At church on Wednesday night, we discussed ways to make the gospel message concrete, especially abstract words that are familiar to Christian people but have little meaning to those who are unfamiliar with Christian terms. When Jesus teaches in the gospels, he doesn't define abstract terms or create syllogisms, he embodies them in action and story. We each reflected on life experiences, and we tried to describe examples of mercy and forgiveness from our lives.
Damon, our preacher, described a journaling project assigned in one of his graduate classes on preaching: over the course of the semester the students had to catalog each time that they saw the gospel or an illustration of the gospel in every day life. Over time an exercise like this should train these aspiring preachers to be constantly on the look out for glimpses of the 'gospel in miniature.' This is also a helpful discipline for those in the pew - no matter what job we get paid for, we all have a part in the missio Dei, the mission of God in the world. Damon challenged us to look for the gospel in miniature, and in keeping with that challenge, I'd like to recommend a film to you.
'Children of Heaven,' a 1997 Iranian film, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1999 in the Best Foreign Language Film category, but it had justly won numerous awards overseas before it caught the attention of Western critics.
The opening scene of the film shows young Ali waiting patiently as a cobbler fixes a rip in Ali's sister's shoes. Ali loses the pair of shoes on his way home. Knowing that their family has no money for a new pair (and fearing a beating from their father), Ali and his sister, Zahra, hatch a plan to share Ali's sneakers until they can find a replacement of Zahra's shoes. They attend school at different times a day, so they engage in a daily shoe relay between classes. Ali later hears about a 4 km boy's race with an alluring third place prize: a brand new pair of sneakers. He swears to Zahra that if he wins third place, he'll trade the new sneakers in for a new pair of shoes for her.
I'll stop there. If you want to see self-giving love personified, this is a great film to check out. I suspect that the kingdom of God is quite like this, making 'Children of Heaven' an aptly named film.