Sermon 08-30-15: “Nothing Separates Us”

September 7, 2015

Disney Summer Drive-In

My sermon on Toy Story 3 uses Andy’s relationship with his toys as an analogy for God’s relationship with us. In Woody, therefore, we learn a lot about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Like Woody, we trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness no matter where he leads us, and no matter what he asks of us.

Sermon Text: Romans 8:38-39

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

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Clip 1: The first clip is a flashback to Andy’s childhood. Andy uses his imagination to create an elaborate fantasy world of heroes and villains, in which each of his toys plays a role. Next, we see his mother videotaping him, as Randy’s Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” plays over the opening credits. The last line of Newman’s song is “And as the years go by/ A friendship will never die.”

It’s easy to see how Andy, the kid who owns all the toys in this scene and who has created this world for them—at least in his imagination—is a lot like God.

God, like Andy in this clip, is in control of the world—and ultimately of us. We call this doctrine God’s sovereignty. Proverbs 16:9 reflects this idea: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” This doesn’t mean God is like a puppet master, controlling our choices. No. It’s more like God is a chess master.

Searching_for_bobby_fischerI don’t know much about chess, but I saw a movie about it called Searching for Bobby Fischer. It’s about his 12-year-old kid who’s a chess prodigy. He was so good that when he played chess, his opponent would only have to make a few moves before the kid would say, “You just lost the match.” And his opponent was like, “What do you mean? We just started playing.” But this kid was so good he could look ahead and anticipate the next dozen or so moves—so that he knew far in advance what the outcome would be.

God is like that. He has foreknowledge. Which means he can see in advance all the moves that we will make in our lives—good moves, bad moves, smart moves, dumb moves. And he can see all the moves that he will make in response to us. Except, instead of looking at us and saying, “You lose.” He can say, to those of us who trust in his Son Jesus: “You win. I’m going to make sure that you win!”

I find this idea very reassuring. For one thing, it means that our life can never spin so far out of control that God can’t bring it back under his control—and get us moving in the right direction again.

In this next scene, it’s been years since Andy has played with the toys. And the toys are worried that they’ll never get played with because Andy is grown up and about to go off to college.

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Clip 2: The toys contrive a scheme to get the 17-year-old Andy to play with them. When it fails, Woody and Buzz call a meeting. It’s time, they say, for the toys to get ready for the next phase of their lives: living in the attic. “We all knew this day was coming,” said Woody. It’s part of their duty, Woody, says, to “be there for Andy,” even if that means living in the attic. Besides, one day, when Andy has kids of his own, they might get played with again.

The top drawer of my dresser is basically an “Island of misfit toys”—of misfit electronic toys. In that top drawer you’ll find a digital camera, a Flip video camera, an iPod mini, an iPhone 4, maybe an iPhone 4s, an iPhone 5… and, gosh, all kinds of adapters and cables and chargers to go with them—and to go with devices that I no longer even possess. I’ll bet some of you have drawers just like that, too!

All of these things probably still work if I got new batteries or charged them up. But I have no use for them. They’ve been replaced. They’ve been superseded. They’re obsolete. 

And that’s what these toys are facing in this clip. As Mr. Potato Head says, “We’re done. Finished. Over the hill.”

And I think that we worry about that happening to us, too.

I visited Bill Lively, one of our shut-ins, this past week. Bill lives in an assisted living home in Barnesville. I had heard that he wasn’t well, and when I got there, I asked him what was hurting, and he was like, “Take a seat. Let me tell you.” And he listed off all the places that were hurting: his hands, his harms, his legs, his knees, his feet, his toes, his fingers, his ears. I would have saved time if I asked him, “What part of you isn’t hurting?” But I can make light of it because, if you know Bill, you know he just has such a sense of humor about it. Such a great spirit!

I confess when I visit shut-ins, especially at assisted living places or nursing homes, I often feel sorry for the people living there. After all, a shut-in can’t do so many of the things that I can do. They can’t work. They can’t earn their keep. They can’t pay their own way. If I can’t do the things that I do—like preach, for instance, or earn a paycheck, or enjoy the respect of my colleagues and bosses, or earn the praise of my parishioners when I do this work that I do, or get a certain number of “hits” on my blog, or get a certain number of “likes” on social media, or go to the gym and work out and prove what good shape I’m in, or go running and prove what good shape I’m in—if I can’t do these things anymore, to prove myself, what good am I? How do I know I’m a valuable and worthy person if I’m not out there proving it all the time?

This is what the toys in this movie are worried about: If they can’t do the things they used to do with Andy, what good are they? But their value, as Woody keeps trying to tell them, doesn’t come from what they do or who they are; it comes from whose they are. Who they belong to. “Lift up your foot,” he tells them, “and you’ll see that Andy’s name is written on it. Your value comes from belonging to him.”

We who have placed our faith in Jesus belong to Jesus. And we have been given a mark, too. The Bible says we are sealed with the Spirit. I wish it were a visible mark. I wish, when I am in the midst of terrible self-doubt, when I feel insecure, when I feel unlovable, I could simply lift up my foot and see the name “Jesus” written on it—because I belong to him—but even though we can’t see it, it’s every bit as real.

Some of you saw this amazing Christian testimony that Kathie Lee Gifford gave on the Today Show a couple of weeks ago—the first time she had been back since her husband Frank, the Hall-of-Fame football star and sports commentator, died. In this testimony she talked about how Frank had asked Jesus into his heart when he was young, how important his faith was to him throughout his life, and how when he died he was the happiest he’d ever been—and he was at peace. And she said something remarkable: “His world got smaller as his God got bigger.”

See when we’re young, the world still seems very large—there’s a whole world of job opportunities, for example, a whole world of people to date and fall in love with, a whole world of things to do and places to see. It’s all wide open! But when you get older, your world gets smaller. Often by choice. You get married—and your choosing to limit your romantic opportunities from about a billion people to exactly one person. You have kids—you’re choosing to limit your free time and your discretionary spending. Suddenly you can’t travel the way you used to, or devote as much time or money to hobbies. You climb the ladder of success in a particular career field—and you’re limiting your ability to find success outside of that particular field.

So, again, your world gets smaller. And then frailty and infirmity and sickness come along with growing old—and suddenly we can’t drive, we can’t move around the way we used to. Perhaps our world is no larger than the block on which you live, or the walls of your home, or even the four walls of your bedroom. The world becomes so small. But the good news is that our God just gets bigger and bigger—as we continue to trust in him.

That’s why, for example, when I go to see shut-ins like Bill Lively, I go expecting to minister to him. I’m the pastor after all. And after spending a few moments with him, I leave feeling so much happier than I did when I got there. Why? Because he ministered to me! Because his God is so big to him, he just radiates that joy, that happiness, that peace!

As the movie continues, all the toys—except for Woody—become convinced that Andy doesn’t love them anymore and wants to get rid of them. So all of them, except for Woody, decide that they’d be happier being second-hand toys at a daycare center. While they’ll no longer belong to any one child, at least they’ll get played with. And the daycare center seems great at first—until they realize that an evil purple bear named Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear—Lotso for short—is running the place like a cruel fascist dictator.

With the help of Woody, the toys attempt to escape through a garbage chute. Lotso thwarts their escape, and they all end up in the dumpster, headed for destruction at the city dump—as you’ll see in this next clip.

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Clip 3: At the city landfill, the toys find themselves on a conveyor belt headed for an incinerator. Lotso has an opportunity to push the emergency stop button and save Andy’s toys but chooses not to, telling Woody, “Where’s your kid now, sheriff?” As the toys are nearing the fiery destruction, they hold one another’s hands. At the last moment, a giant mechanical claw scoops them up, rescuing them from destruction. The claw is operated by the three green spacemen toys, whose original home was the arcade claw machine.

Lotso said, “We’re all just trash. Waiting to be thrown away! That’s all [we are].” Is he right? Last Wednesday morning, in the wake of that shooting in Virginia on live TV, we were reminded that there are people in this world who think so—who treat other human beings like trash to be thrown away.

I want us to reflect on a difficult truth: We look at Lotso, we look at his act of betrayal—after Woody and Buzz saved his life—and think, “He’s such a bad person. How could he do that? It’s so evil. It’s so unforgivable.” Yet, when Jesus was dying on the cross, what does he say of the very people who betrayed him, denied him, tortured him, and killed him? He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And who were those people who betrayed him, denied him, tortured him, and killed him? They were people who were not so different from us!

Out of love, Jesus suffered death and hell for people traitors like Lotso. Out of love, Jesus suffered death and hell even for cold-blooded murderers like Vester Lee Flanagan. Out of love, Jesus suffered death and hell for people like us. We can receive this gift of forgiveness, or suffer God’s wrath. That’s our choice. But the forgiveness is freely available to everyone—with the understanding that it wasn’t free to God the Son, Jesus Christ. He paid for it with his very life on the cross!

When that Sandy Hook shooting happened three years ago, a theologian posted something on Facebook that I found comforting. He said, “For these murder victims, first two seconds in eternity—in heaven—will more than compensate for their suffering here.” And I hope and believe that will be true for Alison Parker and Adam Ward if they knew Jesus as their Savior.

And that’s why, with trust in Jesus, we can face anything that life throws our way—with courage and hope. Well… the way Woody, Buzz, and the other toys faced the incinerator, with courage, holding one another’s hands, prepared to go to their deaths with the unshakable conviction that Lotso was a liar, and that Andy really did love them! If we believe that God loves us the way he tells us in his Word, and that nothing can separate us from this love—even death itself—what can’t we face?

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Clip 4: On his way out of town, headed for college, Andy takes his box of toys to the home of a neighbor girl, Bonnie. He introduces each toy to her. Meanwhile, Woody, whom Andy had chosen to accompany him to college, sneaks out of Andy’s car and climbs into the box of toys. Andy wonders how Woody got in there and is reluctant to part with him at first. But he changes his mind, telling Bonnie how good and faithful Woody has been to him—and will be to her. Andy and Bonnie play with toys together. Then Andy gets in his car, looks at the toys one last time and says, “Thanks, guys!” as he drives away.

“He’s brave like a cowboy should be. And kind. And smart,” Andy tells Bonnie. “But the thing that makes Woody special is he’ll never give up on you. Ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.”

Powerful words of testimony for Andy’s faithful friend. But if you’ll recall from the earlier Toy Story movies, Woody wasn’t always like this. In the first movie, he was jealous of Buzz, and his jealousy almost destroyed both of them. In the second movie, he lost faith in Andy’s love for him and almost got himself sold to a toy collector in Japan. Only in this final movie do we see that Woody has grown into this toy that Andy believes him to be. A lifetime of being loved by Andy has transformed Woody, slowly but surely.

It’s as if, at the end of his time with Woody, Andy can say of him: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter the joy of your master.”

Imagine our Lord Jesus saying that of you and me—after our lifetime of loving him and being loved by him; a lifetime of serving him; a lifetime also of making mistakes and sinning—but also repenting, and learning, and growing. And over time becoming the person that God calls us to be. That’s what I want. Don’t you?

But there was one more thing I want to point out: when Andy says, “Thanks, guys.” This reminds us that the toys brought great happiness to Andy. He was proud of them. He was pleased with them.

One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire. In one scene, the Scottish missionary Eric Liddell tries to help his sister understand why running is important to him. She believes that his running career distracts from his “true” purpose. He tells her, “I believe God made me for a purpose. For China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

When I run, I feel his pleasure.

Is it possible that we could feel God’s pleasure—in us—despite our past, despite our sin, despite our failures?

The Bible answers that question with an unequivocal “yes.”

So when we step out on faith and serve the Lord, we don’t do it because we fear punishment if we fail; or because we don’t want to disappoint Jesus; we serve the Lord primarily because our obedience brings him pleasure; it delights him; it brings him joy.

So how’s that for motivation?

What can I do today—and tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and next year that will bring him pleasure?

2 Responses to “Sermon 08-30-15: “Nothing Separates Us””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Good sermon. Also, I liked the illustration about playing chess. I have had this picture in the past of God playing different games with the Devil, who does his best at each game but still ultimately ends up losing. The reason I say “games” rather than “game” is because I believe God might play by “different rules” at different times in history. Such as, IMHO, that at times in the past God acted “miraculously” (in the precise sense of overriding natural laws, as opposed to just “supernaturally intervening,” which He of course does all the time), but now plays by “different rules” of primarily operating through scripture and the Church. Sort of like playing chess and then playing checkers (though of course lots more complicated in reality in each instance). (Limited view: OT-prophets and priests; NT-Christ & the Apostles; now-Scripture and the Church.) Do you have any opinion about this?

    • brentwhite Says:

      You know me: I’m not a cessationist, so I don’t distinguish the NT era from our own quite as sharply. I think the sharp break occurs when the Holy Spirit comes in Acts 2. But even if we disagree about the possibility of more extravagant gifts of the Spirit, we don’t disagree that the Spirit continues to work through us.


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