Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lights, Cameras, Actions!...

Since I began preaching weekly, I’ve maintained what I consider a fun tradition. Every January, I’ve taken a break from our usual sermon practice and looked to movies for guidance. The Cinema Sermon Series, we call it, always matching film with scripture, believing that this interplay between sacred text and contemporary storytelling can shine new light on our faith. But the selections I make aren’t just random. The series isn’t, “Let’s watch Shane’s favorite flicks!” Indeed, several movies I find profound spiritual value in (like Dogma or Fight Club) haven’t made the cut, and probably won’t, alas.

Rather, I always attempt to explore a theme I believe will be useful to us over the coming year. 2015 will continue that practice, though I’ve made one perhaps significant shift. This year, I’m connecting the CSS theme with a larger subject that will occupy our attention through Lent. In other words, the movies and scriptures we pair together will tell part of a bigger story I’m betting will matter to us in 2015. Or I should say that “we’re betting,” since I had help from the Servant Leaders in crafting this direction.

So without further ado, here’s what you can expect from church this Winter and Spring. First, the overarching theme will be a question: What’s so great about Jesus? Last autumn, we asked a series of challenging questions about faith, God and modern life. The Sunday School learned about Judaism and Islam. It was wonderful! Yet through it all ran the issue of Christian identity. Our church does well at being open-hearted and open-minded, welcoming neighbors of diverse practices, family structures and beliefs. But how do we practice those life-affirming values while naming what distinguishes our church, our lives as Christians?

Well, the most basic answer, most would say and they’re right, is Jesus; what he said, what he did, who he was. But aren’t there seemingly as many descriptions of Jesus as there are different churches?! Plus, many famous claims about Christ don’t align well with the values that inspire our church. So we’re going to tackle this identity question head on, now until Easter, asking, “What’s so great about Jesus?” Because he’s pretty great, I think…

Ultimately, our journey in answering that question be an exercise in contrasts, inspired by early Christians whose description of Jesus’ greatness was that he’s fully God and fully human, in some mysterious, remarkable way. The CSS begins the quest. Here’s its title- Jesus: The Ultimate Hero. Therefore, we’re watching hero movies, because hero movies are awesome. The first- for this Sunday, January 11 (screening at church the Saturday before at 1pm, as with all our movies)- will be 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Then, we’ll watch Batman: The Dark Knight, The Lego Movie and end with one of American cinema’s greatest heroes, however atypical, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The scriptures will all be famous scenes and sayings for Jesus’ life in the Gospels. We’ll study those scriptures together during Sunday School (9am; come and grow!). That will take us to Lent.

Then, we’ll flip the script entirely. Our Lenten title will be- Jesus: The Vulnerable Anti-Hero. Again, our source material will be significant stories and saying from his life, but this time, they’ll highlight his hardships, his difficulties, those moments he seems very human, and approachable. Taken together, then, to and through Easter, we’ll paint a broad picture of this man we’ve learned to call Savior, whose life and love inspired the dynamic values that still inspire us.

And that remain critical to the world around us, which Christ urged us not just to serve, but to invite into community of faith. That’s hard for modern churches like ours who’re rightly sensitive about respecting neighbors’ opinions. Yet one great thing about Jesus was how hospitable he was, while also practicing kindness. This year, I hope we can learn that story better, how to tell it better, how to live it better. For as our denomination describes us, we’re called to be and share the Good News of Jesus. News some might even describe as great!

Grace and Peace,
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