In pm's words
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April 28, 2019, 9:00 AM

Of Marvel and Faith, part 4


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Here it is, the part of the franchise where our heroes begin to take their separate paths. It is here in this movie that Captain America and Tony Stark really start forging separate paths. But, first things are going pretty well.

The film begins with the Avengers successfully raiding a Hydra installation to re-take Loki’s staff after those agents have been using it to perform all sorts of experiments with it (namely the enhanced twins – Pietro and Wanda Maximoff – or as they are known in the Marvel Comic’s world, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch).

Bruce Banner and Tony take the brief time they have with the scepter to do their own experiments and tests. They quickly discover that there is a sort of artificial intelligence within the scepter itself and they believe that this could be the thing to really get their ‘Ultron Program’ off the ground. For awhile now, Tony has been fixated on building a defense program that would make the Avengers unneeded. He is hopeful that the scepter will be able to make that goal a reality.

As they celebrate their latest victory, something happens. The AI ‘awakens’ and begins feasting on information. Of course, it determines that the true enemy of Earth is humanity itself and begins the process of ending human life on the planet.

Ultron begins his quest to build stronger and stronger versions of himself (along with robot henchmen) to keep the Avengers from stopping his plans. He also is able to manipulate and employ the abilities of the Maximoff twins to his advantage as well. He ends up stealing a large source of Vibranium (the same material used to make Cap’s shield). Ultron’s plan involves using the vibranium to create a synthetic body for him to inhabit. This body would be nearly indestructible and if he is successful, he (potentially) couldn’t lose to anyone – not even the combined power of the Avengers.

The Avengers end up facing off against Ultron and his robotic army in the fictional land of Sokovia. While his first plan failed (creating and using the synthetic body which is now the physical manifestation of Tony’s AI helper JARVIS – now known as The Vision), his second plan is equally dangerous. He lifts the land of Sokovia in the air, hoping to attain a height that when the city drops would create a world ending event.

Working together the Avengers stop Ultron. But, the crack and friction between these once close friends and colleagues begins to show. Both Cap and Iron Man want the same outcome, but they have wildly different ways of achieving that goal. Tony ‘retires’ from the team as well as a few others. Leaving Captain America and Black Widow to train a new crop of Avengers: Scarlet Witch, Falcon, War Machine, and Vision.

This movie is the most forward in its gospel glimmers. Ultron remarks upon faith, scripture, and spirituality quite often in this movie. In fact, when he meets the Maximoff twins he is in the church at the center of town (the same place he’ll setup his device that lifts the entire area into the sky). He is constantly alluding to creation and destruction.

In many ways, Ultron believes he is the one with all the answers. Where as he’s looked at the entirety of the ‘human condition’ that there is only one solution to what is going on. Humanity has caused too much trouble and has to go. He cannot be persuaded to view this from another point of view. There are so many people who take this very ‘dark’ view of creation and humanity’s place within it. In their minds there cannot be another way.

As Ultron tries to create a new body for himself – one that will be limitless in its abilities to make his plans a reality, he ends up creating The Vision instead (with the help of Thor’s lighting and hammer of course). Vision’s first few words ends with the emphatic, ‘I am.’ Which, for anyone who has dived in a bit deeper than a mere surface reading of scripture would know is a pretty significant phrase. God says it. Jesus says it. I’m not quite sure of the true significance of those two words uttered from Vision’s lips are, but they are impactful. It’s also noted that there is a running ‘joke’ throughout the movie that Thor’s hammer is ‘rigged’ since no one, but he can lift it. Though, Steve Rogers does make it wiggle. However, Vision is perfectly capable of wielding it and hands it to Thor.

Is it because since he is newly created, he has no ‘sin?’ would Vision be able to lift it after a bit of time has passed? Who knows? More questions to ponder from this movie…

 

Ant-Man

Ahh, Ant-Man. The story of the tiniest of heroes who is able to pack a punch. We follow the life of Scott Lang a thief, no burglar who has been serving time in jail because he burgled a large corporation. All he wants to do is move on from that part of his past and be able to spend time watching his daughter not only grow up, but to be a significant part of her life.

However, Hank Pym has needs of his specific set of skills. He allows Scott to steal the Ant-Man suit and then use it to stop the plans of his one-time protégé – Darren Cross – who is keen to use similar technology to outfit militaries across the world (and make a boat load of cash in the process).

Scott, with the help of Hank and Hank’s daughter Hope, train him how to use the suit, communicate with ants, and break into Pym Industries to get the ‘new’ suit. There is a fight between the protégé and Scott where Scott has to do the one thing that Hank told him never to do: go sub-atomic.

Why not go that small? There wouldn’t be a way to stop you from shrinking and you’d get stuck in the quantum realm and you could be lost forever – happened to Hank’s wife. He doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else again.

Yet, Scott decides to sacrifice himself so that he can save his daughter and the world from the technology the Cross wants to unleash to the highest bidder. Yet, even as he saves he day, he continues to shrink. But, he’s able to come to his senses and get back to the regular world.

Again, we see a story that focuses on the ‘shrewdness’ of achieving specific goals to save others. Scott tells Hank, ‘That my days of breaking into places and stealing shit are over, so what do you want me to do?’ Hank’s response? I want you to break into a place and steal some shit.

Scott’s ability to break in and steal is exactly what is needed to be done. Now, I don’t know if that’s the way Jesus would want us to go about things, but desperate times do make a cause for desperate measures. Jesus tells us to be shrewd in how we live this life and proclaim the gospel and share in God’s love. Is what Scott, Hank, and Hope do a ‘shrewd’ interpretation of Jesus? It can be, sure.

This movie also focuses a lot on family. Scott wants to be with his daughter. Hank wants to protect his. Scott’s daughter’s voice is the thing that calls him back from the quantum realm. Reminding him again that he does have something to live and strive for. Something to get back to.

Our Lord calls to us as well. Jesus speaks Mary’s name in the garden, and it is in that moment after the resurrection that she knows who is speaking to her, but also remembers the promises that he has spoken about. He’s the real deal. His love is pure and filled to over-flowing for her and the world. In his voice speaking to her, she (and the rest of creation) has something to get back to.

 

Captain America: Civil War

 

This is where things start getting intense. After the events of Age of Ultron, the world governments feel they need to get a handle on these ‘enhanced’ beings in the world. There needs to be some sort of accountability. They are working as vigilantes for the most part – even if their work is indeed saving the world.

Yet, there is still collateral damage. People die. Property is destroyed. Whose going to pay for all this?

Things get turned up a notch when trying to take down a former Hydra agent – the Avengers cause severe damage and innocent people end up dying. In fact, many of those deaths are citizens of Wakanda. A reclusive and seemingly poor country in Africa.

Those Wakandan deaths added to the dangers that have already occurred in Sokovia and New York are exactly what the world governments need to reign in these ‘so-called’ superheroes. And Tony Stark is intent on getting those Accords signed and making sure all his ‘friends’ are a part of it and held accountable.

Captain America doesn’t see it that way though, he thinks it is an over-reaction and a dangerous precedent to give control of where they go to people with ‘other interests.’ He’s worried that they’ll prevent the Avengers and other superheroes from being able to help those in any need.

Needless to say, a big fight breaks out. Two new superheroes are introduced to the MCU – Wakanda’s Black Panther and New York’s Spider-man. A big (and glorious) battle ensues at an airport in Berlin. Tony is trying to ‘stop’ Captain America as he has sided with the person accused of bombing the signing of the Sokovia Accords (killing the king of Wakanda in the process). All the while, Cap and The Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes) is intent on stopping the real threat – a guy who apparently wants to use others like The Winter Soldier to cause terrible harm and catastrophe across the world.

But, that isn’t his intent at all. He wants the Avengers to suffer. To hurt. To feel the pain that they have caused others. In the process he tears the heart of the team in half as Iron Man and Captain America fight and eventually go their separate ways.

The biggest question that comes from this film is – whose side are you on? Are you on the side of accountability, but more restriction? Or, do you side with freedom, but being ‘hated’ by those in the world because of the results of your actions?

Either way – there is no ‘right’ answer. Both Cap and Iron man have drawn their lines in the sand and are unwilling to budge from those spaces. It tears people in their lives apart. They ‘essentially’ want the same thing, but are coming at it from totally different view points and see each other’s views as ‘wrong.’

We play this, ‘I’m right; you’re wrong’ game all the time. We do this in our faith communities whether they be relatively ‘small’ disagreements or even those disagreements that transcend whole denominations.

I cannot help but, think that Jesus shakes his head as we have these arguments. Not because he doesn’t have an opinion about what’s at stake, but is disappointed in our inability to have loving conversations with those we agree with.

Much like the many people looking in from the outside of Cap and Tony’s struggle said, “What are we doing… see what you’ve both have caused?”

In Matthew 18, we hear words from Jesus that I think much of our world and history has misapplied. Matthew 18:20 states – ‘wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ When we hear that phrase, most of us immediately think of worship. Yet, that’s not what Jesus is talking about.

If we look back just a few verses, we see Jesus is telling the people around him what to do when there are disagreements in the community. Saying how we should faithfully discuss with the one who has harmed you, alone, with others, and in the community. After those scenarios is when Jesus says the famous verse from 18:20.

So, in actuality, what Jesus is really saying is that he is present in those hard, awkward, and faithful conversations. Jesus is with us in those tough talks and disagreements. And we have to remember that Jesus is present with the person we are talking to. It isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t mean that there won’t be frayed or broken relationships as a result, but we approach those talks knowing that Jesus is with all those present.

 

Check out Part Five HERE!

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April 24, 2019, 1:00 PM

Of Marvel and Faith, part 3


Iron Man 3

At the end of The Avengers Tony Stark almost died. He sacrificed himself to save the world and realized that what the world need to be protected from is significant. It is this fear – fear for himself and the ones he loves – that drives him to build and create more and more Iron Man suits.

Of course, the enemy he faces this time is one who is deceitful as well. Employing the work of an actor to ‘play a role’ of evil to scare and frighten the entire world. Who uses people as weapons to cause havoc every where.

Tony Stark gets knocked down a lot in this movie, not just by bad guys, but by his arrogance and his insistence on doing this his own way with no help at all. This causes him to find help in places he wouldn’t expect – a young boy far from his home, and within the ability of the woman he loves.

Throughout this movie, Tony is confronted and controlled by his fear. Fear of not being enough, fear of the unknown, fear of trusting his life in the hands of those around him. This fear leads him to be an insomniac, constantly trying to find ways to abate that fear and restlessness. He dives into his work creating more and more Iron Man suits which causes tension to build up between his personal life and his ‘superhero life.’ His girlfriend, his friends, and more our hurt by this fear (and he is unable to see it).

Tony’s biggest fear is trusting others to care for him. Trusting others to help him achieve his goals. Trusting himself to be able to ‘defeat’ his and the world’s enemies. Trust is his biggest issue.

In many ways, our biggest fault as a part of God’s creation is trust as well. Especially in the world we live in today. We work harder, we work longer, because we don’t ’trust’ those around us. Trust them to do a ‘good job’ or trust that the work that we do is enough.

This lack of trust doesn’t help us when we are confronted by Jesus who asks us to trust him; trust him to love us where we are – in spite of who and what we are. We feel we have to do something more, something to earn that love and grace in some way. Yet, the more we ‘try’ to get it, the more we see how short we are in receiving that sort of love.

Yet, we remember that God has already given us that love and grace. It isn’t something we’ve ‘earned’ somehow, but it is just given to us out of sheer and full love.

Sometimes, it takes us seeing that from unexpected places in our lives to notice it and to accept that grace and love. Much like Tony being helped by a young boy as his life is seemingly unraveling because of the severe anxiety he is experiencing as a result of fighting the Chi’Tari in New York.

The community of faith that we find ourselves in and in which Jesus invites us into requires trust not only in the one extending the loving invitation (God), but also in the others that are a part of the community with us. It’s scary to relinquish that ‘control’ in our lives, but it is needed to live fully into that community.

Thor: The Dark World

Thor, much more than the other Avengers, is becoming more and more grounded in his role as a protector of Earth and its inhabitants. He is more and more living into the role that has been set aside for him from his father Odin – to be king of Asgard.

Here a new foe is at hand – the Dark Elves – who want to bring darkness to the entire world by using the abilities of a powerful object and relic called the Aether. An ancient relic that has been hidden from the zealous leader of the Dark Elves, Malekith.

Of course, the one to find this powerful relic of yore is none other than Jane Foster – Thor’s sort of girlfriend. When she finds it, she becomes ‘infected’ with its power and becomes a danger not only to herself, but to those around her.

Malekith wants to bring havoc upon all the nine realms and bring them all under the rule of the Dark Elves. Through a series of battles using portals and other weirdness as a result of all the realms being ‘aligned’ Thor is able to defeat Malekith and bring ‘balance’ and peace to the realms once again. All while thinking that his brother Loki has sacrificed himself – redeeming him in his brother’s eyes – to achieve that peace.

Jesus talks a bit about being shrewd in how we proclaim the gospel truth and sharing that love with the world. Thor is shrewd as well as he seeks the counsel and help of his brother. The one who literally tried to destroy Earth in a grab for ultimate power. That takes guts and a lot of trust.

There is also a strong parallel between the battle of ‘light and dark’ in this film with how we see and interpret the powers of light and darkness as well in our lives of faith. We know the light of Christ will prevail, even though it seems almost impossible against the forces of darkness.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cap is back in this sequel where he and his new friend (the superhero Falcon) team up to take on the terrorist organization known as Hydra that has – for years – worked behind the shadows within SHIELD itself. Placing adherents to Hydra’s flawed philosophies in strategic positions within SHIELD, the governments around the world, and other high profile institutions. Nick Fury realizes what’s going on and reaches out to Steve Rogers for help – which puts Steve in the uncompromising position of being a primary target of those evil forces within SHIELD.

Hydra’s goal is to control three massive air ships that will have the power to ‘unify’ the world because of the fear that it’ll be capable of unleashing. These airships biggest strength is their ability to target and take out suspects, potential threats, and others deemed ‘against’ Hydra/SHIELD’s endeavors. Needless to say, this is indeed an entirely frightening possibility within the MCU. Cap knows that this is wrong and seeks to stop it.

Meanwhile, Hydra uses the skills of Steve Rogers’ past – Bucky Barnes – who he thought died during WWII. Turns out he was ‘rescued’ by Hydra operatives, brainwashed, made into a super soldier (like Captain America) and has been strategically used to assassinate leaders and foes to Hydra over the past several decades.

The movie is resolved not only with Hydra being defeated, but SHIELD itself literally being destroyed itself. The only way to take Hydra’s power away is to unveil all the secrets of SHIELD to the world. Black Widow helps end SHIELD/Hydra by exposing all of its secrets, including her own to the world. Also, the three airships target one another and destroy each other as they sink to the bottom of the Potomac River.

This story is a ‘Reformation’ story in and of itself. We’ve seen that played out not only in scripture (Jesus confronting the temple structure within Judaism during his time), but we’ve also seen it play out in the history of the church when Martin Luther felt (and saw) how corrupt the Catholic church of his day had become. This is also a story that is played out in many individual churches and faith organizations today in all sorts of ways.

Within this movie, there are also two ‘resurrection’ scenarios as well. Both with Fury (who SHIELD and the world believes is dead) and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier. Steve thinks his friend is dead and is more than surprised when he realizes the formidable foe he is battling is that long lost friend.

In the midst of that final and climactic battle between Cap and Barnes, Cap does the unthinkable and refuses to fight his friend. He can’t do it, he doesn’t want to do it anymore. So, he ‘turns the other cheek’ as it were to convince his friend that he’s not his enemy and that he can help him in some way. Bucky ends up pulling Cap out of the river after the airships are destroyed.

The life of faith that we are called into can be twisted (and has been) by people seeking ultimate power and control. It happens in so many churches and institutions. It has happened in small ways and incredibly tragic ways throughout history. It was happening in Jesus’ time as well in the temple community and authority in and within Jerusalem. What does it take to confront those powerful institutions? Where do we place our trust in those moments? Those are the powerful questions that this movie invites us to ponder.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This film introduces Marvel’s Cosmic Universe of characters. We get to meet many of the space heroes and villains. First, we get to know Peter Quill (Star Lord) who is a rogue, thief, and more. He takes an orb from a desolate planet and is looking to sell it for some good money. Along the way he is intercepted by Rocket Racoon and Groot – a talking animal and a plant life form with a limited vocabulary. They are all intercepted by Gamora who is a ‘Daughter of Thanos’ that has severe daddy issues. And who wouldn’t when their ‘daddy’ is a genocidal maniac. They are arrested and sent to a high security prison. It is here that they meet up with their final ‘member’ of their team – Drax. Drax comes a culture that is purely literal in all its communications, so watch out, nothing can go over his head (his reflexes are too fast).

This ragtag bunch of hoodlums and deceits ban together when they discover that the orb that Quill has been literally throwing around is one of the most powerful objects in the universe – an Infinity Stone (the Power Stone to be precise). It has the capability of destroying all life that it touches. So, of course a religious and cultural zealot named Ronan has intentions of doing just that to the world of Xandar. The Xandarian Civilization just made a peace treaty with the Kree and Ronan thinks it’s blasphemous. He intends to put an end to it.

So, Quill, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Drax band together (with the help of Quill’s former gang called the Ravagers and the Xandarian security force – Nova Corps.) to stop Ronan from accomplishing his devastating goals. This ‘fab 5’ take on the joking moniker given to them by Ronan as the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ since they stopped Ronin’s evil plans – and subsequently stopped Thanos from beginning his even more deplorable plans.

In most of Paul’s letters, he writes to church communities in their infancy. He helps to outline what it means to be a community, how that community is to support and care for one another, how every individual of the community can and does possess different and essential gifts for the whole. The underlying message of many of his letters is that forming community and new blended families is difficult. The Guardians experience all that. They come from different places, they have different goals that bring them together – Quill always appears along for the ride, though he ‘usually’ has his mind and heart set on more ‘altruistic’ ideals, Rocket is always in it for the money, Gamora is dead set on keeping her ‘father’ from setting his plans in motion, Drax intends to avenge the deaths of his wife and child, and Groot is, “I am Groot.” About the whole thing.

Many different things bring them together, but they have to work together in order not only to save themselves, but every living person they know. As Quill so eloquently put it; he wants to save the universe because, “He’s one of the idiots who lives in the galaxy.” The struggle, argue, and become frustrated with one another as each of those differing opinions play out against each other.

Each of them has lost something significant in their life and want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and to be cared for and loved (in their own unique ways of course). I cannot think of a better way to describe the Christian community at times. Coming together to be found, accepted, and loved for who you are – working and striving with one another to live out the goal of sharing the gospel truth to a world in desperate need of hearing/saving.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

In this sequel to the original Guardians of the Galaxy, the ragtag group is well known throughout the galaxy for their work in defeating Ronan on Xandar. They are, however, still in the ‘game’ of making money. We catch up with them as they save an advanced civilization of genetically ‘perfect’ beings (of gold) who need help from an interstellar monster that wants to eat it’s powerful and volatile batteries.

As they do this ‘good thing’ Rocket can’t help, but dive back into his old ways. He steals quite a few of those batteries and this advanced civilization (The Sovereign) are not happy. As they are attacking the Guardian’s ship, they are saved by a single man seemingly sailing on a space ship who wipes out the whole Sovereign fleet.

This man, Ego, turns out to be Peter Quill’s dad and he is not exactly the good benevolent guy he appears to be. What he is though is an ancient being called a Celestial. He is a god-like entity that can control matter around him. He can also literally create life from himself as well. Peter of course is part Celestial (hence why he was able to hold on to the Power Stone and not perish in the previous film).

Ego doesn’t really want to share this power and ‘benevolence’ with Peter, but he does want to use him as sort of a catalyst to activate Ego’s many seedlings on every world he has visited. When those seedlings are activated, they begin to consume each of those worlds and turn them into extensions of Ego himself. Quill fights back with the help of the other Guardians and his mentor/father figure Yondu.

Yondu sacrfices himself because of the love he has for Quill, his ‘son.’ And Peter holds off Ego long enough for his friends to escape the impending bomb blast that kills Ego and disintegrates the planet that was his home.

First and foremost, this is a great film and is way more emotional than I remember when I first watched it. There are a lot of Gospel Glimmers in this movie, but I just want to focus on one – Reconciliation.

This movie is all about reconciliation. Quill and Yondu reconciling. Yondu and the other Ravagers reconciling. Gamora and her sister Nebula reconciling. Rocket realizing that he can be reconciled with those around him. No one, not one person is kept from being reconciling. As Rocket remarks at the Ravager funeral for Yondu at the end of the movie, “He didn’t chase them away. Even though he yelled at them and he was always mean…”

Romans 8:31-39 is one of my favorite pieces of scripture. Paul writes that there is not one thing that can separate us from Christ’s love. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Nothing we’ve done. Nothing we’ve said. Nothing we could possibly do to remove that love from us. God has redeemed us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’ve got it. We are loved. Even when we’re mean to everyone because we don’t know how we could possibly be loved by others.

Personally, for me the most heartfelt part of any Marvel movie is in this one, where just before Yondu saves Quill he says, “He may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy.” Peter has been searching for his father for his entire life – searching for that thing that would make him ‘whole’ and complete. What he doesn’t realize is that Yondu has been the one to raise him. And truly loves him in his own interesting and unique way. He isn’t perfect by any means as a father, but as he said – he didn’t eat Quill so that’s good.

 

Check out Part 4 HERE!

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April 23, 2019, 12:00 PM

Of Marvel and Faith, part 2


Iron Man 2

In this sequel to Iron Man, Tony Stark is known throughout the world as this mighty armored superhero. He helps out, he advances his own technology, he is an insufferable jerk throughout it all.

That attitude catches up to him as he is confronted by a man (somewhat) from his father’s past and his own present. The man from the past is Ivan Vanko whose father helped Howard Stark (Tony’s dad) develop the Arc Reactor that powers Tony’s Iron Man suit. Vanko becomes the villain Whiplash. He ends up teaming with the Justin Hammer of Hammer Industries who is constantly in Tony’s shadow. He’s a decent visionary, but he isn’t Stark and, in his attempt to match him, he usually falls rather short of that sort of ‘glory.’

Tony throughout this movie is a jerk. He thinks he’s the ‘best of’ of everything. Of all the things he learned and repented from in the first movie, his attitude is definitely not one of them (of course it is also Stark’s defining characteristic as well). He keeps people at an arm’s length away – even the ones closest to him, because he feels no one really likes him.

However, his attitude changes (ever so slightly) when he discovers that there are those who love him and care for him. Mostly his assistant/love interest/girlfriend Pepper Potts and he discovers that his father really did love him too.

Tony constantly has people tell him that they care for him and are worried about him – his best friend Rhodes, his AI butler JARVIS, his girlfriend, and more. Yet, he doesn’t (or can’t) hear them until he sort of hears it from his father in a film recording he made decades ago. That knowledge and realization that he is loved helps him better hear what others have been trying to tell him.

Love can change our world. God’s love has changed our world. Love can change who we are and how we respond to situations around us. God truly, fully, and completely loves us. That love is shown throughout scripture. That is made more fully known in Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

That love leads us to live a life that is with and for others. We realize we don’t have to go at it alone. Tony discovers this in the movie. We are shown this throughout God’s call to us through scripture and the faith community. We are not alone. We are loved. We can (and do) rely on the community to help us.

 

The Incredible Hulk

This is the first ‘different’ Marvel movie because it doesn’t follow the same template as the others (up to this point). There is no beginning story beat of how Dr. Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk. Instead, there is a montage during the opening credits that tells that story rather quickly. We then meet up with Banner as he is on the run – away from all the things he knows and loves – as he tries to find a cure for his Hulk ‘condition.’

Of course, as he’s on the run, the bad guys are looking for him because they want to weaponize what he’s become. General Ross and Emil Blonsky search for him relentlessly. They only find him when he shows up back stateside seeking out the advice of a ‘Mr. Blue’ who has been helping Banner try to cure his gamma radiation.

When Blonsky is first confronted with Hulk he knows he needs to be something more and Ross is more than eager to put a redeveloped version of the super soldier serum into him.

It makes him stronger, faster, and agile, but it also begins to make him something else. Hungry for more of what he feels he’s only been given a taste of. It turns him into a sort of Abomination of greed, power, and fear.

Banner as Hulk eventually saves the day and is able to ‘find himself’ inside the monster he feels he is. Yet, still unsure of how he can keep those safe around him (and also not wanting to be Ross’ test subject) he departs again into hiding.

As much as this is one of the poorer movies in the MCU, it still can show us quite a bit. As I watch this, I cannot help but see that this is a movie about emotions. How not to let your emotions get the best of you, but still understanding that emotions are good.

As a pastor, I find myself saying that over and over again in so many situations. Where people feel guilty or ashamed for being sad or angry or even happy within certain moments of our lives. We live in a world that really tries to downplay emotions altogether. That if you show any that you’re considered weak. Especially if those emotions differ from the stereotypical ‘type’ associated with your gender (ie… men can’t be sensitive and women shouldn’t be angry).

Yet, throughout scripture emotions play a pivotal role. Yes, people are excited and elated about certain things (which is typically seen by the world as the ‘correct’ emotion to have), but there are moments of sadness, despair, and anger. For the most part, all of those emotions are affirmed and lifted up. Just read through any of the Psalms and you’ll see the whole gamut of emotions. Even our Lord Jesus showed a range of emotion through his ministry, he showed empathy, sadness, frustration, and even anger towards those around him. Dare I say he exhibited an extreme (and appropriate) case of anxiety and fear as he prayed in the Garden before he was handed over to the religious authorities.

Emotions are good. What becomes an issue is when we let our emotions take control. Where we become only that emotion. Where that anger is the only thing that drives us and we cannot control who we are in the midst of that rage or sadness or even elation.

Yet, what Banner realizes – and what we realize as well – is that no matter how ‘angry’ he becomes, he still resides within that monster he fears. He still reasons. He still listens. He still seeks that calm still voice to guide him. Much like in our emotional energy we still seek the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us. Perhaps the voice of the Spirit isn’t much different than the breathy and sometimes ethereal sounding voice of Liv Tyler?

The final ‘glimmer’ I see is kind of a warning to us as well. Of what we become when we dive into our lust for power our greed for control. Both Ross and Blonsky become something different. Ross is able to (a bit) turn back from that greed and see what others see. Blonsky becomes something of an Abomination.

Jesus and scripture warn us at times of falling into the power grab that the world shouts at us. That there is another way that doesn’t involve pressing yourself over and on another. It isn’t about ‘ruling,’ ‘dominating,’ or anything like that. Jesus would tell us that it is about welcome, radical hospitality, and living in the love that God has already gifted us.

Thor

Thor literally tells the story of a ‘god.’ The god of thunder and lightning to be exact. Thor is the son of Odin of Asgard. A civilization and people who protect the nine realms in numerous direct and indirect ways. The Asgardians sit in the center making sure things are balanced. Yet, they are also in a time of transition as the throne of Asgard is about to be handed over from Odin to Thor.

Except there is one problem. Thor’s brother kind of objects. Loki – god of mischief and deceit – stirs the pot trying to play to Thor’s biggest vices to get him to be seen as ‘less than’ by their father Odin.

It works.

Thor is stripped of his power (mostly to wield his hammer Mjolnir) and exiled to Midgar (Earth). There his pompous attitude is still on display as he meets a team of scientists trying to figure out these weird anomalies in the world.

As Thor wrestles with who he is on earth, Loki is stirring trouble against Asgard as he attempts to take the throne by duplicitous means. He despises his brother’s arrogance and is envious of his father’s love for him. A love that he doesn’t feel is shown to him.

As Thor relearns what it means to be mighty, Loki’s plot for vengeance against Thor and the affection of his father’s love goes into overdrive. He wants to rule, to defeat one of Asgard’s oldest foes, and remove Thor from the picture entirely.

It doesn’t work, for he too has compassion and love – in the midst of his anger – for his brother. He eventually ‘succumbs’ to his own feelings of lonesomeness and distraught and falls into the depths of space as Asgard’s link to the nine realms – the Bifrost bridge – is destroyed.

Much like Stark, Thor is arrogant. Unlike Stark Thor definitely turns back from his arrogant ways. He loses his power, but is able to find it again when he starts thinking about others apart from just about himself.

But, as I watch this movie and see this story play out, I cannot help but think of the Parable of the Prodigal. There are definitely overlaps between that story and the story of Thor, Loki, and Odin.

Obviously, this movie does not play out the same as Jesus’ parables. But, there are many similarities. Odin is definitely a parallel to the Prodigal Father. Thor matches up well with the younger son and Loki is the envious elder brother.

Odin loves his boys, but how his love is shown towards one makes the other jealous and feel unloved and unwanted.

Thor ‘lives the good life’ and takes advantage of his father’s love and influence (and the power bestowed to him by his father).

Loki fails to see his father’s love for him even though he spends a considerable amount of time in his presence and learning from him.

The ‘prodigalness’ that is lived and shown in this movie can be seen as just ‘love.’ Odin’s love for his sons, Thor’s love for his father and brother, Loki’s love for… power, attention, and prestige?

The parable reminds us about God’s love from us that never lessens and never darkens. That love that lives into the ‘undignified’ as the father runs to the one who wished him dead and celebrates his return. That same love that is extended to the envious and angered elder son. That love given to both to rebuild and reconcile not only their relationship with one another, but their relationship with the father.

 

Marvel's The Avengers

Here it is, the end of ‘phase one’ of the MCU. All the main heroes come together to take on an other-worldly foe. Thor’s mischievous and evil brother is at it at it again. Loki is using his staff to manipulate and control the people around him as he strives to obtain the Tesseract in order to open a portal to the far reaches of the galaxy. This portal of course will allow an alien race to come and bring havoc and destruction to Earth.

Knowing the scale that this threat involves, Nick Fury and the rest of SHIELD seek out the most powerful people they know to be the force that stops this invasion. And, they do. They come together – in spite of their differences – to save the world.

As I watch this film, I’m confronted by the fact that community is hard to create and maintain. There are struggles when you bring people from different backgrounds, different ideologies, and more into a group. People are different. Many of Paul’s letters center around how to ‘be community’ in this life of faith. A community that transcends the typical social structures that the world has always upheld.

The Avengers at first are very selfish about how to go about stopping this other-worldly force and invasion. They all have their specific ways of approaching the problem at hand. Yet, it isn’t until they start working together that they are able to defeat their foes and the enemies of Earth.

Where by working together as a community relies on trusting one another and listening to each other. That is where their strength comes from. Acknowledging that each person plays an important and vital role in their success. That same is true as we from our communities of faith and live into those lives of faith. Sometimes others are more adept in certain areas, instead of struggling through what we need help in alone, we reach out and invite others to help.

We are stronger together.

 

Check out Part 3 HERE!

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April 23, 2019, 8:44 AM

the one about the message preached by the women...


Sermon from Easter Sunday - April 21, 2019

Text: Luke 24:1-12

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

This is a wonderful and great day. It is the greatest day in the life of the church. Without this day – without this celebration – without this resurrection – Jesus is just a man. Just a man with some nice things to say, born to some poor parents in the backcountry of Israel. Without this day, without the empty tomb, Jesus is just a guy with a somewhat interesting story of his birth. Because without this day, we wouldn’t even know that story.

Without this day and celebration, we wouldn’t know or care to pay attention to this guy who gathered a little band of followers, who apparently did some neat things with bread and fish, did something on some water, perhaps even healed some folks along the way.

Without the empty tomb, we probably wouldn’t know.

But, we do know. We do know this story. We do know this new life. We know because thankfully – someone listened. Someone believed. Someone shared.

This wonderfully story that we hear this morning is one shared first by women – those first few women who came looking to tend to the body of their dead lord, teacher, and friend. They came to tend to the lifeless form of the one they and so many others had put their hopes and prayers into.

The one who stood firm in proclaiming a life of repentance, love, and service. The one who shared that God loved you in spite of what the world would tell you because of your ‘sins.’ The one who said that he was, “I am.” The one who calmed storms, who raised the dead, who healed the sick, who broke bread and shared a cup with those society had pushed to the edge. The one who talked and spent time with the people that others wouldn’t come near. The one who spoke with authority and love of God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

That one, they knew was dead. They saw it happen. They watched through tear-filled eyes as he was nailed to a cross and struggled to lift himself in order to give words of forgiveness to those putting him to death.

They solemnly made their way to his tomb, expecting the usual. To tend to a young man who ran afoul to the authorities and the empire.

Yet, they did not find the usual at the tomb. The stone was rolled away. Two individuals were there and stated that they wouldn’t find the living among the dead. And then they remembered what he had told them (they are already far ahead of the disciples who still can’t remember). They remembered that he would rise again – but, to have a play on words with this story, Jesus’ words seemed an ‘idle tale’ and they didn’t believe him.

But, in spite of their reluctance to believe Jesus at his word, Jesus fulfilled and lived into the promise that he gave them and all the world. That death would not and is not the final word. There is indeed life – new life – gifted to the world through his victory over sin and death. The tomb is empty. The Lord is risen. Go and share this story so that others might believe. And they do.

As I read this monumental, holy, and miraculous story of Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb, I can’t help, but focus on one particular verse. Verse 11.

But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Imagine that. A story as old as time itself. The men didn’t believe the women’s story.

A story and unfortunate reality that many still adhere to today.

They were overcome with grief. They didn’t really see that. Why should we listen to them? Why should we believe?

But, the story we hear this morning, the one that is given to the women to proclaim and preach is the one we share. It is their passionate proclamation of the resurrection that pushes this story – this truth of God’s love born and made new into the world – to its farthest reaches.

Women have and do (and have always) played a pivotal role in the life of the church, you can argue even a central role in the life of the church. It is women who supported Jesus. It is women who followed him as he walked those streets with a cross across his shoulders. It is women who wrapped his body in linen and spices, it is women who went to the tomb that early Sunday morning to continue the burial customs, it is women who first share this splendid good news of Jesus’ resurrection to a world so torn and rocked by his death.

In so many specific ways, I say this – believe the women. Believe the stories they tell you around the table. Believe the stories they share about their life. Believe the stories they proclaim from the stand, the podium, and yes from the pulpit.

Believe the women. Believe women. Believe.

Our Lord and God has spread the good news of new life and resurrection to those first few women so that they might share this story.

And spread and share it they have. In spite of not being believed. They continued to share. Despite being pushed to the side of faith, they continued to serve and share. Despite being made to be the stereotypical scapegoats of all, women continue to proudly and passionately proclaim God’s love to the world.

What would this life – this new and renewed life that we have been gifted by God – be like, if we would just listen to the women in our life? What would it be like if we heard their preaching, their sharing of the gospel, their love, their care, their strength; and we believed them?

What story would we hear? We’d hear the one about the faith-filled one who we put our hopes and prayers into, the one who performed healings and more, the one who spoke with authority and newness about the scriptures, the one who calmed the storms, the one who raised the dead to new life, the one who stood against the authorities and the empire, the one who welcomed you, who loved you, who served with you – when no one else would, the one who called himself Son of God, the one who welcomed all into the love and goodness of God’s grace, the one who died…

That one? He is alive. Death didn’t win. Life and love have won the day.

Believe. Remember their words. Remember God’s word for you.

You are loved. You are not alone. Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia!




April 18, 2019, 7:00 PM

the one about feet...


Sermon from Thursday, May 18 - Maundy Thursday

Text: John 13:1-17, 31-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I want to be honest. I’m partially in agreement with Peter this evening. I don’t like people touching my feet – especially just my feet. After years of being an athlete, and recently trying to get back to being an athlete, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my feet. I don’t even like touching or looking at my feet.

In fact, I think I can be pretty comfortable (kinda) with people seeing my body, but my feet? Not so much. Years of running, jumping, sliding, sportsing, and more has caused havoc to my feet. Nails don’t look good, they ache all the time, my ankle has touched the ground more often than an ankle ever should. My feet hurt right now.

I don’t want people to touch them. I find my feet embarrassing. They are (at times) cracked, sensitive, and not to mention they can produce an odor that can stop an army in its tracks. You really don’t want to be down-wind from my feet.

I don’t know if that is what Peter is thinking about as Jesus takes off his outer robe as he wraps a towel around his waist and kneels at a basin of water. I don’t know if Peter too is ashamed of his own feet as Jesus reaches out to take each foot in his hand as he washes and dries the disciples’ feet.

Perhaps Peter is thinking about all the places his feet have taken him. The paths he’s walked. The situations they’ve journeyed into. More often than not – even when we have been in wonderful places where our feet have taken us – we remember the not so great places. The unpleasant times.

Maybe Peter isn’t thinking about the mountain his feet have walked up right before he was witness to Jesus’ transfiguration. Maybe the many towns and villages he and his friends have been to that have been witness to Jesus’ signs and miracles of healing don’t come immediately to his mind. Perhaps, the only things Peter can think of are those times where his ‘feet’ got him in trouble.

The numerous times he put his ‘foot in his mouth’ as he attempted to stop Jesus’ ministry and love. Perhaps he’s thinking about those moments before he met Jesus where he got into trouble, wandered away from where God intended him to be?

There’s a good chance if I ask you to tell me a story about your feet you’ll tell me a story of pain or hurt. I do it too. If someone asks me about my feet, I usually don’t tell them about me running the fastest mile I’ve ever run while in high school – 4:31.9 to help my track team when a state championship. I don’t tell them about the numerous other accolades I’ve achieved with my feet whether it be in running, jumping, or lifting. No, if you ask me to tell a story about my feet, I’ll probably tell you about a time that I hurt my feet. That time while training in college where I was running down College Street and rolled my ankle – where it touched the ground and hurt so bad that I got an endorphin high as I literally crawled from the street to the athletic trainer’s office.

Or, the numerous – the many – the countless times I’ve stubbed my toe on a piece of furniture and those little digits bled like crazy.

Maybe you’ll hear a story about how my feet got me in trouble because I was careless and stepped on that one floorboard in the house that woke everyone up as I tried to sneak out one night.

Maybe it’s the time that my feet didn’t move as I saw a friend get teased and I didn’t go to stop it. Or the time when they didn’t move when a friend decided to steal from a Wal-Mart in Columbia. Or the time they walked me away from a person in need as I saw them on the road because I was just ‘too busy’ to do anything that day.

I’m sure each of you have those stories as well.

There’s something about feet.

Yet, our Lord reaches out to touch those feet. To touch our feet. To wash them. To hold them. To show us what it means to serve and love.

He looks past, looks beyond, the cracks of sin that those feet have been a part of. He looks past the triumphs they’ve achieved through blood and sweat. He washes over the dirt and grime (both literally and figuratively) that they’ve accumulated in a lifetime of usage. Jesus doesn’t hold up his nose at the smell that comes from them.

Jesus touches the part of us that many – myself included – don’t want others to see.

Peter objects, and I assume the others do too. Peter is typically the voice given to the disciples. If he’s objecting, there is a good change the others are as well.

But, there’s more to not wanting others to touch our feet – not wanting Jesus to kneel down and take those broken, cracked, and dirty heels in his hands.

It’s demeaning to him. He’s better than that right? Why on earth would he want to grab on to these smelly things? Why take notice of something that most of the time WE don’t even notice unless they hurt or we they ‘get in the way’ as we stub them on furniture, wall corners, and more?

Jesus places himself in a position that is beneath him (at least to the outside world looking in). He stoops down to do something that the disciples expected nobodies to do. The lowest of the low of servants and slaves were given the task to bathe the aching and dirty feet of those who came into homes and establishments.

Not teachers. Not thinkers. Definitely not the Son of God.

That was a job reserved for prisoners, sinners, the less fortunate, those ‘beneath’ the one being bathed.

Yet, Jesus stoops down to take Peter’s and the disciples’ feet in his hands. He washes them. He dries them. He sends them on in love and service.

Jesus knows that our feet lead us to where we are going. They are the parts of our bodies – like our hands as well – that get overlooked. We forget about them. We only acknowledge them when they don’t or can’t do the things we want them to do. Yet, Jesus knows how vitally important our feet are. One of my favorite quotes about feet is from Frederick Douglass. Where the abolitionist once said that he prayed for freedom for twenty years, and it didn’t do any good until he started praying with his feet.

Our feet move us – literally, figuratively, and spiritually. Our feet take us on this path that God has lain before us. Our feet trudge, run, walk, leap, and slide through the grime, the dirt, the muck, and the more in this life we have been gifted. Our feet are washed as a sign that they take us where God intends for us to go, and our feet (and its paths) don’t keep us from experiencing, knowing, and living out God’s love for us and all of creation.

Jesus’ washes the disciples’ feet; Jesus reaches out to our feet to remind us of how important they are. They lead us through this life of faith. They carry us through service and love. Our feet – our broken, battered, cracked, smelly feet, are held by God. Held and loved. Washed and dried. So that we continue to live into this life of faith and love. Walking with Jesus as we find ourselves serving others because of the love that God has poured into our life. Because of the gift of new life that has been given to us from Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus washes, touches, and reaches out to our feet so that we might live into the love that we are sent into.

But, it isn’t the only thing that Jesus does here. Jesus also shows us what kind of leader we are to be in the world. A leader who ventures forth in love and service to others. One that does not hold themselves above those around them. One that isn’t averse to stoop down. One that lives into a love so strong and full that nothing will keep us from sharing God’s love – not even feet.

Jesus models for us not only what ‘leaders’ should do, but how we all should be in this kingdom of God. Willing and able to stoop down, to ‘lower’ ourselves in the eyes of the world so that others would be cared for and loved. Being more concerned about the person before us, than about ourselves – our clothes, our status, our lives.

So, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’ve got some stools. I’ve got a bowl. We’re going to wash one another’s feet.

You don’t have to come up. I promise. But, if you’re willing to move past the uncomfortable, come up and wash some feet of the people around you. Your friends, your family. Those you don’t know very well. Wash and be washed.

Know that God is reaching out to you. Your feet do indeed walk on holy ground wherever you go because God is with you, Jesus is walking along beside you, the Spirit is leading you.

Amen. Come and be washed. Amen.




April 11, 2019, 10:00 AM

Of Marvel and Faith


Throughout my life I have been obsessed with science fiction, fantasy, and the fictional. I’ve poured countless hours into books, movies, tv shows, video games, and comic books since I was a young boy. I’ve loved the stories of heroes, anti-heroes, the unexpected, the call to protect, the introduction to something new and different. In many ways, I have been greatly influenced by what was once a ‘fringe’ activity while growing up, but has now been thrust into the limelight of popular culture. I was a nerd and a geek before it was cool.

During those times of formation by the stories of gamma rays, alien invasions, and radioactive spiders I also dove deep into my faith. Attending worship with family, and eventually on my own. Finding solace and peace in the words of the liturgy, the hymns of praise, the community of believers. Having engrossing conversations with friends and strangers about where God is at work in the world and where the Holy Spirit might be leading us. It has been an eventful journey to say the least. So eventful, that God saw it fit to call me as an ordained minister in the church. I’ve been a pastor in the ELCA for almost eight years now, and my love of faith and popular culture hasn’t diminished in the slightest.

So, it is no wonder that two of the things I care deeply about and am passionate to share just happen to intermix in wonderfully weird and amazing ways. I cannot help but see God at work in the movies and shows I watch. I think about the actions I take in video games (especially the ones that give the options of choice) and how my faith reflects and impacts those decisions. I love to talk about those intersections of faith and popular culture with others.

For over 10 years, the world has been introduced to the mighty heroes of the pages of comic books in exciting ways. Specifically, on the ‘big screen’ as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has taken shape through 21 different films. The ‘culmination’ of these films will hit with Avengers: Endgame which comes to theaters on April 26, 2019.

In the lead up to seeing Endgame, I’ve decided to re-watch all of the Marvel movies. First, because it has been awhile since I’ve seen some of these movies. Second, I want to see the whole story arc before ending it with Endgame. Some of these movies are great, some of them are not the best. But, they are ALL enjoyable and fun in their owns ways.

As I watch them, I’ve been keeping notes of the Gospel Glimmers that I see present in them. And, I wanted to share those thoughts with y’all. So, the following is a quick, not thorough, and definitely not exhaustive list of how I see the Gospel at play in these movies. You may disagree with my interpretations in them, you may find others that I never saw. That’s great! Join the conversation. In fact, if you’re in the Newberry, SC area – you’re more than welcome to join our monthly(ish) Nerd Word faith study group. We get to have all these really great and nerdy conversations about movies, shows, and faith! It’s a lot of fun!

So, here… we… GO!

 

 

Captain America: The First Avenger

In this movie, we are introduced to the first ‘superhero’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a man named Steve Rogers. Steve is an atypical individual during the height of World War II. He’s scrawny, has a plethora of health issues, and yet possesses a determination to do something to combat injustice and evil in his world. The best way he knows how is to join the Army and fight the Nazis overseas. Of course, because of all his ‘limitations’ he’s never allowed to join. Eventually, he catches the eye of an Allied scientist who is implementing a ‘Super Soldier’ program and is looking for the best men to be the first test subject. He chooses Rogers, who gladly (if not humbly) accepts and he is transformed into Captain America. He’s gifted with strength, speed, and size. He goes on to fight the Nazis, save his friends, combat the beginnings of Hydra, take on Red Skull, and sacrifice himself to save the country from certain doom.

Cap is a savior figure in the Marvel world. He’s probably one of the few characters that can be paralleled with Jesus Christ. He’s kind, he speaks out against injustice, he is for the ‘little guy,’ he helps others believe in themselves, he sacrifices himself to save his friends. He is very much a Christ-like figure.

He’s also the guy no one expects. At least not at first. And Jesus wasn’t the one the world expected either. Jesus wasn’t wealthy, he wasn’t a military mastermind, he wasn’t cosmic figure that would lay waste to the oppressors and enemies of Israel in one fell swoop. He was a poor carpenter from a backwater part of Israel. He wasn’t what anyone expected.

Steve/Cap is that way too. When we’re first introduced to Steve, he’s a scrawny kid who can’t possibly hurt a fly. Not because he wouldn’t try (if the fly deserved it), but he probably literally couldn’t hurt the fly. Yet, what he lacked in strength and agility, he more than made up for in devotion, grit, and unabashed love for his friends, family, and strangers. He would literally die for the people around him. That wasn’t made more clear until his commanding officer in the Super Soldier Training Program tossed a ‘dummy’ grenade in the middle of the training group. Every macho, big, bruising hulk of a soldier that saw that grenade ran for cover. Yet, the scrawny kid everyone picked on immediately jumped on what he thought was a live grenade and yelled that everyone ‘get away’ so they’d be safe. He’s willing to lay down his life for his friends and others.

It was after this moment that he is told by the lead scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine, tells Steve that whatever happens after the test is (successfully) completed that he will still strive to be a good man and not a perfect soldier. As we read scripture, it is chock full of people who want others to be perfect in their life. Perfect in their worship, perfect in their actions, perfect in their speech. Yet, more often than not – people – everyone – fails at that endeavor. In spite of creations desire to ‘be perfect,’ it seems that God is more interested in us being good. Good to others, good to ourselves, good to what we have been gifted. A life where everyone is caring for and serving with each other to the Glory of God.

As a Lutheran I know I’m not perfect. I know I will always fall short of that. Yet, in spite of that failing and fall, I know that God will continue to love me, guide me, and show me that love in the world and in my life. Where leading the life of a faithful individual will put me at odds with the world. I’ll go against ‘conventional wisdom’ or even break the authority of those around me for the greater good of serving and caring for strangers.

Cap does that as he goes off into the fray – alone mind you – to save his friend and his friend’s platoon from certain death. Captain America strives for what is right, even when others disagree.

There are a lot more parallels to the gospel in this movie, but we can have a deeper discussion at another time.

 

Captain Marvel

Being that this movie is so recent – I’ll give a spoiler free summary of the movie, and then you can go watch this movie and come back. I really enjoyed it!

This is the latest movie in the MCU that was released at the beginning of March 2019. It depicts a story of a supernaturally powerful woman who crash lands on Earth while fighting a sworn enemy race. Yet, while on Earth she realizes she has a much closer relationship to these people and this world. Her views are challenged, her limits tested, and she vows to fight for the truth. Alright, go watch the movie and come back, I’ll wait…

 

In many ways, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is a Christ-like figure as well. Not in the same way as Captain America/Steve Rogers, but very similar. Like Cap, she vows to fight on the side of truth (once she discovers it fully) even when that truth turns her whole worldview upside down.

Initially, she believes that the group she fights for (the Kree) are the proverbial good guys who are out to bring justice, freedom, and order to the universe. Granted, that justice, ‘freedom,’ and order is in a very specific way where others must bow down to the Kree’s ultimate authority and rule. They are in a bloody and dangerous war with the Skrull, beings who can change their very selves into others. Skrulls are bad – and they sure fit the moniker. They are green with spikey ears and can speak in growls. Plus, they can literally be any being near you so they are very dangerous.

Throughout this film, Danvers struggles with the idea of who she is and what defines us as a person. Her memory is in bits and fragments. She is consistently told to ‘forget’ what she thinks she knows about herself, and fall into line with those around her. She must be the perfect soldier. Listens to commands, doesn’t show emotion, and fall in line. Always.

Yet, she can’t help who she is. She’s funny, she smirks, she’s inquisitive. She’s made this way and she can’t change it. In fact, she isn’t fully aware of herself until she meets up with her friend towards the end of the movie who says, “I know who you are, even if you don’t.”

That’s what God says to us. I know you. I love you. I accept you. That’s powerful stuff, and it is what Carol needs to hear in order to fight for the truth she now knows.

There are distinct moments in this film where even Carol Danvers’ body position is to evoke a sense of ‘savior.’ Arms spread wide, on her knees in a ‘praying’ gesture as she communes with the Kree Central Intelligence. The incredible power she is able to control that saves the day and thwarts the enemies.

 

Iron Man

This is a movie centered around a pompous, arrogant, extremely wealthy, and incredibly brilliant individual named Tony Stark. He owns and runs Stark Enterprise that creates weapons of war to ‘keep the bad guys away.’ As he says in a demonstration with US military personnel – make a weapon that you only have to use once.

Eventually, his work catches up with him and he is captured and forced to create his latest weapon for an evil man and organization. Of course, Tony has other plans. Instead he ends up creating a suit of armor (powered by the device he created to keep the shrapnel from entering his heart).

After he escapes, Tony has a moment of confession and repentance. He realizes how much harm his business has done. Intended solely for the ‘protection’ of allies, his weapons eventually (and frequently) find their way into the hands of truly evil people. He vows to dismantle the weapons program at Stark and re-imagine what his gifts can be used for. He confesses his sin of war profiteering and repents from those ways.

Granted, in the process he does make an amazing armored suit that is fitted with the latest technology that he uses to do his own ‘dismantling’ of enemy combatants.

Our life of faith though is centered in many ways around confession and repentance. We do things that are bad. Sin is a prevalent part of our life. Yet, we are called to confess our sins, and God who is faithful and just forgives our sin. In this new and continually forgiven life, we live in repentance – turning away from sin and turning towards a life of God and good.

There are a few more gospel glimmers, but confession/repentance is the big one in this film.

 

Check out Part 2 HERE!



Comments

04-11-2019 at 2:00 PM
Will Rose
Nicely done. I would love to hear what "gospel glimmers" you see in Guardians of the Galaxy.
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April 8, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about overflowing joy...


Sermon from April 7, 2019

Text: Isaiah 43:16-21 & John 12:1-8

 

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this morning we read a story that I heard a colleague state makes him about as uncomfortable as lifting one’s hands in praise during worship. He’s just not used to it – as a tradition in the church, we’re not used to it. It’s foreign to us in so many ways. I imagine that there was a deep sense of uncomfortableness that emanated from those gathered around Jesus that day in Lazarus’ home as Mary poured out this perfume upon his feet and dried it up with her hair.

That’s strange. What is she doing?

Throughout this season of Lent, we’ve been hearing about joy. The joy of observing Lent. What we learn, what we gain, how we move through that joy. The joy of God’s presence, the joy of God’s life, the joy of God’s love – for you and for all of creation. There is joy to be had here; in this season and in this life that all of creation has been gifted.

This morning we see Mary live out that joy and adoration. If you remember, this story occurs right after Mary’s brother is raised from the dead. Perhaps she has recently read from the scroll of Isaiah – the part we read this morning. Where God – speaking through the prophet – states that a new thing is about to take place. She is filled to overflowing in God’s presence and cannot think of a better way to show that joy, love, and adoration.

Perhaps here Mary realizes that this new thing is the one sitting before her. Perhaps this new thing is the one who raised her brother from the dead. Perhaps this new thing is the one who sits with those that the world pushes to the margins of life. Perhaps, this is the new thing that God is speaking about.

How do you live out this joy? How do you live out this adoration? Have you ever lived out that joy?

What has God done in your life that has made you, compelled you, perhaps pushed you, to do that joyous thing that might make others uncomfortable? Even if it is raising your hands in praise during worship and prayer? Where have you been filled to overflowing in God’s love, mercy, and acceptance that you feel compelled to show that joy and adoration?

But, what holds us back in living into that joy? I’m not always sure, because it is a bit different for everyone. But, in my conversations with others and even as I reflect on my own life – when I haven’t lived into that joy – I think more often than not it falls back onto those dreaded words that we see in all communities, especially in the church…

We’ve never done it that way before. Or, that’s not how it’s done here. That’s not really a ‘Lutheran’ thing to do in worship/practice. That’s not what we do here.

Mary breaks all sorts of social norms as she walks into the room and falls at the Lord’s feet. She doesn’t do the stereotypical thing that women were expected to do at that time. She does the unthinkable by pouring out this expensive perfume upon Jesus’ feet. She shows her adoration in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

Living out that sort of joy that we receive in Jesus can and does make others uncomfortable. Especially when it places us in positions that puts us at ‘odds’ with those around us. A couple weeks ago, I received one of the best compliments to my ministry – from someone outside the communities I’ve served – than I’ve ever received before. This person thanked me and specifically thanked this community of faith for being so intentional and adamant about inclusivity and affirmation. That it was something the community of Newberry needed to hear and needed to have lived out.

I remarked that it can be frustrating living into that call to faithful living because it can and does make people uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act in strange ways. Not always good ways either. His response to that? Well, that might just mean you’re following Jesus’ life since he made people pretty uncomfortable too.

As we strive to live into and live out the joy that we have first received, we are at times held back by those thoughts from the past – those things we took for granted, the stuff we assumed, the parts we ‘ignored’ in our everyday life. Where we didn’t question the things that leaders told us was ‘wrong.’ Even though, we had that sinking feeling that… well, perhaps, maybe there is another way.

I cannot help, but see that at play in the powerful words of Isaiah that we heard this morning. Where as the prophet begins, he shares of God’s wonder and power. Where he shares of God’s presence and ultimate guidance in the life of Israel. And yet, the very next words he speaks and shares are not what we expect – Do not remember the things of old.

Strange isn’t it? Not do not fear because God is with you because look who God is and has done. No, Isaiah states God’s power, might and presence, and then calls for the people to not remember the former things.

How do we interpret that? How are we to live into that?

I wonder if God is speaking to us to not hold so fast to those things that we feel are so near and dear to us? The way we ‘do’ stuff in the life of faith and in our lives gifted from God? The way we worship and speak?

Perhaps, God is telling us through the prophet that those things that keep us from moving forward in God’s love and joy simply because they’ve ‘not been done here’ before or don’t ‘fit into’ the agreed upon standard are what needs to be left behind? Perhaps it isn’t about living up to some idolized version of the ‘status quo,’ but living into where God is calling us to be as we live out this radical life of faith, hospitality, and welcome?

Perhaps, God is reflecting that there are some things that are not worth remembering in our lives. Those times when we haven’t – as individuals and as people – failed to live into the love and grace that God has given us. Where we’ve judged, we’ve cast aside, we’ve ignored the hurtful words of others, we’ve caused havoc all because a person or a group or a situation was ‘different’ or ‘strange’ to what we considered to be the ‘norm?’

Maybe God is stating that you know all those things that you believe and others have said keep God from being with you? Those things that others have told you separate you from the love of God? Those moments where you believe you are so far removed from God’s acceptance and grace? Perhaps that needs to be remembered no more.

And why? Why should we not remember them? Because God is up to something Isaiah says. There is something new afoot. It is something that Mary knows, and she has no other way to express it than to fall at Jesus’ feet and give him praise. She has been a witness to God’s power, grace, and love. She has been a witness to that overflowing of new life, and she cannot help, but live out that joy and adoration in a distinct way.

A way that makes others uncomfortable, a way that makes others question. A way that makes those around her think about what is going on. And before you think it, Jesus’ response isn’t a call to ‘not care’ for those in need because they will ‘always be around,’ but perhaps in this new thing that God is up to, we might be able to see God present because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the lives of each person around us – those who have and especially those who have not – so that all might actually be cared for fully.

The joy that we hear this fifth and final Sunday in Lent, is that God is indeed up to something new. God is continually up to something new. And that new thing is shown to us – again and again – in the person, the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of the one whose feet Mary bathes and dries. God has indeed gifted us so much in new and overflowing life. How do we respond? How do we show it to the world?

What joy it is that God is indeed up to something new. Live out that joy that God has shown in your life. Live out that joy of radical love and welcome with everyone. Perhaps even enough to make others a bit uncomfortable –and perhaps (though a good first step) it is a little bit more than just raising your hands up in worship and prayer. Amen.




April 1, 2019, 9:00 AM

the one about prodigal...


Sermon from March 31, 2019

Text: Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

So, as we enter into this fourth week of Lent, we hear and read a parable in our gospel reading that is very familiar to us. In fact, it might be one of the most well-known parables in all of scripture. The story of a young man who demands his inheritance, goes off and lives the ‘good life’ in the world, spends it all, and comes back to his father who runs with opening arms for him. There of course is also the elder brother who is a bit resentful of the attention his younger brother has received upon his return and the father who comes to him in love and grace as well.

This is a story that we know well. But, I think because we know it so well, we tend to gloss over it, thinking that we already know all there is to know about this story. Yet, there is one thing that no matter how well versed in this parable that a person might be, there is usually one misunderstanding that we have about it – even something I’ve fallen victim to before as well.

This parable is typically titled ‘The Prodigal Son.’ So, that word prodigal. It isn’t a word that we typically hear of outside of this story. So, I want to ask you – what does that word mean? Anyone? Most think that it means ‘lost’ or ‘found’ or ‘returned.’ Something to that affect. Seems rational to think that. For this is a story of a son who lost his way and then is found when he returns to his home and father.

Perhaps the ‘lost’ definition can be applied to the elder brother as well. For he’s lost his ‘love’ for his brother and perhaps even his respect for his father. And still the father ‘finds’ him and calls for him to ‘return’ to the celebration of the re-emergence of his younger brother.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d definitely think that prodigal means ‘lost’ or ‘found’ because those words play such a pivotal role within this parable.

But, that isn’t what prodigal means. Not even close.

Prodigal means wasteful. Extravagantly wasteful.

And there is a lot of waste being thrown around in this parable. Sometimes in the most surprising ways.

Now, typically prodigal applies to those who spend lavishly in the finances and wealth that they have. This younger son insists and demands that his father give him his inheritance – now. Something that he cannot wait until his father dies to receive. In fact, I’ve preached it before that the younger son essentially tells his father, “I wish you were dead. So, I can live now.”

Surprisingly, the father gives his son what he asks. And boy does that son live into the prodigal life. For those who might be fans of the TV Show Parks and Rec, this son goes on a ‘Treat Yo’ Self’ lifestyle.

Food and drink? Treat yo’ self.

Clothes and accessories? Treat yo’ self.

Women and ‘fun’? Treat yo’ self.

He is living fully into the prodigal life. And then it’s all gone. Almost as quickly as it came to him. He then lives a life completely on the other side of the spectrum. He can’t be ‘prodigal’ in his living because he doesn’t have two coins to rub together.

So, he vows to return home and to the father he spurned.

And, here we get more ‘prodigal-ness’ dished out. But, this time it comes from the surprising father. For the father is extravagantly wasteful too. But, what he ‘wastes’ is his love and life. Or at least wastes it according to how the world then and even today would look at it.

He gave the son exactly what he asks for. He split his wealth and gave it to him so that he can go off and do what he wanted. Yet, as ridiculous as it is for the father to do that, what he does when that son returns might be even more ‘prodigal.’ He runs to meet his son as he crests the hill far from home. He throws caution and ‘respect’ to the wind in order to wrap his son in his arms once more. Brings him into the home and throws an incredible party for him. He places upon his body lavish clothes, feeds him wonderful food, surrounds him with friends and family. He celebrates.

The father is prodigal in his love. He shares it profusely with no regrets. He lives the ‘treat yo’ self’ lifestyle too. Yet, he gives and gives and gives. Instead of takes and takes. He lavishes upon this son all that he can.

And the third one in this ‘prodigal’ story notices and becomes quite upset. For the elder son has been ‘prodigal’ too. He’s been wasteful of what he already has from his father. He has the love, the life, the respect, the honor, the care. Yet, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t ‘care?’ He doesn’t live into what he has already been given. In ways, he’s ‘wasted’ his father’s love and life as well. He is ‘prodigal’ with his anger and frustration and resentment.

And yet, the father extends his prodigiously wasteful love upon this one too. Inviting him back into the home that has always been his. Inviting him back into the life that has been given to him. Inviting him back into the love that has always been there.

Inviting him back to mend the relationship with his brother, through him.

On this fourth week of Lent, we hear and read about the prodigal story. The prodigal life that these sons and their father live. The joy we hear this day is the father in this story is our parallel to God in our life. Our God and creator who is incredibly wasteful (in our eyes) with love. Sharing and spreading this love to any and all in the world.

Celebrating in full and beyond those who return from living a life vastly apart from the one who has given them life. Giving the unexpected – God’s very life – to the one who asks and demands it.

Our joy is God’s prodigal love for the world. Our joy is that in spite of our ‘prodigal’ lifestyle – God celebrates our return when we see that the ‘treat yo’ self’ life doesn’t fulfill, it doesn’t make us whole, it doesn’t satisfy us. We just crave more and more and this ‘stuff’ can never fill that insatiable maw.

But, God’s prodigal love can and does. This prodigal, wasteful, extravagant love tells us that we are already good. We don’t have to do anything, get anything, have anything to receive this love. It is given to us already. It was given to us in creation, it was renewed in us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Whether we’ve lived a life of wastefulness or lived a life of frustration and resentment – our God runs to us, meets us where we are, wraps arms of love and grace around us, and invites us back into the home and love that has been first given to us. Our God helps us mend the relationships that have been broken. Through God, our lives are made whole.

Our joy in Lent, is that God is prodigal in love to us and all of creation. And thank God for that. Amen.




April 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

April 2019 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

As we look around during this time of year – especially when the rains finally subside – we get to see the new life that emerges from the ground after the winter season. Plants, animals, and flowers come up from their time away. Their sounds fill the air; their smells waft through the air; and people walk around with a little more bounce in their step as we move from a cold season to a warmer one that is rich with life!

Of course, that new and renewed life is at work in our community as well! Our 100 Days of Prayer groups have begun, and they and others are in constant prayer for not only one another, but for God’s presence and direction within our community of faith here at Redeemer. We again get to see where God is leading us as a faithful community.

I’ve had some really neat conversations with folks as they think about where God might be leading them. One in particular summed it up perfectly as they remarked on how God is leading them to do something new in the community in a faithful and faith-filled way, they remarked, “I feel like I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m excited to be on this trip!”

I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the Holy Spirit’s action in our life. Sometimes we don’t know where we are going or where God might be leading us. We even might be a little skeptical about the direction God is taking as we are led and called to serve those around us. But, it is and can be exciting to be on that trip.

The wonderful thing is, we are never alone in that journey. Yes, God is indeed there with us, Jesus is there supporting us, and the Holy Spirit is guiding (pushing?) us along the way. But, we also know that we are surrounded by this community of faith in love, support, and more.

We all come together to see where God is leading us, joining with each other living into our passions for service and ministry. Praying, discerning, and living into what God might be doing through us next.

It’s a wild ride, but one I wouldn’t want to be on anywhere else.

God has great things in store for us here at Redeemer, and I cannot wait to see what it all ends up being! It’s going to be fun, that’s for sure!




March 25, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about fertilizer


 

Sermon from March 24, 2019

Text: Luke 13:1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, amen!

So, whenever you set well and good intentions, obstacles are bound to crop up. Case in point, you may have said before Lent began that – you know… I’m going to focus on the joy of Lent to remember and recognize God’s goodness and grace during this penitential season. Then, you might be a little stumped when the third Sunday in Lent’s assigned gospel reading is titled – REPENT OR PERISH! No one said giving something up, or taking something on during Lent would be easy.

But, even in the midst of things that seem so dire and absolute, I believe there is still joy to be found.

This Sunday, we are confronted with Jesus’ words amidst a long sermon he is giving to the multitudes and crowds that are gathered around him. His words are directed at his close followers, curious on-lookers, indignant religious authorities, and those faithful who will follow him only because of his Word and the shared Gospel to them thousands of years later (you and I).

His message to those gathered around him this day – and to each of us – is don’t feel that you are so special that you’re better than those ‘others’ you like to malign, shame, and chastise. Jesus is matter of fact, change your ways, turn back to God, return to the life that God has created for you. There are consequences to living away from God’s truth and life.

Jesus calls to his followers – all of us – that living in his light induces a change in behavior and life. A life that is lived in and for God’s glory. A life where we continually repent – turn back from the things we’ve done – so that we can live fully into the life that God has freed us for.

A life that is in service to God and neighbor. A life that welcomes all in love and grace. A life that is focused on forgiveness and mercy. A life that is shared with and for all. It was a radical call to life then, it is a radical call to life now.

It’s a life that we still lose sight of, stray from, and times stubbornly oppose in so many myriad ways.

But, when we look at only what Jesus says in the first part of this reading, we might get a little wary of how our life is going. Jesus seems to imply that this is a one and done thing. Repent or perish. Do it now. Just turn back. Why haven’t you done it yet?

Anyone who has ‘given something up’ in their life. Whether it be during the season of Lent, for New Year’s, or just a realization that something in life needs to be done; there is one thing that is readily apparent when those changes in life are made.

It’s hard. It isn’t easy. There can be quite a few setbacks as you move to change a habit, end a vice, return to the one who has given you life and love.

So, where then is the ‘joy’ in Jesus’ words of ‘repent or perish?’

Well, the good thing here, is that Jesus continues to talk. Because if you’re taken aback by the words he first says in our reading this morning, just imagine what those first hearers of his words were feeling! Jesus is sounding a lot like some of those TV evangelists right about now.

Where the ‘returning’ towards God is made out to be easy. Just have faith and it’ll happen. If you fall back, you obviously need a little more faith and prayer.

Thankfully, the parable that Jesus shares kind of shoots that philosophy down.

This is where I find the joy this third week of Lent.

Jesus tells of a landowner who has planted a fig tree and it isn’t producing. That succulent sweet fruit just isn’t making itself known upon the tree, so naturally the landowner wants to remove it. It is wasting space and taking up a plot that an otherwise good tree could be in.

Yet, the gardener – the one who actually tends the plants and fields – cautions him and asks that the tree be given another year to produce. But, this time it’ll be fertilized, cared for, and tended to.

For many the fig tree can be the life of faith itself – perhaps your own life of faith. It isn’t producing anything, why have it here – it’s just wasting space?

But, the parable doesn’t say if or what the landowner has done to cultivate that fruit from the tree. Apparently, he approaches it much like I do with planting – I planted it, I gave it space, grow and produce already!

It reminds me of the conversations I’ve had in my ministry with folks who are ‘upset’ or resigned about something in the church that they wish was going on, or something that has fallen to the wayside.

As they come with their laments – truthful and honest laments – about youth ministry, or small groups, or a bible study, or a service project – they lament that things aren’t the way they used to be, participation has declined, that it’s just ‘fallen’ these last few years.

No one likes it when I say it, but I’ll usually follow up their lament and concern with, “I hear what you’re saying, and you’re right that part of the life of the church has taken a step back it seems, but as you’ve seen it happen, what sorts of steps and investment have you taken to revitalize it and bring that passion to share with others?”

Just because we want something to happen – even if it’s a good and great thing – doesn’t mean that it is going to happen out of nothing. It takes work, investment, time, involvement, love, and more. You can’t just dig a hole, plant it, and expect it to thrive.

In this interpretation, we acknowledge that there is work to do in our own life to cultivate the faith and love that we so desire.

Another way of looking at this parable, is to see that the fig tree that doesn’t produce is, in fact, you. It’s me. It’s that other person over there.

And that the gardener that comes to vouch for your life is Jesus. He’s the one that is taking the time, investment, love, and heaping a whole bunch of…. fertilizer on you to help you thrive and grow. Jesus is working on you to bear fruit in the life of faith.

You’re not a lost cause. You’re not irredeemable. You have hope.

There’s joy in that. This doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. It doesn’t mean it won’t take time. It doesn’t mean that at times you won’t object to where Jesus is leading you. But, our Lord cares enough about you and about me and about that other one over there, to tend to you, walk with you, love you, and lead you in this life of faith.

We are continually a work in progress. We are not final.

So yes, Jesus says repent or perish this morning. And that seems incredibly harsh and scary.

But, the joy of Lent is – that you’re not going to be alone through it. Jesus is there. Jesus is here. Jesus will be with you to help you return towards God. And not only will Jesus be there, but so will your community of faith. Because Jesus is working on the rest of us too.

That’s a great joy. Amen.


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