Sermon Series: Superhero Sundays
“Spiderman: Saved To Serve”
(Col 3:1-4, 12-17)
Rev Billy D. Strayhorn
Who do you serve? That’s a valid question for everybody, don’t you think? Now you probably wouldn’t think you would have to ask that question in Church, would you? But the truth is we don’t all come with pristine purposes. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty but we may not even know that we are at cross purposes with God. That was certainly the case in the life of the Apostle Paul. And that’s what the Superhero we’re focusing on today had to find out as well. Paul and Spiderman both had to find out that they were Saved To Serve.
When I was a teenager two events happened, not too far apart either, both of which were catastrophic to everything I held near and dear. My allowance at the time was $3.00 a week. Not a whole lot, I know, but the median income in 1965 was only $6,800.
I supplemented my allowance by mowing two yards in the neighborhood for $5.00 each. I was saving as much of the money as possible to buy a 5 speed English racer that I had fallen in love with at the local bicycle shop.
I had allotted $1.00 of my weekly allowance for comic books and another $1.00 for my favorite hamburgers, White Castles. White Castle hamburgers, bellybombers, or sliders depending on the part of the area you were from are very similar to Krystal Hamburgers found all over the Southeast.
At the time Comic books and White Castle Hamburgers were only 12 cents apiece. The math was easy. I could get eight of each. Eight burgers and eight comic books what could be better than that.
In one month all of that changed. For the first time in my life I had to face the reality of inflation. White Castle Hamburgers went from 12 cents up to 14 cents. It was horrible. I had never had to face the cost of living increase before. It was affecting my eating habits. For a teenage boy that was devastating. It was worse than being turned down for a date.
Then that very same month, Comic books went up to 15 cents apiece. I took a hit on both fronts. Not only did I have to eat fewer Bellybombers but my it also meant I had to be a little more discriminating in my comic book purchases. No more Archie comics or anything like Archie. I had to concentrate on the serious comics like Superman, Batman, and the relatively new one, Spiderman. It was a hard choice but it had to be done.
As I was thinking about Spiderman and his purpose in life, which we’ll get to in a minute, I couldn’t help but think of this passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17 (NRSV)
 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,
 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This morning we’re going to be looking at the similarities between Saul, enemy of the early church, who becomes Paul chief evangelist of the early church and Peter Parker, the nerdy teenager who becomes Spiderman.
I. SAUL AND PETER PARKER:
A. OK, Let’s go back to the beginning and do a little comparison of the origins of both Spiderman and Paul.
Spider-Man was first introduced in the comic Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962). Peter Parker, a Senior at Midtown High School, receives his powers when he was bitten by a radioactive spider in a science demonstration. This bite endowed him with the proportional strength and agility of a spider along with a keen "spider sense".
After discovering these powers Peter hires an agent and tries to make some money in television. One night he had the chance to catch a burglar fleeing from the T.V. studio, but he refused because he didn't think he should try and be a hero. A few days later the aforementioned burglar killed his Uncle Ben. That night, as Spider-Man, Peter apprehends the murderer of his beloved uncle but is plagued with guilt, thinking that if he would have stopped the burglar when he first saw him his Uncle Ben would still be alive.
During his time of turmoil Peter remembers something Uncle Ben once told him, "With great power, comes great responsibilities." Peter took this to heart and decided he should use his extraordinary powers for good instead for selfish reasons.
Hence the ongoing theme of our favorite Spidey stories, a regular guy with amazing powers and enormous responsibilities. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
B. Now look at Saul. Briefly he was one of the Pharisees. A Pharisee among Pharisees. He was well respected in his circle but apparently had this thing about Jesus and his followers. He thought they were preaching blasphemy and so he saddled up and got ready to take them out.
His first victim, recorded in Scripture is Stephen, one of the first Deacons. Saul couldn’t even dare to sully his hands as they stoned him to death but stood by, holding the cloaks and gloating.
But then, on his way to Damascus to arrest even more of these upstart Christians, Saul is bitten, not by a radioactive spider but by Jesus himself. There on the road, Jesus appears before Saul and asks, “Why are you persecuting my church?” Saul is blinded and the only way he can regain his sight is to visit Ananias. Now when Jesus tells Ananias who’s coming, he doesn’t want to have any part of it. But he does, Saul visits Ananias, who touches Saul’s eyes and the scales which cause his blindness fall away. He can see again. His life is changed, and he begins to preach Jesus. “And him crucified.”
Saul becomes Paul when the Jews, obviously those who sent him out with warrants, see what a powerful preacher and teacher Paul really is. They plot to kill him in Damascus but he escapes. But he doesn’t quit preaching. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
C. Two unlikely leaders and heroes. Whoever heard of a nerdy teenager becoming a Superhero? And whoever heard a a bounty hunter becoming the most influential preacher of his day? In the Kingdom of God, anything is possible. Anyone can become a tool and instrument of God’s redeeming Grace. You see, I believe it was because they were “Saved To Serve.”
II. SAVED TO SERVE:
A. Of all the disciples, Paul may be the one who exemplifies best that’s it’s not all about what’s up here in the head. It’s not just about knowledge and belief. But rather our faith is all about what’s in here, the heart and how our heart guides all that we do so that the love of God in Christ emanates through everything we do. We aren’t saved so we can feel good about ourselves. Just like Paul and Peter Parker, we’re “Saved To Serve.”
You see, it really is like Uncle Ben told Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
You and I have received the greatest power of all time. We’ve been forgiven. Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross for our sins. We have received redemption through his saving act on the cross. Not only that but at Pentecost, we were given the Power of God’s Holy Spirit, the power and presence of the Risen Christ with us each and every day. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live like Christ. It empowers us to be bold in our faith. It empowers us to speak God’s word like Paul.
We have been give great power. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
B. In Spiderman 2 there’s a great scene. Peter has confessed his complicity in Uncle Ben’s death. The guilt has been eating at him left and right. Aunt May forgives him. Shortly aftwards,
Aunt May tells Peter that she is moving, and when Peter asks why she did not tell him, she says that she can take care of herself. This is the conversation which follows. WATCH
Peter approaches Aunt May and says, "Listen, about my last visit..." But Aunt May interrupts and tells him that all is forgiven and forgotten, and adds, "But you made a brave move in telling me the truth, and I'm proud of you." She tells him that she loves him, and they embrace.
The young boy from across the street, Henry, is helping Aunt May move. He asks Peter if he is the one who takes pictures of Spiderman. Peter says, "I used to."
Henry asks where Spiderman has gone, and Peter tells him, "He quit. He wanted to try other things."
With hope in his eyes, Henry asks, "But he'll be back, right?" Peter replied, "I don't know." Henry, dejected, turns to go.
Aunt May steps up and says, "You'll never guess who he wants to be -- Spiderman."
Peter asks, "Why"
I love what Aunt May says, " There are too few characters flying around like that, saving old girls like me. Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero."
Especially when she says: "I believe there's a hero in all of us that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, who finally allows us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the things we want the most -- even our dreams. Spiderman did that for Henry. He wonders where he's gone. He needs him."
Aunt May is right, people look up to valiant heroes. The purpose of a hero is to set an example of discipline and right behavior. Heroes right wrongs and set the captives free. Heroes are self-sacrificing. They offer others strength in the face of adversity. They are leaders, inspiring others into discipleship.
For centuries people have depicted Jesus merely as a meek, well-spoken teacher; good man, but hardly a hero. Yet, as I said when we began this series, Jesus is the true Hero. Our response to His sacrifice must be action. We are Saved To Serve. (1)
C. Fred Craddock tells a story about a friend of his, Oswald Goultor, who for years was a missionary to China.. He was under house arrest for three years and would be released if he promise to go home. He promised. The missionary socieity which sent him, wired him the money for a the trip home. He took a ship. He had to go down to India to catch the ship and when he was in the coastal city, he heard about a lot a Jews sleeping in a barn lofts. They’d been denied entrance into every country in the world, except that one. And they had gone inland to sleep in barn lofts.
It was Christmas and Oswald Goulter went around to those Jews and said, “It’s Christmas, Merry Christmas.”
They said, “We’re Jews.”
He said, “I know, but it’s Christmas.”
They said, “We don’t observe Christmas. We’re not followers of Christ. We’re Jews.”
He said, “I know, but what would you like for Christmas?”
“We don’t keep Christmas.”
“I know, but what if you like? If somebody gave you something for Christmas, what would you like?”
They said, “Well we’d like some good German pastry.”
“Good!” And off he went looking for German pastry, which he found. After cashing his passage check, he took boxes of German pastries to these Jews living in barn lofts and said, “Merry Christmas.” Then he wired the missionary society and said, “I need a ticket home.”
When that story was told, there was a young seminarian sitting in the front row, and he was absolutely incensed and said to Dr. Goulter, “Why did you do that? Though don’t believe in Jesus.” And Dr. Goulter said, “But I do. I do.” (2)
That’s the whole concept of “Saved To Serve” in a nutshell.
Paul and Peter Parker both shared something that changed them forever. Not special powers. Not amazing abilities but the both experienced redemption and forgiveness. Uncle Ben’s death haunted the character of Peter Parker until he confessed to his Aunt May and she forgave him.
And guilt over Stephen’s death and all of his vitriolic accusations against the followers of Jesus must have haunted Paul until that day the scales were removed from his eyes and he realized he was forgiven. They both experienced redemption. They both experienced forgiveness. And in so doing received new life. A life that was empowered for good. They were “Saved To Serve” because “With great power comes great responsibility.”
You and I have been “Saved To Serve.” Once we’ve experienced the redemption and forgiveness of Jesus, we can never be the same. Nor should we want to be.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Once said, “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
“You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
You and I have been “Saved To Serve” because “With great power comes great responsibility.”
How are you responding to God’s salvation in your life? How are you letting God lead you to serve?
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
2. Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, (Chalice Press, St. Louis, MO, 2001) pp 141-142
3. Leadership-Vol. 17, #4
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.