Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

This morning, in our 10.30am service, we will baptise six children and one adult. And so for those who are to be baptised, and for those who love them and for those who, perhaps, were baptised a long time ago, I thought it would be worth our while pondering a little what it is to belong in the life of God, and what it is that we do here in our cathedral, each Sunday morning, to nurture our living in that life of God.

A family came to see me in the cathedral office on Monday morning and we talked about their baby daughter being baptised in the cathedral at a future time. The mother and father seemed quite in awe at the gift of their daughter. They seemed quite in awe of the gift of this family, a gift that has come later in the father’s life. The mother was holding their smiling child and we talked about the love of God being not unlike the love these parents have for their baby. We acknowledged that it is not always the case that families live well in love, but when they do, and at the times they do, this gives some insight the love of God for us, a love into which we are called at baptism.

“God is love”, the scriptures tell us, and that is the most important thing we hear and know each time we enter our cathedral doors, Sunday by Sunday, or at any other time. God made us and loves us; God made the world and loves that world. And God redeems the world, which that means that God restores the world that is troubled and broken, to a whole and thriving world, the world as God made it to be. God redeems the world and keeps redeeming it. And God redeems us, which means that, though at times we are troubled and broken, God will restore us. We can be troubled and broken by the wrong things we sometimes do out of selfishness or fear. We can be troubled and broken by the pain of wrong things done to us through others’ selfishness or fear. And at times we are troubled and broken by the illness that happens to us and to those we love dearly. And at other times we look at our troubled world and wonder about this love of God, for it seems that the troubles are overwhelming.

A little over 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was born, and he lived a life that was a sacrament or window into this mighty creating, redeeming, love of God. Jesus called God “Father” and he lived out a close sense of God’s love for him. Jesus, himself was baptised in the river Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist, and as he was baptised, the clouds parted and the Holy Spirit, appearing like a dove, descended on Jesus and God said, “You are my Son the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” At baptism we are gathered into this close relationship with God who says to us, “You are my child the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Remember that, those who have been baptised, remind your children about that, those who bring children for baptism today, God names us “Beloved.” God made us and, with us, God is well pleased.

Only it doesn’t always feel like that. Each Sunday morning, we spend time with that, that we live in a broken world that God longs to heal. Each Sunday morning we hear read stories from the scriptures, stories of God and the people of God. And we reflect on those stories. Each Sunday morning, we remember that we make mistakes and we make our confession and we hear the words of absolution spoken, words that remind us that, whatever we have done, God forgives us. And each Sunday morning, we remember particularly, the Last Supper, when Jesus met with his disciples the night before he died, and gave the disciples bread, which he named his body – and wine, which he named his blood – which meant the force of life in him – and he asked those disciples to keep breaking bread and sipping wine in memory of him and the life he gave for us – and we do that each Sunday morning at the Eucharist when we reach out our hands for a wafer of bread and we take a sip of wine. And when we do this we remember that Jesus gave his life that we might live, Jesus died that the whole of creation might be redeemed.

Many of the stories of scripture tell of situations when someone or some situation is broken. This morning we heard a story from the Gospel according to Saint Luke about a Roman Centurion whose slave was very ill.

After Jesus* had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. (Luke 7:1-3)

Jesus has been teaching, teaching about the ways of God and how to live as children of God. Strange sayings at times. And on the way home he meets these Jewish elders who have been sent by the centurion whose slave is ill. Now there are some curious things about this story. There are often curious things about scripture stories. It is worth sitting with the things that puzzle us, for it is there that we are given some insight into this God who loves us, and into whose love we are going to baptise these seven people this morning. The first strange thing is that this centurion cares so much about his slave. One might expect that a soldier in charge of many other soldiers would not be particularly bothered about a slave – he would, after all, have many slaves. This care is surprising. The second curious thing is that Jesus is interested in the request of one outside his community – which this centurion – or Roman soldier – certainly was. In the culture of the time, great importance was given to knowing who belonged in your community and who did not belong, and to keeping those differences clear. This centurion, though, had built a synagogue for the Jewish people, had supported their faith in a very concrete way and that is also quite surprising. Care, love, support crosses boundaries in this story in many surprising directions. Jesus was a master of this boundary crossing. Wherever you might think God would not approve of someone going, that is exactly where Jesus seems to go.

There is another strange thing in this story and that is the extraordinary faith of the centurion. Firstly he sends some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to heal his slave.

6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ (Luke 7:6-9)

Only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. The centurion said.

This centurion did not meet Jesus and did not need to meet him. He did not need Jesus to see or lay hands on his slave. He had such faith in Jesus that he believed that if Jesus spoke a word then his slave would be healed.

This faith is offered to us. It is not easy. And, in some sense, it takes our wholes lives to learn to live in it.

This faith is offered to us in baptism. Faith that Jesus will cross boundaries to be near us, even when we feel like outsiders, because of who we are or what we might have done. Faith that Jesus will hear us when we cry out on behalf of ourselves or those for whom we care. Faith that the love of God who made us and enfolds us in baptism, will journey with us through all our lives and make us whole.