St Francis, Terriers - Trinity 19 (22.10.2017)

Tony Dickinson

Happy birthday, Myla-Rose! You’ve just completed your first year of life and today you’re about to begin a whole new life. So here's a birthday puzzle for you. If the emperor got his taxes because his picture was on the coins that people used to pay them, what does God get from you? What is it that you have that has God's picture on it? Do you know? Does anyone else know?

Well, Myla, the answer is "you". You are God's picture. You are made in God's image and likeness – as every human being is made in God's image and likeness. That means all of us, too – even your big brothers! Today your mum and dad are giving you back to God. When you are baptized, in a few minutes' time, that will be the sign that they are handing you over to God's care. That won't stop them caring for you, of course. In fact, God rather relies on parents looking after their children because that’s the way life works. But it's important to remember that we are God's children, too. All of us are loved by God – not just if we are good, but always and for ever.

So what happens when we are given back to God? Outwardly not much. You'll get a bit wet. There'll be a big party. Then life will go on much as it has for this past year. You will carry on growing and learning, finding out new and exciting things about God's world, giving joy to your parents (all of the time), and to Aiden and Theo (some of the time).

Long-term, though, you could learn a lot from what St Paul wrote in today's first reading. He was writing to a group of young Christians, people who had given their lives to God a few years previously and who had learned, sometimes the hard way, what that meant. To judge by what St Paul wrote I don't think that he, or they, would have been impressed by the kind of people who say "When I became a Christian all my problems were over."

Paul and his Thessalonian friends knew that giving their lives to God could lead to all sorts of trouble. But they also knew that in God they had love and hope and joy, and that the power of his Holy Spirit would enable them to cope with whatever life threw at them. Whatever life threw at them, they knew that they were loved, always and for ever. Whatever life threw at them, they knew that God is faithful and life-giving. Knowing all of that gave them the courage to be steadfast in hope, to persevere in faith and love, and to wait patiently for God to complete his purposes for creation.

That made them, as St Paul wrote, "an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" (that’s roughly modern Greece). It makes them an example to us as well. We live in a world which is as full of idols as theirs was, though for us the idols aren't the pagan gods of Greece and Rome, but power and possessions and celebrity. We live in a world in which being a believer can lay us open to hostility. We live in a world which can be worrying, sometimes frightening or downright dangerous. But if we know that we are held in the love of God, in whose image and likeness we are made, then we also know that none of these things can shake us out of his hand. We too can share in that joy inspired by the Holy Spirit because we know that worry and fear and danger do not have the last word. God has made us in his image so that we can enjoy him for ever, sharing in Jesus a life that the death of our bodies can’t stop. And so to God the Father, who loved us...