Thursday, June 17, 2010

Feed My Sheep

Dr. M is guest posting this morning. I read his homily regarding the giant Jesus statue on Facebook last night and immediately asked if I could steal use it on the blog.

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. John 21:16



Let me begin by saying that my grandfathers, one a Baptist preacher, the other a Baptist deacon, would simply be aghast at the idea of ANY statue of Jesus associated with an evangelical church! Worshipping graven images is a violation of the Second Commandment, and my grandfathers took all those pesky Commandments very seriously. No graven images = no temptation to worship them, and so we had no graven images…not even a crucifix! Alas, my grandparents were products of an older age, still clinging to the remnants of radical Protestantism, knowing what they believed and why they believed it. They were descended from Lutheran and Reformed or Presbyterian traditions, but drawn to the Baptist church by its local church autonomy, simple liturgy, and emphasis on The Word. They sang the old evangelical hymns, read the Bible with zeal, and, for the most part, practiced what they preached.

As I have grown older, I have found it fascinating being an "insider" in Preacher Friday's family: his children (my mother, aunts, and uncle) often resented his selfless nature. They resented that they would never have much of anything in terms of material possessions, because their father would literally give the shirt off his back to someone in need. He preached many years for small congregations, lucky sometimes to get much more than a Sunday meal for his efforts. Though he loved Jesus with all his being, I dare say that never, ever, in his wildest fantasies, did he envision an evangelical church that would think it appropriate to build a six-storey statue of Jesus, King of Kings!

You see, that's precisely the point here: my grandfather did not worship King Jesus! He worshipped God. Yes, he believed in the Trinity, and like most Trinitarians struggled to wrap his mind around the whole "father, son, spirit, yet one God" concept. He believed that Jesus, as part of the Trinity, was the son of God, the Christ, and his personal savior. Preachers of his generation knew the difference between proclaiming Jesus as Lord and worshipping a false god: King Jesus. They served and ministered to people because that was God's will for their lives, and they had sense enough to know that the Lord's work did not involve building giant Jesus statues!

Unfortunately, over the last several decades far too many evangelical ministers and their congregations have lost touch with their Protestant roots and with the basic mission to which they should be called. It is not that they invented the Cult of King Jesus; no, far from it...that cult is many centuries old. What they have done is to convince themselves that what God wants from them is to shout the name of Jesus at the top of their lungs, to shock the world into realization that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In screaming the name of Jesus over and over and over again in oh, so many ways, they seemingly strive to shout him down from the heavens, no doubt in the form of the Second Coming they so eagerly await.
What these ministers seemingly fail to understand is that, with the din and clamor over King Jesus, they have drowned out the still, small voice of God, whose son they claim to be praising. Moreover, they have strayed from the path of humble service to which all Christians should be called. And so we have the story of the giant Jesus just off of I75, built by a wealthy former horse trader turned minister. How on earth can one reconcile this statue with the church as revealed to us in the New Testament? You know the one: the church Glen Beck rants against, the one that cares for the poor, divests itself of wealth, seeks to serve, keeps a low profile, and yet grows by leaps and bounds precisely because it is true to its calling!

Admittedly, this whole bigger Jesus than thou thing is an extension of the quest to prove one's piety by building bigger stuff than thy neighbor. History bears witness to this in the form of the quests to build the ultimate cathedral, the world's largest crucifix, etc. Having grown up a radical Protestant, I can blame much of this on misguided "high church" types ;-) and, more recently, woefully misguided televangelists. Folks, the bottom line is this: one does not earn God's favor or approval by building a giant cathedral, or a giant crucifix, or a giant cross, or a giant Jesus.

Do you love Jesus? Then feed his sheep! It really is that simple, folks. Feed the sheep...all the sheep, for we are all HIS, according to scripture. No building of Big Butter Jesuses, no gaudy, ghastly displays, no bowing at the feet of King Jesus instead of worshipping the Lord Most High. If you love God, care for God's lambs. That's what Jesus would do...indeed, to the best of our knowledge, that's what the historical Jesus and his faithful followers actually did!
However, one most certainly CAN stray from the mission of the church, one can SQUANDER the bounty of a given congregation or the faithful masses, and thus one can SIN AGAINST GOD! If you want to prove your love for God, then follow God's commandments. That's the name of the game, straight from the source: Jesus. By all appearances, it is far easier to build giant cathedrals or Jesuses than it is simply to follow God's commandments.

And so in the case of the Solid Rock Church and its leadership, I am greatly disappointed. While I am sure that this church does many positive things, I must challenge their decision to spend so much money on the giant Jesus, which they now plan to rebuild! Solid Rock, if your church is founded on what you say it is, Christ, the Solid Rock, then you need to demonstrate your love of God by doing what Jesus Christ asked of you.

12 comments:

  1. Wow!! Fantastic post. Lots to think about. Thanks.

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  2. Dear The Bug, and Dr. M,
    I love to read a well-reasoned post and a call back to the essentials in life.

    I agree with so much here. The one quibble I may have, is with the cathedrals. They may have been built for mis-stated reasons . . . I think so in many cases . . . and yet they do represent a community effort at Workmanship (not just a community effort for donations). They also represent a high impulse to art. And a learning curve in the technology and limits of the arch/uses of space in architecture.

    There is grandeur, and therefore False Pride perhaps in every one. There's an ancient tourism in a medieval cathedral too. Yet I do think we would have lost something if all great buildings were entirely developed for secular reasons.

    I am not religious, but I think there is very much in what you say. I honor your convictions and faith greatly.

    Very truly yours,
    Ann T.

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  3. I agree with every word you say here, except the reference to cathedrals. I believe cathedrals are the house of God. I very much feel God's presence whenever I am in a Cathedral. I have been in Westminster Abby, Salisbury Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral and Notre Dame Cathedral. In every one I felt very close to God.

    I am a spiritual person, but not necessarily a religious one. So I never never understood the worship of Jesus over God, or even the worship of Mary. And I have never understood the competitiveness of religion. I think it has actually turned a lot of people away from God. I did a post about that once, and a lot of people got mad at me.

    Great post...!

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  4. Interesting take on the "bigger Jesus than thou thing". I agree with Jo, in that the American mega church stuff can't be considered in the same category with the art of historical churches and cathedrals of Europe.

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  5. Great post! I'm reading Karen Armstrong's "Case for God" right now. She makes the point that until the Enlightenment Theologians made it a point to say that we could never understand God because any understanding we might have of God would be of our own making. We would turn God into an idol. I think that is what a lot of those evenglicals you talk about have done. Jesus is not part of the mystory of God for them. He is an idol.

    Thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

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  6. Thank you for this post Bug
    (or/and Dr M). I cannot wonder what Jesus's reaction to so much pretention would have been if he walked the earth today. The Jesus that I have come to know and love, was a very simple and humble person while on earth. I guess I am just a very old fashioned kind of Christian for I do not begin to understand all the pretentiousness around Christianity nowadays.

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  7. I didn't hear about this statue, but loved hearing your feelings about it. I happen to be a Catholic convert and my Aunt who searched most of her life for the "one true church" commented to me that converting to Catholism was the worst thing I could do. I think mostly because of a false belief that they worship statues. I have been a Catholic now for over 20 years, and I have never seen anyone worship statues. We don't even have very many in our church. I think statues are works of art and we have been inside some beautiful old churches with amazing artwork with the architecture so beautifully done. I just don't see very many new churches with this same feel to it. But I don't go to church for the artwork.
    I keep hearing about Glen Beck. I don't know who he is, but I think I will go look him up right now.
    Great post Dana!

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  8. Dr. M on cathedrals: as enduring, continuously inspiring works of art, pinnacles of architecture, and expressions of community zeal, yes, they belong in a whole different category from a giant lump of sculpted Styrofoam. I do think there are occasional modern structures that stand comparison: Robert Shuler’s Crystal Cathedral, for example. That is *one* inspiring space, and a pinnacle of modern architecture.

    I do freely acknowledge that, in building the great cathedrals of Europe, communities of artists and artisans in fact transcended whatever base motivations may have been behind the building of such structures. Wow! Two questions occur just now: was this the hand of the divine? Can the divine speak to us even through a giant foam Jesus?

    I suppose my point in the homily is that we cannot escape the fact that the great Medieval cathedrals generally were built by inordinately wealthy bishops (why did they have so much money?) who raised even more money from the locals, even visiting people on their deathbeds to beg them to give their possessions to the building fund. Still, oh my, what magnificent buildings they built!

    In conclusion, I don't think we can say that pretentiousness among Christians is a purely modern, evangelical phenomenon by any means, and that is the point I was making with the whole "bigger Jesus than thou" paragraph. It would be our great loss had they not been built, but still the cathedrals of Europe represent, to a degree anyway, pretentiousness and competition among bishops that doesn't strike me as very Christlike.

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  9. Elegance started its death with the French Revolution and received a huge hit with the Stalinist one. That's a paraphrase from Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus.

    All art before then was made through societal suffering--bad workrooms, abysmal slavery, toadying. It was made for ostentatious upper class by a miserable low class and yet it is all beautiful.

    This art also occasionally gave rise to guilds, workrooms, ateliers, and therefore a middle class. They were not the working conditions we approve today, even though those working conditions continue today.

    It is all a testimony to human spirit. It is valuable beyond price. It raises the horizon and causes us to see, hope, gain perspective, meet sorrow and joy, record history, think and feel beyond ourselves, revive craftsmanship, keep traditions, innovate, and incubate decision-making.

    Or so I do believe.

    Ann T.

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  10. First... BRAVO on this post. You had me with the title, and of course the pictures of sheep, but the content is brilliant and resonates with many my own quibbles with some of our brethren in faith. Excellent!

    Now, in defense of cathedrals (not to belabor this, but here I am). The early cathedrals were not monuments to anyone but God. Their design is entirely based in theology, and done so for the benefit of the masses who were illiterate. The cathedral was their text: stained glass windows depicted scriptural stories, carved stone patterns contained references to theological tenets: the trinity, the gospel, and so on. Cathedrals were saturated with theological meaning. (I wish I could elaborate more here, but it was a long time ago that I had my course in seminary on the gothic cathedral in ministry!) As a lover of that architecture it saddens me tremendously to see to many vacuous church spaces devoid of that kind of symbolism and beauty.

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  11. A hearty AMEN to this repudiation of Big Butter Jesus. I always cringed whenever driving by... I can think of MANY better ways to spend the money they'll (ab)use to rebuild it. *sigh* Too much stridency and noise fill the "religious airways" today. The Bible says they will know we are Christians by our love, not by our Big Butter Jesus statues. Great post!

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  12. Thank you, alter ego! I simply wasn't thinking in those terms, and so I am most grateful for your comment. Given my love for books, how can I not love cathedrals, giant books of a sort, spelling out scripture and theology in text the masses could "read." Lovely image! I confess to falling into the historians' trap of presentism on occasion. Thanks for the reminder. I, too, was a seminarian back in the day and thus should know better :-)

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