Sunday’s sermon: This is the Greatest Show

The Kingdom of God

Texts used – Isaiah 41:8-13; Philippians 4:4-9




  • I want to invite you all into my brain for a moment this morning. (Buckle your seatbelts!) As I go through my days, I am always on the lookout for sermon illustrations or inspiration.
    • Video or picture posted on Facebook
    • News snippet (print, digital, television … whatever)
    • Interaction with someone (don’t worry … if it’s you, I’ll ask your permission before using your life in public like that!)
    • Song
    • Movie
    • Children’s book (one of my favorites, as you know)
    • I keep a digital file in my Evernote account of all the different illustrations, sermon ideas, or other worship ideas that spring up from day to day, and when I need something, I’ll frequently comb through what I’ve compiled to see if anything fits.
    • Enter “The Greatest Showman[1]
      • Loosely (very loosely) based on the life of circus innovator and pioneer P.T. Barnum
      • Hit theaters Dec. 20, 2017
      • About a year ago, my mom brought both the DVD and the disc for the soundtrack to our house and said, “You’ve gotta watch this movie, and the boys are gonna love this music!” And she was right. On both counts.
        • Watched the movie → LOVED it!!
        • Boys fell in love with all the songs on the soundtrack
      • And as I was listening to that soundtrack over and over and over (and over and over and over!!) again in the car, I was on that same sermon-material-alert that I always am. And one song would come on, and I’d think, “Well, that’d preach. I could pair it with this text.” Then the next song would come on, and I’d think, “Well, that’d preach. It goes along really well with this story or that psalm.” Then the next song would come on … and you get the picture. It didn’t take me long to decide that the whole soundtrack needed to be a sermon series … so here we are.
        • Going to spend the summer with some great music
          • Sometimes talking about the storyline of the movie
          • Talking more about the lyrics themselves than about exactly where and how they fit into “The Greatest Showman” plot per say
          • Not necessary to have seen the movie because we’re going to be talking more about the songs than anything à we’ll listen to the song + you’ll have the lyrics so you can follow along
        • So let’s get started! “This is the greatest show!”
  • [PLAY “The Greatest Show”[2]]

  • They say the opening song for a movie sets the tone, and this one does exactly that: it sets a tone of excitement, a tone of wonder and grandeur, a tone of incredible feats and transcendent promises.
    • Strong music
      • Driving beat
      • Intense, boisterous chords sung by powerful, projecting voices
    • Music to get your blood pumping and your imagination running wild
      • Strong theme in the movie → imagination running wild … and where that running might take you (for good or for ill)
    • Music to stir and inspire
    • Music which leaves no doubt that what you are watching is, indeed, “The Greatest Show”
  • And that excitement, that exhilaration, that passion and purpose are how we should feel about our faith, too.
    • How we should feel about participating in and sharing our faith
    • How we should feel about God
    • God and the Kingdom of God should truly be our “Greatest Show”
      • Not a hard concept to grasp in the midst of those awe-inspiring moments of life, right?
        • Breathtaking sunsets
        • A cool, quiet morning on an impossibly-still, calm lake
        • Serene moment out on the green
        • One of my favorites: the riotous explosion of color when the wild phlox start blooming in a week or so
        • Achingly beautiful strain of music
        • Utter joy and delighted abandon in a baby’s giggle
        • Quintessential twist and tangle, push and play of words in your favorite song or poem – the way those words fit together **just right**
        • In this incredible world, we are surrounded by reminders of how truly amazing and bless-full and mind-blowing this world is, and as people of faith, we see God and hear God and thank God in the humbling and heart-rending face of that beauty. In those moments that steal our breath away, it’s easy for us to lift up our hands and our voices and praise God as “the greatest show,” right?
      • But what about the dark moments? What about the ugly moments? What about the mind-numbingly mundane moments?
        • See the majesty of God … in the minutia and frustration of filing taxes?
        • See the beauty of God … in the infuriatingly endless column of red tail lights as you sit in traffic?
        • Hear the splendor of God … in your last argument with your co-workers, friends, spouse, parents, children … or whoever it was you last fought with?
        • It is in these basic and banal moments of life that we need to cling to our conviction that God is indeed our greatest show, even when we can’t see it … hear it … recognize it.
    • Purpose of our OT reading this morning → reminder of how truly great God and God’s Kingdom are
      • Speaks of God’s protection and shelter and strength
      • Speaks of how humbling and honoring it is to be one of God’s people
      • Speaks of ultimate reassurance and courageousness that we find in God – text: “Don’t fear … don’t be afraid … don’t fear”[3]
      • Makes it clear that this is God’s doing and God’s doing alone – text (God speaking to people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah): You whom I took from the ends of the earth and called form it farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant; I chose you and didn’t reject you: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. … I am the Lord your God, who grasps your strong hand, who says to you, Don’t fear; I will help you.”[4] → In this, there is no mistaking human action and capacity with God’s unfathomable nature. God is the one who did the choosing. God is the one who did the calling. God is the one who did the strengthening. God is the one. God is the one. God is the one. Not us. Humans are secondary actors in this text because ultimately it is God’s show, not ours.
  • Song also speaks to the excitement and enthusiasm, the eagerness and the openness that we should have about the Kingdom of God
    • Excitement and enthusiasm – lyrics: Buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore / Taking your breath, stealing your mind / And all that was real is left behind / … It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open / It’s a preacher in the pulpit and you’ll find devotion / There’s something breaking at the brick of ever wall, it’s holding / All that you know / So tell me, do you wanna go?[5] → song speaks of a night at the circus as an eye-opening, life-altering, mind-blowing experience = our belief that the Kingdom of God is also eye-opening, life-altering, and mind-blowing
      • God’s wisdom and guidance = eye-opening
      • God’s grace and forgiveness = life-altering
      • God’s unconditional love and radical welcome = mind-blowing
    • Hear that life-changing goodness and radical welcome in our NT reading this morning, too
      • All about rejoicing in the goodness and mercy and peace and grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit – text: Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad![6]
      • All about rejoicing in the utter, mysterious, immeasurable nature of God as the source of all the blessings around us – text: From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.[7] → all of these blessed and beautiful things come from God
    • Hear that radical welcome in the lyrics, too
      • Line: Where the lost get found in the crown of the circus king
      • Repeated line from chorus: Where the runaways are running the night → “the runaways” = those who have been cast out, marginalized, told they’re “no good” … these are the ones running the night, making this show what would eventually be tagged “The Greatest Show on Earth”
      • Goes with theme of the movie → everyone is special and treasured and deserves to be celebrated, no one is “outside”
      • Goes with theme of Jesus ministry → ministry of a man who ate with sinners, lepers, outcasts, women, “the unclean” as well as legal experts, Temple leaders, and those in power
  • Finally, in terms of the Kingdom of God, we hear what scholars and seminary professors like to call the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom.
    • Concept that speaks to our belief that the Kingdom of God is both already here among us and is coming again whenever Christ returns
      • The “already” of the Kingdom of God → our mission: We believe that the work that we do, the love we give, the forgiveness we embody, the hope that we cling to, the light that we share … all of that is part of the Kingdom of God here on earth – that that Kingdom is already here. We are already a part of it, and we are already working to grow that Kingdom in beauty and grace and welcome.
      • The “not yet” of the Kingdom of God → speaks of our hope and belief that Christ will return one day to fully accomplish God’s purpose here on earth
    • Song: It’s everything you ever want / It’s everything you ever need / And it’s here right in front of you / This is where you wanna be[8]
    • It is a statement both of faith and of hope – faith in what God is already doing in the world today and hope in what is to come.
      • See this in our Scripture – Phil: Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.[9]
      • See this in the movie, too → Even if you haven’t seen it, this won’t spoil anything, I promise. As you can probably tell from the song, the movie begins with a scene from an incredible circus – elephants, performers, acrobats … the works. It’s big. It’s flashy. It’s elaborate. It’s dazzling. It is, undoubtedly, the Greatest Show! But soon, that scene fades to reveal that, at least at first, it’s nothing more than the highly extravagant daydreams of a young boy gazing in a shop window at a red suit coat with gold trim and long tails.
        • Can’t be seen (except in that little boy’s mind)
        • Can’t be touched
        • But the hope and the belief are there nonetheless. And even through the hardships of his young life, P.T. Barnum’s dream couldn’t be taken away from him. He had hope. He had vision. And he had tenacity. And with those, he became the Greatest Showman. So when it comes to our faith, do we have hope? Do we have vision? Do we have tenacity? Do we truly believe that this faith that we live, this God that we love and serve, is the Greatest Show? Amen.


[2] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[3] Is 41:10, 13

[4] Is 41:9-10, 13.

[5] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[6] Phil 4:4.

[7] Phil 4:8-9.

[8] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[9] Phil 4:6-7.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: This is the Greatest Show

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Wishes and Visions and Dreams … Oh, My! | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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