Of Superheroes and Messiahs

Christ the King, Year B, Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

“But MOMMMMM!”

“You can’t go!”

“But everyone else is!”

“No! You’ll get scared!”

“No I won’t!”

“I don’t want you coming home, having nightmares!”

“Puhleeeeease!!!”

“No!”

This was the conversation my mother had with me in the summer of 1977. I was 9. And what was the summer blockbuster that year? Star Wars!

My 11 year-old brother had seen it. So had my 13 year-old sister. I was being left out. Somehow, I knew that this was a defining moment for those of us in Generation X. My mother, however, was afraid it would scare me.

Jaws had come out two years before, and I know I couldn’t have handled its menacing, toothy terror, but Star Wars was cool! It was like Star Trek, only with less William Shatner.

Finally, my father decided to take me to see it. I had an adult chaperone. What more could my mother ask for?

And there he was on the BIG screen, Darth Vader, the evilest of evil villains! However, my 9 year-old heart was not filled with terror, but with loathing. The universe of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia was black-and-white. Even in technicolor, it was still black-and-white! There were good guys and there were bad guys. You didn’t have to guess which was which. Even the shady character, Han Solo, even though he was a pirate of sorts, you knew he would come out fighting for the good.

I flew home that afternoon in our 1973 Chevy Nova to our suburban Baltimore home and reenacted the fight of good against evil in my bedroom, spilling out into our back yard. I had to rescue the kidnapped princess!

The movie didn’t scare me, but it changed me. It got me excited about the struggle against evil. Ah, how simple life seemed. Good vs. evil. You didn’t need to lose much sleep figuring out who was who. Our universe seemed to be black and white.

Fast forward to the age of 33, when on September 11th, 2001, I and the rest of the world witnessed another fight being waged, on live television. Only this time, there was no tidy ending. There was shock and grief and anger. People called for revenge. Others called for peace and forgiveness. Suddenly, life wasn’t as easy as a science fiction film. The black and white had suddenly blurred a bit into a hazy shade of grey.

Fast forward yet again to April 16, 2007, when a troubled young man killed 32 others and himself one snowy morning on Virginia Tech’s campus. Suddenly I and the whole community were plunged into a grey and troubling landscape. Where were the heroes? President Bush flew in the next day. He wasn’t Superman… He couldn’t fix all our problems. We had to rely on each other to get through the shock and grief and anger. People called for revenge. Others called for peace and forgiveness. Meanwhile, most of us were numb, struggling to find something to believe in again. Life isn’t easy. Where did the black and white go?

“My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus told Pilate. Pilate was used to more straightforward interrogations. He condemned criminals to death. He could see their guilt. But this man was different. Some wanted him dead, but he wasn’t convinced. What had this man done?

Jesus wouldn’t say he was a king. He wouldn’t directly oppose Pilate’s authority. He didn’t denounce the emperor. What kind of revolutionary was this man? “My kingdom is not from this world.” “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” What could Pilate do to him?

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. This is the last Sunday of “ordinary time” – the time between Pentecost and Advent. Next Sunday, Advent begins. Today, we pause and take a moment to ask ourselves, who is our king. Is it Caesar? No. Is it the President of the United States? No. Who is our king?

This past week, we have witnessed the world yet again plunged into shock and grief and anger. This time it was Paris. People have called for revenge. Others have called for peace and forgiveness. Many have struggled to paint the situation in black and white. Good guys and bad guys. Many have rushed to the Bible for answers.

Some say, “Don’t let those refugees in, there might be terrorists hiding among them! Let’s look after our own interests first!”

Others have said, “We MUST care for widows and orphans and refugees! God demands it!”

Sadly, this situation is nothing new. ISIS, or Daesh, is just the same terror with a different name and a different mask. Christians crusaded to Jerusalem, slaughtering women and children along the way, and not just Muslim women and children, but Jewish women and children too, anyone who would not convert to Christianity. They killed the innocent in the name of Jesus. The Church, God’s people on earth, called to bring peace, has blood on our hands too.

We keep looking around us to find the answer. “If we only elect, so-and-so, he (or she) will fix things!” We are all waiting for a superhero in a white hat, riding on a white horse, to come put the bad guys in their place. But life isn’t that easy. Life isn’t black-and-white.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus told Pilate.
You keep looking for easy solutions. Let’s kill our enemies! Let God sort ‘em out!

Let’s hold a peace rally! Surely everyone will see our faith and stop fighting.

Life isn’t that simple, and we know it.

Jesus knew it. He knew that by trying to bring God’s kingdom to the earth, by opposing the powers-that-be, he would put himself at risk. Ultimately, his faith in God’s kingdom cost him his life.

This is the king we celebrate today. “The faithful witness…the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.” This is not a king of bloodshed, except his own. This is not a king of revenge but love. Jesus is not raising up an army of warriors, but a people who seek the truth and who serve God.

This won’t make for an exciting Hollywood film. God’s kingdom is coming. In many ways it’s already here. If we are serving God, if we are working for God’s kingdom, by feeding the poor, giving to widows and orphans, opening our homes to refugees, only then can we begin to see what God’s kingdom looks like. It is not a kingdom of violence or revenge. It is a kingdom where God is our center, and we reach out in love from there.

Another generation of Star Wars movies is upon us. From what I can tell from the trailer, the mood seems less black-and-white, I see more hints of grey. But is that only because I’m looking at it forty years on?

Are you still looking for a hero? I think we’ve figured out not to look to the voting booth to somehow fix all our problems. Yes, we must elect those we think best, but they cannot save us. Are you waiting for a Jedi knight or Superman to come rescue us? Don’t expect a superhero to fly in at the last minute. God reached out to us 2,000 years ago, when he gave us his son. Advent marks the season when we wait for God’s salvation to be born. We need look no further than Jesus’ life and his sacrifice. He is the way to peace, to God’s kingdom.

There may be dark days ahead, even darker than last Friday in Paris. We must keep on obeying God’s commands and not live in fear. We must not let terror make us into bigots or monsters. We must trust God – to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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