For the first time, we held our entire family service (around 80 of us were there) in our wonderful countryside next to the River Itchen as it passes through our parish and this was where we also baptised baby Raife. An event long in the planning (risk assessments, insurance enquires and detailed recces etc. all took a lot of time thank you to all involved) and we thought that were were about to lose all our efforts in the one day of rain, after a couple of weeks of scorching sunshine. But our prayers were answered and the rain held off all morning. Over 80 of us took advantage of Clare and Andy Davies’ hospitality to use their field next to the river.
Some have asked me ‘why’ conduct a baptism in the River Itchen? Of course, Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan so there is no better scriptural precedent for river baptism than that! Even today many new members of the Orthodox church celebrate Epiphany by being baptised en masse in the River Jordan. Also, I think that there is something powerful about the picture of the repentant sinner being dunked in flowing water, which then figuratively washes away their previous life of sin and passes away into the sea. The new Christian rises out of the water figuratively washed and spiritually cleansed, renewed and reborn, by the Holy Spirit. Because of this, for some time I have been keen to conduct a full immersion baptism of some adults in the River Itchen. Not every parish has a river running through it and it seemed to me that we should take advantage of our beautiful surroundings in this way. Raife’s parents were keen to have him baptised in the river even as a baby when they heard about this idea and so the arrangements were made. But we decided not to go for complete immersion in the case of Raife – just pouring water over the back of his head. We felt that it would have been too much to dunk him entirely in the freezing river! Any unbaptised adults who might like to get baptised by full immersion in the River Itchen, we will be offering this as an opportunity next Summer after their completion of our next Alpha Course which we plan will begin on Tuesday 17th September.
On Sunday we started our service with two worship songs (All I once held dear and Be thou my vision) led on guitar by Tim Clapp supported by Chris Ellis also on guitar (who amazingly managed to get electricity down to the river to amplify the sound of the band) with Antonia and Marina on vocals and Vernon on percussion.
We then read the story of Esther from the Beginners Bible and then Julia Wright gave an excellent talk on Esther and how she was given her talents and beauty for ‘such a time as this’ but still she needed prayer and to be brave to live out her calling.
Julia’s talk follows here:
I want to ask if anyone thinks they are brave enough to walk across this plank?
It’s actually almost impossible I think.
But I’m going to give you another go after I’ve told you a story.
The story is about a very brave lady called Esther, who loved and trusted God more than anything else. I’m going to go through the story very quickly with the help of some actors.
About 400 years before Jesus was born, there was a king… He was called King Xerxes and he had a HUGE kingdom. He was very rich and very powerful, but sadly he wasn’t a very nice man. He was spoilt and wanted to get his own way.
King Xerxes wanted a new wife. So he arranged for all the beautiful girls in the city to be brought to him, so he could pick out his favourite one to be his wife. One of these girls, was called Esther…She was a Jew. She didn’t have a mother or father, but she had a lovely cousin called Mordecai who had looked after her since she was very young.
Now Esther was beautiful! But more important than being beautiful, she was a good person. She was humble – she didn’t care about being famous, or trying to make people like her. She loved other people more than herself. When all the beautiful women were brought to King Xerxes, he decided that Esther was the most beautiful, and so he chose her to be his new Queen.
Now, unfortunately there is a baddie in this story. King Xerxes had an official, someone who worked for him, called Haman. Haman was not a nice man at all. But for some reason King Xerxes thought he was wonderful, and he made Haman the most powerful man in the kingdom second to the king. And King Xerxes said that everyoneshould bow down to Haman whenever they saw him.
But Mordecai was a Jew. So he loved and worshipped God, and he knew that God says we must never bow down to anyone but God. So when Haman came to Mordecai, Mordedai did not bow down to Haman.
This made Haman furious! He was so cross that he wanted to kill Mordecai. But, he wanted to kill not just Mordecai, but every single Jew in the kingdom – no matter if they were old or young, men or women, he wanted every Jew killed. What an evil man!
All the Jews were terrified. They were all going to be killed.
But then Mordecai realised that Esther could save the day. He sent a message to Esther saying, ‘You must persuade the King to change this law. Beg the King to save the Jews from being killed.’
But Esther knew how powerful the King was. People could only go and talk to the King if he asked them to come and see him. If you just went up to him to talk to him, he could have you killed. So she said to Mordecai, “I can’t do this! It’s too much to ask me. It’s too scary, the King won’t listen to me and I might be killed.” But Mordecai said to her, “If you stay silent, you will die. Who knows, but perhaps you have become the Queen for SUCH A TIME AS THIS”.
Mordecai was telling Esther, that maybe the main reason that God allowed Esther to become Queen, was for this very moment, so she could save the Jews from being killed. So Esther agreed to go and talk to the King. But before she went to him, she did something very important. She told Mordecai to ask ALL the Jews in the city, to pray and fast for her for 3 days and nights. Esther knew she needed God’s help!
The Jews agreed to do this. So they didn’t eat or drink anything for 3 days. All they did during that time was pray for Esther, praying that she would be able to change the King’s mind. After those 3 days, Esther asked the King to a special feast that she prepared for him. She asked the King to also bring Haman along.
Amazingly, the King was in a very good mood when Esther asked him. He was very pleased to see her, and he agreed to come along to the feast she had prepared. Whilst Esther, King Xerxes and Haman were enjoying the feast, King Xerxes said to Esther: “Esther, would you like anything? Anything at all? I will give you whatever you ask for.” Esther then told the King about Haman’s plans to kill all the Jews.
The King was horrified. He couldn’t believe that Haman would order such a thing. He had Haman punished and then taken out to be killed.
The King then realised what a good man Mordecai was. He put a royal robe on Mordecai and made a new law that all the Jews should not be killed, but should be protected and honoured.
So Esther, our superhero, had saved the day!
She was brave enough to risk her life by speaking to the King, and she prayed for God to help her – and through her bravery and prayers she saved the lives of every Jew in the kingdom.
So what can we learn from our superhero Esther? I believe that each one of us here – and you adults too! – are actually very similar to Esther. I believe that each one of us, has been put into our families, our schools, our groups of friends, our jobs, every situation we are in – I believe God has put us in those places “For Such a Time as This”.
What does that mean – “For Such a Time as This”? It means that right now, whether we’re 4 years old, or 40 years old, or even 84 years old – right now in this time, we have a special job to do for Jesus.
He wants each of us to bring his love, and joy, and freedom, to those around us. To help build God’s kingdom here on Earth. And the good news is that Jesus has given us special gifts and talents to help us do that.
Do you know what your gifts are?…perhaps kindness & compassion – this is a gift God gives to all his children because it’s such an important one. The more we ask God to give us kindness, the more he’ll fill us with it, because he loves kindness. But there are other more specific gifts like: Determination & perseverance – I bet some of you have that gift. You’re really good at keeping going with something even if it’s really hard. Or fun & laughter – that’s an amazing gift to have. Being someone who’s always fun to be around and brings laughter and joy. Or maybe God’s given you the gift of peacefulness, or wisdom, or something else. There are so many gifts that God gives us.
Well God’s given us these gifts for a reason… to shine His love and truth, to make His plans happen, to build His kingdom.
I wonder if you know what God is calling you to at the moment? What his specific role for you is – in your community, your school, your work, or even within your church. Is there something at the back of your mind that makes you excited, that you think God is calling you to, but perhaps you push away because it seems too daunting, or too much effort, or too risky?
And if not, if you have no idea what God’s plans are for you, then why not spend some time asking Him. And then listen, and wait for him to show you.
And he will. Because he loves you. Because he can’t wait for you to live out the adventures he has planned for you.
So that’s the first thing – remember God has made you YOU for such a time as this, in order be a part of the plans He is doing right now.
However, even with these gifts, it can actually be quite scary to do what God wants us to do – Just like when Esther was scared of going to the King. Or perhaps if the jobs aren’t scary, they might just be far too hard for us.
Maybe God is asking you to be friends with the person at school that no one else likes, or to help empty the dishwasher when you’d rather be playing football, or to join the Street Pastor team, or apply for that new job – whatever the tricky thing might be, we must remember what Esther did.
Who can remember what she asked all the Jews to do before she spoke to King Xerxes?…..That’s right, she prayed!
Now I need my volunteer back. You are going to pretend to be Queen Esther.
Queen Esther come over to this plank. Queen Esther, in a moment I want you to try and walk across this plank. I want us all to imagine that walking across this plank, is an example of the jobs that God has for us to do. So perhaps for some of you, walking across this plank might be like choosing to love that person that you find so hard to love.
I’m going to stick this label onto our plank – “For Such a Time As This”. If we try and face this challenge by ourselves it is hard, and also scary.
But let’s remember what Esther did.
So let’s pretend that this person is the prayers that we say.I’m going to stick this label on him – “Prayer”
When we pray, God hears us and he gives us strength to do the right thing. Queen Esther, you now have these ‘prayers’ to hold you as you walk across the plank.
We can see that Prayer makes it possible for us to do what God is calling us to.
And without prayer it is impossible!
And God made it that way because he loves us. He wants nothing more that to be at the centre of our lives, with us fully relying on him. Because he loves us.
All of us have been put in our lives for such a time as this. But we will only be able to live out God’s plans if we remember to pray.
The prayers don’t have to be long and complicated, but just quick, short prayers to Jesus. So in the playground at school you can say, “Jesus, help me to be kind to that girl”. Or “Jesus, help me to say sorry even though I really don’t want to”. We’re simply asking Jesus to help us with whatever situation we’re in. And when we do that, we will make a massivedifference in the lives of everyone around us – just like Esther did. So I want us to remember two things.
The first is:
God has made each one of us to be unique, and put us in our particular situations, “For such a time as this”.
And the second is:
We need to pray, asking God to helpus play our part in His plans, “for such a time as this”. We can’t do it without him.
We’re going to play a song now, and while we’re singing, see if you can think of things in your life where Jesus is calling you to make a difference.
What is it that Jesus wants you to do for such a time as this?
And before we end, I want to say that I’ve raced through the story of Esther today, and only had time to scratch the surface. The whole, full-length story is incredible – it’s full of twists and turns, and irony.
It’s a very short book in the Bible (called Esther), but it’s so inspiring, so I really encourage you to read it through.
Then Julia led us in the actions for Be Bold be Strong as the Band played and then we started Raife’s baptism.
Here are some photographs of the Baptism.
The newest member of the Church with one of our oldest parishioners, Mark Stent.
The cows enjoyed the music as well…but perhaps they were looking at the greener grass over the fence. Do we add them to the attendance register….?
Thank you so much for the many people who enabled this very special service take place. Thank you to Clare and Andy Davies whose field we used and who cut a hole in their stock fence to enable us to get through to the river. Thank you to Ed Marsh who leads the fishing syndicate which owns the river at that point. Thank you to David Swinstead for his very hard work on the risk assessment and supervising our recces. Thank you to Simon Ffennell for being our expert river man and long stop! Thank you to Sally Clarke for standing by as a first aider. Thank you to our wonderful Band – Tim Clapp, Chris Ellis, Vernon Tottle, Marina Pease and Antonia for the wonderful worship songs. Thank you also to Chris for the huge amount of work of getting the amps and wiring them up to the Old Rectory. Thank you to Julia Wright and our impromptu actors for the talk on Esther and to James Young for the prayers. Thank you to Theo Mezger for marshalling and organising service sheets etc.
It was all great fun and a wonderful start to Raife’s Christian journey. Thank you to Phil and Alex for being brave as we tried something very new!
Proud parents Phil and Alex and Raife