Sermon for January 21st, 2018
1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.
24 “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. 25 He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. 26 She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead.
Faith & Film VI: Wonder Woman
I have said that movies are the great literature of our era. But there's another type of literature, also born in the early twentieth century, also looked-down upon and rarely even considered "literature" that may come in a close second. I'm talking about comic books. Before you dismiss that idea, consider that five of the top ten highest grossing movies of 2017 were based on comic books. Together, these films represent almost 2 billion dollars in ticket sales, which is more than any other single genre of films--including drama, romance, comedy, action. Whether you love them, hate them, or ignore them, the stories we are most interested in as a society are stories about comic-book superheroes.
And the highest grossing super hero movie of 2017--the year that began with the largest women's march in history, the year that ended with the #metoo movement and the downfall of scores of prominent men for sexual harassment of women--was also the first Blockbuster superhero movie starring a woman, directed by a woman and about a woman...Wonder Woman.
Three Minute Film Synopsis
The story begins on Themyscira, the legendary hidden island of the Amazons -- female warriors from Greek mythology. Diana is the daughter of the queen of the Amazons, and we follow her story from childhood into adolescence and young adulthood as she trains for battle and learns the stories of her people. One day she observes a plane crash into the ocean near her island and rescues its pilot, Steve Trevor, an American soldier and spy caught up in the fighting and struggles of World War I.
Diana ends up leaving her island with Steve Trevor and together they embark on a quest to end the war, which Diana believes is the work of Ares, the Greek God of War. Along the way Diana begins to understand that the world and its people are far more complicated than she had originally believed. Despite this, even as she is confronted with acts of terrible inhumanity, even as her core assumptions are shattered forever, and even as she experiences great loss, she maintains a strong commitment to the ideals of truth, love, and compassion for all people.
Gods and Fallen Angels
While this story references classical Greek mythology, if you scratch just a little beneath the surface, it's really classical Christian mythology with the names changed. Here's a clip of young Diana as her mother tells her the story of how the world (and people) came to be.
Eventually, we learn (spoiler alert) that the "God-killer" is in fact, Diana, who is revealed to be the daughter of Zeus, the weapon by which Ares will be defeated and humanity saved.
We heard in the clip that "Zeus created beings born in his image, fair and good, strong and passionate." For what it's worth, in actual Greek mythology, mankind is created by Prometheus with a little help from Athena.
But in Christian mythology, God, the king of the heavenly beings, creates humans in his image and calls them good. Satan poisons the hearts of mankind, and starts a war in heaven, for which he is cast down to earth. God sets in motion a plan to save mankind by sending his own child to defeat Satan and save humanity.
Change the names--Zeus, Ares, Diana--to God, Satan, Jesus, and we should recognize our classic Christian story of the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind, plus or minus a few minor variations.
But there's another story, a little bit more obscure, that might be familiar to students of the Bible. Diana, or Wonder Woman, is that rare figure among comic-books and hollywood movies who fights, shoots, rides, and leads as well or better than any man. She is a warrior woman. She is a superhero.
And there is one book in the Bible, more than any other, that is full of superheroes--the book of Judges. That's where we get the story of Samson with his super strength (and super-weakness for Delilah); the judge Shamgar, who kills 600 Philistines with a stick; Ibzan who had 30 sons (that's kind of like a super-power!); and Gideon the underdog, who defeats an entire army with just a few men. And then...there's Deborah and Jael, two warrior-women in a book full of men.
In our scripture reading today, the bad guy is Sisera, a Canaanite General who is oppressing the people of Israel. The Israelite general, Barak, goes to Deborah to ask for her opinion and she tells him to lead the army into battle. But he doesn't believe it can be done, and so Deborah takes the initiative, leading the army into battle. Another woman, Jael, is the one who strikes the final blow, killing Sisera and freeing the Israelites from their oppression.
In what might be one of the most stirring scenes from the film, Diana/Wonder Woman makes a similar move, breaking through the fear and paralysis of the men, and ultimately inspiring them to follow her into battle. The clip is appropriately called "No Man's Land."
Throughout the film, Diana clings to the belief that people are basically good, and that if they can only be freed from the corrupting influence of Ares, there will be peace in the world. When she finally faces Ares, her nemisis (much like his biblical counterpart, Satan) twists the truth and places the blame elsewhere. He says (while quite appropriately engulfed in flames) "Look at this world. Mankind did this, not me. They are ugly, and filled with hatred." It's a powerful statement because we, like Wonder Woman, see that there is quite a bit of truth to it.
Then, as an example, Ares drags in front of Diana Doctor Poison, a female German scientist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Here's the clip. Incidentally, we should be reminded of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.
Notice, at the climax of the film, Wonder Woman taking the shape of the cross? In this movie, our Christ type is not Jesus crucified and resurrected. It is "Christus Victor," the classic name for the Jesus who triumphantly goes into battle and defeats Satan, while mankind stands accused, hanging in the balance.
Like Jesus, Wonder Woman sees the sinfulness in the woman before her, but chooses to remember the goodness (represented by Steve) and ascribe that to all of humanity instead.
Thus it is truly not about what we deserve...it's about what our savior chooses to believe about us.
1 John 4:10-11. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."