At the Movies: St. Vincent

At The Movies

May 03, 2015

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Mike Slaughter

We judge books, movies and people by their covers. However, Jesus says we will be judged by our fruit. This week we look for the unexpected in seeing how Jesus “flips” judgment into favor. 

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Matthew 21:28-32 

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At the Movies: St. Vincent


We judge books, movies and people by their covers. However, Jesus says we will be judged by our fruit. This week we look for the unexpected in seeing how Jesus “flips” judgment into favor. Daily devotionals that accompany each day's reading are also available on Facebook. They are created by a great Ginghamsburg unpaid servant team. You do not have to be a Facebook user to access them. View here.

Day 1: Read Leviticus 26:1-46

God asks Israel to be obedient to his laws. Other cultures worshiped carved and created idols to earn favor? What would Israel’s rewards for obedience to God’s law be? Its punishments? Can favor be earned?

Day 2: Read Leviticus 19:15

God tells us not to favor the poor or rich but to “judge your neighbor fairly.” Why can God give favor (see day 1), but humans are asked not to? How does favor differ from judgment? What things are a part of a person’s “cover” that we judge?

Day 3: Read Zechariah 11:10

Israel rejected God as its shepherd, didn’t obey the law and was punished. Read all of Zechariah 11. Notice the rejection, the amount of money, the broken covenant and the loss of favor. How have you rejected God, mishandled God’s money or broken the covenant?

Day 4: Read John 4:9; Matthew 9:10-11; Mark 10:13-14

Jesus flips God’s judgment into favor. How were these people considered unfavorable? How did the religious culture judge them? Whom do you judge as unfavorable today? Is this Jesus’ perspective?

Day 5: Read Matthew 21:28-38

One option was spoken by the father: “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” What was each son’s answer? Their actions? Why would the first son change his mind? Is this a sign of repentance? How do actions reflect the heart of a person?

Day 6: Read John 15:1-17

The sons were asked to “work the vineyard today.” The Father asks us to remain in the vineyard today. How is bearing fruit a sign of God’s favor? Whom does the fruit glorify? What is the greatest fruit we can bear?

Day 7: Read Acts 10:34-48

Peter shares his revelation about the true work of Jesus. Who could now receive favor from the Lord? What is required to receive forgiveness for one’s sins? What/Who provides the power to do good (verse 38)? Have you found favor? 

(Read daily reflections at   

Sermon Transcript

May 2 & 3, 2015

Sermon Series: At The Movies: St. Vincent

Mike Slaughter, Lead Pastor


Thanks for joining us for our series, At The Movies. This weekend’s feature is “St. Vincent.”

I think it’s appropriate that we’re under construction here, building a new stage. Isn’t that an appropriate metaphor for who we are in Christ? We are under construction as the people of God.”

I also want to call your attention to just one thing in the bulletin. It’s Headlines: Change The World Weekend, which is May 16 and 17. About five years ago, a movement started out of Ginghamsburg with the question: what would happen if the same weekend each the year, churches would leave their walls to go out and serve community?

We didn’t have any idea how big it would grow, but two years ago, 250,000 people participated in sixteen different countries from something that started here in 2010. Isn’t that great?

If you would, put that on your calendar. Whether you can work a half a day or a full day, work on one of the projects that we’ll be doing around Dayton. It’s a powerful thing. It’s a powerful example to your children. This year, we have a new option where nanas and papas, grandparents, work with their grandchildren on that day.

There’s a church visiting with us from Hinton, West Virginia. Can you stand up so we can see you? Pastor, stand up a minute. You were my seminary student last year, right? I told you to go back to West Virginia, and do what? Change the world! Cast a vision! It looks like you’re doing that, right? You were here last night, and I said, “Maybe I need to up your grade.” You said, “You can’t, I got the best grade!” Well, then you deserved it. You deserved it. Welcome.

Now, will you open your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 21? The movie this weekend is St. Vincent. How many of you have seen the movie?

Several of you have said to me, “Pastor, how can we talk about that movie in church? It’s not for children.” Amen, it is not for children.

But in the same way, why can we use this movie? By the way, I would rename it Unlikely Saints. Why can we use it? The Bible is filled with stories of dysfunctional people whom God uses, while they’re still broke.

Here are a few examples: Judah and Tamar. It’s absurd—a horrific story of dysfunction. Judah goes out to buy favors from a prostitute. His daughter-in-law, who has something against Judah, is disguised. You know how women in the Middle East cover themselves totally from head to foot. So he hires his daughter-in-law, who’s trying to get back at him. He hires her as a prostitute. She becomes pregnant, and has a baby she names Perez out of this sick relationship. But here’s what God does. Perez becomes part of the lineage of Jesus.

Now, we know the craziness of David and Bathsheba. David, in the New Testament, is called “a man after God’s own heart.” David has an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. She becomes pregnant, and then David has her husband, Uriah, murdered.

Hosea and Gomer. Hosea buys a wife out of prostitution. She continues to be unfaithful, goes to work with her pimp again, and Hosea buys her back out of prostitution from the man who owns her. Moral of the story is we continue to play the prostitute on God, but God never gives up and continues to buy us back.

Samson’s addictions. Sampson not only had sexual addictions, but also alcoholic addictions. The Philistines were famous for making beer. What else was he doing when he continually went and partied with the Philistines?

We read about Solomon’s harem. All of these stories would make St. Vincent seem tame. What do they mean? God loves, God calls, God uses unlikely saints. God loves, God calls and God uses broken people before we’re fixed.

Now, one of the reasons I kind of love Bill Murray in movies is we’re about the same age and he goes all the way back, if you’re around my age, to being one of the key cast members on Saturday Night Live when it was good.

How many of you remember some of the movies? He’s always playing kind of a dysfunctional, broken loser in a movie.

How many of you remember Stripes, What about Bob, Groundhog Day? He’s a self-focused, broken kind of person. Even the title of one of his latest movies, Lost in Translation.

If you haven’t seen the movie, we’re kind of introduced to this character that Bill Murray plays—a man by the name of Vincent or Vince.

In the very first five minutes of the movie, we see he has an alcohol addiction. He’s in a bar and even the bartender is concerned and cuts him off. He drives home under the influence, crashes into his own fence, has this strange ongoing relationship with a prostitute, and what to me really sums up his life, he goes into a bank only to discover he has a negative balance. Negative balance is a good description of his life.

Definitely not the neighbor you would want to move in next door or the man that you would have babysit your children, which is exactly what happens in this movie when a single mom moves in next door with her young son who has been abandoned by her husband.

Now, in this scene that I want to show you, the woman and her son are just moving into the neighborhood. The movers accidentally back into a limb that falls and crashes on his 30-year old junk Chrysler. Watch this clip.

You definitely don’t want to go home and watch this with your children because that scene had all kinds of profanity. Dan is just an expert in editing that out. Did he do a great job? It seems seamless. You wouldn’t know. He does an excellent job. Again, it’s not what you watch with your children.

Now, what we see by this point is the word ‘saint’ and ‘Vincent’ would not exist on the same planet. Those are two words that do not go together. However, why did Jesus always use people in his illustrations that were offensive to the religiously correct?

Look at the parables he told. Always, he turned it upside down and would choose what religiously correct people would place outside the boundaries of God’s favor as the heroes.

Look at the scripture, Matthew 21:28.

This context is Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. So he’s speaking with the conflict that is happening that week, is with the religiously correct leaders. He’s telling a parable in verse 28.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go to work today in the vineyard.’

‘I will not,’ he answered. But later he changed his mind and went…”

In other words, he said I’m not buying into your agenda, God. I’m not signing up. But later, did what he was supposed to do.

“…Then the father went to the other son and said to do the same thing. He answered, ‘I will sir,’ but he did not go…”

He had all the right words, but not the follow through.

“…Which of the two did what his father wanted?

‘The first,’ they answered. Jesus said to them…” Now just hear the impact of this. “…Truly, I tell you the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you…”

Whoa. You talk about turning something upside down. “…For John [John the Baptist] came to you to show you the way of righteousness and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

It is hard to find an illustration Jesus uses that doesn’t offend. He always chooses the opposite. He makes the opposite the example of who you and I would place outside the favor of God.

When the leader, the religious leader, came to Jesus and he said to Jesus, what’s the greatest commandment? Remember what Jesus said? He said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Well, who is my neighbor?

Again, boom. Jesus turns it upside down. He used a very offensive illustration.

To us it’s not offensive because to us, we see the goodness in it. But he used the example of a Samaritan. What do we call that Samaritan today? ‘Good’ and ‘Samaritan’ to a good Jewish believer would not go together in the same sentence. It’s like saying ‘Saint Vincent’. Samaritans did not hold, they had different scriptures, to what you and I call the Holy Scriptures today. They did not have the right doctrine about salvation and means of atonement. But Jesus, wham, hits them in the gut and he says these are the people who don’t hold to the right doctrines, but they’re doing the right thing, is what he is saying to this man.

Now to see the context, go back to verse 12. What was the first thing that Jesus did when he went into Jerusalem? He went into the temple and he cleared or cleansed the temple.

The temple represented the righteousness of God and the presence of God. This is where God’s saving work takes place. This is where Holy people are admitted. Women and gentiles aren’t let into the room. Only Holy people are let into this place.

And what is Jesus saying? He says it is the religiously correct people that need to be cleansed.

You drop down to verse 18. Look at verse 18. Early in the morning, he goes back into the city. At night, he stays outside of Jerusalem in that week. He goes back into the city. He’s hungry so he sees a fig tree. He goes over to it. There are no figs, only leaves.

He knew, this is totally a symbolic act because when is Passover? Spring, right? Easter and Passover are always at the same time. Figs come in in the fall. But the fig tree was the symbol of Israel. Do you see on this ancient Hebrew coin that I’m showing you, that the fig tree was imprinted on their coin?

So what he is saying—it’s the symbol of Israel—you have all of the appearance of faith, with no substance. You have all of the trappings of faith, all of the doctrines of faith, without its fruit.

Now here’s the bottom line, sisters and brothers, right action trumps right doctrine. Right action trumps right doctrine. Jesus is not a doctrine. Jesus is a living relationship. Jesus, in this relationship, lifts us into a new way of living and leads us into a new way of loving, right?

How will people know you’re my disciples? Not because you get all of the answers right on the doctrinal quiz. But by the way you love one another. And the only way we can love, Jesus put it this way – He said I am the vine. You are the branches. If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit. But apart from me, you can do nothing.

Now, again, he’s turning it upside down. If you and I were alive in the first century, we would have gone to the temple, and on the temple doors, in gold, were this beautiful intricate carving of grapes on a vine, which mean you’ll find life in the temple, and in the law contained in the temple. And Jesus is saying, no, life is not in the temple. I am the vine. You are the branches. If you will abide in me, you will bear much fruit.

I had lunch this week with my good friend, Pat Murray. Pat Murray is pastor at Living Word Church, a wonderful, spirit-filled pastor. Pat and I were talking about how Christianity is the fastest dying faith in America—those outside the church perceive us as haters. Pat and I agree there is such a lack of love coming from the church.

Pat said, “Mike, here’s the problem. For most people in the church today, the Trinity is the Father, Son and Holy Scriptures. No. It’s the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” He said, “Mike, the only way you can know God the Father and God the Son today is through this relationship through the presence of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not in this vital, abiding this relationship with the Holy Spirit, you revert to the scriptures.”

In the scriptures, just like the Pharisees, what did they do with the scriptures? “Jesus, the scripture says we must stone her.” Right? So, folks, don’t go out of here, I hear people go out of here all the time, Pastor Mike doesn’t believe the Bible. The Bible is the most important book in the world. I was up from 5 to 7 this morning, which is my habit, which is my custom, just meditating on what the Holy Spirit was saying to me through this Word. But I’m going to say this, the most important book in the world - is it inspired? Yes it is inspired. But it does not contain life. It points to the One who is life.

Folks, I can’t take credit for saying that. That’s not my quote. That’s Jesus’ quote. In chapter 5 of John, here’s exactly what he says. He said to the religiously correct, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

See, we’re not saved because we keep the Holy Scriptures. We don’t receive eternal life because we keep the Holy Scriptures. There’s a lot in the Holy Scriptures that I’m still failing in. See, we are saved by faith through grace in Jesus Christ. Right?

I may flunk the doctrinal quiz on judgment day but I’m not saved by my grade on the doctrinal quiz. We’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, my sisters and brothers.

It’s why tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you, Jesus said, unlikely saints.

When Carolyn and I do these movie series, we go on retreat and we go through many movies. We sit there with yellow pads on our laps. For some movies, I can find no Jesus operative principals. I try. I watched Birdman three times. I just couldn’t find anything in it. Maybe you can. I couldn’t. Carolyn said to me, what about St. Vincent? She said there’s really a lot of good Jesus biblical stuff in St. Vincent. I’m so thankful for Carolyn. Smile at her when you walk by because as we go through this series, and she commits to watching this with me, she forsakes watching her favorite TV show, The Voice.

I love this one scene. The priest, little Oliver is Jewish, but his mom’s sending him to a Catholic church. In this one scene, the priest is asking the kids to find ‘what is a saint?’ Watch this scene.

Carolyn and I sat down and we said, what are the Jesus operative principals that we can take from this movie? We came up with four things.

Here’s the first. We can let go of rendering spiritual judgment.

We need to listen more to Jesus. He said, do not judge. What does ‘do not’ mean? Why do we do it? He said, “Do not judge...” And he said,“…or you’ll be judged.” Does anybody in the room want judgment? No, we do not. As a matter of fact, he said this, “By the standard you judge others, you will be judged.” I want a real low bar.

Personally, I have a high biblical bar for myself, but I’m not going to judge you by that. Freely you have received grace, freely. Freely you have received forgiveness, freely. Right?

Now, it doesn’t mean that we don’t use discretion. When someone hurt one of my children—a family member hurt one of my children—I didn’t judge them. I forgave them, but I wasn’t dumb enough to ever leave my children alone with that person again. It doesn’t mean we don’t use discretion.

Here’s the second Jesus’ principal: We can be honest with others and ourselves about our own deficiencies, embracing God’s love and grace. Right?

Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I can be honest about my stuff. Shouldn’t we be? We can name our stuff. What happens in the church is we as Christians think that we have to play a certain kind of role. So we create sanctuaries for fake people. We do.

That’s why what Jesus meant when he said, “Deal with that big splinter in your own eye before you try to deal with the speck of dust in your sister’s or brother’s eye.” He doesn’t say that to condemn us.

Here’s the problem. Here’s what we do. Psychologists call it transference. We tend to project onto others the junk that we deny or fail to recognize in our own life. What you’re doing is projecting. So what Jesus is saying is, you’ve got this big splinter in your soul that’s keeping you from experiencing the abundant life for which I came. It’s keeping you from not experiencing great, deep health in your relationships. So quit projecting that through judgment on other people. Name it.

What I love about our Next Step service here on Saturday night is it always begins with “I’m an alcoholic or I’m a drug addict.” We’re naming it. Everybody at Next Step knows they’re in recovery. They’re under construction.

When we know that, this should be the safest place in the world, this community. Like when Isaiah had this revelation of God, he said, Woe is me, I’m a person of unclean lips.” He named it. When Jesus blessed his disciples by calling them. Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord. I’m a sinner.” We can name it.

But then we need to hear what God says. “Yes, but you’re chosen. I choose you. Follow me. You are loved. You are blessed. You are anointed.” We can name it, sisters and brothers.

Now, here’s the third thing that I see here. We need to speak resurrection.

Bless and do not curse. See, you can curse me. I don’t have to receive it, but I’m not going to return curses to you. I’m going to speak resurrection to you. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, from your innermost being, shall flow rivers of living water.” In other words, we should be sources of refreshment in other people’s lives.

You’ve been hearing me say since Easter, “If you can’t find something good to say about somebody, find it. It may be hard. Look for it.”

It’s interesting. Jesus, in calling broken people before they were fixed, always gave them new names that they could live into. Peter was named Simon, which means blows in the wind. Anyway the wind blows, you go in that direction. Jesus said, “I’m going to call you, Petros.” Peter, we say, which means rock. What is that, calling him rock when everybody else was calling him a wimpy reed?

That’s the power of naming resurrection. One of the things we do too often, we’re quick to speak. We aren’t really listening. We need to listen and we need to try to hear and understand what has made people, the complex everything that makes us up. That’s what I loved in this movie. Bill Murray was really messed up, but Oliver went out to try to find what made him the kind of person he was. So, the priest gives this assignment. He tells all the kids go out and find a modern day saint. We are going to have an assembly. We’re going to invite your family. Then you will come up and make a presentation about a modern day saint. This was Oliver’s presentation.

The fourth Jesus take away is that we need to be safe space for all people. We need to create safe spaces. You know, Carolyn and I have named our home a safe place without hate. Our community needs to be a safe place for all people. I want to say it again. Christians in the church think we have to have our act together so we play that certain role when we are around each other. We do things when we’re away from here that we don’t do when we’re together. Am I right? We play that role. So again, we have really created sanctuaries for fake people.

I so appreciate Andy Stanley. How many of you know who Andy Stanley is? Andy Stanley is probably one of the best-known pastors in America. He pastors North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s the son of Charles Stanley; some of you know Charles Stanley. He is Southern Baptist; a very conservative community. On his webpage, he makes this statement, “The church should be the safest place on the planet for our gay children.” I mean, he’s putting his neck out there, but he’s speaking the truth of the safe place that we need to create.

Sometimes as your pastor, I need safe space. I feel isolated being out on point. People take shots at me, you know. I really need that safe space in community as God continues to do his saving work of grace in my life.

When you email me, please include your name. I will not judge you, but I think there’s something not right when we don’t own it. Someone emailed me over a week ago, and didn’t include a name. They ask me to watch a television program. It would have been a week ago Friday night. Diane Sawyer was going to interview Bruce Jenner. Well, I didn’t know much about Bruce Jenner. I hadn’t paid attention to that. Someone said, “What planet have you been living on? He’s on the Kardashians!” Well, I’ve never watched the Kardashians. Those kinds of reality shows do not tend to uplift my spirit. I have never seen that program, so I can’t tell you what it’s about.

I haven’t kept up with Bruce Jenner. The only thing I remember about him is he was an Olympic Gold Medal athlete and his picture was on the Wheaties box that we had at one time.

I watched the show that Friday night. The question in the email was, “Please let me know if he would be welcome in our church.” I didn’t know what the issue was. If any of you saw it, did any of you watch that interview? He identified himself as a transgender person. I emailed the person back and said, “Yes, he would be welcomed in this church.” If he’s watching live on the internet, you come to our church. Everyone’s welcome here. If I’m welcomed here—I hope I am welcomed here—then anyone should be welcomed here.

I noticed on Monday, there was this article on the Internet that Democrats who had supported Bruce Jenner were removing their support for coming out. I read the article. They weren’t removing their support because he was coming out as transgender. They knew that. They were removing their support because on that program, he came out as a Republican.

Now, is this world a crazy place? Is it? Should we not be a radically different kind of community representing the kingdom of God that is different from any community that people witness on earth?

The devil has to be laughing. You know why? We have taken the focus off of the Savior Jesus and made the focus where people stand on issues. We’re not saved by what we believe on issues. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. We have taken people’s attention off the means of grace and salvation who is Jesus the Lord.

Everyone today is asking where do you stand on this issue? Where do you stand on that issue? I’m going to steal this from a pastor from New York. Someone shoved the mic in his face and asked where Hillsong Church, which is a pretty big church, where do you stand on the issue of homosexuality. And here was his response—it was a good response—he said, “Our stand on everything is love, and everything else is a conversation.”

We changed that a bit here. Here’s the way I’m saying it, “My stand is Jesus on everything, and everything else is a conversation.” Is that not what we should say? Our stand is Jesus on everything and everything else is a conversation. For on Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. On Christ the solid rock I stand.

Now before we come to this table this morning, I want to give anyone an opportunity. Maybe you have never made that confession of faith and you want to today, or you want to recommit to that confession of faith. Jesus. Jesus is my stand on everything. On Christ, the solid rock I stand. Amen.

Will you pray with me church?

Father God of all that is loving and merciful and forgiving and holy, we come to you today confessing our disobedience. To follow you in love as you call. It’s not that we don’t believe, but we put our own ideas and opinions first. We say we will obey and then we defy your authority and refuse to turn from judgment and sin. Forgive us Lord as we humbly approach your table. Remind us to live holy in love, as Jesus is holy and loving.

We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the loaf and he broke it. He said this is my body broken for you. Take and eat.

He lifted the cup and said this cup represents my blood of the new covenant shed for you. Take and drink.

Will the servers please come forward?

This is the table of the Lord Jesus Christ. It belongs to no human institution. It’s not a Methodist table, a Protestant table or a Catholic table. Everyone is welcome to this table. The only requirement is that you’re willing to turn from your own stuff, your own ideas to totally commit yourself under the authority of Jesus Christ.

When the servants are in front of your section, as the Spirit would lead you, move out of the right side of your aisle. Come. We take communion by intinction, which means you cup your hand. They’ll place bread in your hand. Dip it in the cup and you can return to your seat. I’ll come forward and dismiss us at the same time.

What a reminder that our life is what Jesus meant when he said unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood. He’s not talking about literally but that his life becomes our life. And that’s where there’s peace. Do you feel peace in here right now? There’s joy. There’s acceptance. There’s diversity. This is how God made the world.

As people are partaking, I also want to say this; I love being your pastor. I’m not planning to go anywhere soon.

This has been a really really hard week. As of this morning, 8,000 had been identified in Nepal; then the burning in Baltimore this week. I did a blog. If you haven’t read it already, go to It’s called “A World on Fire.”

UMCOR, United Methodist Committee on Relief, who we work with in Sudan, is now on the ground in Nepal. At work the first day, $90,000 of relief money went in. What they need is immediate emergency relief so we are going to take an exit offering today. Every dollar that goes in on your way out the door will go towards immediate emergency relief through UMCOR in Nepal. God bless you. See you next week.

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