Ash Wednesday is coming up Wednesday, March 6. This day has traditionally served as a call to repentance and reflection for Christian communities. Ash Wednesday (which follows Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras) also marks the beginning of Lent, a season when followers of Christ prepare for the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
As a new congregation that has primarily met in House Groups since the beginning of our church planting ministry, we have always celebrated Ash Wednesday in someone's home. The experience in the past has been particularly meaningful as we gathered together as a small group of believers confessing our sins to God, acknowledging our mortality, and preparing for our Lenten journey as we drew near to the Cross.
But this year, we are coming together for our first-ever Large Group Ash Wednesday service. We currently have three groups which meet on Wednesday nights, and we're preparing to start a fourth Wednesday night House Group later in March. It didn't seem proper to choose only one group to host our Ash Wednesday service, so we found a way to open up this worship experience to include everyone: all of our House Group participants, all of our Sunday morning congregants, and anyone from our community who desires to worship God with a faith community on this holy day.
Pastor Kris will make the sign of the Cross on our foreheads. The ashes will serve as a sign of our sorrow for having committed sins against God and neighbor, and they will also serve as a reminder that "from dust you came and to dust you shall return."
We welcome you to worship with the Peace Tree family this Wednesday night, and we hope that you will invite others who are wrestling with their faith, struggling with their sin, and discovering what it means to be redeemed by our glorious Lord.
Doors to the Quonset will open at 6:00 p.m. and our Ash Wednesday service will begin at 6:30. See you in Collierville on March 6. God bless!
How many of you remember the climactic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? If you’ll recall, Indiana has to pass through three challenges in order to reach the Holy Grail and save his father from certain death. His father, played by Sean Connery, had been researching the Holy Grail and wrote down three clues to allow for safe passage through the challenges, allowing someone to successfully reach the Grail.
Indiana makes it through because he has a book to guide him. Now, I don’t know how often you feel like you’ve had to make a Leap of Faith. For me, agreeing to be on the Peace Tree Launch Team in 2015 was a Leap of Faith. Like Indy, I’m not sure I would have made the leap if I didn’t have my book, the Bible.
My first year on the Launch Team was my last year of Disciple Bible study (six years earlier when I started the Disciple series, I wasn’t sure I would get past the first year much less complete the whole series). Planting a church was not on my radar. I had no thoughts of leaving Collierville United Methodist Church.
I was comfortable. Paul and I had joined Collierville UMC in 1999. We had been members long enough that we had been involved in several areas and knew many people. We liked our Sunday School class a lot. I even started to occasionally fill in for our Sunday school teachers during the summer months to give them a break.
Our youngest child, Caleb, was very involved in all of the children’s programming and continued to be involved as he grew up and joined the youth program. He earned a trophy memorizing the books of the Bible and taught himself guitar so he could play in the youth praise band. Rev. Harry Durbin had invited him to be on his team in a Scrabble tournament, and he went on numerous youth trips to Mountain TOP, Breakthru, BigStuf Camps, Lake Junaluska and Lakeshore Camp.
I had been intrigued by Disciple Bible Study for a while. I knew many members of my Sunday School class had taken Disciple lessons, and they all spoke highly of the courses. I had enrolled once before but I was still working a full-time job, and with the kids’ schedules it was a struggle to keep up.
Finally the time came where my husband, Paul, and I could take the course at the same time. We started with over 20 people that first year. People came and went over the six years we participated in Disciple, but a core group of six made it through all six years. We formed really close friendships with those people as we studied Scripture together and prayed for each other during that time.
Little did I know that as I was working through these lessons throughout the Bible and on Christian & Methodist theology, God was preparing me to take my Leap of Faith. Just getting the overview of the Bible in the first year and understanding how the Old Testament and the New Testament work together was eye-opening. By Year Six we compared the Gospels and talked about what was the same, what was different, and why.
When we heard at Collierville UMC that Pastor Kristofer would be planting a church and putting together a Launch Team, I was immediately excited. But that excitement was followed by a great sense of doubt. What if I wanted to serve on this team but my husband didn’t? What if we wanted to do this but Kristofer had enough volunteers or didn’t feel he needed us? How long would we have to commit before we could return to CUMC?
I am not sure how called my husband felt to this new church plant, but he agreed to join me for a face-to-face talk with Pastor Kris. I do remember telling Paul after our talk that I did not want us to be at separate churches, so if he wasn’t comfortable with moving forward then we would stay at CUMC. However, since we had built up a better Biblical foundation through Disciple, and because we truly believed Kris was answering God’s call, we decided to take the leap.
Then as Rev. David Atkinson, the senior pastor at CUMC said, it got real! It became clear to us with each passing week that church planting was bigger than we realized and better than we hoped.
Faith is not a one-time thing. Faith is part of the lifestyle of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Faith is trusting Him. John Wesley was particularly concerned about inviting people to experience grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. He emphasized that Christian living is putting faith and love into action. Wesley believed in salvation by God’s grace but was convinced that salvation should evidence itself as faith and love in action.
We each are called to take a Leap of Faith. We each must answer our own call. Your call may be the similar to someone else’s call; it may be completely different. The point is that we have a Good Book to help us get ready and to prepare for that call. The Bible is a book that will help us see the signs and recognize them. It’s a book that teaches us the correct response to God’s call. It leads us to the understanding that faith grows through our participation in the church community — a community where we are nourished and equipped for mission and service to the world.
Every House Group host at Peace Tree takes a Leap of Faith when they open up their home to both church members and guests. Young people and families take Leaps of Faith when they come forward to be baptized and when they decide to join our congregation as members. Our service groups SIS and BRO have taken Leaps of Faith when they decided to organize and begin serving the people of our community with their time and energy. Our students have taken Leaps of Faith by joining multi-generational House Groups instead of joining a more age-specific children’s program or youth group.
So, now the questions for you are: How is God calling you? Are you ready to take your Leap of Faith? May God bless you as you answer the call.
This morning, Pastor Kris joined with local pastors to pray for the town of Collierville and the city of Germantown as we observed the National Day of Prayer. Prayers were lifted up for parents, first responders, those serving in the military, young people, teachers, elected officials, local pastors, those struggling with addiction, and local business leaders. The 9:00 a.m. observance was held on the steps of Collierville's Town Hall with singing led by The Orchard Church. The Noonday observance was held in front of Germantown's City Hall, and several lay people participated by leading prayer.
It truly was a blessing to see neighbors, government officials, and faith communities come together for a single purpose. Below, you can read the two prayers that Pastor Kris shared, and at the bottom of the post you'll find the Facebook Live video that was live streamed by Germantown Baptist Church. We hope that you will be in prayer today for all Americans as well as our neighbors in countries near and far.
“Love Thy Neighbor”
God of all nations, you have so richly blessed this community. We give thanks for all the ways you provide for us and for our neighbors. We confess that we do not always put others’ needs above our own, that in this world of “me first,” we often neglect those around us. Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
From an early age we learn to do unto others as we would have them do to us, and yet you’ve set the bar so much higher. You sent your Son into the world to love us unconditionally. He gave his life to serve as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and before he left, he instructed his disciples to love one another as he loved them. We recognize that our wants and desires are no longer the standard; your good and perfect love is the standard, Lord, and we strive to model our lives after the example of your Son, Jesus Christ.
His message and challenge still rings in our ears: to love others as Jesus loves us, to see others the way God sees them. May the things that break your heart also break our hearts. May we laugh with sisters and brothers who laugh and weep with those who weep. Allow us to see our neighbors as people who have been created in the Image of God. Give us the strength to stand against racism, sexism, injustice, and prejudice in any form that it may present itself.
There are so many people in this wonderful town of varying ages, genders, creeds, and ethnicities, and all have sacred worth. May we no longer dismiss someone for being different from ourselves, for being too young or too old, for being “the other gender,” for having a skin tone that differs from our own, or for originating from another country. Help us realize that everyone has a seat at your table, that the Body of Christ is made up of many individual members and no two are the same.
Again, we thank you for this beautiful town and its people, and we praise you this glorious morning. Forgive us when we sin; soften our hearts - mold us and put us to what you will. Fill our cups, Lord, and use us as ambassadors of your holy Kingdom. Guide us to those who are in need, especially the widow and the orphan, the foreigner and the stranger, the invisible and the untouchable. Enable us to see our neighbors as you see them, and by your Spirit, help us to love one another as you first loved us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"A Prayer for Families"
God of grace and God of glory, we give you thanks for this beautiful day that you have blessed us with. We especially thank you for the great city of Germantown and the many families that make up this community. Because of our fallen nature, we have not always been the loving neighbors and caring citizens that you call us to be; but, by your Spirit, we are able to walk a closer walk with your Son, taking up our cross to live our lives as a forgiven people.
This afternoon, we humbly approach your throne and ask that you bless the families of this community. Fill each home with your unconditional love. Call each mother and father to lead their families with boldness, with grace, and with wisdom. Bless each child as they discover and explore this world. Watch over families as they welcome children into this world at Methodist Le Bonheur Hospital. Care for each mother and her family in the Women’s Pavilion.
Expand our understanding of “Family,” Lord. Help us to see the widow and widower in our neighborhood as part of our extended family. Encourage us to show hospitality to those who are moving into this city from other towns, states, and countries. Guide our conversations and discourse so that we may build each other up and work towards common goals.
Attend to the needs of grandparents who have stepped into the role of parent or guardian. Assist husbands and wives who struggle with infertility. Guide those who are fostering children in need, and advocate for those who seek to adopt. Lord, you have adopted each of us into your family through the justifying grace of Jesus Christ. We thank you for grafting us into your family tree, and we pray that we inherit the family traits of righteousness, purity, and kindness.
Again, we thank you for this National Day of Prayer and for this opportunity to gather as the people of Germantown. May we continue to conform ourselves to the example of Jesus Christ, our brother, the firstborn, your only begotten Son, who laid down his life so that me may truly live.
In his name we pray. Amen.
If someone had told me that I would one day be a part of the Leadership Team for a new church plant, I would have said, “I don’t think so.” But that is exactly what I am doing right now, and I'm loving every minute of it.
Several years ago, I found myself as a member of a church but not participating at all, not even going to worship on Sunday mornings. Why? I guess I was frustrated with not feeling like I was a part of the church, never being asked to volunteer even after signing up on volunteer forms, not being nurtured in my faith or cared for when it was needed.
I have been in the Church most of my adult life and have always been involved in church leadership by chairing committees, working with Sunday School classes, volunteering with the congregation's youth group, and just about anything else I was asked to do. The Church was my family, but I had been missing that feeling of belonging and of worth. I desired the closeness that I had once felt to God and with my fellow Christians.
I missed working for God and feeling like I was part of a church family, and I wanted what I once had. At the same time, I kept feeling nudges from God to find another church. Then, I watched as Peace Tree was getting started. So, one day I said to my husband that I wanted to check out Peace Tree. We met with Pastor Kris over coffee and we liked what we heard.
Pastor Kris invited us to try out a House Group, so we went to the Martinsburg Cove House which meets Sundays at 6:30 p.m. I can’t tell you how loved I felt and how we were welcomed into this group from day one. I had found what I had been missing! I wanted more and even said to Kris that I was ready to get plugged in doing something for the Church.
Several months later, Pastor Kris invited us to be a part of the Leadership Team. Again, the feeling of warmth, love, and camaraderie was present from day one at these team meetings. We accepted the challenge to serve God in this way and we haven’t looked back.
It has been such a wonderful experience being a part of the Leadership Team and witnessing the launch of our Large Group worship celebrations. Planning opportunities for ministry and serving God as church planters has been such a joy. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be a part of this new church and how it is such a big part of my life. I can see God moving through this group, and the love and care shared by others is authentic and genuine. I feel God's presence at every event, every worship service, and at every House Group gathering.
I thank God every day that I listened to His nudging and pursued Peace Tree. If you're like me and you are looking for that feeling you once had at church years ago, or if you're just looking for a new church home, then try Peace Tree. You won’t regret it! Love lives here and God is in our midst.
Every year, the Guatemalan Consulate in Atlanta sends a mobile unit to Memphis to assist Guatemalans living and working in the United States with updates to their documents as well as applications for birth certificates, wedding licenses, and other important papers. 1,665 people from across Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri were assisted this year, but more than 500 people were not seen due to time constraints. Peace Tree’s Susan Lawhon and Jennie Dickerson organized and led the many volunteers needed to make this event possible. In our latest blog post, Jennie shares what this event means to her and why she signs up every year to volunteer.
One of the things I love about Peace Tree is that we are a “doing” church. We meet people where they are, whether it's the Blessing of the Animals at Suggs Park, a neighborhood event on the Collierville Town Square, or the annual Guatemalan Consulate Visit to Memphis.
Last weekend, Peace Tree joined our United Methodist family at Asbury UMC and Iglesia Metodista Unida El Redentor to assist the local Guatemalan population file some tedious government paperwork. More than 1,600 people stood in line for hours to get updated government identification cards, birth certificates, passports and more. Volunteers (Spanish-speaking or not) helped make the process as smooth as possible by directing traffic, making copies of documents, answering questions, and keeping children entertained while parents spoke to consulate officials.
The Guatemalan Consulate Visit is my favorite volunteer event of the year. To me, it epitomizes how we ought to live as Christians. We don't have to speak the same language or be from the same place to walk alongside each other and make this life a little easier. It’s faith in action and an opportunity to show grace and love to each other. This is what it means to “love thy neighbor,” and every year I'm grateful for this opportunity to do so.
Jesus and Star Trek. One said, “Therefore, go…” and the other, “Boldly go…” Peace Tree has been on God’s mission since 2015. We’ve left the comfort of stained glass sanctuaries & worship halls and followed the call of Jesus’ Great Commission: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). At the same time, we feel like spiritual pioneers exploring new frontiers, worshiping God in new places, and gathering on different days of the week.
On August 21, 2016, we held our first-ever Sunday morning worship service at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema. I admit that I felt a bit like Captain Kirk leading his crew into the great unknown. None of us had set up a church service in a movie theater before, let alone worship God with any congregation at the cinema! Still, our teams pulled up to the Malco at 7:30 a.m. and started hauling gear into the building, and it felt as though we were living out the USS Enterprise’s mission in some small way: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
The weight of a universe-sized challenge was certainly upon us: Could we envision a new heaven and a new earth in a multiplex? Could we breathe new life into Christians who had worshiped in traditional settings since birth? Could we reach new people with the Gospel for the very first time? Will friends and families step out in faith and form a new community with us, one that lives together and follows Christ?
We can’t answer many of those questions at the moment, not even 10 days later as we look back on the 21st of August. The reason we can’t answer those questions is because we aren’t building this church; Christ is the one who builds his Church. Christ is the one who will usher in the new heaven and the new earth. The Holy Spirit is the one who breathes new life into followers. God the Father is the one who touches the hearts of those who hear the Gospel for the first time. What we feel we can say is that God was with us on August 21st, and the potential to grow into a beloved community was certainly felt by all who gathered with us that day.
Even though the challenge was extremely high, the invitation to our neighbors was even greater! All of our volunteers circled up at 8:55 a.m. to say a prayer, and as soon as we said “Amen” the first family was walking through the door. Children began grabbing juice boxes and bags of Cheerios, adults filled up cups of coffee and reached for donuts, and newcomers started signing up for our newsletter while flipping through our new brochure. Everyone was greeted at least 5 times before they took their seat in the theater, and you could definitely feel the love in the room.
Hannah led us in singing, Tyler greeted the congregation, Susan read our Scripture passage, and I preached a sermon that reflected Peace Tree’s vision: “Church Can Happen Anywhere.” And while the message was taking place inside Auditorium 7, there were children who were playing, learning, and discussing the same passage (Acts 2:42-47) with Ms. Connie and Ms. Chris during Peace Tree Kids.
There are many things we learned at our first preview worship service and there are many things we’ll be tweaking and improving along the way. But all in all, many of our volunteers and team members felt we could say that our first worship service was a success! We set up and cleaned up in the timeframe we allotted ourselves. There weren’t any major technical issues with video or sound. Infants were cared for by professionals in the nursery. And there was enough food and drink for a small army! But most importantly, 81 people gathered together to worship God in a new place & in a new way, and we did Church in a movie theater.
Every time I teach or preach, I hope that the congregation can walk away learning two things: 1) How the early Christians would’ve originally heard and interpreted the passage we studied, and 2) How we can apply that original teaching to 21st century life in America. From our first worship service, I hope everyone will remember that Jesus worshiped God anywhere, because God exists everywhere! Jesus preached in fields, from boats, and on mountainsides. The first Christians met in people’s homes so that they could eat meals together, celebrate Communion, and discuss Jesus’ teachings. So what does this mean for us today? It means Church Can Happen Anywhere! Church can happen in our homes, in public parks, in local restaurants; Church can even happen in a Malco theater.
Peace Tree will be worshiping at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema three more times in 2016. The upcoming dates are September 18, October 16, and November 13. We hope you, the reader, will join us! Each time we meet, the doors will open at 9:00 a.m. for coffee & donuts. The worship service will begin at 9:30, and children are welcome to attend Peace Tree Kids at 10:00. During this season of preview services, we aim to learn as a team and to grow as Jesus’ disciples. We’ll also be praying and asking God if the Malco Collierville should be our first home as we launch a Sunday morning service. So stay tuned for news about possible weekly services in 2017.
Thanks to all of our friends, families, House Group attendees, volunteers, and newcomers for making our first preview service such a success. It was an honor to share God’s Word with you that day and to worship God with you as a family. We’d love for you to join us on September 18th, and we hope we see some new faces as well! To all who have been supporting us since Day One, who have checked in on our progress, and who have prayed for our ministry: thank you, thank you, thank you. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much to us, and we definitely see God working through this faith community. God bless y’all, and remember: “Church Can Happen Anywhere.”
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
In a few days we'll be ringing in the new year and welcoming 2016. But in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, my thoughts still linger on the people we visited in Scripture during our House Group worship, the characters of the Nativity Story: Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Each was greeted by an angel, each was terrified by the news they received (or simply by the sight of God's holy messenger), and each heard the phrase, "Do Not Be Afraid."
These are words that I've needed to hear time and time again during these first six months of church planting. Whenever I doubted myself and my calling to plant a new church with the mission of reaching new people, I heard God whisper, "Do Not Be Afraid." As I feared whether or not I could raise enough of my salary to support my wife and unborn child, our friends and family showed their support and assured us, "Do Not Be Afraid." As I've led a Launch Team into the unknown, they've had my back and echoed the angelic phrase, "Do Not Be Afraid." So far this journey has been fantastic and humbling as I've trusted God, put my faith in his provisions, and depended on others to work alongside me as we fulfill our mission to Love God by Loving Others. We've shown our corner of God's Kingdom that Church can happen anywhere, and we enter the new year greatly encouraged and more excited than when we took our first steps this summer.
We want you to know how God has been moving through Peace Tree and how God has been using us as His hands and feet. We volunteered our time and recruited others to serve at the Guatemalan Consulate Visit in early December where more than 800 individuals received assistance from their government's officials. When you factor in children and spouses who also attended the event, we ministered to over 1200 people! Over 163 people have attended one of our community events including our Suggs Park Field Day and Back to School BBQ. Over 145 people have worshiped with us outdoors including our most recent service, Carols and Candlelight on the Collierville Town Square. 74 different people have visited one of our House Groups. And back in September, we showed our appreciation to police officers, firefighters, and EMTs during our Public Safety Appreciation Day by delivering baked goods to the Collierville Police Department and six Firehouses.
Thankfully, Peace Tree has several strategic partners and sponsors that have made this ministry possible. We're thankful to our mother church, Collierville UMC, for their continued prayers and support. And we are grateful for the Memphis Annual Conference and the Metro-McKendree District of the United Methodist Church for their assistance through funding and resources. I am most especially thankful for the more than 55 individual donors who have made charitable contributions to Peace Tree totaling $25,339! Their gifts make our ministry possible and helps support my work as a church planter.
As we approach January 1st, there are a few more days for individuals to make a gift to Peace Tree. So, if you believe in our mission and support our core values (Love All, Serve All, Live Together, Follow Christ), we hope you'll consider making a gift to Peace Tree HERE. Our online giving portal makes it possible for donors to give instantly and securely and assures them that their gift counts towards 2015's charitable contributions.
We are thankful for many things this Christmas season. We see a genuine community forming in front of our eyes. We've reached out in service and loving-kindness to our neighbors. We've worshiped Christ and studied God's Word together. And surrounding each of us has been a Spirit of Love and Peace. We hope that you will continue praying for us, sharing our story with others (especially those who feel far away from God), and that you will join us at an upcoming House Group gathering or community event. I am sure that I will still have moments of fear and trembling, but at the same time I stand amazed at everything God has done through us in just six short months. If you see me sometime soon, please remind me (as I remind myself daily), "Do Not Be Afraid." The Savior is here! A new year is about to begin, and with it comes multiple opportunities for this new church to reach new people for Christ. Amen.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Families come in all shapes and sizes these days. No longer can we drive by a home and assume that a "traditional" family containing a husband, wife, and 2.5 children live inside. More and more families include a step-parent, an adopted sibling, or a foster child. And with these modern-day realities come modern-day challenges: how to visit every family on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, how to please grandparents who live hundreds of miles away, and how to coordinate schedules with an ex-husband or ex-wife who wants to see a child during the winter break.
On top of this, there are many young adults who have started new jobs this year and won't travel home for Christmas. They've formed new family groups with other young people to fill this void. Newlyweds have to determine which spouse's family they will see at worship on Christmas Eve and which family they will visit on Christmas day. There are so many obligations, appointments, and traditions to uphold during this busy time of year that we often forget to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
So this year, we plan to celebrate Christmas early on Friday, December 18th at 7:00 p.m. This week marks the end of the semester for students, but families will still be in town. Celebrating Christmas early means you won't have to worry about splitting time with another family on December 25th or navigating an unfamiliar town to attend a worship service on Christmas Eve. And celebrating under the gazebo on the Collierville Town Square means you won't have to worry about parking spots, fighting for seats, or running out of room for you and your family. "Carols and Candlelight" will be a chance to take a Christmas service down to the basics: we'll read the Nativity Story and prepare our hearts for the Christ child, we'll sing beloved carols that echo that story, and we'll gather together with neighbors who long for community and friendship.
This Friday is not simply a chance to pause and celebrate Christmas on your schedule; it's also an opportunity for you to invite someone who is searching for Christ this year. Think of the co-worker who hasn't attended a church worship service in years, the neighbor who doesn't do well with large crowds, the classmate who is a spiritual person but who has no faith community. This is an opportunity to share the joy of Christmas and spread some holy-day cheer. We hope you'll join us this Friday, but we also hope you'll text or call a friend who you'll pick up and bring along to "Carols and Candlelight."
With so many things happening in the world, it's easy to forget why we celebrate Christmas. "Carols and Candlelight" will provide a much needed reminder. I'm most looking forward to our final carol where each person will be invited to light their candle. It's a reminder of how Christ is the Light that came down to earth, a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that we follow and shows us the Way. Celebrating Christmas early on December 18th reminds us that Christ is our Light, and when we share that Light with our neighbors, the world becomes a brighter place. We'll see you this Friday night in Collierville.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Last Friday, my wife and I visited a “church” of sorts, a place where Americans spend more than $10.4 billion a year. We were greeted at the front door, ushered towards the room on our ticket and invited to purchase food and beverages. When we walked into the main room we saw a sea of strange faces, but we did encounter a couple of friends. We exchanged pleasantries as we walked down the aisle, then we took our seats. A type of liturgy flashed across the screen reminding us to turn off our cell phones, to limit our talking, and to be sure we knew the location of the exits in case of an emergency. Before the main event, we sat through another welcome followed by several announcements of upcoming films. And there we were, sitting in the cold, dimly lit sanctuary of the movie theater.
I love movies. Anyone who’s heard me preach in a worship service expects me to reference a movie at some point in the sermon, whether it is planned or sporadic. Since Americans see so many movies a year, and since critically-acclaimed movies along with huge blockbusters have been seen by the majority of the people sitting in the pews of a congregation, it makes sense to me to draw examples out of the most popular movies of the day or classics from cinema’s past when I get up to preach. What really gets me excited about movies is when I see religious references or undertones in the storytelling. There are Hindu references in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Buddhist and Taoist influences in the Star Wars films, and Jewish and Christian archetypes permeating Superman.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found a connection between Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi thriller, The Martian, and three parables (simple stories that teach spiritual lessons) from the Gospel of Luke. Be warned that the following discusses plot points from The Martian and contains minor spoilers.
If you have simply seen the trailer for The Martian, you know that Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, gets left behind on the red planet following an accident during an emergency evacuation. His crew believed he died on Mars, so Watney is left all alone on the desolate planet with only his ingenuity, creativity, potatoes, and disco music. He also has a home base from which to work, a rover with which to explore, and several other items from past missions, rovers, and satellites that he must seek out in order to survive.
Meanwhile, on earth, satellite imagery picks up movement on the red planet which can mean only one thing: Mark Watney is still alive. The folks from NASA start discussing what to do to ensure he stays alive, what the press will do with the news, and whether or not to tell the crew who are ignorant of his survival. But in an unscripted moment during a press conference, Vincent Kapoor (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) boldly states, “We will do everything within our power to bring him home.” This one sentence became a bridge from the movie to the Gospel of Luke.
Luke groups three of Jesus’s stories together in chapter 15 of his Gospel. We commonly refer to these stories as The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, and The Parable of the Lost (or Prodigal) Son. At some point in the movie, Mark Watney assumes the roles of all three lost items: sheep, coin, and son.
Jesus asks a mixed crowd of supporters and haters what they would do in a certain situation: You have 100 sheep and one goes missing. Which of you wouldn’t abandon the 99 sheep to go out and find the one lost sheep? When you come home with that sheep, you’d throw a party, right? Now, there are several practical questions that must be asked, but hold onto those for the moment. Right now, I would like you to simply consider why astronauts would travel to Mars. Perhaps it is because we all have an innate animal instinct to explore the unknown, to travel out into the wilderness, and discover the undiscovered. In a way, the crew of the Ares III were like sheep who decided to leave the relative safety of their flock in order to venture out into unknown territory. Thus, Mark Watney becomes the Lost Sheep.
Jesus doesn’t stop at sheep; he goes on to tell a story about a woman who has lost a silver coin which is part of a collection of 10 coins she wears in a special headpiece. The woman sweeps the room and searches diligently until she finds the coin. After recovering it, she throws a party for the neighborhood to celebrate. But here’s the kicker: the party probably cost more than the value of the coin she found! Again, there are questions regarding the practicality of such party, but for now consider this: the coin had no control in whether to be lost or found. It was an item that fell to the will of gravity, physics, space & time. The woman had to make the effort to search and retrieve the Lost Coin. Such was the fate of Mark Watney. He could not control the antenna apparatus that knocked him to the surface of Mars hundreds of feet away from his crewmates. He became the Lost Coin, an object that had no control of its surroundings, at the mercy of the elements, and subject to physics, space & time.
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the practical issues raised by these parables and by The Martian. Why would a shepherd leave 99 sheep defenseless in search of one lost sheep? Isn’t it better to cut your losses, protect the 99 you’re sure you have right now, and make sure you don’t lose another one? And the woman who found the lost coin: why throw a party valued greater than the coin which was found? It makes no economical sense to do such a thing! And as my wife pointed out in the car ride home from the movie theater: “Imagine all the good that could have been done for the hungry and the homeless, the refugee and the uneducated with all the money that was spent on trying to save one person who was lost on Mars.”
I agreed from a utilitarian perspective that more good could be done with the money, brain power, energy, and time spent on a rescue mission to bring Watney home from Mars if instead those monies and resources were spent on all the people who suffer here on earth. As we drove down Poplar Ave, she continued, “Was it selfish of Mark Watney to allow all those resources and all that money to be spent on him? Is his life more important than anyone else’s life?” Jeff Daniels’s character states, “It’s bigger than one person,” to which Sean Bean’s character replies, “No, it’s not.” Is it possible to justify the use of these resources for one person?
At this point in the conversation, it suddenly hit me: The Martian is a parable! It's almost as if Jesus began telling a story that started out, "How many of you after losing an astronaut wouldn't do everything within your power to bring him home?" Now, before my fellow nerds get in an uproar, yes, I know that there are many applicable skills for space travelers found in this movie, and I know that the science is pretty rock solid. But when asking the theological and philosophical question, “How big is God’s Love?” the answer will always be, “God’s Love is bigger than the universe! God will stop at nothing to bring you home!” When a non-believer says, “Explain God’s character to me,” the response of Christian believers should be, “God will use up all of God’s resources to find you, rescue you, and offer you a life that is greater than the life you are living right now.” This may not make any sense to us practically, and it may not fit our systems of logic. But it doesn’t have to. This is God we’re talking about, and our minds cannot comprehend the mind of God. God’s actions exist outside of our logic, and God’s plans are greater than our own plans.
You may be asking, “So, how is Mark Watney like the Lost Son?” I’m glad you asked! The son sets out on his own, does some things he probably shouldn’t do (Luke doesn’t go into great detail, but let’s just say the words ‘squandered’ and ‘dissolute living’ show up), but at some point he comes to his senses. He realizes that life is better with his father; life is truly a life worth living when he’s back home with his family. He has to eat some nasty food and work some shady jobs before he sets off for home, but he did it all to survive. He makes the conscious decision not to die.
Watney decided he wasn’t going to die on that planet. He used science to create water in a controlled environment, used human feces to act as fertilizer for his potatoes, and put his life on the line numerous times to simply survive as a castaway millions of miles from home until help arrived. But just like the Lost Son, Watney had to make the decision to survive, had to wake up to his reality, and had to put all his efforts into finding a way home.
All of us get lost at some point in life whether we’re like the coin that doesn’t even realize it’s lost, or the sheep that follows its animal instinct to wander and explore, or the son who makes questionable choices before waking up to turn his life around. Or maybe you’re like the Lost Astronaut who feels abandoned and alone and thinks maybe your life isn’t worth saving. Dear reader, listen to me when I say that God’s Love for you is bigger than the universe! God will stop at nothing to rescue you and bring you home!
God’s grace covers us all, but grace requires sacrifice. God’s own Son died on cross for the world to know how great God’s love is. There was no greater sacrifice than that! When we accept that love, we start making the conscious choice to change, to sacrifice, and to allow parts of our old self to die so that we may become more like Jesus. When this transformation occurs and our lives as New Creation begins, we start to see others the way God sees them, to love others the way Christ loves them, and we encounter the Holy Spirit living through our neighbors.
The story of God’s rescue mission is about one person: You! God loves you so much, that God made the greatest sacrifice imaginable in order to bring you home. You may say that this makes no sense, but it doesn't need to make sense for it to be true. God loves you and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
If you’re like me and you’re looking for a great movie to see this weekend, I highly recommend The Martian (a.k.a. The Parable of the Lost Astronaut). It currently has a 93% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com and it’s Certified Fresh. The Martian is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity (i.e. Matt Damon’s buttocks). If you see any other spiritual undertones or metaphors in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, please share them in the comments section.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Susan and I have been active members of Collierville United Methodist Church for the greater part of our lives. We love our church, and we love telling others about it! Through the years we have served on dozens of committees, work areas, and both local and international mission teams. So when the opportunity arose to collaborate with Pastor Kris in the planting of a new church, we eagerly volunteered for such a unique outreach.
In spite of the hundreds of congregations found in Collierville and in neighboring towns, some folks still have a hard time finding themselves in church these days.
Peace Tree UMC is a new type of church plant supported by Collierville United Methodist Church. We are committed to reaching friends and neighbors who are currently M.O.S. “Missing on Sundays.” Many people who are not connected to a faith community are people who live and work amongst us: they attend local schools, serve in restaurants, work in hospitals, repair our cars, guide us with our investment portfolios, prepare coffee at Starbucks, and even exercise with us at the gym. Peace Tree wants to form new relationships and share the promise of God’s love with all people in all kinds of places and spaces, every day of the week.
The question that Susan and I have asked is, "How do we help foster these new relationships?"
Recently, we attended a New Church “Boot Camp” hosted by the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences. One of the topics of the 3-day conference was a fascinating but unsettling session regarding millennial attitudes and impressions towards Christians and traditional worship. We were surprised to learn the statistics on how poorly Christians are viewed by a majority of 18 to 39 year old young adults who do not have a regular connection to a faith group. In the follow-up session, the leaders of the workshop presented us with case studies of helpful techniques used by successful church plants that have brought thousands to Christ.
Once we completed "Boot Camp," Peace Tree UMC formed a Launch Team, and we regularly meet for worship, fellowship, and ministry planning. The primary way we hope to build community is by planning a network of House Groups in preparation of Peace Tree's official launch. By sponsoring weekly house meetings as well as small group meetings held in public spaces, we hope to connect our Mid-South neighbors with new friends in the faith. Our prayer is that these small groups of believers will connect with other small groups within the Peace Tree family in order to one day form a larger missional, worshiping community. There is much work in front of us, but we look forward to what God has in store for Peace Tree!
+Len & Susan
Follow the journey of a new church as we answer the call to reach people in Collierville, Memphis, and the Mid-South.