the unfolding stories of the 194th olympiad: “Jesus over the city,” august 21, 2016

christ redeemer

Responsive Call to Worship
There is something profoundly appealing
about a powerful Jesus
impressively towering over the world—
but also, of course,
utterly irrelevant.
When God came
it was as a baby
who grew up in the middle of nowhere
to tell stories and love people—
not to impress them—
not to overpower them.
One assumes that way of coming
was deliberate—
To put Jesus in control
is to do what God did not—
what God chose not to do.
We should thus beware, no?—
be aware of what it means
to raise up
the one who came down to us,
for it very well might mean
we crucify Jesus again.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
— part of St Patrick’s Breastplate

Christ over culture
is one of five perspectives
outlined by H. Richard Niebuhr
reflecting on the relationship of God and culture.
The others are: Christ against culture, Christ of culture,
Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture.

Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God
but believe in the sovereignty of [humankind].
— R.C.Sproul

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Colossians 1:9-20
For this reason, since the day we heard it,
we have not ceased praying for you and asking
that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord,
fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work
and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength
that comes from his glorious power,
and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
while joyfully giving thanks to the Father,
who has enabled you to share
in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness
and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—
all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Witness of the Living Word, i.
Congregational Interview:
Take a moment to reflect on this question
and to offer your answer if you have one:
What has been your most impressive experience of Jesus?

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
You’ve seen it a lot—
nightly if you’ve tuned in
over the last few weeks.
Dominating the Rio de Janeiro skyline,
overlooking the city from the peak of 2300 foot Corcovado Mountain,
is the Christ the Redeemer statue,
rising 98 feet
on a 26 foot pedestal,
weighing 635 tons,
with an arm span of 92 feet.

Originally conceived in the 1850s,
but nothing came of that idea
which was then suggested again in 1920
by the so-called Catholic Circle of Rio—
motivated by what they saw as the godlessness of society.
Donations came from predominantly Brazilian Catholics.

Local engineer, Heitor da Silva Costa was commissioned
to design a statue in conjunction
with French sculptor Paul Landowski.
The face of Jesus was created
by Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida,
known in France as a portraitist.
French engineer Albert Caquot was responsible
for the internal structure
of reinforced concrete.
Paul Landowski worked with soapstone on the outside layers
and the whole thing was built
in the nine years between 1922 and 1931.

It was actually still being designed
while it was being built.
Heitor da Silva Costa is supposed to have said
that the workers were headed toward “inevitable artistic failure”.
But with no way to go back,
they kept moving on,
and today we have this
famous iconic image—
rising above—
putting society and culture into perspective—
an appropriate perspective.

It’s our story—
our faith affirmation—
elevated above—
powerfully present—
impossible to miss.

And let me be clear.
I love the image of Christ the Redeemer over the city.
I love all those images we looked at—
images of Jesus rising high above the trees
and other surroundings—
rising from the depths.

I’m also deeply suspicious of the implications of such images—
of some associations with such images.
For what so many seem to want
is to make laws that raise up our faith—
or a particular understanding of our faith, right?—
make laws that protect God—whatever that means—
laws that require of others—
and then enforce—
that impose on others.

And it’s not that it’s not in Scripture, right?—
the glorification of Jesus.
Take the Philippian hymn:

though in the form of God,
Jesus did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
humbled himself
became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
(Philippians 2:6-11).

And such obviously impressive power
is shot through all our texts today.

Jesus’ is the glorious power
that rescues us from the power of darkness.
He’s the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—
all things have been created through him and for him.
Before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
The one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell—
reflection of God’s glory—
the exact imprint of God’s very being,
to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

And how do you represent that
other than big? Impressive? Overpowering?

And so yes, we have this iconic image
of a huge, impressive, overpowering Jesus
looking down on the city.

Yet is not this iconic image ironic?
Or, in truth, not ironic—
more sarcastic?

And sarcastic on several levels

First, God is not interested in statues—
or in statutes,
carved in stone,
but rather on hearts.
That’s in the Old Testament—in Jeremiah 31:33.
It’s in the New Testament—2 Corinthians 3:3.
We’re not to invest in something externally impressive,
but something internally transformative.

Second, what happens when you look up?
You don’t look down.
And that is antithetical to our God.

A little digression here—a relevant digression (I hope!).
Y’all know Paul is the earliest writer of our New Testament texts
writing just some 20-25 years after the death of Jesus.
Mark’s almost 40 years after that death.
Matthew and Luke 50.
John 60 plus.

Here’s what’s interesting.
For Paul, arguably, Jesus is named Son of God at the resurrection
when God adopts Jesus—declared to be Son of God
with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection
from the dead (Romans 1:4).

Mark, writing a little later, identifies the beginning
of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
as those days when Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And just as he was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart
and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”
(Mark 1:1, 9-11).
So not the resurrection, the baptism.

Matthew and Luke, writing still later,
identify Jesus as Son of God at birth—
or, really, at conception—at the annunciation—
God with us.

Matthew’s angel tells Joseph, son of David,
“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken
by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel”,
which means, “God is with us”
(Matthew 1:20-23).

Luke’s angel has similar words for Mary,
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” …
And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you will name him Jesus. He will be great,
and will be called the Son of the Most High ….
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God”
(Luke 1:28-23).

Finally, John, writing latest,
claims Jesus is indistinguishable from God from the very beginning:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being
(John 1:1-3).

The more removed we get from the man,
the more removed we get from the man!
The more removed from Jesus in time,
the more removed from Jesus’ humanity.

Some say it’s the early Church—
needing to validate their faith claims.

And I get it.
How do you affirm God,
but by looking up?

But we tend to think of God
as top of the food chain—
you know if God were into that chain.
The alpha being,
but also, of course, the omega.
And that’s the thing:
we put God, by definition, at the top
of a scale God doesn’t value.

We evaluate;
God just relates—
and loves—
and is present to and with regardless of our evaluations.

And the theology
is that God is great
because God is not.

If God were simply God by definition—
you know, supreme being—
source of all being—all authority—
worshipped as having power over,
well, God wouldn’t be God.
Not the God we know and proclaim.

Makes my head spin a little bit,
but I like it!
You know, like some people like the rides at the fair
that you get off with your head spinning, stomach tossing;
others don’t.
All good.

God is not God by definition,
but by relation.

To be like God
the glory of God—the power and authority of God—
to sit at the right hand of God
is to be with people—to be with creation.

Part of the trick
is imagining the total inversion of reality it would take
for someone to be exalted
for being like Jesus!

But the core truth of our faith
is not I look to the hills (Psalm 121)—
to that impressive statue on the hill,
but I look to my neighbors.
Our faith is not something that makes you look up,
but precisely down and out.

Third, and cumulatively,
the statue is a kind of de-incarnation.
God became human,
and the kind of human God became
is not one that would tower over others—
look down on them.

Through all that glorious power of Jesus,
God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
yet not from above—
not imposed upon
but from being with—presence—relationship
not looking down, but getting down
(how’s that for repurposing disco lingo?!)!

There’s no way to take away
the undeniable power of the image.
But the story that goes with the image
is undermined when you look more closely at the city below:
the favelas—the slums—
the hunger—the injustice.
And I’m not picking on Rio.
Put Jesus impressively over any city—
put the ten commandments on the lawn of any city hall,
and however impressive they are,
the city will undermine the story.

Another poem by my new favorite Polish poet Anna Kamieńska
this one’s called “Small Things”

It usually starts taking shape
from one word
reveals itself in one smile
sometimes in the blue glint of eyeglasses
in a trampled daisy
in a splash of light on a path
in quivering carrot leaves
in a bunch of parsley
It comes from laundry hung on a balcony
from hands thrust into dough
It seeps through closed eyelids
as through the prison wall of things of objects
of faces of landscapes
It’s when you slice bread
when you pour out some tea
It comes from a broom from a shopping bag
from peeling new potatoes
from a drop of blood from the prick of a needle
when making panties for a child
or sewing a button on a husband’s burial shirt
It comes out of toil out of care
out of immense fatigue in the evening
out of a tear wiped away
out of a prayer broken off in mid-word by sleep

It’s not from the grand
but from every tiny thing
that it grows enormous
as is Someone was building Eternity
as a swallow its nest
out of clumps of moments
(Anna Kamienska, Astonishments
[Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011] 45)

That’s it!
Eternity is clumps of moments
woven together into a nest.

But particular kinds of moments.
Remember when I asked you to consider your most impressive
experiences of Jesus?
They were almost all service and worship oriented.
Greg reminded us all in the time with the children,
that there’s something about honest vulnerability—
about what I call failing forward.
As we draw to the end of the Olympics, I’ve enjoyed them—
enjoyed the amazing displays of athleticism.
But the stories I treasure most are not about that.

But rather about Maya DiRado, one of our swimmers
who won a gold, a silver and a bronze over these weeks
and said, “I don’t think God really cares about my swimming very much.
This is not my end purpose, to make the Olympic team.
My God is powerful and in control,
but I don’t think [God] cares whether I win.
It’s interesting theology you can get into when it’s a God of victory in your sport.”
My God, not only is she a theologian, she’s a good one!

She went on to say, “I think God cares about my soul”—

and I think it’s rather telling that that’s what Franklin Graham tweeted
“God loves you—He cares about your eternal soul.
That’s even bigger news than the Olympics.
Share it with others today.”

And too much of the church these days gets it wrong
in that emphasis on the eternal soul
while it was just the introduction to what Maya went on to say:
“God cares about my soul
and whether I’m bringing … love and mercy into the world.
Can I be a loving, supportive teammate,
and can I bless others around me
in the same way God has been so generous with me?”

In one of the heats for the women’s 5000 meter race,
New Zealander Nikki Hamblin fell
bringing down US runner Abbey D’Agostino,
who got up and instead of angrily racing on,
lifted Hamblin up, encouraged her to finish the heat.
And then, when it turned out D’agostina
had herself torn her ACL and meniscus,
Hamblin didn’t run on ahead,
but stayed with her, encouraged her in turn.
“You can make friends,” Hamblin said,
“in the moments that really should break your heart”

Any of y’all hear about the Norwegian men’s handball team?
Well, I’m not surprised.
They didn’t even qualify for the Olympics.
Why not?
Because in qualifying play against Germany,
with the game was tied, in the last moments,
Germany scored.
But wait! They had an extra person on the field.
Norway could protest and have the goal disallowed—
continue playing.
But the Norwegian conversation was rather
about how that extra person on the field had nothing to do with the goal.
They didn’t protest.
The goal counted.
Germany went on to the Olympics; Norway did not

There is a world—a creation
still being designed while being built—
followers of God moving toward
what so often seems like inevitable theological and ethical failure,

but in clusters of transcendent moments—
often ones you might think would break your heart—
usually not in victory—
y’all understand how absolutely counter-cultural this is?—
yet somehow ringing so profoundly true even amidst the Olympics!—

and if we keep moving on—
maybe what we end up with
is not some impressive statue—
not even a transformed reality,
but a being transformed reality.

We can be a part of a being transformed reality
by choosing the God story
into transcendent moments of which Eternity weaves its home.


Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Hebrews 1:1-4
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors
in many and various ways by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,
whom he appointed heir of all things,
through whom he also created the worlds.
He is the reflection of God’s glory
and the exact imprint of God’s very being,
and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
When he had made purification for sins,
he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
having become as much superior to angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.


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