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!