The greatest & the least in the Kingdom of Heaven

Yet another good sermon from our Pastor Douthwaite, preaching from Matthew 11:

So hear what Jesus has to say to you, in answer to your questions: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

What does this mean?

There is no question that John was great. He was the last and greatest Old Testament prophet. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord. Yet there is one greater than John. Who is it? Who is it who is least in the kingdom of heaven? . . .

Well, don’t feel bad – the disciple didn’t understand all this either, and so a little later they are arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest, and they ask Jesus: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Do you remember how He answered them? He called a little child over and put him in the middle of them and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:1-4). Now, that doesn’t mean those who are cute and innocent. Rather, children then were seen as those who couldn’t offer anything, who needed care, and were a burden because they couldn’t contribute to the support of the family. This, Jesus says, is a picture of greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

So putting two and two together here . . . who are those who are greater than the great John? It is those who are the least in this world. Those who have nothing to offer, those who need care, those who are a burden; those we heard of earlier: the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead – can’t get much more helpless than that! – and the poor. Not the materially poor, but the spiritually poor, for they have the good news preached to them. They are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for they receive the service and gifts and greatness of the king.

And we could add one more to that list today: you. You in the dundgeon of despair and sadness; you in confusion and pain; you who are lonely; you who are heavy laden by the cares and concerns of the world; you who are a poor, miserable sinner. Yes, Jesus is the coming one, for He has come for you. For in you and for you He is doing His kingly work, serving you with His forgiveness and life, washing away your sins, and making you His child. You who have nothing to offer Him but your burdens and sins. But these are the very things He wants! To set you free. And that is exactly what He has done in His death and resurrection. He is never more King for you than He is for you there – on the cross, and on that morning three days later.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Advent 3 Sermon.

My thoughts on Dawn Treader

I understand why some filmmakers make changes when they make a movie out of a novel.  The two art forms are different.  The movie version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader added some plot elements–the green mist, the seven swords–but, as my wife said, they sort of served the larger story, tying together an episodic plot that works better in print than on the screen.  The movie nailed the characters, though, especially Lucy, along with a Reepicheep wonderfully voiced by Simon Pegg.

The Christian elements were there, with lots of talk and examples about not giving in to temptation, something you don’t hear about in most movies.  In the book, Aslan scratched out Eustace’s dragon-nature, supplemented with some great baptismal imagery.  In the movie, once Eustace turns into a dragon, he does all kinds of heroic deeds, and then Aslan changes him back (without touching him, though).  One could construe that as implying that a person does good works, which then merit God’s grace.  Whereas the book has the grace coming first, and then the good works.  But I think the theology was unintentional.  In a movie, if you go to the trouble of devising a good special effects dragon, you need to have it do as much as possible.  The movie did include one of the Narnia series’ most important lines from Aslan, where he tells the children that when they go back to our world they will have to know him by a different name, and that the reason he brought them into Narnia was so that they could know him better in their world.

So I thought the movie was good.  I enjoyed it.  I recommend it.

And yet why do I feel so lukewarm about it?  I realize that a novel has characters, setting, plot, and theme.  The movie did an OK job of approximating those.  But a novel also has language.  It also conveys a feeling. I guess it was the feeling of the Narnia books that I was missing.

Because the story in a novel is happening in your mind, as  you picture the events in your imagination, the effect is deeper and, by definition, more imaginative, than just watching images on a screen.  Reading entails an inner experience.  In movies, we are more detached from the images we are watching.

There is another problem, though.  Movies today have a hard time rendering fantasy.  Yes, they can now create the most fantastical special effects.  But because they are so realistic, so hard-edged, the elements that make fantasy–namely, mystery and wonder–are dispelled.  Fantasy needs to have softer edges to work.  I had the same problem with Inception, an interesting movie about the relationship between dreams and reality, but there was nothing dreamlike about any of the dreams!   Movies and special effects today are just too literal! (Come to think of it, I recall Lewis making this same point, about how fantasy doesn’t work well on the stage or in film.  Does anybody have that reference?)

I do think a movie maker will one day figure out how to use special effects to create truly special effects in the imagination of the viewers.

I can think of one example, though, of a fantasy movie based on a novel that worked in its own terms and in capturing the feel and the imaginative rush of the original.  That would be the Lord of the Rings.

Why do you think the movie version of Tolkien’s trilogy worked so much better than any of the movies of the Narnia series?

We have no cynicism

Kathleen Parker, writing about diplomatic  fallout from the Wikileak documents, includes a poignant reaction:

Writing for the center-right Le Figaro, French journalist Renaud Girard said: “What is most fascinating is that we see no cynicism in U.S. diplomacy. They really believe in human rights in Africa and China and Russia and Asia. They really believe in democracy and human rights.”

Yes, we really do.

If Americans are guilty of anything, he said, it is being a little naive. Let’s plead guilty as charged and get on with it.

via Kathleen Parker – Can we become an America WikiLeaks can’t assail?.

I guess the rest of the world doesn’t really believe in all that stuff about democracy and human rights like we do.  So in our idealism we naively try to help the world and just get beaten around for our trouble.  I know that critics of America ascribe sinister motives to our policies–they are just in Iraq for the oil, etc.–but I think our real problem has been our good intentions, which just don’t work out the way our optimistic national character expects them to.

And yet I think it’s good not to be cynical about democracy, freedom, human rights, etc.  Is there a way to keep our ideals without being naive?

Dawn Treader launches

I was greatly disappointed with the movie version of Prince Caspian, and I feared the treatment of Voyage of the Dawn Treader would be more of the same, playing down the Christian themes in favor of Hollywood blockbuster cliches.  I had heard from people who might know that Dawn Treader would go in that direction, despite the disappointing box office performance of Prince Caspian.  That movie caused Disney to dump the franchise, but Dawn Treader was picked up by Fox.  (The first Narnia movie, by contrast, was both faithful to the original, in its story and its themes, and extremely successful.)

But now the word is that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which opens this weekend, is good!  That it keeps the Christianity!  Also that it works as fantasy, with spectacular special effects in 3-D no less.  So I’m excited.

Here is the positive review from WORLD:

WORLD Magazine | Treading carefully | Megan Basham | Dec 18, 10.

If you see it this weekend, please post your verdict here.

from Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Church & family values go up with education

Used to, college graduates went to church less than the moderately educated.  For some reason, though, this has changed.  Along with church-going, higher education is also associated now with stronger families.

In the 1970s, the moderately educated — blue-collar, working-class Americans with high school diplomas or some college — were more likely to go to church every week than people with college degrees.

That has now reversed: Today 34 percent of college graduates attend weekly religious services, compared with 28 percent of moderately educated Americans, said the report, which was jointly issued by the NMP and Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values.

Many highly educated Americans might have “progressive views on social issues in general,” said Mr. Wilcox, but “when it comes to their own lives, they are increasingly adopting a marriage mindset and acting accordingly.”

The implications for the nation are sobering, said the report.

Most Americans (58 percent) are moderately educated. As they retreat from faith and marriage as a way of life, these families look more like the “fragile” ones led by the least educated, wrote Mr. Wilcox.

If this “downscale” trend continues, “it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society,” in which marriage and its socioeconomic successes, happiness and stability will be enjoyed primarily by the “upscale,” i.e., highly educated, he wrote. . . .

This year’s report highlighted several areas in which educational achievement was shown to make a big difference in family life:

• Highly educated Americans are far less likely to have a baby out of wedlock than moderately educated Americans (6 percent versus 44 percent).

• Highly educated Americans are more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriages, compared with the moderately educated (69 percent v. 57 percent).

• Rates for divorce or separation in the first 10 years of marriage has declined among the highly educated (15 percent to 11 percent), but increased slightly for moderately educated (36 percent up to 37 percent).

• Teens from homes with college-graduate parents were far more likely to say they would be embarrassed by an unwed pregnancy compared with teens from homes with less-educated parents (76 percent versus 61 percent).

• Since the 1970s, teenage girls, age 14, of highly educated mothers were even more likely to be living with both their parents (81 percent, up from 80 percent). But 14-year-old girls whose mothers were moderately educated were far less likely to be living with both their parents (58 percent, down from 74 percent.)

via ‘Faith gap’ seen among married – Washington Times.

How do you account for this?

HT:Joe Carter

Obama goes after Independents

On the President’s concessions on the Bush tax cuts:

Although his liberal supporters are furious about the decision, President Obama’s willingness to extend all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts is part of what White House officials say is a deliberate strategy: to demonstrate his ability to compromise with Republicans and portray the president as the last reasonable man in a sharply partisan Washington.

The move is based on a political calculation, drawn from his party’s midterm defeat, that places a premium on winning back independent voters.

The strategy emerged from hours of post-election meetings among senior administration officials who, after poring over returns, exit polls and midterm history, have determined that the loss of independent voters who supported Democrats in 2008 cost the party dozens of races this year. That conclusion places Obama at odds with many liberal Democrats, who say the midterm losses were the result in part of a political base dispirited by the president’s penchant for compromise.

Faced with unified GOP opposition, Obama didn’t get what he really wanted: the end of Bush tax cuts on household income of more than $250,000 and continuation of the rest.

Instead, he went along with emboldened Republicans to extend even the top-tier cuts for two years in exchange for unemployment insurance and other measures intended to boost the economy.

In doing so, Obama is trying to make the best of a bad situation. Administration officials now say that restoring the president’s image as a post-partisan leader is more important for the next two years of his term and for his reelection effort.

via The president extends an olive branch to GOP.

Liberals, though, are absolutely furious. Democrats in Congress are trying to repudiate the agreement.

I give President Obama credit, though.  If he governs to the center, I’ll support that!


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