We’re all familiar with the phrase “wrestling with our inner demons”. It speaks of the experience many of us have had of feeling compelled to do something we know is either wrong, or bad for us or often both. This feeling can have a very wide range of manifestations, from the fairly harmless, the impulse buy of a bar of chocolate or a cake, to the extremely destructive, like the inability to resist excessive drinking that can destroy the life of a whole family. We all know that not everything we do or say conforms to who and what we want to be. We have ideals and images of ourselves that we do not live up to.
At their worst and at their most long lasting these are the kinds of things we call “inner demons” with which people wrestle. Feelings, often of dislike or even contempt, directed at ourselves and the things we feel that drive us to follow courses of action or behave in ways we would rather not. The lonely person who repels friendship out of fear of rejection. The depressed person who reaches for a drink even though they know it will only make things worse. These are people, we say, haunted and persecuted by inner demons.
This may not seem like an appropriate or a happy start to a sermon on the occasion of a baptism, but I think all parents worry about the future happiness of their children. We can protect and care for them while they are small but they grow up, they leave home, they move beyond the sphere where we can prevent harm. They have to be ready to stand alone and apart from us and we fret that they may not be strong enough, or fortunate enough, to thrive.
The good news of the gospel, expressed in a particular way by today’s reading from Luke, is that we don’t have to take responsibility with wresting with our own demons, nor those of our children, indeed if we try to we will only make trouble for ourselves. There is another power that is no more part of us than the impulses that drive us from the way we would like to follow. Another power that can and will make us whole and healthy, if we just let it. A power greater than us and greater than any demon, the power that creates and sustains, that is pure life and love.
When we see Tegan baptised in a short while it will not be me that does it, although I am the one authorised by our church to preside over it. She will not be baptised by me, or by the Church, or by her parents, or by her own will. Baptism is not ultimately an act of human beings it is an act of God, which we participate in and witness. She will be joined to Christ through the work of the Spirit. That is what baptism is, a becoming part of the body of Christ, as it says in the baptism service, and that joining is the work of God in the Spirit, not any mere deed of ours.
The story we have heard reminds us that he, Jesus, has power over the demons that distort and destroy lives. As soon as they saw him the legion of demons that were driving that poor man out of all contact with humanity into a wild and desperate life in the domain of the dead knew their power over him was coming to an end. They could only beg that they be allowed to continue their career of destruction elsewhere and when they went where they met no resistance they perished along with their victims.
In the ceremony of baptism we express our faith that Tegan will be protected and supported by God. She will, like us all, be accompanied through life by one who loves her like her parents love her. She will be able at any time to turn to him for help and receive it. We express our faith, too, that Christ’s body on earth, the Church, will also be available to her whenever she wants or needs to turn to it. The Church, wherever she may go, whatever she may do, whoever she may become, will always be waiting to hear her call and to reach out to her in love, as it does to each of us.
In seeing her baptised we are reminded of the gifts we have been given, of faith, of fellowship, of hope and of joy, above all the gift of the promise of eternal life and communion with God, symbolised in the other great sacrament of our church, the sharing of the Lord’s Supper in which shortly we will be brought into the very presence, we say, of Jesus, raised and ascended to life with God.
So as we see this child baptised and as we make the promises that are asked of us as witnesses and as participants let’s remember with thanks all the gifts we have received through the Church. The assurance we have received of God’s love for us. The reminder of the promises God has made to us. The fellowship and support of those given to us as travellers along the way. Let’s celebrate again the good news of God’s coming to us in Jesus.