter into his inheritance.  To be honest, it’s an inheritance that has taken a bit of beating over the last seventy-five years or so, but it is an inheritance that is still worth claiming.  Let me share with you what I believe that inheritance is for Henry and for all of us who bear the cross of Christ upon our foreheads.

Timelessness not Tedium

            Paula and I have become devotees of the HBO television programme, “A Game of Thrones”.  Both of us have read all the novels so far published and we enjoy watching how the printed word has been translated for the screen.  There are always a few differences from the print version, but we have yet to find a divergence that undermines the basic thrust of the narrative.

            Because it’s on HBO, there are no commercials during the programme itself.  On more than one occasion as an episode comes to an end, either Paula or I will turn to the other and say, “That was the quickest hour I’ve experienced!”  It is as if the passage of time simply ceases to be aware to us and we find ourselves caught up in the story.  There is no ‘past’ or ‘future’, only the ‘now’ in which we live and breathe.

            This experience highlights two of the gifts the Christian faith has to offer:  (i) timelessness rather than tedium and (ii) participation in the story itself. 

            We are accustomed to people talking about life after death or the world to come.  Both of these suppose that our real life, the life we are truly seeking, only comes in some future beyond this life.  But what God reveals to us in Jesus of Nazareth and shares with us through the Holy Spirit is a life lived in the here and now, a present life in which we become more aware of who we are as God’s children and how we can live as God’s children in the midst of the challenges we face, the joys and the sorrows, the successes and the failures, the better and the worse.

            What is more is that our lives are truly part of the story that God is telling.  It is not our task to repeat the past or to play roles that have already been scripted for us.  Every human being, every human story, matters to God and God weaves it into the fabric of God’s purposes for us and for the whole of creation.  There are no pawns in God’s story, no unimportant lives that God forgets.  How we participate in the story God began in creation is an expression of the infinite variety in which God delights.

A Community of Purpose

            But God’s story is not a one-person play, a soliloquy in which only one voice is heard and one actor seen.  It has always been God’s way to create and nurture communities of faith in which we can be formed and nurtured to take our place in God’s redeeming purposes.  Today we bring Henry within the embrace of this household of God --- not to make him ‘just like us’ but in the hope that as we share our faith with him and support him in his journey of faith he will change us. 

            The old saying that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is never more true than in the Christian community.  No single member possesses all of God’s gifts; no one story can become the only story.  In each one of us the work begun by God in creation, renewed in Jesus of Nazareth and continued through the Spirit takes shape and each one of us can be a catalyst to empower the others to become truly alive.

What’s on Offer

            So what’s on offer in this community of faith?  Let me give you a preview of what we will ask God to give to Henry just after he is washed with the waters of baptism.

            We will ask God to sustain Henry in the Holy Spirit:  we recognize that we are committed to a way of life not just a moment in time.  This is a long-term project, Henry, and we promise to be with you as we journey together.

            We will ask God to give him an inquiring and discerning heart:  Despite all other appearances, the Christian faith is a method not a set of answers.  When we try to understand God’s purposes, we search the Scriptures; we take counsel together; we study the tradition.  This is a place to ask any and all questions not to avoid them.

            We will ask God to give Henry the courage to will and to persevere:  The Christian way is not an easy way for any of us.  We all face times of doubt and uncertainty.  But we face our fears and doubts and persevere because we live in hope, the hope that God is shaping the future, a future of justice and peace.

            We will ask God to give him a spirit to know and to love God:  In every moment of our lives, in every situation we face, in every expression of creation, God is present and active.  To many people God seems distant or even absent; sometimes this is true even for believers.  But one of the gifts of life within the Christian community is that there is always someone who can clear away the cobwebs from our eyes and reveal to us God’s presence.

            We will ask God to give Henry the gift of joy and wonder:  At the heart of the Christian faith is joy and wonder, not solemnity and dread.  To be child-like is to be able to be surprised by what life has to offer.  Often the deepest faith is found in those who are still discovering that there is more to learn, more to experience, more to see and to be thankful.

What God Promises

            So, Henry Brendan, this is just a little of what God is promising to you today.  No doubt you will have to rely upon your parents, your family and your friends to help you open the gifts God is giving to you today.  This parish and the many like it throughout the world are also here to help you realize the promises God is making to you.

            Henry, there is more to this world than you or any of us know.  It is a world filled with the glory of God and a world filled with many people who cannot see this.  It is a world filled with hope and a world filled with many people who cannot share that hope.  It is a world filled with peace-makers and a world filled with many people who find no peace.  Yet it is God’s world.

            But the good news is that you and we are not alone.  We are part of a movement that began when God first breathed life into the universe and we can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  Come and join us as we live in God now and as we travel towards God’s future.  Amen.  

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