Feast of St Matthew with baptism
2 Corinthians 4.1-6
Today the church celebrates Matthew, apostle and saint. Actually, today is as much about celebrating baptizing Angelica as it is about celebrating Matthew. Or in fact Angelica now and Tommy a little later this morning. We hope they will grow up into apostles and saints. Which isn’t quite as scary as it might sound…
Matthew was a tax collector. An occupation despised by his fellow Jews as a betrayal to the occupying Roman force, but Jesus showed that judging by outward appearance was not what he was about. He ate with Matthew and with his friends, scandalizing those around him, the church leaders of his day. But Matthew followed when Jesus called him and this was enough. He was forgiven, therefore he was acceptable, therefore he was received.
As we put Gemma and Jeffrey and Angelica’s godparents on the spot in a moment, it is about asking them to respond to the same question as Jesus posed to Matthew. Follow me? I like to hear it as a question, an invitation, not an instruction. Their response is as Matthew’s was (or at least, I hope it will be):
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
Just like that. But that is really what baptism is about. It’s about saying yes. Thankyou. Please. It’s not about creating hurdles, it’s not about making it hard, it’s not about requiring an entrance exam, it’s not about knowing what will happen tomorrow or next month or next year. It’s not about outward appearance, do you look like you’ll belong? It’s not about how good a follower you will turn out to be, although obviously we hope that one day Angelica appreciates having being baptised!
It’s not about whether ‘we’ as a church think that anyone new has a right to be here, to join us, because in baptism we are all one. We are all one in the counter-cultural world of believing in the life and ethics Jesus taught. We are all one in responding to his call, whether it’s prompted by a deep inner love and instinctive understanding of God, or a desire to ‘do things right’, or because Grandma says we should or because a baby is such a precious gift; the birth of a baby makes us realise – makes us see in sharp contrast and hi-viz that the world is a dark, broken and selfish place as well as a place marked by beauty and joy and wonder, and makes us want to reach out to the light which differentiates the two.
We all, in every baptism service, remember our own response to the call of Christ. The call to follow him. The call to love one another, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick and walk alongside the lonely. We all know that we are made to live in community and relationship, and we all know that a self-serving, self-seeking approach to life ultimately isn’t satisfying.
When we respond to the glory of creation and the agony of our destroying of it; the infinite diversity of our fellows and the shameful diminishing of so many of our brothers and sisters for unhelpful and often un-biblical reasons; when we look for a response to why are we here and understand that it is to live, to love and to flourish with each other; when we wrestle with theology – ‘Jesus died to pay for our sin’, or why there is hurt and sorrow in the world – why God ‘lets’ bad things happen to children or people we love, then we have got up and begun to walk with Matthew.
And when we get up with Matthew and respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, we begin to reject the consumerist, speed-driven, post-modern world – today’s occupying force, and we show that we do not judge carelsesly either, but that we care what happens to ourselves and to others. When we eat, walk, talk with those less fortunate than ourselves, we may scandalize, but we are eating, walking, talking with God, and in doing so are received, accepted and forgiven.
Of course, there’s more to following Jesus than getting up from your desk and leaving everything behind for a new adventure. But in today’s gospel Matthew takes the first step and makes a start. Jesus says ‘follow’ and he does. All journeys start with that first step. Matthew will be sent (the meaning of apostle) to heal, to feed, to clothe, to teach that there is light in the darkness and it is the light that will overcome.
Today is the first step on Angelica’s journey too, and we hope and pray that she also will learn to heal, to feed, to clothe and to breathe the love of God into her life as she lives it. There will surely be setbacks and doubts, hesitations and denials, just as there were for the apostles. But in baptism Angelica joins the saints, those for whom life is holy.
Baptism is a free gift of God, offered to anyone who would like to reach out and grasp it (at any age). In it we are all, like Angelica, received, accepted and forgiven. In baptism – literally (well, figuratively) – Angelica is ‘washed clean’ and marked with the cross – to ‘claim her’ – to include her in those for whom Jesus gave up his life, those whom God loves so much that he sent his only son to serve us … unto death.
And as we rejoice in a positive response to the open invitation from God in today’s gospel to follow Christ, we shall hear some of our first reading again too, because at the end of the service when we light her a candle, it uses the very same words from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray
God our Father, for we all may be so bold –
with each precious gift of a baby, each baptism grows the number of your saints.
Help us always to recognise your light in the world
and to follow it in truth.
Help us always to know ourselves, as Matthew, as Angelica,
received, accepted, forgiven,
and to see the face of Jesus Christ in one another.
May we all live as the light which shines in the darkness,
to the glory of your name. Amen.