Scripture: Ephesians 2:1–2a & 4–10
When I first watched Disney’s Encanto, I became enchanted with the movie. The animation was beautiful, the family of characters was fun and relatable, and the songs by Lin Manuel Miranda, a Broadway musical composer, brought the story to life. I have watched this movie many times since then, but it was not until I began preparing for this sermon that I was able to put into words why this movie deeply resonated with me.
But first, for those of you who have not seen Encanto, let me tell you what it is about. As a warning, I am going to tell you about the whole movie, so consider this your spoiler alert. Encanto is about the Madrigal family, who live in a small village in Columbia. Many years ago, after a time of tragedy and violence, the Madrigal family was given a miracle, a magical candle that always is aflame. This candle blessed the family with a casita, a magical house to live in, and the candle gives each family member a gift when they are a child. Among many talented family members, Luisa has super strength, Pepa’s emotions can affect the weather, Dolores has super hearing, and Isabella can make plants grow.
The whole town benefits from the gifts of the Madrigal family, and the Madrigal family takes pride in all they do for the town. In the opening song, Abuela, Spanish for grandma, says, “We swear to always, help those around us, and earn the miracle that somehow found us… work and dedication will keep the miracle burning.” Viewers quickly discover that there is one family member without a gift, Mirabel. Like everyone else in her family, Mirabel works tirelessly to help her family and community in the ways that she can but she struggles to feel like she belongs in the family. When Mirabel discovers that the miracle, the candle, is dying and cracks are forming in the casita, threatening their home, Mirabel resolves to save the miracle.
As Mirabel searches for a way to save the miracle, she discovers new sides to her older sisters. Luisa, a large muscular woman with super strength, begins to feel weak and admits to Mirabel the immense pressure she feels to hold all of the family’s burdens. In my favorite song of the movie, Louisa sings, “under the surface, I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service. Under the surface, I hide my nerves, and it worsens… this growing pressure keeps growing.”
When a vision tells Mirabel to go to her other sister, Isabella, who is seen as beautiful, perfect, and adored as she grows beautiful flowers throughout the town, Mirabel learns that Isabella hates being perfect. It’s all an act. In frustration while arguing with her sister, Isabella accidentally grows a cactus with a little flower that pops up among the thorns, which begins Isabella’s song, “I just made something unexpected, something sharp, something new, it’s not symmetrical or perfect but it’s beautiful and it’s mine, what else can I do? What could I do if I just grew what I was feeling in the moment?” Mirabel encourages Isabella to let go of perfection and explore this new side of herself and they have fun growing all sorts of plants around town but make a big mess in the process.
Abuela, who has encouraged Isabella’s perfection more than anyone else, enters the scene and is furious and blames all of the problems of the Madrigal family on Mirabel. In that moment, Mirabel realizes (and says) that she will never be good enough for Abuela, no matter how hard anyone in the family tries, they will not be good enough, Louisa will never be strong enough, Isabella will never be perfect enough.
How often do we feel this way? That no matter what we do, we will never truly be enough? We live in a culture that values achievements, that encourages a lifestyle of busyness, that values doing and then doing more. We lift up and celebrate the people that do it all. One of the reasons I think this movie has become so popular is because almost everyone can relate to one of the characters, each working hard in their own way to feel like they are worthy to be a part of the family.
In this family that is struggling to at least pretend to have it all together, Mirabel calls out the truth…she and her sisters will never be enough for her Abuela’s high expectations, there will always be one more thing Abuela wants them to do, this casita of wonder has become toxic. Then Mirabel’s words bring it all to the ground as the casita crashes around them and the candle extinguishes. Mirabel, surrounded by the wreckage of her home, unsure of what to do, runs away and unknowingly ends up at the river where the miracle began fifty years ago. The whole family searches for her, but it is Abuela that finds her at the river. In that moment, they are able to see and understand each other’s pain and each other’s gifts for the first time. Healing is able to begin.
As a way to rebuild their home literally and their family figuratively, Mirabel remarks that they need a new foundation. The Madrigal family worth and value will no longer come from their gifts but from them simply being fully who they are. In the final song, Abuela sings, “The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got, the miracle is you, not some gift, just you, the miracle is you.” And then the townspeople, who have no magical gifts but a love for their neighbor, come and help rebuild the house. This time, the house isn’t built by magic like before, the house is built by everyone in town working together out of love for one another.
There are many beautiful lessons this movie teaches us, but I think what resonated with me most is the reminder of the theological truth of God’s grace. No matter what I do, I cannot earn my place with God. It is through God’s grace that I am able to be in right relationship with God. Ephesians 2 professes this:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
In verse 10, the NIV says we are God’s workmanship. That’s where our relationship with God begins—being created by God, in God’s image.
When a baby is born, parents love them right away…newborns don’t do anything remarkable to earn this love, the baby just is, and the parents simply love their baby because that baby is theirs. God loves us in this same way.
It’s not through our works but God’s works—God’s grace, Jesus’ sacrificial love—that we are saved. There is nothing we need to do and nothing we can do to earn God’s love. From the beginning, God’s love for us has been present. We are not loveable because of what we do but because of whose we are. We are not measured by deeds but by God’s grace and love that has been poured out for us. There is deep freedom and joy in this knowledge.
Now if you struggle to relate to the magical family in Encanto, then maybe you will relate more to Juanita Campbell Rasmus, a pastor who experienced a major depressive episode, some days being so overcome with depression that she was unable to get out of bed. Rasmus used this experience, what she refers to as her “crash,” to deepen her relationship with God. While lying in bed, unable to do anything for weeks, God reminded her that it was not her overworking at church that made her beloved to God. She was beloved simply because she was God’s.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
Rasmus’ crash invited her into a new way of being and seeing the world. One that begins with abiding in God’s deep love and grace and as those roots take hold within you, as you begin to really believe that God loves you simply because you are God’s, then doing will naturally follow in a much healthier way.
Too often we do things backwards…like the Madrigals we try to earn our place by doing, by using our gifts, by thinking that is where our value lies. But God does not want us to live that way because that way of life, trying to earn our worth, only leads to burnout, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, broken relationships…the list goes on. God does not want us to place our worth and value in this world on what we do. No, God wants us to abide with him.
I love that word, “abide.” “Abide” makes me think of home, of being together with the people you love. God wants us to abide, to dwell with him, to bring God home and experience the love, grace and peace that drawing near to God brings. And then naturally, we will do. But our doing will not come from trying to earn our place and prove our worth. Our doing will come from experiencing the deep love, grace, and peace of God. Because once our cup has been filled with God’s presence, it begins to overflow onto others.
This week, let’s try to un-program our tendency to try and earn our worth and instead, let’s work on being. Let’s dream with Luisa who sang, “but wait, if I could shake the crushing weight of expectations would that free some room up for joy or relaxation or simple pleasure, instead of this growing pressure?” Let’s find ways to regularly remind ourselves that our worth and value does not come from our gifts, or from what we do, it simply comes from being God’s beloved. Because God created and chose us, God created and chose you to be their beloved.
In Rasmus’ book, Learning to Be, she says this, “Each of us needs to figure out how to be the person God created us to be, a person with gifts, talents, and desires that enable us to first be and then do our life with a sense of security, passion and joy….Our doing, no longer bound to the imposition of other’s opinions or expectations, will spring out of our deep and inexhaustible well of being.”
May it be so.