Holy Cross, Calgary
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ has taught us that what we do for the least of your children we do also for him. Give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, who gave up his life and died for us, but lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I want everyone to think back a few weeks. The week after Pentecost. Trinity Sunday. If any of you have keen powers of memory for the sermon that Sunday, you will remember that Kyle began by lamenting the fact that it is a difficult Sunday to preach. The doctrine of the Trinity is confusing, and our expressions of it are prone to error. He lamented the fact that if he had been thinking ahead he would have assigned me to preach that week! It all worked out, though. He preached a great sermon on calling from Isaiah 6 and still managed to tell everyone to just go and ask me afterwards if they wanted a dogmatic explanation of the inner working of the Trinity. Luckily, no one took him up on his offer.
Still, though, we find ourselves at the readings today, and on a Sunday where we have just celebrated Holy Baptism. We have welcomed a new child into the family of God by adoption through the waters of Baptism.
And yet, none of our passages speaks directly about Baptism. Water isn’t mentioned at all. None of them really points to it indirectly, either. That wasn’t their original intent or purpose.
Our Gospel records a narrative of of the rejection of Christ at Nazareth. In our Epistle, St Paul speaks of visions of heaven and a thorn in his side given to him to keep him humble. In our Old Testament Lesson, we have the anointing of David as king over Israel. Well, anointing and Baptism; there is a bit of a connection there, but overall it seems like it was a good week for Kyle to assign someone else to preach.
One of the great things of Scripture, though, is that we can never truly exhaust its meaning. Because Holy Scripture doesn’t just teach us what God has done historically, but points us towards God today, there are bound to be glimpses of God, his nature, and his work in the world that extend beyond the primary intent and meaning of the text and can help us understand truths about things like Baptism.
So rather than thinking of a passage as pointing towards Baptism itself, or even indirectly pointing towards Baptism, I want to see what our Gospel today might reveal about the nature of God and the nature of Baptism which might be of encouragement to us all today.
Rejection of Christ; Affirmation of Free Will
In our Gospel Reading today, Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town where he was raised from a young age. Jesus is already into his ministry at this point in the Gospel according to St Mark, and so he begins to teach in the synagogue as he had been doing elsewhere throughout Judea to this point.
Something is different here, though. The people reject Jesus. They are astonished at his wisdom and the authority with which he teaches them, but they cannot get over the fact that this is the son of Mary and Joseph who they knew from a young age and whom they saw growing up.
What do we see in this? We see unbelief and rejection. They are rejecting the divinity of Jesus because they had known the humanity of Jesus. His fragility as an infant. The normality of his family life as he grew up. They cannot imagine that someone who is so like them, so human, could be a prophet of God, let alone his anointed one or even the Son of God himself.
In this rejection, though, we see the character of God manifest. First and foremost, God gives us free will: the ability to reject him. The ability to reject his offered gifts. Second, we also see that God does not reject his people just because they reject him. Despite being rejected, despite Jesus being “amazed at their unbelief,” he still performs acts of healing and reconciliation there. This is a recurring theme throughout Scripture: the faithfulness of God despite humanity’s lack of faithfulness.
That teaches us something of the character of God, but it also shows a broader problem: people reject the miraculous. People believe in what they can see. They accept and desire the familiar. They reject the divine. They want a simple explanation: that is not a prophet or the Son of God, that is little Jesus, Mary’s son.
Teaching is the Solution
So, what then does Jesus do about this broader problem of his rejection? Put simply, he endures and teaches. Jesus is rejected in one place, he does what he can based on those who will believe and then, respecting the free will God has offered to those who rejected him, he moves on and continues teaching in other nearby villages.
But there is also a second part to this. Jesus doesn’t teach alone. Jesus commissions the twelve to go out teaching as well. He sends them on a journey with instructions and so they go out proclaiming the gospel of Christ, performing miracles, anointing people in the name of God and curing the sick.
Christ’s solution is never to become discouraged or quit. His solution is to continue on in proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to all people. While the Gospel reading today doesn’t mention it, you have to wonder if Jesus and the twelve had gone back to Nazareth after the end of this mission in the region, would the people then perhaps have been more willing to accept him? If they had heard what was being done in the neighbouring villages, might have given them faith to overcome their disbelief? If they had heard it from so many other people that Christ had commissioned to proclaim the good news, might it have made a difference in how they responded?
The Parallel Today
We might see that there remain strong parallels with our Gospel reading today, but on this particular Sunday our thoughts are turned towards Baptism. We return to this initial question of what might our readings speak into what we have just participated and witnessed here today.
I think there are two major parallels, one following each of the sections of our reading.
First, our passage reminds us to look beyond the familiar humanity, and to see the divinely adopted nature given in Baptism. It warns us that we, as bearers of Christ, may well receive rejection as well. There will be those who reject Christ, and as his servants, there will be those who reject us.
With any baptismal candidate, but especially when they are young like Kelton, we grow up with them and are familiar with them. We see them maturing physically, mentally and emotionally. We look also to see them growing spiritually. But the fact that we can see someone and think, ‘I remember when you were small enough for me to hold you in my arms,’ means we will almost always look upon them differently. There is that tendency to first and foremost turn towards the familiar, the physical, and reject the divinity within.
Something happens in Baptism, though. Something important. Something world-changing. What is Christ’s by nature becomes ours by adoption. When we look at a newly baptised child, they are not simply that little boy or girl, they are brother or sister of Christ by adoption. They are a child of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
When we now look at Kelton, he is our brother in Christ, a child not just of his human parents and family who surround him, but a child of God by adoption.
It is a reminder to us not to forget that for ourselves or for those around us, but it is also encouragement for us when we ourselves are the ones facing the kind of rejection Christ faced.
Our passage tells us not to become discouraged when we face that kind of rejection. When we face rejection it often makes us feel alone, yet we can never be alone in rejection because Christ himself is there with us, as he went through rejection in order that he could be with us, especially when we face rejection for his sake.
It is also a passage of exhortation, that suggests that even in the midst of rejection, there is work to be done, just as Christ continued on in the face of rejection in Nazareth. Don’t forget that even thought Jesus respected the free will of the people to accept or reject him, he continued his reconciling work in the world around them.
This first parallel is perhaps most important for Kelton for that reason, even if he might not fully understand that for several years. The second parallel is perhaps more immediately important for the rest of us today.
God’s Charge to Us
The second part of our Gospel passage today had Jesus commissioning his disciples to spread the Gospel of Christ, and to disciple others in the region. The ministry of Jesus was not a one-man show. He didn’t do all of the work himself. He commissioned those who believed to share in his ministry.
Today, Christ is ascended. He no longer resides incarnate on earth. And so we too continue be charged to share in his ministry, just as the disciples were. St Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun, wrote, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.” Christ operates, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through us. He commissions us to do his work in the world today, and strengthens us to accomplish it through the Holy Spirit.
In Baptism, the assembled community is called much like the disciples were in the Gospel. Kyle asked us, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Kelton in his life in Christ,” to which we responded, “We will.” We have sworn a solemn oath to assist in the discipling of Kelton.
In this way our passage encourages us in the promise made today, and promises made at many other baptisms to support the discipling of God’s children: to pray for them, to pray for their parents and God-parents, to be active members of our parish community and to encourage one another in faith.
Baptism is important in our life as Christians, and for the life of our community. It is the sacrament of initiation by which we are brought into a life in Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is something that is lived out in community. We ought never to forget the grave implication that all those who are baptised are bearers of Christ. All those who are baptised are baptised into his ministry as priests and prophets and kings.
Our readings today might not describe one of the times when Baptism occurred, or a time when Christ talked about the need for baptism, but what our Gospel does remind us that in our own Baptism we take on Christ, and that we may well suffer the rejection he suffered as well. That people may not be able to see past our humanity to see the work of God within us. For Kelton in his Baptism, that is a reality into which he entered today. But it is paired with a recognition that something monumental does happen in Baptism. By adoption, we enter into the family of the Lord of all creation. In that adoption, it also means Christ is with us when we experience any kind of rejection like Christ experienced.
Second, our reading reminds us that we, as disciples of Christ, are called to be workers of Christ. We commissioned to carry out his work in the world. In Baptism, that manifests itself in our community’s commitment to the baptismal candidate. Today, that commitment is to Kelton, his parents and Godparents.
In these realities, Holy Scripture reminds and exhorts us on to live out our faith, as we gather as a community of the baptised. A community of brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted into God’s holy family.
And so, dear friends in Christ, and especially Kelton, remember who you are in Christ. Remember who those around you are. Pray for them. Support them and encourage them.
May we always reflect Christ within us, remembering his endurance when we face trial at setback and the fact that he is with us, and our commitment to supporting one another to grow in the knowledge and love of God.
 St Chrysostom, Hom XIX on Acts
 St Mk vi. 6