12. August 2018

Life Giving God

Service Type:

‘…I have come that they might have life…’ (John 10, 10)

As someone brought up as a ‘Baptist’, thereby wedded to the view that the only legitimate form of baptism is that of a believer so that therefore infant baptism is not justifiable theologically; becoming minister here and as a consequence acknowledging that my pastoral obligation has to extend to officiating on occasions such as we have celebrated today has given me much ‘food for thought.’ At the heart of what we do is our affirming that God is ‘the giver of life’; we worship a life-giving God. In baptism we witness to the world our belief that this child – Athena – is a gift from God; but this we do, this we are able to do only because we ourselves believe it to be so. Hence subsequent to the baptising of their child we require the parents to testify as to their faith…We ask them to affirm what they believe, and to affirm their commitment to nurture their child in the hope that the child will of her own volition confirm herself that she too is a believer. All human life is a gift from God, is a gift of God as is deserving of being treated accordingly – ‘Not my wish that any one of these little ones should perish’, said Jesus, but then, even more chillingly He sounded this warning –

"If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea.” (Matthew 18, 6).

In effect, woe betide anyone who denies a child the opportunity to discover for themselves what it means to live the life of faith…’To have life in all is fulness.’ Hence the need for the church, any church or congregation to see to it that it makes provision for the nurturing of children – indeed the nurturing of anyone, ‘from the cradle to the grave’ – and to be available to the local community to offer support, encouragement, help and assistance to children, parents and families, and this should be a first priority of our work. This physical life, a gift from God in itself, this physical life is incomplete if it is lived apart from a living faith…Hence our affirmation that we believe in ‘The Lord, the giver of life.’ The truth is, as we mature we discover the essential incompleteness that is at the physical life. We find ourselves necessarily having to expand our horizons – intellectually, culturally, emotionally, spiritually, - mere physicality is no life. But then we find, sooner or later; sometimes very much later that incompleteness has been bolstered by that which proves itself to be ultimately unsatisfactory…

“Who stands fast? Only the [one] whose final standard is not [their] reason, [their] principles, [their] conscience, [their] freedom, or [their] virtue, but [the one] who is ready to sacrifice all this when [they are] called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God, the responsible [one], who tries to make [their] whole life an answer to the question and call of God.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison).

And so, today we affirm that God is a life giving God, that Athena is a gift from God to her parents, to her family, to her wider circle of friends, and to the church, and in our baptising her here today we, all of us, declare this to be so – ‘Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift’ – whilst at the same time are desirous that she discover for herself what is at the heart of a God given life, a personal relationship with God forged in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, sustained by the active presence of the Holy Spirit, the life of faith. Yet the very nature of faith will demand of all of us a ‘conversion’ experience, somewhat akin to being ‘born anew’ because the life of faith is of itself one that is counter intuitive, counter cultural…

“The moral of the story is, faith does not always bring you happiness, wealth or a comfortable lifestyle filled with fun things to do. What faith does bring us is hope while living out God's attitudes of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, all for the glory of God and the establishment of [God’s] kingdom.” (Reid A. Ashbaucher, How To Understand And Live Your Faith).

How than are we sustained in the living out of the life of faith? How do we maintain the necessary discipline to remain faithful, regardless? From where do we draw the strength we need to confront the pressures of the world? From where do we derive that sense of being ‘at peace’ with God in spite of everything that is going on a round us? The short answer, and the very long answer too, is by prayer. Prayer is God’s way of ensuring that we do not lose touch with the One who made us; of ensuring that we are made to realise that it is ‘God who has made us, and not we ourselves’; of ensuring that we are never alone in the world, however lonely a place the world might be; of ensuring that we need never lose sight of that which is at the heart of who we are and of who we are made to be; of ensuring that we are constantly reminded that the God who made us is the God who loves us, come what may. So, our response to God’s gift to us of the life of faith has to be a commitment to pray…

“Ask the Lord to give you a clear picture of who you are in Christ, and how much [the Lord] desires you to be joyful in the abundant life of fruitfulness. Ask the Lord] to show you where you fit in eternity, and why it is so vital that you were brought into existence by the decree of God for this special moment of history. And ask [the Lord] to give a vision for the maturity [the Lord] desires you to have, and can perfect in you. Ask [the Lord] to show you how you can reform your heart, mind and soul to grow and be useful to the [the Lord] in [God’s] perfect plan to bring grace, mercy and salvation to a dying world.” (Geoffrey Botkin).