Monday, July 4, 2016

He's Loyal To The End

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 15:9-17:

Today we continue in our series on the gospel in Pixar, and a reminder it’s not the gospel of or according to Pixar, by looking at Toy Story 3. It’s very rare to have the third film in a series be as good as the original, especially if there was no plans to make a third film when the series began, but Toy Story 3 is one of those films.  This film also holds a special place not only because it was the first film we took our daughters to see in the theater, but also because it totally ruined me and fills me with guilt anytime we get rid of a toy, especially a broken toy that ends up in the trash.  But, Toy Story 3 tells the continuing story of Woody, a cowboy doll, and Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure, and the toys they live with, although now diminished in numbers as Andy, their owner has grown up, and no longer plays with them. Andy is leaving for college, and in cleaning up his room, in a mistake by Andy’s mom, the toys, except Woody, end up out on the street as trash. Woody, who had been put into the box to go to college with Andy, knows the truth and risks himself to go out to save them, but they don’t believe what Woody has to say, and are happy to instead jump into a box of other toys to be delivered to Sunnyside Daycare.

When they arrive everything seems great, but they don’t know that the facility is actually run by a dictatorial toy, by the name of Lotso Hugging Bear, who smells like strawberries, but who controls things for his own interests and protection. Woody, still trying to get the other toys to understand that it’s a mistake that they belong to Andy, can’t convince them to go with him, so Woody leaves the daycare and ends up at the home of Bonnie, a little girl who loves to play with her toys, while the other toys remain and are ravaged by the toddlers who don’t know how to place with them nicely. As Woody is preparing to leave Bonnie’s house to go back home, he is told that Sunnyside is a place “ruin and despair,” and so Andy goes back to rescue his friends and bust them out in order to get them back to Andy’s house before Andy leaves for college, and in doing so Woody risks his own freedom, and perhaps his life in defense of his friends.

This is not the first time Woody has risked himself for his friends. He does the same thing in Toy Story 2, when he goes out to save wheezy, a toy penguin, from being sold in a garage sale risking his own safety to save another.  So, although Woody is crazy about Andy and is utterly loyal to him, he also is utterly loyal to his friends and will risk himself when necessary in order to save them or protect them. That is what we heard from Jesus’ this morning as well. That passage from John comes from what is known as the farewell address in which Jesus is telling the disciples about what it means to be a disciple, and more importantly what discipleship looks like. While there is a lot about belief in the gospel of John, this section changes the message to how we live in the world. “abide in my love,” Jesus says.  Abide is not a word we use very much anymore, but I think we should. It means to dwell in, or to remain or continue in something, and that something is Jesus’ love. But it’s about living it out.  “If you keep my commandments,” Jesus says, “you will abide in my love.” And what is the greatest commandment here? “To love one another” as Jesus has loved us, and what does that look like, what is the ultimate form of abiding in Jesus’ love? To lay down your life for one’s friends.

The Greek word for friend here is philos, which comes from the verb phileo, which means to love. So what Jesus is actually saying here is to lay down your life “those who are loved.” And who are we to love? Everyone, even those whom we don’t really like very much, even those who would never return the favor for us. In trying to get out of Sunnyside, Lotso tries to stop them and they all end up in a garbage truck. In a rather touching scene, Buzz saves Jessie the cowgirl while in the garbage truck, throwing her out of the way when a TV is falling on them, but then they find themselves at the landfill on a path to what seems certain destruction, and they find Lotso in need….

The whole reason why they are there, and not back at Andy’s is because of Lotso, but that doesn’t stop them from providing him with help, even when deep in their hearts they probably don’t want to. But why do they do it? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because when we begin to live into and live out of love, then we stop thinking about ourselves. That is at the heart of love. We cannot love and be self-centered, because when we only think about ourselves, are only concerned about ourselves, then it’s impossible for us to love, or to act on that love for others, because love draws us out of ourselves and makes us, or should make us, atuned to the needs of others. Of course that’s easy with the people we truly love, but perhaps harder with those we don’t think much of. But love is not a feeling, it’s a way of being, a way of acting in the world. So giving our lives for others is not about actually risking our lives, although perhaps that might be a part, but it’s about giving of ourselves. As Jesus says, “whoever would save their lives, will lose it, but whoever gives their life for my sake will save it.”

We only get one go round at this life, and so we can waste it by focusing only on ourselves, and in doing so we will pay the price and miss everything we were made for. Or the alternative, we can give our lives, that is give of ourselves, and by doing that we gain the life we are called to live, and we do this, we are called to do this, because we are called to love, and in being called to love we are called to live, to serve and to give. You cannot act in love by yourself, you must act in love with others, and regardless of what we hear all the time, there are no freestanding individuals, we are all in this together. Or as Benjamin Franklin said leading up to the signing of the declaration of independence, we must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately.  And we see the same thing played out as the toys face their future….

If you notice, as they prepare to meet their fates, they hold hands, as they face it all together, but they don’t say a single thing. They don’t convey their love with their words, because they don’t need to, they have already shown their love to each other every step of the way, and they show their love simply by holding hands.  But then the light comes from the sky and they are saved by the claw, but is it really a metaphor of being saved, or begin given a new life? Because that’s what’s about to happen.  After they make it back to Andy’s house, the climb into the box to go into the attic and woody gets into the box to go to college, but then he has a change of mind and leaves a note on the box of toys to deliver them to Bonnie’s house….

For one last time, woody gives of himself for others, but there is one other step and that is that Andy must also give of himself. He has to be willing to let woody go, to remember that woody will be there for you, no matter what. That Woody is loyal to a fault, that he will be there for you, no matter what, that he is always going to do what’s right and give himself for others and Andy gives of himself to Bonnie.  And we are called to do the same. We are called to love because God first loved us, and God loved us so much that he did what? He gave, and we are called to love just as God has loved, and to give as God has given. Sometimes those gifts are huge and cost a lot, the example symbolized by this table, but sometimes the greatest gift we can give, is the smallest, but what means the most to us, like giving away our favorite toy to someone who could truly make better use of it.  There is only one way to measure if we are living into Jesus’ commands and that is by the love that we show. Jesus tells us to go a bear fruit, fruit that will last, and that fruit is to do works of love for the world, that is the tangible sign of discipleship. How will we be known, Jesus asks us, by the love that we show for the world. So go and love, for there is no greater love than that, to give of your life for those who are friends, those who are loved. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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