|Forum Home > Sermons > A sermon preached by Fr. John Fitzmaurice on the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2012|
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…” John 15.5
We have a family friend who children are more or less the same age as ours, and when the children we younger our friend would delight in asking us ‘what makes a good children’s story?’ to which the answer was ‘it has to be a story that the adults like to read’. It wasn’t meant as a joke but simply an observation that if adults are going to read to their children it has to be something that the adults themselves get some sort of kick out of.
I wonder what your favourite story is. I wonder what you read (or would like to read) to your children or grandchildren. I wonder what they read themselves if they do read. I wonder what you read for your own enjoyment, if you read. Of course with the advent of television sand cinema it was predicted that books and reading would die out, but the opposite has been the effect – book sales remain buoyant not least through internet suppliers like Amazon. Nor indeed has the advent of the Kindle seemingly dented our thirst to read stories in one form or another. Of course what technology has done is given us is a whole range of ways of accessing stories, not least computer games. If we don’t want to read a book we can always wait until the film comes out and watch it then. I confess that I am not a great reader of fiction (I read lots of other books), but I’m a bit of a film buff and get my stories that way. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies, but read none of the books.
However we access them, stories remain a really significant part of our lives. And then there are the true stories – the biographies of other people’s lives. I wonder what would be in your biography – would you like it? Perhaps you think yours isn’t a very exciting story, that other people’s stories are more interesting than yours. Perhaps you don’t actually like your story – perhaps you’re ashamed of it – perhaps you want to keep it to yourself.
And of course we’re not just part of our own stories we’re part of lots of stories. We appear as characters in the stories of our family and friends, and they appear in our stories. We appear in the stories of our communities and nation and the stories of our nation and local community shape our own stories. So we have part in many many stories, and those stories shape our own self-understanding. When someone asks us who we are we tell them a few things about ourselves and within no time at all those few fact are woven into a story that we tell ourselves.
But all those stories can be a bit confusing. Which is the most important one? What do I do if I don’t like my own story, what do I do if I don’t know what to do next, or how to develop my story? We ask ourselves if one kind of story is better than another – should my story be different - can it be different.
Some of you may well be sitting here and what’s any of this got to do with the Baptism of Brody or Christian faith generally? Well the answer to that question is-everything! Religions and faith traditions are simply other stories, stories with a particular purpose. Christianity is a story that has been refined over time and records the struggle of a people to understand the nature of God, the profound truths of our existence. Scripture does not record a perfect relationship, indeed if the story of scripture records anything it records the almost constant failure of people to understand the nature of God and to respond appropriately. However what it also records is the fact that that is not the last word. That God gives people a second chance and indeed a third and fourth, indeed as many genuine chances at they need to seek him. This is why forgiveness is such a big deal- if everything was perfect we wouldn’t need forgiveness. What scripture offers us is the realization that we can re-write our own stories if we want to.
So scripture offers us another story, but it is a particular story. For Christians it is the normative story, the story by which all other stories are to be judged. But how are we to relate to that story, how do we engage with it? Well this is what the story of the Ethiopian eunuch that we heard in our first reading was all about. Here was someone who felt that the scriptures, in particular the prophet Isaiah had something to offer, but he couldn’t access it, he couldn’t make the connections. Philip then goes up and helps him make those connections by telling the story of Jesus. And bingo… the Ethiopian gets it and is baptized.
And so it is for us – how do we make that connection? Well the first place to try is to get our own story and to put it alongside the story of Scripture. Where in the story of scripture do we hear resonances of our own stories – where do our own stories echo some of the stuff that we read about in scripture? What are we thankful about, what do we want to celebrate and be joyful about, to what do we want to offer praise? Are there things that we’re not so happy about, are there things we need to ask forgiveness for or offer forgiveness to others for? How do we act justly and compassionately in our lives? What does it mean to live a good life? All these questions are place where we can begin to discover an intersection between the stories of our own lives and the stories of scripture. For most of us there is not an exact fit and we have to push and shove for most of our lives to fully understand to interaction between our lives and the life of faith. It is hard and demanding work - if anyone tells you it isn’t, don’t believe them! But it is also very rewarding work. By putting our own life stories within the context of the story of Christian faith, the story of scripture we give our lives and new context, we see ourselves in a new light, we begin to understand that failure is not the end, nor is it final- that the good is ultimately stronger than the bad and that life is stronger than death. This is what Jesus means when he is talking about being the vine - grafting ourselves onto that vine, mapping our story onto the story of scripture, the story of faith, is the same thing.... and the extraordinary thing is that when we do graft ourselves onto the vine, when we do map our story onto the story of scripture, that rather than get subsumed by the bigger story our own stories come alive and take on a new meaning, a new purpose and a new energy.
And this is what is happening to Brody today. Through Baptism his life is put in to a new context – he gets a new story to engage with. Through the promises his parents and godparents will make, they place that story and normative and central in their lives and promise that the story of Christian faith will have the central role in his.
So back to my friend’s question – ‘what makes a good children’s story? - it has to be a story that adults like to read’. Brody’s baptism today asks all of us here this morning that question - do you lot like this story, the story of faith enough to tell it to me? Are you really engaged with it, have you tried mapping it onto your life, and if so, to what effect?