Proper 14a – Sunday 7th August 2011
Matthew 14: 22-33
Have you seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 yet? I must admit I haven’t caught this latest instalment in the Harry Potter Franchise. This is because I’ve only ever seen one of the movies – and I’ve never read any of the books. No particular reasons. Just not my thing. So don’t worry, I don’t need to issue a spoiler alert here, I won’t be giving away any great secrets from the movie.
I do remember that when the books first appeared there was disquiet in certain Christian circles over the suitability of such a series for young children. But then again, I remember exactly the same reaction to The Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ and even The Simpsons!
Christianity is never any good at censorship. It often implies that Christian folk are unable to discern for themselves right from wrong, good from bad, all they need to do is to look to their leaders and follow their wisdom. Whilst undoubtedly there is a lot of our faith that depends on the good shepherd model, there is just as much about us using our brains ourselves. Why did Jesus speak in parables? So we could discern what he was saying for ourselves, not leave the matter to someone else.
One website I have found interesting to have a look at for another view on films, books and other aspects of our culture is Culturewatch – run by the Damaris Trust. Their research and articles are very well written, and give a very fair and unbiased view of their subjects. I have spent many a happy hour trawling their pages and making new connections with films I have seen, and adding to my list of films I must see.
One of their reviewers, Sophie Lister, in an article entitled A Deeper Magic, draws great parallels between the latest Harry Potter film and our Christian faith. In revealing something of the plot she says:
Harry’s showdown with Lord Voldemort, for which he has long been destined, is imminent. Should he do as his late mentor Dumbledore instructed him, and continue his frustrating quest to destroy the Horcruxes (concealed fragments of Voldemort’s soul)? Or should he take the more appealing path, and go after the Deathly Hallows, three magical objects which together make their holder invincible?
Harry’s decision to stick to Dumbledore’s plan, despite the difficulty of the search and all of his doubts about his old headmaster, is a brave one. The Deathly Hallows – an undefeatable wand, a stone which brings back the dead, and an invisibility cloak – seem to be the perfect weapons. Following Dumbledore’s way means choosing vulnerability instead of power, doubt instead of certainty. It’s a step which, to outside eyes, might appear an illogical leap of faith, but Harry knows better. It’s rooted, ultimately, in his trust in Dumbledore – a trust which has been shaken, but not destroyed.
This trust turns out to have been well founded. As demonstrated by events in Deathly Hallows Part 1, Dumbledore had more than just a superior knowledge of magic, and of the enemy; he also knew Harry, Ron and Hermione better than they know themselves. His plans for them are based on his understanding of their gifts and weaknesses, and of the bigger picture.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has spoken of the way that her own struggles with faith are echoed in the Deathly Hallows story. When we think we know which way to go, and what is best for us, it may appear irrational to put our trust in God’s plan for our lives instead. Yet, contrary to what we might expect, the Bible shows God as using ‘the foolish things to shame the wise’ and ‘the weak things to shame the strong’ (1 Corinthians 1:27). God’s idea of strength and wisdom may look very different to ours, just as Dumbledore’s plan for defeating Voldemort appears foolish to Harry. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t right.
If only Peter had put that same trust in Jesus he wouldn’t have experienced that sinking feeling he got from our reading. This passage from Matthew’s gospel could have been titled A Deeper Magic too, for Jesus walking on the water seems to hold a mythical and magical spell to it. But again, this story is all about faith and trust and God confounding our expectations.
We can’t see the bigger picture. We want the walking on the water. We want the feeding of the 5000. We want the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We want the power and the glory. We want to tell others what to do. But the truth is we often don’t have the courage to achieve all this, let alone the staying power to do all the mundane and ordinary things that our faith calls us to do. But Jesus knows best. God gives us the talents and gifts to achieve his will.
His strength and wisdom are way too much for us to comprehend. But that doesn’t mean we have to blindly follow. We need to wholeheartedly commit ourselves and give ourselves over to God, so that we can be part of the solution rather than obstacles in the path.
Right, I’m off to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Now that’s my kind of film. I’m sure there’s a message in there too.