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"Shine Like Stars"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 12, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

They've been called the world's most famous stars on the world's most famous sidewalk. The Hollywood Walk of Fame features stars set in the sidewalk to commemorate famous people and even a few famous dogs. Alongside Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, there are famous singers, actors, entertainers, celebrities of all kinds. Even the Reverend Billy Graham, the famous radio preacher and televangelist, has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. We call celebrities stars because like their astronomical counterparts, they shine. Like Billy Graham at a big tent revival meeting, stars attract, sometimes dramatically.

In 1987, the famous actor Burt Reynolds, wrote an introduction to a book about the Hollywood Walk of Fame. By the way, I asked my 18-year-old daughter if she knew who Burt Reynolds was, and she said, "Never heard of him." Anyway, in the introduction, Burt Reynolds tells a story about an adoring fan. The woman so badly wanted to meet him that she literally mailed herself to him. She had herself shipped in a box. Makes you wonder who signed off on that delivery. Now, the actor was out of town when the shipping container was delivered, nobody was home, so the poor woman had to claw herself out of the packing crate she'd delivered herself in. She never met Burt Reynolds. I suppose she had to settle for adoring his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It sometimes said that ours is a culture of celebrity. Social commentator's lament over problems that come with celebrity culture. Granted most of us are not packing ourselves in crates and having ourselves delivered to famous actors. The problems that come with celebrity culture aren't so dramatic, but that doesn't make them any less serious. Researchers and child psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles conducted a study of how TV programs designed for younger children have encouraged different values over time.

From 1967 to 1997, the top values promoted on children's shows were being kind, helping others, and being part of a group. Think Sesame Street. In 2007 after Facebook and YouTube were really taking off the top value promoted by kids shows was fame, being famous. Think of the program American Idol. And why wouldn't kids be attracted to being famous, to becoming celebrities? Celebrity promises to meet one of our deepest human needs. The desire to be known, to be respected, valued, celebrated. To be a celebrity is to be celebrated, celebrated by many more people than you could ever know. Celebrated by more people than you could ever celebrate in return. And therein lies the problem: too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Or maybe it's that too much of a good thing makes that good thing become something other than it appears to be.

We celebrate our favorite celebrities, but do we really know them? Social media lets us know someone's persona but not their person. We know they're curated, publicized self, but not their real self. Celebrity gives the illusion of intimacy, of personal knowing, but not the real thing. To know someone personally, you have to be close to them—to learn what they love and what they hate to experience their good days and their bad ones. The woman who delivered herself to Burt Reynolds thought she knew him. She had watched all his movies, studied his interviews. She knew that she had the perfect gift for him: herself. But she didn't know him. It was an illusion she had created for herself.

We can also look at the problem of celebrity from the other side, from the perspective of the celebrity. Celebrity promises to meet our need for relationship, to know and be known in return, but it doesn't deliver on that promise. In our era of mass media, celebrities are mass produced just as quickly as one celebrity is made, they are displaced and replaced by new celebrities. A common theme among people who have experienced super stardom is loneliness.

Take for example, pop star or Justin Bieber. Now if you knew who Rin Tin Tin was, you probably don't know who Justin Bieber is, but take my word for it. He's famous. He is a superstar. Justin Bieber explained to Rolling Stone magazine why he started refusing to take photos with his fans. He said, "It has gotten to the point that people won't even say hi to me or recognize me as a human. I feel like a zoo animal." Justin realized that not only did his fans not know him, maybe they didn't even want to know him. All they knew was that his persona made them feel good about themselves, and they thought, "Maybe if I have a picture of myself with such a well-known person, I will be a little more well-known, more respected, more celebrated." Celebrity even on the smallest scale is a problem because it doesn't deliver what it promises." It can't deliver because you and I can't truly be celebrated unless we are known, and we can't truly be known without proximity, without the story slowly accumulated over seasons and days and years, stories shared in physical closeness with other people. But closeness is difficult because when you truly get close to someone, to anyone, you see that they have baggage just like you do. A persona is exciting, but a real person can be a real drag with baggage, insecurities, and issues.

Even stars collapse, eventually. It is an observable fact of nature that stars, astronomically speaking, collapse. They burn out and implode. And you know what happens when a really, really big star implodes? It becomes a black hole. As far as we know, a black hole has the heaviest baggage in the universe. To illustrate, imagine you're holding a small carry-on suitcase empty. It weighs five, maybe ten pounds. But let's say we had a suitcase sized chunk of the core of a black hole and we put it inside your suitcase. Now, your baggage would be really heavy. That suitcase would be a thousand times heavier than planet earth with its own gravitational force. A thousand times greater than earth's. A black hole, a collapsed superstar can be a real drag. It is the most needy object in the universe, so to speak. Nothing can escape its pull for attention.

Nothing can escape its need to be respected. And when you get close to any human being, superstar or not, you discover that everyone has their own black hole tendencies, not just celebrities. Some people who bemoan our celebrity culture long for the old days when things were different. But we're the old days different? Yes, modern mass media has changed our expectations of knowing others and being known by them. But our core human problem is no different now than it was thousands of years ago. The core problem is that we expect humans to give us what we need: whether delivering ourselves to a celebrity in a crate or asking for a selfie with them, whether we're looking to fans and friends for recognition or looking to ourselves for fulfillment, the problem is the same. You and I act as if humans can fill this bottomless black hole in our hearts and we all get sucked into the illusion.

Two thousand years ago, a Jewish man named Paul wrote a letter to a small community of people living in an ancient Greek city called Corinth. These people were dealing with the same problem that we've been talking about. The ancient Corinthians had their own version of a celebrity culture. As their community was coming together, they started to get sucked into divisions. One subgroup said, "I follow Paul," the famous guy who had started their community. Another subgroup said, "I follow Apollos," the local celebrity who star had risen after Paul had left Corinth. Now, Paul hears about this and he writes them a letter, the letter now called 1 Corinthians. In the letter Paul addresses the problem. He reminds them that no human being can meet their need, but only God, their Creator.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, servants through whom you came to know God and trust God each as God gave. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."

See, human beings can't give us what we need, because human beings in relation to God aren't givers. We are receivers. Only God is true Giver. What could we give that we didn't first receive from God as a gift? At our best, we can re-gift. We can pass on God's gifts. At our worst, we get puffed up as though we were the source of our gifts and accomplishments and virtues. And then we collapse under the weight of our own gravity and become so inwardly curved that we cut ourselves off from God and the rest of the universe like a black hole. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he references the story of the Bible. It's the story of the Creator who loves what He has made and loves to give good gifts.

God created human beings to be conduits of God's gifts, to be gifts with gifts to share. But we got all puffed up. We pursued super stardom, so God showed us that the way up is down. God came down into the hole. God's Son, God's Word, the Giver of all gifts came down. He had Himself delivered to us in a human container, in human form. Jesus became human, and He lived for us. He was crucified for us. He took our baggage, our deepest depression, the lowest place.

Scientists following Einstein's theory of relativity, now imagine outer space not as flat and empty nothingness, but as something, a space-time continuum with mysterious features and contours. And so, they say that stars can become black holes. Stars can collapse under their own gravity, until the space around them becomes so curved, so depressed, that they cut themselves off from the rest of the universe.

And scientists speculate if something falls into a black hole is it lost forever, or can the hole become a conduit, a wormhole, a time warp, leading somewhere new. Now, since the closest black hole is roughly 1,600 light years away, it's hard to imagine how we could ever conduct such an experiment. For now, we can only speculate. We don't know. But what we do know is that Paul and the other early Christians believed that God raised Jesus from the dead. They believed, and we believe with them, that in the resurrection of Jesus, God opened something like a time warp. The Creator of this mysterious, ginormous, contoured universe did something just as amazing as when He created it all out of nothing. God went down into the black hole to save us. God pulled our broken past and our promised future together into the present with Jesus, and now the way up for you is not to try to claw yourself out. The way up is down into Jesus, down into the waters of Baptism, to be crucified and raised with Jesus, entrust yourself to Him, be signed, sealed, and delivered over to Him.

You can trust Him because Jesus turns celebrity on its head. Celebrity personas are known by more people than they could ever know in return, but Jesus already knows everybody intimately and can be known by them. He knows you and can be known to you. So let Him take your hand and pull you through whatever hole you've made for yourself, back to life, back to God.

I'm no Billy Graham, but as a radio preacher, sometimes I receive letters and messages from listeners. They tell me that they've listened long enough that they feel like they know me well enough to consider me a friend. It feels strange to have a stranger say that to you, but I understand what they mean. I have my own favorite programs that I listen to, speakers and authors that I follow, and I also feel like I know them well enough to call them friends. But then I have to remind myself that this is only an illusion. It is a byproduct of mass media which allows a living person to be known or at least known of by far more people than they could ever know in return.

Author Katelyn Beaty in her book, Celebrities for Jesus, talks about the danger celebrity poses to pastors and other servants of God's kingdom. Beatty defines celebrity as the chance to influence without knowing or being known by those you are influencing. And celebrity likes to whisper to the person held in its power. "They can't go on without you. They need you." This temptation is as real today as it was for Paul and Apollos and the church in Corinth, and so we need to hear God's message through Paul: "Neither the one who plants, nor the one who waters is anything but only God who gives the growth."

If friendship does come to you through this broadcast, then it is Jesus offering His friendship through me, His servant, His conduit. And Jesus will keep sending Himself to you, whoever happens to be speaking on this program. In this mortal life, I may not have the opportunity to know you and celebrate you, but Jesus does. I am limited by this space-time continuum, but Jesus isn't. I can't be in proximity with you, but Jesus can. He is present now in His Word. He is present in your local worshiping community that gathers around His body and blood hidden in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. Jesus Himself has delivered Himself to you again and again and again, so that He can be known by you. And He is with you so that others can know Him through you. You and I are His stars, His sisters and brothers, God's sons and daughters gathered together in a constellation, shining for the One who loves us and created us.

Please pray with me, Lord Jesus, take our warped longing for celebrity and give us intimacy. Give us life together with You, with the people in our local church, with the people in our household and neighborhood, so that everyone would know You, even as they are fully known by You. Because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for February 12, 2023

Title: Shine Like Stars

Mark Eischer: For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to

You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we're back with our Speaker, Dr. Mike Zeigler. We were talking about celebrity and stars, famous people today. I'm wondering who's the most famous person you've ever met?

Mike Zeigler: Twenty years ago, I met then-President Bill Clinton. I was on military duty and several of us had the opportunity to go out to Washington, D.C., to meet the president. It was over Veterans Day weekend, and they were unveiling the new World War II Monument. Have you ever seen that one?

Mark Eischer: Right, right, right.

Mike Zeigler: Okay. So they had this special event, and we got to shake President Clinton's hand. Also, I remember in the room was Tom Hanks, the actor, because he had a real big part in getting that monument established. I didn't get to meet him. But we were in the same room, and so I had my friend take a picture, and I photo-bombed in the back. So that was my second closest call.

Mark Eischer: Okay. You met him, but he didn't necessarily meet you.

Mike Zeigler: No. No, I was just some weird guy sticking his head in the background.

Mark Eischer: Who's that guy with Mike Zeigler?

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, that's right.

Mark Eischer: Well, I'm thinking here of celebrities that I've either met or seen walking through an airport somewhere. Britt Ekland?

Mike Zeigler: No.

Mark Eischer: Amy Grant?

Mike Zeigler: Yeah.

Mark Eischer: Robert Keeshan?

Mike Zeigler: No.

Mark Eischer: Captain Kangaroo, does that ring a bell?

Mike Zeigler: I now of it; I have heard of it.

Mark Eischer: Brian Kilmeade, Elvis Costello, and Al Roker.

Mike Zeigler: All right. Maybe half, I'd recognize the names.

Mark Eischer: Okay. Well, there's A-list, B-list and C-list, aren't there?

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, I guess there's always someone more famous.

Mark Eischer: Have you ever met, let's call it a fan, who thought they knew you, but had an entirely incorrect impression of you?

Mike Zeigler: Well, when we have listeners who are faithful, they know my voice, sometimes they'll say that like, "Oh, I recognized your voice, but I had no idea what you looked like." And they say all kinds of things. Very often, they comment on my baldness. They didn't realize I was bald. So I guess it's good that my lack of hair doesn't come through on the radio.

Mark Eischer: What are the dangers of Christian celebrity, if there is such a thing?

Mike Zeigler: That's a good question. The book that I mentioned in the sermon, I read it to prepare for this, it's titled, Celebrities for Jesus, by Katelyn Beaty. Katelyn Beaty is a journalist, and she examines this phenomenon of Christian celebrity. And she talks about the difference between fame and celebrity. She says fame's always been around, but more often than not, you weren't famous until you were dead. It just took longer for word to get out about the great thing you did or whatever. But celebrity is different. It's something new that has come with the introduction of mass media, and so celebrities now can be made overnight.

Mark Eischer: And Andy Warhol's famous prediction has come true when he said that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

Mike Zeigler: Okay. Now I've heard the phrase, "Your 15 minutes of fame," but I didn't know that it comes from that quote.

Mark Eischer: Based on that. And with the rise of social media, fame has become more spread out. Maybe more egalitarian, but also more fleeting.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, yeah. Fleeting is true, and I think that's part of the toxic side to celebrity. It's on the one hand, is a person seeking celebrity. You can never get enough of it. And once you get, it flies away. You can't hang onto it. The other way that it can be toxic for the person who has it or who is had by celebrity is that is there's a temptation to put yourself in the place of God for other people and so that's, of course, dangerous.

But then also for the Christian church and the mission of the Christian church, it's also just shortsighted. Because if you think about the mission of the church, it is to know God and to make Him known, to know Jesus and to make Him known. And God, as He's revealed in the Bible, wants to be known to us through relationships with other people, specifically with other Christians. That's how He makes Himself known. He wants us to experience intimacy with Him through intimacy with other people.

So you think about the life of a Christian household or a Christian marriage. This is where you really learn how to practice the faith, bearing with each other's burdens and forgiving each other and being forgiven. This happens in the Christian congregation. This is where God makes Himself present, the presence of Christ and the presence of other Christians, in the bread and wine, the body and blood of the Lord's Supper. That's where Jesus gives Himself to us with others, in the preaching of the local pastor, the unknown non-celebrity pastor week after week after week, delivering God's Word to His people.

Mark Eischer: So these are the venues in which we are shining like stars.

Mike Zeigler: Right. It's the local church. That's where God does His work. And, of course, more often than not, not everybody is the Crystal Cathedral. Most churches are unknown to the world, but nonetheless, loved by God and known by God.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Songs of Thankfulness and Praise" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"Songs of Thankfulness and Praise" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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