The Gospel According to Monty Python

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Recently, I introduced my fourteen-year-old to the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Watching it with him, I felt a need to make excuses for the film’s irreverence, adolescence, and general British-ness. (I feel the same urge now, admitting these parenting decisions to our whole church.) But watching it this time I also noticed a few one-liners aimed at more than a cheap laugh. One or two even bordered on profundity.

There’s a scene near the beginning of that movie in which good King Arthur rides his imaginary horse through a squalid village decimated by plague. Two peasants watch him pass and one says, “Must be a king.”
“Why?” The second peasant wants to know. How can you tell?
“Because he hasn’t got filth all over him,” the first peasant replies. (Ok, yes, in the movie they don’t use the word “filth,” but this is a church blog. You get the picture.)

There may be a parallel for us in that silly little scene. On Sunday, Barry will introduce a new sermon series at IBC, based on the New Testament letter to the Philippians. In that letter, the Apostle Paul encourages us to live as citizens of a different kingdom. In fact, Paul says very plainly in Chapter 3, “our citizenship is in heaven.”

Paul had another citizenship. The book of Acts tells us he was a Roman citizen. And Roman citizenship was no small thing in the first century Near East. It was something to be proud of, something not easy to come by, and something that brought significant privilege to its bearer. And yet Paul calls it, along with all his other worldly advantages, skubala which is a Greek word very similar to that word in the Monty Python scene. In Philippians, Paul is saying that his primary identity, his primary loyalty and citizenship, is to the kingdom of heaven, not any earthly realm. And compared to the kingdom of heaven, everything on Earth is poop.

Throughout his letter, Paul gives us several markers of the kingdom of heaven. He says that citizens from that kingdom should be marked by humility modeled after the incarnate Jesus, by purity in our commitment to a holy God, by a mission after which we should strain with effort, by unity as a people reconciled to God and to one another, by joy that spills out into celebration from a deep identity as God’s people, and by the contentment that comes from knowing that nothing in the kingdom of this world is ever quite as permanent as it seems.

In contrast to that kingdom, the world we live in is unmistakably fractured and disordered. Far too often, Earth is a place where the poor are oppressed, where differences make us enemies, where something is right if it feels right, where a person’s highest calling is his own pleasure and self-promotion, and where darkness reigns instead of the God of light.

And that’s where, I think, we may take a lesson from good King Arthur. What would change if the world around us saw the kingdom of heaven in our midst? What if our neighbors — bullied by injustice, broken by sin, beleaguered by plague — looked to the church as a model of humility, purity, unity, joy, and contentment?

They might say, “That church is from someplace else. You can tell because they haven't got the filth of pride, vice, strife, despair, and discontent all over them.”

Am I squeezing too much out of sophomoric British slapstick? Probably. Did Monty Python know how to put the “fun” in “profundity”? Probably not. But is there something transcendent and world-changing in Paul’s letter to Philippi that we can aspire to in 2020? Absolutely.

And should you join the livestream Sunday to hear Barry explore those truths? You definitely should.

Or I will taunt you a second time.

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