Brothers and sisters in Christ: Through the sacrament of baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church. By God’s grace, we have been welcomed into something holy. We have become part of something larger than ourselves-a new kinship. As siblings in the faith, we have become family.
I have been reading a book by Darryl W Stephens on ‘moral witness through radical discipleship’. I want to share with you some of his initial thoughts on the subject that may cause you to think more deeply on what your place is in God’s Kingdom.
We are One in Christ
The truth is our baptism does not make us family; We were God’s children before we were even aware of it. Prior to this sacrament, prior to these words of initiation, prior to ever stepping foot inside a church building or joining in prayer in the name of Christ, we were God’s. This is the witness of the psalmist in response to this realization of being a child of God:
For it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works. That I know very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
I join in this witness. I no more chose to be a child of God than I chose to be born of my mother. It is simply a fact of my existence, and I am grateful. I am part of God’s wondrous creation. For this I praise God! Even more, I praise God for you, too. Each of is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” You are also the child of God. Baptism is the churches way of recognizing this relationship to God and to each other. In baptism, God says, “welcome home!”
Family imagery helps us understand our connectedness to God and each other. Jesus chose this image when he taught his disciples to pray. “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6: 9). We are God’s children. God is our father- not a distant patriarch but someone more familial; as Jesus’ prayer suggests, we share the same divine “daddy”.
The image of God as a loving parent is not a male/female way of thinking, either. An Isaiah, God speaks of Godself “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66: 13a). God as our loving parent brings all of humanity into familial relation. In this way, the church is the household of human kinship under God. We are kin in Christ.
Yet the word “kin-dom” indicates more than kinship. It signals not only relationship but also something bigger, something with political significance. The word “kin-dom” was introduced into public discourse by the late theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, who spoke about a reign built not by kings but by the radical notion that if we were all kin, we would take care of each other as we do our own family. In the Gospel of Mark, the first words quoted from Jesus refer to this political reality. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1: 15). Jesus, in this his first sermon proclaimed the dawning of the Kingdom of God on earth. This was no aside before getting to the good news. Jesus was not just clearing his throat before calling for us to repent and believe. The nearness of the Kingdom is the good news. This is what Jesus taught us to pray for “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 10).
It is this imminent kingdom/kin-dom of God that so threatened the kings of Jesus time. King Herod responded with lethal force, executing Jesus, “the king of the Jews”, as an enemy of the Roman state. The cross on which Jesus was killed – a form of capital punishment, like today’s electric chair or lethal injection – came to symbolize Christian resistance to state sponsored violence. In Christ, God’s kin-dom is proclaimed and embodied above all the powers.
In baptism, we not only acknowledge our shared humanity as God’s children but also enter into the risky work of God’s kin-dom. Yes, God’s work is wonderful. And we are wonderfully made, I remind myself. But isn’t it presumptuous to think that we could be part of God’s saving work? I try to put this responsibility back onto God. “For the Kingdom and the power and glory are Yours forever. Amen”. “Yours,” I prayed to God; not mine. But the good news of God’s kin-dom demands much more of me. I cannot remain a bystander. Through baptism, I join with the communion of Christians past and present to participate in God’s ongoing work in this world.
We are Empowered to Resist Evil
Our baptismal vows witness to this new reality. We promised to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, I am empowered. No matter the immensity of evil, no matter the pervasiveness of injustice, no matter the overwhelming reality of oppression, God empowers us to resist, God empowers us not alone, but together.
This newfound spirit-power frees me not only to serve the kin-dom but also to be the kin-dom. To be incorporated is to be made part of the body. God wants me to be part of something larger than myself, something that matters to all of creation. Accepting God’s gracious invitation, we become a member of the body of Christ, the church. Individually and together, through this incorporated, embodied church, we join in God’s mighty acts. In baptism, we accept that we are God’s children and share the good news of kinship in Christ. The kin-dom of God is at hand. Thanks be to God.
The moral witness of the church encompasses our participation as Christians in God’s response to suffering and injustice considering what we believe about God and God’s mission to reconcile all creation. This is a deliberate effort. it is rooted in our faith. As members of the kin-dom, we may act individually but never alone. We live as God’s family. It is responsive to the groans of humanity and all of creation. We do not attempt it under our own power but by the power of God.
We place our trust not in ourselves, our leaders, or a human institution but in God. Individually and together, we participate in what God is doing in the world. We bear witness to God’s gracious presence in ways that make a material difference in all of creation, all persons, especially victims of injustice and those who are most vulnerable.
Bearing Witness to God
Personal faith-sharing is one way to bear witness to the will of God for a more just world. When we testify to our faith, we provide a first-hand account of what God in Christ has done and is doing in our lives. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, and we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1: 1). This is the evangelistic proclamation, telling our neighbor about our experience of God. This is a witness to God’s will done on earth.
There is another way to witness to God, through bearing witness to the ways in which God’s will is thwarted on earth. Bearing witness to the face of injustice draws attention to the distance between human experience and God, often due to human failings. When reality falls short of what we know of God’s vision of righteousness, we must be present for and with each other. This form of witness often requires us to cross boundaries of culture and geography through mission. We must bear witness to the reality of suffering so that it may no longer be so.
As a well-educated, middle aged, white, heterosexual of middle-class economic standing, I do not worry about where my next meal will come from; I do not live paycheck to paycheck as many other families do. My family ancestry does not include any recent immigrants. There are many everyday realities facing millions of persons that I know about, not firsthand, but through others. Yet this does not stop me from learning about these challenges to human flourishing and standing in solidarity with those directed affected.
The reality of the gospel is found in relationship. Speaking of the body of Christ, composed of many members, Paul declares, “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12: 26). This is true both within and outside of the church. We live in an interconnected world. The struggles of my neighbor affect me. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated so eloquently, ”injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” We are in it together with different gifts and perspective. May we learn from each other and witness together, considering the kin-dom we share as children of God.
If you are an inspired disciple of Jesus and seeking a way to help mend injustice and destruction you may be interested in the following links:
As any child who has sung “they will know we are Christians by our love” knows, the way we treat others is a witness to our faith. Our faith in Christ should make a difference in the world here and now. This is radical discipleship; getting to the root of what it means to follow Jesus. Through the moral activity of empathy, we come to love our neighbor and understand the needs of the most vulnerable in society. This awareness yields a commitment to meeting basic human needs as essential in a church’s moral witness.
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Bearing Witness to the Kin-dom by Darryl W. Stephens