Sermon for February 13th, 2022

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Romans 8:28-30

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Galatians 5:13-15

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Faith & Film X: Free Guy

Three Minute Film Synopsis

Free Guy will certainly NOT win best picture at this year's academy awards. But I think it is definitely the light-hearted, feel-good, funny, inspirational movie of the year. And it was nominated for at least one academy award: Best Visual Effects!

Guy--the main character of the film--lives in Free City, where he takes care of his goldfish (Goldie) and works at the bank with his best friend (Buddy). Of course, if you paid attention to the trailer a few seconds ago, you already know that Guy is a program, a background character in a video game. His sole purpose in life is to occasionally to get punched in the face by the "real" players in the game. You can tell the difference between the "real" players and the non-player characters because the real players wear sunglasses, which help them to see things that allow them to play the game.

When Guy falls in love with one of the real, sunglasses-wearing players, his life (and his programming) start to change. The girl he falls in love with is Molotov Girl, or in real life Millie Rusk--a computer programmer who wrote the original code for the video game along with her partner Keys, which was then stolen by Antwan, the current owner of the Free City Video game, and the film's primary villain. Antwan has turned the code written by Millie and Keys into a violent, degrading (but popular) video game experience. Their original code, however, was an experiment in creating an evolving and self-aware artificial intelligence.

Inspired by Millie, Guy begins to turn the video game world upside down, by basically being a "good guy"--helping and protecting his fellow NPCs from the violence of the players. People in the real world take note of this, although they don't realize that "blue shirt guy" is a program himself. Eventually, Millie and Keys figure it out, right around the same time that the Antwan attempts to shut down the game so he can release a sequel, and hide any proof that he stole the code. Shutting down the game, however, would also wipe out Guy, his world, and all of his friends. So Keys and Millie hack into the system to try to save them, while Guy and all of his friends band together, and the "real life" gamers of the world watch in suspense. After several explosions, crumbling buildings, wild car chase scenes, and even a boss fight at the end, Antwan manages to destroy their world, but in a final twist, the video game characters are able to use the original code from Millie and Keys to create a paradise for themselves where they can be truly free, and happy, and themselves.

Freedom vs. License

There's lots of irony in that clip, of course. They appeal of a fantasy style shoot-em up video game is the freedom: You can do whatever you want in a video game. You can defy the laws of physics, gravity, and of course, the laws of morality, too. And as you saw, complete freedom often results in complete destruction. Or as we Calvinists like to call it, the "total depravity of mankind."

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrestled a lot with that question of freedom vs. license. On one hand he challenged the super-restrictive laws and regulations of the religious leaders in his day. He spoke often of the freedom we have in Christ. But he also knew that freedom could be abused when it is not tempered with restraint, and guided by love.

In the film, Guy shows love for everyone--Millie, Buddy, Goldie, random people on the street, and eventually that love inspires people, and reminds them that one person's freedom doesn't have to come at the expense of someone else's.

Open Your Eyes

So is Guy a Christ figure? Maybe. He does die and come back to life quite a few times. Or maybe he's more like one of the apostles--the followers of Jesus who first proclaimed the gospel and converted people to Christianity. The apostles (like Guy) basically had to tell people that everything they thought they knew about the world was wrong, that there was something more, something better waiting for them, if they would only open their eyes.

Film Clip #3 - Put 'em on

For what's its worth, this is also the ever-recurring theme in all of our movies this year: Open your eyes, wake up, look up, things are not what they seem, who can you trust, where can you find the truth? Sometimes, even though we can clearly see the truth, and we want to share it, we want to "save" the people around's not that easy. Fear gets in the way. Or confusion. Or habit. Jesus said that some people could not believe because their hearts were hardened.

In the film, though, Guy doesn't stop trying. He even loves his enemies, and wants to open their eyes, too. In the next scene, Guy is fighting against a bigger, stronger, badder (but only half-baked) version of himself, which Antwan has created for the sequel, and is now using to try to destroy Guy. For reasons that will become obvious, it's one of my favorite scenes in the movie. But watch carefully what Guy does with his sunglasses at the very end of the clip, and remember that the sunglasses are a metaphor for truth, freedom, good news, what we as Christians would call "salvation."

Film Clip #4 - Boss Fight

Paradise Lost & Regained

The key premise of this film is that two programmers created a virtual world, a digital paradise; then they created artificially intelligent life to live in that paradise and enjoy it; but a powerful, evil figure came along and hi-jacked the world, twisting it and perverting it into something violent, destructive, frightening, and immoral. That perfect world, that digital paradise, was still in there somewhere, but it was hidden, waiting for a special guy to come along, a guy who could bridge the gap between the people and their programmers, a guy who would love them, teach them, fight for them, and ultimately save them, so that the digital paradise could be found and restored once again.

Gee, does that story sound familiar?

I think Guy is actually two characters rolled into one: He's the first man, Adam (which is essentially the Hebrew word for man, or guy), and he is Christ, who is often referred to as the "second Adam" or the "new Adam." Watch in this clip as Guy "crosses the bridge" then takes a "leap of faith"--while back in the "real world" the villain, Antwan, is trying to destroy the video game's servers with an axe; trying to destroy everything and everyone just to stop Guy from saving it.

Film Clip #5 - Bridge

Love Letters from God

Right now you might be thinking, "Pastor Neal has got to be making all these connections up. Surely the people in Hollywood who write, direct, and produce films aren't secretly trying to sneak Christian messages into every single movie they make, right?

I don't think they're intentionally trying to do that...but I also don't think they can help it. God's story is our story. It's the quintessential human and divine story, embedded in our culture, our art, our music, our literature, our psychology, and it permeates every story we could possibly tell. It's like love letters from God, everywhere you look, if you know what to look for, and if you have a relationship with the author.

Oh wait...I think there's a clip about that, too.

Film Clip #6 - Epilogue

Did I mention that this movie is also a love story? So is the Bible. May you seek and find the author, and may God's love fill the pages of your story, too. Happy Valentine's day, First Presbyterian Church!