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 Recent Movies And Preaching


In “Away From Her,” where Julie Christie has been nominated for an Academy Award, playing a woman who’s realizing she’s contracting Alzheimer’s, there’s this memorable exchange:

“The Bible says ‘It’s never too late to become what you might have been.’ 

“That doesn’t sound biblical to me.”


            Contemporary movies can serve as great illustrations for sermons, and contain many biblical themes, even when not necessarily intending to be biblical.  Of course, “Gone Baby Gone” begins with a scripture text, Matthew 10:10 , about wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and is anything but religious.

            “Enchanted” is an interesting twist on the incarnation theme.  Characters from the animated realm are either pure good (Giselle, the fairy princess, and her Prince Charming) or pure evil (Narissa, the Queen).  When the princess finds herself thrown into the human realm in order to overcome the evil, she also discovers that the humans, being creatures of contradiction, uncertainty, bewilderment, impulsivity, mistakes, and compromises, are actually more interesting.  Did Jesus come to earth and discover that being human was more challenging and engaging than he assumed?  Is that why the Ascension places our humanity in the presence of the Godhead?

            “I Am Legend” features Will Smith as the new Adam, the last man on earth (all the other humans have turned into ravenous zombies, seeking someone to devour).  Finally, Eve shows up, with Abel already in tow.  But rather than help her make Cain, he instead, Messiah-like, sacrifices himself to save the elect remnant.  But didn’t God promise Noah that the world wasn’t going to be destroyed again?  And isn’t the rainbow our sign of that promise?

            Everybody says they want peace, but few people actually make it their life work to try to get others to achieve it.  The documentary “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains” features the ex-President, now in his 80’s, still tirelessly advocating for peace in the Middle East .  He says the Israelis shouldn’t be imprisoning the Palestinians in their own territory, severely restricting their personal rights.  Then he’s critical of the Palestinian participation in terrorism, particularly the suicide bombings.  Somehow we all doubt that the people who actually live there want to listen to reason.  But isn’t it quintessentially Christian to be about reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5)?  And Mr. Carter is not ashamed to show us that he still goes to church every Sunday, and still teaches Sunday School in Plains, Georgia .  Now there’s a real role model.

            “The Golden Compass” is a fairy-tale hodge-podge, and the book upon which it is based is polemically anti-Christian, but there’s one interesting concept: an alethiometer (or golden compass) that actually doesn’t indicate direction, but instead, the truth of the person in its presence.  Now wouldn’t Pontius Pilate be glad to have that?

            Remember that story Jesus told about the man who was so busy building new barns for all his hay that he didn’t realize the end was coming soon and all his possessions would be useless to him?  Jack Nicholson realizes the same thing in “The Bucket List.”  Fortunately for him, he is blessed with the presence of a new buddy, also dying, who agrees to go out and have some fun rather spend their few remaining days being cooped up and miserable.  What would you do if you really thought the end was near for you?

            The church, and its ministers, are rarely cast in such an unfavorable light as in “There Will Be Blood,” where the Pentecostal preacher is as greedy and deceitful as he is hypocritical.  Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven .”

            The film titled “Atonement” is rife with religious metaphor, of course, but in the movie itself, the main character tries to “atone” for something she did when she was very young by admitting it now that she’s old.  Well, that’s really more like repentance, isn’t it?  Only Christ can atone.

            Of course, if you want some raunchy, satirical church humor in a movie, you need look no further than “Romance And Cigarettes,” where the organist and choir are pounding out “Piece Of My Heart,” the pop classic by Janis Joplin, or after a solemn and poignant confessional scene, the priest pops out of the confessional booth and breaks out into song, as well, impulsively accompanied by a couple of altar boys in chasubles.

            The choir is much more straightforward in “First Sunday,” where a couple of would-be robbers barge in on choir practice, and a finance meeting, to try to rob everybody, but lo and behold, are instead convicted by the church members into repenting.  The Church isn’t portrayed in an entirely positive light, since there’s conflict and apparently thievery within its ranks, as well, but here are some warm-hearted people who can have a positive influence, even on reluctant converts.  Imagine that.

            And finally the best theological exchange of the year is from “No Country For Old Men.”  Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) drawls, at the end, to his infirm Dad: “I always thought, when I got older that God was going to visit me.  But He didn’t.  I guess He just doesn’t care.”  His Dad, also a retired sheriff, replies, with a dismissive wave of his hand, “You don’t know what God thinks.”  Amen to that.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas