At The Movies Week 3 - "Captain America - Civil War"
This week we are continuing the sermon series "At The Movies" 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 "Captain America: Civil War" as our theme and illustration as we learn a valuable lesson in what it means to exhibit and practice Christian unity.
This is the basic synopsis of the movie--the official form:
Political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability when the actions of the Avengers lead to collateral damage. The new status quo deeply divides members of the team. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) sharply disagrees and supports oversight. As the debate escalates into an all-out feud, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) must pick a side.
It's a bit more complicated than that, actually, so we'll watch the trailer to see if we can flesh more out of the story.
The theme of this film is sometimes you have to trust your friends and assume thebest about them, even when you don't agree with them completely. In this particular movie, what the audience knows, although the characters don't have much of a clue, is that someone is manipulating them, causing division, tearing them apart.
As it is with a lot of things in life--the enemy on the outside is not nearly as threatening and terrible as the enemies within.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say something controversial: Christians seem pretty divided nowadays, don't you think?
There's this old Jewish saying that if you get two Jews together you can have three opinions. Well, I think when you get two Christians together you not only can have three different opinions, you just might have three different relationship ending arguments about those three different opinions.
I've had more than my fair share of experiences with people who have had differences with me. When I was a junior in high school I was arguing with a young teacher in the Christian school I attended about how detrimental fundamentalism and legalism was to Christianity.
At one point, she became so frustrated with me and the fact that she had painted herself into a corner by the weakness of her own arguments that she began to cry. Of course everyone thought I was a jerk then, especially her husband who showed up at school the next day and told me he would beat me up if I made his wife cry again.
Once I had some ladies leave my church because I said in a sermon that God loved illegal immigrants and that we needed to remember they were people with families and not just numbers in a statistic. I wasn't condoning illegal immigration, mind you. They said something nasty as they walked out the door and never returned.
There is a guy I know who always tries to bait me into theological arguments on Facebook. He does it in such a way that I always feel like I need to respond, and then the next thing you know all of his friends are piling on me and essentially calling me a heretic because I don't believe like they do.
What makes us demonize one another like that? One of my favorite pastors and authors, Rob Bell once said, "It's easier to call someone a heretic than it is to deal with your own shadows." I guess that's true. It's easier to demonize someone and rail against them, or ostracize them from your group than it is to deal with the questions they might be raising in your own faith experience.
For a group of people who are supposed to be united by the love of Christ, we do a piss poor job of being unified. Why do we let our differences cloud our unity? Why is it that we can't hang out with people who disagree with us without starting a fight?
This isn't what Jesus wanted. Not by a long shot. The Apostle Paul tried to address these kinds of divisions in the first century. Some people were saying he was the bomb, and that everyone should listen to him. Others were saying that they should listen to Peter or another leader named Apollos. Paul asked, "Is Christ divided?"
What I want for us today is to hold on to this one, very important and very unifying truth: We might be good on our own, but we are definitely better together. This is at the core of every teaching that Jesus taught on unity, love, family and community. It's at the very core of every teaching throughout the epistles of the New Testament. It's at the very core, if I may, of ever Christian teaching, ever.
Jesus exhorted his followers, "Be one, as my Father and I are one." This is what we are called to do and to be.
So what are the major issues that are dividing Christians today? Why don't we name them? Take a look at your notes and you'll see a spot for the top three things that Christians seem to be divided over today. Just write down what you think that list might consist of...
Now, I want you to ask yourself the question I've printed in the notes, below all of those things you just wrote down: "How am I contributing to these differences?" We need to have some humility when it comes to answering that question.
What have I done to contribute to the division between myself and someone who disagrees with me? What have I done to demonize other people who believe differently, interpret the Bible differently, have a different way of understanding God?
The Apostle Paul taught about this, and the importance of seeing all our brothers and sisters in Jesus as an integral part of the Body of Christ--the Church. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Paul's metaphor with the Church as a body and Christ as the head is not exactly original. The ancient Egyptian storyteller Aesop had a similar fable that made it's way into Greek culture--a story entitled "The Belly and It's Members." In this story the belly gets into an argument with the feet about who is most important.
Additionally, the Roman poet Seneca used similar language in Paul's day to talk about hierarchy and the need for social conformity. In fact, both Aesop and Seneca were very concerned about keeping the status quo and maintaining societal unity by reinforcing how everyone needed to fulfill their own role.
What Paul is doing here is something completely different, however. He is using contemporary illustrations to do it, but Paul is actually teaching that the church is the means for revealing Christ to the world. The church (which is made up of people, no doubt) is the way that people see what Jesus is up to, how Jesus looks, speaks, and what Jesus cares about.
So let me ask you something. How we doing with that?
The great futurist Marshall Mcluhan once said, "the medium is the message." In other words, your message can get lost in the medium you build to convey it. Our unity (or lack thereof) is the medium for the message, and even though we might be talking about unity, the medium through which we are speaking is not unified... at all.
We've got to stop. The cycle of disunity, demonization, public shaming, name-calling and ostracizing of Christians by Christians MUST END. And it has to start with us. This endless, fruitless cycle has to end with us.
In Luke 9:49-50 we have a story of a guy who is healing people in the name of Jesus, even though he's not one of the disciples. This is what happens:
49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
We might be good on our own, but we are definitely better together.
In the movie Captain America: Civil War we discover that if only the characters would have trusted one another, relied on what they knew about one another, they would have avoided fracturing their relationship, and a whole lot of destruction.
What would have made the difference? Assuming the best. They didn't assume the best of one another. This is what Paul was teaching. This is what Jesus taught. Assume the best about your brother or sister in Christ until they demonstrate something other than the best.
Don't assume they are godless if they don't agree with your interpretation of Scripture. Don't assume that they aren't a good Christian if they do that. And don't under any circumstances assume that their salvation is in jeopardy based on the candidate they claim to be pulling for.
In fact, we can apply the very same things that we learned about here today to help heal our fractured society. We might be good on our own, but we are better together. We are better together. And we need to assume the best about one another, knowing that at some point in our lives, someone will need to assume the best about us.
We might be good on our own, but we are definitely better together.