Hello . . . Again!

By Doug Samples

Here in the middle of the summer, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a break from the blogs we have been writing about each of the songs and remind our readers the purpose of this blog site.

I have joined with two friends and fellow Les Mis fans (John Nielson and Nathan Burns) to explore a few of the songs of this world-class musical to find the gospel story that lies within the lyrics.  We have three goals: 1) To collaborate together and create a series of sermons that we would share with our congregations this Fall using the songs of Les Misérables to illustrate the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a new and creative way.  2) In addition, we are hoping that this blog site would become a place where Les Mis fans could meet and talk about the impact these powerful songs have had on our lives.  Hopefully, our blogs can be a launching pad for the insights of others.  3) Finally, we would love for other pastors to comment and contribute to the blogs we have posted.  Share with us how you would connect these songs to the stories of the Bible.  And then feel free to use these blogs as seeds to write your own sermons for your own congregation.

When the movie version of Les Misérables comes out this December, there is going to be huge rush of excitement for this classic tale!  It will undoubtedly meet with the same positive response as the book (1864) and the musical (1985) did in their day!  Literally   m i l l i o n s   of people are going to be talking about this movie and this story.  There will be millions of new people captured by the message of grace in this age-less story!  Even the most gospel-illiterate person will be struck by the powerful Christ-figure in Jean Valjean!

For those of us who are pastors and want to share the message of grace and salvation with as many people as possible, we are excited about helping the folks in our churches be ready to use the Les Mis movie as an opportunity to talk with their friends about the “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” in a brand new positive way.  Instead of the “hell, fire and damnation” message of an earlier day, Christians can talk to their friends about the grace-giving Valjean… and the dear Bishop of Digné… and the God who is the Author of this life-changing, life-saving Grace!

As we preach through this series of sermons, we will not only be sharing the message of transforming grace with the folks in our sanctuaries, but we will also be giving them insights to share with their friends who have seen the movie and been captivated by the story, but may not know how to unpack all the significance hidden in the lyrics.  If we are prepared, this movie would be a wonderful opportunity to introduce our friends to a loving Jesus they may not have ever known before.

I plan to use an opening sermon to introduce my congregation to the upcoming series from Les Misérables, but my deeper purpose will be to encourage them to sharpen their spiritual vision to find the gospel message in places other than the Bible and the church!  If we have “eyes to see,” we will discover that there are secular versions of the gospel all around us, especially at the movies.

Rob Johnson, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, has written a book, Reel Spirituality, that suggests that if you know what you’re looking for, you can find God at the movies almost every Friday night!  And NOT just in the occasional “Christian  genre” film like “Fireproof” or “The Grace Card.”  But the amazing message of the gospel shows up repeatedly in movies like “Shawshank Redemption,” “The Lion King,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Up,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Castaway,” “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “The Elephant Man,” “Wall-E,” “The Color Purple,” to name just a few!

Of course, I don’t expect the secular media to communicate the gospel story with the same clarity and passion that we do in our churches, but we should be aware that God is big enough to have His fingerprints in more places than just inside our little churches!  Philip Yancy has written a book entitled, Finding God in Unexpected Places that would be very helpful in communicating this truth.

My series of sermons (at Lake Overholser Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, OK) will start on Sunday, September 16th.  Since so many people are still unfamiliar with this wonderful musical, I plan to show the Les Mis Anniversary DVDs at the church as a way of introducing my folks to the overall message of the musical.  I will do the 10th Anniversary DVD on Friday night and the 25th Anniversary DVD on Saturday night prior to my opening sermon.  I would not expect them to come both nights (although some folks would), but to pick the night that best fits with their schedule. I might even do a “dinner theater” theme and promote it as a date night.

While I was on vacation this summer, my friend, Jim Young, gave me a choral piece (and accompaniment track) entitled “Medley from Les Misérables” that he has done with his middle school choir.  My worship pastor, Steve Hendrix, is going to assemble a group of singers from our congregation to perform this seven-song medley on this opening Sunday.  It is going to be a great way to get a larger group of people excited about the series.

To wrap up this mid-summer interlude… welcome to our Les Mis blog.  We would love to receive your comments and insights.  It is our hope that our sermon blogs would be seen as “rough drafts” waiting to be made better by your thoughtful contributions!  We invite you to join in our parade as we dream of a brand new tomorrow where our churches AND our communities are filled with more people like the Bishop of Digné and Jean Valjean!

3 thoughts on “Hello . . . Again!

  1. Random thoughts for this opening sermon!

    I may start this introductory sermon sitting somewhere in the back of the sanctuary! I did this one time when I preached a message for SNU Chapel based on the movie “Chocolat.” My opening line was, “Isn’t it surprising when you find Jesus in places where you didn’t expect to find Him?”

    There would probably be some good material in Phillip Yancy’s book,Finding God in Unexpected Places. Need to pick that up and read it!

    I’m not very superstitious and I’m really not into interpreting dreams. And I’m not suggesting that we find a Jesus in every cloud or a Devil behind every bush. But I would invite us to open our eyes and our hearts to see Jesus/God/Salvation in places other than the Bible and our favorite Christian radio station! For instance…
    Shawshank Redemption
    The Giving Tree
    The Velvetine Rabbit
    The Chronicles of Narnia
    The Matrix
    Don Quixote
    ____________ [I’m looking for other examples! Suggestions???]

    Look at Rob Johnson and Reel Spirituality! Article from Fuller Alumni paper!

    I would suggest to you that if Jesus was pastoring a church today, the parables he would use to illustrate his sermons might come from some disturbingly earthy venues: “Remember the other night on The Colbert Report…” His parables would pick up on a common occurrence just like they did during His brief earthly ministry: the farmer sowing seed, the wedding party that ran out of oil, etc.
    That’s what I would like to be doing over these next few weeks. Each Sunday, I would like to take one of the songs from the musical Les Miserables and find the gospel story within the song. We will obviously not see a crystal clear picture of Jesus like we would if we were reading the Gospel of John. But He is there… if you know where to look!


    From “A Whiz through Les Miz” 25th Anniversary DVD
    The world’s most popular and longest running musical
    Opened October 8, 1985 at the Barbican Theatre in London
    New clippings and early reviews were very negative
    Cameron Mackintosh (Producer): “I didn’t think we’d get through the first night.”
    Claude-Michel Schonberg: Composer
    Alain Boublil: Lyrics
    Les Mis has toured in 42 countries and 21 different languages
    10,000+ performances in London
    45,000 worldwide performances
    Seen by over 60 million people

    From “Stage by Stage: The Making of Les Mis” 10th Anniversary DVD
    The French musical, Les Mis, originally opened on September 18, 1980 in Paris
    100 shows
    Seen by 500,000
    It closed so quickly because the Sports Palace already had another booking scheduled
    When it closed, 50,000 people were still wanting tickets.
    Schonberg and Boublil met with Mackintosh, who had not seen the French version, and asked if he would like to bring it to London
    Schonberg: “In the middle of this heavy story, I felt we needed a break. So we turned Thenardier into a comic character, which he is not in the book. We needed to give people a chance to catch their breath.
    Victor Hugo was the most famous person of his time.
    The most respected political figure of his time
    Herbert Kretzmer: Lyricist who translated the French version into English, which is now the universal version, since all the other productions around the world is based off the London version.
    Kretzmer described the translation:
    One-third is a direct translation from the French
    One-third is a rough adaptation from the French
    One-third is original material
    There are 6-7 songs in the English version that was not in the French version
    One of our challenges was to disentangle 1832 from 1789
    The action going on at the barricades is from a student insurrection of 1832, not the French Revolution of 1789.
    Hugo doesn’t make this distinction very clear
    He didn’t have to. Life in Paris at the time was appalling
    The first printing of Hugo’s “Les Mis” sold out in a week.
    The American Civil War was just two years away.
    Robert E. Lee and many of the Confederate soldiers had a copy of the book in their saddle bags. The revolution that Hugo was talking about represented what they were fighting for.
    The barricades can represent so many things… separated
    After a long standing ovation [p. 140] scathing contempt.
    First Night Party: The cast and crew were excited for their accomplishments. A massive standing ovation at the end of the opening night performance. We were not prepared for the next day when they were manifestly “dumped on” by the British critics. The posh papers said that they had trivialized one of the greatest works of Western literature. A great work like that was not appropriate material for a musical production. The tabloids said we had created a gloomy, dull, endless evening which was not what musicals were supposed to be. They should be a light, frothy and frivolous evening with happy endings and everyone goes home humming the tunes. However, the audiences’ response continued to be ovationary! When Mac finally got through to the Barbican office the next day, they asked him, “How’d you get through? We’ve just had the biggest day in the history of the Barbican. We have sold 5000 tickets in the first 3 hours!”
    Les Mis opened in Washington D.C. on Dec 27, 1986 before going to Broadway in NYC, where it opened on March 12, 1987
    The magic of Hugo is that all of us can see a bit of each character in ourselves. Jean Valjean represents the best in all of us. Javert represents the worst in all of us. Because of Hugo’s ability to connect so universally, the musical causes the audience to react the exact same way at the exact same moments all around the world. We experience the same joy, the same laughter, the same sadness in every language and every culture.
    The magic of Les Mis will always be personal. It is very rare in popular entertainment to have something so thrilling, and moving at the same time. You leave the theater having learned something and having felt something about yourself and your fellow man. I think if Victor Hugo saw it, he would be very proud of it.
    The universal aspect of Les Mis [p. 158] the family of humankind.

    From The Complete Book of Les Miserables
    In the preface of one edition of Les Mis that was never published – at his own request – Hugo had written, “This is a religious book.”
    “Dante described hell in the afterlife, whereas I have described hell on earth.” From a pre-publication interview of Hugo.
    Like the musical, over 100 years later, Hugo’s Les Mis was initially, a popular, rather than a critical success. One of the criticisms was “there was too much Christianity in it.”
    Early critiques: “This is a dangerous book.” “This has been written for a universal audience. I don’t know if it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone.”
    For all the poor and broken of the world, Les Mis knocks at the door and says, “Open up, I am here for you.”
    After the Bible, it is probably one of the world’s best-selling books.
    How much of the book is left out of the musical? Surprisingly little. Of course, the action is condensed and the plot is sped up and some of Hugo’s long, detailed digressions are not pursued. Many of the subtle back-stories in the book are not explained in the musical.
    Religious overtones: There are many religious overtones in Les Mis that can go overlooked if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
    Javert is someone who believes in a vengeful, OT God who will bring down plague and pestilence on all those who disobey the law.
    Valjean, in the light of his experiences, has come to believe in redemption and that justice can exist in our world.
    Thenardier not only believes that God is dead but that he died a long time ago and that we are all fair game for him.
    There are three songs, sung in the second act, that highlight these religious overtones.
    In “Bring Him Home,” Valjean introduces the NT notion of mercy and grace.
    In “Stars,” Javert explains why, in his high-principled but warped mind, religion is indissolubly linked with law and order.
    In “Dog Eat Dog,” Thenardier states his predatory view of the world.

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