Well Joshua Jonathan Iles you’ve flown a long way to be here. Whitkirk isn’t Texas and yet if you had been baptised in the lone star state, it would be just the same.
The waters of baptism there and here are just the same, they have the same power to unite us with Christ as we obey his command. And yet perhaps Joshua if he were a little older might be thinking what’s in it for me?
It’s a good question and sometimes people seem to have the wrong idea of what baptism can do for you. It certainly doesn’t offer any guarantees or security that the tragedies of life will not affect you, it doesn’t mean that you won’t make a mess of your life, it isn’t some kind of invisible force field to protect you from evil. However it does unite us with Christ and that unity is about life.
That brings us to reflect on the Gospel for today. We heard of the the woman who struggled for so long with haemorrhages who is healed as she touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak and that event is framed by the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It is a dense and rich gospel passage that is at once disturbing and encouraging.
Why disturbing? Simply because we have no experience of what it describes. Just this last week the church was full to bursting for the funeral of a local 19 year old lad who’d had cancer. His parents had journeyed with him and they together with family and friends were here to participate in something no parent should have to.
For them the raising of Jairus’ daughter is likely difficult because that cannot happen for them or indeed any parent whose precious and beloved child is taken from them.
And amongst us are those who long to be made new as the woman was when she touched his cloak but we cannot see this Jesus. Yet though we may be frustrated, the Gospel is about life and how the God who draws us here is a God of life and not death.
That theme is picked up throughout the New Testament. For example by the time St. John’s Gospel was written, that bit later than the rest of the Gospels, the writer was wrestling with these questions. So it’s interesting how often the word life appears.
‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’(1)
‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.'(2)
‘I give them eternal life.’(3)
By the time that great Gospel was written, in terms of Christian thinking the word life had come to mean more than the physical life with all its limitations, it was something more.
In that sense the Gospel for today is encouraging because it is a reminder of how with God there is always life. In a few minutes during the prayer over the water I shall say ‘Renewed in your image, may Joshua walk by the light of faith and continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord.’
That ‘continuing forever’ isn’t about security or protection in fact it is about the opposite, it’s about being vulnerable, of not being afraid of weakness of letting go of power so that our lives might be shaped more deeply by Christ’s life in us.
Just a couple of weeks ago, our fellow Christians in Charleston lost sons and daughters, lost the most precious things in their life. The baptised were not protected from the power of evil.
I cannot imagine how painful that must be and yet in a remarkable act, there appeared footage of them via a television screen addressing the young man who had murdered their children and brothers and sisters and daring to talk of forgiveness.
Their words were all about life and it seems to me that they were embodying what it means to ‘continu(e) forever in the life of Jesus Christ.’ As with anyone in the midst of such pain, the temptation is to yield to the darkness and death, to hold onto anger. And whilst their forgiveness is a journey, they were choosing life and not death.
Joshua is almost one, he has we pray, a full and long life before him and so what’s in it for him? Well there are no guarantees – but his parents Jonathan and Lita are as he grows to remind him that in baptism he has been united with Christ in his death. A reminder that we are not immune to pain and struggle. But that isn’t all in baptism we are united too with him in his resurrection life.
So through this act, so simple which means so much Joshua joins all the baptised who are ‘part of kingdom that cannot be shaken.’(4)
May he whatever the mysteries, the frustrations and the sadness always hold fast to the God of life, in whose kingdom life abounds for that is where we fix our hope, that truth is the same in Texas.