Sunday, October 12, 2008

Baptism - a Celebration of God's Greatest Gifts!

At the heart of our Baptism service is the celebration of the most wonderful of all gifts, the gift of God’s love. It’s an unconditional gift, with no strings attached of his wonderful love – and that love reaches out to each of us by name, before ever we know anything about it, before ever we have learned anything about it – it’s there, simply given to us. The most wonderful gift of God’s free, forgiving love, of God’s grace.

That’s not the only gift we celebrate today. There’s the gift of life – the miracle of new life coming into being. And that new life comes into being as a wonderful gift of God – nowhere is that sense of life as a gift of God, the God who knows us, loves us and gives us life better expressed than in the poetry of Psalm 139 …

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you,when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end*—I am still with you.

It is one of the privileges of my position as Minister that when I hear a baby has been born I can go to visit in the maternity hospital – it was a joy to do that when Eleanor was born. We were excited in the church family when Harry was expected because he was not alone!

News came that Rob and Andrea Lacey’s little baby had arrived – a sister for Bethany. The day after it was lovely to visit just as Andrea and Rob were getting ready to take little Abigail home. Earlier that day Felicity had spotted Tom driving Nicky down Hewlett Rd – and there was only one place they could be going to.

Having had short time with little Abigail I went to the desk to enquire after Tom and Nicky to be told they were still on the delivery suite, but it would be all right to pop in and see them as. It was with some fear and trepidation that I made my way upstairs to the delivery suite for the first time in about 22 years!

Seeing a new born baby always takes the breath away – it is a miracle – the hair all in place, the fingers so carefully manicured – the Psalmist has it right …

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
But I always feel my visit has a very specific purpose. It’s not always the right moment, but for the most part I endeavour to fulfil that purpose. It says close family visits only. But when you belong to a church you have another close family – and I am there from that family – more than that I am there to say a prayer of blessing.

Among the first visits – a visit from the church family. Among the first words heard, words of prayer and of blessing.

The wonderful gift of prayer … is something then that we can give to our children as they grow older.

And there is one prayer in particular that is wonderful to pass on to them. I can remember now the little picture book I had as a tiny child to help me to learn the Lord’s prayer – it was from my parents that I learned it. How precious to pass on the gift of that prayer. It is a prayer that says it all.

Go through those words – of yourself, but go through those words and hold in mind little Harry, the little one you are concerned for, go through those words and hold in mind the elderly person you are concerned for – don’t just say the words for yourself – say those words and hold in mind the one your are so concerned for.

Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth – in little Harry’s life –
As it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread – hold Harry in your prayer at this point that God will meet his every need
And Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
- sometimes, God forbid, we feel we let people down, none of us is a perfect parent – to surround little Harry in that forgiving kind of love

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil

It is a scary world Harry is born into – how great that prayer we pray for him today …

And in that scary world we can have confidence that God is with us – that he will prevail.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
Forever and ever amen.

The gift of God’s love, God’s amazing grace
The gift of new life and the wonder of its miracle
The gift of prayer and God’s blessing
The gift of the greatest prayer of all

There’s only one way to respond to the gifts that we receive – it makes you want to give in return. And when children come into play giving can make a world of difference not only to the child but also to the giver.

Helen Roberts is one of our junior church leaders who as often as not is out with the children leading the Splash Group we have. Back in the summer she asked if she could share with us all what it has meant to her to give to a child in one very particular kind of way.

Helen shared with us her experience of sponsoring a child through Compassion, a Christian charity committed to releasing children from poverty, that works in partnership with local churches in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Thank you Richard, for giving me the opportunity to share the work of Compassion projects for children in poverty across the world.

According to their statistics, in the time it takes you to take a single breath, a child dies somewhere in the world as a result of poverty.

I find statistics like that quite overwhelming and find myself questioning what I can do about it, as I feel so helpless and inadequate.

1999, I knew I wanted to do something, sponsor something, as I had two beautiful children, a lovely home and food on the table – I wanted to share my blessings. I heard of Tearfund, whose sponsorship programme is now operated by Compassion, through whom I could sponsor an individual child. That sort of level of support really appealed to me.

I might not be able to change the world by myself – but maybe I could change the world for one child at a time!

I chose a child the same age as my youngest, who was 6 at the time. Her name is Galuh and she lives in Java in Indonesia with her parents and 4 siblings. The charity sent me a picture of this solemn-looking little girl and she wrote solemnly to me thanking me for paying her school fees and helping her family financially.

She called me ‘Mama’ Roberts then – and she still does now. She has just celebrated her 16th Birthday. My latest photograph of her shows a beautiful, smiling girl and I thank God that I have had some small part in her life over the years.

We write to each other a few times a year – everything has to be translated through Compassion’s translators – and she tells me of her life, her school results, her hopes for her future. She always mentions her church, praising God for her blessings. She has trained as a leader in her church and is still at school, which she says is entirely due to my continued sponsorship.

She goes to the Compassion project several times a week and wrote to me when she made a ‘commitment to obey and be faithful to God’ as she put it, in 2006. Her aim now is to go onto Theological College. The relationship we share has enriched my life in so many ways, much more than the financial gifts have cost me.

I write to her about my family and the church here at Highbury, giving her encouragement and telling her she is always in my prayers. I sent her photos of my daughter’s wedding and she thought everyone looked beautiful!

Two years ago, I decided to sponsor a second child and chose Aple, a little boy living in Bangladesh, who was born the same year I started to sponsor Galuh. Another photo of a solemn-looking child – do they tell the children to look sad so someone will sponsor them? Our relationship is still fledgling, but he chats on about the project and his family and community and I look forward to getting to know him more over the years to come.

Compassion ensures that at least 80% of their expenditure goes to benefit the children. The church-based projects that the children attend means that they get medical check-ups, food to eat, clothes to wear and an education, which all helps to lift them out of poverty. Every child gets to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and in the same way that He is concerned with our individual needs, Compassion tries to meet the individual needs of the children and encourages them to develop their own skills and talents.

This short film is about Christuraj, a boy from Chennai in India. Christuraj is just one of the 1.1 billion children in the world today who live in a desperately poor community. At the moment more than a million children attend Compassion projects across the world, but there are many more children who are waiting for someone to sponsor them. If you could spare 60p a day to transform the world of a child, come and see me after the service and I can give you more details.

Thank you.

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