Acknowledging the Territory
As always, when we gather together to worship, we take a moment to recognize that the land upon which we gather is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our gratitude for this land and we ask the Creator to help us use and share it wisely.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ. And we commit ourselves to allow that light shine through us in all that we do.
Call to Worship
Society teaches us that we need to stand up to bullies,
But our faith calls us to bless those who persecute us.
Society teaches us stranger danger,
But our faith tells us to open our homes to strangers.
Society teaches us that revenge is sweet,
But our faith tells us do not repay wrong for wrong and never take revenge.
Society teaches us to look out for number one,
But our faith tells us to feed the hungry, weep with those who weep and to have the same concern for everyone.
And so today we take time away from the demands of society to worship our counter-cultural God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Divine Creator, as we gather together this morning, it seems easy for us to love each other. Sure, there are times we don’t always agree, but we trust that those gathered with us share our desire to live in love and peace. We even find it relatively easy to love people in general because we know that there are others here, trying to do the same. But when we must stand alone and face those who hurt us, those who hurt the people we love or those whose actions shock and horrify us, it is not so easy. Help us to love and Christ loved, trusting that you are with us guiding us and loving us each step of the way. Amen
Gift of Music O God Who Shaped Creation #276
The Book of Proverbs, a book of teaching and advise, offers these words about doing what is right, just and fair and avoiding people who seem to enjoy senseless evil.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul advises us to “Hate what is evil, [and] hold on to what is good.” But even more than this, he warns “Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.
As most of you know if you have been following out summer series this year, all of the reflections have been based on Philip Longfellow Anderson’s book The Gospel in Disney. But of all the Disney movies we are exploring this summer, Sleeping Beauty is the one I was most concerned about. It is the movies I probably remembered least and it is the one reflection that Philip Longfellow Anderson offered, that I found the least relevant to my own faith and to my understanding of what the gospel teaches.
And so, I did the only thing I could think of. I signed up for Disney + and watched the movie again. After watching it, I was still totally uncertain of how to approach this movie which, in my opinion, is one of the darkest of all the early Disney animated films.
Based on a classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, it was the most expensive Disney movie made, up to that point, mainly due to the complexity of the background. Costing a total of $6 million dollars, when it was released in January of 1959, it grossed only $5.3 million, resulting in Disney Studios posting a financial loss for the year. That, in turn, resulted in massive lay-offs throughout the animation department.
The movie begins with a gala celebrate of the birth of Princess Aurora. The entire kingdom is invited, along with royalty and nobility of the neighbouring kingdoms. One such king brings with him his young son Phillip, who is then promised in marriage to Aurora.
Three good fairies are also in attendance, and they bestow gifts on the princess. The first fairy, Flora, blesses her with beauty. The second, Fauna, blesses her with the gift of song. But before Merryweather, the third good fairy can give her gift, the evil fairy Maleficent appears. Angry at not having received an invitation to the party, she curses the child.
“Listen well all of you. The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her. But before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.”
Although Merryweather does not have the power to remove the curse, her gift to the Princess Aurora is to modify the curse so that Aurora will simply fall asleep when the spindle pricks her finger and will be awakened by true love’s kiss.
In order to protect Aurora, King Stephan orders that all the spinning wheels in the kingdom be destroyed. But Flora, Fauna and Merryweather convince him that the only way to truly keep Aurora safe is for them to take her deep into the forest, where, forgoing all magic, they will raise her as their own. Thus, Aurora becomes Briar Rose and is raised in the forest until her 16th birthday.
When that day comes, wishing to make the day extra special for Aurora, the three fairies break their vow not to use magic. But this, alerts Maleficent to Aurora’s location and ensuring that the curse will be enacted. Aurora is led by Maleficent to a tall tower of the castle where she pricks her finger. In response, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather put a spell over the entire castle causing everyone to fall asleep until Aurora awakes.
Now this part of the movie I remembered fairly clearly but from here on, it got a bit hazy for me. I had forgotten that Maleficent captured Prince Phillip and locked him in her castle where the three good fairies had to rescue him. I remembered that they presented him with a magical sword and shield but could not remember it was the shield was the shiel of virtue and the sword was the sword of truth.
I remembered him hacking his way through a forest of thorns and fighting a dragon, who was in fact Maleficent herself, but I did not remember what a pivotal part the three fairies played in the battle, but what I do remember how frightening this part of the movie was.
When I shared with my youngest daughter that I was really struggling with how dark I found this movie she said, “Well of course. The reason Maleficent is so terrifying is that there is no reason for her being evil. She is simply pure evil.”
Her answer caught me totally by surprise. I hadn’t thought of it that way at all. True, she curses Aurora because she was not invited to the ball, but she was not invited because she was evil. The problem is that, instead of answering any questions, this just brought up a whole bunch of new questions for me.
Does pure evil exist really without cause? If so, how does this effect our understanding of God, as creator of all things, as being good? And, perhaps most relevant to my personal struggle with this movie, are we so uncomfortable with the idea of pure evil that we constantly try to find an explanation for it?
There are a couple more things in the movie that I want to share, things that I had forgotten until I watched it again. During the battle against Maleficent, Prince Phillip loses the shield of virtue. He stands helpless before the dragon. Now I remember that the Dragon was killed by the sword of truth, but in my memory the brave Prince Phillip throws the sword, embedding it in the dragon’s heart. What actually happened was that the 3 fairies cast a spell on the sword causing it to fly true and straight and find its target.
It is interesting to note that in Anderson’s reflection, which he titles, Battling Dragons, he too seems to forget that it is the fairies’ spell and not Prince Phillips aim that sinks the sword into the dragon’s heart.
The movie ends in typical Disney fashion with a magical kiss that reunites Phillip and Aurora and wakes the entire kingdom. But as the movie ended, I was left feeling somewhat uncomfortable. There were just too many questions that, at least for me, were simply left unanswered.
In his reflection on Sleeping Beauty, Philip Longfellow Anderson says that although we must take seriously the reality of evil in the world, we are not defenseless against the power of evil. He goes on to talk a great deal about the importance of the shield of virtue and the sword of truth, but he does not seem to mention the fact that, without the help of the three fairies, these weapons would not have been sufficient. He describes the final battle between Maleficent and Prince Phillip in this way.
“It’s a breathtaking battle. A young prince would seem to have little chance against a supernatural force of evil as terrifying as a dragon. But the prince is not daunted. His shield protects him from the flames the dragon aims at his body. And just when everything seems lost – with the prince prone on his back atop a precarious precipice and the dragon towering over him for the kill – he hurls the sword at the dragon’s heart. It finds its mark, and the dragon tumbles to its death. This force of evil has been defeated.”
Anderson never mentions the fact that in the movie Phillip loses the shield of virtue, and although he acknowledges the help of Flora, Fauna and Merryweather he seems to downplay its importance. So, given all of this, what have I learn about my own understanding of the gospel through this movie?
Well first off, I leaned that I really struggle with the idea of evil simply existing for the sake of evil. I what to know why. I want to know what happened to make someone so evil. Was Maleficent denied love as a child? Did someone she trusted betray her? Did she believe that only through power could she gain acceptance?
As it turns out that I am not the only person to ask these questions. In the more recent Disney movie called Maleficent, it seemed to me that, in ways, the entire movie was an effort to redeem the character of Maleficent. The problem was that in order to do so, another character had to become the personification of evil.
Now that character at least did have a back story that explained why they had become so evil. But in the end, I realized that knowing the ‘why’ really didn’t help. Evil exists and even knowing what might case one person to express that evil in their words or actions, evil is not something we can ever explain away.
The second thing that I came back to over and over, was Anderson’s comment that we are not defenseless against evil. That point is reaffirmed for me not only through this movie but throughout scripture. Over and over again we are told that the power of good is stronger than the power of evil, or, as it is more often stated in the bible, the power of God is stronger than the power of the devil. Paul makes this point beautifully when he says, “Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.”
But it’s not always that simple. Prince Phillip set out to battle evil with the shield of virtue and the sword of truth. But he lost the shield during the battle and by the time he threw the sword, he was lying flat on his back, hardly the best position to be in when you need to take careful aim.
The funny thing is that although this seems like a very minor part of the movie and it is something that Philip Longfellow Anderson seems to ignore, this is where I found the greatest hope of all. There are times in my life when I drop my shield, when my ‘virtue’ or perhaps my principles seem to slip away. There are times I feel exposed and vulnerable. There are even times when I find myself knock completely off my feet, laying flat out and wondering how on earth I can ever recover. There are times I find myself feeling completely helpless.
But this is when I need to remember that even if all the help that I have received so far seems to be of no use at all, there is always still more help available. I don’t need to depend on myself or on what I have learned or what I have received in the past. Like the whisper of help that Phillip received from Flora, Fauna and Merryweather that guided the sword of truth to its mark, if I listen, I just might hear that whisper of hope that helps me to get back on my feet.
So perhaps this is the lesson, the good news, the gospel that I will take from this movie. Help is available. I’m not alone. And because I believe this, I do believe that good is stronger than evil and that in the end good will overcome. Amen.
Gift of Music A Mighty Fortress Is Our God #262
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. We may offer our gifts by placing them on our offering plates, by giving through PAR or through other ways of making donations. But, as always, we need to remember that our financial contributions are only one of the many things that we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments and our prayers. And so, whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as your spirit has continued to touch and bless people throughout history, bless the gifts that we offer you today that through your spirit they may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, let us take a moment to remember all those named in our prayer jar, in our hearts and our thoughts this day … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
For our Prayer of the People today, I would like to share with you a prayer written by Susan Mark Landis. She titles this prayer Enemies aren’t lovable (by definition)
Let Us Pray;
Lord, the hardest thing you asked, was that we love our enemies. We know how we’d like to love them: We’d love our enemies to be far away. We’d love them not to compromise our security. We’d love them not to scare us or change the way we live.
We’d love them to be lovable.
You know, God, we’d love it to be popular to love enemies. We’d love our neighbors to respect us for this good deed. We’d love the people on the news to provide examples of how to love. But then, if loving enemies were easy, Jesus wouldn’t have told us about the tax collectors and gentiles, who love only their friends. If loving enemies were easy, we know we wouldn’t need God’s strong arms to bear us up in difficult times.
We wouldn’t need God’s mercy to forgive our human sin.
We wouldn’t need the Spirit flowing among us, wiping away our tears.
We wouldn’t need the Bible to tell us what the world does not.
God of all mercy, who loves us even when we give in to our sinful desires, who offers us immeasurable grace, and who gives us blessings we did not deserve, help us to imitate you by loving all people, even our enemies. Teach us how to love as Christ loved, to wish the best for all people, the life you intend each human to have, and teach us to pray and act so that those wishes come true.
Teach us hope, so we know that with your blessing, impossible dreams become reality.
Teach us faith, knowing that only the strength to stop hatred will halt the cycles of violence and revenge. Teach us forgiveness, knowing that we have been forgiven. Teach us, your ways, O Lord. When our community looks at this congregation, hears our words and sees our deeds, help them to know that you, the God of love, lives among us and that they can come to us knowing they are welcomed and loved. Teach us to love so that there will no longer be enemies or friends but one family of all creation united in your love. Amen
Closing Hymn Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah #651
So now, as you go out from here, don’t just pretend to love others—really love them. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. And do not forget to rejoice, for hope and help are always just around the corner! And so, may the blessing of God, the love of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit strengthen and sustain you in all you do, now and always. Amen.