Finding Nemo: When God Honors Difference

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on May 17, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here. 


John 19:1-7, 31-37

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”


 

You may have been surprised to hear that on our Finding Nemo themed Sunday, we are reading about Jesus’ death. You may be checking your calendar, knowing Easter has already happened, but double checking just in case. I mean, we’ve been in quarantine a while now. I have to check a calendar to know what day it is. Anybody else? You may be wondering, how do the two accounts have anything in common? What does a little clownfish and his friends have to do with the suffering of Jesus, son of God? Well, let’s explore that together. 

There are two points I want us to center around today, as we look both to scripture and our movie, Finding Nemo. The first, is that having challenges is completely normal. 

The premise of the movie centers around community, and specifically how a community comes together in the midst of a big challenge.

What is one challenge, big or small, that you’ve faced this week?

The movie starts with two parents, Marlin and Coral, who are dreaming about their future, naming their 400 kids who were just eggs at the time, when suddenly, a shark comes and disrupts their system, leaving only Marlin and one egg remaining. It turns out that because of the shark attack, the remaining egg, who we learn becomes a fish named Nemo, has an undersized fin, which they call his lucky fin. Nemo’s physical disability makes him visibly different than perhaps what those around him might expect, and Nemo operates and sees the world differently because of that. 

Towards the beginning, Nemo meets his new class on his first day of school, a literal school of fish. Nemo’s dad, who suffers with anxiety and PTSD from the death of his wife, he’s incredibly tentative to let him go. Nemo meets his classmates, who ask him about his fin. When Nemo explains his lucky fin, his new friends immediately show off their ‘differences’, like Pearl the pink octopus’ with a shorter tentacle, and Sheldon the seahorse who proclaims he has ‘an H2O intolerance’, followed by a loud sneeze. And that’s the end of the conversation. 

Finding Nemo does an amazing job reminding us of that first point, that difference and even challenge is completely normal. These young ocean animals teach us through this scene, that disability isn’t some mark of what we can’t do, and it doesn’t exclude us from community. Nemo and his friends normalized difference and disability in a beautifully simple yet profound way, as they all shared together, and then simply moved on, honoring one another’s personhood…or fish-hood?

Take a moment and share in the comments something, again big or small, that makes you different. 

What makes you different from those in your community, your family, your friend group?

When we listen for and to our difference, we open up our awareness to the vastness of the Body of Christ. It’s as if we pull up more seats to that ever-expanding table of grace. When we listen to our difference, and celebrate the difference at the table, we learn more about the fullness of who God is.

It’s like the passage in scripture that talks about the importance and need for each part of the body one has, how ears can depend on eyes, and so on. God is a makeup of each part of the Body of Christ, meaning each of us, as bearers of God’s image. Without a ‘you’, the Body of Christ and God’s Self would not be nearly as robust, beautiful, or unique. The same goes for everyone else.  And so going beyond normalizing difference, whether disability or diversity, and instead celebrating and honoring it, that is the way we can begin to know the fullness of God’s identity. 

The second point I want us to talk through is connected to the first. It’s that when we fail to normalize and celebrate difference, we are causing hurt to the Body of Christ.

So now we look to our scripture, Jesus’ death narrative. Jesus made a claim about who he was, he showed his identity, and those with power were threatened by that, saying he was making false claims, taking away supposed authority from the government. And so they hurt him. They hurt his body, and that’s the passage we read about today. Those in power beat Jesus, and tied him up, and put him on a cross until he died. And afterwards, they hurt his body even more, placing a spear into his side just to make sure he wasn’t alive. This brutal event was of course a small piece of a story that changed the world, and at the time, this was absolutely traumatizing, life altering, for all who knew Jesus.

If we are to really simplify this encounter, Jesus’ body was hurt. And the physical hurt that was done to his body, that hurt the Body of Christ. 

Disability theology teaches that each of us represent the body of Christ, Jesus’ body. That means that when we forget that, when we don’t make space for that, Jesus’ body is wounded, it gets hurt. Disability theology reminds us to continue going back to the heart of the gospel, which is that Jesus represents the truth that God is, was, and will be love for all, and sacrificial love at that, no matter our difference or sameness. 

When Jesus was killed, the Body of Christ was wounded. When we are harmed, bullied, teased, forgotten, left, invalidated, condescended, or excluded, the Body of Christ is wounded. It hurts the Body of Christ.

In Finding Nemo, there are several moments when the body gets hurt, and they have nothing to do with the disabilities of our characters. Can you remember a moment when the collective body, the community, gets hurt? 

One that stands out to me is when Marlin goes searching for Nemo with Dory, a blue fish with short-term memory loss. At one point, Marlin loses his patience, and he kind of blows up at Dory, blaming her for her difference. The hurt was not that Dory was different, not that she had a disability, but that Marlin had a temper and used his own hurt to hurt one of his neighbors. The hurt spread.

When a body was hurt, the collective body, the community hurt. And a beautiful thing about movies, is that even when they aren’t real, they reveal a reality to us if we are paying attention. 

Difference is a reality and a beautiful one, that our physical, mental, or emotional traits, including our disabilities, do not define what we can do or whose we are. And, when we forget that truth, forgetting to honor difference, we are taking part in the hurt to the Body of Christ. And God hurts with us.

How is God being wounded, being hurt now? Who is being hurt at this time?

The truth is, hurt is being done to the Body of Christ much more often than we’d like. And so, it is our job to name that hurt, like we’ve begun to do, and find ways you are called to begin to heal that hurt by honoring and celebrating the difference among us. 

We were not created to be alone, a passage in Genesis says. And we aren’t alone. Even when it feels isolating, even in our physical distancing, we are not alone. You are not alone. I want you to know that there is always a community here for you when you need it. All of you. 

Just like the team Marlin assembled to find his son, just like Nemo’s dentist office friends came together to return him to the ocean, the Body of Christ isn’t just a phrase we say. It’s what we are. Our collective difference paints itself like a beautiful collage, different pieces combined together to make the beauty and uniqueness and vastness of God. Our job, as followers of Christ, as members of this Body, is to continue to celebrate both our difference and our oneness. 

At the end of Jesus’ death narrative, the author of John writes this: 

These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”

May this be our challenge and our prayer, that we may work together to fulfill that scripture, that one day, no more hurt shall be done, that the Body of Christ can heal fully, a reflection of God’s great love.

Amen.

 

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