Just part of a verse from the reading we heard from Isaiah: albeit read to us in Afrikaans. The Bible often refers to the preciousness of God’s ancient people and that affection is sometimes seen in contrast to the frustration God expresses when his people (who he lives in covenant with) rebel or turn against him. Just like when we treat each other poorly and fail to reflect God’s love or acknowledge God’s presence in the other.
But in this part of Isaiah – it is the first time we hear so explicitly of God’s love towards Israel – implying more than just affection for a people. This love reflects to us that promises have been made between God and his people and an outworking of those promises is for God through his prophet to say, “you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.” Because of the promises they have made.
Today in this Christian community promises are being made in many different ways, not only for us as a community to hear, but for God to hear so that we can expect to hear for ourselves, “you are precious in God’s sight, and honoured, and God loves you.”
We celebrate today our young people making an extra commitment to the worship of God by coming to serve at the Altar. Young people – servers – God says to you – you are precious in his sight, and honoured, and God loves you”. We welcome Mthr Shavaun to be our assistant Curate we welcome also her husband Ariyo and their Son Otto. And in their commitment in coming to this Church in Upper Norwood to live amongst us as part of Christ’s family, and for us to find ways in which we can encourage one another and see each other flourish. We are reminded that to them because of their commitment to Christ and come to where God is calling them to be, “they are precious in God’s sight, and honoured, and God loves them”.
But this day we celebrate the extraordinary moment when not to an ancient people, but to a relationship which reveals God in the world with us. Jesus is Baptised and the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form like a dove. And the voice, not of a prophet, but the voice of God’s self says of Jesus for each of us to hear, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. Reflecting to us that Jesus made in the image of God, the fullest revelation of God known to us and in all of creation is a pleasing manifestation of God’s self in the world for us to know and relate to.
And so… to the main celebrities of this Mass – each of us are reminded that in being baptised Christians, we further understand ourselves to be made in the image of God in the world, and by fashioning our lives on Christ’s life, we too are well pleasing to God – and as inheritors of the faith stories and traditions of his ancient people we too are precious in God’s sight. We too are honours and God loves us.
And the two young people who we trust and hope for in this Mass while giving thanks for their life and new life in Christ are of course Ivy and Isla and that they will continue the tradition of being bearers of God’s image.
They are already precious, they are honoured within their family, they are loved… but they like ourselves mum and dad, Godparents and family, need to be reminded that not only do you see them as precious honoured And loved. But God does also. And we know don’t we … that from a place of knowing we are loved, not only can we love, but we can do some pretty incredible stuff in the world.
Rowan Williams reminded me in a recent article “The very diverse vocabularies of different religious traditions claim not only that the Other is someone we can recognise but that they are someone we must look at with something like reverence. The person before us has a claim on our attention, even our contemplation, and on our active generosity. The religions of south and east Asia question the very idea of a safe and stable self with a territory to protect against others; while for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the claim of the stranger is grounded in the conviction that every human beings is a vehicle of God’s presence and God’s glory – “made in God’s image”.
In this day of Baptsim and thanksgiving we are not only giving thanks for our common life through the waters of Baptism – but we are recognising God’s presence in Those who serve at the altar, in Mthr Shavaun, Ariyo and Otto, we recognise God’s presence in Ivy and Isla, and of course in each other – and we must remember that this is not exclusive to us alone, but incorporated into all of creation – we are precious and honoured In God’s sight… and also we are loved. And from that knowledge of being loved and baptised into Christ’s life – we are not only resourced in this place, but enthused to go and serve our neighbour, and stranger, knowing our conviction that every human being is a vehicle of God’s presence and God’s glory. I hope Ivy and Isla and each of us will grow up and come to maturity of faith knowing this divine truth. Amen