Sermon 08-16-15: “Heroic Love”

August 26, 2015

Disney Summer Drive-In

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In the thrilling conclusion of “Big Hero 6,” we see Hiro and Baymax put their lives on the line to save another. In fact, the movie says a lot about “heroic” Christ-like love and other biblical themes, including vocation, prayer, and spiritual warfare. 

Sermon Text: John 15:12-17

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

In the following sermon, I showed a series of four video clips from the movie Big Hero 6. I describe the clips in italics below.

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In this first scene, Hiro, having used his advanced engineering skill to design a killer robot, is caught trying to hustle a mobster in a back-alley “bot-fighting” match. His brother, Tadashi, rescues him on a motorcycle before he gets injured. Tadashi takes Hiro to his engineering college to meet Tadashi’s mentor, Professor Callaghan, whom Hiro recognizes as a world-renown scientist. Hiro decides he wants to go to the college, which he refers to as “nerd school.” He tells Tadashi, “Thank you for not giving up on me.”

Last month, the U.S. women’s soccer team defeated Japan to win the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

Surprisingly, there were six players on this world-championship team who, at one time or another, failed to make their youth soccer league teams. At the age of 12, for instance, Morgan Brian, the youngest player, didn’t make Florida’s Olympic Developmental team. She said, “I definitely cried. I was so upset, so embarrassed—I remember just feeling like I must be the worst player on my team.” Carli Lloyd, the star of the final game who scored three goals was cut from her under-21 national team.

Then there’s Meghan Klingenberg, the outside back who played a key role in the U.S. victory over Sweden. She keeps a yellowed letter of rejection from a youth national team taped to her mirror. “It will never come down,” she said. “People said, you’re never going to be able to do it… But that [letter] is my reminder that you can persevere against the world.”

What about you? Do you believe you can “persevere against the world”? Or do you think you’ll never amount to much?

It seems likely that most people would look at Hiro, this fourteen-year-old underachieving slacker and think that he wouldn’t amount to much. But not his big brother, Tadashi. Tadashi doesn’t give up on Hiro. He keeps on believing in him. He sees his brother’s potential.

Don’t we all need a Tadashi in our lives? Don’t we all need someone to believe in us when we have a hard time believing in ourselves? I myself have been blessed with many “Tadashis” in my own life. When I was a kid and lacked self-confidence, I can think of a football coach, and a guitar instructor, and a high school teacher who believed in me. And when I got older, I think of my wife, Lisa—my most important Tadashi—who has constantly instilled within me the courage to do things that I didn’t know I could do: for example, to go to Georgia Tech and get an engineering degree when I didn’t think I was smart enough to handle the math or science. Then to summon the courage to leave a successful career in engineering and answer God’s call to go to seminary and become a pastor—when I didn’t think we could afford it.

Hiro said to his older brother, “Thanks for not giving up on me.” Here’s the truth: God never gives up on us. God believes in us. God sees great potential in us. When God called Moses to lead God’s people Israel out of slavery in Egypt—to stand up to the most powerful man in the world, the Pharaoh, and say to him, “Let my people go!”—it’s not like Moses was the most obvious man for the job! Among other objections, Moses tells God, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent… I am slow of speech and of tongue.” But the Lord didn’t give up on him.

When God calls Isaiah to go be a prophet in Judah, to tell the king of Judah to stand strong and not lose heart in the face of invading armies from Assyria, Isaiah objects: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” In other words, Isaiah said, “I’m not holy enough, I’m not worthy enough, I’m too big a sinner to do this job that God is calling me to do!” But the Lord didn’t give up on him!

Or think of the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. She has a checkered past—having been married multiple times and currently living with a man who’s not her husband. She has a reputation. Townspeople gossip about her. She’s a social outcast. But one day she has a life-changing encounter with Jesus and what does she do? She becomes the most successful evangelist in the New Testament, if not the history of the world—she goes and tells everyone in town about Jesus, until all the people in town believe in him, too. She was the least likely to succeed—but the Lord didn’t give up on her.

And so it is with all of us. Notice what Jesus says to his disciples in today’s scripture: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.”

Are you a Christian? Have you received God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ? Have you been born again? Then guess what? You are chosen. You are now on a mission. You have a unique role to play in sharing God’s love with the world.

And you might object, “Well, who am I? I’m just an ordinary Christian. I’m nothing special.” Are you kidding? There’s no such thing as an “ordinary” Christian! You’ve been chosen.” Do you believe it? If you believe it, will you say Amen! If you believe it, will you live like you’ve been chosen?

Will you turn to the person next to you and say, “You’ve been chosen by God! You’re on a mission! God has a plan and purpose for you”?

Just after Hiro wins a scholarship to “Nerd School,” as he calls it, Hiro’s brother, Tashadi, dies in a fire inside a campus building while trying to save the life of Professor Callaghan, who he believes is trapped inside. This next clip begins after his brother’s funeral. Hiro is depressed. His Aunt Cass and his friends are worried about him. In this clip you’ll be introduced to a special robot that Tashadi created before he died, a robot named Baymax.

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A despondent Hiro, thinking of returning to his life of bot-fighting, stubs his toe in his room and says, “Ouch!” which activates Baymax, a health-care robot Tadashi created before he died.

A couple of intriguing things going on here… First, notice that one of Hiro’s friends, Fred, says, “Hiro, if I could only have one superpower right now, it would be the ability to crawl through this camera and give you a big hug.” This is ironic because, very shortly, each of Hiro’s four friends will become Superheroes with technology-created superpowers. But it’s also ironic because Fred gets it exactly right: In a way, love is a superpower.

Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 13. Remember, some of the Corinthian believers are proud of themselves for possessing certain spiritual gifts that set them apart from other believers. Some of these gifts were clearly miraculous and supernatural—like gifts of speaking in tongues, or prophecy, or healing. And Paul says these miraculous gifts aren’t worth anything without love. Love, Paul says, is better than any miracle! Love is the most important thing we can possess and practice.

In fact, earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “All people will know you’re my disciples if you have the ability to miraculously heal someone; or if you can turn water into wine; or if you can walk on water. No, they’ll know you’re my disciples if you have love for one another.”

But you might object, “Love? That’s easy.” But is it really? Because Jesus says we’re supposed to love others the way he loves us, and I’d say that’s about the hardest thing of all!

Also, please notice that Baymax, the robot, is here to heal his patients of whatever harms them. And he never stops trying to do that. Hiro tells Baymax, sarcastically, that—yes—it would “stabilize his pubescent mood swings” if Baymax could figure out where Hiro’s tiny robot was trying to go. Baymax takes him very literally. And he goes off on this mission.

The point is, Hiro asks Baymax, and Baymax does it—because Baymax will do anything in an effort to heal his patient.

There’s a lesson here on prayer. Notice what Jesus says in verse 16: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.” Jesus’ promise here isn’t that our heavenly Father is like Santa Claus, ready to give us whatever we ask for; rather, if what we ask for corresponds to what Jesus himself would ask on our behalf, then the Father is more than happy to give it. If what we ask for leads to either our healing, or the healing of the world, then we can be confident that the Father will answer that prayer!

I like the way pastor Tim Keller puts it: God always gives you what you would have asked for if you knew everything that God knows. That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.

After Hiro and Baymax have their first encounter with the enemy, it’s clear that Hiro and his friends are going to have to make some changes, as we see in this next clip…

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After Hiro’s first encounter with the enemy, the man in the kabuki mask, Hiro decides that Baymax and his friends need to train to become a team of superheroes. Hiro puts Baymax in an armored suit that flies and trains him in martial arts. Hiro’s friends, meanwhile, use their advanced technology to create superhero alter-egos.

Baymax was perfectly sweet and kind when he was just a big, puffy marshmallow man, but he needed to be toughened up in order to accomplish the mission he’d been given. The same goes for Hiro and his friends. They needed armor to protect themselves. They needed weapons to win the fight.

And so do we! In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul writes: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Later in that chapter, Paul says that our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

The point is, when we choose to become followers of Jesus Christ, guess what we’re also choosing? We’re choosing to fight in a war—a spiritual war. We have an Enemy who is trying to destroy us and our loved ones—who wants us to fail; who wants us to be ineffective for God’s kingdom; who wants us, if possible, to lose faith and even wind up in hell. If we’re going to win this battle, it’s going to take training and discipline. It’s going to take immersing ourselves in God’s Word; it’s going to take prayer; it’s going to take supporting one another in this fight.

Just this weekend, a few of our very own—Derrick and Haley Carlisle and Matthew Chitwood—went to Columbus to compete in their first Crossfit Games competition. All year they’ve been preparing themselves for this particular fight, and I’m proud of each of them.

Brothers and sisters, church—this church—needs to be like spiritual Crossfit. Church isn’t for wimps, or at least it shouldn’t be. To love the way Jesus loves requires toughness, strength, courage. So that no matter what adversity our Enemy throws our way, we’ll be able to withstand it and persevere.

Well, our heroes do persevere. They capture Professor Callaghan and thwart his evil plan. It looks like everyone’s going to be O.K. But then… there’s one more life to save.

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Hiro and Baymax go into the teleportation portal to rescue Dr. Callaghan’s daughter, Abigail, who has been in “hyper-sleep” since her teleportation accident some time earlier. Baymax suffers irreparable damage to his rocket thrusters while saving Hiro from falling debris. In order to propel Hiro and Abigail back through the portal to safety, Baymax will have to launch his rocket arm, thereby forever separating himself from the other two. Baymax sacrifices his life to save the lives of Hiro and Abigail.

“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Obviously, Baymax laid down his life for this young woman, Abigail. Of course it makes us think of what Jesus did for us on the cross. But I want to challenge us to think of one important way that this illustration falls short: Hiro and Baymax assumed a lot of risk going into that portal, but they did so believing that they could rescue Abigail and get back out—alive. Risky, brave, heroic, to be sure. But… Suppose Baymax told Hiro that he knew, with absolute certainty, if they went into that portal they would save the young woman—but that neither Hiro nor Baymax would come out alive. Would Hiro have gone in if he knew that he wouldn’t simply be taking a great risk, but that he would die in order to save this young woman? In other words: “Hiro, you can save Abigail or save yourself. Not both. Which will it be?” If that were his choice, how would Hiro choose?

We know exactly how Jesus would choose. Just look at what Jesus did on the cross.

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Think about it: God came into the world in Jesus Christ knowing for sure that saving us would cost him his life; knowing for sure that saving us would mean bearing our sins and suffering our punishment; knowing for sure that saving us would mean the pain of separation, however briefly, from his heavenly Father. And in comparison to the spiritual pain of separation from his Father, the physical pain of torture and death on the cross was a mere fleabite.

Regardless, God the Son, Jesus Christ, said, “If I’m going to save [fill in the blank], I’m going to have to die and experience more pain and anguish than anyone has ever experienced. And you know what? It’s totally worth it!”

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