Sermon for January 31st, 2021

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Leviticus 19:33-34 (OT p.107)

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Matthew 18:1-4 (NT p.19)

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

John 3:13-16 (NT p.94)

13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Faith & Film IX: E.T. the Extraterrestrial

Three Minute Film Synopsis

An alien spaceship lands in the middle of a forest one night to collect plant samples, but is discovered by some government scientists. The spaceship makes a hasty getaway, and in the process accidentally leaves one of the aliens stranded on earth. This gentle creature meets and befriends a young boy named Elliot, who hides him in his closet and introduces him to his brother Michael and sister Gertie. Together, the children teach him about human life, and call him "E.T" which is short for extra-terrestrial--literally outside of earth.

As ET learns to communicate, he tells the children that he wants to "phone home" and together they devise a plan for him to contact his spaceship and return to his home. Meanwhile, the government scientists are searching for ET and closing in on his location. Elliot and ET continue bond with each other and even begin to share each others thoughts and emotions. When ET begins to grow weak and sick, Elliot does too.

At this point, the scientists intervene, and take over Elliot's house, setting up a sealed triage facility in an attempt to save the lives of both Elliot and ET. When ET ultimately dies, the link between them is severed and Elliot recovers, only to grieve the loss of his friend. But ET's spaceship, having heard the call, returns, and ET miraculously comes back to life. The children and their friends manage to escape with ET back to the forest, where he tells them goodbye, returns to his ship, and ascends into the night sky once more.

Entertaining Aliens & Angels

Showing hospitality to an alien is nothing new in the world of the Bible, as our scripture passage from Leviticus reminds us. Of course, the word "alien" has more than one meaning, but all of those meanings come from the Latin word "alius" which simply means "other." Or someone who is different than us. Whether it's a being from outer space, or someone with a different language and culture, God's commandment to his people is clear: Remember that you yourselves were once strangers in a foreign land, so treat "others" with kindness and love--the way you would want to be treated.

In this clip, Elliot shows kindness & hospitality to someone who is very much "other" than he is:

Even the idea of an "extra-terrestrial" guest is not new in the Bible, where sometimes angels (often called celestial beings--literally beings "from the stars") show up on a person's doorstep needing hospitality. The epistle to the Hebrews famously puts it this way: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."

Through the Eyes of a Child

Steven Spielberg, the director of E.T. the Extraterrestrial, filmed many of the key scenes with the camera at a low angle, as if we are seeing things through the eyes of a child. At one point, Elliot tells his little sister Gertie that grownups can't see ET--only kids can see him. Which almost proves to be true in the following clip:

The mom is so focused on important grownup things--like groceries and dry cleaning--that she doesn't see ET. Of course the children in the film are the heroes: They find him, see him, help him, believe in him, and are transformed through their relationship with him. This should remind us of Jesus, who told his followers that "unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Broken People

In many ways, this is a movie about broken, hurting people. At the beginning of the film, we learn that Elliot's family is broken, as his parents have recently separated. When Elliot teaches ET about life on earth, he uses violent images--action figures having wars with each other, sharks eating fish... But one of the best scenes that exemplifies the brokenness is when the children take ET trick-or-treating on Halloween. In this next clip, Elliot is a hunchback; his brother Michael has a knife through his head; ET is a ghost (invisible!) and almost everyone they meet has some kind of deformity:

Our scriptures teach us in Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. John Calvin called this "total depravity." To me, it's the idea that we are all imperfect people who need help sometimes. We are people who need a healer, a savior. Which leads us to the next theme:

Jesus the Extraterrestrial

In all the years we've been doing this Faith & Film series, we have encountered many "Christ types," but ET is the first one we've seen this year. And ET is just about the most clear-cut Christ type in any movie I've ever seen. But first, what is a Christ-type? It's simply a fictional character who reminds us of Jesus, who embodies some of his characteristics or his story. Christ types are never a perfect one-to-one match with Jesus in every way, but usually enough for us to recognize and appreciate. So let's make the comparison (between Jesus and ET the Extra-terrestrial):

Is that too many similarities to be a coincidence? Did Steven Spielberg to that on purpose? When he was asked that question, he gently reminded his interviewer that he's Jewish, and what would his mother think if he made a movie about Jesus? I don't think it was intentional, but I do think that the story of Jesus is a powerful, moving, and life changing story. It has been called the greatest story ever told. It's no surprise that this story filters into our unconscious minds and shows up in so many places, in our art, our music, and our literature. And that's why we do this sermon series every year--to see and recognize OUR story, and remember how dear it is, and just how much it means--not just to us, but everyone in the world.