Finished Business, Week 1 — The “So Over Celebrity” Sermon Rewind

I thought I was really going to miss The Path Of Most Resistance.

But I guess I don’t.

This message hit home with a lot of folks, and, coupled with some dynamic musical responses, proved to be an entree for people to enter into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bottom line:  We over-identify with celebrities because it’s easier to follow their lives than it is to live our own.



STAND & READ Luke 20:45-47 at the beginning.


45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”


So there’s the sermon I could give – which would be relatively easy & even predictable – and then there’s the sermon I’m gonna give which is rather more difficult and somewhat surprising.  Because the easiest thing to do would be to take these words of Jesus, words that he consciously, purposely allows a large crowd to eavesdrop on – READ them again, just me – and substitute all the modern parallels. 


            Beware those with SILK SUITS & POCKET SQUARES & GUCCI LOAFERS, the ones who take lunch at the city club with rich congregants and who have a weekly show on INSP network.  Beware those guys selling salvation along with a deal on a condo.


            Or . . . beware those with skinny jeans & soul patches & Skecher shoes, the ones who set up their offices in Starbucks & work on their sermons while slurping a latte & don’t need a TV show because they go direct to podcast . . . beware THOSE guys.  Because they might even be on multiple screens in multiple locations at the same time and you KNOW that means they’re not only going to hell, they’re taking you with them.


            Or . . . maybe even watch out for the guys who still wear the robes, who love & honor & respect the denomination & in turn the denom loves & respects & honors THEM . . . beware those guys because you know they’re just really bureaucrats in THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.  Lots of beware going on.


            And that would have been an EASY sermon.  Or two.  Stand up and rail against celebrity pastors.  But you know one group I WOULDN’T rail against?  What I WOULDN’T say?  Oh, BEWARE the 55 year old who is usually in jeans, who is a bible lifter, loves the Eagles, and used to play tennis.  Nope.  That’s not part of the dealio, is it?  See, while the sermon I could have given would have been easy, I doubt very seriously it would have been helpful.  Or honest.  Because every preacher who spends time railing on celeb pastors . . . secretly wishes he was one. 


            No, what interests me in this little snippet from Jesus, this speech-ette where he lets us know that he personally is SO OVER CELEBRITY is the other side of the equation.  Because, yes, in Jesus’ day there were religious teachers (rabbis) (and what a great progression in the language, a divine escalation) who LIKE to strut around like a peacock             on display in their flowing robes and who LOVE to be greeted with respect & seated with honor.  They LIKE to be seen and they LOVE to be seated and greeted.  And what do I mean about the other side?


            This:  That for every celebrity rabbi, there were 5, 10, 50, 25,000 (!) folks doing the seeing (admiring), doing the seating, and doing the greeting.  Everyone who has ever been a celebrity – then and now – arrives at that place because large #s of people treat them and revere them as just that.  So what is it in ppl – in Jesus’ day and now – that makes us so vulnerable to elevating the few, the proud, the celebrity preachers?


            Because is this not an especially relevant question for us in 2017?  In a land where the Kardashians are famous for . . . what?  Oh yeah.  For being famous.  In a time when we say 2016, many of do so with a profound sense of sadness because there was a rash of what?  Celebrity deaths.  David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael.  On 12.31.16 you had all these people just blasting 2016 as if a particular rotation around the sun caused famous people to die.  People took those deaths personally; felt them acutely; identified with their now gone heroes closely.  Sheesh, when I – me, yeah, find my mood unhealthily affected by Roger Federer winning or losing . . . when I cried when tennis player Arthur Ashe died & still cry when see him on YouTube, it’s just helpful to ask: WHY?  Why are we celeb-obsessed & celeb-identified.  And you know this, don’t you?  Our President’s job before he ran for office.  As star of what?  Celebrity Apprentice.


            Why do our lives get so wrapped up in the lives of people who are so “other”?  Whether in religion or sports or entertainment or politics or the obvious overlap between all of the above?  And yet when I peeled back Jesus’ words here – uttered, ironically, when his OWN CELEBRITY STOCK WAS RISING!  Yes!  He’d come into Jerusalem on the first day of the last week of his life riding on a donkey receiving the adulation of adoring throngs – I realized that he is actually less concerned with the celebrity rabbis than he is with the celebrity enablers.  Less about the false preachers and more about the ones empowering the falsehood with their ears.  And then it hit me.  It was true then, and it’s true now:  We Over-Identify With Celebrities Because It’s Easier To Follow Their Lives Than To Live Our Own. 


            GULP!  You’re like, “You mean Jesus says these words not so that I can judge the lives of others but so that I can examine my own?”  Yep.  Because look carefully at what we do, in the religious realm of life and beyond.  We get wrapped in Brangelina’s marital drama . . . . which makes it easier to ignore our own.  We’re all about the celebrity apprentice . . . which is easier than taking ownership of our own.  We watch Federer – or Cam or LeBron – be an athlete, which ends up taking the place of our own.  And even here, at this church or any church:  we watch a person on a platform have a living relationship with Jesus Christ – or some similar kind of spiritual experience – and we vicariously live it as our own.  We watch someone else doing the thing we’re supposed to do . . . and the better they are at it, the more we feel it. Until we hear about someone ELSE who does this spiritual thing even BETTER. 


            You know what?  I’m all FOR interesting and AGAINST boring when it comes to sermons; I’m FOR relevant and AGAINST pointless. But at some point it up to you. For you to live your faith even if the messages stink.  It’s like the guy who years ago – YEARS AGO NOW! – told me over the phone while explaining why he was leaving GS, “I’m just not growing.”  And of course, co-dependent me was devastated by that remark because it was quite obviously my responsibility to make sure he grew!  You know how it turns out, of course.  Turns out there have been about seven subsequent churches at which he Just. Wasn’t. Growing.  Who knew there were so many TERRIBLE PREACHERS in Greater Charlotte?!  We Over-Identify With Celebrities Because It’s Easier To Follow Their Lives Than To Live Our Own. 


            You know what 2016 showed us?  Celebrities die.  All of them.  And at the moment of death, that celebrity – Prince, David Bowie, whomever – is suddenly on equal ground with the beggar in India and the villager in Kenya.  You don’t take your Twitter followers or FB Likes to the other side.  You just don’t.  2016 actually did us a great favor.  It showed us in stark relief the absurdity of our preoccupation with the lives of celebrities.  It showed us how that preoccupation distracts us from the intricacies of our own lives.  Because you’ll be dead, too.  I just want you to LIVE until you get there.  We Over-Identify With Celebrities Because It’s Easier To Follow Their Lives Than To Live Our Own. 


            These words in 20:47 are so intriguing: READ.  The sense there is of people with an overwhelming desire to live a good chunk of their lives ON DISPLAY.  Preachers on display.  And one thing I’ve learned is the harder you see on of God’s workers trying to be on display . . . it’s to compensate for something somewhere else he wants to conceal.  People who long for the public eye rarely want to be subjected to a private eye.  And this is one of those places in which this bit of Jesus’ finished business applies to both celebrity rabbi and celebrity enabler.  So I have to ask you: do you have to try just a little hard to perfect the image of one area of your life as a way of hiding what is going on in the other area?  Is the perfect garage which you can control concealing the imperfect temper than you can’t?  Are your clothes perfect perfect perfect as a way of telling the world you’re all put together, when behind those closet doors is where you hide your Rx drugs?  Do you insist insist insist your kids are snap to it obedient in public because you’ve got something going on on the side that shows just how deeply disobedient you are to YOUR father?  People try to have hyper control in one area when another are is out of control.  Celebrity or not, all of us want to be about monitoring the lives we live for display.  And the life we hope to conceal.  There’s nothing better than we have nothing in either category.  We Over-Identify With Celebrities Because It’s Easier To Follow Their Lives Than To Live Our Own. 


            I guess all this really, really, REALLY matters because of the context here in Luke 20.  Remember CIE?  Context Is Everything?  Look up the page a bit at 20:41-44:


41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
43 until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’[a]

44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”


.  You know what he is doing there?  Jesus is asserting his authority.  Making this incredible claim that David, 100s of years earlier, was calling him, Jesus, LORD.  In a world where calling anyone other than Caesar “Lord” could get you killed, this is boldly radical stuff. 


            And it points out the ultimate danger of celebrity leaders, whether they wear silk suits, flowing robes, or skinny jeans.  They end up REPLACING the One they are supposed to REPRESENT.  Another name for that is idolatry, just using a human being instead of a chiseled statue.  And from the very beginning of time, people have turn to idols – wood, bronze, iron, and human – as a way of escaping their own responsibility for their own lives.


            Don’t let that happen to you.


            Don’t be seduced or consumed.


            Your life may be hard, monotonous, challenging, but it’s the only one you’ve got.  Even better, as Colossian 3:4 says it, “Christ, who is your life, …”  The land between the commas says it all.  Who is your life.  The real God, not a fake one.  The one represented, not the one replaced.  So beware of the celebrity teachers . . . but more to the point, beware of what it is in you that makes you vulnerable to them.  We Over-Identify With Celebrities Because It’s Easier To Follow Their Lives Than To Live Our Own.