Rev. Danielle K Bartz May 8, 2022
Deuteronomy 18:15-22 “We Need to Talk about Bruno”
A few months ago a phenomenon swept the nation – the Disney animated film ‘Encanto’. I had never seen such a swift and overwhelming love for a movie. Even me, and I don’t enjoy watching movies, watched it twice in a couple of days. I was just at Disney World and every other shirt I saw people wearing at the parks had a reference to Encanto. And this phenomenon didn’t just sweep across the secular world. Clergy across the religious spectrum found a way to use Encanto as a sermon illustration. Since I tend to always be a late adaptor to trends, I am now just jumping on board.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, here is a quick synopsis. It centers around a family in Central America whose story begins when the matriarch, or Abuela, and her husband have to flee their homes during a war. They have three babies, and as the soldiers are closing in on the refugees, the husband turns back to defend his family and give them time to escape. They do, but he is killed. At that moment the candle Abuela was holding is infused with magic and the open and vulnerable plain they are in turns into a valley that protects the refugees from the soldiers. And in that valley, a home, or Casita, is created. The Casita is infused with magic and the family, as they grow, become magical as well. As they each reach a certain age, a ceremony is held and the Casita (or the magical house) bestows on the family member a magical gift. One has incredible physical strength. One can control the weather with her emotions. Another can heal any injury or illness with food. One creates flowers with her steps. Another can hear even the faintest whisper from miles away.
And one, Bruno, can predict the future. But the people, both those in the village and the large and extended family who live in the Casita, begin to blame Bruno for the events he predicted. Rather than simply predicting things that will happen, the people began to equate the predictions with causation – meaning that they thought by predicting it, Bruno made it happen. And when Bruno predicts that a new family member, young Mirabel, will not receive any magic gift and bring about the end of the entire Casita’s magic – the family is fearful. Bruno’s prediction comes true – when it is young Mirabel’s time to receive her magical gift from the Casita, she doesn’t. Bruno is blamed and he leaves the family – retreating to his tower and is not seen for years.
Young Mirabel grows up to be the odd member of the family. With no magic, she doesn’t know her place and her family doesn’t know how to relate to her. Despite her devotion to her family, she never feels truly a part of that family. And when she begins to see visions and evidence that the house was losing its magic, that its foundation was cracking – the family becomes angry and silences her even more. It is not until the entire house is destroyed and the magic is gone does the family realize Mirabel was not the cause, that it was in fact their failure to listen to her words that left them unprepared. Mirabel and Bruno – both shunned from the family because they told the truth about the weaknesses of the world the family lived in – were in fact the very people who, in the end, brought the family together, gave them strength, and led them into a new future.
It is a Disney movie – so it has a happy ending of course – but even more than that, it is a movie that tries to raise the awareness of voices that speak unpopular truths, voices that need to be listened to, voices that are too often silenced because they sometimes say what people don’t want to hear. The movie Encanto is more than just an entertaining and touching movie about family. It is a movie which highlights the way people who speak prophetic truth are often ignored, scorned, and even silenced – and what a danger that can be.
One of the reasons I love this movie so much is because it is the unlikely people who are the ones who have the foresight and power to help the people through a terrible time. It is Bruno, who has been shunned by the family who ultimately saves it. And it is Mirabel, the one without the special magic the rest of the family has, who is the one to rally them together when their world falls apart. Leaders come from unlikely places, and it is often unlikely voices that are the ones that need to be listened to the most.
In our scripture for today, Moses is speaking to the people who are worried about who will lead them when he is gone. They cannot possibly talk with God themselves, they say. They need a leader, a prophet, to show them what God wants of them. Don’t worry, Moses tells them, even after I am gone, God will raise up prophets from amongst you. People just like you will lead you to the future God has promised. They will help you to understand what God wants and how you can create a future together. Listen to them, Moses says, and heed their words.
But, how will we know, the people ask. How will we know if they are leading us in the way God wants, or if they are false prophets, leading us away from God. This is a vital and important question for any people, not just the ancient founders of our religion, to ask. How will we know that person is leading us to a place God wishes us to go? Moses answers by telling the people to look around them and if what the prophet is saying is aligned with the true reality they are experiencing, then they will know.
Think of it this way – Greta Thunberg, a young prophet for climate justice, is trying desperately to tell the world that our Earth is in dire need of saving. Don’t ignore the evidence of devastating climate change all around you, she is saying. We can see it, we are experiencing it, and we must do something about it. But many people don’t want to acknowledge that truth. They will twist themselves up in knots trying to deny climate change and discredit her as just an over-passionate kid. But I believe she is a prophet because, even though I am terrified of the world she is forcing me to look at, I can’t deny it. She is speaking a truth, a hard and frightening truth, but a truth nonetheless.
God says, through Moses, “A prophet I will raise up for them from among their own kin, like you, and I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” I could stand here for hours listing all of the prophets in our world today, and stand here for days listing all of the prophets from our world’s history. Many were listened to, most were ignored. Some have been celebrated, but only after time has muted the emotions their words brought. And far too many are being silenced right now, because too many of us are afraid of what they are saying.
But, here is the thing my Beloved Community. These prophets, ancient and modern, are not just trying to make us pay attention, they are also offering us hope. They say – look at this world in desperate need and let’s work together to create good. Greta Thunberg isn’t just trying to get the world to treat climate change like the life and death crisis it is – she is calling for us to join together and saying – we know how to fix this, and if we do it together, we can. The prophets speak truths and always offer hope. They don’t deny that it will be hard, in fact they often are the first to tell us just how hard it will be, but they always offer hope. And that is how we can know that it is God’s voice, because God always provides hope.
Today’s world is a frightening place. Pandemic, climate disaster, loss of reproductive choice, curtailed voting rights, and lack of privacy – these are things that are threatening our lives today. The norms that have held us together are broken and we don’t know what will take their place. There are people desperately trying to get our attention, desperately trying to force us out of our apathy and into action. These voices are saying if we don’t start taking all of this seriously now, then we will come to learn that everything we thought we had is actually gone. But these voices are also speaking to us words of hope. Sometimes the words of hope are hard to hear, but they are there. We can continue to speak up and out. We can continue to hold our elected officials accountable and if they fail the people who elected them, then we can express our disappointment at the voting booth. The privileged can get out of the way and gave room for the disenfranchised to speak. We can help the poor and sick, not just with thoughts and prayers, but actions. The prophets of today’s world are not just telling us all is lost – they are telling us a better future is possible if we simply choose to act before it is too late.
It may seem like referencing a Disney movie to stir people to action is a shallow and even inappropriate way to deal with the trauma of today’s world. But I disagree. It is through story that we can find a voice. It is through story, both light-hearted and difficult, that we realize we have a place in the midst of it. Story is how Jesus taught. Story is the basis of our religious tradition with liturgy and scripture and hymn. The movie Encanto is a story that can help us to pay better attention to the voices we have been ignoring. And it is a reminder that perhaps that voice the world most desperately needs is our own. Because Moses did not tell the people that God would only speak through the special, the set-apart, the privileged. God said God’s voice would be shared through someone just like them. In this congregation today there are voices that are desperately need to be heard. Yours is one of them. In a world that needs truth spoken and hope given – it is our religious duty to fulfill that need. Amen.
Loving God, who creates us into new being each day, help us to discover your purpose for our lives and to seek our roles in fulfilling this purpose. We praise you for your creation of our lives day by day, for your recreation of hope within us, even when hope seems foolish. We pray for this world of ours, in which cynical self-interest and grasping for power often seem to be the rules by which human beings live. We accept your call to peacemaking, wherever we may be and in whatever situation we find the hatreds, the fears, or the distrusts which cry out for peace to heal and mend the brokenness.
Help us to each offer thanks to you, not in empty words or pious gestures, but in lives which are faithful to your call. Enable us to bear the fruits of thankfulness in serving others and in building community with all of those in our lives, neighbors and strangers.
In these moments of silence we lift to you the prayers of our hearts, trusting that you always hear them…
God, we know that you are with us and for us in the midst of our lives. We praise you for this constant love and in Jesus’ name we offer together the prayer he taught us…Our Father…