St Francis, Terriers - Trinity 13 (10.09.2017)

Tony Dickinson

Well, Mercedes, this is the day you’ve been waiting for, the day your mum longed to see. This is the day when you officially “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and receive, in baptism, the gift of his Spirit. It’s a day of great celebration – for Jon-Pierre as well as for you – but one that for many of us is tinged with the sadness that your mum isn’t physically here with us to share it. I don’t doubt, though, that somewhere in eternity she is bubbling over with the joy of watching her youngest daughter and her latest grandson “put on the armour of Christ”, in St Paul’s words, and take their place in that battle for truth and hope and justice to which she gave so much of her own considerable energy.

Do you remember what you said all those months ago when we started preparing for today’s celebration and I asked you why being baptised was important? You said you wanted to give Jesus one hundred per cent. I meant to ask you what you thought that involved, but the conversation went off in another direction, and I never did. But if I had, I wonder how different it would have been from what St Paul wrote in that passage we heard just now.

Not very, I suspect, because if you want to know how to give Jesus one hundred per cent, Paul offers a pretty clear answer. “Owe no one anything” he writes “except to love one another.” That’s it. That’s all there is to it. “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Pleasing God, fulfilling God’s law, isn’t about ticking the right boxes. It’s about our basic attitudes: to God; to other people; and to ourselves. It’s about wanting their good (and our own). It’s about not doing harm. It’s about not wrecking our bodies or our relationships because we’re out of control. There’s nothing that says Christians can’t have a good time. Jesus took quite a bit of stick from the “God squad” for being a party person – and even more for partying with the wrong sort of people, the people nobody else loved. But we care for our bodies because they are temples of his Spirit.

So put love at the centre, Mercedes, as your mother did. That’s love for family, for friends, for neighbours, for the people she cared for. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Do good to others, and not harm. Be a blessing to others, in the way you treat them. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” And remember that “your neighbour” is whoever God sends your way. God loves them, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done. So must you.

And so must you, Jon-Pierre. Don’t think you’re getting out of this. The same rules apply. God is an equal opportunities God. God doesn’t do “them and us.” For God, everyone is “us”. Did you notice how much time and trouble Jesus tells people to take when there are differences within the congregation, or when one member causes hurt to another? Those who follow his way have to do the same. Forgiveness is always there. Mercy is always there. That is God’s bottom line, and it has to be ours. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”

That’s what it means to give Jesus one hundred per cent. It’s what he gave us. He shared our life, and our dying, he shared our human existence from the womb to the tomb, so that we might share his life eternally. He shares that life with us today in the bread and wine of our Communion and he promises that, however few in number his friends may be, “Where two or three are gathered in [his] name, [he is] there among them”.

Six centuries ago a young woman who also wanted to give Jesus a hundred per cent found her life falling apart when she became seriously ill. Then, at the crisis of her illness, she received a series of what she called “showings”. Each of them was focused on Jesus and his suffering, and when she recovered she tried to understand what these “showings” meant. Many years later she received an answer and it was this: “You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else – ever!” That’s God’s hundred per cent, for you two and for all of us.