June 02, 2018

Called, Loved, Changed

Once in a while I stumble upon something interesting to watch.  This week it happened to be a 2014 movie starring Nicholas Cage.  Now, he’s no Meryl Streep, but he does some clever movies, and can be quite funny with his straight face and seriousness that can turn into teasing almost instantly.  I enjoyed him in National Treasure and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so a movie he chose to be in would be a safe bet.

I should have been suspicious when I realized that it was free.  I don’t have Netflix, and so if it’s not on CBC or Youtube or CTV websites, I don’t see it.  And that usually means pay per view.  Not this one.  Especially when it’s only a few years old.  Normally the copywrite police are all over movie sites that show free movies, and those websites can be pretty sleezy.  New movies get taken off as fast as they get put on, but something like Gone with the Wind or Casa Blanca are usually safe. So this was very unusual.  And no wonder it was free. 

The movie was called “Left Behind”, based on the books of the same name, written about what would happen at Jesus’ second coming when all the people who are born again are taken up into heaven to save them from the coming end of the world.  The theology is dreadful, and some of the best lines are spoken by the atheists -what kind of a God would take children from their moms, airplane pilots out of their planes in mid flight, they ask, and I asked too.

At one point, the clue that the Nicholas Cage character finds which helps him figure out why all the people have disappeared is a slip of paper with the words “John 3:16” written on it.  That’s when he realizes his born-again wife was right to nag him, and that he could have spared himself and his daughter a lot of suffering.

But here’s the thing: what kind of God would break apart families, steal fire fighters, ambulance drivers, and airplane pilots regardless of what might happen to the people around them when they disappear?  Jesus tells Nicodemus that God loved the whole world, not just some of it, or a special few people who said the right words.  And that Jesus came not to judge the world, but to save it.  One thing that is very clear, Jesus constantly teaches people that they are not to judge.  Yet the God of Left Behind does exactly that, and the Christians are vindicated.

But if God is love, not judgement, we Christians are called to love and serve and be humble about it.  We are adopted into God’s family, not to be intolerant judgers, but to be compassionate servants who are not afraid of a little suffering.  Caring servants who don’t need to be first or special or recognized or famous.  Caring people who are working together at being part of God’s beloved family.

All our scriptures today are about a mysterious God who calls.  A God who is seen not just in the fleshy down-to-earth images of loving parent, but also in wild poetry of flashing eyes and wings and spirit and things too great for our human minds to understand.  A God who calls us into childlike faith then loves us, and sends us out.  That there is a time for admitting that we are lost, we live in a world of broken hurting people and are broken hurting humans ourselves.  That we need a live coal to burn our grumpy parts, our sour moods, our fearful and depressed moments, our wounded ways, a live coal to clean us out.  A spirit of newness, of rebirth into bravery, into hope, into love.  That we need help and guidance to figure out the next steps in our journey as a community of faith, as a people of God.

The one stark realization from watching Left Behind is that I can’t imagine a just God of love doing such a dreadful thing to the world that is beloved. 

There’s nothing loving in watching buildings exploding as planes fly into them, and decent humans struggling with the horrific loss of life because of the ripple effect of all these losses.  And as a mom, I know that if I was whisked off to Heaven and had to watch my young adult daughter and son go through what was depicted in that movie, you bet I would march up to that divine throne and give God a piece of my mind about the lack of love that showed.  And if my mother’s heart, flawed and human as it is, would do that, think about how much more a divine being however you like to poetically describe God as, would love those children too.  And those children swept into Heaven without a by your leave would be crying out for their moms and dads and brothers and sisters too.  So I reject that vision of God seen in Left Behind.

We humans are addicted to judging others, whether it’s based on clothes or jobs or race or nationality, and whenever we put judgement first, we do atrocious things.  The Japanese internment camps, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Auschwitz, and many other examples.  But when we remember that God wants us to put love at the core of all we do, noble and beautiful things result, public education regardless of gender, the overthrowing of apartheid and communism, the rise of the environmental movement, the work of truth and reconciliation.  Love always triumphs in the end. 

God calls us, loves us, empowers us and sends us forth to build up love wherever we find it and whatever it looks like.  May we know the spirit of love and it’s transforming power here in this place this very day, helping us to make brave and holy decisions based on God loving the whole world.  Amen.

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