“Finally,” Paul says in Philippians chapter 3, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!”

It’s a very appropriate verse for today, isn’t it! Today we are rejoicing in the Lord! We are rejoicing in the baptisms of Maddie and James and the reminder, for many of us, of our own baptism! As Thorwald Lorenzen put it so beautifully in the quote I included in Sunday to Sunday this week, “Do we not want to celebrate when we discover that God is not just a word in our language, but a reality in our lives?” Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!

‘Finally’, however, seems an odd way to start when we are only just halfway through this letter to the Philippians. I suggested, in Sunday to Sunday, that Paul is using the old preacher’s trick, of saying, “Finally…” , to get their attention before going on to make several more points across two more chapters!

But the word translated ‘finally’ could just as easily read, ‘well, then’ or ‘furthermore’ or ‘to keep going’. Paul has a lot more to say to this group of people that he loves!

And all of it is headed by, “Rejoice in the Lord,” which could mean ‘rejoice’ ‘because you are the Lord’s’, or ‘because of what God has done for you’, or because, my commentary says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ was the Christian equivalent of the Old Testament exclamation, Hallelujah, ‘Praise the Lord’!

So, I am using another old preacher’s trick this morning – audience participation – and inviting you, each time I say, ‘Rejoice in the Lord,’ to respond with, ‘Hallelujah’.

Shall we have a practice? Rejoice in the Lord! Hallelujah!

Because firstly, Paul says to this group of people of he loves – and we want to say to Maddie and James who we love –they are to… ‘rejoice in the Lord (Hallelujah)’ because they are – as the verse says – in the Lord. Because, as Paul says, “Christ Jesus has made me his own!” There is a lot, Paul says in this passage, that he does not yet know, that he has not yet worked out, but this he knows for sure: God has made him God’s own.

Paul is thinking back to his conversion. You can read that story in Acts 9. It’s a dramatic story. There’s a flashing light and a voice speaking from heaven. It totally turns Paul’s life around. It’s almost like a Damascus Road experience. Probably because it is – the original – Damascus Road experience!

But knowing you are God’s own can also be a quieter kind of experience. It can be, being at friend’s house and reading something that just sinks in – that assures you that God will be with you always. It can be a moment when things just click – when you realise you genuinely need Jesus, that you wouldn’t be here without Jesus has done. It might not be one moment at all. It might be many. Or it might be something you have always known.

There are as many ways of becoming Christians as they are Christians. “Press on,” Paul says, “to make it your own, because Christ Jesus has made you his own.” He has, as The Message version puts it, “wondrously reached out for me.” Wondrously reached out for each of us. Relinquished his power and come near to us, as Philippians 2 says, because of God’s great love for us.

We are to hold onto that knowledge. “Hold fast,” Paul says, “to what we have attained.” Hold onto the knowledge that our starting point – all our starting points – are that God loves us.

And we are to press on from here because, as I mentioned earlier, Paul says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord (Hallelujah)’ because there is so much more of God to know! “I press on,” he says, “Toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Now, Maddie and James, you might be thinking this makes sense because you are young. Others here might be thinking the same thing. But Paul is not young. Paul is an experienced Christian. A church leader. The writer of much of the New Testament! Yet he says, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own -” I am not a perfect – or a perfected – Christian. I am still running this race. I still want to run this race. Because running this race with God toward God is the best – the only thing worth doing – in this life.

Last weekend Carolyn Francis from Whitley College in her superb address (that when I last checked had 318 views on our YouTube site) told us the story of John Smyth, one of the founders of the Baptist movement, and how the confessions – or statements of faith – he and his church wrote – were not static statements, demands that everyone conform, but were about learning and growing and responding constantly to questions about what it means to faithful here and now among this group of people. At the end of the 1610 confession (one year after the 1609 confession and one year before the 1611 confession) he even writes, “We subscribe to the truth of these Articles, desiring further information!” The famous Baptist quote is, “The Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.”

We are to keep running this race.

And rejoicing! ‘Rejoice in the Lord (Hallelujah)’ because we do not run this race alone, but we run it with others!

Verse 17: “Brothers and sister, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”

Quite simply, the example we are to set, and the examples we are to look for, are those who know the two things we’ve just mentioned – people who know God has wondrously reached out in love to them and who are still reaching – running – towards God. These are not people, Paul says, who make up rules – dietary rules or circumcision rules or perhaps other rules in other places and other times – about who God loves and who can love God in return. But people who are passionate about their faith, but also prepared to say, “We subscribe to [these things] – desiring further information!”

That is the faith community you want to be, Paul says, the faith community you want to belong to. Those who know they are God’s own. Those who press on to know God more. Those who join in imitating those – who are, in turn, imitating Jesus – who are reaching out in love to others as Jesus did.

And that is what you have done for us today, Maddie and James, so thank you! You have told us you are God’s own. You have told us you want to be closer to Jesus. You have set an example for us of following Jesus through the waters of baptism and in your lives – of reaching out to others with God’s love. Thank you!

My hope – my prayer – is that all of us have done (and will do) the same for you.

I want to share with you a poem that was sent to last weekend’s Open Baptist event by Will Small, a Baptist pastor and poet, who grew up at Mosaic Baptist Church…

May this be a challenge and a blessing to all of us as we remember we are God’s own, as we press on to know Christ, and as we, join Paul and that host of witnesses – so many faithful people and Maddie and James, too – who are seeking, in Will’s words, to live like, look like, sound like, smell like Jesus…

Prayers of Intercession

As we celebrate today that the ‘God’ word became flesh and a reality in our lives and as we therefore come to pray for the world God loves, the Church God calls, and all people, can I invite you, when I say, Lord, in your mercy, to respond, Hear our prayer.

God of light and darkness,

through water and Word

you shine your light into the darkness of our lives. 

We give thanks for this incredible gift. 

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God of love and hate,

your love comes in spite of our animosity;

and you bring reconciliation to those who are divided. 

We continue to pray for those grieving the rejection of the Voice referendum,

for those committing themselves to continue talking, to continue listening,

to continue working for better – for equal – outcomes for indigenous people.

And God we lift to you the broken places of our world.

We pray for Gaza. We pray for Israel. We pray for the rest of the Middle East. We pray for Ukraine and for East African and for our own region.

Help us to be peacemakers and to pray and work for peace.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God of hope and fear,

you walk with us through the challenges which surround us.

Wash away our anxiety by your promised presence,

and set us free from despair.

We pray for the parts of our country affected by bushfires, and for the summer ahead.

We pray for those impacted by the earthquake in Nepal, and all the relief efforts

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God of church and world,

in baptism you unify yourself with our world,

and bring your reign into being. 

Keep us from seeing your love as a hiding place. 

Motivate us to infuse the world with your justice.

Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God of health and illness,

there is nothing that separates us from your love. 

Inspire us to bring your health to the sick,

your encouragement to the discouraged,

and your promise to the dying.

We lift to you Wagdy’s and his treatment that finished this week praying it will have good results.

We lift to you Peter Junor who is telling Queanbeyan Baptist today about his upcoming chemotherapy. Strengthen and support him and Kathy and the family and that church.

And we pray for others who come to mind…[Long pause]
Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God who shines in the darkness,

receive these prayers and the prayers of our hearts,

in the name of the one who is your light,

Jesus Christ our Lord.

Baptise us Christ.
Baptise us into your faith.
Baptise us in your communion.
Baptise us into your family.
Baptise us in the flow of life.
Baptise us in compassion.
Baptise us in the work of mercy and justice.
Baptise us through your Spirit, beyond the waters of our baptism,
Baptise us completely in the way of your cross.
Baptise us, Christ.
(Source: Jon Humphries)