Last week, I wrote about an Anglican priest who baptised a young man in Devon on summer holiday.
On that subject, earlier this summer, I ran across an excellent sermon from St Mark’s Church in London’s Regent Park.
The Revd Glen Ruffle baptised two children on Sunday, May 14, 2023, and delivered a short yet powerful sermon on Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:15-21. It is so traditionally Anglican, that it must be showcased.
The passage from Acts 17 was the Epistle (purple emphases mine):
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.”[b] As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”[c]
29 ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’
The Gospel passage from John 14 is part of our Lord’s final discourse to His Apostles following the Last Supper:
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit
15 ‘If you Love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’
Excerpts follow from the Revd Mr Ruffle’s sermon (bold in the original):
Paul said: God is not unknown! … He makes promises with us — and keeps them. His love extends to every person on earth. He will bring judgment and fairness to the earth.
It’s judgment and love. Many people find those two ideas hard to sit together — if you love me, you won’t be angry with me. Instead, you will give me what I want and make me happy.
But in the gospel today, Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will Obey my commandments’. If you love someone, you will listen to them, and trust them. If you trust them, you will obey them …
So we listen to our parents and obey them, because we know that they want to help us, that they have our best interests in their hearts. The same with God: his desire is that we become loving and compassionate and follow his lead. Look at the world today: it is a mess. This is what happens when we follow our plans. But if we stop, and say to God ‘we will follow your plan’, then we begin a new abundant life.
So love and obedience are very much linked! If we love our parents, we obey them. If we love God, we obey him. They want ‘what is best for us’, and this means character formation, making you more like Jesus. You might think a shiny Lamborghini is best for you, but without character formation, it really is not!
Baptism is a moment when we stop our lives and say ‘we recognise that when we do our own thing, it is not so good. We want to follow God’s way, God’s path. So we want to start again’.
So the water is like washing ourselves: we wash the old dirt and the old me away. And then we are clean and fresh, ready to start again: symbolic of a new life, a new decision to trust God, to follow God, and to love and obey God.
But we also become part of a bigger family. Baptism is like the entrance into the Christian family. Everyone here, if they are Christian, becomes like extended family …
It is our responsibility to teach and train these young lives in how to lead a life pleasing to God. So let us make sure that when they see us, they see us doing the right things!
… So make sure you do that and offer your support and kindness, and hold them in prayer.
So now let us bring these children before God as we pray for them and their families at the start of this journey.
That is an excellent summary of baptism and the congregation’s responsibility to help shepherd those who have received that sacrament.
The character building involved reminds me of another instruction from our Lord (Matthew 5:48):
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
St Mark’s Church is at the edge of Regent’s Park in St Mark’s Square, Prince Albert Road, London NW1 7TN.
Designed in the traditional style of Anglican churches, it has been rebuilt twice: once after the Second World War and again in the 1990s after an arson attack.
If this sermon is indicative of others preached there, it’s certainly worth a visit.