Epic (message for January 18th)

Scripture:  1 Samuel 3:1-10


Something that I have never been very good at is keeping up with popular music.   Now I know that most people think the music from their youth is the best and everything new is terrible, but even in the heyday of my teenage years I barely listened to the radio.   Now I did listen to music, but the music that has always had the most appeal to me are soundtrack scores.  I really like movie soundtracks because the music is specifically written to tell a story.   Even when you cannot see the images, the music still conveys the emotion and the drama of the story.  A good example of this is the most recent album I bought.  It is entitled Archangel, and it is effectively a movie soundtrack for a non-existent movie!   Soundtracks really make the movies and when I look at all of the soundtracks I have, there is something that stands out to me.   The most epic movies have the most epic soundtracks.   Movies like Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings have some of the most epic, sweeping, awe-inspiring soundtracks.   These are movies where the fate of the world (or galaxies) hang in the balance.   Epic movies deserve epic soundtracks.  

            I have noticed something though, most of the kind of movies share the same story.   The specifics are clearly different, but the primary story is the same.   See if you can place what movie this story is from.   An orphan being raised by his uncle is bored or trapped by their mundane life.  They get glimpses that they are meant for something more, that there is something special about them-they are meant to be a hero.   Even though they initially resist this, a wise mentor guides them along the way.  The mentor can only go so far, as the hero embarks on a series of trials.   Along the way, new friends are met who aid the hero on their journey.  Eventually the hero has to face a great evil, the ultimate trial.   The hero finds the strength within, discovers the truth about themselves and emerges victorious.    What story is that?

            It could be Star Wars with Luke Skywalker being mentored by Obi-wan Kenobi.  He befriends Han Solo and Princess Leia, and he has to learn to use the force to destroy the Death star.    It could also be Harry Potter who lives a miserable life under the stairs until he is told he is a wizard.  He is mentored by the wise Dumbledore, and is helped by his friend Hermoine and Ron.  Yet in the end, he has to claim that he is a great wizard and defeat the evil Lord Voldermort.    It could also be the Lord of the Rings, where carefree Frodo enters a greater world after he is entrusted with the one ring by his uncle Bilbo.   The ancient wizard Gandalf mentors Frodo.   A fellowship of the ring is formed to aid Frodo on this quest, and his best friend Sam goes with him to the end.  In the end though, he has to rely on his own inner strength to resist the ring’s corrupting influence and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom.   This same plot structure, even fits the Wizard of Oz!   Dorothy leaves her mundane life behind and enters the land of Oz.   The good witch Galinda offers her guidance, she makes friends along the yellow brick road, but it is up to Dorothy to defeat the wicked witch of the west.  Only then does she truly learn, there is no place like home.  

            This story is extremely common, and it still the basic structure for many stories today.    As a final example, check out this quick comparison between the original Star Wars and the 2009 Star Trek reboot: 

            This basic plot structure is something called the hero’s journey, and what is amazing about this basic story is that it is found in cultures all around the world and is found in some of the most ancient literature we have uncovered.   The details are clearly different, but the same basic structure is the same.   This had led to literature professors to title the hero’s journey the monomyth, because it is so common and the basis for so many stories across cultures.   This has led people who are a lot smarter than me to write books upon books about why this story, why this monomyth exist.   I do not think it is hard to understand though.  The common story exist, because it strikes on desires that are found in all human hearts.  We all want to be something special.  We all want to make a difference.    We do not want to live meaningless, mundane lives of zero consequence.   In short, we want our lives to be epic.   

            The hero’s journey always begins with an origins story.   With the way the hero left the mundane life and began their journey.   This morning’s scripture, probably one of the more familiar stories about Samuel, gives us a bit of Samuel’s origin story.   There is a bit to his story before this morning’s scripture though.   Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren and wept bitterly before God because of this.   She promised to offer her first born up to God’s service if she could be granted kids.   God answered her prayer, and when Samuel was three or four he was dedicated to God’s service and ministered under Eli.   God called Samuel out of the mundane, and obediently followed God, even when it was difficult, and it started out difficult.  We stopped at verse 10, but if we had kept reading we would see what God first told Samuel.   Samuel had to tell Eli that God was going to punish his family.   Samuel’s journey with God began that night in the temple, but it did not end there.   Through Samuel God subdued invading armies, anointed kings, delivered messages, and even saved David from death.  Samuel lived an epic life, and it all began with him saying “Here I am.”   The story of Samuel’s calling should remind us that God still invites us to adventure, to epic lives.    The question we face this morning is how do we respond to those invitations? 

            If you consider yourself a Christian, then you already have your origin story.   You have already begun your hero’s journey.   Notice how 1 Samuel 3:7 states, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord.”   Samuel did not begin living an epic life until he knew and faithfully followed God.  One of the things that is interesting is that Jewish religious experts often think that Samuel was a teenager when this event in this morning’s scripture occurred.   This means he could have spent up to 10 years living in the temple without knowing God.    Our origins story does not begin with us going to church it being when we know the Lord.   Many of you are like me, we grew up in the church our whole lives.   There is still a time though, where we go from attending to believing.  There is a time where we go from knowing of God and knowing God.    This was our invitation to leave the mundane and begin the epic.    Look at the scriptures.   God met Moses at a burning bush, and invited him on epic journey.   God called Samuel in the quite of night, and invited him on an epic journey.   Jesus asked his disciples to follow me and invited them on an epic journey.    Now it is easy to say, that those people are special.  That they had a destiny far greater than ours.   That is not true.   Look at the epistles in the New Testament.  These were written to regular believers.  These were written to people who did not have God speak to them through a burning bush.   Pick Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, any of them and you will find it to be the same.    The regular, everyday people these letters were written to, were invited to live epic lives.   They are urged to follow the Spirit, to be more Christ like, and to love extravagantly.   This invitation is all over the bible, and it is summed up well in Ephesians 4:1, “I urge you to live a life worth of the calling you have received.” 

            When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we accepted a grand adventure.   To view the life of faith as anything less is a gross misrepresentation of what it is.   Being a Christian must be about more than just avoiding Hell.   Accepting Jesus as Lord is so much more than taking out an eternal insurance policy.    We are accepting an invitation to epic adventure.   We are accepting that we have fallen short.  That we are mired down in a mundane sinful life.  We accept freedom from that existence.  We accept being reunited with our loving Creator, and we accept the mission to share that love with others in action and deed.   Just like the hero’s journey will surely have some struggles, just like Samuel had his own pile of mountains to get over after her responded to God, we too will face obstacles.   We will have opposition.  We will have to go against naysayers, doubters, and those who are against us.   When we join God in sharing the love and grace that saved us with others obstacles are inevitable.   When we love the unloved there will be struggles, and when we take bold risks to ensure that people get to experience God’s love like never before, there will be a huge list of reasons why we should not even try.    We should though.  We should live epically, because we get to actually partner with God, the creator of everything, to transform a broken and lost world.   If that is a deed not worthy of an epic soundtrack than nothing is!     

            One of the greatest lies we have bought into as the modern American church, is that being a Christian is just a cultural/social thing.  We have been fed the lie that going to church is just something we do.   The deception is that belonging to a church is little different than being part of some civic organization.   Our faith, following Jesus as Lord and Savior, is so much more than that.   It should be epic in scale.   We should never lose sight that our goal is to love radically, to save the lost, and to transform the world.    We have been invited to something so much more than a mundane life.   Which are you living the mundane life or the epic life?    Now I realize that the word epic is far overused in today’s language.   However, in an age where everything is disposable and nothing list-those things that make a lasting difference that truly do transform- those things are epic in scope.   As an example, I can guarantee you can go into any church and find stories of their saints.  You can hear the stories of those people who have made an epic difference.   Being a PK and then working in a church, I can tell you several of these stories.  I can tell you about a man in southern Indiana, who almost single handily convinced five small dying churches in the 1970s to merge to create Unity Chapel, a thriving and vibrant congregation today.   I can tell you about a couple at Epworth UMC in Indianapolis who made a brave choice.  They adopted a baby with severe disabilities who had been abandoned, because they believe that every child needs to know they are loved.   I can tell you about an eighty two year old woman in Avon, who despite her age is one of the first person at the church every Sunday morning.  She makes it her weekly mission to ensure that every person who comes into that church feels welcomed and cared about.   I know that Edinburgh UMC has its own stories as well, its own saints who have lived epic lives.   There are people both past and present who’s faith example has made a lasting impact.    Are you one of those people?   Are you being obedient to following God in such a way that it is making a lasting change that is transforming?    If not, why not?

            We have been invited by God on an epic journey.   Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s go an adventure!   Let’s love the people outside of these walls more than we love these walls.  May we follow the example of Samuel, and when God calls us respond “Yes LORD your servant is listening.”   May we be obedient in sharing God’s love with the world in whatever way God is calling you to do so.   May you be willing to take the big risks necessary to share that love.   May you follow God with such reckless abandon, with such intensity and passion, that only one word can be used to describe your faith.  May you love others in such a way that every other word fails to describe how you share the love of God.   May your faith only be describable as Epic.