Editor’s note: We believe in a God who actually chose to take on human flesh–and culture–in order to save. This intersection of Gospel and culture has always been a bit of a touchy subject, but one which, by definition, can not be avoided. As Lesslie Newbigin puts it, “there is no such thing as a pure gospel if by that is meant something which is not embodied in a culture.”
First-time contributor Steve Wiechman and the team at CrossPoint, Katy, TX certainly take this truth to heart! Like Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Lewis, and a host of others before him, Wiechman is borrowing a theme from his culture and using it to view the witness of Scripture. Because the preacher is using one thing (Zombies) to talk about something else (our Sin and the gift of our Savior), it’s not surprising that the dynamics of metaphor theory help shape the dynamics of the sermon and the experience of the hearers. In the end, Wiechman is giving his hearers a new way to view a familiar topic. With this cultural lens he helps us see both our sin and our Savior in a new light.
Jesus isn’t only “The Master,” he’s also the master of the cultural metaphor for the sake of the gospel. But since there is a lack of mustard seeds, shepherds, Samaritans and vineyard owners in the west-Houston suburb of Katy, Texas where I have recently moved, the church I just joined decided that Jesus would not be beyond employing zombies as a cultural metaphor for the sake of the gospel.
For five weeks in Lent, CrossPoint Community Church did a series based out of the Gospel of Luke entitled CrossPoint vs. Zombies. To be honest, I didn’t know a thing about zombies or zombie-genre before this. But did you know that the number one television show for the past two years is “The Walking Dead” on AMC? I had no idea!
CrossPoint vs. Zombies was a very provocative series, as you can imagine; it caused great consternation for many regular, church-going types (like my own family)! We do not share the same fascination with our neighbors of watching zombies tear off arms and eat the flesh of living people (especially while eating our lunch!), much less the morbid, nihilistic plot-lines that are devoid of hope.
But because the people around us are shepherds,—um, I mean, zombie-lovers,— we thought appropriating this cultural metaphor for the sake of the gospel is the kind of thing Jesus would have done. Little did I know that Jesus wanted to give me, a former zombie, a new and deeper appreciation for one of His most amazing and mysterious gifts – His Supper.
The following video is a sermon from the second week of the CrossPoint vs. Zombies series. At the beginning is a portion of the theme verse of our series from Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (ESV)
The ESV’s more literal translation of peripateo, or “walking around” dead, was our main law metaphor move. This fits perfectly with the Biblical understanding of original sin and total depravity coram Deo.
It also set us up for moving through the season of Lent with a focus on repentance and dying to ourselves, while drawing closer to the death and resurrection of Jesus as our only salvation from the zombie-lives we live, at least according to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.
This particular sermon has three main moves:
- Revisit where we started in week one – zombie culture and how to kill a zombie
- Focus in on the specific metaphor “zombies have an insatiable appetite for flesh”
- Gospel move – Jesus, understanding our insatiable appetite for sin and flesh, willingly gives us His flesh to undead us
Check out the video and then we’ll talk a little more about how metaphor theory showed up in the sermon to take a very contemporary cultural theme and employ it in the service of an eternal promise of God in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you loved this sermon and thought the zombie hook was exactly what this culture needs to connect it in a real way to the very foreign concept of sacrament; some thought that. Maybe you thought this sermon was too far afield to speak to you effectively; some thought that, too. But either way, notice how the basic dynamics of metaphor theory helped shape the way this sermon brought a first-century moment (which, by the way, recapitulated an event some 2,000 years prior) into a cultural context some 2,000 years removed.
[This section walks through the four metaphor moves https://justinrossow.com/the-basics/preaching-metaphors-we-live-by/
So as not to get lost in the metaphor, I will not deal with the introduction of the sermon which revisits the first week of the series and establishes that zombies are actually “real,” Biblically speaking. All that is going on here is establishing a connection between zombie-culture and the Biblical understanding that we can walk around dead. Theologically speaking, we are dealing with original sin and total depravity. However, to stick with the main metaphor for this sermon, we will skip this first part, which lasts from the beginning to the 6:12 mark.
Evoke the Source Domain
Beginning at 6:12 [this section runs from 6:12-8:47], I start to evoke the source of zombies and their insatiable hunger for human flesh. I begin by referencing the most popular television show for two years running, The Walking Dead. In doing so, I open up a culturally-packed metaphor that will have a lot of meaning for some people already, and virtually none for others. For those who don’t have any zombie-IQ (like myself), I identify parts of the source domain relevant for this week’s message: insatiable appetite, disgusting eating habits, and an innate hunger that drives them to do only one thing – eat humans.
Map to the Target Domain (in the World of the Text)
At the 8:47 mark [8:47-11:37], I begin to map the source of “zombies’ insatiable hunger for human flesh” to the target of the disciples in the upper room for the Passover with Jesus. You’ll notice that I carry over zombie-language into the sharing of Luke’s account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Two things are at work here already: the bookends to the Supper of Judas seeking to devour Jesus on his own terms, and the disciples seeking to devour each other as they debate who is the greatest; and the eating of the Passover, which becomes the eating of the Lord’s Supper. In the context of “zombies’ insatiable hunger,” we now have disciples devouring each other, and a supper that followers of Jesus have celebrated to this day with holy reverence.
A lot of this I’m just allowing to stew, without any explicit mapping. The main connection I make at this point is that the disciples are being zombies – devouring each other.
It’s at this point that I begin to map the source of “zombies’ insatiable hunger” to the lives of the hearers. The first move [11:47-12:07] I make is for the regular church-goer and the already-Lutheran, as I share the historic confession of the church, “I am by nature sinful and unclean.”
This confession is a confession of a zombie – a walking-dead person. I don’t explore this at all. I just allow this very familiar phrase for the already-initiated to sit in the context of flesh-eating zombies and disciples devouring each other at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. You can not like zombies or zombie-genre, but you can’t escape that the Church has historically seen itself in this way.
Map to the Target Domain (in the World of the Hearers)
I quickly move on to mapping the source [12:07-13:07] to all the hearers at a very practical, every-day level as I map the “disgusting” nature of zombie hunger to their lives. In a very bold attack (like you might see in a zombie movie), I expose sexual lust and pornography, emotional and physical codependence, workplace competition, and social-media assaults as evidence of our zombie-living and insatiable hunger to devour each other. Notice the inferences about sin that are uniquely highlighted in this metaphor: our sin is repulsive, disgusting!
Now it is time to drive the metaphor toward the hearers’ relationship with God. To do this, I return to Judas, and how our appetite for sin will drive us to want to consume even Jesus on our own terms, just as he did. This brings us to the height of the plot of the sermon – we are walking dead, we devour each other, and we will not change – so, what are we to do?
Zombie-genre is marked by nihilism – the belief that things will not get better, but worse; the lack of all hope; utter despair. In contrast, I interject the miracle of the Lord’s Supper [at 14:00], just as Luke does in his record of it in his gospel account – right between the zombie attacks of Judas and the disciples.
And what is even more beautiful about this miracle, is that it is a meal! At the 15:25 mark I make the main move of the message, that Jesus offers his flesh and blood willingly to the walking dead. But this raises a very difficult question: “Why?”
The rest of the message deals with this question, and the main answer flows from the metaphor that has guided us all along – if we aren’t devouring Jesus (on His terms), we will devour each other. Only Jesus’ body and blood, given on His own terms, will satisfy our insatiable hunger for sin and death, undeading us and making us alive to God and His kingdom and the people around us.
See Through A New Lens
I do not test the limits of the “zombies’ insatiable hunger” metaphor; instead I use the remaining time in the message to see my own depravity and hunger for sin, and the gift of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper through a new lens. I was amazed at how this new lens made me much more aware of my insatiable appetite to devour other people in all kinds of ways – especially those closest to me. In fact, we began to use the language of zombies around my house when we noticed our appetites for consuming each other.
At the same time, this zombie-image gave me a new and deeper appreciation for the Lord’s Supper. I have longed for and loved the Lord’s Supper for many years. But seeing it in this new way has enhanced my need and my hunger for what Jesus offers, while deepening the nature and depth of His gift. I don’t want to devour my friends and family; Jesus’ body and blood not only forgives, it keeps my zombie hunger in check. That changes the way I see communion!
The end of the sermon is a call to eat the free food that Jesus offers. Unfortunately, the church that I just joined was not celebrating the Lord’s Supper that day. However, I encouraged the hearers toward the Lord’s Supper the next weekend and the Wednesday following which would bookend a three-day fast. The fast took the metaphor of eating/devouring and put it in the context of the bodily experience of eating for the hearer. This physical experience actually served to create a real longing for the physical/spiritual Supper the next weekend.
I went into this sermon series a little apprehensive, but I discovered that the imagery of walking dead and devouring other people is actually Biblical! More than that, the Gospel of Jesus and His life-giving gift is enriched by viewing it through the lens of food and hunger: we feast on Jesus that we may not devour each other.
Who knew that zombie-genre could actually open my eyes to a deeper appreciation and understanding of this amazing and mysterious gift from Jesus? I hope you’re hungry. Bon appetite!
Steve Wiechman | Executive Pastor | CrossPoint Community Church | Katy, TX
Great stuff here, Steve!
You do a really good job of taking the theory and using it to help shape your preaching. Well done!
A couple of further notes from a metaphor theory perspective:
1. Unknown to Known
In this sermon, you are actually moving from the Unknown (Zombie Lore) into the Known (Lord’s Supper); metaphor sometimes gets touted as always moving from the Known to the Unknown. But by reversing the common direction, you take a topic we think we know a lot about and are comfortable with, and make it more foreign and uncomfortable for the purpose of giving us a new understanding. This is very good stuff.
2. Creating a Blend
Because the mapping from Zombie cure to the Lord’s Supper breaks down (like all metaphors do if you push them too far), you have blended in a second metaphor, a metaphor involving eating to fill us up. The blending is already taking place earlier, but it is clearly expressed at 20:18: “If we are not feeding on Christ, we are feeding on each other.”
The identical vocabulary hides the fact that these are two very different kinds of “feeding,” but it also blends the metaphors seamlessly. Your work with the Psalm and Isaiah 55 evokes the other eating metaphor you are blending into the Zombie metaphor; it works well.
The closing section on God feeding us Jesus is framed in Zombie language but is actually running with the second “feeding” metaphor.
3. Thinking in Metaphor
I love the way you reason from within the narrative structure (or blend) when you ask, “When your sinful appetite kicks in, what are you going to devour? More of each other or more of Jesus?” Thinking from within the metaphor gives me a new way of looking at my sin and a new way of looking at God’s Word, and it relates the two in a way that makes it seem natural an obvious what I want to do–my sin is revolting! Of course I want to feed on Jesus!
Thanks for a challenging sermon and a thoughtful commentary! God bless your ministry at CrossPoint!
I love to hear God’s Word being applied to our daily living! This is great stuff!