Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interesting: "The Last Word"

This video was posted on Vimeo by a friend of a friend, who wrote, produced, directed, and even appears in this dramatic video short. I think it was a project for a film class, and I really liked it. Gritty, insightful, a tad slow-moving, but superbly scored, it really draws you in, and I love the closing statement.

Take a look and then I'll give you my two cents worth below.

The Last Word

So what is this short film about? Essentially about the power of love, particularly when love, as opposed to hate, has the last word. The clip from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the end was given in his "A Time to Break the Silence" speech about the Vietnam War. The partuclar line of love being the 'last word' is a quote he makes of Arnold Toynbee. Here's the broader text of that speech:

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."

(Click here for the full text of this speech of Dr. King's, with the audio recording of it)

In this short film, the first 'word', that is the first set of scenes, is violence, fear, lonliness, and pain. The second set of scenes shows what happens when love has the last word. Violence is abrogated, lonliness is offset, fear and pain find reconciliation and restitution.

In the realm of Christian theology, there are Two Words, Law and Gospel. There is the first Word from God, that of Law, and the Second Word from God, that of Love (or Grace). The First Word of Law reveals what God declares to be right and wrong (it is wrong for a person to assault another, for example). It also reveals human behavior to be radically short of keeping that law. Specifially, the First Word exposes the violence, lonliness, fear, and pain in our world and lives for what they really are.

The Second Word, the Word of Love/Grace, speaks to the crushing weight of our plight and does not tell us what to 'do', but indicates to us what God has already 'done'. Grace shows us that God has taken upon himself the violence, fear, evil, and shame of our world. He has donel this of his own initiative, for his purposes, and as indicative of his wondrous nature, not , as L'Oreal claims, "Because I'm worth it!"

So this film, while clearly not explicitly Christian, it is underpinned by very strong Christian ideas, whether intentionally or unintentionally so. Discuss amongst ya-selves.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Foolishness & Power

1Corinthians 1:10-18 This is the second installment of the sermon series on 1 Corinthians from January 23rd. The overarching idea for this series on the first four chapters of this magnificent letter is that there is always a disparity in real life between the ideal and the actual.
On one had are the things we know we should be thinking, saying, feeling, and doing, and on the other are the things we actually do, say, think, and feel. The message of the Gospel is that the thing which fills this disparity gap is power and grace of Jesus Christ- if we try to fill it ourselves we will tear ourselves and those around us apart.

Often the way we fill the gap between the ideal and actual is with good intentions. How often have you heard the saying, "It's the thought that counts"? Now, there is nothing wrong with good intentions, but they will only get you so far, and assuring yourself with the maxim, "It's the thought that counts" really works with the odd Christmas present. In ongoing, regular life such a mentality becomes toxic.

For example, in Jurassic Park III (yes they made a third one), there is an incident when Dr. Grant's assistant Billy steals some veloca raptor eggs and consequently they are hunted by the angry dinosaurs who want their eggs back. When Grant (played by Sam Neill) discovers the theft as the cause of this hounding, he confronts Billy, who justifies his actions by claiming he thought Dr. Grant would like the specimens and that he had good intentions when he did it. To which Dr. Grant replies with the immortal words, "Some of the worst things imagninable have been done with good intentions."

And so it is for us. Good intentions will not and can not fill the gap between what is ideal and actual.

Now, with this in mind, we're going to take a look at the Corinthian church: the church with "Issues." In particular, the first Issue that Paul addresses is divisions in the church. -pause...put on shocked face-

Yes, there was once a church that didn't get along with itself. What was causing the rifts was essentially a form of self righteousness. One group thought they were pretty special because so-and-so baptized them, verses the other group who were proud to name such-and-such as their 'favorite apostle.'

People will always find ways to commend themselves over and against each other, and try to do so with God. This is what Paul calls foolishness. It makes sense to the ones doing it, but their 'wisdom' is in fact foolish, because there is really nothing that we can do to commend ourselves to God.

What Paul does care about, is their trust in the cross of Jesus Christ. Is is Jesus alone who has the power to commend us to God the Father, and we are in him by virtue of our trust in the power of his shed blood to cleanse us of all self-righteousness (i.e. sin). Thus Paul says, "I desired to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified.

On the cross God did something very foolish. Foolish in the eyes of silly little humans like us. He died for the unworthy. When God came to the earth he didn't show up to open a self-help shop, he didn't come to raise an army of bedraggled volunteers to 'eat the rich' (Aerosmith), he died. That's not what we want our cosmic blessing pinata to do. We want God to fix stuff for us. We want God to be cosmic IT support. We want him to have Sith lightning and dazzle us. This is human 'wisdom'. But Jesus died. That's not what we expect. But Paul sets us straight and says our view is foolish, but God is his wisdom, demonstrates his love for the ungodly.

God poured out his grace not to help and validate the righteous, but for those who were dead in sin. As the hymn so beautifully puts it, "Here is love vast as the ocean, loving kindness as a flood; when the Prince of Life our ransom, shed for us his precious blood. Grace and love like mighty rivers, poured incessiant from above; and heaven's grace and perfect justice, kissed a guilty world in love."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Distance between Ideal and Actual

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 This sermon from January 16th marks the start of a new series on the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, which we'll be studying through to the end of February. The governing idea for this series is this: there is always a distance between the ideal things and what actually is. There are always the ideal expectations that we have for all kinds of things, there are always ideal demands on behavior and on systems and governments. Think about campaign time in politics. We vote leaders in primarily based on the ideal platform that they present, and then spend the next few years frustrated at them because what actually happens is not what was promised. Think about relationships, especially marriage. When I counsel couples who are preparing to get married, the number one issue that we have to address is expectations. All married couples enter into the covenant of wedlock with very different and sometimes extremely high expectations about what their marriage will be like and what their spouse will be like. Sometimes the distance between the ideal adn the actual is huge, sometimes it is small. But is is always there. What about Christians. Why is it that some of the rudest, most difficult people you will meet are Christians? Ideally, Christians are to be loving, joyful, faithful, generous, kind, gentle, and excellent. In actuallity, Christians are rarely anywhere close to this (here's an interesting trailer for a documentary called, "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.") If ever there was a Church that had a huge distance between the ideal and the actual, it was Corinth. According to St. Paul, they did stuff that even the pagans didn't do! Corinth sat on a major overland trade route that connected the Aegean and Adriatic seas. It was weathy, ecclectic, big, and debauched. It had, to use a therapeutic term, "issues". Like, issues with a capital "I". Like George Costanza type issues. And yet, when Paul writes to them he begins his letter by calling them, "the saints in Corinth...who are sanctified in Christ." What's going on with that?! How can such aweful people be addressed in such a way. Was Paul delusional adn pollyanna-ish, or was he ignoring or downplaying their issues? Certainly not, because he lets them have it for 15 chapters. The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to this distance between the ideal, that is our justified/righteous status through faith in Christ, and the actual, that is our struggle against sin and the very subjective state of our day to day holiness. Luther referred to this reality in the phrase: simul iustus et peccator - 'at the same time righteous and sinner.' So what fills the gap between the ideal and the actual? What fills the void between what we ought to do and what we don't do. Certainly, if we try to fill that gap on our own we will destroy ourselves. There are people who are driven to perfection: they see the ideal and they want it. And they will step on or push aside anyone to get it. Sometimes this pursuit of perfection is all about money. Sometimes power. Sometimes sex. And the list goes on. And the first thing that will be damaged if you try to pursue the ideal on your own is your family, because they will always fall short of your ideal. And so you will get frustrated and angry and squash them. No, it's not ourselves that fills the gap. It is only the grace of God which fills that gap between the ideal and the actual. Paul says that he gives "thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus." God's love of the unworthy, the people who are trapped in actual, comes through his gracious gifts and his power to sustain them through their lives and be presented to God in the end as blameless.