Friday, 26 September 2008

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Homily for the Eucharist
Sunday 21st September 2008
preached by Rosie Junemann, Reader at St Cuthbert’s Church

Baptism of Megan O’Brien

Lectionary: Proverbs 3. 13-18; 2 Corinthians 4. 1-6; Matthew 9. 9-13

Today’s service feels very much like a family occasion.

That’s not just because Jenny and Danny are here with Daniel and Megan. Nor is it just because their wider families are here to celebrate Megan’s baptism. It’s because we are all gathered here as God’s family in St Cuthbert’s Church. We are all here to welcome Megan into our Christian family and to support her as she takes her first steps alongside us on her journey to faith in Jesus Christ.

Over the years that I’ve been a part of St Cuthbert’s Church I’ve seen many children baptised and growing to maturity as part of the Christian community here. Jenny is just one of those children. I hope that I’ll also be able to see Megan and Daniel sharing in the life of the church and growing in faith in the years to come.

Of course this is Megan’s special day. Today she receives a name and an identity which are special to her.

Every faith, every culture, acknowledges the importance of individual identity and each celebrates that with a special naming ceremony.

On the first Sabbath after a Jewish child is born, her father is called forward at the synagogue to recite a special prayer and to ask blessings for the mother and child. This is when a Jewish girl receives her name. Boys are named on the eighth day after birth, as part of the rite of circumcision.

Hindu babies are named in a special ceremony held on the twelfth day after the child’s birth. The baby is bathed and wrapped in a new cloth and then placed in the father’s lap to be blessed. The priest offers prayers for the protection of the child. Then the father whispers the chosen name into the child’s right ear.

For Megan, Christian baptism marks the start of her life as a child of God – a life with new meaning and new purpose. Although she is still too young to understand it, Jesus has called her to follow him, just as he called Matthew, the tax-collector 2000 years ago. Megan will be signed with the cross, the sign of Christ, to show that she belongs to Christ before anyone else. She will have water poured over her as a symbol of cleansing and new birth. And she will be given a lighted candle to show that she is embarking on her faith journey in the company of Christ, the Light of the World.

Today, Megan receives the assurance of God’s love for her and the assurance of the loving support and encouragement of her parents and godparents – and of the whole Christian community. In welcoming Megan this morning we acknowledge our shared responsibility for her growth in the Christian faith.

The latest edition of the Mothers’ Union magazine ‘Families First’ gives some light-hearted advice on how prospective parents can prepare themselves for the rigours of parenthood.

For example:

‘Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems. First buy an octopus and a drawstring bag. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out. Time allowed: all morning’!


‘Go to the local supermarket. Take the nearest thing you can find to a pre-school child – a fully grown goat is excellent. If you intend to have more than one child, take more than one goat. Buy your week’s shopping without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goats eat or destroy’!

Joking aside, the article makes some more serious points, to encourage parents to think about their vision for family life.

“It’s very easy to head out into family life without knowing which way we are going. But how much better to have a destination in mind and to feel secure in where we are heading.”

So parents may want to ask:

What kind of a family do we want to be?
What are the responsibilities of each family member?
How can we make a difference to the community in which we live?
Are we living as God would have us live?

As Megan’s Church family we may need to consider how we can prepare ourselves to uphold her in her new life in Christ. The Baptism service reminds us that she will need the help and encouragement of the Christian community, so that she may learn to know God in public worship and private prayer, follow Jesus Christ in the life of faith, and serve her neighbour, following Christ’s example. ‘As part of the Church of Christ’, it continues, ‘we all have a duty to support her by prayer, example and teaching’.

In a new book ‘Worship Changes Lives’ the writers say:

“Baptism happens to us only once. But we go on attending other people’s baptisms throughout our life. Each time, we are reminded ‘who we are’ and where we belong within God’s family.”

We, as a pilgrim community on the journey of faith, can use this opportunity to consider where we are on that journey – and how we came to be here; to explore again what it means to us to be baptised people and members of a faith community; to renew our commitment to live out life in Christ and to ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’.

As she grows, Megan will need all the loving care a family can give. She’ll need food to nourish her and clothes to keep her warm. She’ll need protection - and discipline - and hugs and kisses – and, occasionally, someone to wipe away tears. She’ll need toys and books and help with her homework. That’s what being a family is all about.

But today Megan has become a member of our church family, too. She needs each one of us to walk beside her in the Way of Christ, to pray for her, to encourage her, and to guide her.

Marty Haugen is a modern American hymn writer. At St Cuthbert’s we probably know him best for his hymn ‘Gather us in’. But he’s also written a hymn about the Church called ‘All are welcome’. This is what he says:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
all are welcome in this place.

That sounds like a very special kind of family to me!

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