The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
Slideshow image

Jesus appears to the disciples and to Thomas Preached on the occasion of an infant baptism. On Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dear Baptism Baby,

We, the people at Knox United Church are so thankful for your parents who brought you here today to be baptised! Even though you are still a very young baby and even though we can’t begin to know what you will remember yourself from this special day, we do know this: Many of your family members and the other special people in your life gathered here today, will remember this experience for a very long time to come!  

The same goes for everyone here as we recognize a new chapter in your life as a member of the church in the world starts today with your baptism. We know that this new chapter is just the beginning of a journey that will lead you in all sorts of new directions as you grow into a toddler and a little boy. We know this being named a member of the church through baptism will be a wonderful springboard of faith as you move in to the other stages of your life. Thinking about this makes me think of a famous Dr. Seuss book called “O, the Places You’ll Go”.

Even though the people here at Knox might never know all the places you’ll go, we are happy to promise you that you will always be welcome here at Knox United Church!

We also know that our baptismal promises from today will hold true in any our of our mainstream Protestant denomination partner churches wherever you and your family might choose to go as your faith growS and ask you begin to ask questions about what it means to be a beloved child of God.

We, in the church, also know that faith is not something that is caught or taught.

We believe that faith is a journey that often starts with a clear beginning but with no distinct ending. And it’s a journey that can last your entire lifetime!

We also know and celebrate that here, this morning, your parents are taking a giant leap in faith by answering a series of faith questions on your behalf and by making promises to learn and grow with you spiritually over the course of your life. Again, we, as a congregation, are delighted to be a part of this exchange of promises and we, in our turn, will be as supportive as we can be in that regard.

It just happens that as well as celebrating the sacrament of baptism today, we are also celebrating the second Sunday in the season of Easter.

The second Sunday in the season in Easter comes right after the joy-filled celebrations of Easter Sunday service we had here last week. The second Sunday in Easter is sometimes called the Low Sunday in the church year because it’s a day when many of our people are still trying to understand what it means to say ‘yes’ to being faithful when its hard work.

Sometimes, we might think this is because there is a lower turnout for Church on this day but in truth, its thought to be called Low because it’s a day when things more or less return to their routines. More or less.

In some United Churches, its common to celebrate something called Holy Humour Sunday on this day. Holy Humour Sunday is a break in the routine of hearing the stories from the bible that vividly tell about the rocky and bumpy path that Jesus, our model and perfector of our faith chose to follow after his baptism in the River Jordan by his cousin, John, the Baptist.

This week, after talking with some of the members of our worship planning team and some of our folks who have been doing the hard work of reflecting on these difficult stories for the six weeks of Lent, we decided to postpone Holy Humour Sunday for a couple of weeks yet.

We did this because we realized that some of our regular attenders here at Knox are still putting together some of the puzzle pieces of the fullness of Jesus and how that shapes their own saying ‘yes’ to being faithful followers in his Way.

This is what brings us to our three part story from the gospel according to John this morning.   This story follows on from those stories we have shared leading up to Easter Sunday and because of that, it underlines a whole new way of understanding how Jesus came to life in a new way for those who believed in his teachings. In the first part of our story this morning we heard about how Jesus’ twelve most faithful friends who were so confused, afraid, and uncertain about what might happen next that they huddled together, in secret, behind locked doors.

This part of the story is one that most of us here really understand because we know this: We know that sometimes that happens in our life of faith, especially when someone we love has died, and when we are not sure what to do next, the very best thing we can do is meet with some of those special people who also loved the person who died and who also are feeling the same sense of being lost and alone. And so the story goes that just as the faithful friends gathered to consider their next steps, Jesus surprised them. How did he do it? Somehow, he was able to get through those locked doors.

This is one of those mysteries of our faith that is very hard to understand and because of that, its so easy to get sidetracked on whether or not this really happened or was even possible. But, for me, that seems to just distract us from what’s really important about this story which is what Jesus’ message for his followers was. His message to his faithful friends was to keep on keeping on with the work he and they had begun in the world and to have faith that he would be with them in a new way.

I really like what he did first in the story. The very first thing, the story tells us Jesus did was he brought his peace to his beloved friends. Then, breathing the power of the Holy Spirit on his friends to strengthen and fortify them for their work in the world, he commissioned them to continue his work in the world. Then he said to forgive all those who had done wrong things.   Wise people think that Jesus did these things because he knew that it would be hard for people to get on with their important work in creating a better world. Unless that better world could begin right there in that very circle of frightened friends, how could it possibly work in the wider world?

There is no question that making peace with each other and those they feared, forgiving all those who had done wrong things, and then learning to trust in Jesus’ presence through the power of the Holy Spirit would take a lot of practice for those fear-filled friends huddled behind locked doors.  

In the strangest of ways, however, that is exactly what they needed to hear, especially Jesus’ friend, Thomas who had, up until recently been one of his most faithful friends. We know this from some our other stories from scripture when Thomas promised to follow Jesus wherever that might lead.

Here in this morning’s second story from scripture, we learn that Thomas was so afraid of all the things that had happened in those seven days since they all arrived in Jerusalem together, he was having some serious doubts about this friendship. Until, that is, Jesus arrived on the scene. Even after showing Thomas all the bad things that had happened to him, Thomas realized that was still Jesus. In fact, the story tells us that even before Jesus showed him the marks on his hands and on his arms, Thomas recognized him. The story tells us the minute Thomas heard Jesus’ voice, he recognized that his beloved friend lived in a new way, and Thomas’ faith was restored.

The third and last part of the story tells us that this miraculous sign of Jesus appearing to his friends huddled together behind locked doors was only the first of many signs shared. We are also told the story is recorded here in the gospel according to John so that Jesus’ followers faith lives might be strengthened and fortified for the rocky and bumpy paths they would soon follow. This is where the story ended for today but I am certain if you and your family were to come to church next week or any week through the seven weeks of the season of Easter there would be stories and more examples of the same.

If not, then there are also many wonderful stories in your brand new children’s story bible we gave you this morning. I am certain you will enjoy looking at it with your family, when you are ready. In the meantime, this brings us back to where we started this morning with the sacrament of baptism as we have been about the intentional work of drawing near to God so that God might draw near to us.

Our hope for you this day and each year as you grow is that your parents, grandparents, and Godparents might have a special party and re-tell some of the special things that happened here this morning. For example, someone might be aware that God came near in the words of some of the promises your mom and dad made on your behalf. Others might have noticed the blessing or the challenge in the baptismal promises we all made. Still others might have noticed how the special music chosen helped everyone sense God’s Holy presence. Those of us here who will add your name to our historic roll as a new member of the United Church of Canada or make sure your name is added to our Annual Meeting report next winter, will be remembering our own baptism stories and our own faith journeys as God’s beloved children, and we will be hoping you will come back and see us sooner than that!

Regardless of what happens between now and the next time we are all together, know this: Together we have woven a very meaningful tapestry of memories your family and our church family will hold tenderly as this new chapter of your life as being named God’s own beloved child and now member of the church unfolds.

I am confident, too, that this tapestry of experiences today will provide a solid foundation for your family to actively seek out meaningful ways to nurture and sustain your faith as you grow from infancy into childhood and so on throughout your life. “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” I can hardly wait to hear the stories!

In the meantime, when the dust has settled after all the hubbub of today, your family might find other ways to be reminded of this special day.

For example, they might have your baptism certificate framed and displayed in a special place; they might have some family pictures to share of how everyone was together for this special occasion. They might even choose to tuck your baptism candle away in its box and bring it out to be lit on your birthday or the first anniversary of your baptism.

The purpose of all this will be to remind themselves, your family and our faith family here at Knox of this very important good news: You, Baby, are a blessing from God, and now a member of the Church. For all this and more we say: Thanks be to God. Amen!

(N.B.) The contents of this homily takes some of its impetus from a resource entitled “In the Name of Love: A Baptism Resource for Congregations”, Toronto: United Church of Canada, 2006, pp. 57-57