Monday, November 19, 2018

Justice League

“Justice League”
November 16-18 at Luther Crest Bible Camp, Alexandria MN

GATHERING THEME VERSE:  Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  Amos 5:24

I always like the themes chosen for our youth gatherings, but this year’s theme beats them all:  Justice League!

Not only is the theme great—but this just might be the best logo ever-- with Jesus in the midst of a host of comic book superheroes, describing how he (Jesus!) saved the world.

I find that so sweet, because, you see, I’ve been fascinated by super-heroes my whole life.

In the family I grew up in I was the baby brother, the little tagalong who was born when my sisters Judy and Cathy were in middle school!

Judy and Cathy, were like “auxiliary moms” to me….so that I grew up being pampered not by just one, but by three “mothers!”

Even though they loved their little brother, there were times when Judy and Cathy were mortified by some of the things their goofy little brother did:   like when I was 4 or 5 running out to meet their school bus at the end of the day, wearing just my underwear with a super-hero cape over my shoulders.

My childhood habit of dressing up like a superhero was fostered by the fact that I grew up collecting DC comic books, especially the ones about Batman and Superman…

Those also happened to be the years—in the 1950s and 1960s—when there were live-action TV shows about my favorite super-heroes.   So I hardly missed an episode of the Superman show in good old black-and-white TV of the late 50s and early 60s…

….and I was always in front of the family TV in the late 60s, when the 120 episodes of Batman were on—in living color!

Why was I so fascinated by these super-heroes….and why am I still a big fan of super-heroes, including now the whole Marvel Universe alongside the DC comics I had as a child?

I can think of five reasons why I still love super-heroes

1.  They have cool origin stories—tales about how they came to become super-heroes

2.  They have super-powers that allow them to do extraordinary things

3.  They use their super-powers to defeat evil and help those who are weak

4.  Most of them have dual identities:   Superman (Clark Kent), Batman (Bruce Wayne), Spiderman (Peter Parker), Hulk (Bruce Banner.   These secret identities (“alter egos”) allow super-heroes to blend into daily life when they’re not living out their super-hero identities.

5.  They sometimes join forces with other super-heroes, especially when such cooperation multiplies their super-powers to save the world.

No wonder that when you and I think of super-heroes it’s natural for us,  as Christians, to think of Jesus as sort of a super-hero.

After all, Jesus has a pretty amazing “origin” story….and Jesus has some pretty amazing super-powers…and Jesus also definitely uses his powers for others, not for himself—Jesus’ power allows him, too, to defeat evil and help the weak and needy, like most of our favorite superheroes.

It’s natural for us to liken Jesus to the super-heroes in our lives….

BUT IN OTHER RESPECTS Jesus is so much more than one more super-hero.  Jesus is something else, in a class all by himself….he’s way above and beyond the other super-heroes we follow…

Here’s five reasons why I say that Jesus is NOT just like our other super heroes:

1.  Jesus originates not in some sort of trip through outer space (like Superman) or some science experiment gone wrong (like Spiderman).   Jesus’ “origin story” is all about God—God’s overflowing, unconditional love….God’s amazing willingness to be born in a cattle stall and laid in a manger…to become one of us….God’s fierce determination to be our God….God’s stubborn desire to set us free so that we can be God’s people.

2.   Jesus’ super powers are way above and beyond the super-powers of our super-heroes…
a.     One of Jesus’ super powers is his ability to “bend time”—to live and act in the past, the present and the future all at the same time.   Take Paul’s words about baptism for example: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Romans 6:3-4)  

In saying that the event of baptism is one of the ways Jesus “bends time,” it’s not too far-fetched to think of the baptismal font as a kind of “time machine” in which Jesus past act of saving us invades our present moment while also preparing us for the future when Christ will come again to say to us:  “You are mine.   You are forgiven.   I give to you life abundant, life forever!”

b.    Another of Jesus’ wondrous super powers is his ability to create endless second chances…to offer us countless fresh beginnings….to provide us with daily “do-overs.”  One of the best Bible verses that sums up this super-power of Jesus comes from Revelation 21:  “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

c.     Perhaps Jesus’ most amazing super power is his ability to win by losing, to empty himself out in order to fill us up, to lose his own life so that we might gain life--life that knows no end—all because of Jesus.  

Unlike most of the other super-heroes we pay attention to, this power of Jesus doesn’t rely on brute force or compulsion.  Instead of avoiding death, Jesus faces death, walks right up to death, endures death, demonstrating Jesus’ fearlessness in the face of death.   Jesus saves us by allowing death to do its worst to him, all because Jesus believes 100% that God is the God of resurrection.

3.    Jesus doesn’t have just one secret identity like “Clark Kent” and Superman….Jesus doesn’t resort to a single “alter ego” that allows him to sneak around unnoticed…..

….but rather, Jesus wears a mask, of sorts, by coming into our lives and identifying himself so closely with us that (in the words of St Paul) “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

You are Jesus’ “alter ego” because Jesus has taken up residence within you, and through you Jesus keeps doing his work of making all things new, restoring people and creation to the goodness God has always intended.

4.   And none of this happens just to you or just to me all alone—by ourselves, in isolation from others.  Jesus has the astounding power to bind us to one another, to make us—all of us—his Body, to continue his work of making all things new, forgiving sins, walking beside us in our past/present/and future, facing everything that frightens us, including death itself, confident that there is a resurrection waiting for every one of us.     As we’ve been reminded during this Gathering by Pastors Sue and Jake,[1] Jesus makes all of US to be God’s vast “Justice League” in a hurting, hungry, angry, disappointed, hope-hungry world.

5.  …and perhaps best of all, you, my young friends, can get in on the action NOW—not just when you’re all grown up.   This hurting world, and especially the adults in this world like your youth group advisers and your parents and grandparents and adult friends…..we are all LOOKING TO YOU to lead the way—because Jesus has made you his own, his “alter egos,” his Justice League.

[1] Earlier in the Middle School Gathering participants heard Pr. Sue Koesterman describe her work with Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead, MN, and Pr. Jacob Anderson of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, MN, describe his one-on-one ministry with needy persons who seek help from the congregation’s Deacon’s Fund.

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