Readings: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
We remember the day we were born – well actually no we don’t but we certainly take time to celebrate it each year (unless we are at a point where we don’t want to anymore), if we are married we remember wedding anniversaries (usually), we are encouraged to celebrate other anniversaries like Valentines Day and Queen’s Birthday but do we remember each year our baptisms? Not many of us I suspect. There is one family I know who have made it a practice each year to gather round the table at home on the anniversary of each of their baptisms and renew and re-member their vows before God and each other. Some of you here might do that in some way too.
It got me thinking. About how we understand baptism, whether it is a one off happening for us or new beginnings every day, how we follow through on the promises we have made today for Rosalie and for others, how we see our own baptisms and whether we constantly revisit and renew that coming together of God’s grace and our surrender into the living and loving community of Christ that is our baptism.
And then there is the the reading for today – where the disciples were sent out to offer to those they met an invitation to come join in the community of Christ, to be baptised into faith, into the hospitality of Jesus.
And so I thought maybe today I would share a story with you – a story that might speak in a new and refreshing ways about what it means to be baptised and confirmed into the body of Christ.
It’s called Big Tommy’s confirmation and was written by Tom Gordon, a member of the Iona community:
So there I was at the appointed time. The intimation on the previous Sunday had read: ‘anyone interested in an enquirers’ class for confirmation should come to the vestry on Wednesday evening at 7.30pm for the introductory meeting.’ And in the vestry on the Wednesday night I sat and waited.
It was 7.30pm No one came. I looked at the copies of the Good News Bible I’d brought through from the church. No one came. I packed away the copies of ‘A faith for the 21st Century Church’- twelve copies of each, which I was going to use as background material for the class. No one came. I thought of the well word editions of the Condordance and Bible Commentary on the chair behind – just in case you understand. No one came.
It was 7.45. ‘Why am I always so optimistic,’ I asked myself – I knew that similar classes on previous years had numbered one, none, none and two.
With a heavy sigh I put on my coat and picked up the keys.
There was a knock on the door. Puzzled I pulled the door open and there stood Big Tommy, the last person I expected to see. Tommy was a well known figure around the church. He was from a local family, the oldest of six boys, and, to be honest, Tommy was not all that bright. He was a big amiable man in his twenties and had never worked – he dotted around the parish being nice to people and doing odd jobs. He had the reading age of a child and the body of a giant.
Tommy came to church regularly. What he made of it all I was never quite sure. He would come to the front for the children’s talk and laugh and have fun with the little ones. No one minded. It was just Tommy. Sometimes he would fall asleep during the service. Occasionally he would wander out then in again. Often he would make a strange wailing sound during the singing of the hymns. But no one minded. It was just Tommy.
I liked Tommy. Everyone did. And Tommy seemed to like everyone too.
‘Tommy’ I asked with an obvious air of incredulity, ‘what brings you here? I was just about to put the lights out and go home.’
‘Ah’ve come for the thing,’ Tommy replied.
‘The thing, Tommy, what thing?’
‘What you said on Sunday about being here for Wednesday for ... ‘Tommy was struggling for words. ‘...the...class...you said...tonight...to come, you said...anyone... for ...you know....
And as he said it he came in, took off his coat and settled into a chair. So it seemed sensible to join him. And Tommy patiently waited for the first class to begin as I gathered my thoughts. I thought of the packed away study books and pondered Tommy’s reading age. I mused on how to use the Bible and wondered what level of books Tommy would be familiar with.
I said the only thing I could think of saying: ‘Why are you here Tommy? Why did you come tonight?’
Tommy smiled: ‘I like you,’ he grinned. ‘I like it in church, it’s fun, you’re funny and you make me all happy inside. People don’t tell me to go away or look all nasty when I sing. I feel all tingly inside when I hear the stories you tell from the bible. I like the one about the rolls and the fish. I like fish fingers. Do you? And I think its funny when the protestant son feeds pigs and comes back to his dad, and his dad runs to meet him. My dad runs too, but only to catch the bus in the morning. And Jesus sounds fun too, eh? Jesus and the children. I like that. You like children too eh? Cause they laugh when they are in church eh, and church is fun. D’you think Jesus would like me, eh? Cause that would be nice eh?
Any idea I had of correcting Tommy’s biblical interpretations –prodigal for protestant, and the like – didn’t last long. All thoughts of study guides and bibles vanished as I absorbed the significance of Tommy’s breathtaking Credo.
And that’s the way it was for the six evenings Big Tommy and I spent together. We swapped stories. We talked about people who loved us. We laughed at bible tales. We shared what it was like to be hugged. And we learned. Together we learned. We learned about each other. We learned about acceptance. We learned about being church. We learned about Jesus. We learned about faith. We learned about being loved.
So that is why one new communicant stood before the congregation that Sunday. One Tommy McAlister, resplendent in his good suit and grinning from ear to ear.
‘Do you believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and do you confess Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord’ I should have asked. But instead, I asked, ‘Is Jesus your friend Tommy?’
‘Aye’, was his bold reply.
‘Do you feel at home in our church?’ I asked.
‘Aye, I like it here,’ was his grinning reply.
Tommy McAlister, God loves you today – as he has always loved you – and the church loves you too. You belong to Jesus and his church. You are always welcome here.’ And the words of confirmation were done.
The beaming Tommy gave me a big hug after the service. I cried. I’d studied and learned at Big Tommy’s feet, and felt as blessed by Tommy’s embrace as he had felt by being welcome into the church again that day.