Preached by Lesley McCormack on October 25th 2015.
The work of the Holy spirit never fails to surprise and amaze me!! When this date was agreed for Flynn’s baptism, I had no idea what the readings might be but as the time drew nearer and I began to prepare for this morning I was delighted, because in many ways, there couldn’t be more perfect passages of scripture for a baptism than those we have heard this morning.
The words of Jeremiah speak comfort to a people struggling to find meaning in the national catastrophe through which they are living and their struggle for survival. Thank God, we are living in relatively peaceful times, and certainly we are not experiencing disaster of the magnitude that was the backdrop to Jeremiahs writing about 600 years BC. But all of us experience challenges of one kind or another in our lives at some point; being a follower of Christ (for that is what baptism is about) does not give us immunity from the pains, sorrows and challenges of life; while we might hope otherwise neither Flynn, nor indeed any one of us here this morning, will be immune from this. And it is at such times that the words of Jeremiah continue to be a source of comfort, hope and encouragement to pilgrims on the road of life.
And in the story of Bartimaeus we glimpse both the trusting faith of a would-be disciple and the blindness of those who already are followers of Christ and yet struggle to comprehend the full reality and implication for their lives of his life, teaching and example. In this story we glimpse the darkness and light within each one of us and hear those wonderfully intimate words of Jesus saying “What do you want me to do for you?”. As these words transformed the life of a blind beggar who then immediately responded by following Christ ‘along the way’ so those same words, spoken to each of us at different times throughout our lives, have the same power to transform our lives and draw us ever deeper into that relationship that comes from being part of the Body of Christ. But the story of Bartimaeus is also about the blindness of those who were following Jesus, who had been listening to his teaching, and yet were unable to see as Jesus longed for them to see. The crowd surrounding Jesus were blind to the needs of the most vulnerable, blind to the reality that the Kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down and inside out. Jesus asked James and John ‘What do you want me to do for you’. Their response was to ask for places of authority, honour and status. They were blind. But when that same question was asked of Bartimaeus, all he wanted was to be able to see, and when he regained his sight, he immediately followed Jesus on the way, on the road that would lead to Jerusalem. But it was a blind man, vulnerable, regarded by so many as a nobody, it was this person who showed the crowd what it really meant to be a follower of Christ.
So the story of Bartimaeus reminds us too that it is those whom we least expect who will teach us most about what it means to love God and follow Christ. The story of Bartimaeus reminds us that it is the most surprising people who will teach us most about what it means to be a part of the community that Christ called into being – the common life of the church, the community of the baptised. And it is into this community that in a few minutes, Flynn will be baptised.
Through the waters of Baptism we are drawn in to a relationship with God who calls us by name and longs for us to become fully the person he created us to be. When I visited Gayle and Steve at home recently I was entranced by a glorious photo of Flynn – an underwater picture of him swimming – completely at ease, completely and fully himself. It was for me an image of something of what baptism means.
In Baptism, our lives are bound to the life of Christ and we commit to a way of life that gives life – that shines like a light in the dark corners of our lives, our communities, our nation and our world. In these early years, Flynn’s parents and Godparents through God’s grace, will teach him by their example what this means.
Throughout the journey of this little boy, stories will be shared – stories of the family, of life, stories of faith and hope, strength, courage and love. As he grows, he will hear stories about God’s relationship with his children, as they endeavour to make sense of their lives and the circumstances in which they find themselves; a narrative that speaks of God’s constancy and love for all his children; a narrative that speaks of light and hope; a narrative that, I hope with the encouragement, Flynn will continue to return to throughout his life.
But we begin with water, the stuff of life itself, without which nothing can survive. Yet water can also drown and destroy. Baptism is about both these – symbolising the movement from death to life – from being self-centred to God-centred. This morning, the water flowing over Flynn’s head will symbolise that movement to new life; and in that action is brought together all the mixed stuff of life – joy and sadness, life and death, human frailty and God’s transforming love which says to this little boy and to each of us – “What do you want me to do for you?” Amen