5th Sunday in Lent (Year B, Revised Readings)
Saturday, April 5, and Sunday, April 6, 2003
Psalm 106 declares, “God saved His people for His Name’s sake.” God had placed His Name on the people of Israel, and in order to uphold the reputation of His Name, God goes to deliver His people.
God saves you for His Name’s sake. God has placed His Name on you through your baptism, and in order to uphold the reputation of His Name, God sent Jesus Christ to deliver you from sin and death. God’s Name is on you; you are His child; He cannot abandon His child. God will travel into dangerous territory to deliver you, to save you, to redeem you.
See what God has done for you through a story.
A father travels into dangerous territory to save his daughter. He saves her for his name’s sake. She had his name, and he wouldn’t abandon his own child. He saved her from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed her. This is the story of that father and daughter.
It is one of the storylines from the movie, Traffic, a 2001 Academy Award winning film. This story of a father going to great lengths to save his daughter gives us an idea of what Psalm 106 is talking about when it talks about God putting His Name on us, becoming our kinsman, the one with the responsibility to redeem us, to save us. This storyline from the movie Traffic exemplifies what God has done. However, this movie is not for the weak of heart or the weak of faith. It is rated R for good reasons. Traffic is a gritty look at drug culture, drug dealing, and the drug war. But in that grit lies the story of a father and daughter. He saves her from the hand of the foe much like God has saved you from sin and death, saved you from being forever separated from His love.
The father is Robert, played by Michael Douglas. Robert is a successful, wealthy man, living an ideal life in an exclusive suburb in Ohio. Robert is also a close personal friend of the President of the United States. The President appoints Robert to be the new national drug czar, the leader in the war on drugs.
Meanwhile, Robert’s daughter, Caroline, played by Erika Christensen, is a high school student at an exclusive private school. Caroline and her friends like to party in their parents’ big mansions, drinking, dabbling in different kinds of drugs. Caroline’s friend introduces her to freebasting cocaine.
The drug czar’s daughter now has a habit of shooting up. God the Father’s chosen people of Israel had a habit of following idols and other gods. God the Father’s adopted children, you and me, have a habit of sinning against Him, going against His ways. We have sinned even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. We are Caroline. We might not be doing drugs, but this story from the movie Traffic can be an allegory, a symbolic story of what is happening to us spiritually. The screenwriter didn’t intend this, but spiritually, we are like Caroline—dabbling with things that go against God’s will, seeking false gods, starting sinful habits that lead us away from God.
Another one of Caroline’s friends overdoses one night. In a panic, she and her friends take this boy to the emergency room, dump him in front of the doors, and drive away. It isn’t long before Caroline’s parents discover that she was involved. They figure she’s had enough of a scare; they figure she won’t touch drugs again.
Robert comes home one night. He goes upstairs, sees the light on in Caroline’s bedroom, and then hears some strange sounds from the bathroom. He tries to open the door; it is locked. Robert demands that Caroline open the door. Finally, she does, stumbling out, obviously in a stupor. Robert searches the bathroom until he finds drugs and drug paraphenalia. Robert is angry and disappointed all at the same time. He is disgusted and worried. And all Caroline can do is curse him and roll her eyes in ecstacy from the drugs.
Caroline is sent to a rehab center, but after doing very well, after trying to get clean and sober, she escapes, she runs away. And we are Caroline. We come before God, we admit our sins, we learn about God’s ways, but then we turn around and sin again. We have a habit we cannot break. We are addicted to sin. We continue to disappoint and anger our God and Father. We forget God and His blessings; we forget what God has done for us. We escape from the spiritual rehab found in Christ; we head back onto the streets looking to score.
Caroline sneaks into her parents’ home and steals jewelry and other things that she can pawn for drugs. She heads into the city and goes to her dealer. She has sex with her dealer to pay for more drugs. Caroline is lost in dangerous territory. Caroline is lost, and Robert, her father, goes to find her. He travels into dangerous territory to save his daughter.
The drug czar in his luxury car travels the streets of the inner city, the ghetto, the war zone. Robert, the national drug czar, travels through the drug world looking day and night for his daughter. Robert looks for his daughter who has gone against him, who is doing the drugs he is working against.
Robert goes to great lengths to find and save his daughter. Robert goes to her dealer. He demands that the dealer tell him where his daughter is. The dealer pulls a pistol and points it at Robert’s head. The dealer will not help him find Caroline.
Undaunted, Robert continues to search, until he finds Caroline in a seedy hotel, locked in a room with a man, prostituting herself for drug money. Robert breaks down the door, tells the man to get lost, and then goes to his daughter. His daughter naked on the bed. His daughter still high on drugs. His daughter who has seen so much evil in such a short time. His daughter who still can’t realize what she’s done or what’s happening. His daughter who says from her drugged state, “Hi, Daddy,” and smiles.
Robert breaks down in tears. He has found his daughter, but he also seen her in the worst position imaginable. Robert cries tears of joy, because he has saved his daughter. Robert cries tears of anguish, because his daughter has been violated, drugged, abused, broken, lost. And yet, Robert has now saved her from the hand of the foe. He could not abandon his child; she has his name. He has redeemed her from the hand of the enemy.
Today God the Father cries tears over you. God cries tears of joy, because He has saved you, His child. He has broken down the door of sin and death, He has thrown out Satan, He has found you in dangerous territory, He has saved you.
God cries tears of anguish, because He knows where you’ve been. He knows that spiritually you’ve been violated, drugged, abused, broken, lost. God never wanted to see you go down such a path. He didn’t want you to get lost in the sins of this world. He didn’t want you to be misled by false gods, idols, false religions, false hopes. He didn’t want you to wander off and be abused by the evil spirits of this world.
God cries tears of anguish, because He knows that truthfully you’ve seen your share of things that you should’ve never seen. You’ve had trouble with addictions. You’ve been in terrible fights of words and fists. You’ve suffered wars and rumors of wars. You’ve seen mangled car wrecks, fires, and violence. You’ve done things you’re not proud of. God cries tears of anguish over you, because this isn’t what a father wants for his child, this isn’t what God the Father wants for His people, His special creation.
And yet, God has now saved you from the hand of the enemy. He could not abandon His child; you have His Name. He has redeemed you from the hand of the enemy. Just as Robert faced the drug dealer with a pistol to his head, so Jesus faced death on a cross. Just as Robert broke down the door to save Caroline, so Jesus broke down the door of hell to proclaim that He was victorious, He would take His children home, He would rescue His people from sin and death.
Jesus has traveled into dangerous territory to save you. It is a gritty tale, admitting where we’ve been. We’ve hated; we’ve lied, cheated, stole. We committed adultery. We lusted. We cursed God. We trusted in false gods. We condemned others and took pride in ourselves. We got drunk and high. We talked behind each other’s backs. We said hateful things. Our lives are a gritty tale. The specifics may be all different, but we’re not that different from Caroline. The story from the movie Traffic can be an allegory for our lives. Caroline symbolizes our sins.
Jesus has traveled into dangerous territory to save you. It is a gruesome tale, showing what Jesus did in order to save us. It is not for the weak of heart or weak of faith. They pounded nails into the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. They nailed Him to a cross. They propped Him up on the cross, letting all of His weight hang from those nails in His flesh. Robert didn’t have to go that far to save Caroline, but Robert shows hints of the love of God, the love that brings Him to go to great lengths to save His people. The story from the movie Traffic can be an allegory. Robert symbolizes what God is willing to do to save His children.
So when you are locked up in a room of sin, when you are trapped by your sinful desires, remember that God travels through dangerous territory to save you. He has not abandoned you. Even when you feel that you are hopeless, that you are beyond help, remember that Jesus came, died on a bloody cross, and broke down the door of hell. Nothing will keep Him away from saving you, rescuing you, delivering you from the hands of the enemy.
When you are locked up in a room of sin, when you realize that you have run away from God, then cry out with Psalm 106 and know that God indeed answers this prayer:
Remember me, O Lord, when You show favor to Your people,
Come to my aid when You save them.
Call out to God. Recall what He has done. You are Caroline, and He is Robert. He will come and find you in the worst trouble imaginable. He will take you; He will save you. You are His child; you can’t make Him stop loving you.
Remember what God has done in Jesus Christ. Call out to Him, and believe His promises and sing His praise. God has saved you from sin and death. God has given you the promise of eternal life. This is the story of a father and his child; this is your story; this is your reality. God will not abandon you; you are His namesake; you are His child. Believe this promise and sing His praise. Amen.