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As we walked down the aisle, a little boy around four or five stopped in his tracks. His eyes widened and his head followed us as his mother stopped the cart just short of running him over. My companion said nothing, just kept walking purposefully, puffed out his chest and placed his fists gently on his waist. He looked up at me and smiled, then returned his watchful gaze on the citizens around him. As we turned the corner and his cape gently whipped behind him, another little girl shouted: “Mommy look!!! Superman!!”
I was proud to be walking with Superman. There is something special about having Superman around and every child I saw at the store this Sunday knew it to be true.
I want to raise my kid to be like Superman. But my desire has nothing to do with how we dresses on a trip to a grocery store (the outfit is just a perk of having a son!). Let me explain.
A few years ago, the three of us were trained to lead Real World Parents seminars. This seminar focuses on parents being intentional about developing wisdom in our children. One of the illustrations that has always stuck with me is from one of the old Christopher Reeves Superman movies.
There is a scene where a great threat is posed in the heart of Metropolis. Thousands of people are running out of the city to escape the imminent danger. Then they look up to see the much longed for streak of blue and red. But the blue and red streak is going the opposite direction.
While everyone else is running away, Superman is headed TOWARDS the problem. He is engaging when everyone else is fleeing.
This to me is at the heart of Christianity. The traditional story of the death of the Apostle Peter tells something similar. We often know this story as a heroic martyrdom where Peter is crucified upside down because he is unworthy of the same death as Christ.
But what leads up to his death is much more telling about the nature of discipleship. Peter’s death occurs during Nero’s intense persecution and the burning of Rome. As the flames rose in the city, a group of Christians began to flee the city to avoid the tragic death of their leader. But on the road out of the city, Peter has a vision of Jesus.
A vision of Jesus walking back into the city.
Peter asks: Where are going Lord? And Jesus responds: Into Rome, to be crucified again. Humbled by this vision, Peter returns to Rome and is crucified.
As Douglas John Hall points out, the point of this story is not the tragic suffering. It is the orientation of all discipleship. Discipleship is an engagement with the world despite the world’s rejection or our own preference for peace and security.
Where most people run away we are called to engage.
This week in Jeremiah, we see a prophet weeping for his people who are being punished by God. Israel had become wicked and they were being punished. And they were being punished for how they used their wealth and treated those no one else wanted to take care of.
Surely this would be the time for the prophets to walk away.
Surely their punishment is a sign God has walked away.
But that is not how this God works. This God doesn’t give up. Even when God’s people are at their worst and are experiencing the consequences of their actions, God is still with and for Israel. God weeps with the people through the prophet. God extends God’s own presence to those who deserve it the least.
Where most people walk away. God engages.
And God invites us into the process.
When society marginalizes or ignores those who have less because they didn’t earn it like the rest of us, a true disciple engages, gives and nurtures.
When we get beat down for doing the right thing and it would be easier to give up – a true disciple keeps doing the right thing.
While a good portion of Christianity walks away and condemns people based on doctrine, lifestyle, or poor choices a true disciple enters into relationship.
When the difficult parts of life rear their ugly heads, and it is easier to pretend like they aren’t there, the true disciple tackles them head first.
True discipleship is a world-oriented way of engagement. Especially in the places most people want to run away from.
It is who I want my kids to be. It is who I want to be. And it probably looks a lot more like Jesus than Superman.