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A little context: In 1966, John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus and Time Magazine asked  “Is God Dead?” There were hippies, war, and anti-war protests. The baby boomers were the first youth generation, sexual liberation.

It was into that, in 1967, music manager trainee and aspiring songwriter Tim Rice was introduced to classically train, university drop-out Andrew Lloyd Weber. The next year they wrote a 15 minute cantata for a boy’s school that would later become Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. In the second year of their working relationship, they got the go-ahead to compose a concept album on the life of Jesus. But that would be too much, so just the last 7 days of Jesus’ life. Weber was 19 and Rice was 22.

Jesus Christ Superstar was released to a lack-luster reception in England, but the title song rose to #25 on the charts in the US. Across the country, underground productions of the album were being performed as shows. Because it started as an album, it needed to fit on a 45, 45 minutes a side, 45 minutes each act, making it a short musical.  The first Broadway production was in 1971, an avant-garde production that ALW called the worst night of his life. This is not the only controversy Superstar would bring, and, as it would turn out, not the only time he would speak badly about a production of his show. Which I need to add here, beside the protest for by groups saying the show is heretical (although the Pope liked it). There were questions, and continue to be, why is Jesus so often white and Judas black? And, there were, and are, protests on it being anti-Semitic, as many, most, passion plays over the centuries tend to be–blaming the Jew for Jesus death and making the Priests caricatures of villains.

1973, fresh off the film release of Fiddler on the Roof, Norman Jewison directed and released the film version of JCS, filmed in Israel with confusing modern and ancient inspired costumes, it would become the definitive version, and standard upon which many future stage productions would be inspired.

JCS is told primarily from the POV of Judas. Judas becomes a stand in for the goals of Rice and Weber, to focus on the human-ness of Jesus. Judas’ opening song, Heaven on Their Minds, speaks of Judas’ frustration and concern over how Jesus seems to have lost the plot, he has bought into his own propaganda, he is buying into what everyone else is saying about him. Judas knows Jesus, loves Jesus, knows Jesus is only a man, not this god others seem to believe he is. And if they believe he is God, it will diminish the message of love and generosity, and will get Jesus killed. And it does. The show ends with the catchy Superstar–which I guess I never realized was a cynical series of questions–was it worth it? Who do you think you are? don’t  you think this could have been more effective if you had just… set a plan?

And there aren’t any answers. Just 2000 years of people trying to sort it out, not unlike Judas. And 2000 years of people trying to learn how to love Jesus.



I want to be poetic but I also want to be clear, and I struggled between the two.

Some followers of Jesus find the treasure that is Christ’s teachings and the community that was and is built around the teachings and ideas found in the living and life and death and resurrection of Jesus and commit their whole selves to it, self-sacrificing, willing to give up everything for it, choosing the treasure of the life, love, and the community above all else.

But not everyone. Some find the treasure of Christ teaching and the community that was and is built around it and… over time? through experience? discover it is useful. They too commit their lives to it but not in generosity and love, not in building up the community Christ exampled, but in building themselves.

And, who am I to say one way or another who these people might be… but… the internet came for Texas Pastor Joel Osteen a couple of weeks ago. He posted on the platform formerly known as Twitter: It’s the simple things in life that bring us the most joy. You may not have a lot of resources, but if you have family, you’re blessed. If you have your health, you’re blessed. If you can look up at the stars at night, you’re blessed.

As a non-profit, his 54 million dollar salary is public. And the prices of his multiple multi-million dollar homes.

It’s the people who have used the treasure of Christ teachings to become Superstars and have the private jet, and all the wealth, and all the privilege. And what seems to happen to those folks, those who have built themselves up and not the community, who have made themselves Superstars of the treasure… they fall, they lose perspective, they hurt others. We keep seeing it in sexual assault allegations, in stories of abuse by pastors, in choosing to keep things quiet, for the sake of the gospel, but at the expense of the community.

Some find the treasure and become its teachers, and build wealth around them.

Some followers of Jesus find the treasure that is Christ’s teachings and the community that was and is built around the teachings and ideas found in the living and life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and find it useful for power. The church’s relationship to power has been, we’ll say, complicated since Constantine made it legal and Charlemagne made it the official religion of the empire. Ever since, there have been those who have understood that, with the right spin and inflection and proof-texting, the way of Jesus can be used as a force to empower, to force community rather than nurture it, to keep people in line, to dictate how people live. Some people find the treasure and use it as a weapon. Their understanding of the way of Jesus, their version of community, with their people in it. And when it comes from a place of power or seeks power in and through the government or over and at the expense of others for a particular country, we call it Christian Nationalism. Using the treasure of the teachings, living, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, no, using their interpretation as the only way to interpret, then imposing that way on everyone else.

So I can see why Judas was concerned. I get it. What is this whole thing going to become if Superstar is how it started? What if Superstar is the only way people thought about or remembered Jesus.

And it’s so easy to point fingers at others there–they are the problem. But there has to be some lesson for us too… beware celebrity, and the church of the pastor’s personality. beware the politician who invokes God to get their way.

You will know them by their fruit–by what is produced by their words and actions. Is it love, peace, and justice? Is it wealth, things,  and privilege? Is it power, and violence?

And it matters. It should matter. And as we see it, as we see the Good News of life and love being used… we need to say something. We need to stand up and speak out and be with love and justice and beloved community. We need to remind ourselves, people around us, our leaders, that the way to follow Jesus is not to use the treasure, the good news, but to be nurtured by it and grow through it, together.

We are going to sing the Beatitudes in a bit, it is the turning over of the way of the empire that thrives on taking, using, violence, and power. It is God seeing things right. It is cosmic and communal. It is what God is doing in the end of all things and it is what the Beloved community, built on the teachings and love of Jesus, is doing for each other, neighbor and stranger.



Where do you see “Superstar” behavior in the church universal? Is there some part of you that does good things for recognition? (we all love to be noticed and thanked, it’s ok)

What ways can you, or we as a church community, counter these bad fruit versions of Christianity?