Summary: A sermon on how much God adores us - with a few references to some slightly controversial topics. Preached on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany 2020 at St Barnabas Northolt
I log into Facebook and there on some one’s status is a grainy black and white photo of a baby - the ultrasound that announces that their new arrival is on it’s way. And many people will keep that ultrasound up with their other photos on the mantelpiece - the precious first picture of the precious special child.
On his mantle piece God has one of those ultrasound pictures of you. The precious first picture of you the child who matters so much to him. “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me… In the shadow of his hand he hid me, he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away”. (Isaiah 49:1-2)
God adores you. He has the ultrasound picture of you on his mantelpiece, together with the Christening photo, the picture of you when you were three years old, the wedding photo and the picture of you when you were 13 and you did something really kind. They are on the mantelpiece because he adores you.
Last week we heard the story of the Baptism of Christ and as Jesus came up out of the water the heavens opened, the spirit came down like a dove and a voice came from heaven “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17) - and at your baptism the heavens opened and his voice said of you “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased”.
When my friend posts their ultrasound of their new baby they do so because they are so proud and love that little baby so much. It’s not because of the 13 GCSE grade 9s their child is going to get - she hasn’t got them yet. It’s because of her career as a barrister - she hasn’t got that yet. She hasn’t even been born yet! They love her just because. Not because of anything she has done. Just because.
That’s the same with God and you. “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me” - God doesn’t love you because of how many GCSEs you have got or how clever you are. He doesn’t love you because of your career, how successful or famous you are. He doesn’t love you because of how good you are. He loves you just because. This is the doctrine of justification by grace. Like a mum or dad loves their child not because of anything the child has done, but just because the little one is so special and is theirs - well God doesn’t love you because of anything you have done. You don’t have to earn his love. He loves you just because he loves you. And adores you.
As St Martin Luther points out, this is one of the reasons why we baptise babies. If as a norm we waited until the person was grown up they might mistakenly think they had earnt their baptism by being committed enough or by believing exactly the right statement of faith. We baptise them as infants when they are too small to have done anything to deserve it. God baptises them simply because he loves them.
Similarly we now admit children to communion way before they are old enough to make an adult commitment to Christ. As soon as they are old enough to understand that something special is going on and to understand that Jesus is somehow coming to them - well why wait until they can articulate the difference between the eucharistic doctrines of Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation and receptionism - I doubt many of you could articulate them and we give you communion. So why not just give children Jesus’s body and blood for the simple reason that God loves them.
My personal views about children and communion were very much influenced by meeting Christians with severe learning difficulties. We had a group from a residential home who came most Sundays to my old church of Holy Trinity Barkingside. Some of them could not even talk. One of them, Judith had the habit of saying “Awww, shutt upp!” if in her opinion I talked to long. But they were all engaged in the service. They joined in the songs, dancing and jiggling in their wheelchairs. Singing - perhaps not the right words or right tune, but singing. And when they received communion it was amazing to watch. Even for those who could not speak - you could tell they knew something very special was going on - and they loved it.
Rebecca Long-Bailey the Labour party leadership candidate got herself into hot water this week(1). She is not a Christian, so she has no particular problem with the idea of abortion. She has no problem with the part of the current law that says any child may be aborted up to 24 weeks. But - and here is where Rebecca Long-Bailey is controversial - the current law says that disabled babies may be aborted at any stage in the pregnancy. Rebecca Long Bailey objects to that because it suggests that disabled babies somehow matter less than “normal” babies. To Rebecca Long-Bailey, as to God, a person doesn’t matter because of how rich they are or how clever they are or whether they have a disability or not. They matter because they matter.