Sermon for February 5th, 2017
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
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.
1 Corinthians 15:58
58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Faith & Film V: Sully
Three Minute Film Summary
On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilots Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles board US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Three minutes into the flight, the airplane strikes a flock of birds, disabling both engines. Without engine power and judging themselves unable to reach nearby airports, Sully lands the aircraft on the Hudson River. The 155 passengers and crew members evacuate without casualty. The press and public hail Sullenburger a hero, but the incident leaves him with PTSD, and he repeatedly imagines the plane crashing into a building.
In the course of the film, Sully learns that communications data received during the flight suggest that one engine was still running at idle power. Theoretically, this would have left him with enough power to return to the airport. The National Transportation Safety Board claims that several computer simulations show the plane could have landed safely at either airport, even with no engines. Sully, however, insists that he lost both engines, which left him without sufficient time, speed, or altitude to land safely at any airport.
Sully realizes that the Board believes the accident may have been pilot error, which would end his career. He arranges to have the simulations rerun with live pilots. The simulations result in successful landings, but Sully argues that they are unrealistic because the pilots knew the emergency situation they would face, and were able to practice the scenario several times. The board accepts that in real life the pilots would have taken some time to react and run emergency checks before deciding to divert the plane.
The two simulations are run again, this time allowing a 35-second pause before the plane is diverted. This time, the simulations both end with the plane crashing into buildings well short of the airport. The board announces that analysis of the port engine, now recovered from the river, confirms Sully's account that both enginges were in fact disabled by the bird strikes. The board concludes that Sullenberger acted correctly in selecting the best of the options available to him, which saved the lives of everyone aboard. (Courtesy of 2/4/2017 Wikipedia Entry)
The Obligatory Christ Type
So far, we've had a Christ Type in every single movie we've looked at this year. In this film, I think it's pretty obvious who it is. Captain Sullenberger is the good shepherd who leads his flock to safety and salvation. But wait a minute, pastor! This is a true story, how can there be a Christ Type? When someone in real life reminds us of Christ, we call that person or behavior "Christ-like" not a Christ Type, which is the realm of literature. But remember, even though this is based on a true story, it becomes a work of literature in the hands of the scriptwriter and director who tell the story.
It's worth noting that scriptwriter Todd Komarnicki, in several interviews has been quite open about his Christian faith, and he even calls his theory of storytelling (which is obvious in this film) the "eternal now." So while Sully the person is indeed Christ-like in some respects, Sully the main character in the film is, I think, an intentional Christ type. Three moments in the film, written by Komarnicki, illustrate this:
The first is a phone conversation between Sully and his wife. She says, "The whole world is talking about you. My Sully. I still can't believe it." At this point in the film, some people are saying that Sully is a hero, but some (like the NTSB investigators) are calling that into question. We, as viewers, are not yet certain. In this moment, the person closest to Sully makes her declaration: You're a hero. You saved everyone.
In the gospels, some people are saying that Jesus is the messiah, some are saying he's a false prophet. Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and t he disciple closest to him, Peter, says, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God.
There's also a scene in a bar where two men suddenly recognize Sully, much in the same way that two of Jesus' disciples recognize him on the road to Emmaus. They may be slightly drunk when they say this, but they notice Sully in front of them and on the TV screen and say, "Look! Sully's here, and there. He's everywhere! And then, just like Jesus, the omnipresent Sully vanishes, leaving behind only his empty drink glass and a tip.
The last one is not so much a moment as it is a choice of words. At the climax of the film, when Sully refers to the individuals who were on the airplane that fateful day, he calls them 155 souls. Not people, lives, passengers, but 155 souls. This, of course (remember, in the hands of the screenwriter) makes him the savior of souls. In other words, a clear Christ type.
Oh, and let's not forget the subtitle of the film. Sully: Miracle on the Hudson. What's the miracle? You might say it's making a 37,000 pound airplane "walk on water."
The Virtue of Vocation
You may have heard of something called the "Protestant Work Ethic." We, as Presbyterians and the theological heirs of John Calvin, invented that. But a little explanation is in order. It's not that Protestants work hard and everyone else is lazy. Rather, in the middle ages, the Church divided all work, all professions, into two categories: Sacred work and secular work. The implication was that sacred work (being a priest, a monk, a nun) was a higher calling and thus more important to God than being, say, a soldier, a merchant, a teacher, or a builder.
At the dawn of the Reformation, John Calvin argued against this belief, teaching instead that everyone has a divine calling from God, and that the most humble or mundane profession, if done to the glory of God, was sacred. This inspired Calvin's followers to take their work seriously, even passionately, as an offering to the Lord. The "protestant work ethic" is exactly that: The idea that for protestants, and especially Presbyterians, hard work is not just a transaction in exchange for money owed to an employer. It's an ethical imperative owed to God.
This film does a great job of reflecting that ethic, directly on the vocation of the airplane pilot, and indirectly on several helping vocations in the city of New York.
The clip ends right before the best line. After saying he "eyeballed it" Sully tells the investigators that "the best chance those passengers had was on that river. I’d bet my life on it. In fact, I did. And I would do it again."
Jesus tells his followers in Matthew 7 that when disaster strikes, the one who has built his house on a solid foundation will live, and the one who has not will fall. Most interpretations of this scripture passage assume he's talking about himself--I am the foundation, build your life on me. But if you read the whole chapter, all the other parables in it clearly have to do with actions, works, and doing the right thing. Another way to interpret this parable, in that light, is that when disaster strikes, it is hard work and prepration that lay the foundation for your wellbeing in this life. This is consistent with the teachings of the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament.
All Things Work Together
I mentioned earlier that the scriptwriter for this film, Todd Komarnicki, is a self-identified Christian. His favorite scripture verse is Romans 8:28 - "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."
Both in the film, and in several real life interviews, when Captain Sullenberger was asked how it felt to be a hero, he quickly responded that he wasn't the only one. He pointed to the crew of the airplane, the passengers, the first responders, the commercial boat operators and others who dropped what they were doing to come to the rescue.
Basically, in order for the "miracle on the Hudson" to have occurred, everyone and everything came together in just the right way, in just the right time. Some call that luck. Sully would probably call it doing your job. We call it providence, and it's the subject of Romans 8:28.
But does it only mean Christians? All things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose? A lot of people read the verse this way.
But ask yourself this question: Who does God call according to his purpose? As mentioned earlier, John Calvin believed that God called everyone, spiritually, vocationally, in every sense, although not everyone answers the call.
Jesus, in Matthew 25 had a few things to say about who God calls, and how you can tell.
"Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we (did all these things?)’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Jesus also told his disciples, "If you love me, feed my sheep."
In other words, those who love God and are called according to his purpose are those who reach out with love to help their fellow human beings; those who do their job, their sacred work, with joy and passion and in service to others. Whether we realize it or not, we are showing love to God and answering God's call when we are showing love to God's children.
When we come together in this kind of sacred purpose, just as Captain Sullenberger and so many others did that January morning on the waters of the Hudson river, then its really not surprising that somehow things "come together" in miraculous, providential ways. In fact, it's no surpise at all. It's a promise.
With God's help, may all of us work diligently, doing our part to make that promise a reality.