SCRIPTURE – I Cor. 12:4-12 – Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
The Gospel According to Pixar sermon series
July 16, 2017
I want to thank the Elders of the church for leading worship last week while Trish and I were at General Assembly in Indianapolis. I especially want to thank Tara Wilkinson for taking on the challenge of preaching about “Finding Dory.” Her sermon was thoughtful, funny, and contained a powerful message. I listened to it on our website, and when it finished I fully expected a motion from the floor to call her as our new senior pastor. Thanks to her, and thanks to you for supporting her.
One of my favorite things to do at General Assembly is to follow people’s commentaries on social media. During the business sessions and the worship services, there’s always a flowing stream of comments that mixes thoughtful reflection, honest engagement, and lots of snark. I usually contribute to the last one. It’s the 2017 equivalent of the after-church parking lot conversation.
In recent years, people have created alter-egos on social media so they can hide their identity and still participate in the conversation. One of my favorite alter-egos is Disciples Batman, who will post things like, “I think Disciples churches should partner with at-risk children and youth. We can teach them to fight crime and give them a cape.” Comments like these certainly help make the business sessions feel less like business sessions.
Alter-egos and hidden identities play a role in our movie for today. This summer, we’re looking at the powerful messages in the movies of Pixar, like “Toy Story” and “Cars.” While these movies may seem like they’re targeted at kiddos, their themes and stories are universal and match up nicely with what scripture tells us about living a life of faith.
Today’s movie is “The Incredibles,” which came out in 2004. Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of superheroes, “The Incredibles” tells the story of Mr. Incredible, a super-strong hero who fights crime, and his wife Elastigirl, who can bend and twist and stretch her body like it was made of plastic. Mr. Incredible gets sued by someone he saved, which leads to a public outcry against all superheroes. They are forced by the government to give up their crime-fighting ways, they enter the Superhero Relocation Program, and they have to promise never to use their super-powers again.
So Mr. Incredible becomes Bob Parr, an insurance adjuster, and his wife, Elastigirl, is now Helen, a stay-at-home mom. They have three kids: Violet, a moody teenager who can turn invisible and create force-fields; Dash, a rambunctious 10-year-old boy who has super-speed; and Jack-Jack, a baby whose powers haven’t developed yet. The family is doing their best to live a normal life, to blend in with their neighbors, to appear not to be different in any way. The kids are ordered by their mom to never use their super-powers. She tells them, “The world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in we have to be like everybody else.”
The movie does a brilliant job of blending the real-life problems of a typical family with the Incredibles’ special abilities. They bicker at the dinner table, Dash annoys his older sister, Mr. Incredible slogs his way through his workday. But deep down, none of them are happy, because they are struggling with their identities. One on end, Dash wants to use his super power to try out for the track team, but his mom won’t allow it. On the other end, Violet hates that she has her powers. She says, “We act normal. I just want to be normal.”
Are you normal? I would tell you to turn to your neighbor and ask them that question, but you might not like the answer. Because I don’t think any of us are normal. The definition of normal is, “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” I want to ask, “What standard? Whose standard?” If my standard for normal is me, then that means everyone else is abnormal. And if my standard for normal is someone else, or some unreachable ideal state, then I’ll never be normal, a statement with which my family would whole-heartedly agree.
But as Christians, we aren’t called to be normal. We are called to be holy, and in our world today, which is dominated by greed, prejudice, and individualism, holiness is as rare as a super-power. To be holy means to be Christ-like, to be focused on serving others, to put our faith first in everything we say and do. And, folks, that is not normal behavior today. But we have those powers, don’t we? We call them spiritual gifts. The Bible calls us to live our lives this way…so why don’t we? Why do we hide our spiritual superpowers instead of exercising them to make a difference in this world? Are we afraid of being different, of being not normal?
The person in the movie who struggles most with hiding his identity is Mr. Incredible. Saving people is in his DNA, so he sneaks out at night to listen to police scanners and secretly rescues people from danger. When he gets offered a special mission to a top-secret island, he jumps at it, lying to his wife in order to go be Mr. Incredible again. After completing the mission, he returns home rejuvenated because he’s finally getting to use his gifts, to be the person he was created to be.
But you can only live a double-life for so long. Mr. Incredible gets captured by the evil villain Syndrome. His wife Elastigirl finds out, so she travels to the secret island to rescue him, and Dash and Violet sneak their way onto the plane to go with her. And at various points in the rescue attempt, each person has to use their powers to save the family. Each person has to be themselves as they were created to be, to use the gifts they were given. And by doing so, they save each other and they save their city, which is attacked by Syndrome’s evil robot.
Like the passage I read from I Corinthians, Paul talks often about the super-powers we are given by the Holy Spirit – the power to heal, the power to preach, the power to discern, the power to encourage, the power to be generous. There are many different powers, but they all come from the same spirit, and we all have one. We are all superheroes. God has empowered us to be difference-makers in this world, and if we’re not putting those powers to use, then we are not only ignoring the gift, we are withholding the saving power of Christ from others. I wonder if what causes God the greatest disappointment aren’t the things we do wrong, but all the gifts God has given to us that remain wrapped.
Every character in the movie is trying to discover how to use their gifts. They are seeking to answer the question, “Who am I?” Even the villain Syndrome, who, as a kid, was dismissed by Mr. Incredible, is seeking validation and value by trying to be “super” like his hero. But there’s a further point the movie makes about these gifts. Mr. Incredible gets himself into trouble when he tries to use his gifts alone. At one point, Elastigirl confronts him about trying to do everything himself, and he confesses, “I can’t lose you! I’m not strong enough.” But what he finds out is that he is so much stronger when he shares the burden of saving the world with his family.
And he learns that what makes him incredible isn’t his powers or his suit or his fearless courage. It’s his family. It’s being surrounded by those he loves that truly gives him value. When he tries to defeat Syndrome by himself, he is weak. But when his family joins him, and they combine their powers, they are all made stronger. What did the passage from Ecclesiastes say? “Two people are better than one, because they can reap more benefit from their labor. For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm, but how can one person keep warm by himself? Although an assailant may overpower one person, two can withstand him.” We are most powerful when we are working together, sharing our super-powers of love and service with each other for the sake of this world.
We don’t have to be Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl to do that. And we don’t have to be a movie star or an athlete or a business mogul or even Disciples Batman. We just have to be ourselves. As you learned last week from Tara and “Finding Dory,” our ultimate identity does not have to do with our abilities or our disabilities. There is no need to try and be someone. We ARE someone. That’s why Christ died to the cross, to remind us of our infinite value.
And we are called to be that someone right where we are. Mr. Incredible goes traipsing off to a secret island, hoping to find the “real” him that had been buried in his boring, normal life. And yet, it’s the most important part of that boring, normal life – his family – that saves him. Life isn’t always going to be an adventure, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t there.
What feels boring to you right now? Your job? Your home life? This sermon? I get it. I’ve felt it. But rather than longing for greener grass or a secret mission to spice things up, I wonder if you might look a little harder at what’s right there in front of you, including your church family. We are NOT normal, but we love you, and we want you to be who God created you to be. The world needs our super-powers to heal, to love, to include, to transform. Because the villains of racism and injustice and greed and violence seem to be taking over. I wonder what would happen if each of us used the gift we have to make a difference, no matter how small, in this world? I wonder what would happen if each of us decided not to be normal, but to be faithful, to change someone else’s life for the better, to let them know they are of value to God? I wonder what would happen if we all acted like we had spiritual super-powers? Now THAT would be incredible.