Sermons from St Faith's     

The Baptism of the Lord

Fr Neil Kelley, January 15th, 2012

Renewal of Baptismal Vows, Commitment to Mission and Launch of the 2012 St Faith's Stewardship Campaign

Each year at Patronal Festival time we sing at one of the liturgies that marvellous hymn “In our day of thanksgiving”.

Fr. Colin Oxenforth wrote movingly about how singing that hymn last October moved him to tears as he remembered various people who had touched his life. ‘These stones that have echoed their praises are holy’ ... And indeed they are. These stones carry memories of the past and hopes for the future. St Faith’s represents over a century of heritage and memories, and if we feel that we have a duty – or just a strong desire – to be true to that heritage and to carry it forward into the next century, there is no way this will happen unless we dig deep into our pockets. We only need to look around us to see that things cost and, increasingly, cost a lot!

We come to St Faith’s for many things, but the desire to ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ will be one of the most important for most of us. We value the distinctive way we worship the Lord in this place, but we realise that we have to make sacrifices to continue to enjoy the privilege of doing so. Try going to the opera or out for a decent meal without it costing you! Nothing is cheap these days!

Of course, no Christian congregation is dependent on a fine building and fine ritual: we could worship in a church hall or even meet in a tent, a camp-style liturgy, but the style of worship and the beauty of this building bring us closer to God and to each other – and for that we wish to offer thanks.

        what a wonderful show of volunteering ...  beautiful church, beautiful trees ...     got me started for Christmas ...   
        amazing seeing how people help others ...   very moving – gave me hope for others ...     the spirit of Christmas so well presented with many moving prayer messages

These are just a few comments from the 1,000 or so people who passed through the doors of the church during the Tree Festival week. Oh, and they praised the jam too!

Could the same appreciative comments have been made if we didn’t have this building? Could lives have been touched in exactly the same way?

One of the great strengths of SF is the commitment of many people in terms not just of money but of time and talents. We are the envy of many parish priests; some of my priest friends have to do the flowers, act as caretaker, operate the karaoke machine for the hymns and organise the coffee rota. I am very blessed indeed. But I will say to our friend from Mirfield, please don’t think this parish is the norm. When you are ordained, be prepared to do the flowers, operate the karaoke machine and make the coffee!

So often we are acutely aware of what we don’t have. But let’s not forget to be thankful for what we do have. And what we do have to be thankful for is staring me right in the face. We need constantly to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Our Stewardship Programme is more than just balancing the books though. It is a chance for us to see just how much is done by so many in the Lord’s name. And to thank the Lord for that dedication.

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus – transferred from last Sunday or Monday depending on which option you prefer. We’ve moved from thinking of a tiny helpless baby in a manger – though we still have our reminder of that – to a man preparing to embark on a tough three-year mission. At the end of which he won’t be greeted with a fat cheque as a retirement bonus, but nails and a cross.

For Jesus, it all began with baptism. And so it does with us too. Admittedly most of us were baptised when we were very young and couldn’t actually speak for ourselves, but at our Confirmation we confirmed that desire to follow Christ and serve Him in our world. And if sacrifice was at the heart of Our Lord’s ministry, why should it be any less for us?

Church on the cheap isn’t a church that is worth it! It is highly fitting therefore that on the day when we recall the start of Our Lord’s public ministry, we too commit ourselves to mission and service. For ultimately a Stewardship campaign must never be primarily about adding up the pounds, shillings and pence (that shows my age) but responding to the privilege of being called to love and serve the Lord in His world.

* Have you broken the pledges of your baptism and confirmation?
* Have you shown indifference to those in need?
* Have you spoken out for truth and justice?
* Have you been slow to forgive others?

These are questions asked of us in today’s liturgy. For this is the day that the Lord has made. Today is our opportunity to pledge ourselves once again to being radical disciples rather than passive followers.

Most of us know only too well that there are those who would claim that organised religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have had their day. We can look at parts of our country and feel aggrieved or saddened that buildings which once housed Christian worship are now mosques or temples. But very often that is the fault, not of people of other faiths, but of Christians who have made an adult, conscious decision to put the worship of Almighty God way down on their list of priorities.

Yes, church attendance nationally might be on the decline, but each one of us can do something to reverse that trend when we are prepared to stand up and be counted as Christians. Not armchair Christians who simply turn up when it suits them, occasionally giving a few pence if we have any lose change. Is God worth so very little to some? The Christian heritage passed down to us through the centuries was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. An apostle is one who is sent. Today the Lord is sending you and me into the battleground. We are the apostles and prophets of the 21st century Church. The spiritual battleground is where we are called to be in order to win souls for Christ.

And here in this place we have a spiritual focus where each one of us can be strengthened in our work of showing the care, the love and the compassion of Christ to everyone we encounter.

“These stones that have echoed their praises are holy” That might be said, or sung, of us one day!

The task is awesome and it is a great privilege. As we renew our baptismal promises today, may God strengthen us for the task that lies ahead.

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