Pastor Shawn Hannon
Hope Lutheran Church Arcade, NY
Did you know they turned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a musical? They did, and not only that. This new musical made its national debut this month right here in WNY. I saw it. I’m not sure I’d call it a must-see, but if you like the movies, it is definitely the watch. The story is the same, and the only real difference, if you can believe it, is that the characters in the musical version are even more exaggerated than the films (with the exception perhaps of Willie Wonka himself). But as you watch the musical you’re introduced to:
Augustus the Bavarian waddles around the stage covered in bratwurst.
Veruca Salt is the spoiled rich child who gets whatever she wants.
Violet is our gum chewing wannabe celebrity complete with her publicist dad.
And Mike Teavee redefines rude. His intelligence is wasted behind his out of control behavior that can only be managed when his mother literally harnesses him to his bed.
And then of course there is Charlie Bucket. He lives in a shack with a hole in the roof and 4 grandparents sleeping in the same bed. His daily tasks involve buying rotten vegetables so that the family has something to eat. And while he loves chocolate, he only gets one bar a year on his birthday.
Most of us know how the story unfolds. Willie Wonka invites these children into his factory and one at a time calamity strikes. In the end only one remains, and Willie Wonka decides to give this one everything. It’s the obvious one for us watching, but as far as the story goes, Charlie is the last person one might expect. He’s got nothing to offer. Not only does he have no money, he has no extraordinary talent. The other children may be annoying, but each in their own right demonstrates some greatness. Charlie, on the other hand, has nothing to offer. Just imagination. But for Wonka, that’s enough.
What makes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory work is not merely the eccentricities (though that helps), but the scandal. The scandal that in the end in this magical, extravagant, over-the-top chocolate world, it is the kid dressed in dirty bland clothes who goes home with the prize.
Not Augustus who was born to indulge.
Not Veruca with her money.
Not Violet with her talent.
Not Mike with his smarts.
But Charlie with nothing.
But what were we talking about? With the gospel? Just kidding. Of course, I remember what the gospel said. But that’s what Jesus asks his disciples when they arrive at Capernaum—the end of a journey (they’re on their way. Jesus is laying low). What were you talking about on the way? They were silent, because you know what they were talking about? They were arguing with one another about who was the greatest. As Jesus is teaching them the price he is going to pay. As Jesus is talking about what he is willing to do for others. His disciples are arguing with one another about which one of them is the best.
And so Jesus sits them down, and makes something clear. He says, Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Then he takes a little child (who knows where he came from), and he says, whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
To understand the entirety of what Jesus means by that we have to remember that children in the first century were not celebrated the way kids are today. Children were vulnerable, dependent creatures you hoped would grow up quick so they could start contributing. There was no value in helping them. (In fact, you know how we think being good with kids is an attribute? Well in the 1st century if you were good with kids, people would think you’re weak. What are you worried about the kids for?!) As Jesus gains attention, the disciples gain interest in who will get to help him. There’s honor in that. But what Jesus does, is he grabs a kid and says if you want to welcome me (honor me), welcome this helpless children from whom there is no reward.
There is no denying that we still live in a world that wrestles with greatness. Our president’s slogan for his campaign was Make America Great Again. And trust me. I too am a bragger. I love to talk about how great things are. But when I encounter this word I’m convicted. I’m reminded that true greatness isn’t measured in wealth or power or might, and that sometimes to be first, you have to come in last.
The bible teaches us that being great the way we want to be great, isn’t the greatest. In fact, it’s selfish and sinful. It leads to us treating one another poorly and taking advantage of others. It leads us to us seeing one another in tiers and putting values on the lives of people God made.
The greatness we’re called to is greatness in service. The greatness we’re called to is doing the right thing even when there is no reward. The greatness we’re called to is welcoming every person we meet and remembering that the true measure of our greatness isn’t defined by how treat the first, but by how we treat the last.
Here’s the thing about this race for greatness. You’re already great. God made you. God loves you. You got a golden ticket. Not because your dad could buy a million candy bars or because you outsmarted the system, but because that talk from Jesus about the cross, that’s for you. Because he thinks you’re great. That’s where we find our value. Not in our prestige or power or position, but in God. And we demonstrate that in modeling our life after him in service to others.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.