Lights, Camera, Action
SCOTT MUIR shares some illustration idea from the big (and little) screen.
Source: Perspective Vol10 No3&4 © Perspective 2002
_Are you struggling to find modern sermon illustrations? SCOTT MUIR shares some sermon illustrations he’s used from modern TV shows and the latest movies …_
Propitiation from Malcolm in the Middle
Point: Jesus died where you should have averting God’s wrath.
Malcolm in the Middle is about a family of four boys. And it’s safe to say that they’re always in trouble. Their mother, Lois, is at her wits end to keep them on track, and when she gets into them, she really gets into them. The boys fear her like nothing else but still they can’t help themselves. When there’s the opportunity for mischief, they’ll always take it.
But Hal, the father, is another kettle of fish. In a lot of ways, he still hasn’t grown up himself, and he also lives in fear of his wife’s anger. There’s this classic scene in one episode where Hal has ruined something of Lois’. And he’s obviously petrified of the consequences. So what does he do? He races into the boys’ bedroom and says “Who wants to make 5 bucks?” Malcolm negotiates to $10 and then volunteers to admit to whatever it was Hal did.
That’s a bit like how Jesus deals with God’s wrath on our behalf. Lois is justifiably angry. Hal’s the one who should be punished, but Malcolm accepts the punishment in Hal’s place. Lois’ need for justice is satisfied because the wrong against her has been punished. She’s been able to vent her anger, just like God vented his anger at you, on Jesus Christ.
God looked at Jesus on the cross and saw the sins I had committed – and so he punished Jesus for those sins.
The good news is that “God didn’t appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thes 5:9,10).
Pleading in Prayer from The Hurricane
Passage: Luke 18:1-8 – The persistent widow who pleaded for justice…
Ruben Carter was an American middleweight boxer who was jailed in l967 for murders he didn’t commit. If you don’t know his real name you might know his nickname – The Hurricane. His story was recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Denzel Washington.
While in jail, Carter always protested his innocence, claiming his trial was based more on racism than reason. For about 20 years he fought long and hard for his freedom. He fought long and hard to overcome the injustice that took his freedom from him:
- The injustice of a police force that was more interested in putting anybody in jail than the real offenders.
- The injustice of a prosecution based on lies.
- The injustice of a jury of his peers consisting of only white people.
For years he fought appeal after appeal, but without success. His last roll of the dice came in 1988 before an American Federal Court judge. The Federal Court wasn’t the right court to hear his appeal, but Ruben Carter was a desperate man. He knew that taking it back before judges who’d already heard his case, would only end in failure. So he told his legal team to take his plea to the highest court possible.
At the end of the movie Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Cater makes a plea to the court for justice.
[If you have the facilities you could play Denzel Washington’s impassioned speech at hearing at the end of the movie.]
Now if there’s one thing that can be said for Ruben Carter, it’s that he was persistent and passionate in his plight for justice. He knew what he needed and he didn’t stop hounding the system until justice was his.
And in the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus tells us to be a bit like Ruben Carter. His approach to the justice system is to be our approach to God. We’re to be persistent. We’ve got to keep fighting for it. Day and night we should be pleading with God. God wants us to be like that – impassioned in our prayers to God.
Crowding Out the Gospel in The Thomas Crown Affair
Point: The gospel can easily get crowded out of our Christian lives by other things.
The Thomas Crown Affair (the new, Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo version) gives an illustration of having something very valuable in your possession, but not knowing it.
In the movie, Thomas Crown is a rich entrepreneur who is a suspect in the theft of a Monet from a New York art gallery.
[If you have the facilities, play the scene towards the end of the movie where the stolen Monet they’ve been looking for all movie, is revealed. Fire extinguishers spray water on a ‘fake’ painting revealing the valuable Monet underneath it.]
The gallery owners had been deceived into thinking that their painting was missing. But it had been under their noses all the time. They just didn’t know it. It had been covered over by another painting, hiding the truth that lay beneath.
And there’s something very valuable that all Christians have, but often we don’t see it, because it gets covered over by other things. People tell us that other things are more important. Other things will do the same job. And the very valuable thing we have, kind of takes a back seat, and gets forgotten.
Wisdom in The Matrix and Star Wars
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul talks about the huge difference between wisdom as the world sees it and wisdom as God sees it. Strangely enough, Hollywood also tends to put a strange twist on wisdom sometimes.
If you have the facilities, you could play the part of The Matrix where Neo is taken to meet ‘The Oracle’ – the wise prophet who will say if he is ‘The One’ who will save mankind from the tyranny of machines.
When we see the Oracle, she’s far from what we expect. She doesn’t look like the wise prophet on whose words the future of the world rests. She’s a middle-aged African-American woman who’s in the middle of a batch of baking cookies. Far from what Neo expects. If you were to pass her in the street, you’d be excused for thinking that she was a housewife or perhaps a factory hand. Yet she’s the wise prophet – one of the keys to the salvation of the world.
Or what about Yoda? You’ll recall that Luke Skywalker went off to find Yoda, this great Jedi teacher, who would guide him in the way of ‘The Force’. When Luke stumbles upon this little, old, green creature when he crash lands in a swamp on a mysterious planet, Luke tells him that he is on a mission to find Yoda. Luke never suspects that this eccentric little creature is in fact, the Jedi master he’s looking for – that he’s already found Yoda. The wisdom of the ways of the Jedi was to be found in this most unusual little creature.
In both of these stories, the wise are not what we might expect. We expect to see wisdom wrapped up in esteemed elderly men with greying hair. But Hollywood likes to show us that looks can be deceiving, and that wisdom comes from the inside. It’s not always about pomp and show.
And in this first section of the letter to the Corinthians, Paul does a similar thing. You see, the people at the church at Corinth placed high value on wisdom. But Paul sets out to show them that worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom were light years apart, and he leaves them in no doubt about whose wisdom is superior.
The Gospel in The Matrix
The movie The Matrix is a very clever modern allegory of the gospel and can be a useful teaching tool or sermon illustrator.
The plot is that machines with AI (artificial intelligence) have taken over human beings and subdued them. Humans in reality, exist as zombies and provide an energy source for the machines. The machines subdue the humans by making their minds think they are free and active.
The matrix is the make-believe world the machines have created for humans to live in. According to the movie, this is the world we are in. What we see isn’t real. It’s all a computer programme.
But a small band of humans are free from this state of oppression. They live in a hidden city. These humans have been waiting for The One to come and set all mankind free. Keanu Reeves is The One.
For more detailed correlations, go to www.matrixfans.net/symbolism, but be discerning.
Scott Muir is a student at the Reformed College of Ministries and a student minister at the Ipswich Presbyterian Church, Queensland.