I love movies. My family was (and is) a movie family. Nearly every night for as long as I can remember, we’d have dinner, talk, and then someone would say, “Should we put a movie on?”. Sometimes it was a new one we hadn’t seen, sometimes it was an oldie but goodie that had been played 1000 times (I think I could reenact every scene of You’ve Got Mail if you asked me to). Special events were often movie based too. Holiday? Let’s go to the theater. Birthday? Dinner and a movie anyone? Good grades? Those earn you rentals at the local movie store (a place very few of my students even remember anymore, but I digress).
So imagine my surprise, all of my family’s surprise, when my older sister Katie told us something rather shocking when she was in high school: She didn’t really like going to the movie theater. My whole family was in shock, “What do you mean you don’t like going to the movie theater? We always go! You always come! You love movies!”. It’s kind of hard to make anyone in my family speechless (if you know me at all you won’t find that terribly hard to believe) but Katie had managed to. She calmly explained to her insane family that she went to movie theaters because we all liked going, and she liked spending time with us. But no, it wasn’t her favorite event. She enjoyed a good movie like anyone else, but maybe we went overboard sometimes. She preferred live entertainment.
My world shifted around me. Katie only went to hang out with us? That’s a lot of hours in a lot of theaters just to hang out with people. Not to mention the hours of discussions about movies that go along with any Hayden Family Time. But Katie loves us. She knows that we love movies (yes, maybe too much). So there she sat, in theater after theater, discussion after discussion, just being with us.
There’s an important lesson here. One that took me a lot longer to learn than my sister. 90% of being there for people is just being there. Jesus understood this perfectly. The story of Zacchaeus is a familiar tale for many, but for any of us who may need a refresher, here’s the 30 second version:
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, but a super dishonest tax collector (think the sheriff from Robin Hood). One day Zacchaeus heard Jesus was going to be walking through town so he went to take a gander. But there was one issue. Zacchaeus was short (think Vizzini from The Princess Bride). So he climbed up a tree. Jesus was walking by and he stopped at Zacchaeus’ tree and looked up. Looked up at this short, pathetic, lying thief. Looked up at the man everyone knew was a huge sinner. Looked up at a misfit. And he said, “You want to have lunch?”.
Okay, probably not the line most people were expecting. If it were a movie I’d complain that it was lazy writing. But remembering the context here is important. Jewish leaders didn’t eat with non-Jews. And they certainly didn’t eat with known sinners. But Jesus was different. He created a relationship with sinners, spent time with them, ate with them, and loved them. He invested love into them and in return they invested their life in Him.
We can learn from this, Church. We need to learn from this, Church. I often hear people complaining about so and so who never comes to worship (and I get it, I’ve been there too). But when’s the last time you went to lunch with them? When’s the last time you called to check in? When’s the last time you had coffee, took them to a show, or just stopped and talked about nothing and everything? Not for the sake of guilting them into worshipping, just for the sake of being a friend. When’s the last time you slowed down enough to build a relationship, Church?
If Jesus came to me today, he’d look up into a tree and see a very broken sinner. A sinner who moves a little too fast, talks a little too much, and holds onto her sin with everything in her (because letting go may mean losing control). He’d look up in the tree at this hot mess of a woman and you know what he’d say? “You want to go see a movie?”.
Director of Christian Education
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church