We started a new sermon series at Euless First United Methodist Church yesterday. Here is the transcript for my sermon titled “Pop Culture Truth” delivered Sunday, May 31, 2015.
Blame it on a shark. Not the shark that Fonzie jumped on September 20, 1977. Blame the shark that hit the theaters 40 years ago next month – June 20, 1975, to be exact Jaws.
Jaws created the Summer Blockbuster. Before Jaws scared people off the beach and into theaters, June, July, and August were the low season for the film industry. Drive in theaters were most of the summer movie business, and by the mid 1970s, they were waning.
How many of you have been to a drive-in movie?
Now, pop culture didn’t start with Jaws, or drive-in movies. Some allege that William Shakespeare started pop culture. Pop is, of course, short for popular, and Shakespeare’s plays brought new worlds of experience and ideas and ways of thinking to all in attendance.
Pop culture got a big boost from the Industrial Revolution. Factory workers worked long hours, to be sure, but not the same long hours, and rarely 7 days a week, that farm families had been used to. Less work time meant “more” – which means simply “some” leisure time.
Leisure time coupled with living in cities and towns – among other people – meant pop culture.
Still, for years, pop culture was something one could take or leave, I suppose.
Today, one has to hide to evade pop culture.
I don’t want to say pop culture is on the attack, but sometimes it feels like it.
Pop culture once meant music – written music came from the Renaissance and stage performances. For the lives of everyone here, it has been music and theater and books and magazines. And radio.
Some of you remember sitting around the radio in the evening for a radio “show.” Some of you remember getting your first television, then your first color television, etc.
Some of you don’t have much use for television. You don’t expect a screen – outside a movie theater – to be larger than your laptop or your phone.
I’ve got one daughter – 26 – from the generation we used to joke “If you can’t program your VCR, get your kid to do it for you!” and I’ve got two kids – 3 and 5 – who will grow up barely knowing what a VCR is (or was).
I used to carry a cassette tape or 2 or 3 in the car, varying my mix tapes by mood or season.
Then I got this nice little case for cds.
Now I own about 5000 songs. 400 of them, along with, 80 books, a dozen or so movies on this (pull out phone) and access to uncountable numbers of songs, movies, books, whatever, on this with a decent connection.
It’s getting harder and harder to hide from pop culture.
I invite you to wonder with me for at least the next 6 weeks, whether or not we ought to hide from pop culture.
The church has put varying amounts of energy, throughout the centuries, into avoiding, or escaping, or eliminating pop culture.
It’s time to stop. I believe it is time to engage pop culture rather than run or hide from it, and certainly rather than trying to stamp it out or just start our own parallel version of everything.
Stamping a stylized cross on a shirt doesn’t make it a Christian shirt. Choosing music based on “Jesus per minute” is not, in fact, a credible way to judge whether music is good or not.
I believe we ought to engage Pop Culture for at least 2 reasons. These 2 reasons follow from our starting point, which is that we are “trying to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday.” I believe following Jesus means – requires – these 2 things:
- becoming the people God created us to be – by the transformation that comes from discipleship and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
- being a blessing to the world around us – because God loves everyone and wants everyone to know redemption and healing are available in Jesus.
We are created in God’s image for fellowship with God and to partner with God in care for creation. And, we are blessed (by God) so that we might be a blessing to others!
For these reasons, we engage Pop Culture! Now, I don’t mean that you need to be listening to the Billboard Top 40 or watch whatever the Nielsen Ratings say to watch. You do not have to live according to what’s trending on Twitter to be faithful to Jesus.
Pretending none of those technologies exist or favoring one over the others won’t satisfy, either.
But let me make this point clear: When I say we ought to engage pop culture, I do not mean we must immerse ourselves in it. Have you seen some of the stuff that’s available these days?
In fact, I wonder if some of the ways Pop Culture has sunk – why you can’t stand to watch primetime TV today, is, to an extent, because Christians – and others with standards – have given up and walked away.So: I say we must engage pop culture, but not necessarily immerse ourselves in it. When we engage it, we develop the ability to look at it critically so as to identify the good as well as the bad. And not all pop culture is for everyone; just like not all types of food is for everyone.
I fully intend never to read Fifty Shades of Gray OR anything in the Left Behind series. But I want to engage the cultures from which they arise in ways that welcome critical discussions of why I won’t read either one.
Perhaps the first step is to admit that we are cultural beings. Culture is “what human beings make of the world.” Culture is both the things we make and the meaning we make of things.
To have culture, to experience culture, to live in culture, is to be human. To navigate as God’s people in culture: well, that’s following Jesus better today than yesterday.
So, where do we start?
Let’s start here: I believe that culture and pop culture are about truth. Culture – what we make of the world, flows out of our efforts to find, to reach, to express, truth.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Well. There you go. Culture is about truth, and Jesus IS the truth. That was simple. Or maybe it wasn’t.
See; culture is what we humans make of the world. Culture is, then, our attempts, our efforts, our expressions of truth as we know it, see it, understand it, experience it.
And truth can be a mighty difficult thing to express, grasp, understand. And that’s small “t” truth. I think Jesus is claiming to be capital “T” truth.
In fact, Jesus’ statement in John 14 recognizes the elusive, hard-to-grasp nature of Truth.
There seem to be 2 ways of dealing with truth today. To over-simplify, we’ll call these 2 Absolutist and Relativist.
Here is the Absolutist: Some among us lament the days that our society was run according to “big T Truth.” Others recognize that those days were really as full of power struggles and hypocrisy as today.
Here is the Relativist: Some among us have accepted that everyone has their own truth and we should all be free to just live our own personal truth as long as it doesn’t infringe upon someone else’s personal truth.
Neither of these fit well with Jesus’ claim to be the Truth.
Both of them, the absolutist and the relativist, are left playing the role of Pilate: asking Jesus: “what is truth?”
When confronted with the truth, we are all Pilate; we are all Lt. Daniel Kaffee. Don’t remember who Daniel Kaffee is? How about Tom Cruise’s character in “A Few Good Men”? Still don’t remember? That’s right: We can’t handle the truth!
I absolutely believe that we cannot – none of us – handle the truth. I completely, with all my heart and all my mind believe that we cannot handle the truth.
But we are here worshipping God together for the way the Truth has handled us and the way the Truth is handling us.
You see, our God is God – we shall have no other gods before Him. Our God is Lord, “King of the Universe!” and all truth – ALL TRUTH belongs to God. All truth is God’s truth.
Whether or not it comes in the form of Christian art or fits within Christian society or expectations, all truth is God’s truth. And as God’s prevenient grace reminds us that grace is not dependent upon us, but rather preceeds us, so with truth. You and I do well to take truth to people who do not know Jesus beacuse Jesus is the truth. But we ought not be so arrogant as to expect that the truth of God (which is all truth) has not gotten there before us.
If culture is what we human beings make of the world – things we make and meanings we give to things, and culture is about the pursuit of and expression of truth, and I think it is, we followers of Jesus owe it to the world to be mixing it up with others – looking for, asking, seeking, knocking, to find the truth wherever and however it might present itself.
If you want a nice, clean, simple, straightforward truth, you might have confused matters. Jesus is truth.
Can you describe someone you know, anyone you know, in a nice, clean, simple, straightforward way?
Tell me all about your mom in 150 words or less. Explain any one of your children to me in 3 or 4 sentences.
No. You can’t do it. You don’t even know anyone so well that you could completely capture their identity in words, phrases, paragraphs, or books.
How much less could the Son of Man, the Savior of the world, the Incarnate Son of God, be captured in, limited to, a few words or verses?
Jesus is the truth, and we follow Jesus! And we are trying to follow Jesus better today than yesterday. We are followign the truth wherever it takes us and wherever we find it, because all truth is God’s truth!
Truth is NOT sterile, dictated, distant. Truth is up close and personal; gritty, sometimes dirty, slippery, hard to understand. And Jesus is Truth. And we are following Jesus.
In the midst of a world filled with people who are trying to find, to express, to grasp, to understand, to explain the truth, we are following the One who is the truth!
Here’s a really beautiful thing about Jesus and pop culture. If pop culture is about people seeking to express, experience, grasp, describe, approach, truth – and I believe it is – you and I MUST be in it, near it, part of it.
Or, at least, not be hiding from it or running from it or condemning it out of hand.
Because all truth is God’s truth, Jesus is the truth, and we are following Jesus.