Imagine that one of your friends invites you to join him or her to see a movie with a group of people you don’t really know. After the movie you grab a cup of coffee together and someone asks, “What did you think of the movie?” If you admit that the movie was really good, this group may think your standards of good art are very low. If you admit that the movie was awful, they might think you are a cold-hearted snob. So we might find ourselves saying something like, “I thought it was ok,” so that later in the conversation you can amend your answer to fit what the group is saying about the movie. When you reveal yourself, your likes, your dislikes, your passion, your fears, you make yourself vulnerable in a way.
At the beginning of The Little Mermaid we see a sweet, innocent, naïve mermaid who is learning about the world. We see her in this light because she is mesmerized by the simplest of things. She sees a fork and is awestruck. When she is in her grotto, she is curious about what we might consider to be mundane—a candle burning, someone walking down a street on . . . feet. The audience receives all of this personal information about her and we see her as naïve and simple.
This is, I’m convinced, why youth live in a perpetual state of simile. Nothing is what it is. Everything is like something else. A common Friday night conversation would be, “Like, we went to the football game, and we sat with, like, some of our friends. Afterwards we, like, went to starbucks, but it was, like, dead, so we went to Jason’s house, and like, hung out there for a while . . . etc.” Nothing is. Everything is like something else. Living in simile is a relative safe place because you’re not revealing too much about yourself.
Youth live in a wonderful and difficult time of self-discovery. This journey doesn’t really end, does it? I pray that everyday you are learning new blessings about who God created you to be, but in Middle School and High School, things that never matter are of ultimate concern. You begin to discover gifts and talents that you’ve never noticed before. That girl in English class you’ve never noticed before? Well, now you’re noticing her, and what does it mean? Now you are much more concerned with whom you are sitting in the cafeteria. We begin to construct these boxes into which we must fit. Am I an athlete? Am I a musician? Am I a drama kid? Am I a geek or a nerd, and which one is better to be?
King Triton has a definitive box planned for Princess Ariel. As a princess, there are certain things she is supposed to do and not do. Ariel is curious about the world, especially the human world. Being curious of humanity is not supposed to fit in the box her father has prepared for her. When King Triton discovers that Ariel has fallen in love with a human, we literally see fireworks as the King destroys all of the human knick-knacks she has collected over the years. Defiantly, she rebels and becomes human so that she might live happily ever after, but when she gets to the surface, happily ever after is hardly what happens.
Oh, if life was full of happily-ever-after moments. The apostle Paul knows how happily-ever-after isn’t always so. The scripture lesson we heard today from Philippians, is written from jail. He writes, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.” I find it interesting that Paul says, “most of the brothers and sisters [have been made confident].” Not all. Some are in need of encouragement so he writes, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
He continues with what we in the church call, “The Philippian Christ Hymn,” which is one of the earliest snapshots of who Jesus is. Paul’s letters predate the Gospels. Paul never says, “According to the Gospel of John Jesus did this, that, and the other.” Here we have a very early snapshot of the Good News the early followers of Jesus were telling. He says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” There’s that word again. He was, like, human. He was God, but was found to be in humanity’s box, so to speak. God is making the divine heart known to humanity. God is revealing a desire and love for humanity, and as I mentioned before, revealing your desire . . . makes you vulnerable. Paul continues and says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
God knows what it’s like to be found sitting at the wrong table in the cafeteria. God knows what it’s like to be made fun of. God knows what it’s like to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. God knows what it’s like to be betrayed by a dear friend—Judas, you betray me with a kiss? God knows the pain of heartbreak. Paul is reminding the community that God knows our pain and our shortcomings, and the Good News is that the story doesn’t end there—“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Christ was fully human and fully divine, both to proclaim that God knows us and that God desires to be with us today and forever.
Paul goes on to say, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I’ve already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Paul is calling us to be united in Christ—to have the same mind of Christ, the same heart of Christ. In the words of a Middle Schooler, we are to be, like, Christ. Through humility and love our lives are transformed that no matter at what table the world wants us to be seated, be it Geek, Jock, or Nerd, we will sit at the table of the wedding feast with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is one reason why I love the closing scene of the Little Mermaid. In it we see a wedding, we see a rainbow in the sky, a symbol of God’s promise. You see, Ariel may have become human at the end of the story, but it was King Triton’s heart that was transformed. God became human out of desire to be with us, and through the Incarnation, our hearts are changed.
Paul ends his letter saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about whether or not you’re supposed to sit at the popular table, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, whatever award you get at the honor’s banquet, whatever your stats at the end of the season, whatever letter jacket you wear, whatever science fair ribbon you receive, whatever your social status, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” May you today begin your journey to become, like, Jesus. Amen and Amen.