One of the movies that is on high
rotation on our ‘Movie Channel’ is ‘Evan Almighty’. This movie tells the story of a congressman (Evan) who is being asked to sponsor a bill, that ends up being corrupt. But before we get to the question of the bill, he is asked by God (Morgan Freeman, again!) to build an ark! As it turns out, the corruption involves a dam that has been built badly. The dam bursts and a flood ensues. Evan saves the
animals, and some people and
exposes the corruption.
Right up to the end, there is no sign of rain. Right up to the end people are scoffing at Evan. Up to about two thirds the way through the movie Evan’s family do not believe in him. Right up to the end the threat of the wrecker’s ball is hanging over the ark building project. Yet in hope against hope, Evan presses on with the task of being faithful to his call.
The difficult thing about this movie is that unlike life, the vindication of Evan comes in the ‘last reel.’ For the rest of us, the vindication does not come in this life. Our faithfulness to God has to be exercised in circumstances where there is no ‘right answer’. We face the same mocking. We face the same self doubt. We face the same potential dissention in the ranks of people who belong together.
In this regard our situation is more like that of Job or the martyrs than of Evan (or Noah). Job is suffering, and his comforters come and say ‘Well Job, if you are in so much trouble, you must have done something wrong. Just confess it and God will forgive you!’ But Job, hanging on by the skin of his teeth says ‘I know that my redeemer (avenger) lives, and that he shall stand at the last day upon the earth and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.!’ The martyrs too went to their deaths in unsureness of who was ‘right’. They said ‘Dead men, we salute you!’ as they died, but as you can see from the story of Archbishop Cranmer, for example, the dying was not all heroic. Cranmer eventually thrusts the hand that signed his recantation into the fire, but he tried desperately to live.
These stories are the basis for the teaching about the resurrection. Jesus too goes to the cross in failure, mocking and a wondering why ‘God has forsaken him’ Yet the proclaiming of the resurrection brings the hope to all of us who live with doubt and opposition that the ‘end’ for us is not the ‘end’ but a part of a bigger story, God’s Story.
This is our story here at St. John’s. We have embarked (literally, got on board a ship! Is it an ark?) upon a project that has brought about a lot of scoffing, and a lot of attempts to undermine it, and a lot of venom in the e.mails. These things hurt and ‘dis-spirit’ us as I said in last week’s sermon. But, as a member of the congregation said this week, ‘My father (a pastor) said ‘As soon as you start to do God’s work, then you will be attacked.’
We can say ‘Well we are right and we will be vindicated’ and cite the movie Evan Almighty! But I think the more realistic position is to say ‘Well, we might be right or we might be unsuccessful, but what is certainly the case is that we have been faithful to the original plan that we laid out two years ago. We have invited people to express their views about how we can become a ‘missionary congregation’ and how we might offer a welcoming space to those who are tentative. We have discussed the matter at the Chaplaincy Council and at the Annual General Meeting. That is, all that we have done has been done in the open.
What is more, we have the support of the scriptures in inviting us to be a ‘pilgrim people’ since life comes only as we leave Egypt and head for the Promised Land. Do you remember the hymn ‘Father hear the prayer we offer?” One verse goes ‘Not for ever in green pastures?’ It is worth quoting in full
Father, hear the prayer we offer:
Not for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.
Not for ever in green pastures
Do we ask our way to be;
But the steep and rugged pathway
May we tread rejoicingly.
Not for ever by still waters
Would we idly rest and stay;
But would smith the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.
Be our strength in hours of weakness,
In our wanderings be our guide;
Through endeavour, failure, danger,
Father, be thou at our side.
That is the best we can ask, or hope for.
There is another interesting aspect to the movie ‘Evan almighty’ that I found helpful. At one point, Evan’s wife Joan is having serious doubts about the craziness of Evan’s behaviour. This happens against the background of their marriage, which they are also trying to strengthen. At one point Joan is visited by ‘God’ (Morgan Freeman) as a waiter in a restaurant. She begins to tell him her problem and he replies: ‘Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?’
The good thing about our situation is that apart from the content of our programme, the process we are in is also giving us opportunities to show how loving we are. We are being given opportunities to be courageous. We are being put to the test. Will we be recognisable as the body of Christ in transition, or look like any other club? We are experiencing the pains of pilgrimage, but this is a good thing, because it gives us the chance to achieve what we say we are. ‘We are the Body of Christ’