Today we are welcoming Lily to the Church or more specifically to the Church of England, but what does that mean?
There was a programme on the telly called “Call the Midwife” … A midwife inadvertently applied for a job at a hospital run by nuns. At the interview she was asked the question whether she had a faith, and she replied “No, I’m Church of England”.
We might think that is funny but when I was younger I was chatting with a pal about church, I asked him whether he was a Christian, to which he replied “well I’m not Muslim, am I?”
I think there is more to being a Christian than that. Is it just an alternative to another faith, what is it that makes us Christians. I think there is even more to being a member of the Church of England than that!
We don’t become Christians by an accident of birth – it is a process of new birth. Jesus says that we become Christians by being born of the Spirit and Water. And I don’t think he was talking about having a large scotch on the rocks, as uplifting as that might be!
We become Christians by something we do – which is turning our hearts and minds to God,
Something that God does – which is giving us the Holy Spirit and Something that the Church does – which is Baptism.
So today we are baptising Lily and we hope and pray that when she is old enough she will find God and decide to turn to God. Lily will then have the opportunity to be confirmed and the Bishop will pray for her to receive the Holy Spirit.
For some people here there has never been a time when they didn’t know God in their lives through the Holy Spirit. For others, like me, the decision came later. I dismissed my childhood faith, the teenage gene kicked in, there were other things that I thought were more important to me than my faith. I stumbled upon the church when Michelle and I decided to get married. I gave way to her requests for a Church wedding, and little by little it seemed to make sense, until the day when I had to admit to myself and to God that I believed in God. This wasn’t insignificant for me – it was a massive change in my worldview and also, I believed that if there is a God with a plan for my life then I should seek that God with all my mind, heart and soul…. And look where I ended up!
There are many metaphors in the Bible for the Church and I thought it might be helpful on this special day when we are welcoming a new member into the church to think about these Metaphors.
The first is that we are a Temple made of Living Stones. This is the only reference to a building in the New Testament – We are the Temple – us. Church doesn’t mean a cold building with uncomfortable pews and stained glass windows. Church is the people inside. Talking about uncomfortable pews – have you heard the quote by Abraham Lincoln where he said that if all the people who fell asleep in churches on a Sunday were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable?
But it is more exciting than that – we are living stones and when we come together we make a Holy Temple – a place perhaps where we can sense the presence of God.
Another metaphor for the church is that it is the bride of Christ – becoming part of the church is like being married to Christ. We seek to Love Christ, to walk alongside Christ. St. Augustine prayed, `You have made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’ Finding the community of the church where together we express our love and joy in Christ is something that answered a need in me – people talk about having a God-shaped hole, and for me I found that becoming fully part of the Church answered my restless heart. It was a falling in love for me, a marriage, when I worship in church it is a desire to tell God how I feel.
The final metaphor for the church is the Body of Christ, and I think this is favourite for many of us. Each one of us has gifts and skills that we bring to the church, and today Lily is part of this family, part of this body. Together we aim to be Christ to each other and Christ to the world.
I have found the church to be the place for authentic and profound relationships and the place where people who need healing, love, forgiveness can find it.
The following quote from Teresa of Avila who lived way back in the sixteenth century summarises being a Christian
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks in compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks in compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Let us together be the Body of Christ. Amen