Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Faith at the Abyss: Indiana Jones Walks on Nietzsche”
Sermon, Year C, Trinity, June 2, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: 1 Kings 18:20-39 and Luke 7:1-10

There are in these two passages, the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson, a couple men here who take risks. Two men who take some risks born out of their faith, and rooted either in their trust in God or their willingness to at least, for a moment, give up their lack of trust. Or for a moment, believe that this God can be trusted. At least for a moment to dare to trust.

And part of this, maybe, is because they had a goal. They had a clear vision. They had something that they wanted. Elijah and this Centurion. Elijah wanted to show that God is God, and is the only god. And the Centurion wants his slave in good health. Wants him to be healthy again.

They had something that they wanted to see done, and they took some risks of faith and of trust in these stories.

And I was reading these, and maybe just because the Old Testament kind of reads like an adventure movie, but I got to thinking about Indiana Jones. Probably not all of you have seen it, but many of you have seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third movie, in which he is search of the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used at the last supper. Indiana is seeking the Holy Grail, and they find out where it is. It is out in the desert in the middle of nowhere hidden in a cave. They also know that it has three booby traps in the way. Indiana has clues to get through them. He gets through the first two, and is walking toward the grail. He finally can almost see where the grail literally is. As he walks, he comes through a doorway and comes out on the edge of a cliff. A huge, deep chasm, and o the other side is the cave that he knows that the Holy Grail is in. He knows there is no way to get across. There is nothing there for him to get across.

So here he is, on this side of the chasm. And the goal, the thing he wants is in a cave on the other side. In between is a chasm so deep it might as well go on forever. There is an abyss, a void, in front of him that goes down into infinity. The only clue that he says, “Only in the leap from the Lion’s Head will be prove his worth.” The people that hid the grail left these clues behind. “Only in the leap from the Lion’s Head will be prove his worth.” And Indiana Jones is on the edge of the cliff with this book with the clues in it, wondering what it might mean and what he has to do. And he finally realizes that he just has to trust that whoever hid the Grail made it possible to find it. That it is findable. That there is a way to complete this quest. It is a puzzle that is solvable and doable. And Indiana Jones has to find it because his father has just been shot by Nazis a couple hundred yards and is dying. They are out in the desert, so the Grail is the only thing that has the power to heal his father. There is no way they can get him to a hospital in time.

And Indiana Jones is not a believer.

He is an archeologist, but not a believer. But his dad, played by Sean Connery, is a believer and he has been seeking the Holy Grail for decades. That has been his life’s work, finding Grail lore and trying to find out where it is. For his dad, this is an act of dedication, an act of faith, to want to find the Grail. For Indiana it was more the pursuit of an archeological relic that didn’t really mean anything to him. But now his dad is dying, and so the Grail quest becomes for him an act of devotion: to heal his dad. To heal his dad.

So he must trust that there is some way across this chasm. That there is something that will allow him to cross. He has to trust that the clues his dad discovered are real clues. And he is not a truster, Indiana Jones. Now that is all he has left. The only thing that is going to save him is trust. So he gathers up his courage and he puts a foot out over what looks to be this chasm, and steps forward. There is no way to recover from it. If he is going to plunge, he will plunge. He commits himself to it. And he lands on a bridge. An invisible bridge. He walks across and finds the grail. He takes a risk of faith, finds the Grail, heals his dad, and there is a big fight with Nazis and an earthquake and you have to watch it to know the rest.

It is a powerful moment that Indiana Jones who is an academic archeologist, that sees the world more as history and as relics, but he is not a man of faith or a man of belief. In this situation he is stripped of all his academese, his rationality, reason, and his world-view. All he is left with is to trust in his father’s faith. To trust that his father was right. So that he can heal and save his father.

The Centurion in the Gospel story very much like that. Very much like that. The Centurion is Roman, he is not Jewish. He is not a believer in Jesus’ religion. It is not part of his race or his country. He is as different from Jesus and from Judaism just about as one can be. But he is the same in that he has the capacity to love and to care, in his case for his slave, as any human being. He wants his slave to be healed. There is no reason for him to believe that Jesus was anything but some crazy man from the desert. Or he has no reason to believe, if he is a religious leader of these Jewish people, he is still the leader of what was to Rome a kind of fringe, old, weird religion that was not their (Rome’s) religion. He has no reason to trust in Jesus.

But, he wants his slave to live. He has a goal, a vision. Like Indiana in the end had all his wants thrown away except wanting to save his father, the Centurion has all his wants thrown away except for his slave to be healthy, to live, to be whole. Once the Centurion had that clarity of thought, taking action became easier.

So he calls for Jesus, this healer that he has heard of.

Was it a last ditch offer for the Centurion? Maybe.

Was this just one of many shotgun of attempts that he had tried every cure or possibility that came his way? Perhaps.

Was he grasping at straws? Could have been.

But none of those make it any less an act of faith, or leap of faith, or risk of faith. He still acted.

He took this risk. He takes many risks here. He takes the risk that his slave’s life is actually worth the effort to save, which certainly would not have always been the case for slaves. He takes the risk that help for his slave actually existed, and was findable, and was possible. He takes the risk of believing that it could be done. He takes the risk that if he helps to save this slave, then all of his slaves might expect similar heroic measures from their master, the Centurion.

But that is part of the cost of taking risks in love.

The Centurion even takes the risk of saying that Jesus doesn’t even need to be there. Jesus doesn’t even need to be there to heal the slave. He can do it from far away. “I’m not worthy to have you come into my house; just say the word, and I trust that my slave will be healed.”

There is a risk of faith and of trust.

To risk that Jesus, unseen and unpresent, can still be who he is. Jesus can act from a distance. To risk that an act of love, that stepping out into nothingness, into the abyss, into the void, toward Jesus – or to risk that calling out to Jesus from within the void, or the abyss – to risk that that is doable. To risk that an act of love, even if it seems dangerous or foolish or not in your best interest, to risk that an act of love is worth far more than not acting, not taking the risk.

To trust God, and to trust Jesus, that if we love, if we act in love, if we take risks of faith because of love, then Jesus has our back. Jesus will support us. Jesus will guide us through. Jesus will give us the Holy Spirit to have the power to do what Jesus wants us to do. Which is not to say that we won’t have our lives turned upside down or changed, or that the status quo won’t become different through that.

Maybe the promise is that our lives will be changed. That our lives will be different by taking those risks of faith. They will be changed more and more and more toward our ultimate goal, focus, vision, which is to be a follower of Jesus. And to trust in the promises. To trust in God’s love. To trust in Jesus’ words. To trust, even if just for a moment, that God is God. That God truly is God. And that what we do here is true. True here, and out there. Outside these walls. Especially true out there in the world amongst our neighbors in Eau Claire, in Wisconsin, and in the world. To trust that what we do here is true, and it’s worth taking some risks for.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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