Sermon for January 24th, 2021

From Neal's Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Micah 6:1-8

1 Hear what the Lord says:
    Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
    and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

3 “O my people, what have I done to you?
    In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
    what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Faith & Film IX: The Godfather

Three Minute Film Synopsis

Vito Corleone, also known as Don Corleone or simply "The Godfather," (played by Marlon Brando) is the head of a mafia family in New York City in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The film opens with the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter, with all the music and dancing and Italian culture on full display. Inside his study, Corleone receives visitors, who offer him well-wishes, call him "Godfather" and (more importantly) request his help.

In addition to his daughter, Corleone has three sons: His eldest, the hot-tempered Sonny, who is next in line to lead the family; Fredo, who is sweet tempered but not too bright; and his youngest son Michael (played by a very young Al Pacino) who is a soldier returning home from World War II and who wants nothing to do with the family business.

Organized crime is changing in the 1940s, and at a meeting of New York's five mafia family bosses, the following request is made of Don Corleone:

Corleone's refusal sparks a mob war between the families. When Vito Corleone is critically wounded in an assassination attempt, Sonny (the eldest son) takes over the family business, and Michael Corleone (the youngest son) finds himself drawn more and more into the family business, out of a desire to protect his father. The rest of the film centers on this transition.

When Sonny is assassinated (largely as a result of his impulsivity and lack of caution), and when Vito Corleone dies, Michael steps into power swiftly, with cunning and tactical brilliance. The film culminates with Michael standing as Godfather for his nephew in a beautiful cathedral, while outside his henchmen carry out a series of assassinations on his behalf, taking out the heads of the other mafia families and all of the enemies of the Corleone family. The final scene is reminiscent of the first, with important men and family members arriving at the Corleone house to pay their respects to the "new" Godfather.

Dons & Kings

I have loved this movie, and watched it countless times since I first saw it in college. It's one of my favorite films, and clearly I'm not alone in that. But until this week, I had never really considered the question of *why* I like it so much. It's a violent movie about organized crime, and the main characters are all guilty of heinous crimes. When I watched it again last week, I thought to myself, "What socially redeeming message could I possibly pull out of this? It's horrible! But man, I really love this movie. Why is that? Am I a horrible person?

And then I remembered one of my favorite characters from the Old Testament: King David. Like Vito Corleone, David rose up from poverty and obscurity to become one of the most respected and feared leaders of his age, a "father" to his people.

Wait a minute, Pastor Neal--are you comparing the most famous king in the Bible to a crime lord? Why yes, I am. David's rise to power began with an act of violence (killing the Giant Goliath), followed by literally thousands of acts of violence throughout his life. Mostly David followed a strict code of conduct and honor (much like Vito Corleone) but sometimes he broke that code--like when ordered the murder of one of his own soldiers, Uriah, to cover up his adulterous affair with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. David was also known to clean house sometimes, killing generals, rival claimants to the throne, and others who stood in the way of his ambitions--all in one sweep.

When David was old, his sons fought bitter wars among themselves to succeed him. Like in the Godfather, it was David's youngest son, Solomon, who unexpectedly emerged as the victor, and whose hallmark was his cunning and wisdom. Solomon also cleaned house shortly upon becoming King, killing his father's chief general and other enemies of his family. If you're a fan of violent transitions of power--or at least studying them from a safe distance--both the Godfather AND the Old Testament have a lot to offer!

Seriously, though. I think what I love about The Godfather is the same thing I like about David--their humanity. Neither was perfect (far from it, in fact) but each one did his best with what he had been given; each valued loyalty and dedication to family--even to a fault--and each experienced great successes and great failures, politically as well as morally. David is described in the Bible as a "Man after God's own heart." And Vito Corleone's last name literally means "lion hearted," where the lion is a classic biblical symbol for God.

Godfathers & God the Father

What is a "Godfather?" Long before that term referred to a Mafia boss, it was used in the church to refer to a man who stood as witness to the baptism of a child, and who promised (along with the parents) to help raise and teach that child about God, hence "God Father."

Mario Puzzo (the author of the novel upon which our film is based) is the one responsible for the term's usage and popularity in the mafia world--that's because his protagonists (Vito Corleone, and afterwards, Michael Corleone) both serve as Godfather to so many children, not just in their family, but also in their community.

But the mafia title Godfather (and the characters of Vito and Michael Corleone) are also reminiscent of God the Father--in the way they exercise control over the life and death of the people around them. Both the book cover and the movie poster for the Godfather feature a hand holding a cross with puppet strings. In a key scene, Vito Corleone tells his son that he "refused to be a fool, dancing on strings held by bigshots. Here's the clip:

Ironically, he wishes for his son to have been a Senator or a Governor--one who holds the power, one who "pulls the strings." In reality (and in the next two Godfather films) Michael Corleone ends up pulling the strings of senators, governors and popes, becoming a God-like figure himself with great power. Of course, while both of these fictional "Godfathers" may resemble God in some ways--caring for their people, dealing out justice and vengeance to their enemies--the Bible paints a different picture of God the Father: Got is not a puppet master, pulling strings and controlling people against their will, but rather (according to Matthew 5:45) causing "the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the just and the unjust alike," giving everyone the freedom to embrace or reject the love that he offers to all.

What Is Required of You?

Still, the parallels between the Godfather and God the Father in this film are remarkable. The following scene is probably my favorite from the entire movie, and it reads almost verbatim like a modern-day parable on our scripture passage from Micah 6:8. In the scripture passage, God (faced with people who constantly beg for his help but fail to worship him) says, "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you?" And the people reply, in effect, "What do you want from us? Money? Burnt offerings? Our firstborn sons?" Watch the similarities:

How often are we guilty of the same kind of attitude towards God? We put our trust in America, or the legal system, or our careers and hard work... until those things fail us, and then we finally come to our Father God, begging for help, begging for justice. And God (like the Godfather) says, in effect, "Why didn't you trust me first? I would have helped you. I would have made your enemies my enemies. I don't want your money or your sacrifices--I want your friendship, your obedience, and your love.

What does the Lord require of you?

The Godfather says "someday (and that day may never come) I'll ask a service of you.

God the Father says, "I have told you, O mortal, what is good: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.