Sermon – September 28, 2014

A New Script

Any fans of the movie, “Pretty Woman” here? You remember that movie with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts? She is an out of luck, woman of the night, who falls in love with the fabulously rich but emotionally challenged Richard Gere. Her name was Vivian, his was Edward. They have a romance, but it is tempered by her vocation and his intentions. He gets the love bug also and leaves us wondering whether they will get it figured out. Now if you saw the movie, you know that at the end Vivian, unable to penetrate Edward’s shell, leaves to go start a new life. But, to everyone’s delight, Edward finds his heart, decides to come after her, and the movie closes with a scene of him driving up to her apartment with the opera La Traviata blaring through the open roof of his limousine. She smiles and shakes her hair as he climbs up the fire escape to swoop her off to be his bride. Well, that is not how the movie originally ended. It had a much darker conclusion. The original script called for Edward to drop Vivienne off back in her neighborhood, give her an envelope full of cash, dismiss her from his car and drive away well she cries hysterically and watches him go. They change the script for a better ending, a happier conclusion.

In the Rocky movie, when he fought Apollo Creed, the original screenplay had Rocky throwing the fight for a price and then using the cash to help Adrienne open a pet store. I’m not kidding. No dramatic scene with Rocky and a swollen eye and his crooked mouth shouting Adrienne. Nope. It was a pet store for Adrian. Instead we might have had the scene “Adrian!!!, the bunnies got out again!” They rewrote the script, thank goodness.

One more for fans of the “Little Shop of Horrors”. Remember that play and that movie? In the stage play, the story ends with the carnivorous plant, Audrey II, eating up everybody, chomping down Audrey and Seymour, even as an enterprising salesman takes a cutting of Audrey II and the creature spawns into multiple Audrey II’s that take over the world. They actually used that ending in first draft of the film as well, but the test audiences hated it. We don’t eat our stars. Not so for the movie. It is Audrey Two who bites the dust.

These screenwriters, scriptwriters, directors, and studio houses had the power to change the story. Some of these movies are iconic. To change them would be to mess with our parallel reality that we visit when we seek the distraction of the movies. We don’t want anybody writing the scripts differently than we know them.

The Pharisees and scribes and leaders of the Temple managed the script for the people of Israel. It was a job they took quite seriously and one over which they were quite unwilling to compromise. Their script was the law. And it was written into the lives of each person, and its narrative determined the fate of everyone. It wasn’t a bad script. Those who were faithful, followed the law, and were able to take some direction from the stewards of the law could expect to enjoy a measure of righteousness at least in their own eyes. The Script is passed on from generation to generation and these were the rules. Those, however, who bore evidence of their sinfulness – such folks as prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners – would enjoy none of the benefits of the righteous. Not the community, not the assurance of God’s favor, not the possibilities and opportunities of the righteous. In some cases, not even the ability to worship. Instead, they were confined to the margins as a community of the unworthy and the unwelcome. It’s not hard to imagine the hopelessness that one might experience as it is rubbed into her face that her existence is not redeemable. That her station was her life and that the misery of her station was the fault of her state of disfavor with God. That was the script. The law keepers, the insiders, made the rules and managed the script. Now, part of the reality of trying to gain righteousness to the keeping of the law is that one cannot keep the whole of the law and to proclaim that you can and does is to practice a self-deception maintained by a constant self elevation over against the other. That is the part of the script that Jesus came to change.

So, this Jesus comes along and the challenges this authority. The law, seemingly, doesn’t account for this fellow. Where do you get your authority? Who was pulling your strings? The subscript here is, “we, who are the stewards of the law and therefore the current authority, have not authorized you.” Theirs is less a question than an accusation. “You are off the script, Jesus, and we have not given you permission to speak in such a manner. Therefore, you are any number of things – a fraud, or worse, the blasphemer.” They will get to that later.

So, they challenge him. And, as he does so well, he turns the question right back on them and puts them in a conundrum. Either way that the answer, they will be wrong. That should have told them something.

Then he tells them a little parable about faithfulness, integrity, and the forgiving character of the narrative he presents. The son who changes his mind and does the right thing is lifted up as the one who does the will of his father, even though he at first defied the father. The other son who said he would obey his father and was satisfied with that, even though he did not act on his promise, is exposed. The first son, flawed has he might be, changed and became obedient.

What kind of authority does Jesus claim to come in and change the script that has been the narrative of the community for centuries? Where does he get off? What kind of authority does he carry?

Well, it is the kind of authority that has the power to lift up the lowly, to speak for the marginalized, to call out the bean counters and to forgive the sinners. It is the kind of authority that reveals the very heart of God, and takes the story back. It is the kind of authority that writes the script for a new life for you and for me, who like the first son have said no so many times but seek the opportunity to reclaim our place before God, and then to be met by forgiving, redemptive grace. It is the kind of authority that reveals a new possibility for those told they don’t belong. A new community for those who have been pushed to the margins and the sidelines. A new standard of righteousness, which is faith in the storyteller. A change of the script that reveals grace and not law is the currency of the kingdom. That’s why Jesus got in so much trouble, but he did it all for you and me. “ And taking the form of a slave… Humbling himself and becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” He so changed the script that the God himself gave everything to gather us to himself.

So in our time, in our circumstances, we have to ask, “Who is writing your script?” What measure, what standard, what expectations direct your day? Who tells you what you are worth? Who decides the value of your life? What is the currency of the narrative you are living under? There are a bunch of folks would like to write our story, our script. There are those who will tell you in the church that God will honor your faithfulness by making you wealthy. By that standard poor are forgotten. There the rubrics, the expectations, the script of the economic system determine who matters. On the other hand, there are those who will cynically dismiss each of us because of our station, our mistakes, our heritage. They would have us believe that our value is set and it is decidedly less than theirs.

Listen, here’s a little spoiler alert. Under the script of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our value has already been determined. We are worth everything that God can give to assure our place among God’s people. And those whom the world would reject, marginalize, mock are alerted that good news is afoot. There is new story. That they matter, that they are loved, that they will be lifted up. And much to the surprise of other scriptwriters, you and I are commissioned to tell the story, to proclaim that Good News. And in thankfulness, live lives of justice and hope and promise and joy.

The script ending of the script has changed. God has the final word and it is a word of grace, a word of yes, a word of life.

Thanks be to God.