St Andrewís, Croydon
Sunday, 8th May, 2000
Baptism of Lauren Rose
Bearing Witness and Speaking Boldly
Most of us, at one time or another, find ourselves called upon to act as witnesses about something we have seen or heard.
Letís say thereís been a road accident or a street robbery which has taken place as we happened to be passing by. We ourselves were not personally involved in the incident itself, but the very fact that we were not makes whatever we have to say about it enormously valuable to those whose job it is to work out what really happened. It may never come to the point of our having to stand up in court, but we will find that people look to us to tell them what we witnessed.
When that happens itís often very difficult to remember accurately what weíve seen or heard. Questions like "was the car green or blue?", "how many men ran out of the jewellerís shop?", "what was each of them wearing?" are apt to flummox us. The best witness we can bring to bear on the incident is not likely to be very good. We hesitate; we contradict ourselves; worse still, our own hazy evidence may contradict that of someone else who really has been able to speak with confidence about what happened. Heís sure it was a blue car; we rather think it was green. He distinctly saw three men. We only noticed two. The policeman, the magistrate or the jury arenít going to like it very much.
Letís now turn to this morningís readings. The word witness occurs twice. Jesus said to his apostles "You are witnesses to this [his resurrection]". "We are the witnesses that God raised Jesus from the dead" said St Peter when challenged.
The very fact that Peter and the other apostles spoke with such "boldness" means that something remarkable had happened to them between Good Friday and a few weeks later. The Apostles had changed from being nervous, unreliable witnesses into men who spoke so confidently about what they had seen and heard to such a remarkable extent that it was said of them "these are the men who have turned the world upside-down."
So what had made the difference? What changed them from being unreliable witnesses to men who spoke the truth with boldness?
Well, two things had happened to them which changed them from the one into the other.
Firstly, they had come to believe in the Resurrection, not just because people had told them about it but because they had experienced it for themselves. They had touched and talked and sat down to meals with Jesus "whom God had raised from the dead".
Remember, it took some time, at least for some of them, before they came to believe that the Resurrection had really happened. St Luke tells us that Jesus "showed himself alive by many infallible proofs, being seen of the Apostles for forty days and speaking of things to do with the Kingdom of God". But whether they believed almost at once, like St John did, or like St Thomas, whom we heard about last week, who at first refused to believe the Apostles words "we have seen the Lord" they were changed from being Men of Doubt into being Men of the Resurrection.
Something else, however, happened to them. Fifty days after the Resurrection, on the day Pentecost, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit Ė a gift which enabled them to "go out into all the world" (as Jesus had commanded them), baptising men and women in the name of Father Son and Holy Spirit, as they preached the Resurrection in ways that ordinary people could understand. "They preached", St Luke tells us, "forgiveness of sins through faith in him" to all the nations beginning at Jerusalem."
Thatís something quite remarkable isnít it? Ordinary people were able to convince other ordinary people that Jesus Christ really had risen from the dead and that through him their sins could be forgiven.
But what is even more remarkable is that you and I are going to do this for Lauren this morning. First, through the water of Baptism ,we are going to make her "that thing which by nature she cannot be":a Member of Christ, the Child of God, and an Inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. In Or if you prefer, hrough baptism, we are going to make her a Resurrection Person.
But secondly, beginning at Baptism but continuing throughout her earthly life, God will be able, over the course of time, to change Lauren from being a faltering, fearful witness into someone who has learnt how to speak the truth of God with boldness.
We have to say, "God will be able to" because it depends firstly upon us and then on Lauren herself, to make this possible. For it is quite certain that God can, and will, do nothing for us without our consent and co-operation.
And then we have to say "over the course of time" because, as we all know, changes of this kind, like the change in the Apostles didnít happen the very moment they saw the risen Lord. It took time to develop. It will take several years of patient care on the part of all who have to do with Laurenís upbringing before the "seed of faith" which God will plant in her today at the font develops into a strong, healthy plant.
And that, of course, is where the rest of us come in. Changing new-born witnesses to the Resurrection into Spirit-filled, bold-speaking Apostles of Jesus is the task of parents, godparents and the clergy and people of St Andrewís.
Unless everyone takes that job seriously then the odds are that nothing will happen. Lauren will still remain, of course, the Child of God which she will have become in baptism ithis morning; but the emphasis is on the word remain. She will never, on her own, "grow up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of his name" any more than she will develop into a healthy, well balanced, intelligent adult woman without her parents and teachers taking infinite trouble to see that she does so.
Lauren will, in other words, join the ranks of those who have never become anything, who have never grown up as a Child of God. It will be a case of Arrested Development.
Why? Because we will in that case have failed to enable her to become someone who knows how to use the Gifts of the Spirit implanted in her at her baptism.
Unlike the Apostles, who learnt to be good witnesses, she will remain, like so many others, a fearful or reluctant witness, someone who lacks that boldness which the Holy Spirit implants.
Instead of becoming one of those extra-ordinary people who "turned the world of their day upside-down", Lauren will remain "just another ordinary person".
What we shall now do at the font is something designed to ensure that she remain nothing of the kind, but become instead a fearless witness to Jesus and the Resurrection.
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