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The Greatest Showman

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Luke 15:11–32 NRSV
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”


I did some research on PT Barnum and discovered that this movie is very little like the life of PT Barnum. For one thing no one ever broke out in song and dance at dramatic moments in his life. Seriously, the movie almost has nothing to do with the way PT Barnum lived his life.
So with that being said, its a wonderful movie about a really interesting man. Phineas was, larger than life, no doubt about that. So we will let the story in the film be what we examine this morning in light of the gospel.
If you didn’t happen to see the movie let me present it to you in a nutshell. Phineas works with his Father who is a Taylor in what appears to be New York City. At 12 or 13 he falls in love with one of his father’s client’s daughters Charity Hallett. Her father forbids Barnum to have anything to do with her. They still sneak around and meet. She is sent to finishing school, but Barnum and Charity keep the romance going by mail. Barnum’s father dies during this time and Barnum is left on the streets of New York. Barnum and Charity do marry, much to her Father’s objections and they have 2 daughters.
When the daughters are elementary school age Barnum loses his job. Taking out a risky and fraudulent loan he opens Barnum’s American Wax Museum in NYC. Business is slow so at his children’s suggestion to put something live in the museum, he begins to recruit “freaks.” The bearded lady, General Tom Thumb and the like. Barnum becomes a master promoter and really, what he called in real life a “hum bug.” For Barnum a humbug was someone who made wild claims to get publicity and self promote.
He makes a fortune but is still not accepted by the upper crust of NYC society. He yearns to have his family accepted and is willing to do most anything to get it. He goes to England and meets Queen Victoria at a Grand reception held for him and his show. He meets the famous Swedish vocalist Jenny Lind. He becomes fascinated with her, brings her to America, promotes her and she is an instant success.
He decides to invest everything he has and borrow against his mansion for more to start a 150 stop tour with Jenny Lind. Basically he abandons his family to promote the singer. When he spurns Lind’s advances she decides to drop out of the show and Barnum loses everything. There was a picture taken of Barnum kissing Lind that the papers jumped on and said they were having an affair. When he returns his family leaves him and Charity goes home to her parents.
Now that’s enough for right now. We’ll finish this out, but let’s go the the scripture.


it is important to note that this parable comes in a group of three. At the beginning of chapter 15 Luke tell us that all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to learn from him. In fact, Luke says that Jesus even eats with them. The Pharisees are taking issue with this so jesus tells 3 parables about seeking the lost. The first about a shepherd searching for a lost sheep. The second about a woman who loses a silver coin and finds it. The third about the prodigal son. All three have to do with doing whatever it takes to find what’s lost and then the rejoicing that takes place once it’s found. However, the sheep is lost by nature, the coin by neglect, but humans get lost by choice.
The prodigal becomes lost by his own choices. We are going to concentrate this part of the sermon on the prodigal or younger brother and father and not so much on the older brother. We are going to zero in on the phrase “when he came to himself.”
We all know the story. The younger brother comes to his father and demands his inheritance. We know from extra biblical sources that although unusual this was not unheard of. By law the younger brother gets 1/3 of the estate and the older 2/3. Now the Father did not have to do this. He could have told his son no, but he decides to do it, even though this brings great shame upon the family. In essence the son is saying you are dead to me I want my share now! The son takes his wealth and cashes it in and leaves for a distant country.
Now, let’s go back to Barnum for a moment. He is consumed with the way others perceive him. He wanted to be accepted into the upper crust of New York society. (Now he said this was for his children’s sake, but I think it was for his.) He brings a young socialite into his business as a partner to help him earn respect. This partner, Carlisle, get’s him in front of Queen Victoria where he meets Jenny Lind. it is at this point that Barnum leaves for a distant land both literally and metaphorically.
Jesus Hebrew audience would have heard in distant land a land separated from God and all the values of their religious faith. In the movie there is nothing religious in Barnum, but he still leaves his family to obtain the respect he wants. He goes into that distant country just as the prodigal does.
The son forsakes his family and loses all his money on desolate living. Barnum forsakes his family and loses all his money on a bad gamble. They both wind up in the mud with guilty consciences. Sometimes we have to reach the absolute bottom before “we come to our senses. or as Jesus put it “he came to himself.”
The son had reached the lowest of the low for a Jew, indentured to a gentile and herding pigs. This is a total disgrace and would have been seen as a curse. Barnum, stands accused of adultery, and lost his fortune. Bankruptcy still carries the worst connotation of the total bottom of the business world. Especially if it results from fraud or just plan ill advised risky activity. Carlisle pleaded with Barnum not to risk hie fortune on Jenny Lind.
Folks that are stuck in the horrors of addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, or any addictive behavior have to reach the point where the pain of the status quo is greater than the pain to change. (Neva Wilder story about quitting smoking). Both the son and Barnum come to their senses.
The son goes back to his father contrite and repentant and Barnum goes back to his family.


Coming to our senses is the beginning of repentance. Frankly, I think its something we need to do daily. We have all looked at our situations in life and said, “I can’t believe I did that.” We all have made choices that have led us into a foreign country. We may very well be witnessing this as we watch this circus of a Supreme Court Nomination. But the good news is God’s forgiveness seeks us out. The Father runs to the son, before the son has even had a chance to confess! When he does confess the Father acts like he doesn’t hear it, and continues to rejoice in the son that has returned by planning a great celebration.
Luke 15:22–24 NRSV
But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:22-
What great compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness we have here. We see it in Charity Barnum as well. Many will tell you that the forgiveness from humans is the hardest to obtain. And is just as true that forgiving ourselves may be harder than that. But, if we have a God that runs to us before we even have the time to confess (not though the Son had already turned back which was an act of contrition and repentance in itself, the words weren’t needed)
Let’s conclude be reading the lyrics Barnum sings when he comes to himself:
I saw the sun begin to dim And felt that winter wind Blow cold A man learns who is there for him When the glitter fades and the walls won't hold 'Cause from then, rubble One remains Can only be what's true If all was lost Is more I gain 'Cause it led me back To you
From now on These eyes will not be blinded by the lights From now on What's waited till tomorrow starts tonight Tonight Let this promise in me start Like an anthem in my heart From now on From now on
I drank champagne with kings and queens The politicians praised my name But those are someone else's dreams The pitfalls of the man I became For years and years I chased their cheers The crazy speed of always needing more But when I stop And see you here I remember who all this was for
God’s great grace and forgiveness is available to you, Run to Him!
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