the penultimate WORD
for Lent - The measure of the full stature of Christ

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  Ephesians 4: 11ff. (New Revised Standard Version)

Size, measurement seems to make a difference.  But for my money, I prefer medium black, double cupped.  That’s the lingo of my local Tim Horton’s and it’s spoken across the province.  I have mine at the Mackay Highway Tim Horton’s.  It’s warm, and you can get a coffee and perhaps a donut or a bagel.  I do a lot of table talk there.  Tim’s is neutral, and doesn’t raise an alarm when I meet with folks there.  I’ve found a lot of God-talk has taken place in those familiar surroundings.

The other day I had an appointment to meet someone at Tim’s.  I light-heartedly refer to it as my “office”.  Arriving a few minutes early, I grabbed a medium black, double cupped and found a table that would provide a measure of privacy.  While I waited, I took a book out of my jacket pocket and began to read.  I sipped my coffee as one page turned, and then another, and then another.  As I sat reading, a young man approached and seeing my collar, inquired, “James?”  This was my appointment.  We shook hands, exchanged names and Luke sat down.  He settled into his seat and I asked him if he’d like a coffee and, learning his preference, went to get two fresh coffees.  I was due for a second.

I left my book behind, on the table.  I left it there on purpose.

Godless Morality, written by Richard Holloway. 

“That’s an interesting book,” Luke commented, as I returned to the table, hot coffees in hand.  He removed the lid of his coffee as he asked, “What’s it about?” gesturing towards the book. 

“Oh, that.” I replied, “That’s all about God.  And us.”

Luke arched an eyebrow.

“You know, when it comes to morality,” I went on, “we often hold our own uncertain ground and deflect the responsibility to God.  We prefer not to think things through.  When our argument gets weak, then we bring in God and say that God doesn’t like it.  This book encourages us to look at our responsibility.  Or, put another way, our ability to respond to the difficult decisions we have to make in life.”

“Yeah,” Luke said.  “I’ve had a hard time growing up and I know how difficult it is.”

“When we say that God doesn’t like this or that,” I added, “it doesn’t mean that we agree with God.  It just means that we’re through wrestling with some difficult things in our lives.”

“I never thought of that,” Luke replied.  “I never looked at it that way.”

“Well, what we often do is impose our positions on others and fail to see that Jesus encouraged others to work out their own position.  We judge others by what we do ourselves, or by what we don’t do.  But we make mistakes.  We’re not in a play.  There aren’t any rehearsals.  We’re bound to get some things wrong.  But we don’t always make mistakes and the fact of the matter is we get a clearer grasp of what’s important the more we live our lives.”

“I’d like to learn more about what’s important…” Luke went on.

“You’re not alone in that, Luke,” I said. “Why not join us in a study group… if you’d like,” I told him.  “We meet together and talk about things like this, and about God and about how we handle the difficulties that face us every day.”

Holloway phrases it well: “Fortunately, there are always plenty of people around who prefer ethical jazz and its skilled improvisations, because they believe it is a truer expression of the real human condition.” (p. 130)

Paul put it another way, reminding the faithful in Ephesus that they were to measure themselves by nothing less than the “full stature of Christ”.  They weren’t to measure themselves against him as an Apostle, or the heroes in their lives, or the person next door, but rather against what they have come to know as the full stature of Christ.  That measurement, Paul says, would be counted as maturity.

What do we recognize as the full stature of Christ?  How do we quantify it?  What are the height and depth and width of the One who hung from a Cross?  Do we measure that stature in terms of compassion, in units of forgiveness, as an expression of forbearance?  Do we allow for the struggle and the courage required in the midst of the assault?

Godless Morality is a morality and an ethic that demands our subscription in terms of maturity that reflects Jesus in our lives, engaged and alive.  Jesus’ ethic took him into the lives of people in want and confusion, in need of grace and in need of forgiveness. 

The full stature of the Man rose from the ground and declared to the penitent, “Go and sin no more.”  But not a word of how this might be accomplished: just a hope, just an expectation, just a promise of grace, continuing in the midst of struggle.

Copyright © 2001 James T. Irvine

Series 2001

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