July 9, 2006

Super Hero Sundays

"Superman: More Than A Super Hero"

(John 1:1-5, 9-14; John 13:31-32; John 20:30-31)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

[2] He was in the beginning with God.

[3] All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

[4] in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

[5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.


John 1:9-14 (NRSV)

[9] The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

[10] He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

[11] He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

[12] But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

[13] who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

[14] And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.


John 13:31-32 (NRSV)

[31] When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

[32] If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.


John 20:30-31 (NRSV)

[30] Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

[31] But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


INTRODUCTION:

In 1978, we were living in Midway, Missouri, just outside of Columbia. I was serving a the Midway Locust Grove UMC while going to college and studying for the ministry. One Saturday afternoon, Mary and I loaded up our oldest son, Paul, and headed toward the movie theater to see Superman: The Movie, starring, then, unknown Christopher Reeves. Paul was eight and I felt like I was eight, again. It was one of those special days that Dads and sons get to share. I don't remember much other than we both sat there enthralled as one of our Superheroes came to life on the big screen. I grew up reading comic books, especially Superman, Batman and later Spider-Man.

And it wasn't just the comics. Remember the 1950's TV series, The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves.

[Show Opening of The Adventures of Superman]

"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky. It`s a bird. It`s a plane. It`s Superman!"

Yes, it`s Superman - strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman - who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

In 1932 two young men, Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel, created a comic strip which changed the face of comics forever, changed our concept of heroes and changed the world through it's cultural influence. They created Superman. By the way, did you know that Superman is a Christian and a Methodist. In one of the comic books he talks about his upbringing by the Kents who took him to church every week. He even goes to the pastor for advice in trying decide his future. (1)

From the comic books, to radio serials, TV, movies, games, newspaper comics, video games and toys, Superman is one of the world's most loved and most recognizable figures.

What was the draw? Why did every boy and half the girls in America run and grab the biggest towel they could find and tie it around their neck like a cape right before Superman came on? Why are these Super Heroes so popular? What is it about them that draws us into their fictional universe?

From what I've read and what I've observed, I think we have an innate need for heroes. We know what our lives are like. As Christians, we know we no longer live in the Garden of Eden where everything was perfect and there wasn't any deceit or power struggles. But heroes get us in touch with that simplicity.

You see, Heroes are perfect. Heroes never let us down. Heroes fight for the underdog. Heroes always stand up for what is right and good and true. They always tell the truth. Heroes are saviors and in times of great turmoil and great change we all long for a Savior.

We all need Heroes and we all want to be one. The Old Testament is full of heroes: Moses, Deborah, David up against Goliath, Samson, Ruth, Elijah taking on the priests of Baal and defeating them on Mt. Carmel. These are the heroes of the Old Testament that spurred on kids for a long time. Who didn't want to be as strong as Samson or be able to use a sling like David to kill the giants around them?

But the greatest hero of all the Bible was Jesus. Now don't try to picture him in tights and a cape. That would probably just be wrong. Yet Jesus is the one whom all other heroes eventually emulate in some form or fashion. But, as the title suggests, I believe Jesus Is More Than A SuperHero.

John 1:1-5, 9-14 (NRSV)

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

[2] He was in the beginning with God.

[3] All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

[4] in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

[5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

[9] The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

[10] He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

[11] He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

[12] But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

[13] who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

[14] And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.


I. SUPERMAN:

[Show the Teaser Trailer-Superman Returns]

A father sends his son to Earth. And he puts him here for an express purpose.

"They can be a great people," says the father. "They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason, above all - their capacity for good - I have sent them you, my only son."

On Earth, this son comes as a helpless baby and is raised by a simple tradesman. He displays wisdom beyond his years. As an adult, the son fights hard for truth and justice. He displays amazing abilities and incredible insights, but sometimes he feels that his power is being drained out of him.

After a dramatic battle with the forces of evil, he is killed. But then he is resurrected and ascends into heaven. He returns in a second coming. (2)

That's the story of Superman Returns, but it's also the story of Jesus. Brian Singer, the director and story developer of Superman Returns makes no bones about it, "Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes." And he intentionally portrays Superman in a Christ like manner. There's scene after scene that remind us of Jesus.

For example there's a scene reminiscent of Salvador Dali's "The Christ of St. John"

And "When his mother finds her son in the field after his return, she holds him just like Mary did Jesus in Michelangelo's Pieta'. (3) Did you know that originally Superman's parents names were Mary and Joseph and not Martha and Jonathon. I guess they thought it was too blatant. (4)

In the current movie, Lex Luthor is a compilation Herod and Pontius Pilate and when Jesus is under the effects of the deadly Green Kryptonite, Luthor's minions beat, kick, mock and spit on him just like the Roman Soldiers did Jesus. Singer did a great job in portraying significant scenes in the life of Christ through the life of Superman.

But let me make this very clear, while I saw lots of Christ-like qualities and a good Christian message in this movie, Superman is not the Messiah. Superman will never replace Jesus. Nor was he intended to. Only Jesus can be the Savior we need.

In Superman we might find hope but in Jesus that hope is made flesh, that hope is given life and breath, that hope becomes a reality and is made tangible in our everyday lives.


II. THE NEED:

A. There's a pivotal scene in Superman Returns that in a sense, defines much of this postmodern world that we live in. A world more like the first century than any other in history.

[Show Lois Lane Clip]

Lois finds out what we all know, we DO need a Savior and we can't just move on beyond needing one. You see, when we try to rely on our own power or the power of this world, the power of worldly, fictional heroes we're like the little boy who received a Superman cape for his birthday. Ecstatic, he donned the cape and ran as fast as he could around the backyard. It wasn't long, though, before he came back into the house with the cape in his hand. In disgust, he threw it on the floor and in anger said, "This thing doesn't work." (5)

B. One of the things Brian Singer and the writers of Superman and every other comic book that has ever been written make very clear is that we are in desperate need of a Savior, every moment of everyday. That's the whole premise behind each of the Superheros. As normal human beings, there are forces of evil at work in the world that we can't overcome. There are temptations in the world that we can't overcome by ourselves. Over and over again, through Superman rescuing Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and others, we discover and realize that we can't save ourselves.


III. JESUS:

A. That's one of the basic Christian teachings and understandings. We are a fallen people. We've all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We need someone to save us.

But we need more than a man of steel. We need more than someone in blue tights and a cape. We need a Man of the Cross. We need the man who was both Human and Divine, God and Man in the flesh. We need the one who stepped out of heaven and put on the rags of our flesh and blood and became one of us. We need Jesus, the perfect Son of God who came not only to teach us how to live as Disciples, but to save us and offer us life eternal. And Jesus did it, not with fisticuffs and bare knuckles, not by bending steel with his bare hands, not by pummeling the enemy to dust; but Jesus did it simply by offering Himself up on the cross for the sins of the world.

This is the Savior Humankind needs. This is the Savior who loves each of us with the same love God has for us, an unconditional love that transcends all bounds. Jesus, while being the greatest superhero of all time, is so much more than a superhero. He is the Savior of the world.

B. While Superman may be able to bend steel with his bare hands, and leap tall buildings in a single bound he can't save our souls. And that's the difference.

I remember playing Superman as a child. Perhaps you did, too. With a towel and a safety pin I had a cape, and a small boy was dramatically transformed into the "man of steel." But I don't ever remember playing Jesus. "Why not?"

I'd heard stories about Jesus and the miracles He performed. But I never did put on sandals and a robe and play "Jesus." Was it fear of being irreverent. I doubt it, it was the sixties and we called the sandals we DID wear JC water walkers. That wasn't very reverent.

Sid Burgess suggests that maybe it's because even as children we can perceive the difference between faith and fiction.

Superman is make-believe. But even as children, we recognize there is something mysteriously true about Jesus. Something more real about him, more genuine, more starkly human than a mere hero of TV, comic books or movies

While Superman HAS power. Jesus IS power, power made known in weakness! A baby, born in a manger. A child, lost in the Temple crowd. A young man, tempted. A popular leader, betrayed. An innocent man, put to death on a cross.

And we find Jesus is fully human and yet, fully divine! How else could he feed 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. How could heal the blind and make the lame to walk. How else could he give hearing to the deaf and cure leprosy. How else could he raise the dead.

High on a mountaintop, Peter, James and John heard the truth right from the mouth of God. With Moses and Elijah pointing all of humanity to Jesus, God spoke and said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him." (Luke 9:35) (6)

It's this Hero, Jesus, the Son of God, the Chosen One, who not only has all the answers to all the questions of life, but He's the one who can change our lives, give us life and define our purpose and direction in life. But more importantly, this Hero, Jesus, the Son of God, can and does remove the burden and guilt of sin we carry with us which weighs down our hearts and spirits.

NT Scholar Pheme Perkins of Boston College Theology Dept. writes: "It's at the cross where Superman and Jesus part company. Superman offers rescue but Jesus offers salvation and Jesus did it by giving his life for all of humanity."


CONCLUSION:

According to an old story, when Muhammad Ali was in his prime, he was about to take off on an flight and the stewardess reminded him to fasten his seat belt. He popped of and said, "Superman don't need no seat belt." The Stewardess quickly came back, "Superman don't need no airplane, either." He fastened his belt. (7)

While Superman may parallel the story of Christ, it really can't do it justice. You see, faith is not a summer blockbuster with jaw-dropping special effects. Faith is usually seen in the silent touch of a desperate housewife, or the quiet hope of a father walking into a room filled with the smell of death or the anguished hope of a teenager looking for answers in the midst of a crisis.

And while Superman is fun, sometimes faith isn't. While it encourages us it also confronts us and challenges us and calls us to change. And faith only comes through a saving relationship with Jesus.

Acts 4:12 (NRSV) "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." Superman can rescue but he can't Save.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the real deal. Jesus is now and forever our Savior. Even death couldn't hold him. And He lives today, in our hearts and in our lives, renewing our spirits, deepening our faith, strengthening our walk of faith. And all we have to do is believe.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

______________________________

Bibliography

1. "The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman." The Religion of Superman Website. http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/Superman.html. Last modified: June 18, 2006.

2. SAVED BY A SUPERMAN, Timothy Merrill, Executive Editor, Homiletics, July 2, 2006

3. In Rain, Wind, and Fire: Superman Returns, By Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP, June 16, 2006

4. Homiletics.com e-newsletter

5. "Jesus, Superman, and Me" a sermon by Sid Burgess, Edgewoood PC, Birmingham, Alabama

6. "Jesus, Superman, and Me" a sermon by Sid Burgess, Edgewoood PC, Birmingham, Alabama

7. Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, Clifton Fadiman, Ed. p. 14

Other References Consulted

IGN FilmForce Where I legally downloaded the teaser trailer and Lois Lane clips from Superman returns.

Who Needs A Superhero?: Finding Virtue, Vice and What's Holy In The Comics, H. Michael Brewer, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2004.

Holy Superheroes! Exploring Faith and Spirituality in Comic Books, Greg Garrett, Pinon Press, Colorado Springs, CO. 2005.

"The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman." The Religion of Superman Website. http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/Superman.html. Last modified: June 18, 2006.

BlueTights Network: www.bluetights.net

And various sermon sites, blog sites and other internet sources.

Barclay, William: Daily Study Bible of the New Testament (WordSearch Bible Software Version)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lights, Camera...Faith by Peter Malone with Rose Pacatte (Daughters of St. Paul, 2002)

Praying the Movies by Edward McNulty, (Geneva Press, Lousville, KY, 2001)

Movie Clips for Kids (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 2002)

Bore No More, Vols 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 1995 & 1999)

Group's Blockbuster Movie Illustrations, Vols 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 2001 & 2003)

Movie Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, by Craig Brain Larson and Andrew Zahn(Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003)

Videos That Teach: Vols 1-3 by Doug Fields & Eddie James (Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, 2002, 2004)

SermonWriter by Dick Donovan (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000

The Sermon Mall

Deacon Sil's Homiletic Resources

Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources

Ministry and Media

Internet Movie Database

Preaching.com's Movie Ministry

The Text This Week Movie Theme Index

The Source For Youth Ministry Movie Clips