Sermon 08-14-16: “The Inside Out Gospel”

August 22, 2016

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In the movie Inside Out, Riley’s mother—along with Riley’s emotion Joy acting as accomplice—encourages Riley to “put on a happy face,” even though Riley has good reason to be sad. We often feel like we have to fake it. As I point out in this sermon, however, the apostle Paul isn’t like us: When he describes the “fruit of the Spirit,” he’s isn’t talking about what people see on the outside; he’s talking about inward transformation—so that our outsides match our insides.

Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide this kind of transformation.

Sermon Text: Galatians 5:16-25

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

The first clip introduces us to the five emotions that drive Riley’s thoughts, words, and actions: Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger. A confrontation between Riley and her parents at the dinner table shines a spotlight on the role that anger plays.

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We were having dinner on Friday night at a Japanese steakhouse. And you know how you’re forced to socialize with strangers when you go to these places… Well, the gentleman sitting nearest to us at the hibachi was a Delta pilot. I said, “Oh, Delta had a bad week this week.” And he was like, “Delta had a terrible week!” As you probably heard the airline’s main computer network, which handles everything from flight dispatching to crew scheduling, passenger check-in, airport-departure information, ticket sales, and frequent-flier programs, went down, and caused unprecedented flight delays and cancelations. Delta has lost a ton of money.

The CEO of Delta told the public, “I apologize for the challenges this has created for you with your travel experience.” AJC columnist Bill Torpy took issue with these words. He particularly had a problem with the CEO’s use of the word “challenges.” He wrote:

I’m sure those stuck at the airport day after day, who paid unexpected hotel bills, who missed family events, business meetings, funerals or vacations might think of something stronger [than the word “challenges”].

A more correct, or honest, term might have been problem. Or predicament, hardship or plight. There’s also misery, mess or distress. He later did concede “inconvenience,” which is akin to having to open a garage door manually.

Torpy went on to lament all the jargon and buzzwords and euphemisms that people use to avoid “telling it like it is.” Corporations—and churches for that matter—don’t have “problems”; they have “challenges.” But there are plenty more examples. We speak of change agents who leverage their skill sets and drill down to a granular level to find a robust and sustainable solution for their stakeholders. You get the point.

But not so fast… I kind of like using the word “challenges” to describe the problems that Delta passengers faced last week. Why? Because everything that tempts us to get angry also creates a challenge—a challenge to our faith. As Jesus warns us, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Anger can be a deadly serious problem. Jesus says it’s on the same spectrum with murder. But our challenge is to actually think of it as a deadly serious problem.

It’s funny… Anyone who knows me well, who spends a lot of time with me, knows that I have a problem with anger. It’s obvious! Just spend time with me when I’m driving in Atlanta traffic. Yet often when I pray, when I confess my sins, anger isn’t a sin that comes to mind very easily. Why?This clip gives us a clue.

As Joy, the narrator of the movie, says, when she’s describing what these different emotions do—she says that Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair.” And it’s true. Anger does care about fairness. As any parent who has at least two children can attest, nearly every argument that their children have with one another is about fairness.

See, we never think anger is a problem with us because our anger is always justified: we always have a perfectly good reason for anger. It’s always, in our case, a matter of fairness—of justice. And we look at Jesus… There are a few places in the gospels where Jesus is righteously angry, right? Like overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple.

To which I say, “Jesus should not be our role model in this case. We’re not Jesus!” Most of us cannot handle anger, so we should want nothing to do with it. So when you get angry—if you are angry right now—don’t justify it. Despite what you’ve heard, it’s not O.K. It’s a sin. Confess it as such and repent.

One time last year when my family went to Disney, they got me this stuffed toy—it’s Anger, from Inside Out. They said it reminds them of me. Then, a few months later—as if I didn’t get the message the first time around—they also gave me this little one. So I keep it on my nightstand as a reminder of my problem… with anger. What about you? Do you need one of these?

Our only hope for healing our anger is the gospel, which I’ll say more about later.

The second clip shows Riley’s mother thanking her for being “our happy girl,” in spite of the stress that the family is under. Her mother encourages her to keep on smiling, especially for the sake of their father, who is under a lot of pressure to make his new business succeed. On her first day at the new school, however, when Riley is asked to introduce herself to her classmates, she is overcome with sadness. She starts crying.

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That hits close to home! I used to live in fear of crying in front of my classmates in school. I would die of embarrassment! Unfortunately, my fear of embarrassment was often not strong enough to overcome my urge to cry—and every year between first and fifth grades, something happened to me in school that caused me to cry in front of my classmates—at least once. Every year!

But then when I was Riley’s age, in sixth grade, I made a resolution: I was not going to cry that year. And I was doing great! It was now the last day of sixth grade—the last day before summer break. I had made it nearly the entire year. No tears! No embarrassment. No humiliation. I only had one more day. What could go wrong?

Well, since it was the last day of school, we were hardly in class that day. We spent most of the day out on the playground. And it was on the playground, near a jungle gym, when I said or did something to cross Doug Smith—the class bully, my nemesis, my enemy—and he punched me in the gut. Cold-cocked me. Knocked the wind out of me. And I promise you, it was as if my skin turned green; it was as if muscles grew and ripped through my shirt and pants. It was as if I transformed into Matthew Chitwood at CrossFit.

And I let Doug have it. He felt my fury. “Brent smash!” At least that’s how I remember it. If Doug happens to find this sermon online, I apologize if he remembers things differently. But one thing I know for sure. When we were done, my friend Carlton and a couple of others were patting me on the back. I had done it! I had defeated Doug Smith!

So I should have been happy, right? I should have been overjoyed! But as Carlton was patting me on the back, my worst fears were realized: I started crying! And Carlton’s like, “What’s wrong? Why are you upset? Don’t you know you won?” It didn’t matter. I was overcome with emotion. I blew it. I cried… on the last day of sixth grade!

But here’s the thing. Even as I replay that memory in my head, I never regret the trouble that had been brewing between Doug and me all year that spilled over on the playground that afternoon. I never regret whatever words or dirty looks that were exchanged between me and him that afternoon, which led to the fight. I never even regret the fight itself. Are you kidding? I’m kind of proud of it. No. I only regret that I wasn’t strong enough to keep the tears from flowing.

In other words, it didn’t matter what was happening in here, in my heart; what mattered is what the world saw on the outside.

And notice Riley’s mother is the exact same way. Joy is the exact same way. They mean well, but they want to ignore Riley’s reasons for feeling sad. They’re basically telling her: “Keep on being ‘our happy girl.’ Keep on smiling. Stay positive. Don’t let anyone see your tears—especially your dad, who’s having a tough time at work. Put on your happy face. Put up a front. Fake it. You can do that for me, right?”

The apostle Paul, by contrast, is not like Riley’s mom or Joy—or me. In that scripture from Galatians that we read earlier, when Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit, he isn’t taking about what the world sees on the outside; he’s talking about what’s happening on the inside. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Against such things there is no law? What does that mean? It means that a law, if it’s enforced, can only change your behavior; it can’t touch what’s in your heart. A law that’s enforced might prevent someone from committing murder, but it can’t eradicate the anger in someone’s heart that leads to murder. It might cause someone to act peaceful, but certainly can’t produce peace inside someone’s heart. Paul, like Jesus, is concerned here with what’s in the heart.

Oh, Lord, make me a person of integrity. Make me someone whose inside matches my outside!

Don’t you want to be that kind of person?

By ignoring the grief and sorrow that’s in Riley’s heart, Riley’s mom and Joy are setting Riley up for a fall. And pretty soon she’s going to fall hard—she’ll even attempt to run away from home—to return to Minnesota, where she was happy.

In the clip, Joy drew a chalk circle around Sadness and told her not to leave that circle. As far as she was concerned, Sadness doesn’t belong inside Riley. She has nothing positive to contribute to Riley’s wellbeing. But toward the end of the movie, Joy’s attitude begins to change, as you’ll see in the next clip.

By the way, Joy and Sadness have gotten lost in Riley’s long-term memory banks and are trying to get back to headquarters. Fortunately, they meet Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from when she was a little girl. And he knows how to get them back home. And while he’s there, Bing Bong looks forward to playing with Riley again. It’s been many years. Unfortunately, the magic rocket ship that he and Riley used to ride together has just been thrown into the memory dump. Joy tries to cheer him up. Unsuccessfully.

Joy begins to realize that Sadness plays a good and necessary role in Riley’s wellbeing. First, Joy watches Sadness giving comfort to Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong. Second, in reviewing an old memory of Riley’s, she sees that Sadness inspired Riley’s parents and hockey teammates help her after she missed the game-winning shot. Finally, Sadness helps Riley heal when Riley tells her parents how much she misses Minnesota. Joy and sadness are two emotions that belong to one another.

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That marble at the end represents what’s called a “core memory,” which will remain a very important memory for Riley throughout her life. And notice it’s a mixture of both joy and sadness. They go together after all.

Isn’t that true in our experience? A few years ago, about a year or so after my mom died, my sisters and I sold her house—the house that I came home to when my parents adopted me and brought me home; the house that I grew up in. Just think: After we sold it, I wouldn’t really have a “home” to go home to. This was it.

A few days before we closed on it, I was talking to my oldest friend in the world, Andy. We spent a lot of time in that house, especially in the basement, playing video games, playing pool, playing pinball. Playing “hot lava”—the game where you have to travel from one side of the basement to the other side without touching the floor. Anyway, when Andy found out it would be sold within a few days, he had a great idea. He said, “You and I should spend one last night there. Get some sleeping bags. Bring a TV and some video games. Watch an old movie with Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Read some Ghost Rider comic books like we used to. Maybe pop some popcorn.”

It was a thoughtful and sweet suggestion. We didn’t end up doing it, of course. But even if we did do it, it’s not like Mom and Dad would be waiting for us upstairs. It’s not like I could become that idealistic, uncynical, un-jaded, hope-filled 11-year-old kid I used to be, either. There are so many things about that kid that I love—which I left behind. And he’s gone, and I miss him.

We lose so much over the course of just an ordinary life, don’t we?

Is it too much to hope that because of what Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection, one day—one day—we’ll get it back? And that one day, when we’re on the other side of eternity, we’ll look back on every moment of pain, of grief, of suffering and sadness in our lives and see how God redeemed every single one? How God used every moment to shape us into the people he wanted us to become—for eternity? How every moment of grief and pain and sadness were indispensable to our future happiness?

I for one don’t think it’s too much to hope for. How about you?

Finally, we watch Bing Bong sacrifice his own life to save Joy’s and Riley’s life. Bing Bong is delighted to do so. His last words to Joy are to go and save Riley. She promises she’ll try.

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And this is the good news that we have to share with Hampton, Georgia. This is the good news that we have to share with the world. Plenty of people out there understand the pain, and the grief, and the sadness. But they don’t have the hope. They’re hungry for it. They’re desperate for it.

And you’re going to have to get used to me saying that unless we’re attempting to share this good news through everything that our church does, well… we’re putting on a nice concert that will never compete with the Fox Theatre; we’re giving inspirational speeches that will never be as good as TED Talks; we’re running a charity that will never be as efficient as the Red Cross.

But if we’re faithful in proclaiming the gospel, then what we do here will be far more important than any other work: because what we do here will make a difference for eternity.

I’m inviting you to join me. “Go save Riley.” And Joy says, “I’ll try. I promise.” Will you? Will you promise to try to save Hampton and the surrounding area?

If you do promise, then I have something for you to do…

[Introduce the “praying at 9:44” concept. Early service.]

2 Responses to “Sermon 08-14-16: “The Inside Out Gospel””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Sounds like a movie I should have gone to see. We all have “faces” that shield us from revealing various of our inner emotions because of our perception of how the “world” will react if they only “knew the truth.” I know that is true of me, at any rate.

    But I don’t think that is all necessarily bad. I think there is a verse that says Jesus “did not reveal himself to them, because he knew what was in the heart of all men.” In other words, we CAN’T always trust how people will respond if we “let them in.” “Don’t cast your pearls before swine, lest they turn again and rend you.”

    So I guess we might conclude that we should be “more” open, but not “totally” open.


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