Summary: Too often we try to make Jesus fit our own desires. Instead of the real Jesus we want one that fits into our life neatly. That's a plastic Jesus.
First Presbyterian Church, Corpus Christi, TX
Rev. Charles S. Blackshear • April 22, 2012
Several years ago in Kentucky a man walked into a Dairy Queen, placed his order and then paid for it with a $200 bill. The cashier gave him $198 in change and he drove away. Some time later in the day I guess the manager noticed that something didn’t seem right about this $200 bill, maybe because it had a picture of then-president George Bush on one side or maybe it was the picture of the Whitehouse on the back with an oil well in front and funny signs in the lawn. Police were able to track down the man and he was arrested for theft by deception.
As you probably know, real U.S. currency has a number of features designed to make it harder to counterfeit. If you have a ten or twenty dollar bill you are welcome to take it out and look at it. If you hold it up to the light you will see that there’s a strip embedded in the paper that has the denomination of the bill printed on it. That strip also glows under UV light. There are several features that you need a magnifier to see as well. All of these things are included to distinguish the real bills from the fakes and also to make it harder to counterfeit. The reason is that when you have that $20 bill you need to be sure that it’s real; that it’s really worth $20.
Here’s another example. Companies that make the different products we use every day spend lots of money creating what’s called “brand identity.” That means they create a logo or identity for their company or product that is easily recognizable. Probably the most successful example of creating this brand identity is the familiar shape of the Coca-Cola bottle or their red can. When you see a can or bottle of Coke, no matter what language it’s in, you know it’s Coca-Cola.
The same is true for most successful products. The idea is that when you see that logo or name, you know you’re getting the real thing, the genuine product. So these same companies spend lots of money every year to keep others from duplicating their product or their identity. Today, however, one of the big problems is copycat products being produced in Asia that are trying to imitate the genuine product.
Up on the screen you can see some examples of knockoffs of some popular brands.
Most of these are rather funny but these forgeries are not always funny. For example, authorities have found clones of a popular brand of down jacket for sale on the internet. When the jackets were tested, it was discovered that they were not filled with down at all but with all sorts of other things, like chicken feathers (and other parts) swept up from the floor of a poultry factory. This can pose a real health risk by carrying bacteria and disease. Another problem these days is the availability of counterfeit medications that people purchase hoping to save money. I think it’s obvious how harmful those could be since they may not have any of the needed medication in them.
In the same way that we can be fooled by counterfeit products or money, we are also in danger of counterfeit religion as well. To be more specific, we are in danger of having a counterfeit faith, of believing in a fake Christianity. We are in danger of worshiping a plastic Jesus.
So what do we mean by “plastic Jesus?” What exactly is a counterfeit faith? Where does this fake Christianity come from and how do we recognize it? More importantly, how do we make sure we don’t fall for it?
The first thing we need to know is that, unlike counterfeit products or money that are produced by someone else, each one of us is responsible for creating these knockoffs. A plastic Jesus is some kind of caricature of Jesus that is not the real Jesus. It’s the image we create in our minds of Jesus – the Jesus we think we want to believe in. John Calvin wrote, “every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.” What he’s saying is that you and I are like a plastic Jesus factory.
What are some of these fake Jesuses that we create? Let’s look at some of the ways we misunderstand Jesus. Many people today see Jesus in the same category as Mister Rogers – a kind, gentle moral teacher telling stories that have a good life lesson but not really requiring much on my part. Back in 2005, psychologist Christian Smith studied Christian youth and discovered that many of them held similar views about God and about morals but that these views weren’t really biblical. After further research he discovered that these beliefs had become widespread in American religion. Here they are. See if this describes your own beliefs.