Monday, June 17, 2013

More Than Play-Acting

In 1986, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short teamed up as a band of heroes who rode from town to town, saving Mexican villages from bad guys right and left. Well... They weren't really heroes... They just played heroes in the movies!

Yes, as Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms and Ned Nederlander (respectively), Martin, Chase and Short were the ¡Three Amigos! - stars of the silver screen - but they were destined to become real life heroes (in the movie) after a Mexican woman saw one of their films and apparently mistook it for a documentary!

It's a wild, crazy adventure comedy, but it makes several points I think are important for the modern Church.

As the story begins, revenue for their last few films have been low. After the studio fires the trio, the Amigos are elated to receive a somewhat confusing telegram inviting them to make a personal appearance in Mexico. They really have no idea what they're getting into when they decide to make the trip to face off against the village's enemy, a man known as "El Guapo". They think it's just a show... but nobody else knows that they're only actors!

At first, the Amigos have a little success. Their wild behavior causes bad guy minions to retreat for a while, and everyone thinks the Amigos are heroes, but when the henchmen return with El Guapo, he is not impressed, and soon someone takes a shot at one of the Amigos.

This is when everything changes.

When the Amigos realize that the bad guys are using real bullets, their show is over, and as they run away in fear, El Guapo and his men go on a rampage against the village. First they throw dynamite into the local church, and then they terrorize the rest of the town. It's not until El Guapo and his men have left the community in shambles and kidnapped one of the local women that the Amigos slowly begin to realize the gravity of what they've done, and make up their minds to make things right.

I'm afraid that, too often today, the Church has become like the Three Amigos. We dress the part, and we show up at the appointed time to put on a good show. We sing and dance and talk a good game, but we're only in it to look good. We have far too many "celebrity Christians" who are only concerned with fame and fortune. But when Satan attacks, we cave in. We run and hide and let the devil have his way, so he destroys the local church with explosive and divisive scandals, and he ransacks our communities, leaving property and lives in ruin. He takes our young people captive with his lies, and intends to corrupt them, either by seduction or by force.

"Oh great! Real bullets!"
Now we can give up on God's way and just disappear into obscurity, or we can go on pretending that everything's fine and just keep on "playing church", but what good will either of those things do for anybody? If we really want to make a difference in this world - if we really want to see evil overcome and lives transformed because of it - then we have to give up the charade. We have to confess the truth about what we have been up until now, and start being what God has called us to be!

Or to borrow a line from Ned Nederlander:
"Back there, the Three Amigos are already dead. Here we can be the Three Amigos for real! I'm drawing a line... Men or mice? What will it be?"
Of course, just making up their minds to be better friends to the villagers didn't make El Guapo turn and shake in his boots, but their new-found resolve led the Amigos to seek out the enemy; and if we are determined to be the Christians we ought to be, then we have to do the same thing. We have to seek out the enemy, wherever he may be found. Rather than waiting for Satan to come to us, we must look for the places where we can do battle, and we must challenge and resist him at every turn! As the Amigos often put it:

"Wherever there is injustice, you will find us!
Wherever there is suffering, we'll be there!
Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find... 
the Three Amigos!"

Of course, it's one thing to say the words, and another to live them. Whenever a new believer is baptized in the Methodist church, they make similar vows, but it's an easy thing to fall into the habit of coming to church once in a while and forget the part about resisting evil and injustice. It's easy to say that Jesus is Lord when you're in church, and then to still live as if you're in charge when you go out those doors.

Maybe one reason why more Christians seem to prefer acting over action is because we don't want to give up that control, or maybe it's that we don't believe we really have what it takes to make a difference. We're afraid to take on the forces of evil because we don't know what will happen to us so, like the Amigos, we wish for magic words and an invisible swordsman. But the reality is that God already equips his followers with what we need to defeat the devil!

"You killed the invisible swordsman!"
As I mentioned last year in my lesson about Batman, God gives us each many skills and talents, and every Christian is blessed with spiritual gifts. By depending on what God has given us - and by using our gifts together with others - we CAN overcome the enemy! In fact, the Bible even teaches that the war has already been decided, and those who faithfully serve the Lord til the end already HAVE the victory! (Revelation 20:10-21:7)

That "working together" thing is important, though. We like to think we are self-sufficient superheroes, but none of us are! When the Amigos split up to attack El Guapo's camp, they are easily led astray (like Dusty locking himself in a wardrobe), hung up (like Ned getting his feet stuck in a piñata) and taken captive (like Lucky being captured after he fell face first in the dirt); but the trio is able to escape danger by working together! It's no mistake that the Lord created the Church, because we are meant to encourage one another and help one another! (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Thankfully, with their lessons learned, the Three Amigos are able to rally the town together, to use the common skills of the people to defeat their villainous oppressor. El Guapo's reign of terror ends when the Amigos inspire the villagers to band together in unity and to become Amigos, themselves. When the people sew Amigo costumes for themselves, they become courageous and they confuse the enemy.

In the same way, when we quit play-acting and start acting the way we ought to, we as Christians ought to inspire those around us to become like us! It's called "making disciples", and it's what we are called to do if we want to fulfill God's will for the Church (Matthew 28:18-20). While we recognize that everyone has different abilities and gifts, we ought to inspire people to use what they have for the common good (Romans 12:3-5). And we ought to inspire others to act the way we act - to "dress up" like us - though it should be a real lifestyle change, and not just a game we play for a little while.

"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."
- 1 Corinthians 11:1

As the Church, we often need a time of corporate confession and repentance to help us re-center on what's really important. As individual believers, we need the same thing. And I'm not saying we can't have a few laughs along the way - we ought to be filled with joy in all circumstances! (Philippians 4:4) - but when we take seriously what it means to be a Christian and a part of this community of faith, then together we will find that, with God's help, there is nothing the devil can ever do to defeat us! (1 John 4:4)

"...on this rock I will build my Church, 
and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."
- Matthew 16:18b (ESV)

It's time we do more than just "play" church. Don't just pretend to be a Christian and go through the motions. Don't just fill your pew on Sunday and then do your own thing the rest of the week. Being who God has called us to be is about so much more than play-acting! So let us be resolved and make a point to BE the Church instead!

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