Designer Labels - Cathedral Confirmation
Sermon by the Rt Revd Dr Nigel Peyton Bishop of Brechin delivered in the St Paul's Cathedral, Dundee on 21 June 2015.
I was in George Street Edinburgh recently. It’s full of designer label stores and quite trendy. Some of them I just don’t understand, like Hollister which is dark inside and full of mirrors and plasma screens, colourful back-lighting and music. You can’t read the price-tags, it’s like shopping in a night club. Maybe that’s the point.
I guess most of you here know all about designer labels, perhaps wearing some or aspiring to having them. Designer labels indicate that we want to be fashionable and are possibly well off. Or that we just like to wear nice stuff and, well, maybe we are a bit vain. Or a bit extravagant, because we could have got something similar but much cheaper at Primark.
And it’s not just clothes – cars, housing, holidays, are all branded and marketed as life-style choices, indicators of our tastes that make us distinctive – what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu described as ‘cultural capital.’
The whole point of designer labels is that they are worn on the outside and are visible, or distinctive in more subtle ways, prompting the flattering question, ‘is that a such and such dress?’ In the famous words of the L‘oreal cosmetics television adverts we are reassured that we should purchase, because “we’re worth it”.
The latest variation on our obsession with our appearance is of course the ‘selfie’ photo, taken on a mobile phone, which shows where we were, when and who with. Maybe we’ll take some after the service to record that our candidates were indeed baptised and confirmed by their Bishop in his Cathedral today. Or maybe that’s a bit yesterday? Fashions change so fast.
Christian Baptism and Confirmation which we celebrate this morning signify becoming ever more part of the worldwide Christian family. We welcome Daisy to Baptism, and Kenneth, Katie, Jonathan, Graham and Valerie to Confirmation.
The whole occasion is filled with visible signs and actions, ‘labels’ if you like, to help us understand what is going on. We have the water in the font and the sign of the cross, the Christian badge – some of the ladies may have cross and chain around their neck, and the church building is of course full of Christian symbols. We have godparents and sponsors and promises, we have prayers and the laying on of hands and anointing with chrism oil, and candles and certificates. And we share the Peace and the bread and wine and blessings of Holy Communion.
Baptism and Confirmation are door-opening moments, steps on the life-long journey of faith. They are not an inoculation against the storms of life. But, as older members of this congregation will tell you if you ask them (which you should), the Christian faith has certainly sustained them over many years. For candidates and their families and friends this is a new beginning, a big moment, a ‘yes to God’ moment. Especially on this Fathers’ Day it is a time to celebrate parenthood, family life, and growing up in the world. And it is a time to recognise the aspirations and realities of adult life, with all its opportunities and challenges, its hopes and harsh realities.
We are not simply going through the motions today. Because this Baptism and Confirmation celebration is all about a very different sort of designer label. This designer label never goes out of fashion. It is unrepeatable, indelible and indestructible; it is unending and can never be stolen from you; it is invisible and costs nothing.
Sacraments of the Church, Baptism and Confirmation are all about God’s grace and blessing: designer labels to be worn on the inside of a person. It is about the interior life, about the real you, the secret you that God nevertheless sees and loves and cares deeply about – whatever happens to you in life, and for ever. Because God knows “you’re worth it”.
As our Bible readings today remind us: Jesus calms our fears with assurance when we are out of our depth. And St Paul speaks of opening our hearts in trust and ‘not accepting the grace of God in vain’. In faith we who have nothing can possess everything through honesty, kindness and holiness.
Baptism and Confirmation is about believing without knowing it all for now. The congregation today are not simply spectators, but fellow sponsors, supporters and disciples. The Christian life is a long journey and every day we pray that God may be in us, and be made known through us, and in the life of our Cathedral and diocese in, as it were, Chapter 2015 in the Acts of the Apostles.
Each time we come to church and receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion, or a blessing, we are nourished in our daily Christian life, both the outward public expression and the private interior parts. And especially when our outside and our inside don’t match very well – you know, when we put on a cheerful exterior which hides the sad or anxious inside of ourselves.
At the heart of our liturgy are some beautiful words which sum up both the prayer and the promise in what we are doing today:
“In Christ your Son, our life and yours are brought together in a wonderful exchange. He made his home among us so that we might for ever dwell in you”
This our prayer this morning for Daisy, and for Kenneth, Katie, Jonathan, Graham and Valerie.
After all, you can take a ‘selfie’ with the Bishop, but you don’t need to take a ‘selfie’ with God, because God has already moved into your life, for ever.