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 Café, 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)