The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding God In the Unseen

The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding God In the Unseen

About the sermon series

John 15:12-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

“There is a snake in my boot!”; “Reach for the sky! To infinity and beyond!”; “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.” “The claaaaww.”; “You have saved our lives we are eternally grateful!”

The Toy Story movies are full of memorable quotes like these. And as I was preparing
for this sermon, I was struggling with which quotes I should use because there are so
many relatable ones like “This is the perfect time to panic!” or “I’m going for fearsome here, but I just don’t feel it!” or my personal favorite from Woody, “The word I’m searching for, I can’t say because there’s preschool toys present.”

If you haven’t seen it, Toy Story is about a gang of secretly sentient toys that come to
life and have adventures. Their whole motivation is their responsibility to their owner
Andy. “Being there for a child is the most noble thing a toy can do.” By some intrinsic force they are called and compelled to care for Andy. If you remember, however, Andy is basically unaware of this because in this universe these toys cannot risk being seen alive. So whenever a human walks in, they instantly go limp and pretend to be inanimate objects without thought or action.

They love and care for Andy so much that they will do anything for him and yet Andy
never sees them move. Despite everything they do for Andy, they are never seen or acknowledged for it. In Toy Story 2 Jesse the cowgirl laments: “you never forget kids like
Emily or Andy. But they forget you.” I wonder how many of us silently serve, love, and
care for others and yet feel unseen. I want to remind us this morning that those efforts
we make that nobody sees, God sees. Our quiet obedience, when we serve others not
from a pedestal, but behind closed doors, God knows and greatly values.

In our scripture passage today, Jesus calls his disciples to love. In his final moments
before he is arrested, tortured, and crucified, Jesus wishes to impart this message.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” I have chosen and appointed you to go and bear fruit. Go and love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I have chosen you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last. Jesus chooses each one of us for a mission. He calls us to a higher form of love. He tells us to love sacrificially. He calls us friends, partners, in the task of giving of ourselves in love even to the point of death if necessary.

In the ensuing days Jesus gave us the ultimate example of this higher form of love. He died for us. He died for those he called friends. However, most of us will likely never be faced with a situation in which we must literally die in order to love. But even if we may not be called to die, this call to sacrificial love is still a tall order for the Christian disciple.
How could I ever love as Jesus loved? He is Jesus! I am just me.

We may be tempted to reach for the grandiose acts to define this higher form of love. It can be easy to feel that we have never really loved sacrificially unless we have done something major like been on mission in another country. Gave years of our life to the peace core or sold all our belongings and gave the money to the poor. Something as close to morally glamorous as we can get. Something that others see and go, “now that’s a good person! Wow, they really did something!”
And when we look at the work of Jesus we do see these grandiose things. Jesus raising the dead, feeding the five thousand, healing lepers…. But what we often overlook… is the daily life of Jesus. We see him showing up and loving in seemingly mundane moments. Jesus washed his friends’ dirty feet, he visited a sick friend and held his hand, he chose to stay in the house of an unpopular man, he stopped for a woman who touched his robe and looked her in the eye, he prepared a small meal of bread and fish for his disciples. Jesus did not come as a magnificent warrior, to lead a charge and overthrow the Roman government, to shower the people with gifts and power. He loved kindness, mercy, and he walked humbly with God. In the daily moments, Jesus expressed the love as God just as much as in his grand miracles.
Maybe you are in a season in life where things aren’t exactly glamourous. The days
keep rolling on and this following Jesus thing isn’t looking quite like you expected it to when you first believed. “I am supposed to be following the God of the universe bringing about the kingdom and yet I spend most of my day doing dishes and laundry. I am not
preaching and healing on the street, I spend most of my time studying for class or taking
care of my spouse, or driving my kids around! Am I really loving as Jesus loved? Am I even capable of loving like Jesus?”
When I was in my early twenties, I had just finished my second year of college and I wasn’t sure where God was calling me next in my life. At this time my Grandfather was in his 90’s and had been diagnosed with dementia and my family felt that he could no longer live safely on his own. So I volunteered to go and be his caretaker. My time with him was hard and I ended up in a place in life that I didn’t expect to be at that age.
Instead of continuing school and hanging out with friends, I moved to a new place where I didn’t know anyone. Instead of living what one might call the typical life of a single 21 year old, I was spending my days cooking, cleaning, making drives to the hospital, assisting with trips to the restroom, changing diapers, bathing, and clothing my Grandfather. During this time, I felt like I was going nowhere. I was achieving nothing and to be frank, I wasn’t enjoying life very much. Yet in this time that often felt like too much, God was with me. I did not see God in any flashy acts, but I was given the strength to get up the next day and do it all over again.
I was hesitant to share this at the risk of sounding like I was bragging. “Look at this thing
that I did out of the kindness of my heart. I sure am a good Christian boy!” But then I
remembered that I am not alone in this. This sort of service is not unique to me. There
are others in this room who know what it is like to day in and day out care for a sick
family member or a spouse with dementia. There are parents who were up at 3am last
night comforting a crying child. There are teachers who invest and love students even
when they have setbacks. There are doctors who see the sick and suffering and yet try
to be an uplifting presence. There are retirees who do everything they can to show that
their grandchildren will always be loved and supported by them. There are mental
health workers who work tirelessly at caring for people or lobbying for more government
assistance. There brothers and sisters helping care for their sibling with a disability. The
list could go on and on, my point is that we are not only capable, but are often already
answering this call to a higher form of love. We are loving sacrificially but it may be
going unseen. We may feel tired and rundown and struggle to see the purpose of what
we are doing.
But God knows that we are moving. God sees you and, I suspect, says well done my good and faithful servant. Jesus calls you friend and promises to be with you every step of the way. God has chosen and appointed you for this higher form of love and therefore God will sustain you even when it is hard. Even when it feels like too much. Even when it looks like there is no end and you want to give up God is there. In those times, remember to hold on hope, hold on to Jesus, because you are standing side by side with Jesus. You are bringing about the kingdom of God.
Add a call back to toy story what if “you have saved our lives and we are eternally grateful” end with a hint that Jesus has been present in all these unseen moments. He has saved us, and Will you pray with me?
Heavenly Father, thank you for seeing us. Thank you for sustaining us. Thank you for
holding us in your arms and calling us friends. Help us continue to love one another as
you have loved us. Amen

God knows that we are moving we need to and I suspect that god says good and faithful servant God has chosen you for this higher form of love and that means that God will sustain you. “If this , then that”.