Over the holidays, our family saw one of my favorite productions, “Les Miserables.” I have seen it performed on stage several times, and I am always moved to tears. I wasn’t sure how it would come across on film, but the current motion picture is outstanding, and I’m anticipating that it will receive some awards at the Golden Globes this Sunday
The musical is one of the most popular ever written. I think, at least in part, its popularity is due to the redemptive nature of the story itself. The main character, Jean Valjean, suffers a harsh prison sentence simply for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her child. He emerges from prison a hard, bitter man, convinced he can trust no one and concerned with no one other than himself.
He accepts food and shelter from a Bishop, Meriyl, but then robs him before leaving. Caught by the police red-handed, Valjean is surprised when the Bishop covers for him, assuring the police that he has given Valjean the stolen items. The Bishop’s redemptive act restores more than just Valjean’s freedom. It encourages him to open his heart to trust and care for others again. Throughout the rest of the story, Valjean seeks justice for others, and whenever possible, looks for the good in each one. His world has become larger than just himself.
I think redemptive stories speak to all of us, because to some extent we have all experienced how powerful it is to be affirmed, and how good it feels when justice prevails. Think of redemptive acts that you have performed. Perhaps it was a time when you helped someone who was stranded getting gasoline for their empty tank. Maybe you stood up for a friend who was being bullied, or helped someone carry packages to their car. We’ve all given away smiles to strangers and momentarily brightened their day.
No one asked us to do these things. We simply saw an opportunity to give or help, and stepped in. We did it willingly, not looking for anything in return, but we always get something very good back. There is a sense of happiness and satisfaction we feel in these redemptive moments that’s hard to explain, but it’s very real. For an instant life seems a little better, like we’ve touched something larger than ourselves.
I think what we are experiencing in these moments is worship unaware. That may surprise you, because most people think that worship is something people do in church buildings. But worship is multifaceted. When we honor and respect God in any way, we are worshiping.
In Matthew 25:35–40, Jesus tells us that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, assist the weak, visit those in prison, we are actually doing it to Him. When our actions with others are redemptive, we are actually honoring and respecting God, because people are made in His image. One of the most famous quotes in “Les Miserables” is the line, “To love another person is to see the face of God”.
We have a choice. We can worship ourselves and reap selfishness and dissatisfaction. Or we can worship Him, enter a world larger than ourselves, and live a redemptive life caring for others and establishing justice in the situations we encounter.
Come join us this Sunday at 9:00 AM or 11:00 AM. We are continuing our current series, “A Life of Worship,” and I will be preaching on the topic “Pleasing God.”