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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Gospel in Disney: Diamond in the Rough

Children's Address

The story of Aladdin is from 1001 Arabian Nights and it's about a young man who was orphaned very young and ended up raising himself and who survives by stealing food in the market. In an early scene we see him stealing some bread and immediately we're tempted to think: "Hmmf ... a thief!" but we need to be careful. Let's watch the first clip

So, our first thought was perhaps "Thief, or good for nothing, or, someone who will never become anything" but then we see someone who is "someone" ... a prince, someone who will become someone, probably a king. But then we see how he behaves, almost trampling the children and surely as we watch this we ask: "Who is really the prince, and who is really the good for nothing?"

We look at Aladdin and we see courage, compassion and kindness ... he is a diamond in the rough. He is not yet what he can be. And this reminds us of what we are to God and who God chooses.

In 1 Samuel 16 God sends Samuel to a man called Jesse who has 8 sons. And God tells Samuel that one of these sons will be the future king of Israel. Samuel sees the first son, a big strong young man and he thinks: "This must be the one" ... but God says "No, it isn't him." Then he calls the next one, and it isn't him ... and the next son, and it isn't him ... he works through seven sons, all of whom look as if they'll make a good king, but God says: "It's none of these" so Samuel says to Jesse: "Are there any other sons?" and Jesse says: "Well, there's the little chap, but he's ... he just looks after the sheep" and Samuel says: "Send for him" and they fetch him and God says: "He's the one ... anoint him."

God sees what he could be, not what he has been, or what he is today ... God sees what he could be. And do you know that is how God looks at you. That prince looks at Aladdin and says: "You are a worthless street rat, you were born a street rat and you'll die a street rat." I don't know what people have called you, sometimes people say horrible things about us ... we're little, or we're stupid, or we're ugly, or we'll never amount to anything ... those things are never true and they are never the way God sees us.

God says to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7:
 ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’

And so, as the children leave us, I invite you to look at them as God does: "There goes a future deacon or elder in this church, there goes a preacher, one of them might teach my grandchildren, or be my doctor, or ... (you fill in the blank). As they leave, we see diamonds in the rough.

Adult Address
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are,

This week we return to our once a month series on the Gospel in Disney and, as I said last time, before you say: “Now Cedric’s preaching from Disney!” ...  I’m not preaching from Disney, I’m preaching from the gospel and looking at these well-known films to see how gospel ideas have permeated them. You might remember a few weeks ago in our Back to Basics series, we saw how the Kingdom of God is like yeast that works its way through dough; as we look at some Disney movies, we are going to see how the Kingdom principles of the Gospel work their way into the most unexpected places ... even into Disney movies. Such is the power of the gospel.

And as we saw with the children, God sees what we can be, not what we are or what we have been, and this is a theme throughout Scripture: God uses those of whom others have probably said: "So and so won't make it in life."

Moses the stutterer will certainly never move in high circles; Esther, all that beauty but probably not much brain; those simple fishermen around Lake Galilee; Simon the zealot; Matthew ... all he's good for is as a sell out tax collector. But God sees what we can be, not what we are or what we have been. And no doubt in the early church when some of them became puffed up with their own importance and heard about the murderous Saul who had become a Christian, they no doubt decided that he would not ever make a good church leader or elder ... certainly not in their church, thank you very much. But remember, God sees what we can be, not what we are or what we have been.

That same murderous man would go on to say one day:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are.

God sees the potential within us: we are all diamonds in the rough. I don't know what tapes you have playing in your head, but I hope you hear this one above the others: You are God's workmanship.

So that's the first Gospel theme we can pick up from Aladdin; here's Aladdin, riff raff .... NO! ... here's someone who can become a prince.

Then Aladdin meets the genie and the lamp and he gets 3 wishes ... "Make me a prince" ... why? Because he wants to impress Jasmine ... only, she's not impressed. The Aladdin she'd met in the market place had something in here (heart) that's missing in this person who tries to impress her. We try to impress people, don't we? When we're younger we do things to impress others: we drink, we do gym to look impressive, or starve ourselves to look beautiful; sometimes we give away everything to make boys or girls like us.

Then we grow out of that, don't we? Of course we don't, we just try and impress in different ways: we move to a better area, we have to have new car, wear smart clothes, talk about our education or how well we're doing, even when we aren't. Even in our church life ... I've done this and that course; I hold such and such a position in the church, you know.


Aladdin's attempts at trying to impress others remind us of ourselves, don't they? As Christians we are called to be people who influence others, rather than impress. The funny thing is though, that the more we seek to influence others with the Kingdom way of life, the more we end up actually impressing them, but that's another sermon.

So, we're all diamonds in the rough and we're called to influence rather than impress.

My last point: Aladdin uses up two wishes trying to stay alive. When he first met the genie he'd heard that the genie is actually imprisoned and he'd promised that he'll use the 3rd wish to set him free ... to set the captive free. Now there were still lots of things Aladdin could do with his last wish. Will he keep his word. Let's watch the clip.

What do you do with your "third wish"? Let me put it another way: "What do you do with everything you receive?" Is it all for you? Your money, is it all yours or is the first tenth God's and then do you use some of what's left to help others, setting them free from the grip of poverty? Your time ... is it all yours or do you give some of it for others ... eg serving in a soup kitchen and setting someone free from hunger that evening; or visiting folk in order to set them free from loneliness? Your experience ... is it just bottled up in you or have you thought of mentoring a young person in your field, setting them free from the prison of inexperience? What do you do with your 3rd wish?

Aladdin uses his third wish ... to set the captive free ... he selflessly let's the genie go free. The NT calls this "agape" ... it is selfless, sacrificial love that costs you something (in Jesus' case it cost Him His life). It's a dogged determination to use what you have to bless and help others even if it comes at a cost to you. Agape love ... this is what it means to be fully human and it creates a whole new world (which is the theme song from Aladdin) ... agape love creates a whole new world which Jesus calls the Kingdom of God; it's a world where the first shall be last; a world where if you want to be great, you become the servant of all; it's a world where if you cling to life you actually lose it, but if you freely lose your life, you'll actually find it.

Jesus of course demonstrated this love, instead of ruling like a king and having all the wealth and the power, he chooses hanging on a cross and dying for us and then calls us to be the same and sends the Spirit to empower us to love this way.

Paul puts it this way in Philippians 2:3-11
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death –
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Are you living only for yourself? Is it all about you? Do you have only morsels or crumbs for others? If you live this way you will reach the end of your life and find you still haven't found what you were looking for. But when you start giving yourself away, freely giving because you have freely received, you find joy unspeakable, you find peace that passes all understanding ... in a word, you find life.

So Aladdin gives up the third wish, knowing that means he's giving up any chance of becoming a prince and marrying Jasmine ... but he does it. And the king sees what he does, realises he really is a true prince in terms of his heart and changes the law so that Aladdin can marry Jasmine and they live happily ever after.

And I finish now with a similar promise to you: When you truly accept that God sees what we can be, not what we are or what we have been ... when you accept that God uses ordinary people like you to do extraordinary things; and then live into that belief by living a life that seeks to influence rather than impress; and when you do this through loving in a selfless and sacrificial way ... you will know true happiness, which in the Bible is another way of saying true blessedness.

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