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The Rev. Harvard Stephens The Rev. Dr. Harvard Stephens, Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Harvard Stephens, Jr., is dean of the chapel at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Chapel at Carthage College, Kenosha, WI


Christ and His Celebrity

Mark 6: 30-34

July 23, 2000

I wonder if you could admit with me that many of us are closet celebrity watchers. Yes, we do look at the magazines with big, gaudy, color pictures in the supermarkets, even if we don't buy them. We do stay up late and watch awards shows, even though we may be the first to criticize the stars in our morning water-cooler conversations. We wonder aloud, "Why would she wear a dress that is so revealing; why would he be seen in public with a girlfriend who is half his age, even though he still has a wife?" We share the public confidence that so-and-so has a drug problem and so-and-so just filed ...bankruptcy, and you know that he once tried to commit suicide, and she was convicted of drunken driving last summer but didn't serve any time.

In their efforts to create a large market for films, books, and recorded music, publicists have been known to spend thousands, even millions, of dollars, sometimes unscrupulously, to create what we call today THE BUZZ. You know, that current of conversation that flows from household to workplace, talking and speculating about the celebrities behind the media whose importance and relevance are inflated by sensational headlines and personal information that is leaked without verification just enough to make us question whether or not it is true, and, if it is, what should be done about it. As long as people are talking about the celebrities of today and participating in the phenomenon called THE BUZZ, they remain prominent in our conversations, our consciousness, and in our psychic headlines. And if a given film, book, or recording is displayed in our psychic headlines, chances are we're going to buy it or pay to see it or tell our closest friends, "This is a must-read, a must-see, or something that we¹ve (you've) just got to hear."

So you've never heard of a psychic headline? Well, no wonder: I made it up. But the idea is valid, I feel. Psychic headlines refer to how we give prominent attention within our inner world to whatever we consider to be immediately important. Tragedies that dominate the news are usually given this kind of attention as are athletic or intellectual achievements that we value, as well as events that are so unusual, so extraordinary, or so inspirational that we just can't easily forget them. Psychic headlines are displayed whenever we give prominent attention to what we have heard, envisioned, or experienced, and this is the ultimate BUZZ, the ultimate preoccupation. And this is the stuff that makes people spend their money, use their time, and move their feet. This is the stuff that gets people moving, whether in their imaginations or in their physical bodies, because people will get up off their couches, leave their homes, and go to great lengths to satisfy their curiosity and quench their thirst to see for themselves those things that have captured their consciousness and piqued their interest.

Jesus and his disciples must have created quite a BUZZ in their day. It sure sounds like they have made the psychic headlines when we read in Mark 6, verse 33: Now many saw them going, and they knew them, and they ran on foot in front of them from all the towns and got there ahead of them. Jesus and his disciples are looking for a lonely place, a place separate and apart from the demand of the crowds, a place where they can go and just rest for a while, but their celebrity sabotages their efforts.

Jesus had only recently given the disciples a measure of spiritual authority that allowed them to cast out demons and heal sick people. I wish that modern readers could understand more easily what it means to speak about this kind of power. This is not a magic wand, and this is neither a codebook of secret words nor a medicine bag of smelly potions. This is the mystery of God's word imparted in the name of Jesus. Jesus sent his disciples with few tokens or symbols of this power that they had received. They carried virtually no supplies. And still Jesus sends them two by two to go into the community and restore lives that were broken by disease and spiritual affliction. They were sent to accomplish this peculiar and mysterious and wonder-working mission that is not described in great detail in the gospel of Mark. Oh, I wish that we could understand more.

When the disciples returned, we do not know how long they had been gone, and we don't know how many people they had healed. We can only imagine the extent of their impact, not only on those upon whom they had brought healing, but also on their loved ones who must have rejoiced to see the crooked made straight, the wasted and broken lives made whole and useful again. We can only know with certainty that they told Jesus all that they had done and Jesus could look at his disciples and tell that they needed rest.

This snapshot into the lives of Jesus' disciples makes me wonder about the psychic headlines displayed in their heads. What had the disciples seen? What had the disciples experienced? How did they feel about themselves and their accomplishments? And what was their view of Jesus and his great power now that they had entered into a phase of their ministries where they were so effective that they could exhaust themselves in doing good works? Oh, this is another sermon you know: the fatigue of the righteous. This deserves exploration and celebration. When was the last time that you could say, "I've been so busy serving the Lord, I'm just plain tired. I've been so busy healing the sick and casting out demons, I need a rest." What if Sunday mornings were really times of refreshment for more of us because we were exhausted from our walk of faith, and we had stories to tell one another about what we had been blessed to accomplish because we were using the authority of Jesus to heal and restore the hurting hearts and suffering all around us. Oh, somebody knows what I'm talking about and somebody is saying, "Amen."

But today, we must visit the scene of the disciples' effort to find their rest and to experience true revival. Together with Jesus, they went away in their boat to a place where they were expecting to be alone. But people saw them leaving and they told others and soon people were racing to get there ahead of them. And you must be amazed, as I am, at this level of enthusiasm: because people are running to the place where they expect Jesus to be. This is celebrity all right, but celebrity apart from high profit entertainment industries. This is THE BUZZ at work, but the goal is not ticket sales, gold records, or book awards. This is a demonstration of how psychic headlines can affect people, and this shows how people respond when their hearts are touched and their spirits are moved and they recognize that something is going on of immediate importance to their very existence. The psychic headline reads simply: Jesus And The Healers Are Coming To A Place Near Us. The response to this news is overwhelming. Because, suddenly, what was supposed to be a lonely place is now a massive crowd scene, because when Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd.

If our sermon were to end here, we would only have celebrated the parallels between modern celebrity and the impact of the public ministry of Jesus and his disciples. What is far more intriguing is the revelation of Jesus' divine character as he responds to all that he has seen. Mark 6, verse 34, says with powerful simplicity: he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. This is the good news, people of God. The good news is not that people were interested in Jesus. We can be so fickle with our attention. We are so easily distracted, so easily seduced, so easily persuaded concerning what is important concerning people, events, and experiences. People spent millions trying to sell the significance of Y2K, and these same people will find something else to sell, and someone else to sell it as sure as the sun rises to start a new day. The good news is not that people were interested in Jesus. The good news is that Jesus was interested in them!

Yes, the good news is that Jesus had come into our world to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God and to declare the opportunity to escape the power of sin through repentance and faith. The celebrity that was offered him did not flatter him. Jesus was not interested in the attention that others were willing to give him. He was not seeking to have his picture taken nor was he getting up early in the morning to do interviews. He was not reading the polls and speaking in sound bites. He was not pitching products and endorsing candidates. He was not building a kingdom to rival the prominent work of his competitors. He was Jesus, the lover of our souls. His celebrity was the glory of the God who made heaven and earth. His own psychic headline was written by the Holy Spirit and it simply read: The People Are Hungry For The Truth. And so he taught them many things. He taught them how to live. He taught them how to die. He taught them how to live forever.

Our model for mission comes from this Divine Celebrity, Jesus of Nazareth. Feeling the emotions of heaven, he responded to human need with power and compassion. The people he encountered found in him a shepherd's heart, not the insatiable ego of someone seeking self-promotion. This is the celebrity of the one, true church. This is the calling of the whole people of God in Christ Jesus. This is the work of truth in a world of falsehood and wickedness. This is the witness of those who are destined to experience the joy of spiritual exhaustion and the gift of spiritual renewal. May our places of worship always remain open not only to meet the needs of those who have responded to the call of Christ, but also to those who are still searching, the great crowds seeking not a celebrity, but a shepherd who will love them! Amen.

Let us pray.

Gracious Lord, you are the center of our lives and our ultimate concern. In the midst of all the delusions and distractions of our day, draw us ever closer to you. When we grow tired from our work or discouraged in our service, give us the support of your love and the guidance of your Word. Grant us your grace, we pray, that we might keep our hearts open to the needs of your people all around us. Let us never grow weary in well-doing for we are trusting you. Keep us sustained in the power of your Holy Spirit that we might be agents of justice and speakers of truth for we are praying in Jesus' name. Amen


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