Vicar’s sermon. Baptism: Matthew 15.1-10, 21-28 20th August 2023. (Women’s World Cup Final)

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.

All week this verse from our Gospel reading has been rattling around in my head so it seems to be the verse to focus on this morning. Here Jesus is in dispute with the Pharisees over some of his teaching and the point of the verse is to highlight that ritual purity (what you eat or don’t eat) might be one thing but that God is more concerned with the purity of our hearts and the actions that flow from them. The image he gives us is of a body that takes in food and gets rid of its waste: who would have thought that one of Jesus’ parables involved sewers?
We are, of course, very much aware these days of diet: the things we eat and drink. Even as we worship this morning the Lionesses are about to take to the pitch and without a doubt, huge care will have been taken over their intake of food and drink. When I was at the Cathedral school in Hereford our main sports rivals were Belmont Abbey School. I’ve never been sporty but I do remember a sixth form review sketch in which Belmont were shown to have developed a machine into which you fed a tiny first former, pressed a few buttons and pulled a lever or two and then, on a conveyor belt on the other side of the machine out would pop a hulking prop forward kitted out to cause some damage on the pitch. Well, they had no machine but what they did have at Belmont was a monk who was on the coaching staff for the GB Rowing Team who, for those in who crewed his boats, ensured that they were fed a high protein diet. Jesus’ image about kosher food and its importance takes us so far but, as we are about to baptize four young men this morning (James & Daniel, Harvey and Aran) I’ve been wondering about what we take in as Christian people…and what we give out.
Here we shift away from food and drink (though a consideration of these things is still a spiritual issue) and we’re into the realm of what shapes us, what moulds our minds bodies and souls, what helps, what doesn’t help. Jesus said that our thoughts and actions proceed from our heart (the very core of who we are) but our hearts don’t come ‘pre-formed’, they are always in the process of ‘becoming’. We know this. It’s why our earliest relationships as babes in arms are so crucial. Its why our school days – the teachers and environment, the ethos of our schools – are so foundational. It’s why who we choose as our friends matters. We receive so much, we are shaped, by what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Its not just our bodies that grow but our hearts and minds as we are open to the world around us. So we need to ensure that our spiritual diet is good.
Christians are prepared to open themselves to the presence of God most especially as we know Him in Jesus. As Daniel, James, Harvey & Aran are baptized that is our prayer for them: that this choice that they are making freely as young adults, will not just be for today but will be for always.
How does that ‘for always’ happen. It happens in churches and communities up and down the land and around the world. For what are we up to when we gather for worship? We are consciously opening ourselves up to the possibility of being shaped, guided, moulded, fed and nurtured by God Himself. In public worship we come together as a community to meet with God. He promises to meet with us through one another, through His Word (the Bible) and through Holy Communion. Across in Australia time, thought and energy have been given to creating the right environment for the Lionesses training camp – building up the team, helping the team to understand the plan, building up the teams mental and physical strength. Churches are training camps for Christian people: some are good, some less so but they aren’t optional extras in the Christian life. It’s not possible to be part of a team activity if you only ever train alone: being part of church life is important.
But then there’s more. For whilst gathering for worship places us in an environment where we can receive from God we are also to be open to Him beyond the four walls of the church, beyond the church community. This is something we sometimes get wrong: the balance between being an open or closed community. Closed communities turn in on themselves (sometimes without knowing) and put barriers up against people joining them. The second half of our gospel reading about the foreign woman who was not part of the people of Israel shows us (even) Jesus realizing that the Kingdom of God is open to everyone without exception. Jesus is open Himself to the challenge to his thinking that the woman brings as she kneels before Him. This is why it is important for us as a church to be involved in the life of our community – because God speaks to us through those beyond the church as well as through His Word in the church: it’s not ‘either or’, it’s ‘both and’. So something we are learning from is our creation of partnerships: at school, through Parish Nursing, through music making, through the Richard III project – those who don’t share our faith are shaping us, helping us to see God at work beyond our doors, building community and healthy right, as it should be.
And as we sign these lads with the Christian sign of the cross (and we remind ourselves of our being signed this way too) we are also saying ‘be open to the difficulties of the world, the things that are hard and which challenge us’. God wishes to transform, to renew, to recreate the world. He invites us to be part of that mission of renewal and He needs people with hearts shaped and filled by Him to respond to the world’s needs, to all that is broken, as He does: with undying care, generosity, forgiveness and hope.
This is the life we are all called to in baptism. This is the life Harvey, Aron, daniel & James embrace today. May we know God’s blessing upon us and may He create a new heart within us.

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