Faith & Film

by | May 15, 2022


Meg Peery McLaughlin
Faith & Film
May 15, 2022
Matthew 12: 46-50

Prayer of Illumination

46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

This the Word of the Lord.

At our worship committee meeting last month,
we were talking about this physical space,
this house of worship,
and I asked each team member to walk in here,
and choose a particular spot in the room that held meaning for them.

Gordon Merklein was in the choir loft, though he doesn’t sing in the choir,
it’s music that connects him to God.
Brian Curran chose the window pane in that back narthex door,
because as an usher, and a member of our safety team,
Brian often hearing the Gospel through that glass.

Vicki Lotz picked a spot on the pulpit side,
three pillars back, toward the window.
Vicki told us how she first came to this church as a widow,
how she walked in by herself, intimidated to navigate this place alone.
Then she saw Margaret Rook, her friend from an overlapping career at UNC
and a walking buddy, and they sat together there on that pew.
And for long over a decade now, that has been their spot.
Over time, if Margaret or Vicki didn’t show, the other would call,
just to make sure the other was okay. Eventually, it morphed into a pre-emptive call:
a warning if one was going to miss church. And maybe that seems a small thing,
but I am here to tell you it’s not, it’s everything actually.

I’m so grateful for Vicki’s vulnerability in telling that story,
and her permission for me to share it,
and I’m grateful for Vicki’s courage to walk into this place,
for courage is what it takes when you’re not entirely sure you’ll fit.

I can’t tell you the amount of people who tell me they stay away from church
because their family doesn’t look like or act like
what they think a church family “should” be.

And I wonder where that insidious idea comes from.
Because I will tell you: it does not come from the Bible.

Scripture is full of stories of all manner of different kinds of families:
none of whom seem to fit in a neat “family” box.

The Apostle Paul is single, and so,
it seems, are many of his co-workers: Barnabas and Phoebe.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus are close knit siblings whom Jesus loved,
but they do not seem to have spouses.

Where, do you suppose, is the mother of the prodigal son?

Father Abraham tries to pass off his wife Sarah as his sister,
King David kills a man to try to cover up an affair that ended in pregnancy.

Cain & Abel didn’t kick off the brotherly tradition all that well,
Jacob & Esau did not improve on it either
with Jacob stealing the birthright,
and the technicolored-Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.

The Christmas story tells of our Messiah born to an unwed teenager,
Joseph drops out of the Gospel after stories of Jesus’ youth,
leading tradition to assume Mary’s early widowhood.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, not a single one more ”biblical” than another.
how we treat each other as family, however, is clearly important to the biblical witness, it’s in the big 10: honor your father and mother,
and the New Testaments letters are keen on Household Codes:
urging submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.

But never has scripture said families weren’t diverse, or messy.
So, friends, why would we think otherwise?

I think that is why I loved Disney’s movie Encanto so very much.
It paints – or should I say sings– of a very realistic picture of family.

For those who have not seen the film, it tells the story of the Colombian family Madrigal displaced due to violent political strife.
Thanks to a special flame – sparked by an unconditional love
(which I can’t help but associate with the Light of Christ)
thanks to that candle, the family is blessed with an enchanted home,
and with special gifts that they are to use to bless their community.

But just like every other family I know, members of this family Madrigal are pigeonholed: there’s a strong one, a perfect one, the emotional one,
the jokester, and one that left. There’s a controlling matriarch who holds too tightly to the family’s image.

There’s an inability to talk about mental illness,
there’s a toxic burying of secrets
and unresolved grief is cracking through to the surface of this
seemingly fine family home.

And if you feel exposed right now, no, I’m not talking about your family exactly.
But Disney cuts pretty close to the quick with this one.

I suppose part of what I want to say today is
whoever you are, whatever your family looks like or acts like,
please walk in here,
find a spot in the choir or on the pulpit side
third pillar back. Listen to me: your. family. fits.

But that’s only part of it, because as important as your family is, and it is,
the most significant family in the gospels is the church, the church family–
these people around that are not bound to you by blood
(or marriage or divorce or adoption).

The significance of which is underscored
in this slightly unsettling text from Matthew’s gospel.

In the 12th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel,
Jesus is up against stiff opposition.
He heals a man’s withered hand and the religious leaders plot to destroy him.
He heals someone else and is accused of worshipping Satan. (ugh)
I can imagine Jesus wanting to just hole up with his people—
Let his family just love on him:
let the strong one in his family fix some things,
let the jokester distract him with laughter
let his mom deal with the image issues.

Instead Jesus asks who is my mother? Who are my brothers?
And then he answers his own question:
whoever does the will of my Father in heaven
is my brother and sister and mother.

Jesus points to his disciples,
his disciples mind you who had left their families behind,
and he calls them his family.
These folks are his primary allegiance.
Those who do the will of my father in heaven are my mother and brother and sister.

Radical though it be, this is nothing if not consistent.

Did we not just promise it to Liam?
Every time we come to this baptismal font,
we remember that we are children of God,
grafted into the body of Christ,
heirs of the covenant,
adopted as Christ’s own,
brothers and sisters in the family of God.

The New Testament doesn’t refer to God being tied down to a zipcode, to a house,
such as the Temple in the Hebrew Scriptures,
it instead speaks of the faithful as the household of God.
Liam is part of the household of God. So are you. Together, we make up the house,
the place where God chooses to dwell.

In the film, Encanto, the house, in Spanish, is the Casita.
And spoiler alert, toward the end, the house cracks, it literally breaks apart,
when the household members fail,
as I see it, when they fail to do the will of their Father in heaven:

when they forget that other people are more than their pigeonholed roles,
when they forget people are more than just their gifts;

when they blame each other rather than really seeing each other;
when they think family has to fit in a certain box
when they hold on too tight to image
or too tight to love which is always meant to expand and change and blossom.

And since it’s both a Disney story and a Gospel one,
once they experience death, there is always resurrection:
the blind see, the lame walk—or in this case dance—
and the house is on a strong foundation and the doors are open to all.

Just like these doors, ya’ll.

This is the Casita of God, and we are the family of faith.

And no matter your spot in this room:
be it the third pillar back, or the balcony,
or through the back narthex window pane,
look around: the people around you are your family:
they are your brother and sister, your mother.

Call them if they don’t show up next week.
Learn about their family—
their messy, diverse, and ABSOLUTELY ALWAYS WELCOME family.
That’s what it is to do the will of our Father in heaven.

You know,
we decided that we’d do this May sermon series using art.
A film, a painting, a piece of literature,
But the truth is, we are the art.

Everytime I think about the family of God,
I see you…all of you.

This is a living breathing art installation.
And isn’t it magical?