“Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:24 NRSV)
Everybody is familiar with the previews, or trailers that they play at the theater before your movie starts. Of course these days it seems like you have to sit through ten minutes of car commercials and talking M&M’s telling you to turn off your phone before you even get to the previews. Ten minutes late to the flick? No worries, the previews have just started!
But I digress. Sorry, it’s a pet peeve of mine. I go to probably 3-4 movies per year and I hate commercials. Yuck.
But the previews, those are important, right? I mean we might think they’re annoying sometimes, but come on, how often do we base our decision on whether to see a movie or not on the preview? A lot, actually. Trailers can help make or break a film. Think of the new “Ghostbusters” movie that was supposed to be a big summer blockbuster this year. The first preview that was released for it was objectively terrible, and it quickly became one of the most disliked trailers on Youtube. I looked before I wrote this article, and it has more than 1 million dislikes. Now a lot of people that actually saw the movie said that it was quite a bit better than that trailer, but the damage was done somewhat. The movie did ok, but not great. (Now, some people say that there is some sexist stuff going on there too. I’m sure there is, but the point still stands.)
What can a good trailer do for a movie though? Think about the most recent “Star Wars” film that was released last year. It was a worldwide event, with millions of views in just a few minutes on Youtube, and for the most part everybody loved it. I saw people actually clap at the end of it when Han Solo and Chewbacca appear and Han says “Chewie, we’re home!” They even introduced another trailer for it during a special segment of Monday Night Football. The movie catapulted to be one of the biggest films ever, and surely part of that was the good buzz generated by the previews.
But why am I rambling on about movie trailers? This is a blog about Christianity, not movies. Well, I’ve been reading Pastor Brian Zahnd’s book called “Beauty Will Save the World,” and in this book he compares the Church to those movie previews. You see, we Christians believe that Jesus, The Anointed One, came to earth to establish a new kingdom, commonly referred to as “The Kingdom of God.” This is what is alluded to in the Lord’s Prayer when we proclaim “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We believe that the Risen Christ is the firstborn of this new creation, this Kingdom. While this Kingdom has not yet been fully realized, we believe that at the end of history Christ will reconcile all things and all people to himself, and then he will present that restored Kingdom to The Father, as Paul states in the verse above.
So according to Zahnd, we’re kind of stuck between two ages. We have one foot in the twilight of the age of Sin and Death, and we have another in the new age of the Kingdom of God. That being said, we’re called to live under Christ’s dominion on earth RIGHT NOW. He himself proclaimed that His kingdom was “at hand,” that it was already here. We shouldn’t be waiting for some big future event, and we shouldn’t only be worried about punching a ticket to Heaven when we die either.
So what should we be doing? Well Zahnd suggests that the first purpose of the Church is to present to the rest of the world what the Kingdom of God looks like. We need to show others what it’s like to live in that Kingdom that is coming. We are, in a sense, to be the preview of a coming attraction.
With that said, let’s go back to what we said about previews and trailers and how they might affect the success of the movie. Take a minute and think about this. Have you ever watched a trailer that just immediately turned you off to a movie? Sure you have. I mean surely anything that Adam Sandler has put out in the last ten years, right? How about the new Ben Hur remake? The trailer was awful and ended any chance of me wanting to see it.
We absolutely know that a bad preview trailer can totally ruin peoples’ desire to see a movie, so if Zahnd is right and the Church is supposed to be the preview for God’s coming Kingdom what are we portraying to those who are watching us?
Do you really want to go there? Yes, I think it often is THAT BAD. What are most of the stories that you read about Christians and the Church in the news? If you came out from under a rock and knew nothing about Jesus, what would you think when you looked at the Church? Sure it’s not perfect, and never will be, but now the Christian Church, particularly in the United States, seems to be more about forcing people to conform to it’s strict, Old Testament type moral code than anything else. You might be forgiven if you looked at the church and thought that God hates gay people, any woman who has ever had an abortion for whatever reason is going to burn in hell, that God sanctions every bit of war and violence undertaken by the United States, and that God sure as hell won’t sit for a black man taking a knee during the national anthem. You would think that the Church is synonymous with the American State, and that’s kind of ugly.
What about this story where a youth pastor in Ohio raped a teenage girl that attended his congregation? That’s bad enough, but the church told the victim’s family not return to the church until the victim had apologized to the youth pastor’s wife! No, I’m not kidding! That was all over the national news. If the church is to be a preview of God’s kingdom, and you saw that story, who in their right mind would want to be a part of it? Why would you want to be a part of something that was all about anger, judgment, and condemnation? News flash folks, when you start judging others for their “sins,” your own “sins” have a nasty little habit of popping up and staring you square in the face.
But what if the trailer is good? Just what if the church looked like Jesus? What if instead of judgment, the church offered forgiveness? What if instead of condemnation the church offered grace? What if instead of sacrifice the church offered mercy? The overarching theme of Scripture is not “Live by all these rules or else.” It is: “You know what, God created a good thing and we ruined it, but God loves us so much that he became a man and died for us. Then he rose from the dead and created something new, and we can all be a part of it, no matter what!”
The Bible tells us two things about God. It tells us that he is Holy, and that he is Love. No, not that he is loving or lovely, but that he IS LOVE. That’s quite the statement isn’t it? No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, God will always love you because HE IS LOVE. As my pastor is fond of saying, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!” (I said that to an atheist who was hounding me on Twitter once and promptly got blocked.)
What if the church loved God because He is holy, and loved our neighbors because God is love and he first loved us? What if instead of this endless quest for political power we set that all aside and sought to serve others? What if instead of hoping that our churches bring in new middle to upper class families with kids and lots of money for the offering plate we went out and brought the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the prostitutes, the abused, and the broken into not only our building but into our hearts and lives where they can be healed and transformed, and where they may in turn help heal and transform us as well?
That would be pretty powerful don’t you think? That might look like a preview for a movie about the last being first, about the reconciliation of all things, and about the broken ultimately being made whole again.
I think I’d probably like to see that movie, and probably bring my friends to see it too.
What about you, fellow Christian? If your life, if your church is a preview of the Kingdom of God, then when people see you are they going to want to come and be a part of it?