|Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / freedigitalimages.net.|
The exception was when an Disney animated Movies arrived in theaters, and all four of us had to go (whether we wanted to or not!).
I was eight years old, and The Little Mermaid was in theaters for the first time. This was about as far from my personal interests as could be. And I would watch this movie countless times more, when the Little Mermaid came home on VHS.
What’s most memorable about a Disney movie, for better or worse, are the songs: and for the Little Mermaid, those songs were Under the Sea and Part of that World. The latter tells the whole story: the Ariel the Little Mermaid desperately wants to be human and live on the land, where she can marry the enchanting Prince Eric and live happily ever after.
They fall in love during a moment of peril—Eric’s ship is caught in a storm, and sinks. Everyone on the boat manages to escape by lifeboat, but Eric jumps out to rescue his dog, Max—and almost drowns. That is, until Ariel rescues him and brings him safely ashore. As strong and dreamy as he was, he couldn’t save himself. A human being cannot swim across the ocean.
It’s no different for our human condition. Sin, and suffering are an ocean. You can’t save yourself. You can’t just swim out of it.
But our Christian faith is built on this singular promise: that God is gracious. God does not leave you to drown. Jesus saves you. His body and blood frees you from sin’s deadly grip. No longer can your deepest hurts and most terrible failures control you. Jesus pulls you out of the jaws of death and puts you into a whole new reality.
Jesus does none of this because of anything you’ve done. Grace doesn’t see worthiness. Grace sees only the need—and grace freely gives.
This is the heart of the Gospel. This is the truth we celebrate on this Reformation Sunday: that we are saved by grace.
But the greatest truth is also the greatest mystery—and so much of the mystery remains because there is so much God’s grace exposes about ourselves that we’d rather not admit.
We’re willing to admit that we aren’t perfect—but not to the point that we do harm to others.
We’re willing to admit that we make mistakes—but not to the point of admitting that we’re broken and that we don’t have it all together.
We deny our need for God. We want to be strong, all-knowing, and wise—fully self-sufficient, able to solve every problem and get out of every jam.
There isn’t a single one of us who enjoys asking for help or forgiveness.
But for grace to happen, we must be willing to let go of all that. The other hard part is letting God be gracious to you but on God’s own terms.
So often, we’re like Prince Eric—sinking in the ocean. We pray for God to send us a lifeboat—but you get a mermaid instead.
This is where today’s Church is: we look back fondly on a time when Christianity was the heartbeat of America. Every Sunday morning, America got out of bed and went to church. There was prayer in the public schools; businesses were closed on Sundays; people had morals and values unlike today. The vibe now is that the church is dying—because new generations want nothing to do with us.
I doubt there’s a single one of us who wouldn’t love to see our society go right back to that. Yesterday is gone—but God is still gracious.
It happens that God’s grace really grabs us in those times when we know we’ve failed and that we’ve sinned grievously. Grace grabs us when everything we’d built our lives upon vanishes from our sight, and we’re treading water in the treacherous, shark-infested seas.
When grace happens, God won’t always give back something we’ve lost, anymore than God will undo our mistakes or turn back time. Grace is all about re-formation—meeting you where you are, and then doing something totally new and unexpected so that you may become what God desires for you.
The reality of grace grabs hold of us as we heed these simple words: “be still, and know that I am God.” It’s the same thing if you’re finding yourself adrift in the sea, or lost in the woods staring down a grizzly bear: when you’re afraid and you panic, you only make things worse. Fear is one of the most irrational of emotions, equal only to pride—both blind us from seeing what is truly real. We are sinful and broken creatures who cannot free ourselves. But Jesus can.