Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Road Home, a sermon

Sometimes a great movie comes out of China. I don't feel it is the fault of the communists. It is nothing like a Hollywood film in direction. There is a gorgeous young woman in it, but you never see her naked or semi clothed. There is a storyline to it, but it isn't predictable. The ending is bitter sweet. A story about love and loss. No crime was committed. And no mention of God. Why would I give a sermon on a movie without a reference to God if it wasn't to put down the film?

Some see God in the Bible. And only in the Bible. They say it is a heresy to point to earthly things and say God resides there.

The movie begins with a young man returning home to his mountain country village in China. He has been doing some kind of engineering degree in the city and been separated from his parents. His teacher father has just died. His mother is grieving. There is to be a funeral. The son wants to quickly sort out affairs, but he feels his mother is being difficult. Father died in a distant village, and the body needs to be returned. The son wants it returned by car. But the mother wants the body to be carried in a traditional way, so that the spirit can find its way home. This is the name of the movie. The Road Home.

The Mother relates to the son an old story, how she came to marry that teacher. And the black and white movie bursts into colour as a flashback begins. Zhang Ziyi is the 19 yo actress who portrays the young mum. The prettiest girl in the village. She meets the new village school teacher who is installed there by the communists. His role is to make the school children do sums and read aloud.

The courtship is traditional. But without a father to do the negotiations, the Prettiest Girl in the Village needs to work hard to engineer meetings and to provide gifts for the teacher without going too far and causing a scandal.

They had overcome the obstacles, married and had a son. He was educated, but he hadn't chosen to be a teacher. The love story is epic and that result, a child not pursuing the parent's dream, is a tragedy. A particular tragedy of modern China and its one child policy. The Lord our God has instructed us to go forth and multiply. And here we have the fruit of love. Both sweet and bitter.

This is the story of my God. The communists may not have thought that was what the story was about, possibly thinking it was about tradition fighting modernism. Sentimentality and love in a small village, pushed aside in the big city. Those elements are there, but in being about love, this story is about God. And the direction, in not being about lust, is the direction that God takes. You see God loves you. A lot. He is handicapped a little by our little knowledge. We know a little, having tasted from that tree. But we haven't wisdom. Our God calls to us and begs us to see him. He has given us many many blessings. And even when we see the blessings, we don't always see Him.

A friend of mine posted an allegorical story recently

As you got up this morning, I watched you and hoped you would talk to me, even if it was just a few words, asking my opinion or thanking me for something good that happened in your life yesterday. However, I noticed you were too busy, trying to find the right outfit to wear.
When you ran around the house getting ready, I knew there would be a few minutes for you to stop and say hello but you were too busy again. At one point, you had to wait fifteen minutes with nothing to do except to sit in a chair. Then, I saw you spring to your feet. I thought you wanted to talk to me but you ran to the phone and called a friend to get the latest gossip instead. I watched patiently all day long. With all our activities, I guess you were too busy to say anything to me.
I noticed that you looked around before lunch. Maybe you felt embarrassed to talk to me and that is why you didn't bow your head. You glanced at three or four tables around you and you noticed some of your friends talking to me briefly before they ate but you didn't. That's okay. There is still more time left and I hope that you will talk to me yet.
You went home and it seems as if you had lots of things to do. After a few of them were done, you turned on the television. I don't know if you like television or not. Just about anything goes there and you spend a lot of time each day in front of it not thinking about anything and just enjoying the show. I waited patiently again as you watched the television program and ate your meal, but again you didn't talk to me.
I guess you felt too tired at bedtime. After you said goodnight to your family, you plopped into bed and fell asleep in no time. That's okay because you may not realize that I am always there for you. I've got patience, more than you will ever know... I even want to teach you how to be patient with others as well.
I love you so much that I wait everyday for a nod, prayer or thought, or a thankful part of your heart. It is hard to have a one-sided conversation.
Well, you are getting up once again. Once again, I will wait with nothing but love for you. I hope that you will give me some time today. Have a nice day!
Your friend,God
The issue was driven home for me in recent years as I have pursued my love. Wanting to talk to her. Wanting to talk about her. I can boast of my love. She has wisdom and virtue, mightily blessed by the Lord. I pray, and talk to Him about her. I meet with pastors from time to time and they ask me things. But my mind is on her and I'm not really in a position to talk about it. I want to talk about my plans. I remember, sitting at a cafe once. And before I could get started, we are interrupted by a former student. I am a teacher by trade, and privy to things that others don't know. This former student had spent time in jail for nearly killing another student of mine. The other had been a little older and had minded his own business, but the younger one was ambitious and a gang leader. The younger one's mum was a prostitute and she and her friends had raised the boy. She would come to school dressed for the part .. her son even twigged to my being single and asked if I wanted a go. "People get lonely, sir." I had politely declined, which subsequent events would show was a course of wisdom. The older boy was accused of being interested in a girl liked by the younger one. So one day, after school, outside Canley Vale Railway station, in the park feeding into it, the older boy met the younger boy and his gang. The younger boy's gang subdued the other .. using a plank of wood. Everyone but the gang leader used the wood and the older boy got a damaged eye socket, nearly taking an eye, broken collar bone, several ribs, arms and legs. It was thought he would die, or be blinded. I understand he mostly recovered. Courts couldn't do much with the gang leader because he hadn't used the wood. He served some time in prison, and naturally was posted back to school .. the same one he came from. He walks up to the pastor and me and asks if I remember him. I'd wanted to talk about my love. I wanly wish him well, and briefly outline to the pastor who he was when he left. Pastor suggested we should invite him to join us. Pastor was right, but I didn't get to talk about her, whom I loved. And so, through no fault of the pastor, I felt I had missed an opportunity. 

Another pastor meeting and he invites me back to Church. I want her to be there. I hadn't said that. I choose not to go back. I wonder. Was she there? Maybe I could have spoken with her. Another time, another invite. I go back .. she isn't there. She doesn't know. I haven't told her. I spend most of my waking life wanting to talk with her and hoping to please her. It is a story of love and when it is virtuous, it is like how God feels for anyone. 

All those blessings that the Lord gives us. And we often don't acknowledge them. I'm told some of the girls at my church feel they can get glimpses of the Lord when a suitor tries to show them their love. I want to give my love that glimpse. I want her to see through my eyes what I see. She has a heart for the Lord and that makes a person desirable. 

She might not choose me. I have to accept that. There is much that I dream that may not have what God wants for me. But what a dream! And so I have sympathy for the mum in this movie, who yearns for the blessing of having a child follow in the footsteps of that man she loved. 

What is it in life that makes a person Christian? Is it the cross on the gravestone and the chiseled statement? That punctuation mark? Or is it their devotion in life, their praise for the living God, whose very blessings make that life possible and prosperous? When I'm dead, I'll rest happy if medical students play with my kidneys and worms nibble my eyes. I want to be known as a Christian because I give my life for God. I serve God. I follow the Lord and I live for the Lord. And this is the Road Home. This is what the movie is about. It doesn't matter that the body comes home by car. The final resting place isn't the issue. It is the journey. The Road Home is the path of life. It is the life of devotion and love. It is fruitful. It is more than a memory or a label. It is the road home. 
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