Our two scripture readings set for this morning's Eastertide eucharist are about building and travelling which are metaphors of both Christianity and of life in general.
‘Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house’ says St Peter to those new in faith in what was probably like this morning a sermon at a baptismal eucharist.
‘In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places – [literally staging posts]’ Jesus says in the Gospel of St John Chapter 14. ‘I go and prepare a place for you...I am the way, and the truth and the life’.
We need in life both a sense of belonging and purpose. These come for Edward and the twins from mum and dad but, most importantly, from where mum and dad place themselves and from the journey they're on.
For the record Claire and David are literally placed very accessibly in Rose Cottage on the Green. Sandy and Lisa are down at Medhurst farm which is more of a hidden treasure. I need to watch my way in and out of the main road!
Both sets of parents see themselves as part of that vast family extending in space across the world and in time down 20 centuries which is God's forever family, the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church'.
Talking of crossing the world we welcome visitors from Australia to support the Bartletts and Claire’s dad from New York. What an eventful year Claire and David have had with a move from London coupled to discovering she was pregnant then discovering there’d be twins! Claire speaks of Annabelle and Jack as a double blessing as she, with David enjoys the privilege and task of parenthood. For Lisa and Sandy there is a also deep gratitude for the gift of Edward for whom they’ve been waiting many years.
Both sets of parents are enjoying a new sense of belonging in our village which this morning extends into the church family here at St Giles. ‘Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house’ says St Peter. It is our prayer that they will find here a house of prayer that will kindle a sense of spiritual belonging which goes beyond the material order of things.
Three of the four parents are very involved in one material – oil! David as a ship broker is involved in moving oil. Sandy is company director of an oil company and Lisa finance director for a firm specialising in oil and gas. Claire’s work is in policy at the Department of Education.
Our readings speak of belonging and they speak of purpose. The Christian religion is supremely purposeful, it speaks of the universal purpose of all things and the best way of ordering them. It is as concerned with corporate finance and the best use of oil as it is with families, with encouraging the best use of our strengths in the workplace as well as the charity that begins and ends at home.
As I welcome relatives of the baptism candidates from the Roman Catholic tradition I am mindful of a key agency of that Church across the world, namely the Society of St Vincent de Paul which does a noble work among disadvantaged people. Its founder, the early 19th century French scholar and journalist Frederick Ozanam had a passion both to engage with ideas dismissive of the Church and to help lead a fuller consecration of Christians in service. In his writings on how Christian civilisation transformed the barbarians he countered Edward Gibbons’ claim that the Church has done more to enslave than to elevate the human mind. Rather like Karl Marx Ozanam saw that understanding the world was no less important than changing it to where it should be, and the foundation of the caring agency SVP, the Society of St Vincent de Paul is his legacy. This is my favourite quote from Frederick Ozanam: ‘The question which divides men today is whether Society will be merely an immense exploitation for the benefit of the strongest or a consecration of everyone for the service of all’.
The sense of belonging and purpose we’re baptising Edward, Annabelle and Jack into this morning is allied with that vision which I know, from talking to them, that their parents own, a sense of life lent not possessed, lent ideally for work in God’s praise and service. Without that sense of service families, churches, nations and corporates fall short through exploitation. ‘From each according to his ability to each according to their need’ is another aspiration from a French source popularised by Marx which draws, as Ozanam does, on the sharing of goods that occurred in the early Church, and on and off ever since in Christian circles. I think of the gifts that arrive in the porch for Chichester Diocesan Family Support Work.
Today St Giles stands with Sandy and Lisa, David and Claire as they commit their children to the purposeful belonging which is Christianity. Their own gifts are already being employed to make a difference across the world and today will see a reconsecration of their strengths as they commit themselves to God on behalf of their children.
For these children we can have little idea of the work that lies ahead for them in 20 years time. At last week’s School Governors we were looking carefully at the New Curriculum from September this year. It has computer programming from the start of school life, something my son is doing at university!
At the start of my own scientific career Oxford University had one computer which was a whole house on the Banbury Road programmed by uniquely qualified technicians. I remember the wonder of getting it to print President Kennedy and Diana Dors out of noughts and crosses! Or getting a print out of the weather forecast! Now those unique computer programmers in a designated computer house have given way to every child a computer programmer and everyone a computer carrier (show iPhone)
Times change but values don’t inasmuch as they’re anchored in the age old truth of the God who loves us and calls us to his praise and service. At the heart of the baptism service is an affirmation of this truth which has such an impact on we who’ve woken up to it. Claire, David, Lisa and Sandy are here with their children out of gratitude to a loving God who’s privileged them to be parents. Our service affirms God’s love in Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life. It affirms the best start in life for Annabelle, Jack and Edward. Even the prohibitions their parents will have to serve on them will be coloured by this sense of surrounding love. When scripture says ‘you shall not covet or steal or bear false witness’ its emphasis is on you rather than not.
Because you are loved and precious to me…whatever: that phone doesn’t go under your pillow when you’re 12! Because you are loved you belong with people who worship: Sunday Club is fun because church is fun. Because you are loved by God he has given you ethical boundaries so that your relationships will be flourishing and not destroying. Etc, etc
Today is a new day in so many senses – new every morning is the love our waking and uprising prove – a new day opening up new possibilities in new lives and renewed possibilities in we more seasoned operators. Come, Holy Spirit, bless these children and all of us who stand by them!