About a year ago, two other young priests and I began a podcast exploring our mutual love for comic books in light of our shared Christian faith. We called it “God and Comics.” For those of you who are not familiar, a podcast is kind of like an internet radio show. Besides having a bit of fun, we had a few other goals in starting our podcast. The first was to model thoughtful, Christian engagement with popular culture. Second, we hoped to engage in a bit of contextual ministry. Comic book fans are a strong niche demographic and one that is not always known for its piety. We wanted to talk about our faith in a way that would be relatable to them. Finally, we wanted to share our love for comics with a wider audience. We believe the medium has some really exciting possibilities for artistic expression. Comics have come a long way since the funny papers!
My reason for telling you about the show isn’t just a bit of shameless promotion, although I do hope some of you will give it a listen, but because I wanted to share with you how recording our latest episode helped to shed some light for me on this week’s gospel reading.
The title of last week’s show was, “Sidekicks andDiscipleship.” In it we explore the history of the superhero sidekick and what they can teach us about what it means to follow Jesus.
Probably the best known superhero sidekick is Robin, the BoyWonder, the junior partner of Batman. Even if you have never read the comic book, you have probably seen the campy 1960’s Batman TV series in which he appeared. The creators of Batman introduced the character of Robin in the 1940’s to lighten things up a bit when comic books were coming under fire for being too dark and violent. The character also served to give younger readers someone with whom to identify. The idea was that through Robin, and other kid sidekicks, young readers could imagine themselves having adventures alongside their favorite heroes and helping them to solve crimes.
I wonder, when you read the Gospels with whom do you identify? If you are anything like me it is probably with the disciples! When I read the Gospel stories, I am filled with admiration, awe, and worship for the person of Christ. I long to be like him, but it is his disciples—with their slowness of heart, their hardness of mind, and their occasional foolishness— in whom I recognize myself! This is perhaps true of no one else so much as with Peter. Peter, like myself, always appears to have more eagerness than wisdom, courage, or fortitude. Just look at the way he first falls asleep and then puts his foot in his mouth in today’s gospel lesson!
The picture of Peter that emerges from Holy Scripture, is one of a man in process. He is struggling to become the man that Christ has called him to be and making plenty of mistakes along the way. He, and the other disciples, are in training. They are walking with Jesus, working alongside him, trying to do the things that he does, and seeking to faithfully teach his Gospel. In this way, they are a lot like superhero sidekicks. Sidekicks are apprentices. They are training to do the things that their mentors do. They just want to be heroes, and deep down so do we!
We long for the heroic virtue, the righteousness, the greatness, and the glory in the face of Christ. As disciples of Christ, we are his apprentices, training to be like him, to do the things that he does, that our lives too might shine with the radiance of God.
Sidekicks are often miniature versions of their mentors, having similar powers, and wearing a similar uniform. For example, there is the Flash’s sidekick Kid Flash, Aqualad the sidekick of Aquaman, and Speedy the crimson archer who works alongside the Green Arrow. In a similar way each of us is meant to reflect in miniature a bit of who Christ is.
Martin Luther was fond of saying that the Christian was a “little Christ” called in our own small way to be Christ to the world. If we are little Christs, it is our Lord’s desire to lead us along so that we grow up into the full stature of Christ.
This morning, at Christ Church, we are commissioning young people to serve as acolytes in our Church. For many, the role of acolyte, is the first step in a life of service to the body of Christ. Our Acolyte ministry is a training ground for disciples. Jesus is taking these young people on as his own sidekicks! He wants to form them into heroes for the gospel! He does the same for all of us through the various ministries we serve.
When Jesus led Peter, James, and John up the mountain, he gave them a glimpse of the glory he intends for them, the end result of their training. What we see in Christ’s transfiguration on the mount is our own human nature, glorified, shot through with the eternal light, made a partaker of the divine nature. Our Lord wants to lead us too up the mountain with him, so that like him we can know the depth of union that he enjoys with his father. To become a disciple of Jesus is to embark on a journey, and to begin a process that when complete will result in our own glorification, and in the transfiguration of our human nature. He wants us to shine like stars!
Peter thought that he could stay with Jesus forever up there on the mountain top. He suggested that he could build little houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but he was mistaken. He still didn’t realize that Jesus’ mission was to suffer and die. That the path to glory would be through the agony of his crucifixion.
There are some who want a crossless Christianity. They want all of glory, but none of the sacrifice. This is impossible. To quote WilliamPenn,
“No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.”
There is no short-cut to glory, no fast-track to Christ likeness. We must be willing to undergo the long process of formation, the discipline and sacrifice that is required. We cannot have Easter and the glory of the Resurrection without Lent and Holy Week.
If we wish to share in Christ’s glory, we must also be willing to suffer with him. Jesus said,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”