The following post has been adapted from the sermon, "Remember," preached on July 21, 2019 at Peace Tree. Scroll down to watch the live stream video from that day.
Have you ever considered how important memories are? They place us in a larger story. They remind us who we are, where we came from, how far we’ve traveled, what makes us tick, and why we behave the way we do. Memories cause us to say things like “When I was your age…” Memories make us feel nostalgic; we think of simpler times, or perhaps we look back fondly and simplify the difficult times because we’re no longer in the midst of storms or battles.
Our stories are filled with memories, but oral and written stories aren’t the only mediums which arouse memories. Sometimes smells, places, people, and songs carry their own memories. Think about your grandmother’s house and the aroma which filled the air right after she had finished preparing your favorite dish. How often do you return to the restaurant you ate at when you and your spouse went on your first date? Have you ever returned to the hospital where your children were born? Do the fun songs you sang at summer camp ever pop into your head after all these years?
As individuals, we remember stories and recall memories that are important to us and our families. As the church, it’s important for us to remember too. We must share our memories with those who are younger in the faith. We have a responsibility to show others where we came from so that we have a better sense of where we are going.
We do this every time we read Scripture, every time we pray the Lord’s prayer or recite the 23rd Psalm, every time we sing a hymn like Blessed Assurance with the refrain, “This is my story, this is my song…” It’s important for us to remember God’s story and to locate our lives inside that larger story.
We’re able to recall certain memories from Scripture readings and prayers, and we remember moments in our faith journey whenever we sing certain songs. But there are particular rituals and sacred moments that have actually built memory into their own practices and liturgy.
For instance, every time we celebrate Communion, we repeat Jesus’ words: “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you…Drink this wine, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Jesus asks us to remember him. In our faith tradition, Holy Communion is one of only two sacraments with the other sacrament being Baptism. These are sacred moments when heaven comes down and kisses earth, when the community of those who have passed away surround us and celebrate with us. It’s a moment when God reaches out and imparts His grace, allowing us to glimpse the character and fullness of God.
Now, there’s nothing magical about the wine or the bread; the baptismal fount isn’t enchanted. However, there is something that can only be described as life-giving when the water of baptism touches our head. When we’re given opportunities to remember our baptism and to feel the cool, familiar touch of the water on our skin we are reminded that Jesus has washed away all of our sins.
I grew up in a very traditional United Methodist church with a pipe organ, a 40 person choir, acolytes, torch bearers, and a crucifer who lifted high the cross and led the choir in by processional every week. We even took the Bible off the altar, walked it into the middle of the sanctuary, and read Scripture while everyone stood and turned to face the God’s Holy Word.
During baptisms, the pastor of my home church would take this silver object filled with baptismal water, and he would shake it at the congregation so that drops of water would land on us, and he’d say the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
One of our pastors conducted infant baptisms in a way that would make me chuckle. He’d get a squirmy baby in his arms, typically in a fancy white baptismal gown, and he’d dip his hands in the water and place it on the child’s head and say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” But then, he’d take the baby in his arms and walk the child down the length of the middle aisle, showing the congregation this newly baptized member of God’s family.
The reason this practice of showing off a newly baptized baby made me chuckle was because it always reminded me of how Rafiki from The Lion King presented Simba as a newly baptized lion cub to the animal kingdom at the start of the movie.
The opening scene from this 1994 animated classic contains everything we see in church baptisms: parents who are proud of their child, friends and family who are there to lend their support, and an over-excited pastor who likes showing off babies to the entire congregation.
What an incredible moment it is when the sunlight breaks through the clouds and shines down on Simba, Rafiki, and all those on Pride Rock. I have to believe that the animators took some inspiration from Jesus’ baptism as seen in the Gospels. For instance, Matthew 3:16 reads, “Once he had been baptized, Jesus emerged immediately from the water. And behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove and alighting on him.”
There’s another part of Jesus’ baptism that I swear the writers of the Lion King ripped straight from the Bible. After Simba’s birth, baptism, and presentation on Pride Rock, his father Mufasa dies at the hands of Scar; however, Simba blames himself for his father’s death and runs away. But then, Rafiki, the shaman mandrill from the beginning of Simba’s story, is able to track down Simba. Rafiki finds a lion who is all grown up, and he tells Simba that Mufasa still lives before leading him to a pool of water.
Simba looks into the water and sees himself. He mutters to Rafiki, “That’s not my father! That’s just my reflection.” Rafiki says, “No, look harder. You see? He lives in YOU!”
Immediately, Simba hears his name called from the heavens: “Simba, you have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself…Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are…remember, remember, remember.”
Compare this scene to Matthew 3:17 which reads, “And behold, a voice from the heavens was saying: “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’s baptism this way: “The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit - it looked like a dove - descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: ‘This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.’”
Simba forgets who his father is and thus loses his identity. It’s only by working through the tough memories, by reclaiming his place in the larger story, by remembering who is father is that Simba fulfills his purpose and recovers from the trauma of his childhood.
The baptisms and epiphanies we witness in Matthew’s Gospel and in The Lion King are enough to make us ask: Have we forgotten who we are? Have we allowed ourselves to be distracted by outside influences? Have we allowed the hurts from our past to cloud our memory and cause us to lose our identity?
Perhaps it’s time remember who you are and whose you are. Remember that God has claimed you. God has adopted you. God has spoken your name. The Almighty has covered you with grace, has anointed you, and has washed away your sins.
Let’s remember our baptisms and be thankful! Let’s live according to the example of Christ. Let’s demonstrate love and forgiveness to each person we encounter. Let’s continue making disciples of Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let’s remember who we are. Amen.
Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. Students are on summer break, families plan family vacation, and everyone preps their grills for backyard grilling. We thought we'd get in the spirit of the season and share our favorite camps, activities, and family events for the summer of 2017. The best part is that you can do all these things in the great town of Collierville! So, without further ado, here are Peace Tree's list of 30 Things to do in Collierville This Summer.
1. Enjoy a free outdoor concert on the historic town square every Thursday night in June and July. Now in its 26th year, Sunset on the Square welcomes bands like The Vegabonds and Blind Mississippi Morris, and it features fun nights like Car Night that's sure to delight every member of your family. Find out who's playing next week's show on Main Street Collierville's Facebook page.
2. Catch a free outdoor movie every other Friday at the Avenue at Carriage Crossing from now through August 25th. This year's line-up includes fun family flicks such as Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing. Check out the entire summer schedule on Carriage Crossing's website.
3. Sign your young actor up for summer workshops with the New Day Children's Theatre. These camps take place at both the Harrell Theatre and at New Day's Studio. Visit their website to see which workshops still have spots available: www.newdaytheatre.org
4. Check out the Morton Museum's latest exhibit, Collierville Town Square: 1940s-1950s. Admission to the museum is always free, and you can learn more about the museum's hours at their website: colliervillemuseum.org
5. Knock down some pins and stay up late for Glo Bowling at Funquest every Friday and Saturday night from 9:30 p.m. til Midnight. Great for young adults and college students who haven't seen one another since the end of the spring semester. Learn more at funquestbowl.com.
6. Sign up your child for one of the many summer camps offered in Collierville. There's not enough space to list them all, but some of our favorites can be found at Maple Grove Farm, Creative Minds Art Studio, and the YMCA. And parents, studies show that summer camps help children with their critical thinking skills, boosts their learning, and makes them more resilient. What are you waiting for? Sign you child up for camp today!
7. Get outdoors and explore Hinton Park on Holmes Rd. It has a disc golf course, adventure playground for big kids, musical instruments, and greenbelt walking trails. Plus, there are several shaded areas to enjoy a nice picnic as a family.
8. Celebrate Independence Day during Collierville's annual celebration on July 3, 2017 at H.W. Cox Park. The town will be honoring men and women who have served in the military with a special media presentation during the event. For more info, email email@example.com.
9. Support local farmers and artisans at the Collierville Farmers Market. They set up in the parking lot at Collierville United Methodist Church (454 W. Poplar Ave.) every Thursday from 8:00 a.m until 1:00 p.m. Purchase everything from fruits, vegetables, and grains to guacamole, pepper sauce, and seafood. Learn about all of the vendors at colliervillefarmersmarket.org.
10. Lace up your running shoes and strap on your bike helmet before exploring all the trails that Collierville has to offer. There's over 18 miles of trails and connectors, and you can find them all at colliervilleparks.org.
11. Catch up with Lightning McQueen, Mater, and the rest of the pit crew in Disney-Pixar's Cars 3, premiering June 16th at the Malco Towne Cinema & Grill. Cars 3 is rated G and stars the voice talents of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, and Bonnie Hunt.
12. Play trampoline dodgeball, take a dive in the foam pit, and learn how to slack line at Get Air Trampoline Park next to Booya's. It's a great place to hold a birthday party, and on Friday and Saturday nights you can jump along to some hoppin' tunes from 9:00 p.m. until Close. Learn more at getairmemphis.com.
13. Hit the Town Square on a Friday night and enjoy the Bluegrass & Old Time Music Jam. Pickers from across the Mid-South descend upon the Square to play their favorite tunes while teaching younger musicians the classics. The jam starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends when the last person leaves!
14. Grab your paint brush and palette and create original art inside the Morton Museum. Artists of all levels are invited to paint and socialize. Learn more on the Morton Museum's calendar.
15. Sign your child up for one of the many VBS camps taking place throughout our community. Grace Evangelical Church is sponsoring a VBS in early June, Collierville United Methodist Church has one in mid-June, and Collierville Christian Church will have one in late July, just to name a few.
16. Taste what all the foodies are talking about and visit the newest restaurants on the Town Square: 148 North and Brooks Pharm2Fork. At 148 North, you can enjoy such treats as hand-dived scallops, pan-seared Alaskan halibut, and roasted rack of American lamb. Pharm2Fork offers a wide selection which includes old school salmon patties, oven roasted chicken, and prime NY strip steak.
17. Encourage a love of reading in your little ones by taking them to one of the many free story times offered throughout the town. You can take them to the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library, the Morton Museum of Collierville History, and Barnes & Noble.
18. Register your young athlete for the Grizzlies Youth Basketball Camp, coming to the H.W. Cox Community Center June 19-22. Students will develop their basketball skills and receive bonus treats including a reversible jersey, a full-sized Grizzlies basketball to take home, and two tickets to a future Grizzlies home game. Sign up at camppros.com.
19. Volunteer one of your Thursday mornings with the Collierville Food Pantry. Thanks to this organization and the work of its many volunteers, our neighbors can get the assistance they need to feed their families. Help is always needed in sorting food donations. The food pantry is open every Thursday from 9:00-11:30 a.m. Call (901) 853-3235 for more info.
20. Cast your line out at Herb Parsons Lake and go fish. You could catch anything from a bullhead catfish to a crappie, or even a largemouth bass. The lake officially opens 30 minutes before sunrise and it closes 30 minutes after sunset. For fishing tips and lake information, visit www.tn.gov.
21. Enjoy $2 movies at the Malco Towne Cinema & Grill during the 2017 Kids Summer Film Fest. This season's schedule includes The Peanuts Movie, Kung Fu Panda 3, and Trolls. Check out the whole line-up at malco.com.
22. Treat yourself to a macaroni and cheese egg roll with Sriracha honey dipping sauce at The Skybox Grill. You can also order up po-boy sandwiches, stone pizzas, and unique burgers and hot dogs. Take a look at their full menu at theskyboxgrilltn.com.
23. Find a hidden treasure at Sheffield Antiques Mall. Sheffield Antiques carries a wide variety of furnishings, artwork, collectibles, and much more. Get distinctive, unusual, and rare items to fill your space with wonderful options that make your area all its own. See what they have to offer at sheffield-antiques.com.
24. Stroll through the Town Square on a history tour. During the first and third Fridays of June at 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. a friend from the Morton Museum will lead participants through the Square's beginnings and describe the businesses you would have seen in the 1940's and 1950's. Call (901) 457-2650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a group tour for this wonderful exhibit.
25. Grab your swimsuit and cool down in one of Collierville's spray parks. You'll need your Spray Park Pass to access the splash pad at W.C. Johnson Park, but the spray park at Suggs Park is always free! Visit colliervilleparks.org for more info.
26. Volunteer one afternoon with the Collierville Animal Shelter. You can help care for the animals any day of the week from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. If you're interested in adopting a pet, then you'll have to arrive between 1:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Call the shelter at (901) 457-2670 to get more information, or visit awos.petfinder.com to learn more.
27. Laugh out loud during the Harrell Theatre's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This hilarious Stephen Sondheim musical will run from July 14th through July 23rd. The show is rated PG, and you can purchase tickets at the box office.
28. Enjoy a free concert from the North Star Boys Choir on June 18th at 7:00 p.m. Admission is free and the concert will be held in the Sanctuary on the Square (104 N. Rowlett St.). This group will share sacred music of all periods including spirituals, folk music, and classic works dating as far back as the 5th century.
29. Brighten someone's day by painting and hiding rocks in your favorite spot in town. 901 Rocks encourages creativity and spreads joy to neighbors of all ages. 901 Rocks has its own Twitter hashtag, a Facebook group, and even its own website. Design something fun on a rock today and become a part of the 901 Rocks movement!
30. Explore the wizarding world of Harry Potter at the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library on July 11th from 2:00-4:00 p.m. This traveling exhibit gives fans of all ages a chance to make a wand, create an immortality stone, and even see some fantastic beasts! The event will take place in the library's Halle Meeting Room, and you can visit colliervillelibrary.org for more information.
There you have it! What do you think of our list of 30 things to do this summer? Is there something happening in Collierville which we've missed? Let us know in the comments section below.
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
Summer is quickly approaching! With so many great camps, parks, and attractions in Collierville, you don't have to travel far to enjoy a fun family event. Check out Peace Tree's list of 30 things to do in Collierville this summer.
1. Walk the many trails found throughout Collierville's parks and explore the Peterson Lake Nature Center Arboretum (colliervilleparks.org/trails-arboretum).
2. Catch a free outdoor movie during Movie Mania at Carriage Crossing. Click HERE for the full schedule of family-friendly movies playing every other Friday night.
3. Discover what everyone's talking about and enjoy a sweet treat at the new Miccos Snocones on Houston Levee (www.miccossnocones.com).
4. Sign up your child for a fun week at VBS. Go back in time and visit Egypt at Collierville United Methodist Church, June 13-17 (www.colliervilleumc.org/vbs).
5. Enjoy a Friday night on the Collierville Town Square and listen to the music during the Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Jam starting around 6:30 p.m. (www.memphis-bluegrass.org).
6. Get involved with one of the many summer reading programs at the Collierville Burch Library (colliervillelibrary.org).
7. Sign up your young performer for one of this summer's Drama Kids summer camps. Click HERE to learn more about the different productions and camps being offered.
8. Learn to paint with Glenda Brown at the Morton Museum. This 4-week class teaches students the fundamentals of basic drawing skills, color principles, composition, materials & tools. (colliervillemuseum.org).
9. Stay up late for Glo Bowling at FunQuest every Friday and Saturday night starting at 9:30 p.m. (funquestbowl.com).
10. Grab a bite to eat for only $5 at the Wigfall Grey's Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, June 4th. Click HERE for more info including where to purchase tickets in advance.
11. Catch the premiere of Disney-Pixar's Finding Dory at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema & Grill on Friday, June 17 (www.malco.com).
12. Sign up your child for the 'Summer of a Lifetime' during Chick-fil-A's WinShape Camp, June 27th through July 1st (www.winshapecamps.org).
13. Grab your fishing pole and head out to Herb Parsons Lake. The lake is open one half hour before sunrise and closes one half hour after sunset. Click HERE for more info.
14. Enjoy a delicious milkshake from Mensi's Dairy Bar near the Collierville Town Square. Check out their menu HERE.
15. Help someone in need by donating canned goods at the Collierville Food Pantry (collierville.com/residents/organizations). Call ahead for drop-off information: 901-853-3235.
16. Fly a kite and play some disc golf at the new Hinton Park off of E. Holmes Rd. Click HERE for directions and information.
17. Bring the whole family to the 2nd Annual Suggs Park Field Day. Stay cool with free ice-pop and play awhile on the splash pad. Click HERE for more info.
18. Sign up your child for an enriching and inspiring week of Art Camp with Creative Minds Art Studios.
19. Help animals in need by volunteering with the Collierville Animal Shelter. Click HERE to contact them today.
20. Enjoy a fun evening of music on the Collierville Town Square during the 25th Annual Sunset on the Square, every Thursday in June and July starting at 7:00 p.m. (www.mainstreetcollierville.org).
21. Register and start training for this September's Tour de Collierville. Click HERE to see last year's route.
22. Catch the premiere of Universal Studios' The Secret Life of Pets at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema & Grill on Friday, July 8 (www.malco.com).
23. Grab a burger and a milkshake at Dyer's Café on the Collierville Town Square (dyerscollierville.com).
24. Watch the fireworks show with your neighbors on July 4th during the Independence Day Celebration at H. W. Cox Jr. Park. Click HERE for more details.
25. Sign up your child for a fun week of summer camp at the YMCA at Schilling Farms including a number of specialty camps (www.ymcamemphis.org).
26. Support local farmers and eat fresh after visiting the Collierville Farmers Market which takes place every Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the parking lot at Collierville United Methodist Church (www.colliervillefarmersmarket.org).
27. Cool down with an iced coffee from Square Beans on the Collierville Town Square (www.squarebeans.com).
28. Take your bicycle for a ride on miles and miles of trails that make up the Collierville Greenbelt System. Click HERE for more information.
29. Sign up your child for a fun, hands-on experience at Archaeology Camp being offered by the Museum of Biblical History (www.biblical-museum.org).
30. Help the Collierville Victory Garden with an upcoming Harvest Donation. Learn how you can volunteer today (www.colliervillevictorygarden.org).
Is anything missing from our list? Anything that you plan to do this summer that you'd recommend to others? Let us know in the comments section below.
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
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