St Francis, Terriers - Trinity 2 (25.06.2017)

Tony Dickinson

Today’s a very special day for Alexia and her family, though for Lexi, I suspect, the party later may be more on her mind than what is happening now in this strange building with lots of strange people around her. Possibly her big sisters, Sophie and Lottie, will take more in from this part of the day. Each of them has an important part to play in their kid sister’s baptism, and I hope that as they play their part, and as they talk about it all afterwards, they will find a deeper understanding of what happened to them (also in this building) a few years ago, so that they are able to explain to Lexi the meaning of all that is done to her today as she begins her journey in the steps of Jesus of Nazareth.

In a month’s time the Lighthouse holiday clubs will be running in many places in South Bucks. There's a song that the children used to sing at Lighthouse – possibly they still do. Its opening lines are “It's an adventure, following Jesus. It's an adventure, learning of him.” Well, as we think about what Jesus said in this morning's gospel reading, the word “adventure” hardly seems adequate. “White-knuckle ride” more like! Abuse and insult, conflict, painfully clashing loyalties, these are all part of what Jesus promises the people who follow him.

It isn't enough just to be a nice person, or kind to animals, or someone who gives a fiver now and then to good causes. Jesus warns us that if we are serious about following him we have to be prepared to lay our comfort, our reputation, even our life on the line. That’s what Jesus means when he talks about taking up the cross. It's what St Paul is talking about when he reminds the Christian communities in Rome that baptism is not just an excuse for a party. Baptism is a serious business. It’s about dying to sin (leaving all our faults and failings behind us, in other words) – dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. On the other hand, I have to say I can’t think of many better reasons to celebrate. New life in God’s love, life that the death of our physical bodies can’t stop – what’s not to like?

Following Jesus is about losing our life, what St Paul two thousand years ago called “our old self” and what the American monk Thomas Merton half a century ago called our “false self”, in order to find out who we truly are in Christ. The false self sees itself in terms of family relationships, in terms of reputation and status and possessions. Jesus tells us that in the end none of these things matter. What matters is finding our true self, the self that is, in St Paul's words, “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” That self is plugged into God’s life, and the plug has three pins, regular prayer, regular reading of the Bible (and pondering on the things that we find there), and regular sharing in the meal which Jesus left to his friends, the meal in which he shares with us his own life under tokens of bread and wine.

Now, finding our true self doesn't mean making heroic efforts to be “good”. Spiritual D-I-Y, treating God as if he were a kind of permanent Ofsted inspector, is usually pretty disastrous. Either we fall short of the targets we have set ourselves and give up on the whole Christian thing in despair: or else we simply feed our false self with the idea that God will love us “because we’re worth it”. We con ourselves into thinking that God will love us because we are good. In fact the very opposite is true. God already loves us because God is good.

As Jesus reminded us in the words we heard a few minutes ago, God is aware when a sparrow falls to the ground and counts every hair on our head – and I’m still trying to work out whether God will give me a tough time for my carelessness or thank me for making his job easier. The essential thing is God’s awareness of a sparrow’s fall and of every hair on our head. That awareness, that concern, that compassion and love, extends to Lexi, to her sisters, and to each one of us. God loves her (and loves us) eternally into newness of life.

And now to him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit...