Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
A few weeks ago, Karen preached a good sermon on Mark’s story of the Syrophoenician woman. But she indicated that initially she didn’t like the assignment very much, and briefly flirted with the idea of asking me to preach that Sunday.
Well, I wish she had, because maybe then I wouldn’t have to preach about today’s Gospel text. Mark 9:38-50, with its parallels in the other Gospels, is one of the New Testament passages from which the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked is derived. In other words, hell.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hell is all about revenge, and I like the theme of revenge as much as the next guy. I like the Die Hard movies, and the Dirty Harry films. When I was trying to get started writing this sermon, I also began to think about some of the early James Bond movies with Sean Connery — still, in my opinion, the definitive portrayal of Agent 007. Specifically, I began thinking about the end of Goldfinger. I couldn’t remember all the details, so I rented the film to rewatch the ending, and then of course I needed to put the ending in context, so I ended up watching the whole film. This was research, you understand, and if there’s anything I’m a stickler for, it’s good, hard, exegetical research.
The scene I was specifically trying to remember, and remember exactly, so I could recount it to you, was the death of the villain of the piece, a repulsive, obsessively greedy man named Auric Goldfinger. Having been foiled by Bond in his cunning plan to blow up Fort Knox with a dirty atomic bomb and therefore make his own gold holdings ten times more valuable, Goldfinger manages to escape. He does so by dressing up as a U.S. general and killing the soldiers guarding the small private jet that is to fly Bond to Washington to be congratulated by the President. The plane, as it turns out, is being flown by Goldfinger’s chief pilot, a woman whose name I cannot even mention in a family-oriented sermon. This woman had at first, strangely enough, seemed impervious to Bond’s charms.
She eventually succumbed, of course—no woman is a match for the charms of James Bond– and she then helped Bond foil Goldfinger’s plot. But now she seems helpless as Goldfinger holds them both hostage with his solid-gold gun as the plane flies through the air. Bond, however, manages to divert Goldfinger’s attention momentarily and grab for the gun, and in the melee that follows he shoots out the window on the plane and the evil Goldfinger, who has killed two of Bond’s girlfriends and several other people in particularly nasty ways, himself meets a horrible end—sucked out of the plane with a terrified look on his face. Bond, stumbling forward to the cockpit, is greeted by his new girlfriend with the words, “What’s going on? What happened to Goldfinger?” And Bond says, “He’s playing his golden harp,” as the plane goes into a nose dive, from which they escape just in the nick of time, I won’t tell you how, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you.
But I love that line, “He’s playing his golden harp.” Isn’t it just so fitting? The man who has so cruelly dispatched others, even suffocating one of Bond’s lady friends by having her unconscious body painted from head to toe in gold paint—this terrible Goldfinger himself meets a horrible end, and the instrument of his destruction is his own golden gun. Doesn’t that make you want to stand up and cheer? Continue reading