Thursday, August 16, 2007

Luke 5:17-26 - “The Gospel According to Cars the Movie”

Vacation Bible School
(Northwestern Publishing House materials)
Thursday, August 16, and Sunday, August 2007

A year ago I was sitting in the parking lot enjoying our first ever Outdoor Movie Night that followed our Thursday evening service during Vacation Bible School, and now here we are ready to enjoy our 2nd annual Outdoor Movie Night. Yet, a year ago is when I started imagining this year’s event - showing the movie Cars with a car show in the parking lot to go along with it.

Well, then, a few months later the publisher of our Vacation Bible School materials announced that their theme for 2007 would be “Making Tracks,” a train theme. This was excellent. It would be a whole transportation theme for the week: trains, a movie about cars, a car show. The only thing left to do to complete the theme was pick an appropriate mission project, so it seemed natural to pick Meals on Wheels.

So now we’re here—trains, Cars the movie, a whole collection of vehicles in the parking lot, and already the VBS students have raised ______ for Meals on Wheels which translates into _______ meals for the elderly and disabled. [Note: they ended up raising $1100 which at $3.50 a meal is around 314 meals].

Yet, there was always one catch in my whole vision from a year ago, one concern I had, one question I knew I would need to answer: what does Cars the movie have to do with Jesus?

Disney Pixar’s animated film tells the story of a racecar, Lightning McQueen, who discovers the meaning of friendship when he gets lost in the forgotten town of Radiator Springs along Route 66.

But just because it’s a fun movie doesn’t necessarily mean it’s got much to do with Jesus, so tonight I present to you “The Gospel According to Cars the Movie,” a guide to seeing the connections between the movie and God’s Word.

After all, just as Jesus used parables—stories from everyday life that he connected with the wisdom of God, we can use today’s stories—even cartoons—to connect with the truth of God’s Law and Gospel, His anger over sin and His forgiveness.

As you leave tonight, you’ll receive a paper version of this guide to Cars the movie, but for now, sit back and let’s take a look together at how some of the characters in the movie connect with the themes from each day of Vacation Bible School.

Each day of our train-themed week at VBS focused on a type of train car. I suppose it’s no surprise that we started on Monday focusing on the engine. A train engine has great power to pull all of the cars of the train.

In that same way, as you watch Cars the movie, you’ll see that the main character, Lightning McQueen, has great power. He’s a superfast racecar, a rookie ready to break records, a powerful engine behind a sleek, speedy, cool body.

Both the train engine and McQueen have great power, and both are reminders that Jesus has the power to provide for all our spiritual and physical needs. As we saw at the beginning of the service, through baptism, Jesus has the power to take us into His family. And He has the power to forgive all of our sins. The students learned the story from tonight’s Gospel reading when Jesus healed a paralyzed man who was lowered down into the house where Jesus was teaching. Yes, Jesus healed the man; the man went running and skipping away praising God. But Jesus showed His real power when He also forgave the man’s sins.

(It’s a bit of a spoiler, but just watch to see how McQueen’s actions of helping another racecar “walk” is a great tie-in with how Jesus healed the paralyzed man.)

But Jesus isn’t just a miracle worker; He’s a powerful locomotive pulling the longest train in the world; He’s a racecar that can outrun and outlast any other racer on any circuit. Jesus goes beyond all expectations and forgives our sins, brings us back into God’s love, wipes away every bad mark against us. Now that’s power.

So when you see McQueen tonight revving his engines, think power. Think Jesus. Think the key verse from Monday at VBS: “Great is our Lord and mighty in power” (Psalm 147:5).

Perhaps that was easy—comparing McQueen to the train engine, talking about the power of Jesus, but now we come to Tuesday at VBS when we focused on the hopper or grain car. The grain car carries food that helps people stay healthy, and our teachers taught our students to see that God’s Word is the food that keeps our faith healthy. God’s Word is good food. The verse from that day came from Colossians, “Let the word of Christ live in you richly” (3:16).

But there’s no grain trucks in Cars the movie. There’s no one eating food, because they’re all cars filling up on gasoline from Flo’s V8 CafĂ©, so where’s the connection?

Doc Hudson, the Hudson Hornet, Paul Newman’s character who is the town judge and doctor (mechanic). Doc doesn’t carry grain like a hopper car, but he does carry wisdom that leads McQueen to the right track.

So the grain car carries food to keep people healthy. Doc Hudson carries the food of wisdom to get McQueen healthy in his thoughts and actions. And both the grain car and Doc Hudson are great reminders of the true food we all need, the food of God’s Word, the Bible, where we learn how God puts sin to death and raises us to new life through Jesus. This is the food we need; this is the wisdom we need; “Let the word of Christ live in you richly.”

On Wednesday, the car carrier arrived in our Redeemer Depot. The car carrier on the train is specially designed to keep cars and trucks safe on their journey—designed to take care of precious cargo. Well, there’s certainly a character in Cars the movie that’s designed to carry a car like precious cargo.

That character is Mack, a semi-trailer truck, Lightning McQueen’s driver.

Yes, Mack falls asleep on their way to California eventually letting McQueen fall out the back without noticing, but in large part that’s McQueen’s fault for making Mack drive all night. Mack, in his heart of hearts, is focused on treating McQueen like precious cargo, and his truck is designed to keep McQueen in tip-top shape for each race.

Wednesday is the day the students learned about the parable of the Lost Sheep where Jesus explains that God will go out searching for all of His lost ones. He doesn’t let us wander off and then leave us to find our way back to Him on our own. He goes out looking for us, because we are precious to Him. We are His precious cargo. He is the biggest, best, car carrying train, protecting us and picking us up when we fall off the track. He is the most caring racecar-carrying truck you can imagine; never letting us fall out the back without noticing, never sleeping until He finds us when we do get lost. That’s why we can say the memory verse from Wednesday: “God our Savior. . .wants all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3,4).

Today’s train car was the boxcar which helps us by carrying the goods we need, and who in Cars the movie is the most helpful, help that includes doing a lot of carrying and heavy lifting?

My favorite character, Tow Mater, the loveable, clunky, rustbucket tow truck. Mater’s appearance may fool you, because he’s got a heart of gold. He may look like he’ll fall apart on the way to help someone, but he’s always thinking of others first. Even when the town is mad at McQueen for tearing up their road, Mater lifts McQueen when he crashes, pulls him back to town, and cares for his new best friend.

Well, that’s an excellent picture of how Jesus wants us to live. He has shown His love and friendship to us, so now He calls on us to be boxcars, to be Tow Mater, to be ready to help others. Today’s Bible verse from Galatians says, “Serve one another in love” (5:13). If you watch Cars tonight and don’t see what I mean about Mater being an example of what means to serve others in love, then I’ll know you weren’t watching the movie.

Well, I guess it’s no surprise that tomorrow we’ll end the week by looking at the caboose. A lot of trains today don’t have a caboose anymore, but the caboose is still an icon, a popular image of railroading. I went out to Pinecrest Historical Village earlier this summer with our three-year old, Samuel, and what was his favorite part of our visit? Going in the caboose.

Just as the caboose is a celebrated image of the railroad, so Sally, the town lawyer in Cars, celebrates Radiator Springs and Route 66. Even as the interstate has passed their town by, even as people are in too much of a hurry for a place like Radiator Springs, Sally says, “We’re a town worth fixing.” Sally knows that Radiator Springs and Route 66 are icons, popular images of America, and she wants the whole world to know they exist. She eventually gets her wish when McQueen puts Radiator Springs on the map, so to speak.

And Sally’s actions are exactly what God calls on us to do for the Gospel: put it on the map, celebrate it, show people who Jesus is and what He has done for us. God wants us to tell others about the home of eternal life. Even as the caboose gets people excited about railroads, and even as Sally works to get people excited about Radiator Springs, so God is calling on us to show even more enthusiasm for the forgiveness, life, and salvation we have through Jesus Christ.

When people see a caboose, they think railroads; so when people see us, may they think “Jesus Christ.” When someone like Sally celebrates a town, people start wanting to visit; so, too, when we celebrate Jesus Christ, may people want to visit, learn more, see the power, and get the good food of God’s Word.

That’s been our goal this week at Vacation Bible School: use the train theme as a reminder of God’s Word, so that the students—and you as families—will go out celebrating Jesus Christ, telling all the world about this God that you know. That’s our goal with tonight’s movie: enjoy a movie about cars, but still find ways to see it as a reminder of God’s Word so that we can all celebrate in the parking lot, telling the whole neighborhood that we have a God who is powerful, gives us His wisdom, finds us when we are lost, calls on us to help others, and asks us to be a part of His mission.

Other Connections with Movie (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Psalm 33:12-22 (1 Peter 2:9-10) - “We’re a Chosen People. . .We’re a Holy Nation”

11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14)
(Year C - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Thursday, August 9, and Sunday, August 12, 2007

We’re a chosen people. (sung)

Repeat this after me.

We’re a chosen people. (congregation repeats)
We’re a royal priesthood. (congregation repeats)
We’re a holy nation. (congregation repeats)

That’s a little melody line that was used at the National Youth Gathering in Orlando to start each mass event. The leader sang the line, and then 26,000 youth and leaders repeated it back, singing these words from our theme verse from 1 Peter chapter 2, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

I’ll warn you right now that this won’t be the only sermon where I make reference to the National Youth Gathering. Our team of 15 youth and 3 adults had an incredible experience, and they are coming back with a vision for how to share that enthusiasm for the Lord, a specific plan they’ve already started working on, so I know I’ll talk about the National Youth Gathering again in a sermon in September.

I want to tell you about the National Youth Gathering, because it was so wonderful to spend five days hearing God’s Word, worshipping, singing, dancing, praying, and celebrating Jesus Christ with 26,000 other people. But I also want to tell you about it, because it helped us really realize that God has chosen us—all of us—to be His people, His chosen ones, His priesthood, His servants, His holy nation, a people belonging to God. Which brings us back to the song. Sing it again, repeating after me.

We’re a chosen people. (congregation repeats)
We’re a royal priesthood. (congregation repeats)
We’re a holy nation. (congregation repeats)

When Peter in his letter says that we are chosen, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, he’s connecting us to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, Israel was the chosen one, the priesthood, the holy nation, the people belonging to God, but now that Christ has come, Peter is showing us that we’re a chosen people, we’re a holy nation. All of the blessings and promises that God showered upon Israel in the Old Testament now apply to us through Jesus.

In fact, that’s the connection to be made with our psalm reading today from Psalm 33. When Psalm 33 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,” it is talking about us. We as believers in Christ, disciples of Jesus, the Church of God, we are the nation that is blessed by God. And when I say we are the nation, I’m not talking about our country, our physical, governmental, geographical nation-state.

One of our Christian clipart collections in the office includes the image you have on your insert in today’s bulletin. The one in the top left-hand corner that shows an American flag, a church steeple, and those words from Psalm 33, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” That image sends the completely wrong message if we really understand Psalm 33, if we really understand what it means to be the Church, if we really understand Peter’s words about being a holy nation.

The clipart image implies that we’re blessed because we’re Americans, that Psalm 33 is talking about America trusting in God, that somehow being an American is why we are a chosen people, a holy nation. This clipart is completely misleading. The word “nation” is Psalm 33 has nothing to do with the United States of America. Find a pencil or pen in your pews, find a big, fat marker if you happen to have one in your purse or pocket, and cross that image out. “The nation whose God is the Lord” isn’t about America; “the nation” we’re talking about is the Church, Christians wherever they are.

Think about it for a moment. If this clipart image was right, it would mean that anyone outside the United States of America is not included in the full promise of God. If America is the blessed nation, then what about my friend from the seminary who was called to serve a congregation in Canada? Are he and his congregation less blessed? Could they change the clipart to have a Canadian flag like you have on your insert, or would they just always have to say, “If only we were Americans, we could be that blessed”?

That can’t be what Psalm 33 and 1 Peter are about. When we sing, We’re a holy nation, it’s not about being American or Canadian. Cross out the clipart image with the Canadian flag.

Now, of course, you see there in the bottom left-hand corner another option we might think of right away. If America isn’t the blessed nation that Psalm 33 is talking about, then perhaps it is talking about Israel, today’s Israel. Except that right off the bat we’ve got to admit that Israel doesn’t seem to be the blessed nation talked about in the Old Testament. The borders of modern Israel don’t match the borders described in the God’s original Promised Land land grant. And even more than that, how can we as believers in Jesus, those who believe that Jesus is the Promised Savior, the One who fulfills God’s plan of salvation from the Old Testament, how could we call modern Israel the blessed nation when today’s Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One?

Modern Israel can’t be what Psalm 33 and 1 Peter are about. Cross that one out, too. Make sure you’ve crossed out the clipart images with the American flag, the Canadian flag, and the Israeli flag. Cross those three out until you’ve just got the one in the bottom right-hand corner, the one with just the church steeple, the one with no flag, no nation-state. Psalm 33, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” this verse isn’t about geographical boundaries; it’s about the nation of God that transcends, goes across all boundaries, the nation of Christ, the Church, the followers of Jesus throughout the world.

We’re a holy nation. A holy nation of God, chosen citizens of heaven, citizens of the kingdom of God.

Look at the reading from Hebrews chapter 11. The writer holds up Abraham as an example of having faith in God. Abraham trusted God when God promised that Abraham’s offspring would become a great nation. Yet, even when Abraham had been shown the Promised Land, a geographical location, even when Abraham had seen that the generations after him would call that Promised Land their home, still Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” It wasn’t about physical geography; it was about being called, chosen, and brought together to be a people belonging to God.

And so in that way, we’ve got to get rid of the other clipart images, and really more than clipart, we’ve got to get rid of that idea that somehow we’re more blessed because we’re Americans or that America is equal to Israel in the Old Testament or that God brought about His plan of salvation on July 4, 1776. Instead, we say with the writer of Hebrews, “We are longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

We’re a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, because of Jesus Christ, because of the cross and resurrection, because of God’s grace, because of God’s continuous work in the world to bring people to a knowledge of Him, because of God’s Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That’s why you are blessed, that’s why you are chosen, that’s why you are forgiven, that’s the source of your true identity, that’s why you have the promise of living forever after death.

And that’s why I was so disappointed that one of our speakers at the National Youth Gathering was wearing a polo shirt with an American flag all across it. It’s like this clipart image with the American flag and the church steeple—that speaker’s shirt implied that we’re chosen because we’re American.

When that speaker appeared on stage, it took my eyes off of the truth of what Peter is saying. When Peter says that we are a holy nation, it has nothing to do with being Americans. Peter had no clue that America would ever exist. We’re a holy nation as the Church. The Church is the blessed nation, receiving all of God’s promises that He made to Israel in the Old Testament. The Promised Land isn’t between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts; the Promised Land is in eternal life. Yes, America was called the New World when the Europeans discovered it, but we’re waiting for the true New World, the day when Jesus returns again and brings us to live with Him forever.

This is the truth, a worldwide truth, and no matter where you were born, live, or die, no matter where your passport is from, you are citizens of God’s holy nation, God’s Church, God’s people called by His Holy Spirit, God’s chosen ones in Jesus Christ.

So with those other clipart images crossed out, I want you to stop thinking of flags and geography and nation-states, and then let’s read Psalm 33 again. This time apply those words to the Church, to all people around the world who have been given faith in Jesus Christ. Look at Psalm 33 as I walk through it.

Blessed is the nation,
[Blessed is the Church] whose God is the LORD,
the people God chose for his inheritance,.
[the believers in Jesus that God chose to inherit eternal life,
a much bigger promise that any kind of Manifest Destiny].
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees ALL mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches ALL who live on earth—
he who forms the hearts of ALL,
who considers everything they do.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
[No president, prime minister, congress, parliament, or dictator
is saved by his military].
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
[A tank, fighter jet, submarine, or battleship cannot save].
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
[wherever they live],
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
[The Lord looks upon all people everywhere
who have been given faith through the Holy Spirit],
[He looks upon them] to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
[He watches over them physically.
Blesses them in their physical needs,
but more than that, He has their eternal salvation in mind].
We wait in hope for the LORD;
[We the Church throughout the world wait in hope for the Lord].
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
[It’s not just a phrase on a coin, “In God We Trust.”
It’s our faith, our belief, what guides us as a Church:
We trust in the Name of God—
and not just some generic god.
We trust in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We trust in this God who will save us.]
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.
[Here we are not saying, “God bless America.”
Certainly we pray that God will watch over our country,
but when we pray in Psalm 33,
when we pray for the nation to be blessed,
we are asking for God’s unfailing love to be on His Church,
His people in Christ around the world.
May we be blessed by Him—
strengthened in faith,
forgiven for our sins,
prepared for service in His name,
protected from the evil one who would rip away our faith.
And we are confident of God’s love and protection upon us, because]

We’re a chosen people. (congregation repeats)
We’re a royal priesthood. (congregation repeats)
We’re a holy nation. (congregation repeats)

It is through Jesus Christ that you are chosen to be His servants, to be His holy Church, taking His message of forgiveness and salvation to all people.