Prays Together: The Greatest Show in Church

By Ian Hodge

My wife and I recently made a rare trip to the movies to see The Greatest Showman, thanks to the intrepid babysitting of Grandpa and a steely resolve to stay awake until at least 10:00. And let me tell you, the trip was worth it to see a movie about the church!

“Now wait,” you’re saying. “I’ve seen the previews (or maybe you’ve even seen the movie!) and it isn’t about the church. There are no churches in the movie, no one really talks about God or Jesus or anything like that. You are quite mistaken Pastor Ian!”

Actually no, I’m not, and it’s not because I’m being all postmodern. Whatever movie the producers and writers and actors and actresses intended to make, they ended up making a movie about the church, or at least an inspiring vision of what the church is supposed to be, whether it lives up to that vision or not.

The movie, gross historical inaccuracies and all, tells a “what if” story about the origins of P. T. Barnum’s circus. In the movie, Barnum finds the strangest, most marginalized, most freakish people he can. He uses them to put on a show, counting on the morbid curiosity of the public to draw them to see these oddities.

But something Barnum didn’t plan happens as his show grows in popularity. These strangely misshapen and unusual people find an acceptance among each other they’ve never known before. In the past, even their mothers had hidden them away so that their shame wouldn’t be exposed. Now, however, they are united with others who understand and share their sense of shame and they find acceptance.

What if the church was like this? What if we didn’t have to put on masks of perfection when we walked in the door? What if we were free to be fully, entirely honest with each other? To be as bearded a lady as anyone has ever seen?

No, I’m not advocating that ridiculous modern tolerance that says, “Do whatever you want because nothing is forbidden.” I’d hope that the whole #MeToo movement reveals the idea of nearly unlimited permissiveness as ultimately destructive and self-defeating. What I am actually advocating is the Biblical idea of unlimited, unrestrained forgiveness. In Matthew 18, beginning in verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus responds, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” by which he essentially means, “As often as he asks.” We can, and ought to do so, because if we really know Jesus, we know we have already been forgiven our unpayable debt. Forgiveness ought to breed forgiveness, and so we ought to be free to be the church where we can bring out our strange humps, our unusual shapes, and our unpresentable qualities. We ought to be defined by forgiveness for each other, by grace to those who need it from those who’ve received it.

Ian Hodge is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lemon Cove. He may be reached by calling 559-597-2249.

Prays Together is a rotating column between the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Presbyterian Church. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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