Movies are powerful cultural artifacts that entertain, shape, andinspire people all over the world. This four-week series harnesses some of the biggest blockbusters slated for 2017, using them as illustrations that will help us to see God in a new way so that we can experience His presence in a powerful way.  
This week’s Movie:  The F8 of the Furious
Read the Sermon Summary below

The F8 of God’s Family

How loving like Jesus can lead others to Jesus

“Everyone’s looking for the thrill, but the only thing that’s real is family” Dom Torreto, Fast and the Furious

One of the most popular action film series to date comes from the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.  As of 2017, they have released eight full feature films and two short films.  Like most movies in this genre, the over-the-top stunts and effects is what draws people in.  But even though the action sequences are incredible, it is not what has caused so many people to connect with the series.  What has is the theme of “family” that has been woven into each films.

Lead by Dominic Torreto, former criminal now turned king of street racers, this collection of misfits work together to stop really bad guys, usually by any means necessary.  As each movie progresses, the “family” continues to grow because the more that outsiders have to deal with Dom and his crew the more they want to join in.  When they do, they are embraced as one of their own.  Even some antagonists eventually put away their differences in order to join because they see the value of this family and it’s mission.

This on screen chemistry is so contagious because it’s real.  So real that the cast sees each other as a family off screen.  We saw an example of this when one of their own, Paul Walker, who was one of the key characters throughout so many of the first seven films, died in car accident.  Everyone felt like they had just lost a family member because they were so close.  This bond is what has caused so many big time actors to petition to be a part of the next film in the series.  Their reason is that they see the cast having so much fun, they want to be a part of it too.

There is an innate desire in each human being that moves us to find purpose and worth in a community.  We all long to belong to something bigger than ourselves.  This is why so many people are so passionate about their social groups that are centered around religion, politics, sports, music, hobbies, or even criminal activity.  These tribes offer to satisfy our common sense of belonging.  One group of individuals in particular seems to be getting a lot of attention as of late.  They are called the “nones”.  This is a person who if asked to check the box of which religion he/she identifies with they would select the “none” box.

This group is primarily made up of 8 out of 10 Millennials who are born after 1980.  Their view of God is more spiritual and vague than most.  They don’t like to be boxed in by any one religious text or guidelines.  They either have a loose grip on religion or reject it all together, looking to science to explain the universe while having an open mind approach to truth.

“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”  GK Chesterton

The increase in numbers over the past twenty years is coming from people who admit that their level of spiritual activities is either LOW to MEDIUM.  Meaning, this group is made up of atheists who reject God altogether and practical atheists who believe in a version of God but live their lives like He doesn’t exists.  The number of people who describe their level of spiritual activity as HIGH is very steady.  In reality, what these reports are telling us is that more people are just being honest about their lack of faith more than it does that people are leaving the faith altogether.

Also, there is an interesting correlation with the increase of the number of “nones” in our society and the noticeable decrease in the strength of the family.  The faith of the parents is not being passed on to the next generation.  This makes perfect sense to me.  Imagine if a kid would see his parents act like a believer on Sundays while then acting like non-believers every other day of the week.  To them, it’s proof that religion is useless because it didn’t do them or their family any good.  They still got divorced or had other issues to deal with.  If everyone is looking for the thrill, they don’t believe that a faith community offers them any real solutions.  They have turned their back on their parent’s “faith” because they feel like it has betrayed them, which makes them to believe it wasn’t real to begin with. Though there are people who have turned their back on God, those of us in God’s family must not turn our backs on them.

The eighth installment of Fast & Furious is interesting because the plot centers around how Dominic Torreto ends up betraying and turning his back on his own crew.  Everyone is confused.  Now without Dom, what does that mean for everyone else?  The fate of their family will be determined now by how they support each other and reach out to their lost brother.  In the same way, the fate of God’s family hangs in the balance, and the lives of millions of people will be determined by how each current member of God’s family learns to support each other and reach out to their lost brothers and sisters.  For that, they have to learn to do one thing.  Love like Jesus.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35 (ESV)

During his last supper with his disciples, Jesus gave his farewell address.  He chose each word with accuracy and precision because he knew that his followers would remember these final words more than anything else he had taught them.  In reality, this conversations with them, and the actions that had occurred that night and those that would soon follow, were like one final review.

As they all had reclined around the table, Jesus shares a familiar teaching once again, but for the first time He modifies it.  Jesus had previously taught that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbors as you love yourself.  The later is illustrated with the Golden Rule, treating others how you would like others to treat you.  He had said before that this was the greatest commandment, and here he is, issuing a NEW one.  This new commandment did not replace the previous one, rather He gave it more meaning and clarity.  The standard that we are called to love others by is set by Jesus, not ourselves.

That detail would be the difference maker because in doing so, ALL people would be able to see Jesus through their love for one another and would want to share in their experience!  God wants His family to grow.  That is why He sent His only Son, so that through His sacrifice, the Father would be able to receive more sons and daughters.  God’s family grows the more the members of God’s family learn to love like Jesus.

Since the stakes are so high, we have to pause and ask, “How did Jesus love others?”  We see two general examples.  He would build up believers and love the lost.  The disciples, even up until Jesus accession into Heaven after his resurrection, believed but still struggled with doubt.  They didn’t understand everything.  Yet Jesus continued to show great patience and love by building up those who believed in Him rather than tearing them down.  In essence, Jesus allowed them to belong even though they didn’t believe in everything at first.  The more they would experience His love and presence, the greater chance their eyes would be opened to the Truth.  Also we see how Jesus loved the lost.  He preached to, healed, counseled, and encouraged both rich and poor, young and old, the powerful and the weak, and both men and women.  He loved people even though he hated their sinful actions and conditions.  Probably the best example that the disciples had of Jesus loving someone was in the way that Jesus treated one of their own who had betrayed them all.  Judas.

Since the beginning, Jesus knew what Judas would do.  He knew that he was the lone member of their family of thirteen that proclaimed to believe on the outside but was later revealed to be a hypocrite on the inside.  He was following Jesus out of his own self interest, seeking to have a position of power in Jesus’ new kingdom.  Perhaps Secretary of the National Treasury?   The disciples must have been beside themselves when they realized how Jesus treated Judas despite his true beliefs.  Jesus took time to explain his teaching to Judas like he would any other.  He prayed for him, encouraged him, and loved him knowing that it wouldn’t produce any fruit.

Jesus even had Judas sit at the seat of honor at the Last Supper.  He loved him until the very end.  If there was a moment to rat out Judas, it was that night as Jesus had revealed that one of them would betray Him.  The other disciples would’ve jumped Judas right then and there.  I don’t even want to know what Peter would’ve done to him.  But instead, He allowed Judas to leave the meal in order to tell the priests and soldiers how they could arrest Jesus later that night.  And just as the door swung shut behind Judas, Jesus turns to everyone else and says, “Love one another the way I loved you”!  Jesus both built up believers, loved the lost which included his neighbors and even his enemies, and He proved it by getting up from the table that night and heading to the cross to die and take every sinners place!  What an example of love.

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”  GK Chesterton

If those of us in God’s family fail to love like Jesus, many will fail to find a God who loves them relentlessly!  But if the insiders can learn to love the outsiders like Jesus does, they will gain eternal life and we will gain another brother and sister in Christ.

In order to love like Jesus we have to lay down our lives and put others first, regardless of our preferences and comfort.  But since none of us are Jesus, how could we learn to love like Him?  John helps to answer that exact same question in a letter to other Christians he was mentoring that were not even alive during the time of Jesus.  John was the longest living disciple, dying around the age of 90.  In his first letter recorded in the Bible, and old John shares the same message that Jesus had once taught their whole group the night He was handed over to his enemies.  It had been probably 60 years since that night, yet the lesson was as fresh as if Jesus had just finished saying it.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him  1 John 4:7-16

We can love like Jesus because Jesus loves us!  He is the instigator and the source that empowers us by the Spirit of God that dwells in every believer to reflect Christ to everyone.  If people have trouble seeing Jesus, they can learn to see him when we allow Jesus’ love to shine through us.  The more we love like Jesus the more we end up leading others to Jesus!

12 But to all who did receive him [JESUS], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”  John 1:12 (ESV)

Brothers and sisters in the faith, never take for granted how God has adopted you as His own.  We were once born into this world with a debt called sin.  But through Christ we are now born again into God’s family, making you an heir to His riches and glory.  And to everyone else, I have a question for you.  Are you looking for a thrill?  Then look no further than being a part of a real family who has a Heavenly Father that really loves you.  The way you can become a son and daughter of God and belong to His family is to believe in Jesus and that He loved you so much He paid the price for your sins on the cross and is alive today, ready to give you eternal life.  When you accept Him, He will accept you.  Because there is always room for one more in God’s family!