1Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
2 Who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
He will purify the Levites
and refine them like gold and silver.
They will belong to the Lord,
presenting a righteous offering.
4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
as in ancient days and in former years
-Malachi 3:1-4 CEB
It's a well known trope within movies, TV, and books. The mirror knows all. Frank L. Baum incorporated it twice. Once with the Gnome King's mirror, that can see where ever he asks for it to see. The second time with Zixi the Queen of Ixi. This queen, who was over 600 years old, used magic to make herself look 16. Her mirror, conversely showed her real age.
The one that immediately came to my mind was The Mirror Gate from The Neverending Story. It was one of the tests in order to get to the Southern Oracle. When the traveler came to the gate, they had to look in the mirror to pass. The reflection would show the honest view of the person:
Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falcor: So what? That won't be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh, that's what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!
Atreyu discovered Bastian because Atreyu was only an avatar for Bastian's adventure. (Atreyu doesn't realize that when he sees it, and simply passes through.)
When I read Malachi 3:2-3 I imagine God much like one of those magic mirrors. The reason we wouldn't be able to endure the day of his coming, is because we would be left with only the truth of who and what we were. It's that "refiners fire and cleaner's soap" referred to in scripture. That would be enough to make "kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards!" Basically, enough to help us all see we are fallen creatures, all of us. None of us are perfect. All of us fall short of the glory of God.
Just something to think about. On a side note, there are times I feel like I've been put before God, and I have felt that boiled down truth. It helps me find humility towards others, even if sometimes I'm not humble. It helps me find kindness, even if sometimes I'm not kind. God's truth always makes us better, even if seeing the truth isn't something we are drawn to do.
This is the conclusion of movie/book month. I wanted to conclude with The Giver, because it allows me to bring a theological idea forward. It can transition us from a short meditation about a movie, to the hard work we are going to begin in September.
The Giver is a book/movie about an apparent Utopia. There is no illness. The weather is always temperate. Everyone is content. It's only as you dig into the story you learn these perfections can only be reached by sacrificing in terrible ways. There is no illness because the very young and old are sent "Elsewhere", which is a veiled word for death. Not only is the weather temperate, everyone is temperate. Everyone takes medication to make personal weakness go away. Sameness is not possible with color, music or love, so those things don't exist in this Utopia. The story follows Jonas, a person who was chosen to be a receiver of all the memory the community no longer remembered. He learned through past events that the bad things still exist, they were just hidden within the system.
I want to introduce a sentence we will dig deep into in a few weeks, but let's beginning looking at it now:
How a person defines a word is more important than the word itself.
If you want to know the reason I don't use high church words, it's mostly because of my denominational context. We understand that people define those words differently depending on personal context. This goes for really high church words, and simplistic church words. Actually most words have different definitions depending on who is using them. Sin, for example, can have multiple definitions. I'm not going to go into anyone else's definition, but let me give you my definition:
Sin: Any action that draws us away from God.
To connect to this movie, I want to talk about a specific kind of sin: communal sin.
Communal Sin: When an action that draws us away from God becomes a social norm.
With individual sin, a person is damaged in drawing away from God. With communal sin, everyone is damaged and the individuals who try to steer the community back to wellness is punished by the community.
Let's take Martin Luther King Jr. as an example. The world was/is living into the communal sin of racism. King exhibited the highest form of moral justice by purposefully breaking the law, and accepting the punishment for doing it. Why did he break the law? Because the laws were created out of communal sin. When King broke the laws, even though those laws were wrong, he was punished for it. MLKjr wanted wellness for a broken community and was punished for seeking it: communal sin.
In The Giver, Jonas wants wellness for the community. He too is going to be punished. (I won't say anymore. I suggest you check out the book, or watch the movie.) Needless to say, The Giver is a hyper-realistic view of our reality. Movies tend to go to the absurd to make a point. The question becomes: Are we too living into a communal sin we might not even realize because the sin has been accepted by the community? Something to think about. When we are living in communal sin, it's not as obvious as government mandated pills, but like those pills it numbs and blinds the problem through becoming a social norm. I'll leave you with this: What are we blind to? Are there people who are trying to draw us closer to God? Something to think about.
Naaman, a general for the king of Aram, was a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. This man was a mighty warrior, but he had a skin disease. Now Aramean raiding parties had gone out and captured a young girl from the land of Israel. She served Naaman’s wife.
She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could come before the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his skin disease.” So Naaman went and told his master what the young girl from the land of Israel had said.
Then Aram’s king said, “Go ahead. I will send a letter to Israel’s king.”
So Naaman left. He took along ten kikkars of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. He brought the letter to Israel’s king. It read, “Along with this letter I’m sending you my servant Naaman so you can cure him of his skin disease.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he ripped his clothes. He said, “What? Am I God to hand out death and life? But this king writes me, asking me to cure someone of his skin disease! You must realize that he wants to start a fight with me.”
When Elisha the man of God heard that Israel’s king had ripped his clothes, he sent word to the king: “Why did you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
Naaman arrived with his horses and chariots. He stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent out a messenger who said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.”
But Naaman went away in anger. He said, “I thought for sure that he’d come out, stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the bad spot, and cure the skin disease. Aren’t the rivers in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all Israel’s waters? Couldn’t I wash in them and get clean?” So he turned away and proceeded to leave in anger.
Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.’” So Naaman went down and bathed in the Jordan seven times, just as the man of God had said. His skin was restored like that of a young boy, and he became clean.
2 Kings 5:1-14 CEB
Let's see, how many times can I preach on the same text? I wrote about how the entire text hinged on the smallest of voices. I also connected the Jordan to the Missouri. (This later one is very important to understanding where I'm coming from. I highly suggest you take a moment and read it if you are new here.)
I guess, for now, the answer is three, because today I'm at it again!)
This month is movie/book month. Last week we were introduced to Evan Dolive's new book: Seeking Imperfection. In the next few weeks we will look at The Aviator and The Giver. Today it's all about Cinderella!
My initial experience with Cinderella was probably not your initial experience. I grew up reading illustrated fairy tales that piled up in a wicker basket in my grandma's farmhouse. One of those fairy tales was Cinderella. It was true to the original, with the stepfamily having their eyes gouged out by birds and all. I loved the Disney iteration, but it was a secondary experience for me. Since then, I've seen multiple versions, each choosing to change it's own thing. I've seen the Hammerstein musical, I've watched the Brandy Norwood version which is probably the most multicultural adaptation out there. Yes, I admit to seeing Hilary Duff try to fit into the role with A Cinderella Story. My favorite is probably Drew Barrymore in Ever After: A Cinderella Story. Then so many others, I barely remember. As our cultural identity moves towards new understandings of equality, our view of Cinderella becomes more and more difficult to tell.
The piece that always seems to stay the same in all versions of Cinderella is the extraordinary has to come from the ordinary. Cinderella is the servant of her house. Everyone in the story, except her, can get to the castle in their own carriages, and wearing their own pretty dresses. In the Disney Cartoon movie, at first even Cinderella attempts to use these methods to get to the castle. She wears her mother's dress, and tries to hitchhike on her family's carriage. Of course, it doesn't work, and Cinderella is left to cry outside the house, all hope lost.
That's the way new church planting has gone for generations. Follow this exact path, look a specific way, and you will make it [to the party]. Only, so many are gently feeling nudged into new church planting, but there is no way they could follow the formula. Maybe, like Church of the Misfits they are countercultural already, and conforming will cause them to lose a piece of their unique identity. Maybe, like Jerusalem Christian Church, they are in the context of being a church birthed from a dying church. It's a context where there has to be much more intentional grace and love for what was. Maybe, like us, you have a minister who started her journey taking the traditional route, and discovered her dress in tatters; no means to get to the party.
There was a time I thought the journey had be taken by knowing the right people, and dressing the right way. That just isn't always true. Like Naaman, God can take the ordinary to make the extraordinary happen. It's possible, for a plain dirty river to heal a foreign lepar. It's possible. God can take shoestring and bubblegum and change the world. John the Baptist was a zany and fool, and he was the one who started the journey for Christ. In the end, it's not about having/getting the right things; it's about God being present with the ordinary things you already have.