Sermon Ideas For Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Part 3
It is not often that a scene from a movie so directly reflects a passage from the Bible, especially an animated film, and especially the verses about the voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus. But The Lion King offers too many possibilities for parallel to ignore, and since this film is a prime example of contemporary American artistry, it is worth contemplating the interplay of "the lesson and the arts" here.
The Lion King begins with the birth of the prince, the lion cub, with the other animals of the jungle gathering to bow in tribute (a scene reminiscent of last week's lesson, where the shepherds come to the manger and pay homage to the baby-king there). Our cub enjoys some brief tutelage by his father (Joseph in the carpenter shop?), but then his father is out of the picture (just as Joseph is not mentioned again after Jesus is 12). The progeny has to flee the reign of terror which follows (like running to Egypt from Herod?), and grows up in the wilderness, like an Ishmael, far from the promised land, as if exiled from his own people. There he succumbs to the temptation of self-indulgence; of privatism; of minding his own business and not worrying about his responsibility for anyone or anything else. This is like the Jesus depicted in The Last Temptation Of Christ, where the real temptation is to live quietly, simply, and selfishly; not claiming the manifest destiny of conflict, struggle, and striving after the ephemeral allegiance of others.
In the midst of his profligacy, our reluctant prodigal "comes to his senses," and with the help of a couple of voices from the past, begins to confront his conscience, and the way he has accepted a lowering of expectation for himself. He looks in the water and sees a reflection there of his father, and he suddenly realizes the truth that when other people see him, they do see his father. At that moment of realization, the clouds part and his father's voice comes out of the clouds, exhorting him to remember his sonship. He is then energized, as if with extra spirit, to run all the way back to his abandoned homeland (1 Kings 18:46?), and begins to confront the evil powers that have taken control there in his absence.
It is not easy confronting the demons of rapaciousness; of indolence, of self-indulgence, and it takes the marshaling of the heretofore browbeaten populace. To establish a kingdom of righteousness is always more effort than a kind of laissezfaire free-for-all where morality is so relativized as to become extinct. When it comes to engaging the powers of the darkness, our lion-king is left to his own devices. The apparition of his father appears no more. But the spirit of his father dwells in him. It is obvious to everyone that the offspring represents not only himself, but also a legacy that is beyond himself.
If there is a John the Baptizer in any of this, it is in the form of an old baboon, a combination shaman/yoda/holy man who is ill-defined, but is nevertheless universally recognized as representing the powers beyond. So he is given free rein to anoint the lion-king at an early age, sort of like John's baptism at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (but more like an infant baptism!). Also the baboon is there in the wilderness to call him to repent (of his privacy), and to assume his rightful place as heir to the kingdom. When the reluctant anointed one protests that he is still having a difficult time dealing with the past, and his father's absence, the baboon responds by hitting him over the head with his stick. When the lion-king protests, the baboon says, "Don't worry about it. It's in the past. The question is, `What are you going to do now?'" The monkey quickly proceeds to take another swipe at the callow monarch, and when he dodges the staff, the baboon triumphantly exclaims, "See?" There is a lesson here about not dwelling on the perceived injustices of the past, and not allowing oneself to use the past as an excuse for not living in the present.
A baptism is a washing away of not only guilt, but also the accompanying excuses. A declaration of sonship is not only a bestowing of honor, but also a claim of greater responsibility. A theophany is not only for its own sake, but also a call to action. The road back to claiming a high sense of calling is not an easy one. There are many opportunities along the way to backslide into an effortless obscurity. But the children of the King recognize that they bear the stamp of the image of the Father, and always, the calling comes to serve the needs of the Kingdom. In the sense of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), we are all lion-kings, where to misunderstand our royal calling is to be convinced that because we are free, we can do anything we want, merely to please ourselves. But the calling of the Father is to understand that to be free is to give ourselves up in service to others. To be claimed as God's own is to be set apart to serve.