A sermon preached
The first in a series of services
Reading: Lk 15:11-32
This is the first an occasional series of evening reflections on movie themes.
First a health warning.
The movie “21 Grams” contains sex, violence, and drug abuse.
those who may feel that as such a film
is thus inappropriate fare for a Sunday sermon.
Though if that is your view,
I wonder of you have read the Genesis, Exodus or Judges lately?
Or whether you heard the sermon this morning
on Salome dancing for the head of John the Baptist?
There is plenty of sex and violence here.
Scripture knows, religion and theology
are about God’s dealings with the human race –
the whole human race, not just the nice, clean and holy bits of it.
If the Cross is about anything,
it is about God confronting the darkness and messiness of human life head on.
Christians we should doubtless shun cheap thrills
derived from the gratuitous and exploitative use of sex and violence –
but where a film tackles serious issues,
that is stuff we should be addressing.
second warning if you are thinking about renting this movie -
This is a terribly complex film.
The plot moves backwards and forwards in time
with no predictability whatsoever.
“21 grams” is the harrowing tale of three
all touched by tragedy and heart break.
want to reflect on just one of these three characters,
played by Benicio del Toro. – He is called Jack.
His background is a violent one –
but during a stay in prison he finds Jesus and is converted.
His whole life is now centred around God –
to the evident disquiet of his wife,
who clearly doesn’t know how to deal with this new husband of hers.
“Two years ago you didn’t believe in anything”
she says at one point –
“now everything has to do with God.
I think I preferred you the way you were before.”
Jack replies “I was a f----ing pig before”.
he was a pig before –
and in many ways he was like the Prodigal Son
living with the pigs in a far country.
he is coming back –
but it is a long and complex road –
He has a faith and he is working as hard as he can on it.
He goes to the Chapel and the Pastor says
“If you’re saved and you know it, shout Amen”
and Jack roars back “Amen”
We see him working in a social centre at the Church
dealing with a local lad -
He shows him his truck with
“Faith - Jesus saves” written on the side
“See that truck”, he says to the lad –
“beauty isn’t it – I won it at a Fred’s raffle.
But you know what –
it wasn’t luck –
it was Jesus who wanted me to have that truck.”
The boy replies – “Bullshit – I bet you stole it”
No says Jack - “Jesus
gave me that truck –
its he who gives and he who takes away”
The boy sneers “He don’t give a shit about us”
Jack tells him to take off his hat and points to his head
“God even knows when a single hair moves on your head”
And so we give thanks that Jack is finding the love and grace of God.
BUT things are not that simple.
Later Jack is driving the truck
(the truck which, as he puts it, Jesus gave him)
and he causes a fatal crash.
He gives himself up and ends up in the cells again,
waiting for a trial on charges arising from the accident.
The pastor visits him. Jack starts ranting and raving
and throwing out angry quotes from the Book of Revelation.
The Pastor says “Ask Christ to forgive you”
Jack shouts back -
“Forgive me? I did everything he asked me to do. I changed.
I gave him my life. And he betrayed me.
He put that f---ing truck in my hand
and made me kill that man and those girls.
He didn’t give me the strength to save them.”
The Pastor replies “Don’t blaspheme you bastard –
Christ had nothing to do with this.”
Jack says “God even knows when a single hair moves on your
And you taught me that”
“We are going to pray for you Jack” the Pastor says.
powerful scene we are back with the old old question:
How does God look after me?
How is he involved in my day to day life?
like Job and the Psalmist before him rants at God -
“My God my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
course God has not forsaken Jack
any more than God had forgotten the Children of Israel
in Egyptian bondage or Babylonian exile
any more than the Father had forgotten his prodigal son
for one moment whilst he was in the far country….
is right about one thing -
everything is to do with Christ –
and God who sees every sparrow fall
certainly sees the fall of three people
mown down at a traffic intersection…..
just (and this is where Jack is far from the mark)
God is not a puppeteer who gives us trucks
and promises all will go well
if we will but commit ourselves to him.
No, it is all a lot more complicated than that.
As the Pastor says to Jack
“Jesus didn't come to free us from pain.
He came to give us the strength to bear it.”
Sometimes God welcomes us back from exile and the far country
Other times he comes and finds us there and weeps alongside us.
whatever, wherever we may be –
whether we are dying by the roadside in a car crash,
whether we are guiltily driving away from the scene,
whether we are born again Christians or just born losers –
God loves us and yes he does count every hair
and yes he does value and care for us.
The movie is called 21 Grams –
so called after the old idea that when a person dies
they lose 21grams weight (about ¾ oz).
The idea is only mentioned in the voice over at the end -
but I gather the idea came from
a so called scientist called Duncan MacDougall
who did a very bad experiment 100 years ago
and claimed (quite fallaciously)
that we all lost 21g on death –
Basically he weighed patients and their beds
a few seconds before and after they died.
The weight loss he concluded was the weight of the departing soul.
film the idea of “21 grams” works as a metaphor –
it is the perceived weight of the soul –
which is really a way of saying
“How much is human life worth when you weigh it in the balance?”
all his adolescent theology gets one vital thing right –
God cares and knows about even one hair on your head -
which makes each life, each soul, as of infinite worth to God.
kid ourselves that God will buy us a new car or truck
if we say our prayers well enough…
Let’s not kid ourselves that seeking to follow God
will stop us doing stupid things and messing up.
But lets be sure of this –
God weighs every hair on our head –
and however much of a nightmare world we may inhabit,
God is with us and our life is of infinite worth to him