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Ordinary Sunday 33, Year B
The Baptism of Wesley Jack Taylor
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 15, 2015

1 Samuel 1:15-17; Psalm 16; Mark 13:1-8

‘Reassurance and warning’

Subversive God,
deconstructing temples of power
in which we would keep you
trapped and tamed:
lead us through violent times,
unafraid to speak for peace,
untempted by those
who promise easy answers;
may we follow him alone
who renews the world in love;
through Jesus Christ,
who sits at God’s right hand.

Steven Shakespeare’s collect for today is a concise summary of the Gospel. In many ways a difficult text. And a challenging text for a service of baptism. In the context of our welcoming Wesley Jack: the farewell testament of Jesus part encouragement, part apocalypse; both reassurance and warning. God be with you

Jesus, says Mark the evangelist, foresaw the trials of the late first century (the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, divisions and persecutions), and understood them in terms of an unfolding program, in terms of “labour pains”, in terms of a promised world. What may look like the end is really the beginning. “What Jesus foresees,” says one commentator, “will apply as long as the Gospel is still to be proclaimed up to our time and indefinitely beyond” (Brendan Byrne). As long as the good news of divine love (respect, right relationships, non-violence) is yet to be proclaimed (spoken, enacted, shared, faithfully appropriated). No easy answers, indeed.

Wesley, like each of us, like Jesus himself, baptised in the turbulent waters of hope and awareness; the turbulent waters of freedom and responsibility, difficulty and promise.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition depicts the baptism of Jesus as a theophany, a revelation of divine love. Amid the turbulence (the Jordan river a blue torrent), the holiness of flesh, humanity, earth, sky, water, deep-water mystery, prophetic criticism, angelic kindness. Amid the turbulence, the goodness of Spirit descending in order to lift up. Jesus enacts solidarity (joyful and costly) with hopeful souls of every time and place, and the water enfolds/receives him just as he receives the water (on which he walks).

One significant detail of the icon is the alb held by the angel in pink and gold. The alb will be given to Jesus immediately following his baptism. In ancient times naked believers were baptised then clothed in white albs to symbolise their new identities in Christ: new hope and awareness, new freedom and responsibility, new (noble/ennobling) difficulty and new (discernment of) promise.

As such, an alb conceals and reveals.

The one to whom it is given becomes a full member of the church regardless of family background or connections, regardless of class, wealth, gender, sexual, cultural or political identity; regardless of physical or mental strength, emotional or spiritual maturity. Regardless of fashion sense. Symbols of status, which all these may be, are covered up, concealed. The one who wears the alb is a full member of the church (a Confirmation service may later confirm it) irrespective of academic qualifications, religious or political visions, commissioning, ordination or induction.

An alb also reveals something. It reveals a person, body and spirit, a living soul worthy of love respect, care, time, a fair go, a second chance, inclusion, reverence the same reverence shown to Christ the human one in whom something more than all-too human preoccupation is revealed. An alb means that love names us most faithfully; love overcomes our all-too human vanities; love unites us with beloved others. In an alb as in the Spirit of Christ certain things take on greater significance: use of language and tone of voice, posture the way we carry ourselves in relation to others (gestures, eye-contact, physical contact) our openness to others.

I try to think of these things each Sunday when, on behalf of baptised members here, I put on this alb. Ideally then, an alb conceals (many signs/sins of separation and vain distinction) and reveals (love that reconciles and makes humble/holy).

In relation to Mark 13, its twin themes of reassurance and warning in particular, and in honour of Wesley Jack, what else might we say?

The farewell testament of Jesus assures us (“Do not be alarmed,” says Jesus, “Do not fret …”) of a wisdom born of difficulty, even turbulence, even violence.

Newborn (in a physical and spiritual sense), Wesley is loved regardless of qualifications or achievements. Wesley is loved with a love that confers freedom and dignity nothing less than a part in God’s unfolding program of salvation (non-violence, peace, shalom). That’s the reassurance. In view of our doubts and insecurities, we are given the example of Rikki and David’s love for their child. Inspired love, and thus vulnerable (joyful and costly) love.

And with David and Rikki, Lachlan and Jacqui, in the depths of our own loving hearts, we receive this reassurance as an invitation to wisdom, an invitation to love again …

With Wesley’s parents and godparents we are also exposed to a warning (“Be on your guard,” says Jesus. “Stay awake! Stay alert …”). There are consequences if we allow our fears and anxious expectations to overwhelm our hopes for one another. Our disrespectful actions bring on consequences within families and communities, as in the world. We are warned about the risk of hurting, failing or losing a loved one such as Wesley.

For we don’t yet know his thoughts or hopes. We will never fully know his prayers or the path/part that is his path/part alone.

Fears and anxious expectations may include an expectation that he be a certain kind of man, that he achieve a certain level of success. A fear that he might not be sufficiently wealthy or support the right party or team. A fear that his convictions might show ours to be weak, short-sighted, ignorant.

We are warned lest we turn from the God who in Christ inspires our reverence for life together in the world. For perhaps there’s nothing so precious as inspiration of this kind our doing consists in our being with one another discipleship is the art of accompaniment (Evangelii Gaudium). We are warned lest we limit God’s dream for Wesley and the world to our own fears and anxious expectations.

In the goodness of water and Spirit, and in the name of God Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver we entrust this child to Love. Nothing less. May he grow “in wisdom, in years and in favour with God and people alike” (Luke 2:52) ... Amen.