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What do Charlie Sheen and Jesus Christ Have in Common?

Creative Commons LicenseA Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday
First preached at First Congregational Church of Saugatuck on March 6, 2011.
Texts: Matthew 17:1-9 and Exodus 24:12-18
Wordle: What do Charlie Sheen and Jesus Christ have in common?

Charlie Sheen. The man is a walking train wreck. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss this story, Mr. Sheen went on a few drug-induced benders recently, causing the hiatus of his sitcom. That would have been enough for media attention, but he’s gone on an unashamed, I’m a winner, you’re just jealous, viral media crazy-blitz.

Everyone makes mistakes, but most of us don’t go and crow about it on talk radio the next day, and then on Good Morning America, and then on the Today Show, and then on CNN, and then an interview with that most respected of all world news outlets, TMZ. And just when you think it’s over, he says something even crazier, like: “I’m an F-18, bro.” Or “These resentments, they are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my saber.” Yes, you heard that right. Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of Charlie Sheen’s saber. Train wreck, in slow motion, with instant replay.

So here’s the big question of the day. What do Charlie Sheen and Jesus Christ have in common? I’m no Letterman, so I could only come up with a Top Five. (Many thank to Jerry Donovan for his help!)

5.   Jesus creates miraculous amounts of alcohol; Charlie consumes miraculous amounts of alcohol.

4.   Both speak in metaphors difficult to translate into English.

3.   Jesus makes great wine. Charlie just whines.

2.   Neither sees anything wrong with hanging out with hookers.

1.   One of them is God’s gift to the world, the other thinks he is.

Kidding aside, I think Jesus and Charlie do have something in common. We have a problem, us 21st century Christians. We read this book, and we love it so much, and we respect the people in it so much that we have a hard time identifying with them. All great literature is about identifying with the character. You recognize yourself in Tom Sawyer or Atticus Finch. They’re complete fiction, yet you see something in them that you want to be. Great fiction is the lie that tells the truth.

So look at our text today, the transfiguration. Who are the characters in the scene? Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. Six characters, and we identify with none of them. Jesus walked on water. Moses walked through the Red Sea. Elijah called down fire from the sky. What did you do last week? I got stuck in three inches of slush! I can’t compete with these guys.

It reminds me, in a small way, of how we deify celebrities. We put them up on a pedestal, as if they were role models. They’re not role models. They’re pretty people who are good pretending to be someone they’re not. Which is good, because that’s pretty much what we expect them to do 24/7.

No falls off a pedestal. We put them up there, and then we rip it out from under them. It feels good to have someone to look up to, someone to follow. It frees us from the responsibility of defining ourselves. As good as that feels, it feels so much better to look down on them afterward. It proves that you’re a better person. “I may be messed up, but I’m no Charlie Sheen.”

It’s never really about them; they’re just the backdrop for our story. They are the measuring stick we use to inspire or comfort ourselves. We forget… well that’s not really accurate, we willfully choose to ignore, that they’re human.

Back to our text. Why are Moses and Elijah in this story? The short answer is that Moses represents the Law and Elijah the prophets. Together, they symbolize the entire Old Testament. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to break the Old Testament. He loves his Hebrew Scriptures. He wants to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses and Elijah need to be here to show the continuation of their work in his ministry. But I think there’s more to it than that. They’re here on this mountaintop for a reason. Both of these men have stood on the mountaintop.

Moses stood on Mount Sinai, and received the tablets of the law. The cloud descended on the mountaintop. God spoke from the cloud, and thunder rolled down toward the people. When Moses came down, his face glowed with reflected glory, and they were so terrified they made him cover his face.

Elijah stood on Mount Carmel. He faced down 450 prophets of Baal. God answered his prayer with a fire so hot that it burnt the wood, the offering, the water, the stones, and scorched the earth. When he came down off that mountain he ran ahead of the king’s chariot all the way to Jezreel.

They’ve been on the mountaintop, not just once, but twice. Moses stood on Mount Nebo, and looked down into the Holy Land. He looked down on the promised land of God, the land he had spent 40 years of his life seeking, and he knew he would never make it. He made a stupid, arrogant mistake, and this was the price. He could see the Holy Land, but never go in.

Elijah stood on Mount Horeb. Well, stood isn’t really the right word. He cowered. He hid… in a cave. The man who faced down 450 prophets ran and hid when Jezebel’s messenger delivered her death threat. When God asked him what he was doing, he complained. Then God revealed himself not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but the still small voice. And the voice said, “What are you doing, here?” And he complained again in exactly the same words. He learned nothing.

We’ve studied Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount over the last few weeks. Matthew intentionally parallels the story of Jesus with the story of Moses so that the Sermon on the Mount echoes the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. If that was the first mountaintop, the victorious mountaintop, then what is this?

We Christians are sometimes so careful to deify Jesus that we forget, or we willfully choose to ignore, that he was human. Perhaps Moses and Elijah were there because he needed them to be. He needed to see what was coming as part of a larger story, the story of faith, the story of deliverance not from all suffering, but through and out the other side. You see this confirmed on the Mount of Olives when Jesus cries, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” You hear it confirmed on the hill of Golgotha, when Jesus cries, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was fully human.

But he must have learned something from these two. Or perhaps they reminded him of something he already knew. Because he follows “Let this cup pass from me” with “Not my will, but yours be done.” And he follows “Why have you forsaken me” with “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

If you ever wondered what was the right thing to do. If you ever knew the right thing to do and wondered if you had the strength to do it, then you have something in common with Jesus. If after all that, you went and did it anyway, if you made God’s will a reality in this place, forgetting the cost, for the sake of your brothers and sisters, then I’d say you share a family resemblance. You and Jesus have something in common.

These heroes of faith are not porcelain statues to be observed from afar. They are human beings just like us. The word Christian does not mean Christ follower. It means little Christ. As he is for us, we are to be for others, even for Charlie Sheen.

Benediction: You may have noticed I left someone out. Three someones, actually. What about Peter, James, and John? Why are they in the story? First, they teach us that Jesus is not one among many. You don’t build three equal houses and put Jesus in one. God says, “This is my son. Listen to him.” And second, try as we might, we can’t stay on the mountaintop. All we can do is hold onto what we learned there and take it with us into the valley of everyday life. May God meet you on the mountaintop and walk with you through the valley and out the other side. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God forever, amen.

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Creative Commons License What do Charlie Sheen and Jesus Christ have in Common? is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Link to revsmilez.com.

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Want to lead? Learn to serve.

Text: Proverbs 31:10-31, Mark 9:30-37, James 3:13-4:8a
Author’s Note: No audio or video for this one, maybe I’ll be able to talk them into an upgrade. :)
Creative Commons License

Our world is hurting for heroes, longing for leaders. Just look at our TV shows. According to TV Guide’s top ten list, 3 of the top ten are “reality” shows, 3 are dramas, and 3 are mysteries.

Right. That only makes 9. The last one is about vampires.

Let’s sum up. Three shows about beautiful people scheming and manipulating their way to victory. Three more about beautiful people falling in and out of love. Three about beautiful people saving the day. And one about mythical creatures of deadly beauty and power. Anyone sensing a pattern?

We are hurting for leaders, and our natural human response is to follow the famous and the powerful. That’s the world’s criteria for leadership: fame and power. If that were not true, half our media wouldn’t even exist! Entertainment Tonight? It is gossip packaged as a news show! Tabloids? Gossip packaged as a newspaper! They make millions off of us because we cannot help ourselves. We are drawn to celebrity like moths to a flame.

Sociologist call it the Halo effect. It’s a form of cognitive bias we’ve been scientifically documenting since the 1920’s. It means we tend to see people as all one way or another. If we see one trait that we like, we assume the rest of their traits must be good too. In real life, that means we give huge bias toward beautiful people because the first trait we can evaluate is looks. Hence, Paris Hilton is worthy of her own TV show.

By show of hands, how many of you have ever seen VH1’s Behind the Music?  For those of you who haven’t, let me fill you in.  Every single episode follows the same pattern.  Act 1, a group of scrappy musicians united by a little talent and a love of music plays back yards and bars for free.  They get their big break through a combination of luck, talent, and drive. Commercial break.  Act 2, they make it big, playing for stadiums of screaming fans, hot and cold running women, and drugs. Commercial break with a teaser that includes the phrases, “spins horribly out of control.” Act 3, the band falls apart and at least one member winds up in rehab or dead.  Commercial break.  A four minute snippet of hope, where the musicians pull their lives together and get back to the music, playing tiny venues for little money, and loving every second of it.

Ever wonder why rock stars always seem to get caught in sex and drugs? Because everyone around them gives them what they ask for. They keep pushing the boundaries, keep finding there aren’t any, and they go a bit insane. Some part of us always recognizes fake adoration for what it is, and it leaves us feeling empty. And here’s the twisted part, after we put celebrities on the pedestal, following them for no other reason than their fame, we laugh at them when they finally crack under the strain.

God’s criteria for leadership are totally opposite. Instead of fame, Scripture lifts up the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Let’s review that picture for a moment. What exactly does she do? The short answer is she devotes herself to serving her family with every once of her ability.

She runs a profitable cottage industry, but she’s not too proud to get her hands dirty. She’s wealthy, but not from an inheritance, and not because of her husband. She’s earned her wealth, and yet she’s still generous. She gives instructions to the children and the servants. She is aware of everything that goes on in her house, but her words are wise and gentle. Her husband is known in the city gates, but she isn’t. Her work is recognized, but nowhere in here does it say she gets any credit, except from her husband and her kids.

What’s missing from this description? That’s right, there’s absolutely nothing in there about her looks. If this were written today it might sound like this:

“A perfect wife, who can find? She has rock hard abs and buns of steel. She can sing. She can act. She can dunk basketball. Her dress is Dolce and her shoes are by Prada. She has more sex appeal than Angelina, more talent than Beyonce, and more power than Hillary. She’s the ultimate triple threat. Her boyfriend is both the most admired and most hated man on the planet, at least until she finds a new one.”

Are you getting the picture here? The world lifts up celebrity. The world admires beauty. The world follows charisma, but God’s priorities are different.
But wait a second. If worldly leaders are beautiful, how do you explain Donald Trump? No way that guy’s making US Weekly’s top ten sexiest of ’09 list. And yet he’s clearly a leader.

This is the world’s second great criterion for leadership: power. Power comes in many forms, but ultimately it comes down to control, the ability to make other people do what you want. I can pay you, persuade you, or threaten you. It doesn’t matter. If I can get you to do what I want, people will see me as a person of power, and they will follow.

Ever wonder why people with limited options keep committing crimes even though they know they’ll probably wind up in jail? It may be the only control they ever feel, the only time people treat them with respect. This person, who has been ignored and sidelined since birth, [gun] now has your complete attention.

Unfortunately, power is just as destructive as celebrity. We follow the rich. We fear the strong. We admire the powerful, but always from afar. Power is just as isolating as fame. Imagine the psychological toll it would take to be constantly surrounded by yes-men, never having a real discussion, always watching your back.

The world worships power, but Jesus lifts up a child. “The one who wants to be first must be the servant of all. Anyone who welcomes a child, welcomes me, and the Father who sent me.” In his culture, the only one less powerful than a woman, was a child.

What exactly does this kid do that’s so great? What does this little boy or girl do that’s so worthy of our attention?

Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Jesus says, “Come here.” And the child comes.

That’s it? That’s it.

If this story were written about a modern-day adult, it would go something like this:

Jesus says, “Come here.”
“Why? What do you want? What’s in it for me?”
Jesus says, “Please come here. I need to teach something.”
“I probably could learn it anyway. I’m stupid like that.”

We would talk for hours, and you know what we’d never actually get around to doing? Coming here! This is what makes the child so mighty in God’s kingdom. The child comes when called, without fear or attitude, without arrogance or self-hatred. Jesus says, “Come.” And she says, “Ok.”

James says we have not because we ask not. We don’t bother to ask, because we’re self-centered. We don’t include God in the daily stuff of life. Or we ask, but we do not receive because we ask selfishly. We have not followed the example of the virtuous wife or the reckless child. They looked outside of themselves, and in the moment they forgot themselves they became worthy of honor. They became leaders worth following.

And here’s the wonderful part, just as worldly leaders self-destruct over time, godly leaders get better with age. Look around you and you will see wisdom in some of those wrinkled eyes. This world is hurting for leaders. We have some right here in this congregation, and you can be one too, if you look outside yourself. Want to lead? Learn to serve.

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Want to lead? Learn to serve. by Rev. R.J. Brink is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at revsmilez.com.

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