Fr David's Sermon
18th May 2003
'We love because he first loved us.' 1 John 4
I had a phone call the other day from Jersey, from a lady who needed a copy of her baptismal certificate for her forthcoming ordination. She had finally tracked down St. Matthew's as the place of her baptism in 1950. As a German Roman Catholic, her father had found it difficult to find an Anglican priest to agree to baptise her. As it happens we no longer have the Baptism Register for that time, but I tell the story because it shows how far God can lead us from the beginnings of our Christian life in baptism. The stirrings of faith that lead parents to bring their infants to baptism can bear unexpected fruit in many different ways.
In our Anglican tradition Baptism is in response to the priority of God's grace. It is he who calls us, we who respond. As St John put it, 'we love because he first loved us'. Some Christian traditions put much more emphasis on the need for prior faith. The Christian adult believes then is baptised. Rather different from the child who is baptised and who may come to believe. There are strengths and weaknesses in both positions
There are echoes of both views in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The story begins with God and his messenger (the angel). Philip is sent to the eunuch. In our Christian story the faith of those who bring us Jesus is important. The eunuch was interested in spiritual matters; he was already reading Isaiah, receptive to the things of God. He needed Philip to explain things and then he asked for baptism. There was some faith and understanding in him, but his baptism followed very quickly, without the long period of preparation within a Christian community that was the practice of the early church. And then we don't what happened to him next, whether or not his faith developed and grew.
If we want to start with God's love, bringing our children to him in response to that love, and in hope that they too in time will respond in a life of Christian worship and service, then it follows that we will not want play down the need to respond to the love of God. 'We love because he loved us first'. St. John talks of how God's love has been revealed in the life of Christ. He speaks of a perfect love that cast out fear. Fear all too often gets in the way of our response to God, fear of being known as a person of faith, fear of the change that love brings. He also teaches that we lie if we claim to love God yet hate our brother. Simply receiving Baptism in response to God's love, without responding in love for him and for others makes a mockery of it.
Jesus words as recorded by St. John in his Gospel give us another picture of what it means to live the Christian life. Jesus describes himself as the 'true vine.' We are part of the vine, part of him. 'Abide in me as I abide in you', is how he expresses that close indwelling. The point of a vine is that it should produce grapes to make wine. Non-fruit bearing branches will be pruned out and burnt by God the vine-grower. We cannot achieve very much alone, only in the company of our fellow Christians can we bear much fruit.
When we are baptised we are baptised into the Church, communities of people who seek to respond to God's love in lives of fruitful discipleship that give glory to him. The task and the joy of the Christian life is to discover what that means.
I believe that it is right to baptise the children of those who bring them to God in faith, because 'he first loved us.' All of us can testify to all that God has given us in our lives as baptised Christians and will know of the many surprises of the Christian faith.
I also pray that children, who are brought to baptism and those who bring them, will respond fully to that love in their lives and come to know more fully what it means to abide in him. All of us will pray that we will continue to respond to God's grace given to us in Baptism in lives of fruitful discipleship that give him the glory.
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Last updated 19/05/2003 11:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd