We are starting fun new series called “Keeping it Reel”. It’s about living what we believe—living like Christ. As we move through this series we’re going to be talking about the different tenants of a life in Christ—forgiveness, reconciliation, sacrifice, inclusion, and justice. And we’ll see parts of different movies that help us see what that looks like in real terms. Today we are starting with something basic…if we are going to live like Jesus, we have to put our old sinful ways behind us, and be loving, kind and forgiving…and that starts with one another in the church.
Our first movie is Shawshank Redemption…which is probably not the movie that would first come to mind for many of us…it’s about Shawshank prison and a couple of the inmates there. It’s not a Christian community. They aren’t committed to following Jesus or living differently. But there is one inmate Andy Dufraine, who lives in such a way that he stands out among the others. He lives with kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, even under the worst circumstances—-false imprisonment dealing with all of the atrocities one might experience in prison.
In a lot of ways, the thrust of this passage is pretty straight forward. It seems like it might hardly be worth our time—I mean, it’s not like there’s a hidden secret meaning or something. It’s direct—be good to each other and leave any of your bad habits or sinful ways in the past.
We can all be on board with that, right? So then why is it worth our time? Well, for these simple reasons:
1) People are people—no matter the country or the century.
2) Living the life of Christ doesn’t come naturally.
What I mean is this: the book of Ephesians was written as a letter to the church in Ephesus in the first century. And even nearly 2000 years later, we in the church still struggle with the same kind of issues. People are people. We are sinful and broken and even when we want to be like Jesus it can be hard. And we need to remember to love, be kind, and forgive.
And yes, even Christians need those reminders. We aren’t here because we are perfect. We’re here because we know we need help getting it right. And it matters that we get it right together. Our relationships serve as our witness. Other people hear the words of Christ, the rules we are supposed to live by, and they look to us to see if we do it, to see if it matters, to see if it changes anything to follow this Jesus guy. And if what they see is hypocrisy, judgment, anger, and sin, then they’re probably going to doubt Jesus and his power to do something good in our world.
It matters how we live our lives. We have to live what we believe. And if we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and if we believe that we are called to be like him, then we have to practice that in our daily living. Now, we aren’t perfect. We’ve said that. We know that. We are going to fall short. We are going to get it wrong. We will have our days when we don’t look a whole lot like Jesus. BUT, that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying. Living our faith matters.
If we think about the movie, we think about the guys at Shawshank prison, and what might we expect?—each man for himself. We’ve heard about the violence, the corruption, the insider rings that happen in prisons, and certainly when you watch the movie, you’ll see there’s a healthy dose of that. And yet, we also see something distinctively different in Andy Dufraine. Andy wants good things for the other guys in the prison. He spent 6 years writing letters to get money to fund a library. He helped 6 guys pass their high school equivalency test. He helped the guards do their taxes and set up trusts for their kids. His heart could have been hardened by prison or the abuses he endured, and yet generosity and kindness won out in Andy’s heart. So, it hardly came as a surprise when Tommy Williams came and Andy offered to help him change from a life of crime, to something better. Andy took the time to not just help Tommy pass his tests, but to teach him to reach starting with learning his letters. He taught him to read. And he taught him his high school basics. Tommy passed the test with a C+ average. He’d been in and out of prison since he was 13, probably because he was illiterate and could’t hang with a school crowd, but Andy gave him the opportunity to change that, to have something different, to live a life worthy of his family, of something more.
In them, I see our calling—to be like Christ and care about other people, to help them through hard circumstances, to be just and fair in our actions, to care and help them, even when we don’t “have” to, and to give of ourselves for the benefit of others. It matters how we live, not just for our sake, not just because we are “supposed” to, but because our actions have the potential to change the world, one person at a time.
I have another scene for us to watch, it’s Andy with his friend Red. They’ve been together at Shawshank for 10 years and learned to be there for each other. Red had played the harmonica as a kid, but gave it up and certainly wasn’t playing at Shawshank. When Andy pressed him and asked why, Red said it wasn’t worth it. Andy contradicted him and said this is when it’s worth it the most…because it tells the prison that it can’t have all of you, that there is a life beyond those walls—it gives you hope.
These two men learned to share hope and life with each other. They marked life’s moments…even if it was yet another rejection from the parole board, or a full decade of life in prison, but even if those aren’t milestones you might want, they were part of life inside and they learned to roll with it.
Andy Dufraine lived what he believed and in some ways it rubbed off on the other guys. Now, he wasn’t under the best of circumstances, things weren’t exactly going his way…his wife cheated on him and was then murdered and he was convicted for it….he could have been consumed with anger and bitterness, but he chose not to be. He chose something different. That may not be our story, in fact it’s probably not, but we all have stuff that could harden and poison our hearts. We have things that happen that spoil what we strive for and what we think we should have and we would be justified to be bitter about it, or we could leave the bitterness and keep focusing on who Jesus invites us to be. We could be hope and life in our world, with each other.
It matters what we believe, but even more than that, it matters that we live what we believe. If we believe in hope, we have to live hope. If we believe in forgiveness, we have to forgive. If we believe in second chances, we have to offer them, not just expect them for ourselves. If we believe that following Jesus matters, then we have to act like it, we have to follow him and do what he asks, not just when it’s easy, not just when life is going our way, but as wholly and fully and often as we can.