Sermon for February 1st, 2015
2The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. 3He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. 4He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. 5Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. 6The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.
13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you.
Faith & Film III: Guardians of the Galaxy
- Film Clip #1: Trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crIaEzXgqto
Three Minute Plot Summary
There are a lot of characters to keep track of in this film. But the central character, the first one we meet, is Peter Quill. Peter is a young boy, maybe about ten years old, on earth in the year 1988. We find him in a hospital waiting room, listening to a mix-tape on his Sony Walkman--a cassette tape his mother made for him of her favorite songs from the 70s and 80s. The songs from this tape provide the backdrop of the entire movie, and Wednesday night when we were all watching it together in the Robert Young Centre, you could really tell who remembered the 70s and 80s!
Unfortunately for Peter, his mother is dying of cancer. She gives him a wrapped present, and tells him how much she loves him, and when she dies, Peter sprints out of the hospital in tears. He is immediately beamed up into a spaceship and whisked away into the stars.
Twenty-six years later, we meet Peter again. Now, he goes by the nickname Star Lord, and he is somewhat of an intergalactic playboy, mercenary, scavenger, and all-around-rogue. We find him tracking down an ancient orb with mysterious powers that he intends to sell to the highest bidder.
There are several people (mostly bad guys) who are also looking for this orb. One is Ronan, a religious fanatic and sci-fi terrorist who wants to use the orb to destroy an entire planet and all its people.
Peter Quill (Star Lord) beats the others to the orb and barely escapes with it to the planet Xandar.
Ronan dispatches his top assasin, the beautiful but deadly Gamora, to take out Star Lord and retrieve the orb. A pair of bounty hunters also find him: A boisterous, talking raccoon named Rocket and his walking tree companion, named Groot. Rocket is a talker, while Groot only seems to know three words for any occasion: I am Groot.
Gamora goes after the orb, Rocket and Groot go after Star Lord, and in the process all of them (including Star Lord) get arrested by the Xandarian police and thrown in an interstellar prison. There, they meet Drax the Destroyer, a musclebound walking thesaurus who takes everything literally. Drax is the sworn enemy of Ronan, who killed his wife and daughter.
Somehow, the five of them--Drax, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Star Lord--manage to escape together from the prison, with the orb, and they form an unlikely partnership (the Guardians of the Galaxy) intent on selling the orb, or, at least keeping it out of the hands of Ronan. But when Ronan finally catches up to them, his forces brutally defeat the Guardians, he takes the orb from them, and proceeds back to the planet Xandar, which he intends to destroy using his new-found power.
The Guardians regroup, form some new allies, and even manage to secure the help of the Xandarian government that had previously thrown them in prison. In a climactic final showdown, Ronan is defeated, the orb is recovered and given to the Xandarians for safekeeping, the Guardians of the Galaxy are pardoned and accorded the status of heroes for their role in saving the planet.
Gathering the Outcasts
Any guesses on who the Christ-type is in this film? If you said "Groot" you're not necessarily wrong--Groot performs miracles, shows love and compassion, sacrifices his life to save his friends, and then comes back in resurrected form. However, I don't think he's the primary Christ-type. We'll talk more about Groot later.
As is often the case, the primary Christ-type is the primary character, Peter Quill. Because he's a bit of a scoundrel, that may not sit well with some folks. Remember, a Christ-type is not Christ: There are similarities, but also some places where the similarity ends. We learn early in the film that Peter Quill is half-human, and half divine or celestial (which is what divine means). He is the child of his earthly mother, and a celestial being his mother describes as "an angel composed of pure light."
As an adult, Peter goes by the name "Star Lord," and we are reminded of our scripture passage from Psalm 147: The Lord "determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names." God is, of course, the original "Star Lord." But we also learn from Psalm 147 that the Lord "gathers the outcasts...heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds...the Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground."
Peter Quill, Star Lord, does all of these things. He gathers together a group of individuals that society has rejected, individuals who are all wounded and brokenhearted in some way. Peter is the one who brings them together, and the one who holds them together, which is not an easy task. He lifts them up, and together they literally cast the wicked (or at least Ronan) to the ground.
At the climax of the film, Peter Quill dies on a cross of wood (more on that later), surrounded by criminals (technically the other Guardians) defeats the evil enemy and is resurrected from the dead. On account of his actions (and because of the cross) those criminals who died with him are also resurrected from the dead, forgiven for their transgressions, and share with him in paradise.
I Call You Friends
One of the most powerful themes in this film is that of friendship. In the beginning, the Guardians are (with the possible exception of Groot) all loners. Brokenhearted, angry, violent loners. They despise each other, and the world. But over the course of the film, they come first to a grudging respect of Peter, and then each other, and finally that respect turns to admiration, and admiration to genuine friendship.
- Film Clip #2: Twelve % of a Plan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDFom5Typ0s
Our second scripture passage today is John 15:13. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." By the end of the film, all of the guardians routinely put each other's lives above their own, and even risk their lives for the people of Xandar whom they do not know. It is their friendship that compels them to do this. It is the genuine love and acceptance brought about by friendship that heals them, that transforms them from people who despise others, people who guard their own interests, into people who are capable of guarding the galaxy.
We Are Groot
This transformation is especially reflected in the character of Groot, the giant walking tree who, through most of the film, repeatedly affirms his individual identity, saying "I am Groot." But there is a touching scene at the climax of the film, where the Guardians are trapped in a crashing spaceship, plummeting to certain death. Groot stretches out his wooden arms around them, growing his branches to encircle and protect them. Listen to his words in this clip, which reflect the transformation they have all experienced:
- Film Clip #3: We Are Groot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVpq9pAjmE0
I said earlier that I don't think Groot is a Christ-type. Not quite. That's because he's a type of something else, something very closely associated with Christ. Groot is not a Christ-type...he's a Cross-type. He is a type of the wooden cross which held Jesus as he died. Groot's name sounds a lot like "Rood," the Old English word for the cross. In fact, there is a famous Old English poem--perhaps the oldest poem in the English language, called "The Dream of the Rood." This poem is told from the point of view of the tree that becomes the cross, undergoes the crucifixion along with Christ, is resurrected with him, and ultimately honored as the greatest among all trees. In the film, right as Groot is about to make his sacrifice, he stretches out his arms in the form of a cross.
Invitation to the Table
In Guardians of the Galaxy, the character of Groot forms a powerful symbol of the wooden cross, and the sacrifice it represents. But the cross is not the only thing in the Christian story made from the wood of a tree. Jesus the carpenter, the Lord of the stars, on the night before his arrest, the night before he was thrown in prison, sat down at a wooden table. Around that table with him were the outcasts, the sinners, the loners and rejects that he had gathered to himself--those whom he called "friends."
Their lives were so transformed by that friendship, and by his sacrifice, that long after he left them, they continued to share that same meal together, around a simple wooden table, much like this one. We share that meal, around this simple wooden table, right down to this very day. You are invited--especially you who are lonely, despised, and rejected by the world. You are invited to this table, and to this meal. You are invited by the one who created and guards all galaxies. You are invited by the one who said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you...I have called you friend."