Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When Family Guy Falls Flat

A week ago I used a Family Guy reference in a sermon for a midweek healing service. I warned the congregation that Family Guy references almost never belong in a sermon, but I shared it with them anyway. They laughed politely.

Today, in the same service with many of the same people in the congregation, I used another Family Guy reference. Something must be wrong! Actually, this time I didn’t actually tell them a story from the crude cartoon show. Instead, I told them about a time when I preached at a Lenten service and tried to use a different Family Guy image that totally and completely fell flat. I should have known better. The average age in the congregation that day appeared to be 70, and I knew before I even opened my mouth that the ironic, satiric, biting humor of the cartoon would fail to connect with the audience. I used it anyway, and no one—except maybe the rector—laughed. It wasn’t the first time I’d used an image that didn’t connect with the congregation, nor will last week’s poor attempt be my last.

The reason I bring it up is that in today’s gospel lesson (John 10:1-18) Jesus uses an image that falls as flat as my Family Guy story. “Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief or a bandit,” Jesus said. This is the beginning of his sheep-and-shepherd talk. He goes on for a little while, using the image of a sheepfold to convey to the disciples what the true, God-sent, good shepherd is like. But, about halfway through, John zips a little editorial zinger in that makes me laugh out loud: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” In other words, they didn’t get it.

So Jesus keeps right on going. He explains it a little clearer—“I am the gate”—but he still dances around with conflicting images that don’t make a lot of sense to me and, I’ll guess, made even less sense to the disciples. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Can you see the puzzled looks on the disciples’ faces? Can you hear them muttering to themselves, “What’s he talking about?” They weren’t following someone whom they expected to die. Why would anyone follow a savior who is going to be crucified? That doesn’t make sense. How could it…on their side of the resurrection?

What Jesus says to his disciples about laying down his life and picking it up again makes sense to those of us who live on the other side of the empty tomb. And the disciples themselves would figure all of this out once they had experienced the risen Christ for themselves. But until then—until you live in the place of resurrection—Jesus doesn’t make sense.

Too often, I forget to look at the world through Easter goggles. That’s the lens through which we are supposed to view the world. And it’s a hard way to see things—a way that doesn’t make sense. Why would someone lay down his life? Why would we take up our cross? Who wants to worship a messiah who died on a tree? Only fools who live in Easter would. I forget that God’s ways are not the world’s ways. I forget that, with God, life comes through death. I forget that suffering leads to rebirth. I forget how to empty myself and accept the costly call to discipleship because I forget to start with the resurrection.

God has redeemed the brokenness of the world, and God chooses brokenness to reveal himself to it. That doesn’t make sense to the world, but it does make sense to Easter people. 

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