At The Movies - Week 2: "Everything Is Awesome" (Lego Movie)
Today we are going to be continuing the sermon series that we started last week--a sermon series entitled, "At The Movies." This is a different kind of series for us because we're using movies each week of the series as our inspiration and illustrations for the sermons.
As I mentioned last week, there's a deeper reason why we are doing this--aside from the obvious fact that it's pretty stinking fun, which it is. The idea is that you and I are constantly out in the world doing theology, whether we know it or not. God is all around us--God's presence is all throughout creation, and we are aware of this at some level, even if we don't bring it to mind every second of every day. Everything is spiritual. We just have to be awake enough to see it.
This week we're going to be using one of my favorite movies from last year as our inspiration and illustration: The Lego Movie.
Here's a video clip that tells a bit of the story:
So, for those who need a little help with the storyline, I'll share a bit more. Just know that I'm going to spoil the movie a tad for those who haven't seen it.
The wizard Vitruvius attempts to protect the "Kragle", a superweapon, from the evil Lord Business. He fails to do so, but warns Lord Business of a prophecy where a person called the "Special" will find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the Kragle.
8 and a half years later, Emmet Joe Brickowski, an ordinary construction worker with no special qualities, comes across a woman, Wyldstyle, who is searching for something after hours at Emmet's construction site. When he investigates, Emmet falls into a hole and finds the Piece of Resistance. Compelled to touch it, Emmet experiences vivid visions and passes out. He awakens elsewhere, with the Piece of Resistance attached to his back, in the custody of Bad Cop, Lord Business' lieutenant (whose head sometimes turns around to reveal his other side, Good Cop). There, Emmet learns Business' plans to destroy the world with the Kragle. Wyldstyle rescues Emmet and takes him to Vitruvius, who explains that he and Wyldstyle are "Master Builders" capable of building anything they need, both with great speed and without instruction manuals. Years ago, Lord Business rose to power, his disapproval of such anarchic creativity resulting in him capturing many of them. As the "Special", Emmet is destined to defeat him, yet Wyldstyle and Vitruvius are disappointed to find Emmet displays no creativity.
Emmet finds himself in the real world, where the events of the story are being played out within the imagination of a boy, Finn. His father "The Man Upstairs" chastises his son for ruining his father's Lego set by mixing characters with the wrong playsets, and originating hodgepodge creations. Finn argues that Lego are for children, but his father prefers to Krazy Glue his perceived perfect creations together permanently, as this is how adults play with Lego. In the Lego world, Lord Business' forces gain the upper hand. Realizing the father will glue all the Lego in place, Emmet wills himself to move and falls off the table, gaining Finn's attention. Finn returns Emmet to the Lego set, where Emmet builds a massive robot to assist his friends before confronting Lord Business. In the real world, Finn's father looks at his son's creations again and finds himself impressed. Realizing his son based the evil Lord Business on him, the father has a change of heart and allows his son to play with his Lego however he sees fit. In the Lego world, Emmet convinces Lord Business that Business, too, is special, as is everyone. Moved by Emmet's speech, Business destroys the Kragle and unfreezes his victims.
I loved this movie, despite the fact that I didn't really want to see it when my kids dragged me to the theater. The hero of the movie is this little Lego figure--a guy with boundless optimism, hope beyond hope, but is forced to face a decided lack of self-confidence when things don't seem to go his way. In the end, however, it's his belief in himself, and restoration of his hope that saves the day.
The heart of the movie is the centrality of hope for a life well-lived. And more specifically, defining hope as creative, generative potential.
I created one of my little rhymes to help us grasp this kind of large theological concept. Because when all seems lost, when you feel like there isn't any gas left in your tank, when there aren't any options at all, and you are at the end of your rope--remember this:
There is hope at the end of every rope.
How awesome is that. You can't help but say it over and over again. I once heard that God's address is at the end of your rope, so that's kind of the inspiration for my little rhyme.
The fact of the matter is, however, that there's some fairly deep theology packed into that silly little rhyme. And the best place to start our conversation about it is in the teachings of Jesus himself. The Scripture we are going to today is in the Gospel of Mark chapter 4 verses 30-32.
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
This particular parable of Jesus has been famously hashed and re-hashed by preachers and teachers for a couple of thousand years. It resonates with us.
The reason why it does is because of something that psychologists call cognitive dissonance. It's when what we think we know collides with our experience.
The mustard seed is indeed tiny. It also grows into a tree that can be up to ten feet tall. When Jesus used this illustration, he was tapping into something that his listeners already knew--they knew that great things could come from small beginnings because nature did it all the time. But their experience was often much different in the so-called "real" world where there hopes for a better life were often crushed before they even had a chance to grow.
Jesus wanted them to understand more fully that the size of the seed had nothing to do with its creative potential. He wanted his followers to experience the hope of the new world that was being born right in front of their eyes. It might seem like small potatoes in the moment, but God was doing something amazing with a small seed.
Another way of bringing Jesus' message home is to frame the parable in some very practical and personal terms: Even if you've got barely anything left... when you have come to believe that your hope has dwindled down to nothing... God essentially says, "No problem. I can work with it! That seed is tiny, but I kind of like it that way."
As I was pondering this sermon, I naturally got to thinking about Legos, and why kids love them so much. I also began to wonder if there might be a deeper reason why kids love them so much other than the fact that they are fun to build. By now you are probably noticing a pattern in the way I think about things. I just can't help but complicate them a bit.
First let's think about imagination.
Child psychologists believe that there are essentially two kinds of imagination: Imitative and Creative. Imitative imagination is simply the mind's reconstruction of the past. Creative imagination is the ability to use past experiences, feelings, and images to construct sensations or conditions never before experienced.
Creative imagination is absolutely necessary for us to develop as humans. It helps us cope with the rigors and trials of life. And creative imagination thrives when there isn't perfection. In fact, psychologists believe that the best toys for children are ones that aren't perfect--they are open-ended.
Because what you need to develop your creative imagination is creative, generative potential.
Let's pause for a moment to absorb what I just said. Creative imagination is essential for us to develop as healthy human beings. And the absolute most necessary ingredient to develop creative imagination is creative, generative, potential.
Which we determined earlier is the basic definition of... hope.
Have you ever been to a Lego store? If not, you should go. It's an incredible experience. At the entrance to these stores you will find some amazing Lego creations.
This is my kid a couple of years ago standing just inside the Lego story in Downtown Disney, California. The big green guy behind him is the Incredible Hulk made from Legos. There were other creations at the entrance to the store, each one more elaborate and inspiring than the next.
These are Lego masterpieces, created by master builders.
But the most awesome part of every Lego store is not at the entrance--it's in the very back. It's the Pick-A-Brick Wall. The Pick-A-Brick wall is a huge wall that is filled with container after container of every Lego brick and building material you can think of.
To your left, you can see a bit of what the Pick-A-Brick Wall looks like.
Awesome isn't it?
After you've waded your way through the huge masterpieces at the front of the store and the innumerable boxes of Lego sets for sale (just waiting for you to put them together) you arrive at the Pick-A-Brick Wall, the one spot in the store that is filled with endless creative and generative possibilities... there's that phrase again... and a subtle message.
What's the message? "You can do this." "All of that stuff that you saw on the way back to this wall? Yeah, you can build that. You can do even more. You can make things---on your own." "You can do this."
The sad thing is that most of don't see the world that way. We've become resigned to the lie that the older we get, the fewer possibilities there are for us to actually experience creative and generative possibilities. We "grow up" and finally start listening to the voices that kept telling us, "You can't..." We lose our hope.
To quote one of my favorite songs by the classic alternative band The Cult: "And the world drags you down... and the world drags you down."
Our joy gets stolen by cynicism and boredom.
Boredom is when you lose the urge to create, to hope. Boredom is contagious, and far too many of us lead boring lives, and get nervous when we see someone starting to break out of the boredom. If I am on the couch, and you are on the couch and you suddenly get up to do something that terrifies me.
Cynicism is when you don't think that you could make anything new, or if it did it would be destroyed, mocked or worse yet--ignored. Cynicism paralyzes us into becoming cranky, depressed, sad and isolated people.
But Jesus invites us to something more. The little story of the mustard seed is so powerful because it invites us to reconnect with the creative divine impulse that is already within us--the same creative divine impulse that God acts upon in the world all of the time.
If I could have one wish for everyone here it would be that you would come to understand more fully why following Jesus is so incredibly transforming. We've settled for a watered-down, sanitized version of the Gospel that tells us that the main purpose of becoming a Christian is to go to heaven when you die.
It's bigger than that. Jesus wants so much for you, not just after you die--but now, while you are alive on this side of eternity. Jesus longs for you to know this, to respond at last to the longings inside of you to create, to do generative, life-giving things in the world, to be a new creation...
I know for some of you that life seems less than vibrant. The seeds of your hope and faith seem to have been crushed before they could really start to grow properly. You are barely hanging on. You are struggling with physical issues, you're waiting on a diagnosis, you're feeling your mortality. Or maybe you keep staring at your bank statement hoping that it's wrong, in agony because you can't take one more month of bill collectors, the crushing weight of debt. Or maybe your marriage is being held together by a thread. Or you have no idea what your purpose in life is. Or you have started wondering if God is even there at all.
If all you have is a tiny seed, a fragment of hope left, barely enough to feel---don't worry. It's enough. God can use it.
You might be at the end of your rope, but that's God's address, remember?
Because there is hope at the end of every rope.
There is hope at the end of every rope.