Les Miserables, is a film based on a musical by the same name, based on a French novel written 150 years ago by Victor Hugo. It was an epic story before the word “epic” became popular. In the story, the main character, Jean Valjean has served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. This was a time in France of great poverty and great misery. He breaks his parole, and spends the rest of his life evading a police inspector named Javert. Everything is about the law with Javert. There is much more to the story, but for those of you who still want to see the film, I won’t share any more details, except for this one.
Jean Valjean, the man in the film who over and over makes the choice for compassion, but who has to avoid the police because of the one crime of stealing bread, has an opportunity to kill the police officer. There is great poverty and unrest in France at the time. They are on the verge of a second Revolution. At one point the rebels have captured the police inspector and are holding him hostage. They do not know of Jean Valjean’s long time battle with Javert. His personal troubles would be over if he could just kill the police inspector and the revolutionaries give him a chance to do just that. But when the men stand face to face, the goodness in Jean Valjean’s heart prevails. He cannot kill an unarmed man – even his mortal enemy – and he sends Javert on his way, unharmed.
Javert, for his part, is flabbergasted. Because he has given his life to the rule of law, he cannot comprehend that Jean Valjean grants him mercy. You get it, don’t you?
Jean Valjean has experienced love and mercy in his life, so he is able to show love mercy to another person. It’s as simple as that. Love is contagious. You know that, don’t you? God’s love is contagious.
Long, long ago, in another place, a man named John was telling people about the way of God’s love and mercy. He was urging them to turn away from their lives of sin and turn to God’s love. He told them to have generous hearts and to take care of the poor. He told them to stop cheating one another. He gave words of strength to the people and he spoke words that spoke to their hearts. You know the words, don’t you?
The people were waiting for The Messiah – who we now know was Jesus. And they began to ask themselves – is this man, John, The Messiah? Could he be the one we have been waiting for?
He must have heard them because he told them, (Luke 3:15-22 from the Message paraphrase for those following along online) “No, I am just a stagehand in this drama. I am pointing the way. I am baptizing you in the river here but the one who comes will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and will ignite a fire in you and change you from the inside out!” He knew that Jesus would change the world through them.
I love that part where John says “I am a stagehand in this drama, pointing the way to Jesus.” Jesus is the one. My sister studied theater in college. She did the behind the scenes work: the costumes, the sets, the stage managing. Those folks don’t get noticed, but they hold the project together. I mean, think about it, what would a Broadway show be without all the people behind the scenes making sure the lead actors look and sound great? Without the fabulously designed scenery and lighting, and the great music, the shows would not be nearly as moving and effective and magical.
Well, we are Jesus’ stagehands in the world today. Jesus is no longer physically present. But the MESSAGE of Jesus is still here and alive. We are the ones who have to point to the message of Jesus and make it some alive for people. And I wonder. . . I just wonder, if anyone might look at us, AND MISTAKE US for Jesus, the they mistook John for Jesus.
Could our actions be so compassionate, so generous, so full of mercy, so out of the box outrageous in our love, that people might say – you are acting JUST LIKE JESUS!!!!
What might that look like in Toledo and Maumee and Waterville in 2013 for us to be mistaken for Jesus? Our leaders had a retreat this weekend and came up with some ideas about how we might go out into our community and engage people and maybe, just maybe give them a glimpse of the love and mercy of Jesus.
Community Festivals are really popular in the summer. Why do you suppose that is? People are looking for something fun to do. They want to get out of the house, have some good food, and do something different. People are also looking for a sense of community that they can’t get sitting at home in front on the TV watching the home shopping network and reality TV. We are looking for connections.
One of those festivals is a tiny little one that happens on the 4th of July morning over at Harvard circle. It’s only a few hours on the morning of the 4th of July. It is like stepping back in time. They block off the circle and have a little bike parade. There is the band that plays old music from about the 1940’s. It’s a hoot! They have kids games. We went there about 3 or 4 years ago when we were just getting started and I had my office at Park Church. We set up corn hole and we gave away candy or something. Jodi Haney, Kiki’s mom, met us there. Jodi wanted a church. She was not going to church anywhere at the time. When we opened a few months later at Monroe and Central she did not come, even though she read about us in the paper. But she didn’t come. She heard about us a couple of more times. And she didn’t come Finally when we moved into the Maumee Theater, near where she lives, and she saw another article about us, and finally she came, and now Jodi and Kiki are two of our most active members. They were looking for a spiritual home. But we had to get out there in the community. We had to widen our reach, so they could find us, and we could find them.
That’s what it looks like to be Jesus – we go out into the world, and interact with people –we have some fun, and we are available to people who are searching for a spiritual home. People are longing for community, but they don’t know how to find it. And for many people, church is the last place they will look for community. Some of you have told me that. But yet, here you are. You’ve found it.
But I wonder, when they see a group of us, having fun, and treating one another with respect and compassion, might just mistake us for Jesus? Could they possibly even mistake us for Jesus?
Another place we want to go is the “Take Back the Night Event.” This is an event for anyone, but it is especially for women who have been affected by violence, and people who care about them. There is always a program and then woman march around a neighborhood chanting, carrying signs and saying that we are “taking back the night” because we want to feel safe walking outside in our city.
What better place for us to go, as The Village church, to be the face of Jesus, than an event called “Take Back the night”? What better place to go and offer love and compassion? To support fellow women who have been through violence, or as people who care about others. I’m going to go, and I hope you will to. Maybe, people will mistake us for Jesus.
One more project I want to mention is this. We’re going to ask you, (those of you who have these skills) to help repair a house for a family who needs our help. You’ll hear more about that in coming weeks. I am sure we all have projects around our own homes that need to be done. We live in an over hundred year old house and we’re not handy (Kurt nods very vigorously). But as followers of Jesus, this is what sets us apart. Sometimes we put our own needs aside, in order to help others who really need a hand up. Our church is going to help a family that really needs our help because the house where they are living is not warm. They need drywall and then they need painting and electrical and flooring. We are going to get some other folks to help with some of this. But we have folks who can do this. And if you’re like me and you are not handy then you can cook for the workers or donate money. We are going to start this at the end of February.
You see when we do all these things we are being the stage hands in the drama that of being a loving community of Jesus’ followers. We are pointing people to Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, they might mistake us for Jesus, like they mistook John the Baptist for Jesus. Wouldn’t that be something?
You see there is really only one thing we need to do in order to be mistaken for Jesus. We need to love one another. We need to be generous and radical in our love. We need to love people who don’t deserve our love, because there are times we don’t deserve that love either. In the story of Les Mis, somehow, Jean Valjean, is able to be generous with the police office Jalvert. He is able to show mercy and compassion on a sad man who knows no love in his life.
The most powerful line in the show, to me is this one, at the end when Jean Valjean comes to the end of his life and he says to his daughter: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
It’s true. I believe this is how we can be mistaken for Jesus. When we love, we are God for one another. So, I pray that in our life together this year, we can do this: let us love one another and others out there in such a way that someone might just mistake us for Jesus.