Sermon for January 9th, 2022

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Psalm 121:1-8

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Luke 21:25-28

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Faith & Film X: Don't Look Up

Three Minute Film Synopsis

Kate Dibiasky is a graduate student at Michigan State University when she discovers a large comet (later named after her) on a collision path with Earth. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy, confirms her discovery and the two immediately notify the proper government authorities. They are brought to the White House for a meeting with the President, who expresses skepticism about their discovery. The two then attempt to leak the news on national television, where they are (once again) not taken very seriously, despite the serious nature of their news. The government later changes its mind and decides to take the threat seriously, but it soon becomes apparent they are really more interested in exploiting the crisis for political gain.

The President launches a mission to destroy the comet before it impacts the earth, but at the last minute the mission is scrapped when a wealthy tech-CEO (and political donor), Peter Isherwell, convinces the President to instead mine the asteroid for precious metals, breaking it up in the process. This rather dubious plan is controversial and divides the country (and the world). Meanwhile, Kate Dibiasky (the graduate student who discovered the comet) grows increasingly frustrated at all of the political and media callousness, has a nervous breakdown and decides to go home. Her professor, Dr. Mindy, becomes a media sensation, gets swept up in celebrity culture, has an affair with a news anchor, and is confronted by his wife.

The comet becomes visible in the sky, and as people continue to be divided, Kate and Dr. Mindy encourage people to "just look up" and believe what their eyes see. The President launches a counter-campaign, telling people "don't look up" because those who want you to look up are "looking down their noses at you."

Ultimately, the plans of Peter Isherwell's tech company fail, and the end of all life becomes an imminent reality for the people of the world. Dr. Mindy returns to his home and seeks forgiveness from his wife. The President and Peter Isherwell board a spaceship along with other billionaires to escape their fate (which also meets with a disastrous and hilarious end). Dr. Mindy and his family, along with Kate Dibiasky and some family friends, sit down to a home cooked meal together as the comet strikes the earth, and give each other what comfort they can.

Satire & Truth

From the dry synopsis I just gave, you'd probably be surprised to hear me say this is the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. Its subject matter, and particularly the ending, sound depressing--but they are actually skillfully treated, and the film strikes just the right balance between satire and thoughtfulness. It will make you laugh when it's making fun of other people's crazy beliefs, and it will make you think when it's making fun of your crazy beliefs.

Satire has been around for a long time, and there's plenty of it in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets used satire to mock and call attention to the disastrous policies of the Kings of Israel, which led the nation to its destruction. In the New Testament, Jesus often uses satire, like when talks about removing the log from your own eye before you criticize the speck in your brother's eye. Most of Jesus' satire is directed at the religious leaders of his day (the pharisees) and their hypocrisy in judging others when they themselves are just as guilty of that they condemn.

Good satire--in the Bible and in literature and in film--is usually an attempt to speak unpleasant truths to those in power (or about those in power) when it otherwise would be ignored, disbelieved, or dealt harshly with. Like all the films in our series this year, Don't Look Up is concerned with the question of what is true, and you are we supposed to believe? Do we believe the government? Do we believe scientists? And if so, which ones? The ones backed by corporate and political interests, or the lone, semi-crazed scientist, shunned by media, yelling things on the street corner that we really don't want to believe?

  • Film Clip #2: Dr. Mindy's Rant

The irony here is that that lone scientist, in this case, ultimately proves to be the one who is right. Such was the case with the Old Testament Prophets and with Jesus, too. We tend to crucify those who tell us inconvenient truths, long before we come to believe them.

Comfort, Hope & Faith

While this film and others demonstrate our current obsession with the truth and where we should put our trust, the beautiful thing about Don't Look Up is that it ultimately shifts to better questions, like where we should put our faith, and our hope. In the scene where we are introduced to tech-CEO Peter Isherwell, listen closely when he tells the audience what his great dream in life has been--and the answer he seemingly has provided.

  • Film Clip #3: Peter Isherwell Introduces BashLiif

Notice the religious imagery surrounding the introduction--Michelangelo's famous painting of God reaching down to Adam, and the voice-over saying the words of Genesis: "Let there be Life." Of course, since the name of Isherwell's company is BASH, putting them together gives you "BASHliif" (which is exactly what the comet does at the end of the film). But Isherwell's desire is a very real, very universal one: an inexpressible need for a friend who would understand and soothe me."

Throughout the film, all of the characters are running around crazy seeking exactly this. The approaching comet just serves to heighten and accelerate that desire--President Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) seeks comfort and soothing in the affirmation of the crowds. Dr. Mindy seeks comfort and soothing in the arms of a glamorous television anchor who is not his wife. The people of the world seek comfort and soothing in technology--the doomed missions to divert the asteroid, or profit from it. But one of these missions is getting underway, while the film flashes symbols of power (jet airplanes, national monuments, roaring rockets) the camera cuts to scene of a young girl, calmly reciting words of comfort and soothing from another source, an ancient one: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures..." And by the end of the film, when all options are exhausted and the end is near, we see images of God's creation, of a Native American doing a ceremonial dance, of people bowing down in a buddhist temple, and of a family gathering around the table to pray...

Two Prayers & The Last Supper

What do we do in the face of life's inevitable grief and tragedy? Well, the truth is we do a lot of things (also represented in the film: escape through alcohol, sex, drugs, entertainment). But there's another way people have been dealing with difficult things for thousands of years: prayer. There are two prayers represented in the film, and they couldn't form a better contrast. The first is from the President's chief of staff, and has all the charm (and humor) as the Pharisees prayers that Jesus makes fun of:

  • Film Clip #4: Jonah Hill's prayer for stuff

Meanwhile, Dr. Mindy has returned to his home, sought forgiveness from his wife, and is sitting down to one last supper with his family. What would a last supper be without Jesus? In this case, I think the Jesus character is Kate Dibiasky's long-haired boyfriend, Yule, played by Timothee Chalamet (Yule, by the way is another name for Christmas). Earlier in the film, Yule tells Kate that he was raised by his parents as a Christian. He adds, "I hate them, but I found my own way to it. My own relationship. I'd appreciate if you didn't advertise it, though." In this last scene, Dr. Mindy and those gathered around his table are still experiencing that inexpressible need for a friend who can understand and comfort them. And Yule says, "I got this."

  • Film Clip #5: Yule's prayer and the end of the world.

In the aftermath of Yule's prayer, as the walls shake, as the earth crumbles, Dr. Minsky's family is at peace. Watch for the shots the camera freezes, and listen for Dr. Minsky's final words of acceptance and gratitude.

  • Film Clip #6: We really did have everything.

The comet is coming. Whether it's an actual comet, another disaster on a planetary scale, or simply the end of your particular life in God's chosen time..all things come to an end, eventually. That is the undeniable, uncomfortable truth. But the scriptures promise that one thing never comes to an end: God's love for us--and because of that love, we believe that God will bring us into his eternal embrace. We put our trust in many things, and we seek truth in many places. But I hope and pray that above all this, you will always find your greatest hope, your greatest comfort, your greatest faith, in the God who created the universe, in his Son who gave his life to show us the way, and in the Spirit who fills our hearts and our lives with peace.