St Stephen Lewisham
20th October 1991
At a Baptism
This morning there will be a baptism.
Whenever we baptize a person, no matter whether they are children or adults, we are, in fact doing two very different things.
The first is that we are doing what God has told us to do, when Jesus said "Go into all the world and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit"
By obeying him in this way we "open the door", so to speak, for his grace to flow into the person who has been baptized, and this transforms them into "the child of God, a member of Christ and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven".
But alongside what you might call the "practical" effects of baptism, we also giving the world what St John, in his gospel, would call a "sign".
That is to say God, through us, is using this occasion to point out something important, to direct our attention along particular ways or channels, which the world would not have thought of for itself.
let me mention two things which the baptism of a child helps to point out.
Firstly, it reminds us that people are born neither good, nor wise.
There is a notion in some people's minds that just because man has been around for along time on this plane, every new generation will automatically be wise and better than the last "Man has come of age", people say, and they therefore expect that he will behave so much better than his forefathers.
Well, of course, that just isn't true Ä as anyone who has eyes to see will know. Each new child, each new generation, has to learn for itself the same old painful lessons. "We have sinned with our fathers: we have done amiss and dealt wickedly".
Every Christian life has to begin at the font, because man with out God is incapable of pleasing him. It is only God's gift of grace in the waters of baptism, and the new birth in Christ which results from it, that enable us to stand in his presence.
But the second lesson which baptism teaches us is that God in tends us, like children, to grow up and develop.
There is, quite rightly, great rejoicing in a family when a baby is born into the world. But if that person remained a baby lit is was when it was born, then that rejoicing would be changed to dismay.
In the same way, when a child learns to stand and take his first faltering footsteps there is great rejoicing and a sense of achievement. Quite rightly so: it's a "great step in the right direction"; but if that child were still walking in that way ten years later there would be something seriously wrong with it,
In other words, baptism, the new birth into Christ, must go hand in hand with growth and development if it is to fulfil the pur pose for which god created both the human race and baptism.
That is the second "sign" which baptism gives us. Just as birth without growth is incomplete, so baptism without development falls very far short of what God intended for us.
Or, to sum it up in a single sentence "God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy".