Preacher: Venerable Clive Mansell
Readings: Isaiah 66, vv 1-14a, Luke 10, vv 1-11
It is wonderful to be with you on this special Sunday. It is great to be able to celebrate this extraordinary experience of being a godparent or a godchild with all of you here, and particularly with those who are godparents and godchildren, whether you became a godparent or a godchild long, long ago or whether you became a godparent or a godchild only, perhaps a few weeks ago.
Godparent. Godchild. – I am both of those and more. I have been a godchild. I am a godparent and I have six beloved godchildren. – And I have invited others to be godparents to my own children.
How many of you are yourselves or have been a godchild to somebody? Perhaps raise a hand.
How many of you are or have been godparents?
I wonder how many godchildren how we all have between us?
I was doing a sum the other day to work out for how many years I have been a godfather to my godchildren. – It is for over 220 years, – not because I am that old, but because that is the total number of years that I have been a godfather to my 6 godchildren, – for over 40 years each for two of them and for well over 30 years each in the case of most of the others.
On that basis, we must have thousands and thousands of years of godparents’ love, care, prayer and just being there for godchildren represented amongst us here this morning. Amazing!
And if you are an adult godchild here today, what comes to mind when you think of your godparents? What memories, perhaps, stream back across the years?
I had three godparents, – Tom and Ken and Jean.
As a child, from when I could first read letters of the alphabet, I remember looking at this book. It is a Bible, now much used and quite frail. On the inside cover are these handwritten words:
On the occasion of your Christening,
July 12th 1953
From Uncle Tom
(Yes. You have now worked out my age!)
Those words meant a great deal to me, as I read them again and again over the years of my youth. I have never forgotten them.
Tom‘s wife, Margaret, probably went to church more than Tom did, but together they godparented me and befriended me. Tom originally was my father’s friend from their student days together, but Tom also became my friend and so he remained right up until his death at the age of 95.
Of course, Tom had no idea what the future held for his godson, when he wrote those words in my Christening Bible in 1953. Some 49 years later, he wrote inside another Bible, which he gave to me – when I was made an Archdeacon! Tom’s handwritten words in that first Christening Bible played a little part in that future story of my life. As the hymn says, “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform”!
Our first Bible Reading today reminded us of the ages-long relationship between God and his Old Testament people. The relationship between a godparent and a godchild is also long-lasting. It can last a lifetime and so it has been for me with my godparents, but in my younger days, their love and friendship, their care for me, and their encouragement all meant much to me. So sometimes did their kind gifts, such as the cowboy outfit which Ken gave me when I was about 5 years old. It was a very exciting present at the time and I still remember opening it. Ken knew what his young godson liked at that age!
Jean, my godmother, was the only one of my godparents to be able to come to my confirmation. She had spoken words of Christian faith for me at my baptism, and she was there to support me when, at the age of almost 13, I confirmed those words of faith with my own lips and as the Bishop of London prayed for God the Holy Spirit to confirm and strengthen me in that faith. I have never forgotten her being there for me.
Being there for your godchild is a great privilege and sometimes a very practical challenge for godparents, isn’t it? In a current C of E leaflet, Christening /baptism is described as a first step on an amazing journey. Godparents are invited to walk with their godchild on that journey. Just being there for them can mean a great deal, whether their journey is easy or difficult. We can weep when they weep; we can rejoice when they rejoice. Sometimes we wait patiently for them on the journey. Sometimes, under God, they surprise us.
I wonder. – If you are a godparent, have you ever thought of this being a vocation, a calling from God, for you? To be a godparent is a calling from God for you. – If you are a godchild, have you ever thought of your godparent as a gift from God to you? They can bring you something of his love and care. They can in some way represent something of his being there for you.
Godparents can also be people of prayer for you.
We live in a very mobile society. We move homes. We live in changing places. None of my six godchildren live close to me now and nor have they lived geographically close for many years, – but I can still pray for them, wherever they are and wherever I am. I pray for them constantly, but especially I pray for them across the days of each week. On Monday, I pray for Dominique; on Tuesday for Daniel; on Wednesday for Alistair; on Thursday for Edward; on Friday for Matthew; and on Saturday for Christopher. But also on Saturday, I pray for the godparents of my children – and it is the day when I prayed for my own godparents.
Prayer knows no boundaries. It reaches into the limitless love of God and it can embrace all circumstances. It is not dependent upon our sense of time, but it rests amidst God’s sense of time and eternity. – It is our privilege to pray for our godchildren.
There is something more which a godparent can offer to a godchild, and it forms part of our prayers, but it is not confined to those. Perhaps it is touched on in that Gospel Reading this morning, where Jesus sends out his followers to those to whom he is coming to say to them “Peace” and “the kingdom of God has come near you”.
Part of our godparent’s role is to be available to help our godchild on their journey of Christian faith. In one way or another, we can help them to know that the kingdom of God is near to them. Sometimes, that is why their parents asked us to stand as godparents. Whether strong in faith themselves or not, they hoped that we might encourage that feature of their child and his life, that we might walk with our godchild on that amazing journey with Jesus.
I wonder how you have tried to help your godchild on the journey of Christian faith.
We can do that in different ways, such as our love and care for them, our prayers, our being there for them, our example and encouragement in faith, – and we can even do it through our gifts. Occasionally, – and only occasionally, – my gift to a godchild at Christmas or a birthday has had a deliberately Christian dimension. – Never, however, have I done what CS Lewis did.
You may recall that CS Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, the stories of Aslan and his world. – Did you know that he wrote the most famous of those stories, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” for his goddaughter? My godparents never wrote such a book for me. My children’s godparents have never written such a book for them. But CS Lewis wrote this famous book, with its inner Christian themes, for his goddaughter. Here is what he wrote in the inside cover of the book:
My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be Your affectionate godfather
Sometimes godchildren and others come back to the great story of Christian faith later, rather than earlier, in life. That is no fairy story, but a story deep in our reality, huge in its canvas and vision, and utterly transforming, inspiring and uplifting. It is the story of God’s love in action through time and eternity, reaching out to us in the person of Jesus Christ. It meets us where we are, wherever that is, and it can take us to where, under God, we are intended to be.
Maybe, being a godparent or a godchild has been able or is able to help you on your own journey of Christian faith. Maybe, this service today will encourage you on that journey.
I do hope that, over refreshments after this service, you may take an opportunity to share with someone the experiences of being a godparent or a godchild, – the joys, the challenges, even the frustrations and the surprises.
I do hope too that, whether you are a godparent or a godchild, you will join in the prayers for godparents and godchildren in a few moments’ time. Pray for your godparents and your godchildren. Pray too for Archie, son of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, baptised only yesterday, and for his godparents.
Well done to those of you here who have recently become godparents, even perhaps for the first time. You are setting out on a great and privileged role. Pour out your love and care and prayer on your godchild. Help them to journey in Christian faith. Rejoice and give thanks that you have been asked to serve in this way. Perhaps seek the help of others here as you fulfil that wonderful role which God has given you.
Love and care, prayer, being there, being the bearer of the message “the Kingdom of God is near”, encouraging the journey of Christian faith – all these fall within the calling and vocation of a godparent; – and all these can bring great blessing to a godchild.
May God bless you each one, both on this Godparent Sunday and in the days to come. Amen.