Sermon for January 23rd, 2022
1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
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!”
4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Faith & Film X: Encanto
Three Minute Film Synopsis
Encanto is the story of the Madrigal family in early 20th century Columbia. Madrigal is a name that sounds a lot like the word "magical" and I think that's on purpose. The Madrigals are literally a magical family, living in a magical house. But more than that, pay attention to the names in this story--they are important!
First is Abuela Alma. Alma is the Spanish word for "soul" and she is indeed the matriarch, the soul of the family. Her granddaughter, the main character of the film, is Mirabel. Mira is Spanish for "look" and bella means "beautiful." Look (or open your eyes) for what is truly beautiful (that's the theme of the film). I'm going to let the two of them take the story from here:
Notice that the candle comes to life right after Abuelo Pedro sacrifices his life to save his young family. Pedro, or Peter...Saint Peter, of whom Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church" (or maybe my magical house). So the house and all of the Madrigal children and grandchildren have magical powers...all except for Mirabel, who seems very normal compared to the rest of her family. Of course, I think Mirabel's power is the ability to open her eyes, and the eyes of others, to see the real beauty, the true beauty that lies beyond the magic.
But the first thing Mirabel sees when she opens her eyes, are cracks beginning to appear in the walls and floors of their magical house. She also sees cracks and stresses and pressures in the relationships among her family members, who are trying very hard to live up to their reputation in the town as the "magical family Madrigal."
So Mirabel goes on a quest to find out what is wrong with the house (the casita) and how she can save it. It is a quest that reunites her with her long, lost, mysterious Tio Bruno; a quest that helps her to better understand and appreciate her older sisters, and a quest that finally forces her to confront--and then reconcile with--her Abuela Alma, her soul; a quest that ultimately destroys and reestablishes the very foundations of her magical house and her magical family.
A Prophet Without Honor (or Power!)
Alright, we're gonna talk about Bruno (even though we don't talk about Bruno). Bruno is Maribel's long lost uncle, and the black sheep of the Madrigal family. That's because his special gift is the gift of prophecy--and no one really likes to hear the truth, especially difficult truths about themselves. Here are some of the reasons we don't talk about Bruno:
But Bruno isn't the only prophet in the movie. Mirabel takes on this role when she tries to warn her family about the cracks in the house, and she too is silenced, ignored, and even blamed.
We saw this theme of the lonely, rejected prophet in the movie "Don't Look Up." It actually originates in the Old Testament, with prophets like Elijah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, who bring difficult truths to Israel (and say things like, "the house of Israel is falling apart") and are despised and rejected for it. But perhaps the most famous rejection of all is the rejection that Jesus himself faces when he tries to preach to his own people and his own family. Jesus famously says (in today's scripture passage) "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And just like powerless Mirabel, we read that even the Son of God "could do no deed of power there" in his own house among his own family.
How Firm a Foundation?
When Mirabel goes looking for Bruno in his magical tower, and also inside the walls of the house, she finds a whole lot of sand behind the scenes. And cracks. And we are reminded about Jesus' parable of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the wise man who built his house on the rock. Really, the entire movie Encanto is about the very important question, "What foundation is your home, your family built upon?" Is it built on the foundation of your magical powers (or your special skills and abilities)? Because those things change in time. They are sand, and not a great foundation. Is your house built on the foundation of your reputation, or your relationships with your family members? Because like sand, those things shift and change as well. Near the end of the movie, when the Madrigal's house has collapsed, they rebuild it. Without their powers. Without their reputation. They rebuild the house on the bedrock of their renewed love for each other. We know from 1 John 4 that God is love. And God's word is the only foundation strong enough to build a house upon.
By the way, did I mention that the house, the casita in this film is actually a Christ type? It comes into being from the light of a miraculous candle (Jesus is described as the light of the world). The casita can do miraculous things (like Jesus), it loves, shelters, and protects all who come to it, and when the casita is crumbling in its final moments, it sacrifices its own life to save Mirabel. But like Jesus, it comes back from the dead to (presumably) live forever. This was the second most interesting Christ type I've ever encountered in a film.
Magic, Miracles & Spiritual Gifts
Several years ago, I preached a sermon series on the "seven spiritual gifts" found in Paul's letter to the Romans. There are seven Madrigal children with special gifts (or eight, depending on how you count them--which is an ironic coincidence, since Paul's list of spiritual gifts is also either seven or eight, depending on how you count them).
A lot of people tend to think of those spiritual gifts in the Bible as magical superpowers that God gives to us in order to make us special. But just like the characters in Encanto, when we make things all about us, it tends to backfire, creating pressure, frustration, false expectations and hurt feelings. Here's Luisa Madrigal with more to say about that:
When we let our supposed gifts become our defining feature, that lessens who we are in the sight of God and other people--it makes us one-dimensional caricatures, and not the multi-dimensional, complex and imperfect human beings. Luisa--she's the strong one. Isabella--she's the perfect one. Neal--he's the pastor. Rusty--he's a bass player. We are so much more than our gifts. In fact, the reason God gives us gifts at all is not to make us special. God blesses us in order that we might be a blessing to others. The reason you have gifts is so that you can give them away.
There's a beautiful scene where Antonio, the youngest Madrigal, is about to receive his gift. Listen to the questions that Abuela Alma (Grandmother Soul) asks him, while all the people of the community are gathered around him as witnesses:
In case you didn't quite catch that, she says "Will you use your gift to honor our miracle? Will you serve this community and strengthen our home?" It reminds me a lot of the promise we make when we join the church, standing in front of the congregation gathered as witnesses. If you remember that day, you might remember that I (or a previous pastor) asked you the question: "Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, participating actively and responsibly in its worship and mission, through your prayers, gifts, study and service?
The Madrigals in the film function as one family, just as we in the church are one body. We each are given gifts, not so that we can be special, but so that together we have everything we need to do the work God calls us to do. I'm going to let the film have the last words today, because I think this song is a beautiful metaphor of what it means to be children of God, and the family of God, his church.