Baptism: A tool kit for life

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Vivian Lewin, Spiritual Director in the Diocese of Montreal

This morning we gather to welcome Étienne as a member of Christ, in Holy Baptism. It’s the start of joyful and lifelong instruction and growth, rooted in Christ and supported not just by us here in this place, but by all the saints and the whole church.

Étienne is already learning God’s love from her parents and wider family & friends.

She will learn, as we have learned, that life is complicated.

Baptism—and life in Christ—gives us exactly what we need to live all these complications. In fact the Gospel… the Good News… is a sort of tool kit for life.

Because the Good News came … and comes today afresh… into exactly the world we live in, a world that is messy, and where some of those messes have been made by us. A world where things ARE hard to understand, where we need strength simply to be aware of what’s going on.

Just look at where we are this Sunday morning!

We’re joyful and excited about Étienne and her baptism. We’re experiencing, at a distance, the death of a monarch whose reign, however complicated, extended for most or all of our lives. We’re introducing a new healing liturgy, in which we can bring to God whatever is not right with us, and during which we can pray for everyone who comes forward. We’re being grateful for all of creation during this season, a time of both harvest (just last night someone brought me a huge zucchini) and of frightening need including a horrible flooding in Pakistan and enormous storms sweeping Alaska and Japan.

And then we have this morning’s gospel lesson. An admittedly difficult parable from St Luke.

Of the four Evangelists, Luke is the one who most consistently proclaims God’s interest in reversing what we call today the “world order.” It’s all there in the Magnificat, the hymn Mary sings when she realizes she is going to carry Jesus into the world. “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the humble and meek. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

“He has put down the mighty from their thrones.” This week, when we are watching and perhaps participating in the funeral rites of Queen Elizabeth, we’re experiencing both the vast scale of monarchy itself… whether or not we are comfortable with how it fits with our sense of justice… and also the fact that even the most gracious and long-lived monarchs are mortal. All worldly dominion has a limit.

In our parable, Jesus gives us a middle manager who gets fired. This is a pretty modern story, isn’t it?

We might even have read news from the UK this week about the staff of Clarence House in central London receiving notice that their positions might now be redundant. (Reference in note 2).

And we might have been in exactly this position. I know I have. Walking from my former office straight to a temp agency to try and get hourly work.

Whatever will I do now? “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”

What would you do in his place? Or what did you do, when your situation turned sour?

What he does NOT do is to hide, or sulk, or retaliate, or lash out. It helps to know that managers in that day didn’t get any wages at all. They worked entirely on commission. This fellow turns to the suppliers he had been dealing with… and has them adjust their invoices! His master hears about this and commends him for his resourcefulness.

And so does Jesus.

The question is, what is Jesus approving of here, when he says, “Make friends … by means of worldly wealth”?

What the manager is doing is reforming his business practice, in retrospect, dealing more justly with the creditors whose accounts he had profited from. The call isn’t to poverty, but to right relationship. You see this again and again in Luke—in the story of the prodigal son (a coming attraction later in Luke 15) and in the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19. In each of these instances, the person acts to restore relationship with those they were connected to. Jesus would say they are loosening their preoccupation with money—their bondage to earthly wealth.

For us, it’s not to live in holy poverty, like monks, and renounce the “coin of the realm” entirely, but to become more conscious of all those we are in relationship with, and make wise and just use of what we have including our money.

If you want to extend the implications of this lesson, you might see that the people who have been managing the stewardship of creation—natural resources, harvesting of animals and plants, and so forth—have arrived at the point of accountability. As Pogo said, “the enemy is us.” We are being called to account for “squandering the creator’s property”. Do we consider that the indigenous people whose very lives past generations of those with privilege effectively disenfranchised and threatened, even anhilated, possess knowledge that is immeasurably valuable, and an intimate relationship with creation that just might save everyone on the planet. Do we turn, now, with the old, usurious “contract” heavy in our hand and say, “let’s re-write this now?”

It’s much harder to reconcile with someone YOU have treated badly, than with someone who has wronged you.

Later, Jesus will say (Luke 18:25) that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. And his hearers will burst out in astonishment: “But Lord, who can be saved?”

And the answer is: with God, all things are possible.”

Julian of Norwich, who lived in the Middle Ages, right after the Black Death, received a number of visions from God. One was of “a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand… as round as any ball. ‘What may this be?’ she asked. And the answer came: ‘It is all that is made.’ “In this little thing,” she added, “I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

To be baptised, then, [as Étienne is about to be], is to enter into God’s life, which is into the possibility and promise and reality and the keeping of that love.

When we say the promises with the family, when we say “I do, with God’s help,” we are remembering and reminding each other that these things aren’t simply something we do because we are Anglicans, we use these WORDS because we are Anglicans but the reality we are living is God’s life in and among and ahead of and underneath us.

That life makes it possible for earthly monarchs to sometimes get it right, really serving the common good, and to be forgiven when they and their societies go grievously wrong.

That life keeps us safe even when we are grieving, or losing our jobs, or working on the sabbath, or worrying about money.

That life makes it possible for us to offer healing this morning, anointing—with the blessed oil of healing—all who need to receive the health of body and mind and spirit that God’s life promises.

That life never ends.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


1. The readings for this morning are Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, and Luke 16:1-13.

2. Re: Staff of Clarence House:

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