Saturday, September 01, 2012

Catching up for those who missed me!

Some of you are already aware that I missed most of the last week because of illness. I was laid up in the hospital for three days and have been recuperating at home since Wednesday. Since I missed the second service last week I thought that it might be a good idea to share the message that I wrote for last week on here so that you don't feel left out. So without further delay - Meet the X-Men!

Genesis 2:5-25 When no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.  The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. (NRSV)
Luke 10:25-37 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (NRSV)

The Uncanny X-Men
So far in this series we’ve studied the following heroes and their context:
Spiderman and the idea of responsibility
Batman/Daredevil and vigilantism vs. God’s justice
The Incredible Hulk and anger
And last week, Iron Man and stewardship of all we have.
What all of those have in common and a vital difference from the next two weeks is that they were individuals and we’re now going to turn our focus toward some hero teams. And this makes a lot of sense by the way. All of us start our journey of faith as individuals. We all come to Christ by a moment of personal choice.
But… true Christian faith isn’t practiced in a vacuum as an individual. True Christian faith takes a team. That’s why we have a church. Because we’re a team.
So let’s take a look at this team – the Uncanny X-Men.
Anybody ever heard of these guys? Not as popular as the Avengers or the Justice League, that’s for sure. Well, maybe better to say not as well-known. Because the truth is, the X-men are actually much more popular among comic book fans than any other super hero team. Back when I read comics it was the X-men that drew me in and they were always my favorite book.
Right from the very beginning, the X-men were different. First off, rather than an X-man having his or her powers due to radiation or gadgets, they are all born with their powers that manifest at puberty. In comic book terms, they’re mutants. The membership in the team is in constant flux because their base of operations is a school. It’s a school for mutants to learn how to control their powers, so who makes up the team is always different.
I want you to get a feel for this team, so here is a sampling of some of the membership. Founding members:
Cyclops – has the ability to project a force beam from his eyes
Jean Grey/Phoenix – telepath, telekinetic with unlimited power
Beast – acrobatic, intensely strong and covered with blue fur.
Iceman – has the ability to solidify even the water vapor in the air, can turn his body into an impenetrable ice form.
And Angel – has the ability to fly by way of wings grown out of his back
Newer members include:
Rogue – mutant ability to absorb other mutant’s powers, permanently endowed with super strength and flight from accidental absorption of another mutant’s power that killed that person.
Storm – African princess with the ability to conjure and control weather.
Emma Frost/the White Queen – psychic attack and the ability to change her skin to impenetrable diamonds.
Gambit – Cajun gambler with the ability to imbue inanimate objects with kinetic energy.
Nightcrawler – German circus acrobat with the ability to teleport
Mystique – shapeshifter and marksman, can assume the appearance of anyone she sees.
Wolverine – accelerated healing factor and a skeleton infused with unbreakable metal with retractable claws.
Thunderbird – Native American with super speed and super strength.
Banshee – Irishman with ability to fly due to sonic projection (screams)
Had enough? Because there’s a lot more… a lot more.
What do you notice about all of that? I’ll tell you what I see; I see a very diverse group of people with a broad range of gifts and abilities working together for a common cause. I see a picture that ought to look like the church… unfortunately it mostly doesn’t. Mostly in this day and age the church looks like a homogenous mix of similar people with similar gifts trying to do the same things over and over and expecting different results. BTW, that’s one of the definitions of insanity. Doing the same thing again and again and expecting to get different results. And we’re not crazy, right?
But that’s not what the X-Men are about in my eyes. The way I see it, this team is a model of diversity. Men and women. Young and experienced. Black, white, Asian, Latino, Native American… even blue furry people are welcome.
And one of the biggest issues that this diverse group faces, on a grand scale? Discrimination. There are endless storylines in the X-Men line of comics concerning mutant oppression, mutant slavery, attempts to “cure” mutants. Like I said in my blog the week before we started this series, these stories reflect our cultural values and our societal issues. Marvel’s writers and artists have continued to use mutation as a metaphor for groups who are disenfranchised and discriminated against in our society.
These metaphors contained in the X-Men stories are meant to be obvious. Mutants are different. Mutants are hated and feared. Mutants are a minority. Mutants are discriminated against because of what they are. Sound familiar? Apply that mutant metaphor to any disenfranchised group, any minority, anyone who feels alone, and it works.
So what’s the answer? The answer is simple and it’s Biblical. If you read any of the Genesis creation stories, and btw, there’s more than one, you get the idea that God seems to like the idea of diversity. God created everything and every one of us. And God created us each the way we are, with particular gifts and particular flaws with intention and with purpose. There’s a design here and it’s all about diversity.
Our problem in this world today is that we’re too much like the priest and the Levite in the Luke passage from this morning. A good Jew was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was beaten and mugged. The Jewish Priest wouldn’t touch him for fear of being ceremonially unclean. The Levite, keepers of the Temple, wouldn’t touch him for the same reason.
Who helps? A Samaritan, a resident of Samaria, a heathen! Samaritans weren’t supposed to be on this road. You want a good comparison? If Jesus told this parable to us today the Samaritan instead would be a Muslim, perhaps even a terrorist. That’s the kind of status that Samaritans had among the Jews.
And yet, this one shows love. This one shows compassion. And you get the feeling that it didn’t matter who it was in that ditch, the Samaritan was going to help… even if it was a blue furry beast man, or a shapeshifting mutant, or well, or anybody. Again, out of Jesus’ mouth we get God’s love of the diversity in this world.
Now it’s our turn. Jesus made women, Gentiles, and even Samaritans heroes in his stories. Paul saw the wide-ranging revolutionary implications of Jesus’ Gospel. Jennifer Berenson, a Biblical scholar said, “In the church, human distinctions associated with ethnicity and socioeconomic status are meaningless.” The book of Acts makes it very clear that from the very beginning, on the day of Pentecost, the church included people from many different nations who spoke many different languages.
If one of us today, modern Christians, were to walk into a first century church, I think we’d be amazed at the diversity represented there. The fact of the matter is that in this society the most segregated time of the week is Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, many churches are taking an approach to their outreach and ministries that, intentionally or unintentionally, lead to more uniformity rather than more diversity. Some churches have adopted church growth strategies that target one specific demographic group and then design all their programs and worship events to meet the needs and desires of the kind of people already attending that church.
Folks, this doesn’t follow the Gospel’s call to enter into an inclusive community. As our culture becomes increasingly more diverse, younger generations of people are finding it strange and uninviting to walk into church congregations where everyone looks and acts the same. Just as it is in business, by having a diverse group, we are better able to understand the needs of our communities.
When we are around only those people of the same background, we start to assume that our way is the only way to approach an issue. Diversity brings with it new ideas and new approaches that enrich the whole congregation.
So my challenge to you this week is to broaden your horizons. Yes, I know that for the most part we live in a very homogenous community. But even there, we still don’t reflect the diversity all around us. Let’s think together. Let’s pray together. Let’s push ourselves outside our comfort zones and embrace folks unlike ourselves. Let’s invite them to a personal relationship with Christ. Let’s invite them to an uplifting relationship with the Body of Christ, the church. Let us love the diversity of this world that God loves. Let’s pray together.

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