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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and Abraham (May 12, 2024)

Brendan McLean writes on Romans 4:13, 16-21​​​.

Outlook Standard Lesson for May 12, 2024
Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Romans 4:13, 16-21​​​

In this modern Marvel Cinematic Universe craze, my favorite series is “Guardians of the Galaxy” trilogy, three of the funniest yet most compassionate big-budget superhero movies you will ever see. The trilogy follows a ragtag group of intergalactic weirdos whom we initially meet as smugglers, thieves, assassins and mercenaries. Yet, throughout these three movies, the Guardians slowly become a chosen family who fight for the good of all beings.

One of the founding members of the Guardians of the Galaxy is an anthropomorphic, genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket. As a raccoon, Rocket is an animal that most consider a pest and try to avoid or repel. Rocket doesn’t entirely contradict this view. He is obnoxious, abrasive and aggressive. However, throughout the trilogy of movies, we also see Rocket’s big heart come into play many times.

One example comes in the final movie of the trilogy, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” Throughout the film, we see Rocket’s experience of trauma at a young age. Despite or perhaps because of this upbringing, he refuses to leave a collapsing spaceship without rescuing all the people and animals held captive on the ship. He is the unlikely, often prickly and rough-edged heart of the Guardians, ready to help and serve people around the universe.

It’s hard not to have Rocket in mind when looking at today’s passage from Romans. Here, Paul of Tarsus talks about God’s promise to Abraham and what it means for us. Paul doesn’t describe Abraham as what the first-century audience might consider a strong candidate to be the “ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). Instead, Paul describes Abraham as a man who had a body that was “already as good as dead” (Romans 4:19). This language isn’t meant to shame Abraham because of his appearance or things beyond his control. Rather, Paul points out how unexpected it is that God promises an old, frail man that he will be a “father of many nations” (Romans 4:18).

Nonetheless, God gives this promise to Abraham. Paul then considers Abraham a model of faith because of how Abraham responded to this promise. Even though Abraham is old and frail, he is “hoping against hope” (Romans 4:18), not weakening in faith (Romans 4:19), and nothing makes him waver concerning God’s promise (Romans 4:20). In many ways, Paul’s praise of Abraham echoes the writer of Hebrews, who writes that Abraham had faith in who God was and what God was able to do, regardless of the circumstances he faced in his life (Hebrews 11:8-19). To the world, Abraham was an unexpected receiver of God’s promise because of his qualifications. Yet, as Paul shows us, God’s promise worked through the faith of Abraham just as God’s gift of redemption through Christ works through our faith (Romans 4:24-25).

Rocket, like Abraham, shows us that we can witness compassion and kindness, even in imperfect forms, from unexpected people (and genetically engineered raccoons). As Paul writes, the promises of God are made real in unlikely people and places. All we need to do is open our eyes and ears ready to learn something more about the nature of God and God’s love.

Questions for discussion

  1. What’s an unlikely place or who is an unlikely person through which you’ve learned something about who God is? Why were they unlikely to you?
  2. How can you better see the image of God in everyone you encounter in your daily life, especially the people you might otherwise not want to associate with?
  3. What does it mean to you that lessons of faith and examples of God’s love, compassion, and solidarity can come from anywhere?

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