Sometimes the stars simply align, and everything just happens smoothly and easily. On a day of baptisms across the parishes, we are given two readings which offer the whole thing up on a plate.
So, the starting point is this: which would you prefer for your child this morning: a burning coal on the lips, or abandoning the biggest catch of fish ever to walk around Israel with Jesus? Both events are life-changing, both require huge faith, and both present opportunities for wonder. If only it were as simple as that.
Isaiah sees God in the temple. Isaiah is a priest, he is going about his everyday work, and he actually sees the God he worships and adores. Peter and Andrew, James and John are going about their everyday work by Lake Galilee, and they actually meet the Messiah they have been longing for all their lives. In baptism, both these things collide. These children will meet the longed-for Messiah, and will have that Christ as close to them as their clothes for the rest of their life. We, gathered together to witness this baptism, will see God amongst us, the God whom we worship and adore, in the oil, the water, the welcome and the candle, as well as sharing him in bread and wine. This is an extraordinary day, and we are blessed to be together to experience it. That’s today, but the more vexed question is, “what about tomorrow?” “What happens then?”
For brevity’s sake, we shortened the Isaiah reading. In a quiet moment, see where God takes Isaiah, once he has accepted the call to be a prophet – it is scary! And what about the four fishermen? They were promised a life of catching people – whatever that means – which would involve watching Jesus heal sick people, multiply loaves and fishes, confront the religious authorities and ultimately die on a cross – was that what they signed up for?
Isaiah prophesied, for many long years, in the teeth of bitter opposition and impending disaster for Israel. The four fishermen struggled daily with the sayings and actions of Jesus, still not fully understanding what was going on around them until that glorious Easter morning.
Let us not imagine that the aftermath of baptism is easy. The promises that will be made today demand a lot of work – they call for both active and passive involvement in the life of these children – prayer, encouragement, being an example, walking together – and the Holy Spirit, let loose in these children, can be very insistent. Whatever ideas you may have mapped out for these children’s life may be very different from what God has up his sleeve. Are you prepared for that?
And all of us – are we fully prepared to take on what we will promise for these children? To be welcoming, and to uphold them in their new life in Christ? What exactly does that mean? There are plenty of children here – do we pick these two out for special attention, or seek to encourage every single one?
And what about this “catching people” thing that Jesus has with these four fishermen? Is that relevant to us today? Should we be going out and catching people for Christ? The inference is that we should, that we, by our baptism, are disciples of Christ just as much as Peter & Andrew and James & John. We are involved in that function of the kingdom, that outreach, that making sure that everybody knows about the love of God, in practical as well as spiritual ways.
We cannot all be prophets, like Isaiah. We cannot all be apostles, as these four fishermen became, but we can all play our part in pointing people to Christ. Our conversation is to be based on love and grace, generosity and welcome, as Christ’s was. Yet where we perceive there to be wrong or injustice, we are to challenge, just as Christ did. There is plenty of room in this building for lots more people to share these times of worship and prayer together – let’s do our bit at getting them in.
At our baptism, each one of us was called to be a disciple of Christ, in exactly the same way that Isaiah was called, if a little less dramatic, and in exactly the same way that these four fishermen were called to drop everything and follow Christ. The call has not changed, despite the years that have followed our baptism.
As members of the congregation here, we have been present at many baptisms – we have watched the children grow up and move on, and others have come in their place. The promises we take at every single baptism here hold good for all of our worshipping lives, and affect what we do in terms of Junior Church, welcoming at the door, administering the finances, doing the flowers, or the readings, or the coffee, sorting out the publicity, getting people involved in the everyday life of the parish.
And above all, we are called to prayer, that over-arching activity which links us in to our heavenly Father, that keeps us close to him, and enables the Holy Spirit to spur us to a full engagement in the Kingdom of God. As we watch, as we make promises, as we pray, as we coo over these children, may we still hold fast to our baptism, and hold true to the promises we make, so that these children may be fully supported throughout their worshipping life, and that we may fully live out our discipleship, to the glory of God the Father.