“To the unknown god” – perhaps it should be ‘to the unknown song’ given Britain’s latest Eurovision disaster! But it was “to the unknown god” that the words inscribed on an altar in Athens 2000 years ago appealed, and they are the words St Paul leapt upon. The unknown God: this is the God I preach to you!
Paul said: God is not unknown! God has revealed his character to us: God saved his people from slavery in Egypt. He made them into a mighty nation. He makes promises with us – and keeps them. His love extends to every person on earth. He will bring judgement and fairness to the earth.
It’s judgement and Love. Many people find those two idea hard to sit together – if you love me, you won’t be angry at me. Instead, you will give me what I want and make me happy.
But in the gospel today, Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey my commandments”. If you love someone, you will listen to them, and trust them. If you trust them, you will obey them.
Parents are given to us to help us and lead us. Parents have to balance love and judgement all the time. If parents don’t use discipline, their children grow up without structure, become selfish and ruin the lives of other people. If parents don’t use love, their children feel unwanted, insecure and lost.
So we listen to our parents and we obey them, because we know that they want to help us, that they have our best interests in their hearts. The same with God: his desire is that we become loving and compassionate and follow his lead. Look at the world today: it is a mess. This is what happens when we follow our plans. But if we stop, and say to God “we will follow your plan”, then we begin a new abundant life.
So love and obedience are very much linked! If we love our parents, we obey them. If we love God, we obey him. They want “what is best for us”, and this means character formation, making you more like Jesus. You might think a shiny Lamborghini is best for you, but without the right character, it really is not!
Baptism is a moment when we stop our lives and say “we recognise that when we do our thing, it is not so good. We want to follow God’s way, God’s path. So we want to start again”.
So the water is like washing ourselves: we wash the old dirt and old me away. And then we are clean and fresh, ready to start again: symbolic of a new life, a new decision to trust God, to follow God, and to love and obey God.
But we also become part of a bigger family. Baptism is like the entrance into the Christian family. Everyone here, if they are Christian, become like extended family.
So this message is to everyone here: it is also your responsibility to love and care for these children. So make sure you love, protect and nurture them and their families as much as you can!
It is our responsibility to teach and train these young lives in how to live a life pleasing to God. So let us make sure that when they see us, they see us doing the right things!
It is our responsibility to support and pray for these children and their families. So make sure you do that and offer your support and kindness, and hold them in prayer.
So let us now bring these children before God as we pray for them and their families at the start of this journey.