Over the past several weeks, we’ve been studying the different ways our culture manipulates the true Messiah and, as we all have the tendency, created him in their own image. I’ve relied heavily on Stephen Prothero’s work in American Jesus and Stephen Nichols’ Jesus, Made in America to root our discussions particularly in America. It’s been one of my favorite series to preach as it has incorporated insight from all over the place: we’ve talked about history, art, movies, music, economics just to name a few. In a quick overview, here’s what we’ve been talking about:
This picture was created for propoganda for the radical liberation group OSPAAAL (Organization for Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America). This image, along with the image of Christ Militant from a mosaic from the 6th century in Revenna, provided fodder for our discussion of Christ as Warrior. We talked about how, beginning with Constantine’s conversation and the Edict of Milan in 313, the unification of the church with the power of the state has led to the heresy of a militant church – the exact thing Christ came to confront and ultimately subvert.
Two years ago, when reading Hirsch and Frost’s book ReJesus, I came across a concept that I have especially become interested in (this entire series is largely inspired by a chapter in that book). In reflecting on the images of Christ throughout history, they referred to the “bearded-lady” Jesus and the tendency of artists to over-feminize and emasculate Jesus. (I utilized the idea of Jesus as bearded lady in relation to the machismo of American military propaganda in a paper I presented at the Christian Scholar’s Conference in 2009). I talked in this sermon about our tendency to allow Jesus to be passive and allow us to be comfortable with the status quo. While the relationship of the man Jesus to the perspective of women is a topic for another day, but here I sought to address the passivity that is reflected in various artwork.
As the culture began to respond to this overly feminized image of Jesus, slowly Jesus became re-masculinized, and in the onset of the 1970’s really took on a life of his own. With the release of Jesus Christ Superstar and the work of the Jesus People, Jesus Christ has slowly risen to the top as a pop icon. We talked about how Jesus shows up everywhere now: on Ashton Kutcher’s hat, Pamela Anderson’s shirt, at rock concerts all over the country, and following more than a few touchdowns every season. This puts the Christian in a precarious spot as we follow a Messiah who was maligned and ultimately crucified, yet not many people see him as an icon of popular culture. Indeed he has been co-opted by popular culture.
I love this painting by Clifford Davis. This coming Sunday we’ll talk about Jesus the Wall St. executive. Business books abound today utilizing biblical principles for running your business. The underlying thoughts seems to be – “If I just pray hard enough, God will reward me by making me successful.” The original “Jesus was a great Businessman” was David Barton whose book The Man Nobody Knows actually outsold F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This message is particularly relevant for us suburban churches. It seems here I have to part ways with Mr. Osteen and help people see that the Jesus of the Bible never offered great financial gain for his followers. In the mystery of God, some will find it, most will not. The problem for those of us living in America is that the American Dream can very easily cloud our understanding of a brighter and more glorious dream that God has already promised us all.
One final installment remains (Jesus the Oppressor) where we’ll look at ways that people have actually made Jesus an oppressor of others, and done the same in His name. Finally, on Palm Sunday, we’ll look at who Jesus really was – a Jewish man who’s dad was a carpenter and was ultimately killed on a cross followed up by Easter Sunday where we’ll open our eyes to the fact that Jesus was not only man, killed on Good Friday, but that he was God, raise to life again on Easter.