Not Star Wars. Not The Avengers. Not Snow White. The Princess Bride. No finer movie has ever been made. When it came out, it was ranked… #41, right above Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. Even by 1987 standards, it would not have been considered a success but it’s my favorite movie ever made and has since become a fan favorite. There are people who love The Princess Bride all over the world and for good reason. How can you not fall in love with a movie that has “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” At least that’s how Peter Falk sold it to Fred Savage at the beginning of the film. It just celebrated its 30th year anniversary and of course I went to see it in the theater once again. It’s still as good as ever. But besides the extremely quotable script, the terrific acting, the corny Rodents of Unusual Size, what makes The Princess Bride so long lasting is that we feel connected to it because it shares some universal truths that resonate with us.
Now, Vizzini is one of the bad guys.
Near the beginning of the movie he kidnaps Buttercup, the titular Princess Bride, with the help of Inigo Montoya and Fezzik the Giant. But as he is trying to escape with her, a Man in Black pops up trailing behind them. When Inigo sees him following their ship on open waters, Vizzini tells him that it’s inconceivable. When the Man in Black chases them up the side of the Cliffs of Insanity and is actually gaining on them, Vizzini shouts, “Inconceivable!” And when Vizzini slices the rope they were both using to scale the cliff wall and the Man in Black is able to hold on to the sheer cliff wall, he shouts once more, “Inconceivable!” To which Inigo finally turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” To Inigo, if it was truly “inconceivable” it wouldn’t be happening right before their very eyes. Surely not three times in a row. But Vizzini is witnessing something that for him WAS inconceivable because his mind was too arrogant to believe someone else could be as smart or as clever as he was. He never took into account that someone else might have thoughts and ideas that were more clever than his own. And it turned out to be his undoing.
I imagine Peter would have said the same thing to Jesus.
The disciples are sitting around the table at the Last Supper when in the middle of their talk, Jesus turns to Peter and says in Luke 22, 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Peter (who was also called Simon), must have been confused. He probably considered himself to be the most loyal disciple of all. After all, he was the one who first recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. So he tells Jesus, 33 …“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Peter doesn’t respond, but you can imagine that in his head, he was saying, “Inconceivable!” and yet he does exactly that very thing. It’s because Peter couldn’t imagine a time when he would ever deny Jesus. But he also probably couldn’t imagine the true Messiah being duped by someone like Judas. He couldn’t imagine the Lord and Savior of the Israeli people being captured by the Roman guards and being led away like some commoner. He probably counted on Jesus to protect him and all the other disciples from the wrath of the high priests. But then everything seemed to crumble away, and in just a few short hours, too. Suddenly, Peter did the very thing Jesus predicted and denied him three times.
There’s another story in the Bible, similar but with a different ending.
It happens right after Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him to a high mountain top and the three disciples see Jesus not as a human, but truly as the Son of God. They see him talking with Moses and Elijah, two great leaders of the Jewish people long dead, and they hear the voice of God himself saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Can you imagine being there and experiencing for yourself the awesome spectacle in front of you? Watching the dead talk to the living and hearing the very voice of God? After this, Jesus and the three disciples are coming down from the mountain and this is where we begin our story.
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” – Mark 9:14-29
This is the kind of attitude Christ wants from us.
He wants us to be open to possibilities that seem impossible. He wants us to be willing to stretch our minds and to embrace the unimaginable. Napoleon Hill is best known as the self-help author who coined the saying, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.” And what he meant by that is the first barrier to our success is always our own preconceptions. If we cannot at least conceive of the possibility, we do not have the means to achieve it. Decades before Star Wars ever came out, Hill was trying to teach us the same thing Yoda was trying to teach Luke in the swamps of Dagobah. As Yoda, no bigger than the size of a backpack, mentally lifted out Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp and carried this starship made of tons of metal over to dry land, Luke whispered, “I don’t believe it.” And Yoda responded, “That is why you fail.” And centuries before that, it’s the very lesson Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and this poor father of a violently sick young boy – you must first be open to the impossible before it can ever become probable. And the boy’s father does what Christ hopes we all do. He turns to him and says, “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!” That’s the key to our success. That’s the key to loving our neighbor. That’s the key to world peace. Turning to God. Asking him to open our minds to new possibilities, things we can’t even imagine! And to realize that just because we don’t have the answers, doesn’t mean there aren’t answers out there.
The world sometimes seems to be in a more precarious place than ever before.
Not just in the realm of global politics but right here on our front door step. The problems we see between North Korea and the United States are often the same kinds of problems we encounter between people of different races, people of different sexual identities, and people of different socio-economic levels. We just can’t bridge the gap between our understanding of the world and theirs. If we were able to do THAT, just that, we would be so much closer to truly loving our neighbor as Christ intended. But it’s our pride and our fear that keep getting in our way. Pride in our beliefs and fear that they could be wrong. If we could overcome those, if we could overcome our pride and our fear, we would be open to new possibilities that we had never thought of before and it’s THAT understanding that could lead us to the life God has always intended for us to live. But the first step is being open to those new possibilities and being willing to risk that our understanding of the world isn’t the only one or the best one. I’m not asking you to give up what you believe in. I’m asking you to be open to how other people see the world. And to seek out new ways of thinking, not to replace your beliefs, but to help you better understand them. But we can’t very well do that when like Vizzini we deny the possibilities of the world around us and believe that it is “utterly, totally and in all other ways inconceivable.” For those of you who are Christian, I want to challenge you to do as the father of that young boy did in our reading this morning and turn to God daily and ask him to help you in your unbelief and to open up your mind to new possibilities. If you’re not Christian or you have doubts about your faith, I hope you’ll also turn to God and ask him the same thing. Challenge yourself to be open to a world in which God DOES exist and see if you might see his presence in the world around you. We must always be seekers of Truth, and be willing to let that pursuit lead us where it will instead of where we want it to go. I believe in the end it will lead us to the inescapable conclusion that there is a God and that he truly does love you.