8 Great Preaching Themes in the Movie, The Martian

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I went to see the movie, The Martian, last night to just relax and not think of “church related things” but my mission failed. The entire movie is filled with so many great preaching illustrations that I can’t get the film and it’s many themes off my mind.

Before I list the themes that jumped out at me, let me just tell you a bit about the movie, in case you have not seen it yet (no spoilers, however). An astronaut, Mark Watney, is left behind on Mars and presumed dead. But he is very much alive and has to try and survive until a possible rescue can happen. It sounds like a movie you have seen before but it is not. Director Ridley Scott does such a great job making it seem real and has a great mix of action, drama and humor to make it believable.

Here are eight great preaching themes I found in the movie. After you see it, I am sure you will be able to add to my list:

1. Resurrection: Mark Watney is believed to be dead. You see the sadness and horror of death, and then the disbelief and uncertainty of how and when to tell others that he is alive. Reminds me of the empty tomb, the visits to fishermen and needing to touch his wounds before anyone believed.

2. Each Life Matters: Throughout the movie, those in charge are trying to balance whether one life is worth risking the possible additional deaths of the rescue teams and how many resources should be spent on “just one person.” But time and time again it is decided that one life does matter.

I can’t help but think of our personal and intimate relationship with God where God created each of us, has us carved on the palm of God’s hand, and knows how many hairs we have on our heads. Ours is an intimate God who values each life.

3. Are We Alone? Because Mars is so far away and messages are hard to send and receive, Mark Watney, is not sure if anyone knows he is alive. He is absolutely alone. One of the most fascinating things of this movie is that, as he goes about the business of surviving, the control people begin to notice the most subtle of his movements and suspect that he is alive. Mark does his thing, the NASA people do their thing, and though Mark feels completely alone, he is already being helped.

Isn’t this so much of our life journey? We feel alone, like it is us against the world, only to discover that, in God’s wisdom and timing, things were set in motion long before we realized it. Often as we look at the pieces of our lives, we see the hand God was moving long before we realized it.

4. Grace: The storm that causes Mark Watney to be left behind was a bad one and he was left by accident. However, there is great guilt by everyone who left him. Mark Watney could have begun his journey to survival the way many of us do, with blaming. Instead he recognizes that it was an accident and moves forward. He shows grace better than I ever seen it portrayed in any movie.

I think of the cross and the words of Christ, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Blame is so much easier than grace.

5. Self Sacrifice: I can’t say much about this without giving away the movie, but let me just say that the number of times people are willing to sacrifice themselves (their lives, their jobs, their time, their reputations) are more than I can count.

Jesus told us that we must lay down our lives for others. This includes sacrificing our time, talents, money, and reputations. Loving a neighbor can mean great sacrifice.

6. Becoming the Body of Christ: The people who come together in this movie to help are diverse, and I assume, intentionally. There are old corporate type men, women (of all ages and in all jobs from astronaut, to PR, to scientist), young people, people of all nationalities, people from different countries… I mean, people from all walks of life working together as one unit with one single purpose: to save a life.

I could not help but think of Paul who asked us to be “one body in Christ.” Imagine the entire body of Christ truly focusing on our purpose to save lives. That would be a sign of the kingdom of God on earth.

7. Times of Conflict: Throughout the movie, key people make decisions and others disagree. Sometimes, those that disagree, act defiantly.  Sometimes the choices are good and sometimes wrong. There are honest moments of confrontation and frustration and yet everyone stays engaged. In the midst of stress, there is lots of diversity and yet they all manage to stay focused on the main mission at hand.

The Church is facing difficult times where many people have opinions, make decisions and the outcomes are both positive and negative, yet the mission of the church is often lost in the midst of the conflict. The question raised in the movie is: Is the mission more important than the conflict?

8. Choosing Life or Death: Throughout the movie, Mark Watney, faces whether to take risks, which have the possibility of leading to his rescue, or giving up and facing death. At times, death (doing nothing) seems like the easier, more logical choice because the risks he faces seem impossible. Some of the best parts of the movie are those moments when he looks his own death in the face and chooses risk so that he can live.

Throughout the Bible people faced the same dilemma, to choose death or risk living.  God spoke to the Israelites and said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19, ESV).

Christ often spoke of risk he was asking us to take, to leave security and our old selves behind to become new creatures. The apostle Paul said it best: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I rarely rave about a movie, but this one moved my soul. I am sure I have only mentioned some of the preach-able moments embedded in it. Have fun at the movies!

To learn more about Leanne Hadley’s work please visit her website: leanne-hadley.com or on her Facebook page: Leanne Cares about Kids.

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Leanne Hadley is an ordained elder in the UMC and has a DMin in the spirituality of children. She has dedicated her entire career to working with and studying the spiritual lives of children. Her work experience includes working as a chaplain, directing a migrant ministry summer program, Minister to Children and Families, and Founder of First Steps Spirituality Center. She is passionate about strengthening congregations by helping them understand the spiritual lives of children and deepen and expand the ministries they offer to children and families.

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