It’s an absolute pleasure to see each one of you in our church this morning.
I thought it might help if I said a few words before the service starts.
The first thing is that I suspect that not everyone in the church today believes in God. That’s fine. God loves you whether you believe in him or not. So if there are any bits of the service you don’t want to join in with that’s fine too. You don’t need to say things that you don’t believe in.
We’ll be singing a couple of hymns – those who can stand up to sing. Reason being you sing better when you stand up. I’ve hopefully chosen at least one where you’ll know the tunes even if you don’t know the words. Things have moved on a bit in the last few years so all the music will be on YouTube videos and the words will appear on our brand new TV screen.
Give it a go – singing is good for you. Think of it as a karaoke but without needing to be drunk before you do it.
We don’t have a collection any more – but if you would like to contribute financially there will be a plate to put some money in at the front. It costs a fair bit to run the church and my wages are absolutely extortionate.
The service isn’t just the baptism – it will last about an hour. There will be me doing some talking after the baptism. Right at the end we’ll have a brief service where we celebrate communion. Anyone who wishes to can take part in that but if you aren’t comfortable to then just say no when the stewards bring round the bread and the wine.
Any children can stay in church for the whole time – but if the little ones get too restless mums or dads can take them through into the hall at any time. Any mothers that want to feed their babies – it’s fine to do that in here, but if you want to go out into the hall that’s fine too.
Finally – it’s OK to take photographs but try not to get in the way or to block anyone’s view of what’s going on.
And of course, make sure your mobiles are on silent and that you only use them for taking photos not checking who’s been posting on Instagram. Whatever that is.
I’ll be back in a few minutes
Call to worship – Psalm 139:13 – 14a
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Hymn – Morning has broken
Now when Robyn was baptised about 3 years ago we had a film clip from The Lion King. But we can’t just recycle everything for Maisie so I needed to do something different.
But I do like film clips in my services so we’ve got one from Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again this time.
And in my opinion any film clip that has Lily James in it has to be worth a look.
So – what is baptism all about?
Now there are some people who say that when we are born we’re already in trouble with God. They call this Original Sin and it’s supposed to be because – and you’ll probably all be aware of this story from the biblical book of Genesis – because Adam in the Garden of Eden disobeyed God when he ate the apple. Although Adam of course – in true male fashion – blamed it all on Eve. And because Adam did wrong we’re all tainted for ever.
Now there are a couple of problems with this as I see it.
The first one is that there was no such person as Adam. The Genesis creation story was never meant to be taken literally. It doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something from it – lots can be learned from things that aren’t literally true. But anyway – no such person.
The second reason is that it’s clearly barmy. Have you ever looked at a newborn baby? Or even one that’s a few months old like Maisie here. What thoughts come into your mind when you see a baby? I bet it’s not – what a sinful evil looking thing that is – better get it purified as soon as possible. No we think how sweet, how lovable, how innocent – and we have those thoughts because they’re true.
Of course if we’ve been kept wake all night by the little darling we might think differently.
So if baptism isn’t about original sin what is it for?
I think it’s about recognising and formally welcoming a young one into a family. Well into 2 families. One is the family of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters – but also close friends – people who are present here today. And Christians like me would say the second family is the wider family of the church – both locally and throughout the world.
That’s why I think that clip from Mamma Mia was appropriate for this morning.
Obviously the clip showed a baptism in a church. Two baptisms actually. The first one is Donna (The Lily James and Meryl Streep character) bringing her daughter Sophie to be baptised and then Sophie bringing her new daughter, Donna’s granddaughter.
It focussed on the meaning of family and friends all being together. It focussed on the special love that mothers have with their children – because we have to face it chaps the women have rather more to do with the whole giving birth thing than we do. And it focussed on the enduring quality of that love. Because by the time of the second baptism Donna has died. She sings
I held you close to me
Felt your heartbeat and I thought I am free
Oh, yes and as one are we
In the now and beyond
Nothing and no one can break this bond.
I believe that to be true.
So whether you are here because you have a faith, or whether you are here just because you love this little girl – that’s fine. This is for you all.
We’ll move into the baptism now
Two short readings from the Bible
From Mark chapter 10
Some people brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples scolded the people. When Jesus noticed this, he was angry and said to his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them.
And from Matthew chapter 28:
Jesus said to his disciples “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
Why have we come here today? To link with tradition? To tap into something spiritual? To ask a blessing on this child?
Whether or not we can link with church traditions, whether or not we are sure if we believe in God, whether or not this place has any significance for us: we come here and now for the sake of this child.
This child is our special responsibility. We love her. We want to do all we can to keep her safe and protected. So we bring her into this place for the tradition of baptism, believing that, in some way, this act will give a blessing on this child’s life.
Whether or not we believe in God, God believes in us. This child is special to all of you and to God. Each of us is a unique and valued child of God.
So, as we offer this child for God’s blessing, we remember that God welcomes and blesses all children, of whatever age or belief.
God understands children.
Jesus was born into a family home and grew up in the care of human parents.
Jesus welcomed children and said that their loving, trusting attitude was exactly what was needed for those who wish to follow his way in trying to change the world.
So we bring this child for God’s blessing and we make promises for her future.
Now I want to move you around – at least those that are able. I want us to make some circles around Maisie.
First I’d like to ask her mum and dad, her sister Robyn, the godparents and the grandparents to come up to the front and make a circle around the table. You’d better bring Maisie with you actually.
Then, around that circle another larger circle for everyone else – the people who regularly worship at this church and aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, friends, and everyone else who has made the effort to be here today for Robyn You’ve all got a part to play in this. As have you that join us online – we’re
Brilliant – our own circles of love with today’s star at the centre.
We are going to make some promises now. Maisie is too young to understand what’s happening so those of us that do understand need to make promises for her. While we do it can you join hands in your circles. If you’re online join hands with whoever’s with you and then stick your spare hounds out to the side – it’ll look like your holding hands with the person on the next screen.
Garth and Hannah will you, with God’s help, strive to share your love, faith, wisdom and understanding with Maisie and make for her a home where she may learn to live in love, peace and justice?
And now the godparents who are Jenny, Lauren, Liam and Paul.
Hannah and Garth have chosen you to have special responsibility for Maisie, because they trust you and they love you. Will you, with God’s help, support Garth and Hannah as they care for Maisie and help them to raise her in a home filled with love?
Next the people from this church
Do you, the members and adherents of this church promise to play your part in the Christian upbringing of Maisie, keeping this child and her parents in your hearts and prayers, and give an example of faith, hope and love to them all so that she may grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God?
And now everyone else
Will you who form the wider community of love in which Maisie will grow, with God’s help, keep this child and her parents in your hearts and prayers, and give an example of faith, hope and love to them all?
So Maisie, you’ve heard everyone make those promises. You won’t understand what they’ve said on your behalf, but I’ll print out a copy so you can read it when you’re a bit older. And then you can hold them all to it. And if they don’t keep to the contract – sue!
Now I baptise you Maisie Rose Freeman, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord bless you and take care of you,
May the Lord be kind and gracious to you,
May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace.
Let us pray.
For the gift of this child, whose innocence and laughter keeps the world young, we rejoice and give thanks. May this new life, which we have accepted into our community of ideals and friendship, receive abundantly the blessings of health, love, knowledge and wisdom, and in her turn give back these things richly.
And for the gift of parenthood we also give our thanks. May all parents everywhere give their children security, freedom and love, and may they be blessed with much joy, much laughter and much patience in the divine task of nurture.
Maisie may God’s joy be in your heart and God’s love surround your living, each day and each night and wherever you roam.
May you know God’s presence: in growing and learning, in joy and sorrow, in friendship and solitude, in beginnings and endings.
And may God bless you and keep you, all the days of your life.
You can go back to your seats now
Our second hymn is The Lord’s My Shepherd. It’s a well known hymn but this version has a different tune. Sing along if you know it or if you pick it up as we go.
That’s the formal part of the baptism service completed. But while I’ve got you I want to say something else to you. It might be a while before I see some of you in here again so I need to make the most of it.
Now I’m really interested in the relationship between science and religion. You see I’ve got more than one degree. About 3 years ago I graduated with a BA in Theology. But 40 years before that I graduated from University College London with a B.Sc. in Biochemistry.
I won’t mention what classes of degree I got because I know it makes Garth feel a bit inadequate. And anyway I hate showing off.
Now it’s certainly no longer the case that the majority of the population got to church on a Sunday. But there are still a lot of Christians about.
There are far more people in churches in this country on a Sunday than there are in Premier League and Football League grounds on a Saturday. Is that a surprise to you?
But still far less than there used to be.
And one reason that’s given for that is – There’s no need for religion now – science has answered all the questions.
People like Richard Dawkins have made lots of money writing books to try and convince people that’s true.
By the way Richard Dawkins is much, much more knowledgeable about science than I am. But he hasn’t got a Theology degree and he knows next to naff all about it. Just saying.
I just want to spend a very short time explaining why I think that this statement – There’s no need for religion now – science has answered all the questions – is completely wrong.
A couple of weeks ago Deborah and I were on a cruise. We went to Norway. It was a fabulous holiday on a very luxurious ship. We saw some fantastic scenery – here’s a photo of one of the fjords
I hope you’ll all agree that that scene is very, very beautiful.
But to get to Norway on a ship you need to travel quite a long way up the North Sea – which isn’t very scenically interesting. On those days the cruise company provide lots for you to do, including lectures to go to.
So on our last day – which was a sea day – I saw that there was a lecture that looked really fascinating and Deborah and I went along. It was called something like Plato and Dark Matter and it was by an astrophysicist called Alex Murphy.
I know how to show a girl a good time.
Now I won’t go into everything he said partly so as not to bore you and partly because I didn’t understand it. Just to mention that Dark Matter is something that makes up about 90% of the universe but scientists can’t see it and have no idea what it’s made of.
But the main point is that, near the end of the talk Professor Murphy presented a slide like this one
This shows all the fundamental particles that make up the universe. You can make up absolutely everything in the universe from just these 17 particles. You may have heard of some of them. There’s the electron – the negatively charged bit of the atom. There’s the photon – what light is made of. There’s this one called the Higgs Boson that became quite famous because someone called Peter Higgs worked out it had to exist and then 50 years later physicists found it. I think it was down the back of the sofa.
This one called bottom is quite interesting because most of the bottoms I know of are rather too large to be sub-atomic particles.
But whether you have heard of any of these or not what was most interesting about what Professor Murphy said to my mind was this.
Why are there precisely 17 of these particles – not say 14 or 23 – no-one has any idea
Why do the particles have the particular precise characteristics they have in terms of mass, charge or spin – no-one has any idea.
Why is it that the physical laws that govern the universe are just right for the development of life – the so-called Goldilocks Theory – no one has any idea.
You see science is really good at answering questions about how – how things are put together, how things work, how the Big Bang gave rise to the stars and planets. But science just can’t answer questions like those 3 we’ve just looked at – the why questions.
And they are I think the Why questions are far more interesting. Well they are to me anyway.
Here’s another picture – this one was taken by the new James Webb space telescope and shows Galaxies how they were billions of years ago because they are so far away.
Why is the universe so big?
Why is there a universe at all?
Why are the fjords of Norway beautiful?
Why does beauty even exist?
Of course you might be happy with the idea that there isn’t a meaning for existence, that nothing really matters, that the why questions can’t be answered and therefore we shouldn’t even ask them.
But you know I look up at the night sky, I look at the wonders of nature, I look into Maisie’s eyes, and that’s not the sort of world I experience.
That’s what religions are for – to look for meaning in our existence, to wrestle with the why questions.
And I believe that Jesus Christ gave us some of the best answers ever about what it is to find meaning in life.
Jesus said: I am the bread of life.
All who come to me shall not hunger,
and all who believe in me shall not thirst.
With Christians around the world
and throughout the centuries,
we gather around these symbols
of bread and wine—simple elements
that speak of nourishment and transformation.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we thank you
that you are as close to us as breath,
that your love is constant and unfailing.
We thank you for all that sustains life,
and especially for Jesus Christ,
who teaches us how to live out
an ethic of justice and peace,
and for the promise of transformation
made manifest in his life, death and resurrection.
We ask you to bless this bread and this cup.
Through this meal, make us the body of Christ,
that we may join with you in promoting the well-being of all creation. Amen.
We remember on the night
when Jesus and the disciples
had their last meal together,
Jesus took the bread, gave thanks,
and gave it to the disciples,
saying “This is my body,
which is broken for you.
Take and eat it, and as often as you do, remember me.”
[Distribution of the bread.]
In the symbol of the broken bread, we participate in the life of Christ
and dedicate ourselves
to being his disciples.
In the same way he took the cup,
and after giving thanks
he gave it to the disciples, saying:
“Drink this, all of you.
This cup is the new covenant,
poured out for you and for many
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
[Distribution of the wine.]
In the symbol of the cup, we participate in the new life Christ brings.
A Minute’s Silence
Let us pray. We give thanks, loving God,
that you have refreshed us at your table.
Strengthen our faith;
increase our love for one another.
As we have been fed by the seed that became grain, and then became bread, may we go out into the world to plant seeds of justice, transformation, and hope. Amen.
To close we’ll have a Stormzy video. Blinded by your Grace.
To close can we all share the grace? The words are on the screen.
We say the words to each other, so as you say them have a look around at the other people here.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore