Never Parted from Jesus

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
July 28, 2019
Baptism Gospel: Mark 10:13-16

Mother Hymes’ sermon on the Gospel Mark 10:13-16 in the occasion of WCEC’s first two baptisms and first Bishop’s visit in our new worship space. It was a glorious day in the Lord!

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, July 28, 2019

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Recently I was watching one of my favorite reality shows, and was caught off guard by my emotional reaction to an intimate encounter between two friends. In this episode a young mother had decided to permanently move herself and her six-year-old son from the United States to Australia so that she could marry the love of her life, creating the difficult situation of the young boy having to leave his best friend. Mom coordinated the final play date with her son’s best friend. Watching the genuine joy shared between the boys on the merry-go-round at once warmed my heart and broke my heart. If this tender time of play wasn’t heart-wrenching enough to watch, the six-year-old boy reached out for his friend, hugged him, and held on for dear life. And, he said, with tears in his eyes, to his friend, “I want us to never be apart, because I love you, and you are my very best friend in my life.” Wow. I don’t know many adults who are in touch with their emotions like that child, embracing vulnerability and fearlessly giving and receiving love.

The first verse in our Gospel passage today states that “People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them…” (v.13). This scene is paralleled in both Matthew[1] and Luke[2], and does not provide us with any details about the ages of the little children, being brought to Jesus, although Luke specifies that there were infants. Whether or not they were eight months old or six years old, the little children’s presence was strongly rejected and not welcomed by the disciples.

Even as they followed Jesus and were taught by Jesus, his disciples had not yet shed the exclusionary societal standards, choosing to replace them with the kingdom standard of inclusion as modeled for them by Jesus himself.  They shooed the people bringing the children because children were the lowest ranking in society; they were not considered persons in their own right, and the standard expectation was that children should never be allowed to disturb the teacher and his students (in this case, Jesus and his disciples).[3] Children were insignificant, and were seen as unworthy of being in the presence of Jesus as he taught his disciples.

Nameless, faceless people were doing extraordinary things in the action of bringing children to be blessed by Jesus. The people risked acting counter to society’s standards; and companioned helpless and invisible children, amidst the strong opposition of the disciples. The people made it possible for those who were otherwise unable to make their own way to Jesus to be in his divine presence. And, in doing so, they, too, found themselves in his divine presence.

This act of bringing little children to Jesus, has great significance for Jesus’ 21st century disciples. I imagine that bringing a family member or friend to church, or even inviting a stranger, with whom you may have had conversation at Publix, to Bible study, mirror the act of bringing little children to Jesus. Crossing into territories that are hostile or closed to the Church, requires risking rejection in order to bring those who do not yet know Christ into the real presence of Jesus.  And, we don’t get to choose who is “fit” or “unworthy” of receiving God’s grace. Jesus’ ministry was inclusive.  The Church must resist the human tendency to be complicit in strengthening unjust structures of our society that exist to destroy the dignity of human persons.

Might we, following the blue print of our Baptismal Covenant, bring those who do not yet know Christ into His presence so that their souls may be touched by Christ—through His Body—the Church—you?

When we continue in the apostle’s teaching in the breaking of the bread and in prayers; proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves; and strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being[4]; it is then that we embody lives lived in Christ.

Shortly, we will gather around the font to witness two baptisms. But we will do more than witness; we will participate. Parents and Godparents will promise, with God’s help, that they will raise each child in the Christian faith and life and will nurture the child to the full stature of Christ.

Participating in this action, this gathered faith community will be asked, “Will you do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ? The response, of course, being “We will.” The only way to authentically say, “We will,” is by living the baptismal covenant, and holding each other accountable.

The real presence of Christ is with us, from the taking up of Olivia and Madeline in my arms as Jesus took the children up in his arms; to the water being poured over their heads; to the bishop’s chrismation on the forehead of each child; to the light of Christ being exchanged—the real presence of Christ is indeed with us, and the kingdom of God enfolds us.

As we witness, and participate in, the joining of Olivia and Madeline to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we do so knowing that they will never fear being apart from Jesus; they will know in the depths of their souls that they love Jesus and that they are loved by Jesus; and that Jesus is their very best friend in their whole life. More than that, Olivia and Madeline will, through proper teaching and Christian formation, throughout their lives, know and believe that through his saving work on the cross, Jesus has given them eternal life.

With God’s help, and our willingness to be used by God as His instruments of grace, we gather today and affirm these baptismal promises so that an 8-month old child will feel the presence of Jesus. We affirm these promises so that the six-year-old can rest in knowing that there is nothing he can do that will separate him from the Love of God.  I am a chaplain with college students, and I affirm these promises so that when my 18-year-old students, away from home for the first time, reach out for Jesus, as they try to make sense out of a complicated and dangerous world—they find Jesus embodied in the person of their chaplain. And, we affirm these promises for those nearing this life-long journey of being formed in Christ so that they may experience Jesus taking them up in his arms, in times of trial and joy, to bless them.

No matter who you are, or where you are on your journey of faith, let us companion one another on the way. As we reach out for the kingdom of God who comes near to us, Jesus, let us embrace the vulnerable and loving spirit of a little boy, only six years old, and hold on to Jesus for dear life, as that child clung to his friend, saying, “Jesus, I want us to never be apart, because I love you, and you are my very best friend in my life and the savior of my soul.”

Amen.

[1] Matthew 19:13-15.

[2] Luke 18:15-17.

[3] Mark 10:13-16 Commentary. The New Interpreters’ Bible, Volume VIII. p. 647.

[4] Baptismal Covenant, BCP, pp. 304-305.