There are those life-changing moments when something in us is stirred and we see the world differently: the birth of a child is one of those moments. There is a sense of miracle in the emergence of this new life - this product of the reproductive systems of nature; and yet there is the uniqueness of this new life; this is no clone but an individual being, someone who is utterly distinctive and holds an innate capacity to contribute to the world. Most parents have known the awe of such a moment. You don’t have to be a church-goer or a Christian to have had something of sort stir in you. It seems to be wired into our humanity.
Baptism celebrates this uniqueness, it celebrates who we are; it celebrates the miracle and the wonder of creation and it reminds us who we are: it connects us with God and prepares the way for this new life to be nurtured and fulfilled. For us all, baptism is one of those moments when we see the world with renewed and deeper understanding.
Have you watched any of David Attenborough’s BBC nature programme series Planet Earth? When watching these films, have you felt (as I have) a sense of wonder at the sheer variety of species and the complex responses of life to a changing environment? Even as I am amazed at the diversity and differentiation in life, I am also humbled as I become aware of how everything in this planet is interconnected and one form influences another. The realization of this is overwhelming; I just can’t grasp the scope and the massive implications of this process as it unfolds. The universe is charged with glory.
We hear Moses ask the Lord “show me your glory, I pray.” The response seems strange: “while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen." Why is God’s response to Moses request qualified in this way? I suggest is that it is because the writer knows that the glory of God is more than we can imagine or understand: and that while we may glimpse something of God obliquely in creation, we cannot grasp not the reality of the Holy itself; so it is that Moses may see God’s back, but not his face.
“Show me your glory” the irony of that request is that it is humankind, we, who are ‘made in the image of God’; and it is we who are made to reveal the glory of God. Let’s push that a little harder: why are we here? What is our role in creation? Saint Irenaeus of Lyons summed it up in one phrase: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” ... “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” To be fully alive is our life’s work. Our life’s work – think of it! That is why we have the church: because as human beings we have so much to learn and a great talent for getting things wrong; for not seeing the truth; and for grabbing at such baubles as money, prestige and possessions instead of the truly important things. To become ‘fully alive’ is a messy process and the church helps us, not as a club for good or perfect human beings, but more as a field hospital for the soul to bring us back into health.
The gospel this morning with this encounter between the Pharisees and Jesus is a harsh reminder of our capacity to ignore what is important and dismally fail to be “fully alive”. Confronted by Jesus the Pharisees have no sense of him as the one who is ‘fully alive’. Instead they surround him with their malice and hypocrisy. They try to trap him with the denarius, the empire’s coin, minted with the Emperor’s image, each coin more or less identical, no living image here, no creative richness, no life, no differentiation. Is this the measure of who we are? Is this the measure of our lives?
That is why we are here this morning. The Cathedral is just a field hospital for the soul. We come here to take our bearings; to trace our way through the tests and challenges of life. Here we learn to discern God’s call; we learn to pray; we are nourished by the sacraments; we become ‘tuned’ to the holy and to be receptive to wonder and mystery. So, in baptism this morning we welcomed Logan to membership in this field hospital of the soul; so, together we are learning - admittedly slowly and by fits and starts - how we may give glory to God as a people who will yet be fully alive!