A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 7th August 2022 on the occasion of Eve Henderson’s baptism
One of the important functions of any parish church is to accompany us through all the different seasons of our lives, from birth to death, marking particular moments on route.
This church carries huge significance for countless families for whom it’s their ‘family church’ where they come to touch base for those great moments in life, as we’re doing this morning with Evie.
Eve is Jane and Oli’s daughter – but that’s not all that can be said about her. The first reading from the Bible this morning talked about there being more, much more.
In a moment the water will be poured, the cross will be marked:
‘Belovèd,’ our scripture reading told us, ‘we are God’s children.’
I’ve mentioned before how I find the story of Justin Welby, our current archbishop, discovering who his real father was, a very moving one.
Some of you will recall how he had to face the media when he discovered that the person that he thought was his father was in fact not his real father.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that there’s any question about who Evie’s real father is! But DNA tests had revealed that Justin Welby’s actual father was Sir Winston Churchill’s private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.
In an interview, Justin Welby said with his customary disarming simplicity:
‘There’s no existential crisis, and no resentment against
anyone. My identity is founded in who I am in Christ.’
The same is true for Evie. In baptism her identity is founded on who she is in Christ.
This is also reflected in today’s gospel. There we heard Jesus say:
‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones.’
The little ones that Jesus refers to includes children but also, importantly, anyone who’s marginal or insignificant in the eyes of society or poor. Jesus says about them:
‘In heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.’
Only a very few angels were thought to have the privilege of continually seeing the face of God. And in Jesus’ mind, among them are the guardian angels of these little ones.
That’s how special they are.
Jesus then reinforces this with the story of the shepherd going after the lost sheep, and who rejoices when he finds the sheep that has gone astray.
‘So it is not the will of my Father in heaven,’ Jesus concludes, ‘that one of these little ones should be lost.’
What a powerful way for Jesus to affirm their value.
To return to our first reading. No sooner did we hear that we are God’s children, than the writer adds:
‘What we will be has not yet been revealed.’
But if Evie is now a loved child of God, how can that get any better? Where can we go from there that’s any richer or deeper than that?
This is how that first reading this morning developed this idea:
‘What we do know is this: when Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.’
What this implies is that in the same way as there’s physical and mental growth, there’s spiritual growth too. For all of us, being a child of God is something dynamic that changes over the years as we develop and mature spiritually.
The same will be true for Evie.
The spiritual journey that she’s joining us on today, is one of change and growth towards a goal – to be like Christ.
But how does this happen? We heard just one of the aspects of this journey hinted at in both readings this morning.
In a number of places, the Bible draws a parallel between our spiritual journey and the process of being refined as in a refiner’s fire. When metal is refined, the intense heat of the process brings the impurities in the metal to the surface to be scraped off. This refining continues until the metal is pure enough to reflect an image on the surface like a mirror or water that’s very still.
It’s one way, but an important way, of viewing how we face the difficulties and challenges of life – we’re being refined. The impurities in us are being scraped off until we reflect the image of Christ in our lives like a mirror or still water.
This is hinted at in our first reading when it concludes:
‘All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.’
And in our gospel reading we’re given a concrete example of why the dross in our lives needs to be purified. We heard how the disciples come to Jesus to ask ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ What an absurd question.
To undercut all that nonsense, to scrape off all that dross, Jesus puts a child in front of them, just as he puts Evie in front of us today:
‘Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’