We're baptising Maisie Rose, Ethan and Joshua by the devil's door.
Yes that Saxon door over there is where they said the devil flew north at baptisms. That's why everyone got buried on the south side of Church. Rectors apart - they get buried at the east end where I hope to join Giles Moore and my illustrious predecessors.
Sorry this is no funeral. It's baptism Sunday by the devil's door which reminds us, with today’s hymns and readings that Christians need arming for the fight.
That armour is the truth of Christian faith and its expression in the word of God.
This is what lies behind that reading Alison provided us from the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Have another look with me at that passage. It’s on p4 of the service booklet under the heading 'Putting on the armour of God'.
'Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power'. It starts. 'Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.'
Paul goes on to list the six items of armour underlined that are also depicted on the front of our baptism service booklet.
I want to think a bit about each piece of armour, linking it to what we’re doing this morning for these young people, and drawing out its significance for their parents and godparents.
It's been really good to see their families represented regularly on a Sunday. It means something, joining the church. If and when we get Maisie Rose a brownie uniform we'll be sending her to Brownies. If Ethan and Joshua get Cub uniforms what a waste it’s would be if they never went to Cubs?
Joining the church is like joining any organisation, though we're more a family than an organisation. This morning it's not Brownie or Cub uniforms the children are getting but soldiers’ uniforms. We're arming them up for life and that won't mean much to them unless mum and dad are armed up as well.
So six bits of armour, six rituals to come in their baptism and six questions for dad, mum, godparents and all of us supporting Maisie Rose, Ethan and Joshua.
v4 The belt of truth - where do I belong? Belts hold our clothes together. The belt of truth is Christianity given to hold our lives together. We belong to Christ's Church because we believe God sent him to us and what we believe and where we belong affects how we behave. Those promises we'll be making to turn to Christ and to renounce evil as part of the coming ceremony are practical. Our children need to see we belong to Christ and live by God’s truth through our practical kindness if their baptism’s going to impact them.
v14 The breastplate of righteousness - Do I do right? No good asking our son or daughter to do what we won't do ourselves. Children grow expert at spotting hypocrisy. I know. I have three and I am something of a hypocrite. We all fall short. The origin of the armour of God mentioned in Ephesians 6 is to be found both in the armour worn by a Roman soldier on our front page and in the description of the divine armour in Isaiah 59.17f and Wisdom 5.17-20. As God arms himself as a warrior to defend his people so Christians join his battle to right all that's wrong. If we think life's not a battle like this we've been deceived and that really is the devil's only power over us - to persuade us either that the world doesn’t need putting right or that, if it does, it’s not our job. Evil triumphs when good people slumber! Our children will be anointed on the breast today with the oil of exorcism to strengthen them to fight with us for what is right.
v15 The shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace - Am I a blessing? I mean are you and I blessings - do we bring peace or discord to those we meet? In the newsletter we recommend the new electronic discipleship resources on our website. One of these is a guide to meditation. Only by finding peace within ourselves can we hope to carry it to others. Knowing the Lord's love deep in our hearts is a lifetime's struggle. We get to know ourselves to better love ourselves and forget ourselves. St Seraphim of Sarov writing a hundred years ago said 'Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you shall be saved'. Meditation is worth it. The sending out at the end with the lighted candle is a sign of our mission to bring peace to the world.
v16 The shield of faith - Who is with me? On the front of the service booklet this is the biggest piece of armour. The Romans called it the 'scutum', a large quadrangular shield designed to catch and extinguish flaming arrows. No one in Church has lived their life up to now without feeling the assault of evil desires within or moral challenges from outside of ourselves. They can burn us if we don't know who is with us. Through faith and baptism Jesus is with us and there's nothing he and I together can't overcome. In the creed today we’ll affirm what God has done for us in Jesus. In renewing our baptism promises we lay hold afresh on what Jesus has done for us, and not only by the mouthing of words in a service. It's talk we need to walk so Maisie Rose, Ethan and Joshua have a practical lead in standing against wrongdoing.
v17 The helmet of salvation - Am I secure? To be saved is to know you’re secure through the great love God has for you in Jesus. When the great Reformation leader Martin Luther doubted this he would mutter Baptisatus sum...baptisatus sum...I am baptised...I am baptised. As we pour water on their heads and anoint their foreheads with blessed oil these children are given the invisible protecting helmet of salvation born by Luther and all the baptised. God grant them knowledge of this precious defence.
v17 The sword of the spirit which is the word of God - Do I act on my faith? To be a Christian is to have cutting power. We see this in Jesus, especially in the account of his temptation in the desert when again and again he countered the devil's taunts with quotes from scripture. Our families today will receive lights and children's Bibles at the end of the service as a reminder that the truth of Christ is given to be carried out from font and altar to the world. To read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the promises of God in the Bible is a way of consolidating our baptism to make it more fully our own. So is the ceremony of taking holy water in the porch and making the sign of the Cross on ourselves to renew our baptism as we leave Church in a determined fashion.
As we recall the armour we bear as Christians today may the Lord equip us to equip Maisie-Rose, Ethan and Joshua to make a difference in the world God has placed them in - and spur us all to take up the sword as Christian soldiers in combat with evil and injustice wherever we find it. Amen.