1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ* has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey God’s commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ* has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey God’s commandments.
And so we continue working our way through the first letter of John, reflecting on love and what it means to be a Christian community.
As I reflected on that this week, I was struck by the similarities to the journey we made in the autumn with the Israelites – as they left Egypt and wandered around in the wilderness, all the while learning how to be God’s people in that time and place.
Communities need rules – boundaries within which people live so that they can get along together.
For the Israelites, that culminated in the 10 commandments – all those “Thou shalt nots”
For the Christian community, those rules consisted in what seems like a different kind of commandment – not so much “Thou shalt not” – more – We will.
It seems to me that the Christian community is invited into a partnership with God, practicing a loving way of living.
It is a partnership based, not on fear but on love.
It is not prohibitive but is inviting.
Inviting us to find ways to build a loving community with God’s love at the centre.
Founding a community that is inclusive, accepting and valuing.
Where people are not judged on their merits.
But where people are welcomed simply because they are beloved children of God.
This morning we fulfilled one of Jesus commands: Go and make disciples of all nations – Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Someone was telling me last week that they’d heard on the radio that 70% of parents do not get their children baptized.
Well, the other 30% must come to Castlehill.
Because, as you know, we’ve had a wee run on baptisms.
Baptism is something that we do in community.
Living out the vows that we take in baptism – parents AND the wider church – is something that we also do in community.
There is always the question when we welcome children OR adults in baptism of whether we’ll have the joy of regular contact with those baptized.
Like the story of the minister bemoaning the presence of bats in the sanctuary ( a real life issue I had in Inverkip!). A colleague confided the secret of getting rid of the bats – baptize them – and then you’ll never see them again.
Here, in Castlehill, we are fortunate that that is NOT our experience.
We have the opportunity to continue to support families who come to church seeking baptism for their children.
It is a task made easier if we see the children regularly in worship.
But, even when that’s not the case, our promise still holds.
We can still be supportive – through our Cradle Roll, we maintain contact with families.
And we continue to provide a safe and welcoming space in our community where families are held in love.
What we celebrate in baptism is the unconditional love of God – that love given with no strings attached.
It is that kind of love that we are called to practice in our everyday.
Love that doesn’t lay down rules before sharing, love that isn’t withheld until certain conditions are fulfilled, love that entices folk back for more.
The kind of love that feels like coming home.
So that, no matter what is happening elsewhere, no matter what the latest political or moral outrage, here, in this community, all can know themselves cradled in love.
You don’t need me to tell you that to provide such a community takes a lot of effort, a lot of hard work, perhaps a lot of tongue biting, not to keep the peace, but to keep the love.
Love is a LOT of work!
But why should we bother?
Simply because God bothers with us.
God scoops us up and cradles us and assures us that we are loved.
And DARES us to go and love others.
Not only dares us but commands us: Love one another.
This is not an optional extra in our Christian journey.
It is the essence of what it is to be Christian.
And all our goodness and neighbourliness and welcoming and helping are enriched beyond measure when they are infused with love.
It is love that lends depth and intensity.
Love that adds sincerity.
Love that stops us simply doing and helps us to BE.
It doesn’t come easily – unless you’re a saint.
But practice goes a long way to making perfect.
Love is much more than a feeling.
It is hard work.
And especially hard work in the church – because, in the church, even when we’re Not feeling it – we are called STILL to practice love.
And perhaps the seeds of that hard work of love begin in the celebration of baptism.
As a community, when we have agreed to play our part in welcoming children into the church, when we “renew our commitment, with God’s help to share with all God’s children the knowledge and love of God” – once we’ve pledged to do that together, I pronounce these words:
Let us then nurture one another in faith, uphold one another in prayer and encourage one another in service.
Those are the beginnings of the work that go into love.
Nurturing one another in faith – so that faith grows with us.
Upholding one another in prayer – the seeds of love are surely in that.
And encouraging one another in service – making space for each other to find a place in this community of love.
There is nothing sentimental in that – just a lot of hard work.
It is not “Thou shalt not”
It is “go and do…..”
My prayer for this community is that we become known and live into being a community of love – loving God and each other.