Once again the church was packed out, this time for Oliver’s baptism. The baptistery was prepared with the baptism banner arrayed above.
“Here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?”
Steve Christian our minister opened the service with a welcome to Ollie or is it Oliver? Depends which side of the church you’re sitting it seems.
Following the notices Ruth (Ollie’s mum) led us in an opening prayer.
“Today we gather to celebrate faith through believer’s baptism. When Jesus was baptised God said. “Look! See my chosen servant, the one in whom I utterly delight””.
“Most wonderful God, foolish and flawed though we are. we too delight in your beloved Son. As we gather in his name to praise you, may the heavens also be opened for us, that we may catch a glimpse of that Light and Love that transforms our common days with a beauty not of our making. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Then we heard the deep drone of Mark’s keyboard and the thump of the drum as the worship began to the awesome 4:4 time version of “Be thou my vision”. What a beautifully immersive way to open the service.
Steve then prayed a prayer of thanks to God and an invitation for the holy spirit to open our hearts to his truth.
Oliver opened his witness with a tribute to his sister Naomi who was born with a life limiting illness. He said that in many ways her illness defined his life but he would not have had it any other way. When he was young he started going to 2nd Weston Boy’s brigade at Milton Baptist Church and that, together with the strength of his family’s faith, kept him in touch with God. It wasn’t until he was older that he started thinking about what it really meant to be a Christian and this went on until one morning when he was 12 he sat up in bed and decided in that moment that he would follow Jesus, that he would be a Christian.
September 10th 2014 Naomi died and his life changed. He began attending St Paul’s church but started to feel isolated. Two things helped him through theses difficult times. Doing stepping stones with Steve Christian and going out with Katie.
Oliver and his uncle Mark then sang “You Raise Me up” a moving song made famous by Westlife among others. They finished to a fantastic round of applause.
After thanking Ollie for his witness Steve introduced two worship songs. “Strength will rise” by Chris Tomlin and “Bless the Lord O my Soul” from Matt Redmond’s 10,000 reasons.
And again Steve led us in prayer: “These words are true… open our hearts Lord to the meaning of your word… in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Steve continued “Oliver is already on a journey of faith. By being baptised here he is saying he has a new life in God and wants to show that to you. He isn’t going to become a Christian in the next few minutes but what he will do is declare that faith to you.”
We sing “Let my heart be changed renewed” and Oliver, Paul (his Dad) and Steve go into the baptistery to the words “As I wait I’ll rise up like the eagle”.
Oliver expresses his vows and then Steve declares “Having repented of your sins and declared your faith we baptise you in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Oliver is plunged backwards into the pool and rises to a round of applause and a reprise of “Let my heart be changed renewed” while Steve and Paul pray with Oliver.
Mark opens our prayers of intercession with an invitation for the whole church to declare “Alleluia” for such a witness. He offers prayers for the world, Paris, Mali and events we don’t even know about “We lay our broken world before you Lord”. We uphold refugees fighting for life and dignity. We uphold our leaders around the world struggling to find an answer to the atrocities we see every day. We uphold our country and the people who struggle even here for food and shelter. We uphold our local community “we rest the needs of our community before your throne and ask for guidance Lord…”. We uphold the sick in our fellowship asking for healing and solace. Finally we bring all these prayers to the Lord through Jesus Christ.
A reading from 2 Corinthians 4:6-5:10 brought by another of Oliver’s uncles.
“If you know Ollie well you will know he plays tennis, something that he is really very good at. Good enough to win tournaments! I can only dream of being that good at tennis but wonder what it would be like to win a match?”
Steve went on to say that tennis champion Hanna Mandlikova was once asked how she felt abut winning against the great names of tennis. She said “any big win means that all the sacrifices were worth it, I feel like I own the world”. when asked how long this lasted she said “about two minutes”! The Bible warns us about the fleeting nature of fame and fortune and finding the temporary balance between the here and now and planning for eternity.
The bible translators give titles to the passages in the Bible so here is Steve’s title for today’s passage. “why live in a pop up tent when you can have a home for eternity?”
Steve at this point opens a large pop up tent more or less on top of the front row of the congregation!
Today many people are settling for the here and now a mindset encouraged by advertising. Video game adverts that exaggerate the real experience of the game, Hungry Hippos advert that shows a family in blissful harmony, not the reality of playing the game in Steve’s experience. So what you find is that what you purchased was unrealised and unfulfilled hope, a life in a pop up tent. Paul on the other hand wants to point us towards eternal hope. That same hope that was shared with us by Ollie, because like us he had a choice to make to live for now and be self centred or to live for eternity and have his focus on God. Oliver has made his decision and that is why he was baptised today.
Hope gives us an eternal perspective on daily living. Do you find that sometimes life really stinks? The apostle Paul knew this, he was flogged, stoned, beaten, robbed and shipwrecked three times (suggest you don’t get in a boat with him!) but his hope was in heaven. It was his eternal hope in the things unseen that gave him a different perspective on suffering here and now. Our suffering is temporary but the glory of his hope is beyond compare. Ollie has known some pretty hard times, the loss of Naomi was one of those times, yet today he has reminded us that God gives him hope, a hope that outweighs all the suffering of today.
Hope gives us an eternal perspective on time. Today our world is full of uncertainty. Employment, health, housing, relationships in society today none of these things are permanent so people are left living in fear of what is to come. But Paul says we are to live with “groans” not groans of pain or despair but the anticipatory groans of children travelling in a car or the approach of Christmas. We should groan with longing for the world that is to come because what we ultimately place value and importance on is not of this world.
Our hope comes through Christ. Our hope as Christians is in Jesus so our message of hope brings us to the cross and also to judgement because we are reminded that we must stand before the judgement seat of Christ. But our hope of the good news of Jesus is that Jesus himself speaks up for us because he has already taken the punishment for our sin. So, yes, our lives have been changed but not by works or deeds but by faith in Jesus Christ.
And so you have a choice. To live in a pop up tent in the here and now or to live by faith trusting in the hope of eternity anticipating all that is to come. That is what Oliver has chosen, the question is, will you?
“It may be that you have never chosen to follow Jesus but if you want to know more why not do the Stepping Stones course. Maybe you wan’t to thank him that he died for you and want him to take away the sin in you heart. If you are already a Christian you may want to get your hope back. So Lord we pray for all those who are thinking of following you for the offer of Love is given for all.”
We stand to sing “Men of faith rise up and sing”
Oliver is then invited up to receive his baptism card with the verse:
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
This is followed by a welcome to membership not just for Oliver but also for Katie and Anne
“Lord Jesus we thank you for our own faith journeys and that you have brought these people to membership in this church. We ask you to help us to support them and to always show them our love.”
We close with singing “My Lighthouse” which is both Katie and Oliver’s favourite song and was also used to close Katie’s baptism service a few weeks ago.
The final song ends with another spontaneous round of applause. What a wonderful morning and what a fantastic witness for God and truth.