Sermon 07-06-14: “Disney Summer Drive-In, Part 1: Frozen”

July 10, 2014

Disney Summer Drive-In Image

The first film I look at in this summer series is Disney’s Frozen. In this movie, Elsa longs to be free of the fears that control her. Despite her best efforts, however, she remains enslaved—at least until her sister, Anna, shows her the true meaning of love.

Sermon Text: Matthew 11:25-30

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

frozen01

After healing Anna, the chief troll warns the family of Elsa’s increasing powers.

[Show Clip #1. Elsa accidentally strikes Anna with her ice magic. Their parents take them to the chief troll, who heals Anna but warns Elsa and her parents about Elsa’s growing power.]

The chief troll asks Elsa’s father, the king, about Elsa’s power to create snow and ice. He asks, “Born with the powers or cursed?” The father responds, “Born.” But the truth is, for most of the movie we’re left wondering whether these powers with which Elsa is born are also, in fact, a curse. It certainly feels like a curse to Elsa as she’s growing up. Granted, her parents don’t help the situation by locking her away in her room—isolating her from everyone, including her beloved sister Anna. But it’s clear that for most of her early life, Elsa experienced this potentially great gift—this great blessingas a curse.

The truth is, so many things that happen to us in life—things we’re born with, or things over which we have little or no control—can be experienced by us as either blessings or curses. Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Laura Story wrote her most popular song, “Blessings,” about this truth. It includes these lyrics in the chorus: “What if your blessings come through rain drops/ What if your healing comes through tears/ What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near/ What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?”

What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise? That’s a hard truth!

If it helps, Laura Story paid for the privilege of expressing it! She wrote the song after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her family’s life was turned upside down. At the time, when he was first diagnosed, she imagined that her life, her family, her career were supposed to follow this one particular road, and she saw her husband’s illness as a detour from that road. “About a year into it,” Story said, “my sister said to me, ‘You know, I think the detour is actually the road.’”

The apostle Paul expresses this same truth in 2 Corinthians when he describes his struggles with a mysterious physical ailment that he refers to as a “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows what it was—the Corinthian church he was writing to knew—but whatever it was, it caused him great pain. He referred to it as a “messenger from Satan” sent to torment him. Three times, he said, he prayed that the Lord would heal him of this problem, and the Lord said no. “My grace is sufficient for you,” Christ told him, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

This thing that the devil intended for Paul’s harm, our Lord transformed into something good and necessary for Paul’s growth. Truly, the trials of this life—through the power of God’s transforming grace—can become “mercies in disguise.”

Having said that, however, it depends on how we respond to these trials.

Elsa’s parents responded poorly by isolating her from everyone. As a result, when Elsa was growing up, no one in the kingdom knew that she had these magical powers. But that would soon change after Elsa’s parents are killed at sea, and it’s time for Elsa to be made queen. She makes it through the coronation ceremony O.K. At the party afterwards, however, she refuses to bless Anna’s impulsive decision to marry Prince Hans, a man that Anna only just met earlier in the day. The two sisters argue, and that’s when the trouble really starts!

Elsa loses control of her powers at the party following her coronation.

Elsa loses control of her powers at the party following her coronation.

[Show Clip #2. Elsa is crowned queen. At the party afterwards, she argues with her sister, loses control of her powers, and runs away, freezing the fjord and afflicting her kingdom with permanent winter.]

Back in 2011, I went to the Holy Land, and during the first leg of the trip, we stayed in Tiberias, which is on the Sea of Galilee. There was a sign in the front lobby that said that the hotel featured something called “Sabbath elevators.” I had no idea what Sabbath elevators were. But I found out at sundown on Friday. I was on the sixth floor of the hotel, and I wanted to go down to the lobby. I pushed the call button on the elevator and after a long wait, the elevator doors finally opened. No one was in the elevator. I pressed the button marked “1.” The doors closed, and then the elevator stopped at the fifth floor—even though I hadn’t pushed that button. Then the elevator stopped at the fourth, then the third. “What’s going on?” I thought.

Then I figured out what “Sabbath elevators” are. If you are an orthodox Jew, and it’s the Sabbath, even pushing an elevator button is considered illegal “work.” Sabbath elevators enable people to ride the elevator without having to do “work.” You might have to wait a long time, but you’ll eventually get where you need to be.

Think about that for a moment. There are people who believe you will sin against God if you push an elevator button at the wrong time! Why would God be unhappy with you for doing that? It seems so arbitrary!

Which reminds me that at the heart of religion is the idea that if we follow all the laws or rules that the gods have given us—or that God has given us—we’ll be O.K. And only if we follow these laws and rules…

In Romans chapter 7, the apostle Paul describes the life of someone living under God’s law—the life that he himself lived before he found Jesus Christ: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”[1]

See, the problem, as Elsa realizes in this clip, is that no matter how hard we try, left to our own devices, in our natural human condition, we cannot successfully follow God’s law. There is something inside of us that so often prevents us from doing the good we want to do. And the Bible calls this sin.

Later in the film, the trolls sing a song about how everyone is a “fixer-upper.” And that’s true we’re all fixer-uppers. All of us need to have our hearts fixed. And there’s only one way for that to happen—as we’ll see later.

In this next clip, Elsa runs to the North Mountain and uses her powers to build an ice fortress. And as she does so, of course, she gets to sing the movie’s best song. But please pay attention to the words: This is no ordinary self-empowerment anthem. Let’s be clear: What Elsa is doing here—and what she’s singing about—is selfish and destructive.

frozen03

Elsa sings the movie’s best song.

[Show Clip #3. Elsa sings the song “Let It Go.”]

In our modern age, we think that the secret to happiness is simply “letting go”of all the constraints that hold us back—to simply give expression to what’s inside of us; to get touch with what’s inside of us and just do what comes naturally. “It’s time to see what I can do,” Elsa sings. “To test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!”

But what kind of freedom is this?

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000-hour rule.” If you want to achieve greatness at something, he writes, it requires 10,000 hours of practice. Which means at this rate I’ll be a great preacher when I’m 103! So the Beatles, for example, were a great band. But they didn’t just roll out of bed one morning and decide, “Hey! Why don’t we pick up these instruments we’ve never played before and become the greatest band ever.” “Good idea!” Gladwell points out that the Beatles played over 12,000 gigs in the seedy clubs of Hamburg, Germany between 1960 and 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time. That experience shaped them. It didn’t come naturally to them. Without the discipline of playing day-in and day-out, night-in and night-out, they would never have become the musicians they later became.

See, if you’re going to spend 10,000 hours becoming great at something, that means putting constraints on yourself. It means choosing not to do other things you may want to do. It means limiting your freedom. It doesn’t mean “letting go” of all limits and constraints and doing whatever you feel like doing.

If that’s true about life in general, why wouldn’t it be true of our spiritual life—our life with God? That’s why Jesus can say that when he sets us free, we’re “free indeed,” while at the same time saying we need to put on his yoke. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece you fasten to an animal to enable them to pull a plow. We put on the yoke of Christ so that he can lead us where he wants us to go.[2] A yoke, by definition, limits our freedom. That’s why Paul can talk about being set free by Christ while at the same time being slaves to Christ.

God created us to be happy. To thrive. To live up to our potential and be everything that we were meant to be. But God has given us one way for that to happen. And Jesus shows us the way: He said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Elsa, unfortunately, is choosing wide path and the easy way, and she will soon find out that this way leads to destruction.

In this next clip, we see some ways in which her sister, Anna, is unwilling to simply let Elsa go.

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Anna being struck in the heart by ice magic.

[Show Clip #4. We see the lengths to which Anna goes to rescue her sister. At end of the clip, Elsa accidentally strikes her in the heart with ice magic.]

Anna leaves behind all her wealth, all her comfort, all her security—all the safety to which she was entitled as a princess born into a royal family—in order save her sister. She risks everything because she loves her sister with the same costly, Christ-like love that Jesus refers to when he tells the following story: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’”[3]

True love is a costly kind of love. The film shows us that there is no other kind of love.

That clip ended with Elsa striking her sister with her ice magic—not in the head this time, like when she was a child, but in the heart. Anna is now dying. Her heart is freezing and she is slowly turning to ice. The chief troll later explains to Anna and Kristoff that “only an act of true love can thaw her heart.”Of course, Anna thinks that a kiss from Prince Hans, the man she wants to marry after knowing him for less than a day, will save her. But he doesn’t love her; he was only using her. Hans’s men brought Elsa down from the mountain. In this next clip, Hans lies to her and tells her that Anna is already dead. And now he’s preparing to kill Elsa with his sword and make himself king.

By the way, you’re about to meet Olaf, a snowman that Elsa brought to life earlier.

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Anna’s frozen form breaks Hans’s sword and saves her sister’s life.

[Show Clip #5. The snowman Olaf tells a dying Anna about the meaning of true love. Anna goes out in the blizzard to find her true love, Kristoff. Meanwhile, Hans confronts Elsa and lifts his sword to kill her. Instead of waiting for a fast-approaching Kristoff to kiss her and thus save her life, Anna places herself between Hans’s sword and Elsa. Anna’s body instantly freezes to ice, breaks Hans’s sword, and knocks him unconscious. Elsa embraces her sister’s frozen ice and cries uncontrollably. Anna’s life is restored.]

Notice Anna was given a choice. The man who loved her, Kristoff was running toward her. If she had stayed where she was, he would have caught up to her, kissed her, and Anna would have been healed. Instead, what does she do? She puts herself in between her sister and the man who’s going to kill her and dies in her sister’s place. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In the same way, Christ placed himself between us and the forces of sin and death were going to destroy us and died in our place!

But notice how her death saves Elsa. She becomes ice. And in doing so, she breaks the sword meant to kill Elsa and knocks Hans unconscious. It’s as if she takes her sister’s icy affliction upon herself—and lets herself become ice—so that her sister can be saved.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus did the same thing for us! Paul says, “God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.”[4] The sin that had infected our hearts, for which we ourselves deserved to die, Christ took upon himself and died in our place. This is an act of love that will melt the coldest heart.

And now that Elsa experiences this love for herself, she is now able to then love—and share that love with everyone else and heal her land.

And this is what God is calling us to do! We are living among people who have frozen hearts—waiting to be thawed by life-changing, soul-saving love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Romans 7:18-19 ESV

[2] See Matthew 11:28-30

[3] Luke 15:4-6

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:21

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