Sermon Series: Superhero Sundays

 

“Batman: Driven By Guilt or Grace?”

(Romans 5:1-11;8:1-2; Luke 18:9-16)

 

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn

 

     Sometimes on our journey of faith, we let other things get between us and God. Sometimes it’s not things so much as it is ideas and attitudes. Sometimes its just our emotions. The point is, we let other stuff get between us and God.

     Usually it’s just our own selfish pride. But whatever it is, it blocks us from receiving the full extent of God’s Grace. It’s like going to a banquet in our honor, being told that all our favoritie dishes have been prepared just the way we like them and then choosing to eat oatmeal because we don’t like the tablecloth or because we don’t think we deserve anything but oatmeal.

     If you’ve ever read Batman comics or seen the most recent movies which really delve into the back story of what drives Batman, you know that he’s obsessed with both guilt and rage over his parents’ deaths. That’s what drives him. So, what Spiritual Truths, can we learn from this Dark Knight? What can Batman teach us today?

     Before we go any further, let’s look at two passages of Scripture, both from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

[1]  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  

[2] through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  

[3] And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  

[4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  

[5] and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.      

[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  

[7] Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  

[8] But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  

[9] Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.  

[10] For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  

[11] But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  

     Now let’s look at Romans 8:1-2 (NRSV)

[1]  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  

[2] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  

INTRODUCTION:

     Batman and Robin decided to go camping. They set up their tent and are asleep. A couple of hours later, Batman wakes his faithful friend. "Robin, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

     Robin, w hose used to these midnight lessons, replies, "I see millions of stars."

     "What does that tell you?" asks Batman.

     Robin ponders for a minute. Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident that God is all-powerful

and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.

What does it tell you, Batman?”

     Batman is silent for a moment, then speaks: “Robin, you’re an idiot, it means somebody stole our tent while we were sleeping.” (1)

     Almost everyone born before 1960 remembers the 1966 TV series Batman. And there are a bunch of younger folks who remember it as well because of reruns. It literally burst on the scene as a mid-season replacement which aired on two separate nights, Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday always ended with the cliffhanger ending which was resolved on Thursday. Will Batman fall victim to the Joker’s tricks or will the joke be on the Joker. Tune in Thursday for the exciting conclusion. It became an overnight smash hit and a cultural phenomenon.

     It was the “IN” thing to watch. It was a satire of the then popular comic book of the same name. Most Batman fans, especially the real aficionados of the comic book Batman, can’t stand the TV show. Oh, they don’t loathe it, or even hate it, at best they are embarrassed and annoyed by it because it was parody of their comic book hero and not the real deal.  

     The Bat-Man was born in issue #27 of Detective Comics, in May 1939. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, The Bat-Man, now simply Batman, was completely different than Superman or any of the imitators of Superman. (2)

     Batman’s back story was told in just 12 frames. He and his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne were coming from the theater when they were accosted by a gunman who attempted to rob them. Thomas Wayne stepped between the gunman and his wife and was shot and then she was shot. Ten year old Bruce stood there, in complete shock and terror. Nobody came to his rescue. No one swooped him up in caring arms. The only one who showed him an compassion at all was Jim Gordon, the cop who took his statement. (3)

     Bruce Wayne only had an empty house and a butler to return to. Bruce Wayne is a rich kid, who had everything but the one thing he wanted most. He grew up an orphan. And he was filled with one obsessive goal, fueled by rage and guilt. No wonder Batman is call the Dark Knight. (4)

I. OBSESSION AND GUILT:

     A. Batman was obsessed; driven by guilt, the number one weapon in the enemies arsenal of weapons. It’s effects are worse than mustard gas or agent orange. It lingers and effects the soul and the spirit and cripples them repeatedly when the spirit should be rejoicing.

     Compare Superman, bright primary colors blue, red and a splash of yellow. Batman, dressed in black and grays, the only color being the cold gold yellow around the bat on his utility belt buckle.

     Superman always works in the day time. Batman is a creature of the night, where guilt finds its strength. Worse than any Jewish or Catholic guilt, more pervasive than any guilt your mother could ever heap upon your head is the guilt we carry from our sins. It haunts us. It distracts us. It continues to remind us that we’re not good enough. It slowly eats at our self esteem and our self confidence. (5)

     For Batman, a lapsed Episcopalian, it’s so pervasive that time after time he has to prove that he’s better than the guilt will ever let him feel.

     B. From the moment of his decision to take on crime to avenge his parents, Batman worked to become what Superman never could be, a self made man. I think that’s one of the reasons why Batman is so popular. While Superman appeals to the best in us, Batman appeals to the rest in us. The rest of what everyday humanity is like.

     We can identify with that self made model who Batman is. He has honed his body to physical perfection with exercise and martial arts training, yet he is vulnerable and has been bruised and wounded a number of times. That could never happen to the man of steel. Bullets bounce off of him.

     Batman has also honed his intellect and skills of perception, training hour after hour until he is the best strategist around, which also gives him insight into the criminal mind. He has become the consummate detective and scientist through reading and training. All through his own efforts; driven by his guilt and the obsession of avenging his parents death. He is what Neitsche calls the “ubermensch.” The true super human.

     But still, Batman hangs in the dark. Oh, he comes out in the day time but he prefers the night. He’s a creature of the night. He prefers the shadows where he best can deal with the people of the shadows, the enemy of normal human life, the home of those who feed and prosper off of the rest of us.

     C. Look at Peter, a self made man as well. Head of a fishing industry that included at least two boats and two families. Peter and his brother Andrew along with James and John and their father Zebedee. There in Bethsaida and Capernaum, they plied the Sea of Galilee and made their living. Peter was known as the Big Fisherman. Rough and tumble, rough around the edges. My favorite quote about Peter is that he always had his foot in his mouth and the only time he ever took his foot out of his mouth was to change feet.

     Peter, one of the reluctant disciples. We know he was married. We know he was a kind man who took care of his mother-in-law and made sure she was comfortable. It’s estimated that Peter owned a whole fleet of fishing vessels and may have been one of the wealthiest fishermen in the area.

     When he left to follow Jesus, the guilt must have been overwhelming and at war with his faith. Leave his wife and the business he had worked so hard to build to follow an itinerant preacher whose message quickened his heart, who many, including his brother claimed to be the Messiah, but who never claimed that for himself? Guilt, regret, second guessing, uncertainty all mingled with his excitement and sense of calling had to have driven this analytical man crazy.

     No wonder one moment he was fully a man of Jesus filled with the deepest faith and the next minute a man of the world filled with overwhelming doubt. Peter was a completely self-made man and there was a spiritual battle going on within his heart.

     A battle which comes to a head with the events of Jesus betrayal in the garden. Remember that. Judas greets Jesus, who has just called upon God to help strengthen His resolve after being tempted to give it all up for safety. Judas greets Jesus with a kiss. Peter pulls out his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the temple High Priest.  Jesus chastises him and heals the man.

     Peter, hangs his head in shame but follows Jesus and the guards. And there in Caiaphas’ courtyard, while warming himself at a charcoal fire, not once but three times, Peter denies Jesus. The third time, Peter looks up and looks directly into the eyes of Jesus. And a cock crows. And like Batman, Peter runs to the safety of the shadows to hide and collect his thoughts.

     And the only thoughts he can collect are those which condemn him. Thoughts of guilt and ineptitude. Guilt and stupidity. Guilt and cowardice. Guilt and selfishness. Guilt and betrayal. Every shadow has the face of someone mocking him for his lack of faith. Every sound in the shadows is someone coming to arrest him. Every movement in the shadows is the feral animal of his guilt stalking him, ready to pounce once again and rip his soul open with its claws of regret.

II. REDEMPTION AND GRACE:

     A. And that’s really where the comparison between Batman and Peter ends. Because for Peter life becomes about Redemption and Grace. But for Batman it will always be Obsession and Guilt.

     You see, Batman, the self-made man, is the one who doesn’t think he needs saving. And yet that’s the one thing he’s working for the most. The sad truth is, He can’t save himself, no matter how perfect his skills at detection become, no matter how much science he learns, or how much he hones his body into the perfect physique, it will never be enough.

     Partly because Batman can’t save everyone. In the saga of Batman, plenty of significant people in his life have died. Michael Brewer in Who Needs A Superhero?  writes, “We can forgive Batman for failing to protect every innocent and save every victim. He is, after all, only human. Unfortunately, Batman cannot forgive himself. His own heart tells him he should have tried harder. He should have done better. He should have been faster, stronger, smarter.” (6)

     Batman thinks he can save himself and he’s as good as any human being could be, yet in the end, he still isn’t good enough because a life driven by guilt can never be good enough.

     B. Jesus was painfully clear with a message we often forget to take to heart and let it grow at the very core of our being. The answer Jesus gave the rich young ruler could have been the answer Jesus gave Bruce Wayne and Batman. Remember the story, the rich young ruler came and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"  

     Jesus says keep the commandments; the young man asks which ones; Jesus tell him and the man says, “I already do all that. There must be something else.” Then Jesus looks him square in the eye and says, “If you want to give it all you've got, go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.” MSG

     Scripture says he couldn’t do it. The cost was too high. Peter and the others were staggered by that message. You see, the prevailing thought was that if you were rich, that meant you were favored by God. The more faithful you were, the richer, more influential you became. It was the 1st century version of the prosperity gospel some people preach today.

     Peter even asks, "Then who has any chance at all?" 

     [26] Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”  

     C. That’s what Grace and Redemption are all about, Trusting God To Do It. Trusting God to save us.

     That’s Grace, God never gives up on us. Even after Batman’s butler, Alfred, shows him what Grace is, Batman still doesn’t get it. He’s still driven by Guilt. Luckily for us, Peter learns what Grace is all about.

     You’ll remember John chapter 21, the Risen Jesus has told the disciples to meet him at the Sea of Galilee. Tired of sitting around and waiting, Peter one night says, “I’m going fishing.” They fish all night and don’t catch a thing. But early in the morning, they see someone on the beach who has built a charcoal fire. This man hollers and asks how they’ve done. They holler back, “Didn’t catch a thing.”

     Then man then says, “Cast your nets on the other side.” John immediately recognizes the command and the voice of Jesus, tells Peter, who jumps in, robe and all, and swims ashore to be greeted by Jesus. They share a breakfast of grilled fish and bread. And then Jesus looks at Peter and asks him. “Peter, do you love me?”

     And Peter says, “Lord, you know I love you.” Twice more Jesus ask Peter the same question. Peter’s a little thick, you see and it takes three times for it to sink in. But then on the third one, it finally sinks in, one affirmation for each denial. One confession of faith in the face of faithlessness. One affirmation of love with each pronouncement of forgiveness and gift of grace.

     Peter got it. He realized He had “No chance at all (if he tried to) pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if (he) trusted God to do it.” And he did. Peter trusted not only god but the Son of God to remove the guilt of his sin and set him free to be who Jesus had called him to be, the Rock, upon whom the church would be built.

     And a steady rock he would become. When he preached his first sermon, 3,000 people gave their lives to Christ and were baptized. That day 3,000 experienced God’s Grace.

CONCLUSION:

     According to News Of The Weird, in 1996, a man visiting Stockholm on business stood to inherit about a million dollars, Eduardo Perez had stopped off to pray at a Roman Catholic church and signed the guest book of a man whose body lay there in a coffin. Perez was later notified that the deceased, real-estate developer Jens Svenson, had died without heirs and had specified that "whoever prays for my soul gets all my belongings." (7)

     I don't know about you, but that's one of the strangest stories I’ve ever heard about someone inheriting something they didn't deserve. But then again, do we ever deserve what we inherit? Eph 2:8-9 (NRSV) [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- [9] not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

     Peter learned what Grace is all about. His guilt was wiped away forever. Batman on the other hand need to hear what Paul writes in Romans 8:1-2 (NRSV) [1] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  

     Who do you line up more with Batman, Driven by Guilt? Or Peter, Driven by Grace? My hope is that you have experienced the forgiving grace of God. And your life is lived in gratitude for what God has done for you through Christ and the Cross. If you haven’t then it’s not too late. It’s never too late. Remember, God will never give up on you.

     Today, choose Grace rather than Guilt. Lay down your guilt and never pick up that burden again.

 

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

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Bibliography

1.    Found on the Internet

2.    Wikipedia: Online Encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman           

3.    Oropeza, B.J., Editor. “The Gospel According To Superheroes,” Peter Lang Publishing, (NY, NY, 2005) pp 49-65

4     Who Needs A Superhero?: Finding Virtue, Vice and What’s Holy In The Comics, H. Michael Brewer, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2004. Pp 36-46

5     Oropeza, B.J., Editor. “The Gospel According To Superheroes,” Peter Lang Publishing, (NY, NY, 2005) pp 49-65

6     Who Needs A Superhero?: Finding Virtue, Vice and What’s Holy In The Comics, H. Michael Brewer, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2004. Pp 41

7.    http://www.newsoftheweird.com

 

Other References Consulted

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.

Oropeza, B.J., Editor. “The Gospel According To Superheroes,” Peter Lang Publishing, (NY, NY, 2005)

"The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman." The Religion of Superman Website.

The History of Batman: http://www.legionsofgotham.org/FeatureHISTORYindex.html

DC Comics www.dccomics.com

Batman website: www.batman.com

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