Sunday 13 June 2021

Double baptism of Ailbhe Lynda Cahill & Adam John Nevin

 Address given at St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 13 June 2021

Today is a joyful occasion, a day for celebration, a day of baptism - and a double one too!

For many of us it is a family celebration. Particularly so for Sandra and Ruari, and for Sharon and Robert, as they bring Ailbhe Lynda and Adam John to be christened in the presence of so many relatives and friends, who share their joy in them. Sandra and Sharon are daughters of John and Myrtle Gloster.

For their godparents, it is a day when they promise to encourage them in their life and in their faith. Each pair of parents will stand as godparents for the other pair's child. It is a day to celebrate the start of very special relationships they will have with their godchildren as they grow up.

My daughter, when she was small, didn’t understand what a godmother was. She called her godmother ‘my bed-sitter’, because when she came to stay her godmother would sit on the end of her bed and have long talks with her. My daughter loved those special talks. May you as godparents be equally special ‘bed-sitters’ for Ailbhe and Adam!

It is surely right for families to celebrate as families, because our Lord Jesus Christ himself was reared in a human family, and enjoyed family celebrations -  we remember the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

But today is about much more than just family celebration.

St Matthew’s Gospel tells us how Jesus after his resurrection commissioned the apostles to make disciples of all nations, and to mark it by baptism. They in turn passed on the commission to others, handing on the gift of faith to new generations. And so we, as that part of Christ’s church gathered here today, as Jesus’s disciples, pass on this gift to a new generation, to Ailbhe and to Adam.

We are here to welcome them as new members of Christ’s Church.  Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God, which will last for the rest of their lives. Whether we are family or not, we celebrate that today. And as we renew our baptismal vows in a few moments, let us reflect on our own journey, and let us be determined to support Ailbhe’s and Adam’s parents and godparents as they guide them on their journeys.

Ailbhe and Adam will be baptised “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Matthew tells us that Jesus himself used these words, invoking the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God. Those of us who are Anglicans share this baptismal formula with most other Christians, including the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and most Reformed Churches. It is a symbol of unity within the diversity of our traditions that we all baptise in the same words.

We shouldn’t see the Trinity as a static thing, I think. Rather, God reveals himself in the Trinity as a dynamic cycle of loving relationships. The Father and the Son loving each other; the Son and the Spirit loving each other; and the Spirit and the Father loving each other.

May Ailbhe and Adam grow up to recognise God’s dynamic cycle of love reflected in their own relationships!

In today’s Gospel reading (Mark4:26-34), Jesus likens the kingdom of God to sowing seeds.

Today’s baptisms are like the sowing of two seeds. When we sow seeds in the kingdom of God, we must be patient. We must live in hope and trust in God’s goodness and loving kindness to us all.

We pray that both Ailbhe and Adam, nurtured by the love and examples of their parents and godparents, may grow like mustard seeds in God’s kingdom. May they live in hope, trusting in God’s loving faithfulness, and both yield and receive a great harvest of goodness in the kingdom of God.


Sowing seeds


Van Gogh: The Sower (after Millet) 1881

An address given in Killodiernan church on Sunday 13 June 2021, the 2nd after Trinity

Mark tells us in today’s Gospel reading (Mark 4:26-34) that Jesus spoke only in parables in his public teaching, but explained everything in private to his disciples.

Why did Jesus take this approach, I wonder? Perhaps he realised that if he spoke his mind too directly, his enemies among the religious and political leaders would move against him before he was ready. Speaking in parables for others to interpret was safer, yet he needed to make sure that the disciples he chose had understood his teaching correctly.

But a more important reason is this, I think. Jesus wanted people to use their own minds, to wrestle out the truth in his parables for themselves. By doing this they would better understand his teaching, and the images in his parables would help them remember it. That is a powerful technique, used by great teachers.

Today Mark gives us two short parables about the kingdom of God, often known as ‘the parable of the growing seed’ and ‘the parable of the mustard seed’.

The kingdom of God is central to Jesus’s teaching. He teaches us to pray, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.’ As I said to you the Sunday before last, I feel sure we enter the kingdom of God when we do God’s will here on earth, as it is done in heaven.

Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus explained today’s parables to his disciples, so let us look at them closely ourselves, to tease out what they mean for us.

‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground’, says Jesus.

Who is this sower who scatters seed? Some have interpreted it as Jesus himself, but I am sure this is wrong. The sower does not know how the seed sprouts and grows, but the Son of God surely knows.

The sower is surely each one of us, man or woman. We must hope and trust that ‘when we scatter seed on the ground, … the seed (will) sprout and grow, … first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head’. Only when the grain is ripe, through the grace of God, can we gather in a good harvest.

Similarly, when we make our human plans, we cannot know how they will turn out. We can only hope, and trust in the goodness of our loving God, that they will turn out well.

The message Jesus means us to take from this parable is surely this. In the kingdom of God we must be patient. We must live in hope, and we must trust in God’s goodness and loving kindness to us. Because our loving God is faithful, and knows what we need, we can be sure that we will receive a bounty of goodness.

‘The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,’ says Jesus, ‘… the smallest of all the seeds on earth’.

‘Yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs,’ he continues, ‘and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

In his parables, Jesus likes to use images from nature that would be familiar to his audience. But you, like me, may find this one a bit puzzling, because mustard seeds are not particularly small, around 1mm or so, compared for instance to the dust like seeds of an orchid. And nor do mustard plants grow particularly large.

Yet perhaps mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds that his audience would be familiar with deliberately sowing, smaller than the grains of barley or wheat, smaller than peas or beans. And mustard is an annual plant that grows rapidly with large leaves, so that in favourable conditions, by the end of a single season, it could well be big enough to provide shade for birds to roost in on the ground, just as the related oilseed rape does for partridge or pheasants.

In my woodland garden I have many oak trees, grown from acorns I collected from the Botanic Gardens in Dublin just over 20 years ago. My wife Marty planted and nurtured them, and I planted them out as a shelter-belt. Now they are around 40 feet high, providing shade and much needed shelter from the prevailing winds, for me and for a host of birds and other wildlife as well. They are my pride and joy.

I think the message Jesus means us to take from the parable of the mustard seed is clear. The kingdom of God is not a place nor is it a static thing. It is a growing and developing organism. Everything we do for love of God and neighbour, every little act of kindness, nourishes the growing kingdom. Over time, we can see it grow and develop from tiny beginnings to something wonderfully large and life-giving. It is God’s will that we and all creation may flourish in his growing kingdom.

This morning, two of John and Myrtle Gloster’s grandchildren were baptised in St Mary’s.

They are Ailbhe Lynda, daughter of Sandra and Ruari Cahill, and Adam John Nevin, son of Sharon and Robert Nevin. It was a scene of great rejoicing for their families, and I’m sure you will want to join me in welcoming them into our church family.

We can see their baptisms as like the planting of two seeds. Nurtured by the love and examples of their parents and godparents, they will grow organically like mustard seeds in God’s kingdom. We pray that they will live in hope, trusting in God’s loving kindness, and both give and receive a great bounty of goodness in the kingdom of God.

Let us finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word:

Almighty God,
without you we are unable to please you:
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts:
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen