Sermon for February 2nd, 2020
Proverbs 21:21-31 (OT p.603-604)
21 Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. 22 One wise person went up against a city of warriors and brought down the stronghold in which they trusted. 23 To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble. 24 The proud, haughty person, named “Scoffer,” acts with arrogant pride. 25 The craving of the lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor. 26 All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back. 27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when brought with evil intent. 28 A false witness will perish, but a good listener will testify successfully. 29 The wicked put on a bold face, but the upright give thought to their ways. 30 No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord. 31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NT p.213)
6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Faith & Film VIII: Ford v Ferrari
Three Minute Film Synopsis
Ford v Ferrari is, on the surface, the story of how Henry Ford II (chairman of Ford Motor Company) triumphed over his Italian rival Enzo Ferrari (owner of Scuderia Ferrari) by building a Ford race car that decisively beat the fastest car in the world at the time (a Ferrari) at the 1966 Lemans race in France, the oldest and most prestigious event in automobile racing.
That's on the surface. But more accurately, it's the story of two friends: Legendary race car designer Carroll Shelby, and hall of fame race car driver Ken Miles. It's the story of how they became legendary, and how they became friends, despite each man's deep personality flaws, despite great personal challenges, and odds that were clearly not in their favor. It's an underdog story--sometimes Ford is the underdog against Ferrari, and sometimes Shelby and Miles are the underdogs against Ford.
But through several intense races, setbacks, and fights, Ford builds their racecar, while Miles and Shelby build their friendship, and in the process each comes to a better understanding of the film's central question: Who are you?
Who Are You?
At the very beginning of the film, Carroll Shelby (who was himself a race car driver earlier in his career) is told by his doctor that he can never race again, calling into question his very identity, his self-image, and everything he loves.
Who are you, when things don't work out the way you planned? We're going to come back to this theme in a little while.
Reformed and Always Reforming
At the beginning of the film, Ford Motor Company is also having an identity crisis. Henry Ford changed the world with his innovations, but two generations later, his grandson inherits a company that is stuck, mired in crippling legalism and corporate bureaucracy.
The young executive in that closing shot is Lee Iacocca, who has an innovative idea, which we're about to see in the next clip. But first, I want to give credit where credit is due. This is an excellent film, and the reason we're talking about it today is because one of our congregation members, Dan Barr, recommended it, and pointed out a classic Presbyterian theme in the film. Here are Dan's words:
"Not sure if you selected your final film for the upcoming series but I recommend "Ford vs. Ferrari". Christopher and I watched it yesterday. It is a very good film that would fit the theme of "reformed always reforming". In order to be a serious international sports car competitor, traditional lines of authority and processes had to be bypassed and simplified for Ford and its partner Shelby American - a race car manufacturer. Sometimes limits have to be tested in order to make advances in technology and safety. Similar to Jesus testing and outwitting the religious authorities of his time through verbal discussions with them."
Well put, Dan. Thank you.
Victory Belongs to?
In that last clip, Iacocca says that Ferrari means "Victory." Watching people in the film talk about Ferrari, you get the sense that they know who they are as a company. But the idea of victory is a theme that runs throughout the film in a number of ways. Enzo Ferarri, Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles, and all the top executives at Ford, are portrayed as highly competitive men--people for whom winning is an all consuming thing. Victory at all costs.
Proverbs 21 teaches that "the horse (or maybe the car?) is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord."
At the beginning of the film, Ken Miles has a serious problem controlling his tongue and his temper. He is incredibly talented, but not a team player, and this gets him into constant trouble with Ford, Shelby, and just about everyone else in his life.
At the climax of the film, the famous Lemans race, Miles is several laps ahead of all of his competition. His Ford teammates are in second and third place, and with a Lemans victory certain, Miles is set to become the first man to win the "triple crown" of racing. And then one of the Ford executives orders him to slow down, so that all three cars can pull across the finish line together, making for a nice publicity photograph for Ford. Based on everything we've seen of Miles, we fully expect him to ignore that order. And he almost does. But then something changes.
Because of an obscure Lemans rule (and this part is absolutely true history), this move ends up costing Miles the win, which goes to one of the other Ford drivers. This should have been (and probably was) devastating to Miles, but instead he humbly thanks Shelby for giving him the opportunity to race at Lemans.
You get the sense that in that critical moment, his idea of "victory" changed. His identity and his happiness is no longer grounded in externalities like winning, but from an inner peace and security that comes from knowing who you are, and what you have accomplished. Again, Proverbs 21: "All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back."
One might also recall the words of Jesus, who taught his disciples that in God's Kingdom, the first would be last and the last would be first.
The Perfect Lap
Speaking of God's Kingdom, there's a scene before the big race where Miles is describing to his son, Peter, his idea of "the perfect lap." What he describes begins to take on the tone of the sacred--it's almost as if he is looking toward heaven...race car driver's heaven.
In our scripture reading from 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul is nearing the end of his life, and he famously describes his life's work in terms of a race, saying that "the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Like Ken Miles, you get the sense that he is at peace with who he is, and what he has accomplished in this life. He goes on to say,
"From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
These are the great apostle's last words in his last letter, envisioning his own "perfect lap."
Who Are You?
Ken Miles has one more scene in the film, after the Lemans race. It is beautiful, tragic, and historically true.
In order to answer the question "who are you?" Ken Miles has to lose the race. In order to answer that same question, Carroll Shelby has to lose his friend.
As Christians, we too are often called to lose in order to win.
Luke 9:23-25. "Then Jesus said to them all, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?'"
Who are you? And how will you be remembered when all is said and done? Will it be for all the things you gained in this life? Or for all the ways in which you gave yourself away?