THE MESSAGE OF YOUR MOVIE
JOHN 1:19-34, I Cor 1:1-9, Isaiah 49:1-7
The Lord called you before you were born,
while you were in your mother’s womb he named you.
2 He made your mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid you;
he made you a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid you away.
3 And he said to you, ‘You are my servant,
in whom I will be glorified.’ ISAIAH 49:1-3
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
One day, while sitting at home, the doorbell rings. You answer it and find a group of people standing on your porch, led by a man in a suit who introduced himself as a Hollywood producer. He tells you they had heard about your life story and were interested in making a movie about it.
You would probably be shocked but also flattered. They ask you questions about your life trying to find out who you are! They are particularly interested in the message of your life; they want to make it the focus of the movie.
Would you be hesitant? Maybe your reaction would be: “Hmm, sir, why me; why my life? I haven’t done extraordinary things, nor am I well-known. Actually, I think my life has been kind of boring, don’t you think?“. “That’s exactly why we chose you! It will be a real-life story of an ordinary person whose life had a strong message!
How would a movie about your life look on the big screen? Who are you?
What would the title of the movie of your life be?
If you walk through your life from birth, toddler years, school, and life after school, all the relationships, personal challenges, highlights, and work, maybe retirement, what would the golden thread be through your life?
What value and meaning did your life bring to the world?
How are you writing the script of your story now? Are you actively writing your story or just being written by external authors?
What would be the Message of your Movie? …. Your Life?
In the passage we read, John the Baptist was asked twice: “Who are you?” v19 and again in v 22: “Who are you?”… What a question!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected on this question from his jail cell:
- Am I really that which other people say about me? ….
- Or am I just what I know or think about myself? ….
- Of course, he went further by asking: Am I, ultimately, that which God knows and says about me? Yes, who am I before God?
Let’s reflect for a while on these questions:
– Am I what other people say or think about me? How much time and effort do I spend to create a positive image of myself so that I can feel more worthy in the eyes of others? What is the impact when I find out that somebody does not like me or disapproves of me or gives criticism? Do I compare myself with others to answer the question who am I?
– The second question is, am I just what I know or think about myself? What metrics do I use to answer the question who am I? Do I use my education, social status, health, wealth, emotional health, relationships, possessions, or something else to determine who I am?
The reason why it is so important to ask this question is that it has a significant impact on our inner life, choices, and actions. If I define myself in terms of what other people think of me, my emotions, thoughts, and actions will be influenced mainly by how others respond to my behavior. Just consider the inner anxiety that it creates the whole time. Even if you define yourself according to your academic excellence, and in a few years you are so far behind with new discoveries in your field, you could feel worthless and without value. Or if someone or something damaged your possessions and you find your meaning in your possessions, you would live with fear and anger much more.
Bonhoeffer’s third option is to let God define who you are. The invitation of spiritual growth is to grow in the acceptance of who you are in God’s eyes and become more of who you are in God’s eyes. Our Image of God ultimately defines who we are.
Our text offers an intriguing and surprising answer to the question of “Who am I?”; in fact, it paints a picture before our eyes. The artist Matthias Grunewald captured the essence of this text in an altarpiece that was created for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, Germany, around the year 1512.
When the sides of the altarpiece are opened, there is a breathtaking painting that profoundly impacted millions of people throughout the ages. In the art, philosophy, and theology world, there are so many commentaries written about this piece of art. It was also a theological breakthrough, which had never been articulated or seen before. Earlier, art depicted only the divine aspect of Jesus, while the human side of Jesus was not depicted!
At the Monastery of St. Anthony, the monks became well-known for caring for individuals suffering from a condition known as “St. Anthony’s Fire.” This affliction was caused by a fungal infection that could permeate a patient’s body, causing skin lesions that often led to gangrenous(gang-ruh-nus) limbs and eventually death.
The altarpiece was designed to help these suffering patients understand that they were not alone, who Christ is, and who they really are. Grunewald accomplished that by creating the image of Jesus suffering as these patients did themselves—with sores and lesions covering his tortured body. Patients from the hospital were brought to sit or lie in front of the altarpiece so that they could see the suffering of Christ and could reflect on their own suffering. Just imagine the experience someone suffering from one of the diseases of that time, like leprosy, smallpox, and “St. Anthony’s fire,” would have. Here, Jesus hangs, bent down towards you, with the realization that He is present, feeling the pain in his body, truly understanding and seeing your suffering! His skin tells the story of intense pain and suffering. Just imagine the immense comfort it would bring to know that God understands when I struggle with my own suffering. That He is with me in my suffering.
In doing so, Grunewald gives us a vision of Jesus unlike any other—one which we may contemplate as we suffer, either with daily frustrations or a debilitating condition caused by illness or infirmity. In the light of Jesus’ fragility, we now experience our own illness, pain, suffering, and fragility completely differently: What we are most afraid of, our brokenness is the door to the Father’s heart. Although we try to hide our weaknesses and brokenness from ourselves, others, and especially from God, our weakness, brokenness, and fragility become the actual meeting place with Jesus Christ!
Mary is dressed in the nuns’ clothes who looks after the sick patients. Imagine the horror of seeing before your eyes your child dying on the cross…. Mary seems to faint. “It is my son who hangs there and suffers; my Lord who dies there.”
One can only imagine how friends and family came to the chapel over the centuries to seek comfort and pray for their loved ones and then see this picture sermon. Those of us who have stood next to someone who suffered know the powerlessness that you experience because you cannot do anything about the matter. So, they are also comforted…
Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus cast seven demons, kneeling on the ground in a prayer position with a bottle of myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body after his death. If a patient or family member stood in front of the painting, Mary Magdalene was at eye level… on their level.
In this painting, hands play an important role. For example, there are the contorted hands of the Crucified nailed to the wooden cross, there are the outstretched, praying hands of Mary Magdalene, as well as those of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the hands of John the Evangelist, holding and supporting Mary, the hands of John the Baptist are full of meaning. With one hand he grasps a book, probably a Biblical parchment, and with the other, he points towards the crucified One. His index finger is conspicuously large, in fact, larger than life. It looks like his whole body is behind, or rather within, this finger. In this finger lies his essence, his character, his whole identity as the Baptist: to point to the Lamb of God as the source of his own identity and meaning!
The Latin text at the finger of John the Baptist is from John 3:30. Translated, John is saying: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” There are two key aspects to define John’s identity:
– Less of me and
– more of Jesus!
John the Baptist’s impact in the Wilderness was so imposing that the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem sent an official delegation to enquire about his identity. They circle around him; bombard him with the question: “Who are you?” His answer: “I am not the Christ”
“Are you Elijah?” Again answering in the negative: “No, I am not.”
“Then, are you the Prophet?” Again answering “No!”
With this, one of the biggest questions in life, the question who am I? is answered in the negative three times! “I am not the Messiah. I am not. No.” This is a threefold negation, a threefold no! Yet it is also more than a mere threefold emphasis of the Baptist’s modesty, more than a mere denial of who he is not, it is creating space for a new identity in Christ!
It is a pregnant emptiness! Powerful potential to be filled with a true identity in Christ!
When we let go of our unhealthy ego we can discover our identity and our strength in God! If my self-directed ego dies, I experience a new life identity that does not focus on the external but on the internal.
In the quest for our true Identity, negating the traditional conventional answers is the key to one of life’s most profound and liberating discoveries! I am not my work, my history, my body, my health, my emotional health or lack thereof, my financial status, my relationships or social status, nor how well-known I am! (2X) I am not what others think of me!
Try to get a glimpse of this holy freedom when you are free from finding your identity or your worth in these things.
If you now follow the direction in which the finger of the Baptist is pointing, you find your new identity in Christ. John the Baptist takes three steps backward, putting Christ in the light. Christ defines my identity, my value, and my mission! Want to know who I am? Look there! I find my value, meaning, and mission in Him. In the emptiness, I find fulfillment! Less of Me and More of Him!
In our 1 Cor 1 text we read who we are:
V1: to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,
V5 in every way you have been enriched in him,
V7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord
V 28: God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’
This is who you are! And this is whom you are called to be! In union with Christ!
Now John finds his voice: I am “a voice in the desert” and my mission “to prepare the path for the Lord!”. Now finding your being in Christ the Light of the World, you spread light and love!
And just listen to how the Isaiah 49 text explains this:
“And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’
4 But I said, ‘I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.’
5 And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant,…
I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’
Herein lies the secret of our and the church’s identity. We may not, cannot be
anything but what we are. A hand, a finger, a witness… articulating the living voice of the gospel.
A whole life begins with recognizing your brokenness and dependence on God.
People struggle to look at themselves as God looks at them! Just think how God looks at your brokenness: with love, compassion, and hope to transform your pain and hardship! So we can only be transparent and admit our fragility then the Lord can use us. We can trust the Lord more, live from Him, be inspired by Him, and be healed! Then comes transformation through the cross. Pain that is not transformed is transmitted! If you don’t let pain transform you will radiate it…
AnnVoskamp tells how she cut herself on her wrists and other places in times of deep emotional and life pain as a child. Her sister was killed young by a truck in front of the family’s eyes. Ann’s mother was admitted to a psychiatric institution several times. It’s as if she hoped the pain would drain with the blood… After years it got better that she didn’t do it anymore.
Until one day when she stood in the kitchen with a heavy heart and with significant challenges in her life, including that her daughter had gone through the same remorse and depression herself, she felt the brokenness and failure materially. She felt she couldn’t handle it herself. She is not strong enough to handle it, rejecting herself and her life. So how do you live with a broken heart?
She held a knife in her hand. What should I do? She put the knife down instead and took a pen and where she had cut herself earlier, she drew a cross on her wrist. She did this over and over and experienced how the fragility, pain and suffering of Christ carried her and brought healing….
There her healing and transformation took place, through the cross!
And now the movie camera turns to you. The red light is on, recording… the film rolls and life goes on…. live your Life in Christ!
Robert McKay – from his book “Stories”
Write every day
Line by line
Page by page
Hour by hour
Do this despite fear
For above all else
Beyond all imagination and skill
What the world asks of you
Courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure
As you follow the quest for stories
Told with meaning and beauty
But write boldly
Then like the hero of the fable
Your dance will dazzle the world
With great stories.
“God shine Your light on the most gifted areas of my life…
Give me understanding of how to utilize these gifts effectively
so that I can fulfill my calling and destiny.
It is my joy and satisfaction to be a helper of humanity,
exuding all kindness and humility
to lift and improve the lives of others for the betterment of people.
Lord, I ask You to release in me in Your Creative Spirit,
including clever and creative inventions
along with significant, life changing ideas…
Release all the creativity You put in me,
so that people might be drawn to You through my life.”
O God, full of compassion,
I commit and commend myself to you, in whom I am, and live, and know.
Be the goal of my pilgrimage, and my rest by the way.
Let my soul take refuge
from the crowding turmoil of worldly thought
beneath the shadow of your wings.
Let my heart, this sea of restless waves,
find peace in you, O God.
Please hear us as we pray for the people love and care for…
William Temple (1881-1944)
Almighty and eternal God,
so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds,
so fill our imaginations, so control our wills,
that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you;
and then use us, we pray, as you will,
but always to your glory
and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As we sing the prayer you taught us to pray
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy,
fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives,
filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit,
will brim over with hope.
Personally, I’ve been completely satisfied with who you are
and what you are doing.
Rev Immanuel van Tonder