Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Journey of Faith - Baptism and God's Amazing Love

Text for the week: “I now realise that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis.” Peter in Acts 10:34

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any who are worshipping with us for the first time.

During our morning service we are going to share in the Sacrament of Baptism with Ben and with Phil and Adam.

When I was growing up in a Christian family and came to the point of making decisions that would be affecting the rest of my life I made my own profession of faith and received the right hand of fellowship. It was the teaching of Jesus and the way of life he mapped out that caught my imagination, a way of life based on love for God and love for neighbour.

It was when I left home and people called in question all my inconsistencies that I discovered another verse that turned my whole idea about the Christian faith on its head.

It’s 1 John 4:10 “This is what love is: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.”

It starts not with anything I’ve done, not even my faith: it starts with God and the love that reaches out through Jesus by the power of the Spirit and is poured over each one of us individually.

That, for me goes to the heart of the message of baptism. It’s a celebration of God’s grace, the free gift of God’s love, poured over us before we know anything about it. But the love of God won’t make a difference to us unless we make it our own and say, I believe in God and in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.

When we share baptism with younger children it’s our prayer that they will come to the point of making that profession of faith for themselves.

When older young people and adults come to be baptised it’s wonderful to hear them make that profession of faith in response to the baptism they receive. That’s the celebration we share today!

Welcome and Call to Worship
A time of Praise
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Open the Book – God has no favourites

A marvelous telling of the story of Peter and Cornelius from our Open the Book team – and what a message – God has no favourites! And what a prayer …

Dear God, thank you that you don’t have favourites. Please help us to be like that too, so that people we know don’t get left out. Amen.

What a meal they had together – quite some party.

But that’s not all that happened.

What followed on next is interesting …

Reading: Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message. 45The Jewish believers who had come from Joppa with Peter were amazed that God had poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles also. 46For they heard them speaking in strange tongues and praising God's greatness. Peter spoke up: 47“These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptized with water?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay with them for a few days.

This morning we are going to share in the Sacrament of Baptism and we’re going to do that with Ben, with Adam and with Philip.

So we are going to sing one of Ben’s favourite songs

Be bold, be strong for the Lord you God is with you

We share in the Sacrament of Baptism

In some ways Baptism is a sign of belonging to the church, being part of a church family. But much more than that, at heart it’s a wonderful reminder that being a Christian doesn’t start with anything we do – as if we could do something to persuade God to accept us. Neither does it start with anything we believe as if we needed to have exactly the right kind of faith to be accepted by God. It all starts with the free gift of God’s love that’s poured over us because God loves us and accepts us just as we are. That’s the wonderful message of God’s gift.

So, I am going to pour water over you – and it’s real water. Just as the water is real, so too God’s love is real – and it’s poured over you completely.

The wonderful thing about the love of God is that it can really make a difference in our lives – help us through difficult times, open up for us a way of living that’s based on that love and involves love for God and love for our neighbour and love for everyone around us.

So, the water in this jug [taking a jug of water from beside the font]  is real, it’s wet, it’s cold. And it has incredible life-giving properties. If I pour out this water over this glass [taking a glass and holding it upside down] – it’s real water, it’s wet, it’s cold – it has life-giving properties and it’s useless. It cascades to the floor.

If, however, I turn the glass the right way up [turning the glass the right way up] and pour the water over it, now I can catch the water. I can drink it and the life-giving properties help to give me life!

So, that’s the same with the love of God. The love of God reaches out to us, pours over us just as we are, however young, however old, but for it to make a difference in our lives we have to make it our own.

And so the hope in baptism as we shared it with Jamie and Matthew when they were tiny, and now as we share it with Ben who is 5 and in year 1 is that when as they grow up and when they come to be making decisions for themselves about the rest of their lives they will come to that point of saying, this love of God is for me, being a Christian is for me. And then they come to the point of making a profession of their faith and say I believe in God and I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Saviour.

And as we see that grace of God at work within you we hope to extend the right hand of fellowship to you and welcome you into membership of our church.

So, as we share first in the baptism of Ben I am going to ask Vicky and Phil and Karen as God Parent to come forward with Ben – and I will ask Vicky and Phil, do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? – We do

Do you promise to bring Ben and Jamie and Matthew up in the family of the church to know the teachings of Jesus and the love of God for himself? – We do

To the God parent – do you promise to give all your support to Phil and Vicky as they bring Ben up in a loving home with Jamie and Matthew?

To the Family – do you promise to give all your support to Phil and Vicky as they bring Ben up in a loving home with Jamie and Matthew?

To the Church family – do you promise to give a welcome to all and especially to those who are children, growing up in the family of the church so that they can come to know the love of God for themselves?

Ben, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Adam and Phil have grown up here very much as part of the Church Family – but they have not been baptized. You have said that you want to be baptised because your faith has become important to you. So in baptism we are celebrating the way God’s love reaches out to you and is poured over you – just as the water is real, so too the water of life, the life-giving Spirit of God is real and can transform your lives – and we are then going to ask you to make your profession of faith.

So I ask you, first Adam, and then Phil  to kneel

Adam / Phil, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Adam, do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?          I do.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

I will take your name to our Church Meeting at the beginning of June and then at a Communion Service we will extend the right hand of fellowship and welcome you into membership of the Church of Jesus Christ here at Highbury and the Church worldwide.

Phil do you believe in God and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?   I do.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Now, in that love of God, rise up to a new life in Christ Jesus and stand in the love of God. I invite you to make your profession of faith  that you want to make this love of God your own in Jesus Christ and draw on that strength from beyond us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I will take your name to our Church Meeting at the beginning of June and then at a Communion Service we will extend the right hand of fellowship and welcome you into membership of the Church of Jesus Christ here at Highbury and the Church worldwide.

I am now going to ask the whole Church Family here which of course includes your Mum and Dad to stand together with all those who have come specially for today’s service. I invite you to share in a statement of faith using words of Paul from Romans 5 in which he takes that imagery first used by Jesus of the living water that flows out from Christ in the power of the spirit and is poured over each one of us and makes the world of difference in the living of our lives.

Now that we have been put right with God through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
He has brought us by faith into this experience of God's grace,
in which we now live.
And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God's glory!
We also boast of our troubles,
because we know that trouble produces endurance,
endurance brings God's approval,
and his approval creates hope.

This hope does not disappoint us,
for God has poured out his love into our hearts
by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to us. Amen.

Prayer - Felicity

We have a gift for Ben … and a gift for Adam and Phil –

For Ben a book of Bible stories for you to read.

And for Adam and Phil – The Bible Book.

The Bible is a handbook for living the Christian life – great Bible stories to read. But also a book to get your mind round and to explore – and maybe this can be something to help you as you explore that faith into the future as well.

Hy-Spirit are going to lead us in a song that Adam and Phil have requested –

A Hy-Spirit Song - Your love is amazing

Activities for all over 3

When we needed a new logo who better to turn to but Phil, Ben’s Dad. I’d got all sorts of ideas – about a circle with cross in it, but an open circle that’s all welcoming – but in the nicest of ways Phil wasn’t having anything of it! But you don’t want a new logo, said Phil, that’s very old hat. You just want to say who you are – but say it in an eye-catching way. And our notice boards and the presentation of our leaflets do exactly that. Highbury Congregational Church – with its special font. But then, Phil was really nice … and if you look very carefully there’s a line under Highbury Congregational Church it’s broken in the middle … and what do you see but my circle! Take a look afterwards!

But then on our main notice board we’ve got a statement of our two service times – and what we stand for.

Highbury – a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission, with Christ at the centre and open to all.

I still think that’s an exciting vision.

In all sorts of ways it’s great for today’s service as we celebrate baptism – growing up in a church family is to share Chrsitain friendship – it’s to be challenged in Christian mission – it’s to seek to put Christa at the centre and it’s to be open to all.

Our hope is that Ben comes to make his own profession of faith … and it’s great to share in Baptism with Adam and Phil and for them to make their profession of faith.

I love the idea that faith is something to be explored. My hope is that you will want to explore your faith. And keep asking questions!

To explore your faith it’s great to share with others – but it’s also good to go back to the sources of the faith. To go back to the Bible – Ben’s got a book of Bible stories hopefully to read!

Adam and Phil have a copy of a book by Nick Page – The Bible Book – a User’s Guide. Nick Page spoke at a church leaders conference we had a couple of years ago. He works for Open Doors in Witney supporting the Persecuted church – and hopefully we’ll be able to get him to come across and preach sometime in the not too distant future! He’s a great speaker.

Think of studying the Bible, he suggests,  as like exploring another land – how do we map the Bible? What’s the terrain? What does the country look like?

“The most important thing to bring to the Bible is the ability to ask questions. We have to be willing to engage with the text, to ask questions and look for the answers.”

“The Bible is full of people who asked God challenging questions; they weren’t afraid, neither should we be.”

He comes up with a whole set of questions that help you to understand the origin of the passage, the contents of the passage and the meaning of the passage.

It all helps as you explore the faith.

Explorers, Nick Page suggests, have one aim: to explore. They want to visit new place, to climb new heights, to discover things that no one has ever discovered before. Exmporation is about the gathering of knowledge – and exploring the Bible is no different.

The Bible gives us knowledge in all sorts of different ways – Nick Page puts his finger on three things it will give us knowledge about

Knowledge of the Bible – you need to read it, explore it and the more you do the more you will find your way round it, the more useful it will become.

Knowledge of life – it’s all about life how you live it, what you do with it, what it’s for

Knowledge of God – explore the Bible and find out what God is like.

But take care!

Parts of the Bible are difficult to get your mind round and hard to understand. Not least the earlier parts of the Old Testament. The great thing is that there is a key to understanding the Bible inside the Bible itself.

And the key is Jesus – it was on resurrection day, the first Easter that he spent a great deal of time with his closest friends showing how the whole story of the Bible he knew, we call the Old Testament, reached its fulfilment in him.

It was as if he gave his followers a way of reading the Bible that always used Jesus as the measure and the guide.

And what Luke does in the Gospel of Luke and in the Book of Acts is to give us an insight into ways Jesus read the Bible.

That’s what that story of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, who comes to faith and discovers that God has no favourites is all about.

It’s worth looking at the text in the church Bibles.

Acts 10 -

Peter had grown up reading the Bible with its very strict rules about what you can eat and what you cannot eat. Strict rules about who you should eat with as well.

Then he had meet with Jesus who ate all kinds of things and would eat with anyone and everyone. Luke tells many of those stories in his Gospel.

Now in that time of prayer as Peter has a dream he feels he is commanded by God to eat anything and everything.

It’s one of those breakthrough moments for Peter – so that when he does meet with Cornelius, the Centurion he sees God at work.

And then in his speech he describes what he now realizes.

And it is all down to what Peter knows of Jesus.

Peter began to speak: “I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. 35Those who worship him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know of the great event that took place throughout the land of Israel, beginning in Galilee after John preached his message of baptism. 38You know about Jesus of Nazareth and how God poured out on him the Holy Spirit and power. He went everywhere, doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses of everything that he did in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem. Then they put him to death by nailing him to a cross. 40But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, 41not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death. 42And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets spoke about him, saying that all who believe in him will have their sins forgiven through the power of his name.”

God treats everyone on the same basis – God has no favourites.

Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

His life of teaching and healing ends in crucifixion and then in resurrection – he and his message is exactly what all the prophets of old had been speaking of.

This is the message to take to heart. It’s a big message to take to heart – and the church in Jerusalem are skeptical so Peter tells them in a spirit of wonder what had happened.

There are whole swathes of the Bible especially in the early books of the Law where those laws are worked out.

But Jesus has brought the story of the Bible to fulfilmnet. You cannot just read verses in the Old Tetament and say, it says so there. You have to take into account what Jesus did, who he was, what he taught, all he shared in accepting all – know that Jesus is Lord of all.

And so realise that was then this is now – and we do this in the name of Jesus.

Acts 11:5-17

“While I was praying in the city of Joppa, I had a vision. I saw something coming down that looked like a large sheet being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it stopped next to me. 6I looked closely inside and saw domesticated and wild animals, reptiles, and wild birds. 7Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat!’ 8But I said, ‘Certainly not, Lord! No ritually unclean or defiled food has ever entered my mouth.’ 9The voice spoke again from heaven, ‘Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.’ 10This happened three times, and finally the whole thing was drawn back up into heaven. 11At that very moment three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where I was staying. 12The Spirit told me to go with them without hesitation. These six fellow-believers from Joppa accompanied me to Caesarea, and we all went into the house of Cornelius. 13He told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. 14He will speak words to you by which you and all your family will be saved.’ 15And when I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!”

The Church in Jerusalem is persuaded.

18When they heard this, they stopped their criticism and praised God, saying, “Then God has given to the Gentiles also the opportunity to repent and live!”

This for Peter was a new way of reading the Bible that changed his whole life. It changed the lives of those he was with as well – no longer.

The key to reading the Bible is to seek that inspiration that Jesus offers.

That way the Bible will be for us the inspiration it was for those who wrote it, for those who lived it.

There’s one more question to ask, suggests Nick Page.

For me, as for so many Christians, the Bible is not just another Book: it is the Book where we find God’s Word for us – it is the book that is in a very special way inspired by God.

Nick Page puts it really well …

The key thing is what we mean by ‘inspire’. The word comes from two Latin words spirare meaning ‘breathe’ and in meaning … um … in. Inspire literally means to breathe in.

To read the Bible is to breathe in God – to feel what God feels, hear God’s words, feel God’s life within us.

“That means the most important question is How has it changed your life? To breathe in something of God is to be more loving, kind, forgiving, faithful, patient, understanding, compassionate in ourselves and to recognize and respond to those qualities in God. If we do that, then we will truly be inspired and the Bible will truly be inspirational.”

A Hy-Spirit Song
No barriers
OBG 38 Heaven’s walls

1          Heaven's walls at times seem far too high -
            It's hard to see God's throne;
            For fear and darkness take a hold
            And we are left alone.
            And yet those walls come tumbling down
            As we in Christ believe;
            Then let us find fresh faith and love
            And God's good grace receive.

2          Church walls within can soon divide
            All those who should be one;
            For arrogance and pious pride
            Have all too often won.
            And yet those walls come tumbling down
            As we in Christ can see
            A oneness which rejoices in
            God's rich diversity.

3          The walls of hatred in our world
            Destroy the ways of peace;
            For humankind seems bent on war
            And strife that will not cease.
            And yet those walls come tumbling down
            As we to Christ pay heed,
            And give ourselves with selfless love
            To serve a world of need.

Richard Cleaves
Tune: Vox Dilecti

Prayers of Concern
Praise with Hy-Spirit
Words of Blessing

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