In the weeks since Easter we’ve looked specifically at the Apostles’ Creed, the statement Christian faith of our baptism. Today we’ll explore the question of the baptismal vows themselves. Baptism is the sign of Christian initiation – through the waters of baptism we are made a part of God’s new Creation; we are made a new kind of creature, though still human; we are enabled, by God’s Spirit, to say “yes” to Jesus – to follow Him, to be His disciples, as we should. Today I’d like to just hone in on one of the baptismal vows. When a child is first presented for baptism, in the liturgy, the parents and godparents are asked a specific question: Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
That’s a big question, because Christ’s stature is huge. Consider that for a moment. I remember a scene in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie The Last Action Hero where his character is in a movie rental outlet and he comes upon a life-size cardboard cut-out of Sylvester Stallone. Both men being known for their physical strength and size (that being the measure of their respective “stature”), Arnold looks at Sly’s arms, then at his own “guns” then back at Sly’s, and shakes his head mockingly as he chuckles to himself and walks away.
Both were known for being strong, action heroes – the comparison was fitting, I suppose. But stature isn’t just about height, or strength, or weight (physical things), but also about achievement, greatness, proficiency – really, in any area. The full stature of Christ – who denied self-ambition and humbled Himself to death on the Cross and in doing so won salvation for all whop ut their trust in Him; the full stature of Christ – who sends His Spirit on His Church with gifts of power; the full stature of Christ – who lived a perfect life, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, reigning on high. The full stature of Christ is big. It’s no small thing that we ask parents and godparents to, by their prayers and witness, help a child grow into the full stature of Christ – but it is a necessary thing to ask. Growth into the stature of the master is every student’s, every disciple’s, goal. It is what we’ve signed on for – what our Christian devotion directs us toward – what we strive for.
That said, then, as Jesus’ disciples in the early years of the 21st Century, what will it look like for us to be faithful to Him? What will it look like for us to be His disciples, and to press on toward that goal of Christian spiritual formation – His full stature? First, let’s take a few moments to check some items off the list.
The way of discipleship, the way toward the fullness of the stature of Christ, is not the way of dependence on other people: staking personal value in the opinions of others; making decisions based on speculation about the reactions of others; politicking, in the negative sense of the word (is there a positive sense?); playing on prejudices; exploiting others’ weakness. There are not the way of Christ. These things are not the ways of Jesus’ disciples.
Consider our first lesson (Acts 16:16-34). There’s a woman under the power of the a demon, who’s harassed and exploited; the men who are her masters are opportunists – tirst they take advantage of her demon-possession, then they play on the racism and prejudice of the Roman populace against the Jews; the crows easily gives way to mob mentality, peer pressure, and the lowest denominator – as do the magistrates; then there’s the jailor who would have destroyed himself because of a perceived failure. The winds of circumstance blow these people’s loyalties, choices and character in a number of ways. Lacking a firm foundation for their lives, they are tossed every direction – seeking whatever they perceive as “best” for themselves, though they’re unable to see the future.
In contrast to these ways of being, how are Jesus’ disciples called out of the way of the world? What does Christian discipleship look like, even now, for Christians in the 21st Century?
First and foremost, Jesus’ followers are people of humility. In contrast to the self-seeking narcissism that approves of any course of action – so long as it seems the most self-promotional, or pleasing/pleasurable – Jesus’ disciples work for the glory of God, not themselves. It’s not that they think little of themselves, but that they think of themselves and personal advancement rarely.
Consider Paul and Silas in the first lesson. They were only interested in advancing God’s Kingdom: casting out demons (release for the captives); proclaiming the way of salvation in Christ Jesus; praying to God and praising God even while held in the most secure cell of the prison; not taking an opportunity for escape (personal advancement, self-promotion, self-interest), they share the Gospel with the jailor – saving his life and his soul, and his family as well. So too, today, Christians are called to humility, and to be about God’s Kingdom above all else – even self.
In the book of Deuteronomy Moses issued a challenge to the people of Israel; in the book of Joshua, that worthy does the same; through the ages the judges, prophets, apostles, doctors and fathers of the Church have done the same. It is the challenge to be about what we should be about, because our lives have been dedicated to this end, and we’ve committed ourselves to it. Not to being a bunch of nice people, morally upstanding, good citizens, or a friendly community, or social activists, or people pleasers. These things may come along as a part of what we are called to, but they are not – in themselves – what we are called to.
Instead, we are to be Jesus’ people. To be Jesus people. To be disciples of Jesus who are not tossed about by the winds and waves of whim and fancy, of popular opinion and politics, but who are focused and dedicated and resolute in devotion to Christ. We declare Jesus to the world, and that declaration is complete inasmuch as we are being formed into the full stature of Christ, together. If we put first things first, it’s been observed, then we get second things thrown in; if we put second things first, we will get neither. The way forward, for us, is the way of humble Kingdom seeking, whereby the transformative work of the Holy Spirit is enabled in us as we are opened up to God’s possibilities for our future. Amen.