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Learning to receive

Today the families of Cecilia and Freddie have gathered for their big day.  Yesterday my own family gathered for a big day too.
So I speak from experience when I say that families can bring out both the best and worse in us.  9 hours and 21 minutes and 52 seconds of experience to be precise. 

In today’s gospel Jesus is back in the bosom of his family, he has just come home.  He has done a fair bit since they saw him last and they had quite a lot to be proud of: yesterday I was proud of a nephew who’s just got a first in maths, a niece who just got engaged and another niece who is now in big girl pants.  There was a lot of pride. Jesus had just healed a woman who had been haemorrhaging non-stop for 12 years and then raised a child from the dead and but no one, it seems was proud of him.  

Instead they think that he is getting a bit above himself: he was after all just a carpenter and yet (in a culture where most craftsmen were illiterate) he has not only learnt to read, but to read the Scriptures and now assumes that he can interpret and teach about those scriptures to his elders and betters who had known him since he was a skinny kid. They are not proud they are offended.  He is after all not just a carpenter but a carpenter from a dubious background – they name him as son of his mother and not, as was customary, of his father – raising doubts, perhaps, about his legitimacy. 

“Where did this man get all this?  Is this not the carpenter the son of Mary?”  Who exactly does he think he is?

It was not that they did not believe that God could bring healing, bind up the broken hearted, breathe new life into the despairing, bring hope to the oppressed, change them and the world - it was that they did not believe that God would chose to do it through this person. This person was perhaps a person to whom they had something to give but not from whom they had something to receive.  

So they did not bring their sick or their sad or their dispossessed to him because they did not  want anything that he had to give them.  

I don’t think that we are so very different.  We like to be able to give, to be generous, to be magnanimous, to bestow our gifts and skills, knowledge and experience on others. 

I know it’s said that it is better to give than receive but I’m not so sure.   Many of us could do with learning how to receive, how to acknowledge that, successful as we are, we are still hungry we are still needy, and we need what God wants to give us – whatever illiterate, illegitimate soul he chooses to give it through. 

Today we are baptising Freddie and Cecilia.  Who will, God willing, grow up to have very, very many gifts and talents to bestow upon us.  But today they come to us as infants, they are not so much givers as takers – infants are needy, it is true that they don’t always know what they need, but they have ways of making sure that you figure that out – and quick.   And that’s why we like baptising infants, (it’s not that we won’t baptise adults, hell we’ll baptise anyone) but we especially like to baptise infants because they are a sign for us that we can’t do it all ourselves, that we don’t have all the answers all the time and that that’s OK because not all about us it’s all about God.  And God will give us all that we need and more if only we’d admit that we need it.

The life we baptise Freddie and Cecilia into today, the life of faith, it not about what we can do for God but about what God can do for us.
Children are the best at showing us how do this because children are completely shameless. They are totally unashamed to say, I can’t do that, you do it for me, carry me, feed me.  In my house the children believe that there is a magic word which, if shouted loud enough and often enough, will miraculous result in all of their needs being met: the word is MUM! They have discovered that this is a very powerful word, especially when used in conjunction with additional words: COME and NOW, repeatedly and at volume.

Today we welcome Freddie and Cecilia into our house, into the house of God, in this house, they have something to teach us: to unashamedly use those magic words: GOD, COME, NOW as often and as loudly as we can.

Those who were able to admit their need and ask were the ones who received most from Jesus.  His closest disciples, were, like him, not from the best families or the respectable of backgrounds. Yet it is this bunch,the bunch who thought that they had so little to give, that he sends out to others.  And what’s more he sends them out with absolutely nothing, no bag, no staff, not even a second tunic, nothing to give.  He sends them empty handed to preach, to teach, to heal, to comfort and restore, to transform, make life new and bring in the kingdom of God.  
None of them, absolutely none of them, had what takes to do that. None of us, not Freddie, not Cecilia, not you, not me, not Archbishop Justin or Pope Francis himself have what it takes to do that, but we do have the God that it takes.  If only we’d let him.