Pentecost 12 – Summer Series “Faith and Film”
August 12, 2018
Grace, Mankato, MN
1 Peter 4.1-11
Les Miserables takes place in 1815 post-revolutionary France and opens with prison convict Jean Valjean being released on parole. He has served a 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread as well as repeated escape attempts. After several months of drifting around France, being shunned by all and unable to find work, Valjean is offered food and shelter by a Bishop. Here is what happens…
Valjean steals the church’s silver and is caught by the authorities, but the Bishop lies by saying that the silver was given as a gift, and goes even farther by handing Valjean silver candlesticks saying, “You forgot these.” He then secures Valjean's release and gives him a blessing, exhorting him to use this new wealth for good.Buoyed by this unexpected and lavish gift, Valjean will break parole and begin a new life. The theme that we are exploring today is grace and I know of no better example than this one in Les Miserables. As I thought about this clip, I was prodded to think about the difference between mercy and grace. I think both are at work here, but grace overshadows mercy by a fair degree and I think that it always does. For example, if the bishop had simply thanked the police for returning the silver, forgiven Valjean and refused to press charges, that would have been mercy. Grace, on the other hand goes even farther by the gift of silver, more than Valjean could ever have dreamed.
I’m guessing your reaction to this movie clip is similar to mine: “I couldn’t do that!” That reaction both isn’t the point of the story and is the point of the story. It isn’t the point because it is God who lavishes grace upon us, who are as undeserving as Valjean. As John 1.16 says, “From his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” But it is the point because we are not merely receivers of God’s grace; we are stewards of God’s grace as well. 1 Peter 4.10 says, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” As the film goes on, Valjean will do just that. He will use his wealth in the service of others.
We also see that, as Valjean runs from the policeman who has sworn to hunt him down and return him to prison, he carries with him his diminishing cache of silver. However, one thing he never sells and we always see him carry are candlesticks. I think the candlesticks symbolize both the incredible gift Valjean has received and the awesome responsibility that comes with the gift. As a steward of God’s grace, he dispenses grace to others.
The question I want to leave with you today is, “What are your ‘candlesticks’?” What gift have you received from God that God has called you to care for and lavish upon others? I know you have them, even if you think you don’t. If you’re not sure what they are, ask someone else who knows you. 1 Peter says that God’s grace is manifold, which means “of many different kinds” or “many forms,” so your “candlesticks” may take a surprising form. Even then, God is not done for we are promised that we will do so with the strength God supplies, another of God’s graces. Thanks be to God! Amen.