Baptism service, St Barnabas, February 23rd
It’s wonderful watching the way children learn to speak. At the moment, of course, N is still very young and he hasn’t yet mastered the English language, although I’m sure he has ways of letting you know what he wants. But soon, very soon, he will start to learn a few words, and then a few more, and then before you know it, it will probably be very hard to stop him talking.
Then one day, not too far from now, N will suddenly discover questions. “Why are doing that, Mummy?” “Yes, but why?” “Mummy, why are you cross with me?” “Mummy, why do I have to go to bed?” And soon he will be wrestling with all those great questions of life that matter so much to three and four year olds – for example, why the sky is blue or why water is wet or why you cry when you fall over. I probably expect his parents are already practising their answers with S and certainly they’ll need to be ready.
Of course it’s not just young children who ask “why”? Grown-ups too look at the world around them and ever since the dawn of time have wondered why things are as they are. And although science has provided many answers as to how the world works, it still can’t deal with the ultimate question, “Why?”
When I prepare couples for marriage, we always come to that great declaration in the wedding service: Those whom God has joined together let no-one put asunder. And at that point I tell the happy couple you either accept that in His great wisdom God has brought you together or you are two bunches of molecules in a meaningless universe that have happened to collide. Not surprisingly, most prefer the former option.
Christians believe that that the answer to the great question of “Why?” is “God”. I’m not sure that will help N understand why Mummy is cross with him or why he needs to go to bed. But in the grand scheme of things we believe that God is the one who makes all things and makes all things grow. The beauty, the energy, the mystery of all we see around us comes from a Creator who made the world and saw that it was good.
Now I could go on at great length about this wonderful God who makes all things. But to keep it short, and because N’s parents like three points that begin with the same letter, I am just going to mention three particular things that God makes grow.
And the first is food. Now who was listening really carefully to our second reading? It was the story of a man who hid something in a field. He put something in the ground and covered it with soil. What was it? That’s right – it was a seed. And did the seed remain a seed? No, it grew and it became a tree. Just think for a moment how amazing it is for one little seed to grow into a massive tree.
Now I’m not going to suggest that anyone tries eating mustard this morning. But perhaps the children would like to try some other things that grow on trees, and as you do so, think how amazing it is that God makes things grow.
But of course there are other things that God makes grow as well. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, the reason why we are gathered here this morning is to remember the fact that God grows families.
You know, I find it fascinating how even people who don’t tend to think of themselves as particularly religious talk about the gift of life. When you hold a new-born child in your arms, when you hear the first cry, or see the first smile, you suddenly realise just how precious and wonderful is this tiny bundle before you. But today N’s parents don’t just want to give thanks for the gift of life. They want to give thanks to the giver who is God Himself. They are making a public statement that N has been given to them by God according to His mercy.
But we are here not just to look back and give thanks for N and his safe arrival into the world. We are here today trusting God for his growth. Not just his physical growth as he turns into a toddler and then a little boy and then a rather larger boy and then a hulking great teenager, but also for his spiritual growth. We joked earlier about N learning to ask questions. But I wonder if you have ever thought why little children ask “Why?”? The reason is, they are filled with a wonder and awe, and more than a little puzzlement, at the world around them and they are trying to make sense of all they see and hear and touch.
And I reckon that deep down most of us – whatever our age – also look at the world with that same sense of both wonder and puzzlement. It’s just that when we grow up we learn to hide it better. We can sort of see signs that God has made the world, but who this God is, and how we can know Him, well, that’s a different story altogether. And if you want any proof of this, listen to that note of yearning we find in so many songs and films and novels. For so many people the lyrics of that old U2 song still hold true: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
But the good news N’s parents want to celebrate this morning is that thanks to Jesus our searching can be over. We don’t have to fret away our lives wondering if there is a God or how we can find Him. Because instead of us trying to find God, God has come to us, in the person of Jesus Christ. Thanks to His death for us on a cross, He has opened the way into the presence of God so that we can know Him and love Him forever.
That’s the good news that lies at the heart of the baptism service this morning. N’s parents are trusting that as N begins to question the world around him, so he will also discover the love of Jesus that meets that greatest of all questions: “Why?”
Now it may be that as you’ve been listening, you are one of those people who can identify with that sense of wonder and puzzlement I’ve been talking about. Maybe you’ve never admitted to anyone else how you feel deep down. Maybe you’ve been searching for so long and still haven’t found what you’re looking for. My challenge to you this morning is: Will you let God plant a seed of faith in you?
Recently N has been learning to walk. That first moment when a young child learns to stand up is so precious. As he wobbles his way towards the open arms of his parents, there is certain fear, yes, but also a wonderful joy. The child suddenly realises this is what life is meant to be like, standing up and seeing the world from a whole new angle. Today your Heavenly Father is waiting for that moment when you stand up and make your step towards Him. You may have all kinds of questions, you may have all kinds of fears. But when you turn to Jesus, I and so many other people here can tell you, there is a joy and a peace that no-one else can bring. All you have to do is accept that seed of faith, repent and believe.
So the final question I leave with you is: Why miss out? The Bible tells us: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. So let’s all of us consider our response this morning and then I’ll pray…