“He’s got one trick to last a lifetime, but that’s all a pony needs.” — Paul Simon
In preaching the gospel, we are essentially telling the same story a thousand different ways. Movie-maker Wes Anderson seems to understand this concept.
Moonrise Kingdom, one of Anderson’s most recent movies, tells a beautiful story. It’s a story of very different people who, oddly enough, have something central in common—they are all broken people who feel cast off, confused, and unwanted. The privileged 12-year-old Suzie Bishop, who lives in an idyllic New England home with her attorney parents and three younger brothers, would seem to have nothing in common with Sam Shakusky, an orphan and recently resigned Khaki Scout, who has been traipsed from one boys home to another many times over the course of his young life.
Suzie’s attorney parents—Walt and Laura Bishop—far from feeling grounded and accomplished with their giant home, boat, four children, and successful law practice, are painfully aware that they don’t have what it takes to be the parents their kids need them to be, nor the spouses they need to be for one another.
Laura is having an affair with Captain Sharp. As upset as her husband is when he finds out, he can barely react because he knows their marriage is not working. Scout Master Ward, whose job it is to keep all of his Khaki Scouts safe and productive, is shocked to discover Sam has run away, and even more surprised to find out he’s an orphan. Why hadn’t Sam said anything?
The gnawing uncertainties of life are lifted in the unifying pursuit of bringing Suzy and Sam back to where they belong safely. It is not perfect—people get stabbed with left-handed scissors and dogs get impaled with arrows. But this is not to be judged, just accepted.
“Was he a good dog?” runaway Suzie asks her companion, Sam, as they stand over the corpse of Snoopy, the accidentally arrow-pierced pooch.
“Who’s to say,” Sam intones, with the detached timber of a yogi.
The Story of Hope
As characters begin to bear with one another and learn to rely on one another, things change. Families are created or reunited. Couples form meaningful relationships. Kids learn to help other kids and bullies are overthrown. Each finds a sense of purpose and community when they accept themselves and one another.
The baseline plot won’t come as a surprise if you are a Wes Anderson fan. He has the same message in almost every film. It’s in the Tenebaum household, among the brothers seeking to mend a family in Darjeeling Ltd., and among the animals Anderson takes on in Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
It is a message that resonates with me. In a broken world, where things aren’t right, love somehow makes it beautiful. People are still broken and, at times, outlandish—but beautiful.
The Gospel Story and the Church
The reason the gospel story can be told a thousand different ways is because of its depth. The gospel tells us the core of orthodoxy, the kerygma of Jesus, the fundamentals of the faith, the statements of the Apostle’s Creed—it is the eternality of the gospel. When Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt:16), Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Peter son of John, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in Heaven.” The Divine mysteriously interacts with creation and that which is eternal and unseen is made known to mere humans.
The gospel also tells the story of pilgrimage. It speaks of how we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But God doesn’t leave us alone in this. First, he is with us. God works within us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). We have God himself with us, but we also have his reflections—his people. The other pilgrims are with us.
A pilgrim differs from a hermit. The hermit isolates, while the pilgrim triangulates. The pilgrim heads to a fixed point—namely Jesus—and finds along the way more pilgrims. They come from different places, but join their journeys because they have a common destination. The Church is the gathering of broken people who have encountered Jesus and are journeying together with him towards home.
The gospel also tells the story of ambassadors from another kingdom. It tells of how we have become a people unique to God among all the peoples on the earth. It tells us we are a royal priesthood. We are to serve the world around us. The gospel, through the revelation of God, transforms us so that we demonstrate life in Christ—in word and deed—to the community around us. Mission and evangelism are part of the story of this same gospel.
An Eternal Story
We tell this story.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
We tell it in pulpits, at our family table, where we work. It is in how we work, why we work. We tell it in our leisure time. We tell it to our spouse. We tell it to ourselves.
Take time to hear the gospel again. Tell the story so well that you want to hear it again and again. A good message lives in many constructs and has many iterations. As we live and breath, the gospel continues. We tell the same gospel story in a thousand ways.
Ed Marcelle (@emarcelle) is Lead Pastor of Terra Nova Church in Troy, N.Y., and Northeast Regional Coordinator for the Acts 29 Network. Marcelle holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife Diane have four children: Alfonso, Isaiah, Bethany, and Abigail.