Sermon for January 19th, 2014

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1 John 1:5-7

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

Faith & Film: The Croods

Film Clip #1

Today's film summary might be a little longer than three minutes, because most of our clips will be in this part, and because I actually need to point out some themes as we go along.

As you've just seen, the Croods are a family of cavemen. Grug is the father of this family, and keeping his family together, keeping his family alive is the driving force that motivates him throughout the movie. You'll often see Grug picking up members of his family and literally throwing them out of harms way to safety. Other times you'll see him pull his family together and wrap his mighty arms around them to shield and protect them. Grug is strong, but he's also cautious. You heard his daughter say that his one rule is "never leave the cave." But also has a few others: New things are bad. Change is bad. Curiosity is bad. All of these things will kill you. And these rules are written in pictures on the wall of the cave the family is confined to for most of their existence. But as Grug's daughter says in the introduction, "What we didn't know was that our world was about to come to an end...and there were no rules on our cave wall to prepare us for that."

Grug's daughter is named Eep. Like the sound a mouse makes. But she is far from timid. Like her father, she is strong and strong willed, but she is not cautious. She's adventurous. She doesn't want to stay in the cave. She hates the dark, and she loves the light. One night while her family is sleeping in the cave, Eep sees a light...and this is an unusual thing to see in the middle of the night. She follows the light outside the cave and up the mountain, where she discovers a boy with fire (something she has never seen before). The boy, who actually looks more like a modern human than the Croods do, is named Guy. I'll let him introduce himself:

Film Clip #2.

Eep and Guy, over the course of the movie, fall in love with each other, much to Grug's dismay. Before we go on, however, there's something I think we need to recognize about Guy and Eep. Remember, the Croods look like cavemen. Guy looks (and acts, and thinks) like something slightly more evolved, something new. A new kind of man. Guy means man. In Hebrew, the word for man is...Adam. So here we have Adam and Eep. The first "modern" (relatively speaking) couple. Coincidence? I'll let you decide.

Back to our story...There are other members of the Crood family: Ugga, the mother; Thunk, the brother; Sandy, the baby; Gran, who is Grug's mother-in-law; and a wide array of interesting and deadly animals.

Now, Eep's new friend, Guy, has predicted the end of the world. And certainly the world is changing. When the Crood family cave is destroyed, they are forced to go on an adventure in search of a new home. Their journey becomes the very first family road trip:

Film Clip #3.

At the beginning of their Journey, Grug, the father, is the natural leader. His driving force, after all, is keeping the family safe, keeping the family together. But his caution, and his dislike for anything new or different...well, that doesn't work so well in a world where everything is new and different. Meanwhile, Guy emerges as a new kind of leader for the family, one who uses creativity and new ideas. The family begins to look to Guy to lead them, and this bothers Grug, who still believes that his strength will serve them better. Watch how this struggle for the heart and soul of the family plays out:

Film Clip #4

This is more than just a leadership struggle though, and it's more than brains vs. brawns. One evening on their journey, Grug tells one of his typical stories, in which the characters do something risky, and then die. The moral, of course, is "never not be afraid." But then something interesting happens. Guy begins to tell a story. In his story, the main character takes a chance. But instead of falling...she flies. The family, entranced by the story, asks Guy, "Where did she fly?" And this is where we need to put on our theological glasses, because Guy's answer should sound familiar: He says, "To tomorrow. A place with more suns in the sky than you can count. A place not like today or yesterday; a place where things are better." He goes on to say, "I've seen it. That's where I'm going."

Film Clip #5

Guy is a new man, a new Adam, who comes to teach the Croods a new way to live. He warns them that the end is near, and he points them to the heavens; a better place where he is going, and where he offers to lead them to. Sound like anyone we know in the Bible? Jesus does all of these things, so Guy could certainly be a Christ-figure. But I suspect that really he is more like a prophet. He is sent to the people to lead them away from darkness and toward the light.

I say that Guy is more like a prophet, because if he is a true Christ figure, we would expect him to sacrifice his life to save the others. But interestingly, it is not Guy, but Grug who does this. Eventually, Grug and Guy reconcile their differences. They need each other. Grug comes to appreciate the need for Guy's new ideas, while Guy comes to appreciate being part of something larger than himself; being part of a family. Together, Grug and Guy lead the family as they follow the one point, they even take a "leap of faith" into what looks like clouds. It seems like their destination, "tomorrow" is finally within their grasp--and then an earthquake opens up a large chasm in front of them, and their journey comes to an abrupt end. This final clip is the climax of the film. It's a little longer than the others, but it's where the main themes of the film--following the light, family, sacrifice, hope conquering fear--where all these finally come together. Most of all, watch the transformation that has taken place in Grug's character.

Film Clip #6

If you are reaching for the tissues right now, just remember this is a G-Rated film--you can be pretty confident it has a happy ending. But, after much longer than three minutes, this is where I'll end my summary. We've already touched on the major themes in the film, and I think it should be fairly evident where the biblical connections are, and the connections with today's scripture passage. So I'd like to spend the last few minutes actually connecting this film with us...with the church.

This movie has at its core the family. There's a scene shortly after the one we just watched, where Grug is in a cave by himself, waiting for the end and remembering his family. He draws each of them on the cave wall (even Guy) and instead of smashing the picture with his hand the way he usually does, he draws a large circle around the family, and we see that in the drawing, the circle is his arms, around his family.

We, the church, are the family of God. We are held in the circle of God's strong arms, which protect us and embrace us. Like Grug, God wants to keep his family together, and to keep his family safe.

But there are many dangers, toils and snares that wait for God's family in this world, many things that threaten to divide us as a family, things that threaten our very existence as a church. Sometimes, God in his mercy shields and protects us from these dangers with his strong arms and his close embrace.

But sometimes, God also calls us to follow the light. To leave behind what is comfortable, what is familiar, and to follow him into a new way of being the church in an ever-changing world. The founders of the Presbyterian church, the 16th century Reformers knew this. It's why their motto (which is still one of our mottoes) was Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda. That's Latin for "The Church Reformed...and always being Reformed." This especially applied to structures and styles of worship. One of the oldest documents in our constitution, The Scots Confession, puts it this way: "Not that we think any policy or order of ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places; for as ceremonies which men have devised are but temporal, so they may, and ought to be, changed, when they foster superstition rather than edify the church."

And yet, we are terrified by change. Like Grug, when it comes to our programs and our outreaches, our structures and our committees, our worship and our witness, we too often say "New is bad. Creativity is bad. Curiosity is bad. Leaving the cave is bad. If it worked for us in the 1950s or the 1980s, it should still work for us today." We are afraid, and rightly so. It is easier to hang on to a slow and steady decline than to take a chance that might mean a more sudden and abrupt death. But listen to these words from the 2009 edition of the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church. After lifting up the mission of the church, it says "The church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life." In other words, it our mission and our obligation to continually risk the life of our church for the sake of the gospel.

Finally, as terrifying as change can be, we must remember the words exchanged between Grug and his daughter Eep before he throws her across the chasm. She said, "I'm scared." And he said "Never be afraid." When you are standing at the edge of the cliff, feeling like you're about to be hurled into the void of a changing world, not sure whether God is strong enough to get you to the other side, and you say to him, "I'm scared..." Know that his reply (the same as Grug's reply) echoes through almost every page of scripture, through every age and to every person:

In Joshua 1:9, God says, "Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Psalm 91 tells us, "Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you." In John 14 Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." In Luke 12, Jesus says, "Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." And over and over and again and again, God says to his children, "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid.

So First Presbyterian Church...let us be brave this year. Let us be bold. Let us follow the light of Christ into the world. We may stumble and we may fall, but God is our hope and our tomorrow. So I think we will fly.