June 28, 2016
Do you know the word “doppelganger?” I had never heard it until it became the rage on Facebook some years ago. It actually has its origins in the middle of the 1800’s. “Doppelganger” is a German word that literally means “double-goer.” Originally, it had a “ghostly” sense to it but in English we use it to indicate “someone who looks like you.” Hold that thought.
When I was in high school I played football, wore number 74, and tried to portray a defensive tackle. Because of that, a friend of mine called me “Merlin” after the great defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams; Merlin Olsen. The number we both shared was the only thing we had in common regarding football! He was a perennial All Pro, Hall of Famer and a fearsome defender and I was… well… I sort of played. I had no idea in High School when I was still svelte and clean shaven that Merlin Olsen would play a continued role in my life for years to come. You might recall that Merlin had two careers after football. He was an announcer for NFL football games (an excellent one in my humble opinion) and he was an actor. He played a character on the television show Little House On the Prairie and a monk named Father Murphy in another short lived show.
As the years went by and I became less… um… willowy (you like that?) and I grew facial hair… well the similarities between myself and Mr. Olsen became somewhat striking. He was my doppelganger… or I was his. I was forever hearing from people: “Do you know who you look like? Merlin Olsen!” “Really?” I would patiently reply. I wonder how many times he heard: “You know, you look just like Bill Little!” Many times I’m sure. I should add that he was noted for one additional thing. He was the spokesperson for FTD florists. On one occasion I walked into a restaurant and passed a table encompassed by a group of elderly ladies. One of them grabbed me by the arm as I passed and very excitedly said “You’re the flower guy!” I respectfully said that I was not but that I had been told that before. Neither she, nor any of the other ladies would believe me! They insisted I was him. Oh boy?!?! I don’t know if this blog site will allow pictures but I will try to attach a photo of Merlin below.
So, here is a question for you. Who is your doppelganger? But I don’t mean physically like Merlin and I. I mean spiritually. Who do you resemble in your faith? Maybe the people who have cared for and discipled you over the years? I confess I “look” much like the significant Christians in my life. It’s hard not to, isn’t it? I mean, I have learned my theology from them. I have learned how to live out the faith through them. I know Jesus because of them. Have you ever noticed that there are certain Christian groups that you feel comfortable and at home with and others that feel like foreign territory? That likely has something to do with who your spiritual doppelgangers are.
I have heard it said that if you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer. Maybe the right question is not, “Who do you look like in the faith,” but “Who should you look like?” Just because we come from certain traditions and life experiences does not mean they are trustworthy or correct. Who “should” Christian people look like? Well the answer is obvious, isn’t it?
In Philippians 2 verses 5-11, the Apostle Paul includes a hymn from the first century. It’s unclear if he wrote this song or if he is quoting it.
Imitating Christ’s Humility
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
The idea of course in this passage is that we are called to become “imitators” of Jesus. In particular, to be imitators of His humility. Imagine… the Very God of the universe humbled Himself, left something behind in the heavenly realm so that he might become human while still remaining divine. Yeah, I don’t get it either… but it is what we hold fast to in the faith. Jesus… like us and yet… God.
At Mt Vernon church we have devoted the summer to reading and preaching through the Gospel of Mark. Why? So that we might once again discover the Jesus of the Bible. Not the Jesus of our traditions, Sunday school experience, or even our spiritual doppelgangers. And for sure not the lethargic, confusing Jesus of the church… whether it be the traditional church or the contemporary “church of what’s happening now.” We are looking to see what the most reliable source says about the One that we call Lord. I would challenge you to do the same.
It is my hope and prayer that as the years go by we look more and more like our Lord and less and less like our past or even our present influences. It’s a difficult, threatening and confusing journey.
So, who are you looking like today?