At The Movies - Week Three: Someday My Prince Will Come




This week we are continuing the sermon series that will take us through the month of July, a sermon series entitled, "At The Movies."  Just like we've been doing throughout this series, we're going to be doing some exciting and imaginative things for the next couple of weeks. Sometimes, you just need to have some fun in church.  

But, 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 are using Disney's Cinderella as our inspiration and illustration for the sermon.  Now the clips that we'll be showing are from the latest version of Disney's Cinderella, not the 1950 version, which is probably more familiar to most of us here.  The basic outline of this version of the fairy tale goes something like this: 

Kenneth Branagh directs Disney's 2015, live-action take on the classic fairy tale Cinderella, which stars Lily James as the put-upon young women forced to endure a life of labor at the hands of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) after her father dies unexpectedly. Forced to do every menial chore imaginable, Ella maintains her good spirits and eventually strikes up a friendship with a stranger in the woods who turns out to be the prince. When the royal court holds a gala ball, Cinderella wants nothing more to attend, and although her stepmother won't allow it, she gets help from a surprising source.

Here's the trailer for the newest movie: 




As we all know, Cinderella meets her fairy godmother, who enchants her dress to make it beautiful, a pumpkin to become a coach, mice as horses and the whole nine yards.  

In the end, the girl whose name essentially means "girl of ashes" is chosen by the prince, the stepsisters and stepmother get their just desserts, and everyone worthwhile lives happily ever after. 

This is an old story with a very familiar storyline involving the persecuted heroine who is finally seen to be a true princess, worthy of the hand of the prince, or king.  All she needs is to be truly seen. 

The oldest version of this story has been date back to 7 BC--the story of the orphan Rhodopis, who had a path to fortune and love that is almost identical to the one given to Cinderella some seventeen hundred years later.  There have been other stories as well--each of them with similar characters, obstacles, and triumphs.  They also all contain some sort of symbol that signifies the true nature of the persecuted heroine.  For Rhodopis it was an amulet, for Cinderella is was a glass slipper.  

There are 345 versions of this story in over 160 different languages.  There are Chinese, German and a particularly bloody version from Scotland.  All of these stories were developing seemingly independently, cross-culturally and with striking similarities that offset the cultural differences.  

Hundreds of films have been made of this fairy tale--or variations thereof. There are dozens of plays, musicals and songs based on it.  It's fairly imbedded in our cultural imagination with almost universal appeal.  

What is it about this tory that resonates with us so much?  

Essentially it comes down to this.  We love the idea of the person who is ignored, outcast, forgotten, abused, persecuted and overlooked becoming great. 

We love this idea, because for many of us--we feel like we are on the outside looking in.  We aren't one of the beautiful people.  No one really cares what we think, or whether we feel like if we just had a chance to prove ourselves, we could do something great.  

And there's something else.  When you look closely at the Cinderella story, you have to ask yourself a question:  How does the heroine actually attract the attention of the hero?  

Answer:  She changes.  

She puts on a disguise so that she looks like all of the successful, well-born, rich folk  And then she's able to speak to the prince, to dance with him, to make him see her for who she really is.  

Deep inside of us, we all suspect that this is true.  In order to get your chance, you have to get noticed.  But we also suspect that it's true on a spiritual as well as a sociological level.  In other words, we suspect that this is how God works. We say to ourselves, "If only I had a chance to prove myself to God, to show God that I am good, that I deserve better..."  "If only God could see how much I need this..."  "If only..."  

And so we wait to see if have been noticed.  To see if we've been able to do enough so that God will see us, and bless us, and give us the desires of our heart.  We all know the pain of waiting in those moments when it feels like there is no answer forthcoming, and we find ourselves wondering what we did wrong to deserve the silence.  

As I have done in the past two weeks, I want to take the big idea of this sermon and distill it down to something simple that we can all remember.  So what's the big idea?  Well, it's something like this:  Most of us spend far too much time and energy trying to do things so that God will love us.  We often find ourselves waiting to hear back from God on the matter.  And sometimes in the waiting we lose heart.  But what we all need to know is that God doesn't need us to do anything or to become something we are not in order to love us.  God is crazy about us from the beginning, and wants the very best for us always.  

And so here it is--my little rhyme:  God is always great for those who wait.  

There's a twist to this if you listen carefully.  I don't mean to say that this all about patience--although it's part of it.  What I mean to say is that for those who find themselves waiting to be noticed---God is great.  God sees you.  God notices you.  God knows you are meant for greatness.  

What sort of things do we usually find ourselves waiting on God to resolve, answer, or intervene on our behalf?  It could be a relationship.  Maybe you've felt lonely and isolated, and long for someone to spend your life with.  You've prayed for the right person--and maybe you've even been willing to go through some wrong persons in order to find that right person.  But nothing.  You wait and wait, and you wonder if there's something wrong with you.  

Maybe you have been waiting for things to pop in your career.  You've been toiling at the same dead end job for far too long... or maybe you would give your right arm for a dead end job because you've been living so long without a job at all.  You've been waiting and there seems to be nothing on the horizon, and maybe you start wondering if you'll ever find your true vocation, your true purpose.  

Perhaps it's health issues that are plaguing you.  I know what that feels like.  This past week I was waiting on blood test results, worrying about what the answers might be.  In the meantime you have to live your life, right?  You have to pay the bills, try to laugh with your kids, and in my case go on family vacation while you are waiting, worrying and trying to live with the disquiet in your soul.  In those moments, the waiting can be especially hard.  You might feel like your sins from the past are about to come home to roost, or that something is about to happen that may be patently unfair.  

Or maybe you are waiting on a child to come to faith, or maturity or both.  They're mistakes are killing you.  You pray for them, and wish and hope and wait.  Or maybe you feel like your faith life has hit a dry season.  All around you is deserted lands when it comes to your Christian walk.  

And in each of these scenarios we find ourselves saying, "God, if you would only see me.  If you would just give me a chance.  If you only knew what I was capable of..."  

To all of us who find ourselves waiting, hoping and feeling a bit on the outside today, I want to share a simply verse with you from the book of Isaiah:  

31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Here the prophet is speaking to an entire nation of people who have been longing for a new world, a new life.  They have been ripped from their homeland, driven as slaves and outcasts to a new land where they don't belong.  And Isaiah speaks life and hope into their lives as they wait upon the Lord to fulfill his promises.  

Waiting in this prophecy is a virtue, full of possibility and expectation.  It's not something to be dreaded like going to the DMV or waiting in line for Peter Pan at Disney.  

Waiting, according to Isaiah,  is a blessed time.  A time for joy.  Because greatness is about to happen.  Greatness is always happening.  The God who comforts his people in the midst of the waiting is the same God who promised that they had a fully-fashioned and life-giving future--a future God designed, blessed and prepared ahead of time.  

God is always great for those who wait.  

So what do you do when you are in the midst of one of those blessed seasons of waiting?  Well, there are two ways to approach it according to Joyce Meyer.  You can wait passively or you can wait expectantly.  

Most of us wait passively.  We pray a whole bunch and then sit back and wait around to see what God is going to do.  We have, according to Joyce, a lot of wishbone, but no backbone.  When things don't happen on our timetable, or they don't seem to be happening at all, we turn our anger first to God, and then ourselves.  We ask that universal question, "Why me?" with our tiny fists shaking to the heavens.  And then we begin to wonder, "Maybe it is because of me."  

But those who wait expectantly have a much different outlook.  Expectant waiting is fully of hope, belief and action.  The person who is waiting expectantly doesn't sit around like a lump on a couch.  They are engaged in the world, fully believing that God is in control.  This belief enables them to expect the "suddenly" from God.  Have you ever been waiting on something to happen, a pot to boil perhaps, or the workday to end---and then you got distracted by work or another task?  In those moments it feels like time, which had been dragging, suddenly speeds up in a mystical way, right?  

This is what happens to the person who waits expectantly.  They not only believe in the "suddenly" from God, they experience it all of the time. 

So what can we learn about God from Cinderella?

First, unlike Cinderella who had to change her appearance in order for the prince to notice her, we never have to do that with God.  God sees you as you are, and loves you madly in spite of it.  You don't have to put on airs with God.  He not only notices you, he cherishes you without you doing a single thing.  

Jesus is proof that God will do whatever it takes to show you God's love.  Through Jesus God showed the lengths that God will go to in order to redeem Creation.  Jesus was executed by the political and religious powers of his day because he taught that God loved the world enough to send him to show it.  Then he was raised from the dead after being buried in a tomb for three days.  And those of us who hold on to this story as our definitive story--we find incredible hope in this knowledge of God's love.  

Second, there's no fairy godmother for you and me.  I wish there was.  But what those of us who follow Jesus have instead is community.  We have this family of faith who sees us in our need, reaches out to us when we are waiting and feeling alone, and surrounds us with strength when we feel our faith waning in our seasons of struggle.  

Third, we also learn that God wants our waiting to be more aggressive than passive.  God loves it when we trust him.  He honors our waiting when we choose to engage his world and actively seek to bring God's kingdom to earth all around us.  

Because in the end, waiting isn't really waiting if we are waiting on God.  It's trusting.  And serving.  

Because God is always great for those who wait.  

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