Sermon 2017 September 3rd

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUNDAY 03 SEPTEMBER 2017

Preacher: Revd Angus MacLeod MA BD

[Exodus 3 & Matthew 16]

 

Little brother/sister, by this act of baptism

you begin a journey that will take your whole life.

Today is not an end, but a beginning.

What God will make of you, we know not.

Where God will lead you, surprise or inspire you, we cannot say.

This we know, this we say: God is with you.

You are precious in His sight.

 

These are the informal words with which we welcomed

Albert, Alice, Emilia and Scarlett

immediately following their baptisms (and blessings) today.

So, what do we imagine the journey of faith, just embarked on, to be –

for those beginning the baptised life (who will recall absolutely zero)

for their parents, who undertake to be key players in that baptised life,

or those of us already baptised,

reminded this morning of our own once-upon-a-time immersions?

 

Borrowing from today’s scriptures, we might anticipate two threads

to our pilgrimage with God; two threads to our Christian journey –

(Firstly), something of wonder; (secondly) something of the cross.

 

It is regularly stated: “There are no atheists in a foxhole.”

The notion that under fire, everyone, irreligious or not,

reaches for, clings to God in the hour of crisis.

Near death, certainly concentrates the mind for some.

But I have always preferred Rowan Williams’ more positive:

“There are no atheists in a maternity ward.”

expressing the awe and wonder that greets a new birth –

the miracle of tiny hinged fingers, time spent simply gazing at a small child –

life through a new optic of amazement. (O’Driscoll)

 

Perhaps today’s baptismal parents, (grandparents and godparents)

may have experienced this, if only fleetingly,

before the exhaustions of reality parenting

prevent the over-romanticising of family life!

Yet family life – like any human interaction –

is always potentially sacred ground.

As a wise Spiritual Director once said:

“Your child will teach you more about the love of God than any book.”

 

The Old Testament lesson [Exodus 3] gave us the Bible’s most famous holy ground;

where shoes must be removed, in order to tread reverently:

Moses encountering God at the Burning Bush;

from which our denomination, the Church of Scotland, takes its symbol of identity.

 

Moses, Hebrew child in Egypt; saved at birth from infanticide,

plucked from the reed basket on the Nile.

Raised a prince of that realm.

Then in a moment of fury, killing an overseer who mistreated a Hebrew slave.

Forced to flee.

Now an exile, beyond the wilderness, on the slopes of Mount Horeb,

tending the flocks of his father-in-law, the priest of Midian.

There, he turns aside to behold/to not miss, the extraordinary –

the bush that blazed, yet was not consumed, startlingly holy ground.

 

Then a familiar biblical exchange – a name called, a response given:

“Moses, Moses!”- “Here I am.”
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

You are connected to the generations gone before;

Now you are commissioned – to liberate your brothers and sisters,

from the slavery of Egypt – an oppression, which until very recently,

you have been a part of.

 

Moses protests his inadequacies – surely, I am not the one for the task?

Moses is indeed an unlikely candidate for an improbable vocation,

but in the face of the call, Moses goes –

and the great story of liberation unfolds.

On that journey, there will be moments of failure, rejection, discouragement,

but also, perseverance, prayer, deliverance and above all,

through thick and thin, God’s abiding presence.

 

Moses’s biography indicates that faithful following of God requires much;

the call to be a disciple of Jesus spells it out even more clearly.

“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
It is a strange kind of invitation – especially on a baptismal day.

But there it is.

 

Today’s gospel began, From that time on…signalling a shift.

It is the first of four predictions/warnings that the Messiah must suffer and die,

in order to accomplish or fulfil his call.

To Peter it is an unacceptable provocation.

 

Shortly before this scene, Peter has been the first to declare/recognise

Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah.

In response, Jesus affirms Peter as the Rock and gives him authority

to bind or loose things on heaven and earth.

 

Now, almost immediately, Peter wants to use this authority

to bind Jesus here on earth.

Peter only understands Messiah in conventional terms –

a liberator, restoring Israel, overthrowing Roman occupiers,

by force if necessary – an embodiment of armour-plated strength.

 

When Jesus on the other hand, declares the necessity to suffer and die –

it is a dangerous departing from the script.

Jesus says life and self are found in the paradox

of leaving behind the very things that seem to give us security.

[Servanthood does not mean escaping suffering;

messiahship does not mean escaping death].

When Peter urges a pathway, away from vulnerability,

arguably, he only wants to protect his friend and master –

but perhaps he is also seeking to protect himself.

In any case, Peter – in the space of a few gospel verses –

rolls from rock, to stumbling block –

hence Jesus’ stinging rebuke.

Our own instincts are to embrace Jesus’ goodness, but to avoid his cross –

Yet that is where Jesus tells us true life is to be found.

 

While this may represent an inglorious moment for Peter,

Strangely, it might be a helpful reminder and an encouragement, on a baptismal day,

Reminder – that each disciple – Peter or us –

still has things to learn about being a follower of Jesus.

We are never fully arrived; we never fully comprehend/capture God.

God’s name at the Burning Bush – I am who I am

illustrates the impossibility of containing God in boxes of our own making.

 

And for parents seeking to raise a child in faith,

or any of us, struggling to be disciples in a complex world –

an encouragement – a release from the misconception,

that we have to know it all about our faith before faith can begin/be real;

the unknown or unexpected are in the DNA of a disciple’s journey.

Where God will lead you, surprise or inspire you, we cannot say.

This we know, this we say: God is with you. You are precious in His sight.

As the suffering Servant, Jesus the Messiah told his disciples:

“I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

A promise, to beckon us deeper into the mystery and surprise,

the love and adventure of God.

Happy travelling – Albert, Alice, Emilia, Scarlett – Peter – us all.