This is the text of the sermon preached by Helen Kennedy on Sunday June 15, 2014 at the ordination of five new priests, among them Helen Holbrook and Alison Chubb, both of whom have deep roots in saint benedict’s table.
On this Trinity Sunday, as our Bishop greeted the community today, he invoked the Trinity. He called upon the grace of Christ, recognized the love of God and invited us all into the fellowship of the godhead with the Holy Spirit. We then told him what a lovely greeting that was, and we said, “Right back at ya Bishop”, or more delicately put, we said, “and also with you.” It is the way we start many services in the Anglican Church. It locates us in the mystery that is a triune God.
These words follow the benediction that Paul gave to the church in Corinth. This was our second reading. Paul had spoken a lot to that church. He had tried to help them to sort out their quarrels, their misunderstandings, and he wrote to them teachings of how to live the life he felt God wanted for them. These words – the words we say as we gather – were pretty much the last thing Paul said to that community.
Paul is modelling Jesus as Jesus calls on the three aspects of the triune God when he instructs the disciples before he leaves. Matthew tells us that the women had seen Jesus resurrected. On that first Easter morning, the women had gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. What they found was an angel with attitude and a great set of biceps, who rolled away the stone and sat on it! He tells the women that Jesus was not there; he was alive and on the loose. Scared witless and excited as all get out, the women took off running to tell the others. Jesus cut them off and said, “Go and tell the others to meet me in Galilee; there they will see me.” For once without question, the eleven did as they were told and went. Some thought this was an elaborate hoax and doubted; others worshipped Jesus. What he said next is what our ordinands need to hear today. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…” Not to you. To Jesus!
However, there are a couple of jobs for you to do. Firstly, you are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Within the Anglican tradition, when we baptise, we anoint with oil, and mark that person as Christ’s own forever. It is one of my favourite things to do! The first time I did it, I cried more than the baby, because it was such a powerful and profound thing to do for anyone – to mark them as belonging to Christ, not just in that moment… but forever.
The anointing with oil we do in a baptism has a threefold purpose. The Old Testament examples of anointing with oil tell us what those three purposes were. Aaron is the first example. He was anointed by Moses to identify him as Holy, set apart. God had given instruction to Moses to set up a priestly family, one that was sanctified to do the work of the temple, to be the priest to the people. That was Aaron and his descendants. Marked as holy.
Another use of anointing with oil was for a priest to mark someone as clean. Those who were considered unclean, the lepers, were kicked out of the community until their condition had cleared up. Then a priest would go and see if they were clean enough to be brought back. There would be a purification ritual of cleansing, where anointing with oil marked that person as clean and pure. It was an act that allowed the person to go home. It was an act that reunited families, normalized life again and brought the person back into their community. Marked as pure.
The third purpose of this threefold act of anointing was a more practical one. It was to mark them as beautiful. There are a couple of examples of oil being used to mark someone as beautiful: Esther had beauty treatments with oil. Ruth anointed herself to be gorgeous before she met Boaz. The prophet Daniel commented how terrible he looked because he had been in a time of mourning and had not anointed himself – he looked a mess. Marked as beautiful.
So then when we baptize, we anoint… to mark a person as being sanctified, set apart as holy; purified, clean and perfect; and beautiful, the ‘very good’ entire human family part, of God’s creation.
Unfortunately, our observation of this text has not always done that. It has been misused to say that, “When I baptize you, I want you now to be and act like me.” As a Brit, I know this. It is a large and not flattering part of our history. The missionaries who came to Canada said exactly that – “I want you to act and be like me. “ But… these missionaries were forgetting the first line. All authority lies with Jesus and nowhere else.
The second part of Jesus’ instruction is to teach. The translation we read this afternoon, says to teach others to obey, other translations say teach others to observe or keep watch. Jesus is telling the disciples to observe, keep watch over what he is doing so that his example can be passed on to others. Teach others to love in the way he loved. Teach others to act in the way he acted. Teach about the commandments God knows are good, very good, for humanity. Just as Paul is telling the Corinthians to agree with one another, to live in peace, greet one another with a holy kiss. It is through lives which are peppered with these attributes that will bring about God being known in all nations, through the lived examples of those known to love one another as they have been loved.
Kara, as you teach others about the liturgical aspects of faith, draw attention to where all authority lies. We enact our faith through liturgical and spiritual avenues, knowing that it is with Jesus, not us, that the buck stops. Steven, use the sacrament of baptism and the gift of anointing to mark people as Holy, pure and beautiful, claimed as Christ’s own forever. Helen in your anointing of those who find themselves in hospital, when you anoint them, know that you are declaring their broken and diseased body as something that is clean and pure before God. Lissa, continue to teach, and continue to tell the story of how it came to be that God pursued and continues to pursue God’s people, living the example as you do it. Allison, invoke the trinity, call us to the wisdom of sophia, the reality of Jesus, and the solid foundation of God.
All five of you in your priestly ministry are to make disciples of all nationalities, maybe that is a better way to grasp all nations; claiming them as Christ’s, marking them as holy, pure and beautiful before God. Remembering that it is not under your authority that you make these statements. It is Christ’s. It is hard work, of that there is no doubt. There will be times of struggle, despair, anger, frustration, times when you will scared witless, those negative emotions will be there. And often in the same moment, as the women at the tomb experienced, there will also be times of joy, moments of profound grace, moments that will plunge to the deepest part of your soul, sometimes to a place that you didn’t even know was there. Therein lies the beauty of the work. It is completed in the promise that we are never alone. Christ will be with us to the end of the age. In the grace of Christ, in the love of God, and in fellowship with the holy spirit, may God be with you. AMEN