Sermon Transcript: "Truth in The Greatest Showman" (At the Movies, 7/15/18)

Showman Graphic.jpg

I love movies. Summer is just an endless buffet of fun for me. If I had more free time, I would constantly be watching movies. And I’m not alone. Each summer, people spend around 4 billion dollars watching movies.

Why do so many of us enjoy watching movies? We watch for fun, excitement, escapism. But I think there something even bigger. Well-crafted movies touch on deep, timeless truths, and that resonates with our heart and soul. So, in this series, we’re going to be looking at some of the deep, timeless truths in some of this year’s biggest movies.

We’re going to kick off this series with one of my favorite movies this year: The Greatest Showman. I LOVED it! So much so that I included it in this series even though it wasn’t a summer movie. But it was so good. I’m also a sucker for a good musical.

The Greatest Showman is a story about PT Barnum, the creator of the modern-day circus, nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But, before we dive into the movie, I want to make a disclaimer: This movie is not historically accurate. So, when I talk about PT Barnum in this sermon, I’m talking about the fictional version played by Hugh Jackman not the real, historical Barnum.

That said, let’s get on with the show! This is how The Greatest Showman begins:

Through 10 show-stopping numbers, we watch Barnum go from a child living in poverty to a successful ringmaster of a circus. And along the way, the movie deftly addresses some pretty deep themes— the American dream, family, race, class, prejudice, rejection, inclusion. It’s all in there.

But there’s one theme that really drives a lot of the story – the lure of wealth and success. Like I mentioned, Barnum grew up poor and dreamed of fancy clothes and big mansions. He got married, and they had 2 kids. They struggled for a while, but eventually he found some success with a troupe of performers.

But he really hit it big when he launched a tour of one of the best singers in Europe, and that’s when everything started to change. He was making millions. He was hobnobbing with the upper class. He had finally made it.

Here’s the song that captures that period in his life—the first American performance of Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale.”

Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it'll
Never be enough

And that’s the lure of wealth and success. It’s never enough. Unfortunately, Barnum didn’t learn that until he had lost almost everything. Well, he could have saved himself a whole lot of pain and agony if he had just remembered his Bible.

God’s Word says A LOT about the lure of wealth and success. But there’s one passage that captures the PT Barnum story so well. It’s out of the Old Testament, early in the history of the Israelites.

So far, God had freed them from slavery in Egypt through Moses. God led them through the desert for 40 years, as migrant travelers. And then, they find themselves on the banks of the Jordan River, looking across at the Promised Land. This was the land of Canaan that God had promised their forefather Abraham. It was lush and fruitful, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” At that point, Moses gives them some warnings.

Ya see, their lives were about to change forever. Their children would live with more prosperity than anyone in the desert generation. The kids would have homes, jobs, income that would be unimaginable to their parents back in the desert.

Now, if you’re Hmong, does that sound like anyone you know? For many of you, that probably also describes you and your parents. They grew up in Laos as 1st generation and you grew up in America as 2nd generation. You are experiencing levels of wealth, housing, education, opportunity, income (or at least income potential) that your parents never had back in Laos.

That’s a big reason why I picked this passage. It has so many parallels to what many of you as second-gen Hmong as living right now. And so, Moses’ warnings to the generation of Israelites are equally applicable to us.

We’re going look at a couple passages from the Book of Deuteronomy. Now, Deuteronomy is an interesting book. It’s basically one big farewell speech from a very old Moses, after the desert but before the Promised Land. The book is part history book, part religious law, part general advice for godly living, and part warning. The section we’re going to look at today is warning.

It’s two parts of the same section, from Deuteronomy chapters 6 & 8. You can read along on screen or in your own Bible or device.

In chapter 6, verse 10, he begins with the setup of this part of his speech.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord.” That’s the heart of Moses’ warning. He knows wealth. He grew up wealthy—as a prince of Egypt. He knows the lure of wealth like nobody standing before him knew. He’s telling them that their lives are about to change, they’re about to get some really good stuff. And if they’re not careful, they’re going to forget what’s really important. They’re going to forget God.

He continues with more instructions in chapter 7, and then returns to this warning in chapter 8. He paints two possible outcomes of living in their new land. I think we all face these two same options whenever we experience any amount of wealth or success. Here they are:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, PRAISE the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

That’s the first option. I’m gonna call this the ring of praise. (Barnum was famous for inventing the 3-ring circus. Today, we’ll talk about a two-ring circus.) The first is the ring of praise. This is where you praise God for everything he’s given you. In this ring, wealth and success actually draw you closer to God because you understand that it all came from God. Your faith grows stronger. You’re more generous not less. You commit more to the church not less. In this ring, faith thrives.

But, there’s another route, another ring. Moses goes to describe it:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 

That’s the other one: ring of pride. In this ring, you think less about God and more about yourself—your accomplishments, goals, family, plans. God becomes second place… or worse. In this ring, you prioritize yourself over others. You listen less. You love less. You give less.

This is the ring that PT Barnum got trapped in. All the money, success, high society—he chased after all this and left behind his wife, children, friends in the process.

A few verses later, Moses had a great way to summarize these two rings:

First, there’s the ring of pride. Verse 17 says:

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”

Doesn’t that sum it up perfectly? My power, my strength. The ring of pride is all about me.

Or, there’s an alternative—the ring of praise. Verse 18 is what that looks like:

But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

The ring of praise says God gave me this job, God gave me this house, God gave me this car. I didn’t really earn any of it. It’s all God.

So, which ring are you living in? Which ring do you spend time in? Is your life marked with PRIDE, chasing after wealth and success?

  • Do you think more about your hard work than God’s faithfulness?
  • Does your family miss you?
  • Do you regularly make purchases for yourself?
  • Do you skip church because of other commitments?
  • Do you not give to church because your money has to go elsewhere?

There are a lot of signs you’re living in the ring of pride. You just have to be able to see them. And if you don’t know, I can promise you one thing: The people closest to you—they know. To them it’s obvious whether you are or not. So, have a courageous conversation with one of them and ask them: Are I prideful? Am I chasing after wealth and success?

Don’t fall into the trap that PT Barnum did. Remember the Lord your God. Everything you have comes from him.