At The Movies - Week 2: "Finding Dory"

This week we are launching a new sermon series for the month of July--and if it sounds a bit familiar, you would be correct in assuming we've done something like this before.  I say like this, because this is actually the second year in a row that we have scheduled the sermon series "At The Movies" during the month of July. 

We did this for a couple of good reasons:  First, July typically is the worst month of the year for church attendance and so most churches just fold it up for the entire month.  But not us.  We decided to ramp up this month for the most interactive, creative sermon series of the year. 

The second reason why we are doing At The Movies again, is because as Christians we need to learn a powerful lesson about the universe:  Everything is Spiritual.  We need to be able to look at the world around us, at culture, at art, at theater, music and even movies and be able to find the spiritual core at the center of it all.  

We need to learn to look at the world through a Jesus-shaped lens.  So, each week we are going to be taking on a new topic, illustrated by some of the biggest movies of the year.  I used to have this coach that would tell us that you play like you practice--so let's practice using those Jesus-shaped lenses. 

This week we are going to be using the hit movie Finding Dory to help illustrate a lesson on simple faith and trust in God.  No matter how complicated we make things or how complicated life seems to get, simple faith and simple truth will get us through.  

How many of you have seen Finding Dory?  How many of you saw Finding Nemo the movie that was prequel to Finding Dory?  It was one of the most successful movies in the Disney pantheon, which is saying something.  One of the main characters in Finding Nemo was a small blue tang fish named Dory, who suffered from short term memory loss.  Dory is voiced by the fabulous Ellen Degneneres.  

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is a wide-eyed, blue tang fish who suffers from memory loss every 10 seconds or so. The one thing she can remember is that she somehow became separated from her parents as a child. With help from her friends Nemo and Marlin, Dory embarks on an epic adventure to find them. Her journey brings her to the Marine Life Institute, a conservatory that houses diverse ocean species. Dory now knows that her family reunion will only happen if she can save mom and dad from captivity.

The basic theme of Finding Dory is that life can get complicated, but it's the simple things:  family, friends, faith, hope... these are the things that get you through.  

We love to complicate things, don't we?  

Take String Theory, for example.  

Let me read this to you...  

"String theory suggests that quarks and electrons, two of the smallest known particles, are actually vibrating strings, some of which are closed loops and some of which are open. This revolutionary idea allowed physicists to consider all four forces of the universe— gravity (the attractive force of an object’s mass), electromagnetism (the push/pull between electrically charged particles), strong interaction (the glue that binds quarks together), and weak interaction (the force responsible for radioactive decay)—as part of a single theory for the first time. And while it sounds small, the idea has the potential to be big. Some believe that string theory will prove to be the elusive “theory of everything,” a yet-to-be-discovered model that solves all of the mysteries about the forces of the universe and answers the most fundamental questions about where the cosmos came from and why it’s so perfectly tuned to support life."

Complicated right?  

What if I told you I could explain String Theory with spaghetti?  

Check this out...

"Prior to string theory, it was assumed that the smallest pieces of matter were like bowls of dry cereal. But string theory sees them more as big bowls of mismatched pasta. Some of the pasta has two distinct end points (spaghetti) and some is in a loop (SpaghettiOs). A forkful contains several of these strings, just as a proton or neutron is made of several quarks. And unlike dry cereal, which makes sense only with milk, spaghetti can tackle a variety of sauces (forces of the universe). If physicists are right about string theory, the movements exhibited by the pasta can help explain the origin of the universe. And if they’re ultimately wrong, well, the idea’s still delicious."

Or what about Existentialism?

"Though the philosophical groundwork for existentialism was around during the late 19th century, this line of thought didn’t truly come into its own until the mid-1940s. That’s when French philosopher Gabriel Marcel gave the philosophy a name and Jean-Paul Sartre began saying things like, “Existence precedes essence.” Less rigid than many other philosophical strains, existentialism generally holds that the individual is responsible for giving his own life meaning. Existentialists believe that people should live according to their own consciences instead of by a moral, religious, or cultural code. And the ability to live that authentic life is only achievable when the meaninglessness of existence has been accepted."

Make sense?

What if I told you that ketchup could explain existentialism?

"To understand culinary existentialism, you need only look at a popular but forlorn condiment: ketchup. Everyone knows it, but not as itself. To some it’s a tasty dip for fries, to others a meatloaf ingredient, and, to the British, it’s a pizza topping. In order to live a truly existential existence, ketchup must consider its own desires and not those of the dishes it serves. Only then will ketchup approach an authentic existence."

We need to be reminded that no matter how complicated life gets, simple faith and trust in God can get you through. But sometimes that simple faith can be hard to hang on to.  Which is why it's important to be reminded just what being a Christian truly means.  

What simple things do Christians complicate?  Turn to your neighbor and see if they came up with the same thing you did.  

In 1 Timothy 2:1-7 the Apostle Paul provides a very simple explanation of what it means to be a Christian and to believe that Jesus is Lord. 

"1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles."

Paul simplifies the complicated process of living in the Roman empire as a Christian down to some very simple concepts.  He echoes the ancient Jewish prayer, the Shema, which begins: Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One..." 

This is the Gospel in just a few sentences.  Salvation--the hope for all humankind--is complicated.  We don't get it, we don't know how God pulls it off, we probably wouldn't save a ton of people that God would, which is why God is in charge of Salvation and we aren't.  But one thing is perfectly clear--salvation is the hope for all humankind, but it is uniquely and particularly mediated through Jesus.  

If I might, I think I can sum up what Paul is saying here by the lyrics to an old Christian rock song:  "It comes down to a man dying on a cross, saving the world."  

No matter how complicated life gets, simple faith and simple truth will get us through. 

So how does this work for us practically speaking?  How do we live this simple truth, this simple faith in our everyday lives.  

In the movie Finding Dory, Dory finds her way with the help of friends, a great deal of courage and determination, but also some simple objects that help her remember who she is, and where she came from: sea shells.  I don't want to spoil the movie, but it's kind of wonderful that it's the simple, ever-present sea shell that helps Dory find true happiness.  

During Jesus day, there was a group of religious people known as the Pharisees.  These people had 613 laws that they tried to keep and tried to get everyone else to keep, too.  There were 365 negative laws, and 248 positive ones.  The problem with this system was that they had to constantly add new laws, or subsets to existing laws because people were always finding new ways to break the existing laws.  

In addition, complicating things made them more accountable to human beings than to God.  They were constantly being watched, guided, coached, exhorted, yelled at, condemned by other people who were intent on everyone, including themselves, keeping the law.  

In addition, they became very judgmental, focusing almost exclusively on the 365 negative laws, prohibiting this, that and the other.  

Jesus took all of their laws, ordinances, rules and regulations--all 600-plus and growing--and distilled it down to two:  Love God.  Love Everybody.  

It's that simple.  There is One God, according to Paul, and one hope of salvation for everyone through Jesus Christ.  And to be in relationship with this God, you need to embrace what it means to follow in the steps of Jesus, who is God-in-the-flesh.  Once you do this, you can't help but see the world differently.  

You love God.  You love everybody.  

Or as we say it, Know Jesus Show Jesus.  

No matter how complicated life gets, simple faith and simple truth will get us through. 


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