Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lego Jesus

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

On Easter, most churches mark the resurrection of Jesus with prayers and singing. Some churches, the ones that use statuary, might unveil their statues during the Easter service. This past Easter, the Oensta Gryta Church in Vaesteras, a town in Sweden, unveiled a new statue, a reproduction of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsens's 19th century work Christus. It's a representation of Jesus at his resurrection, which isn't a surprising choice for Easter. What is a bit surprising is the medium in which the statue's creator worked.

It's made of Lego bricks.

The pastor of the church, Per Wilder, says the parishioners donated over 30,000 Lego bricks for the statue. At 5' 8” tall, Wilder says that the statue is “life-sized.” Wonder how they knew?

Actually, there's something kind of convenient and comforting about a Lego Jesus. The nice thing, really, about any Jesus we create ourselves is that he can be exactly what we want him to be. And here's the important part – he can be nothing more than what we want him to be. Convenient and comforting – that's the way to describe a do-it-yourself Jesus, and of course I don't mean now the kind of do-it-yourself Jesus that you make out of Lego bricks, or stone, or oil on canvas. Those creations may reflect what we think of Jesus, but what's really on my mind now is the way we create Jesuses in our own hearts and minds that do little but mirror our own values and priorities.

The real Jesus, of course, is more likely to question and challenge our values and priorities. So it's no wonder we prefer the do-it-yourself variety.

People have been creating Jesus in their own image, of course – or at least attempting to – since he first started doing miracles and preaching and generally causing and uproar. Think of the Pharisees and teachers who got so upset when he welcomed “sinners,” and even sat around their tables with them. What upset them about Jesus was that he didn't fit their notions of what a religious leader looked like, and he threatened their monopoly on God's favor. By telling people that the gates of God's kingdom were open to all those who wanted to enter, Jesus raised the question of what function the gatekeepers like the Pharisees actually served. And when he wouldn't fall in line, make his disciples fast, stop healing on the Sabbath and please, please, for the love of all that was holy stop eating with “sinnners” – well, they just couldn't allow that.

Or think of Mary and Martha, sisters of his friend Lazarus: “If you had only been here, he wouldn't have died.” There's the rich young ruler, whom Jesus told to sell everything he had to follow him. He went away sad, the text tells us, unable to bear the cost of discipleship. Even his own closest disciples failed to understand him. Eventually one betrayed him, and the rest scattered like cockroaches when the Temple police came to arrest him.

What should give us pause, of course, is that what all those folks have in common is that Jesus was right there in front of them. And if they had a hard time seeing who Jesus really was because of who they expected him to be, well, it's no wonder that we do, too.

And we do. To some, Jesus is a countercultural revolutionary who rails against everything but whatever counterculture they happen to be a part of. To others, he's a defender of the American Dream, free enterprise, and conservative politics. To some of us Jesus is a righteous judge, coming in wrath to destroy the sinners with holy glee. Some use Jesus to support a pro-homosexual agenda, while others use him to support hatred for homosexuals. He's been co-opted to fight at the heads of armies, teach us how to lead corporations, and every now and again some of us even have the gall to stick his name on our church signs, assuming that means that he sanctions everything that goes on inside our buildings.

But as cool as he may look, Lego Jesus has no power. The images we create of him never do. They sit, silent and powerless, in our churches and in our lives.

I think what we need in the church is a large dose of Jesus. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear,” he once told his disciples. “But when...the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The Holy Spirit, poured out by Jesus on the church, is there to “speak only what he hears” and make known to the church what he receives from Jesus. (see John 16:12-15) So if we're going to see who Jesus really is, and if outsiders are going to see him as he really is, it's going to be through the Holy Spirit in the Bible and in all of us together and in ourselves individually. It's going to demand that we be people who are learning to live by the Spirit, learning to hear his voice and obey his promptings. Jesus promised not to leave his followers as orphans to create and follow our own pitiful little images of him. He's present with us through the Scriptures, and through the church's life together, and even in our own lives, bearing fruit in good works and transformation of who we are.

I don't ever again want to settle for an image of Jesus cobbled together by the little bits and pieces of personal agenda and piety that people bring to the project of crafting a do-it-yourself Jesus. I'd rather have the Jesus, please, in whom Paul said “all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form” and in whom we “have been given fullness.” I'd rather have the Jesus who has “disarmed the powers and authorities” that would otherwise have me trapped in death and despair. I'd like, please, the Jesus by whom and in whom and for whom everything was created, and through whom everything has been reconciled to God.

If that sounds good to you, then I have a suggestion. Topple your images of Jesus. Ask him to show you who he really is. Read anew the stories about him and the words he spoke that don't easily fit your image of him. Let your life with the church inform and change the way you see him. A warning, though: you may be a bit surprised and unsettled by what you find. That's OK. That's what Jesus does – he surprises and unsettles.

So put down the Legos. Playtime's over.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

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