We’ve lost another canary in the coal mine. I’m not sure if you noticed it, but it got my attention. In mid-August Sony Pictures rolled out a foul-mouthed, sexual-innuendo laced, rated-R animated movie called Sausage Party. Not surprising. But what was surprising was that it was on America’s movie screens at the same time as the big-budget remake of Ben-Hur (MGM and Paramount/Viacom Inc.) and out sold the epic film by approximately 3 to 1.
Even with a cameo by Jesus (played by Rodrigo Santoro) and God – or at least the guy who’s played God before – Morgan Freeman (who plays Sheik Ilderim) and a proven storyline, the movie that cost $100m to make brought in only $11.5m its first weekend. Why? I think I’d agree with critic Scott Mendelson, “Well, Ben-Hur is a flop (at least domestically for now) because audiences didn’t want to see it. It’s that simple.”1 The truth is that more Americans would rather watch and “absorb” the kind of content found in movies like Sausage Party.
I am not a movie critic. I am not going to decry Hollywood’s moral failures or lambast Sony Pictures for producing another 90 minutes of junk to appeal to our our basest natures. I am not going to wag my finger at you if you paid to see Sausage Party (I would ask you “Why?” though!), or if you’ve watched other morally questionable productions like Game of Thrones, etc. But I am going to issue a challenge, Christian, about growing as a disciple.
So here is where I have to look in the mirror and think of all the time I’ve wasted by entertaining myself with junk that my friends are talking about or that advertisers tell me are a “must see.” I have to honestly ask myself, “Am I willing to do the things that it takes to stay connected with Jesus Christ and not the culture?” If I am going to pay to see a movie or watch something online, does that entertainment strengthen my spirit and encourage me to abide in my Heavenly Father’s presence?
My work as a pastor calls me to be an evangelist, a 24/7 testimony of God’s love. This also lies at the core of the Methodist Church’s Wesleyan theology. John Wesley said, “What may we reasonably believe to be God’s design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists? To reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”2 This is also the same calling of every Christ-follower who wants to become a disciple.
I recognize that I have repeatedly fallen short by absorbing cultural crap rather than spreading “scriptural holiness.”
Morality will not save me. Being arrogant or pious will not advance my effectiveness or my ministry. But being more grace-filled, Christ-centered and focused on Him will!
I’m guessing that most of us don’t want to see Ben-Hur. Fair enough. But brothers and sisters, can we make better choices with our time and ask the Lord to help strengthen us in our calling to spread “scriptural holiness?” Can we make the daily personal sacrifices and the tough choices that will keep us connected to the Holy Spirit’s life-giving power? If I am going to share His love beyond the walls of my church, I am going to have to look to Him (rather than Sony Pictures) to be my guide.