Saturday, 31 July 2010

Baptism and touch

"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:13-16)

Whenever I have to prepare a short sermon for a service of infant baptism I find myself continually drawn to the above passage from Mark. First, because it talks about children. Second, because it is about Jesus' relationship with them. And third, because those with little or no contact with the Church or its teachings see baptism as a kind of 'blessing with water'. Here then is what I said at the last baptism I took as I tried to use the reading as a starting point to talk about the Christian life.

"Christians believe that that same Jesus mentioned in our passage from Mark's Gospel, is alive and with us today. In fact He promises us that where two or three gather together in His Name there He will be in their midst. This is because as Christians we believe that Jesus, who was crucified and rose again, is the Son of God, one with God His Father.

So this account by St Mark not only tells us what happened 2000 years ago but also reminds us that this same Jesus who welcomed children then, is the same Jesus who is with us today as we bring Ava to God in baptism.

And it is here He comes to touch and bless Ava through the waters of baptism giving her something of His love just as He did with the children in St Mark's gospel.

But if we look at what Jesus says, there is more. That while it is good to be 'touched' by God He means it to be more than a once and for all experience of Him. He wants it to the the start of a relationship with Him.

My eldest daughter Sarah is 28 and training as a nurse in Bristol. You would never think that when she was born she weighed little more than a bag of sugar. She was 11 weeks premature and spent 8 weeks in an incubator connected to all kinds of tubes an alarms. But even though she had to remain enclosed in this small plastic container for most of the time, we as parents were encouraged to touch her as much as possible and when she was strong enough, to take her out and hold her and feed her ourselves. It was important to create a bond between the child and parents which would help create a nurturing and loving relationship between us. One 'touch' leading to many many more.

That us exactly what God wants for Ava and for us. He wants one touch to be followed by many - leading to a developing and deepening relationship with Him. Which is what Jesus means when He goes on in this passage to talk about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is another way of saying that God wants us to enter and sustain a relationship with Him as our heavenly Parent so that He may be able to continue to love and sustain us throughout this life and into eternity. He wants to create a bond with us that will mean He will not remain a stranger to us but will become what He is - real and substantial - our God.

To walk with God then we must become like like children, believing and trusting in Him. And He has given us a family to belong to to help and encourage us - it's called the Church.

So baptism is God's first touch of many. By God's grace and with your help, may there be many, many more.

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