Sunday, June 17, 2007

the gospel according to shrek

I don’t often blog my sermons, because they are verbal pieces of work and contextual to a specific life situation. But the following groups of readers might be interested in today’s sermon.

1. Shrek fans, who might appreciate some Christian reflection on the movie.
2. Readers interested in the relationship between gospel and culture, specifically how a Christian might engage with film.
3. The sermon was preached to 50 kids and 130 adults at our bi-monthly intergenerational (Take a Kid to faith) services, so those interested in all-age communication might be interested in the use of 2 video clips, the group activity and the response.
3. Those with an interest in theology, particularly how the gospel of Jesus can be named without drawing on substitutionary atonement metaphors. Thus the sermon outlines Irenaus theology of recapitulation and Julian of Norwich’s use of Christ as an objective love. (Bearing in mind that I am trying to explain Jesus with a kid’s eye view – which is, I think, the ultimate test of a theological idea anyhow.)

Update: if you want some visuals, just found a 3 min vblog by Iain McMahon, which includes some vid of me wearing a Princess Fiona wig! (Isn’t there a verse in 1 Corinthians about becoming all things to all people!)

Start by showing Shrek 1 trailer

Once upon a time there lived an ogre (put on Shrek ogre ears)
A big, green and grumpy ogre,
With bad, stinky breath,
Who lived in a swamp,
and loved mud. And burps and farts. And ate rats.
Who’s name was ……….. Shrek

An ogre who grew up believing
that being an ogre meant he had scare people,
chase people and when he caught people, to eat people.

And through the movie, we see an ogre who realises that there can be a difference between the ogre outside and the ogre inside.

That Shrek inside doesn’t have to mean and nasty and gumpy ogre.
That Shrek inside doesn’t have to eat people,
That Shrek inside doesn’t have to live alone in the swamp.
That an ogre can love. And that an ogre can be loved.

Once upon a time there lived a noble stead, otherwise known as donkey. (put on set of donkey ears)
A fast talking donkey.
A donkey who mets Shrek
A donkey who goes along with Shrek as he sets out on his mission.
A donkey that Shrek can’t get rid of.

And throughout the movie, donkey realises that there can be a difference between the donkey inside and the donkey outside.

That donkey can love. And that donkey can be loved.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess. (put on Princess Fiona wig)
Named Fiona. Who lives imprisoned in a castle.
Waiting to be rescued.

A Fiona who will turn into an ogre when the sun goes down.
A Fiona, who falls in love with Shrek,
A Fiona who decides that she’d rather be an ogre married to an ogre, than a beautiful princess.

And so we have the final scene (Play final scene from Shrek 1)

2 ogres living happily ever after, riding off into the sunset,

And so the movie Shrek refuses to give us your typical, Hollywood, once upon a time, beautiful princess, fairytale ending. Instead, the journey in Shrek is not about wishing you were as pretty as the girl beside you, or as speedy in soccer as your best friend, or as smart as the adult in front of you.

Shrek is about becoming glad of who you are and how you’re made. And it’s the discovery that when you accept who you are, only then are you truly free to love and be loved.

Now Shrek is a once upon a time fairystory. And none of us today live in fairystories. Sure, we have some beautiful princesses. But none of us today are ogres. And none of us are talking donkeys.

But we all live today in a society that looks at the outside. We all live in a society that wants to put labels on us.

Whenever we see an ad on TV, we are being offered a label: that in order to be happy, we need a certain pair of shoes, a certain car, a certain drink, a certain perfume.

So I want you to get into groups, ask each other, “What are the labels that society wants to hang on us today?”

I have some great big (A3 size) labels, with a picture of Shrek holding up 3 fingers with words – minds, bodies, spiritual relationship. I want you in groups to write the labels that society wants to hang on us today?

(Walk around groups. Collect a word from each group. Summarise and recap)

I want to finish by asking, what a Christian should think of Shrek?

I think a Christian should say about Shrek movie: YES, AND

YES: Shrek is right. Yes, when God made human beings, back in the first chapter of the Bible, God said “Let us make human beings in our image.” So Shrek is right. It’s what God made on the inside, not the outside. That because God made us, we can be comfortable in our own skin. None of us need to put on the labels that other people give us.

My label at school used to be “four foot.” Because I was so small. But inside, I’m not four foot. I’m Steve Taylor, made in God’s image.

So Yes. Shrek is right. All of us are made special, inside, in God’s image.

Because as Christians, we look honestly at ourselves and at people through history. If we’re honest, we know that all alone, all by ourselves, none of us can ever achieve our full purpose, can ever be fully made in God’s image.
Which is why Jesus is so important to Christians. Jesus does 2 things.

Firstly, Jesus becomes a benchmark, a standard by which we can tell what it means to be made in God’s image.

Say I punch you really, really hard on the arm. And it hurts so much that you start crying. Or I say something really, really nasty about you. And it hurts and you start crying.

But I just shrug my shoulders and say, Be happy, I love you.

You say: Love isn’t punching people or saying nasty things.

I say, “Well it is to me.” And you and I are stuck. Both of us with a different idea of what love is.

Until we look to Jesus. And we find a benchmark, this standard: that’s what it means to love God and how to treat people and give your life in sacrifice for others.

It’s easy to say, oh, compared to other people, I’m a good person. Until we look at Jesus and find that benchmark of how to live.

Secondly, Jesus is a living example, of what it means to be made in God’s image.

It’s like those toys you put in water. And over time they swell up and grow and grow into their true shape.

So when we look at Jesus we see a living example, a living model, the true shape of what it means to be made in God’s image. We find this in Romans 8:29 “We see the original and intended shape of our lives in Jesus.” And becoming a Christian is asking God to throw us in the water, to baptise us, so that in God’s power we grow and grow into our true Jesus shape.

So becoming a Christian starts with each of us taking a good hard look at our labels. And saying. God, I don’t want to live by other people’s labels anymore. They mess me up. God, I want to turn the label over.

I want to say Yes to being made in God’s image. I want to jump into God’s water and, by the power of God’s Spirit, to grow into my true Jesus shape.

That’s what becoming a Christian is all about.

And for those who are already Christians. If you’re honest, you know that you always face the temptation of turning your label back over, of listening once again to the outward labels. And so you might need to recommit yourself again to the life-long journey of you growing into your true Jesus shape.

So Shrek isn’t just a kids movie. Shrek’s got a message for all ages.
We live in a world of labels. But Shrek reminds us that if you want to see greatness, look on the inside.

The movie Shrek ends with the song, I’m a believer. The song was chosen because of the line “I thought love was only true in fairy tales.”

But as Christians we can sing: “I thought love was only true in fairy tales; Then I saw his face, Jesus face, Now I’m a believer.” Because in Jesus we can all grow into our original and true Jesus shape. So that’s the gospel according to Shrek.

Response: Each group might like to bring up their label and place it under Jesus cross.

Posted by steve at 10:08 PM


  1. Soon I shall become the David Attenborough of the Church Handy-cam scene!

    My viewership went up by about 4 times since you plugged my vblog 😀

    *british accent* “And here we see the herd animals milling around in groups, where they are safest. With the pack-leader employing a disguise to hide from predators, tension seems high – especially among those who didn’t bring any clothes to cross-dress with.”

    Comment by Iain — June 18, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  2. does the bible teach this????

    Comment by light — June 21, 2007 @ 7:12 am

  3. John Doe, such a brave name! I presume you didn’t read the sermon, which is based on Genesis 1:28 and Romans 8:29.

    Comment by steve — June 21, 2007 @ 9:39 am

  4. Are you serious? This is based on Genesis 1:28 and Romans 8:29? I’ve heard of twisting scripture to fit a plot, but this is the opposite, twisting a plot to fit scripture. And I don’t see any very good representation of the scriptures, by the way. Where do you guys come up with such ideas?
    My 9 year old would laugh you out of the room for trying to tell her that this movie somehow represents the Biblical story of Christ.

    Comment by Jim W — June 21, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  5. James, thanks for dropping by. You ask “where do I come up with my ideas?”

    Good question. I went along to see Shrek 3 with my children. I come away from the movie pondering the question “how, as a Christian father, should I help my kids think about the movie?” If I say nothing, or if I fail to help them connect the movie with their faith, I don’t think I’m being a good parent.

    As I continued to think about the movie it seems to me to have a message of “what is on the inside is important, so accept who you are.” That’s the message being sent.

    So I start to think about that in light of the Biblical narrative. What does the Bible say about “what is on the inside is important, so accept who you are.”

    That was were the idea for the sermon came from. I preach, wanting to say “yes .. and.”

    Yes, Genesis 1 does affirm that all humans are made in the image of God. So yes, I want to applaud the Shrek message that what is inside is important.

    But what is on the inside of humans is not enough to save them. Hence the “And.”

    “And,” that Jesus comes, as it say in Romans 8:29, as the new Adam, and in so opens the way for humans to be restored, in Christ, to the image of God.

    So that where the sermon came from. It emerges from my desire to help my children think Christianly about the movies that they watch. I went them to be able to think through their faith.

    So, having explained, I’d be fascinated to hear from you: what did you, or your church, do to help your 9 year old think about the movie? What tools do you offer her to think Christianly about fairy stories?

    I’d also like to point out that Jesus seemed very happy to use items from his cultural world – lost sheep and birds of the field and yeast – to explain the Kingdom. And that Paul in Acts 17 starts with the poetry of his culture. So why do you get so snooty about my use of the movies?


    Comment by steve — June 21, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  6. Good job keeping your eyes open and finding connections! Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Comment by Kevin I — June 22, 2007 @ 4:42 am

  7. I like that, Steve. I especially like the toy in the bath analogy.

    I’ve questionned something you did in the past (a communion service using txt messages, that I discussed at Organic Church), but I honestly can’t understand anyone having problems with this.

    Bless you.

    Comment by graham — June 23, 2007 @ 1:46 am

  8. I’d like to see you do the shrek communion txt service…

    which reminds me im gonna pick up that subwoofer theology stuff this month on the blog and might ask for some feedback (been thinking of providing a paper to our national youth workers conf)


    Comment by darren — June 28, 2007 @ 3:21 am

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