Sermon from November, 17th
The Hunger Games is a three book series written by Suzanne Collins about a girl named Katniss Everdeen (I love her name) and her struggle to survive in a future world, in a post-apocalyptic world set in North America but now called Panem. At some point, war and environmental disaster destroyed the United States, and out of the remnants grew the new country of Panem. The nation consists of a wealthy Capitol city, located in the Rocky Mountain region, with 12 poorer districts surrounding it. There was at one time a 13th district, but it supposedly was destroyed by the Capitol during a rebellion some 75 years prior to the events in the books. Panem is ruled by the Capitol in a totalitarian regime. The Capitol asserts complete control over the 12 districts, forcing the people there to abide by strict rules and work in industries that supply the needs of the Capitol. It’s an oppressive situation for those living in the 12 districts. Those fortunate enough to live in the Capitol live in luxury and excessiveness. They are overconsumers…so much so that many of the people are not satisfied with their human beauty, but resort to coloring their skin and disfiguring their bodies.
The title The Hunger Games comes from one of the ways the Capitol exerts its control over the districts. Each year two children, one male and one female 12-18 years old, are chosen by lottery as “tributes” (that’s what they are called) to participate in, or more accurately, be sacrificed in, a reality TV show that where these children are forced to fight to the death. And the last one remaining wins that year’s Hunger Games and becomes a celebrity. All citizens in Panem are required to watch the games. The Capitol set up the games as retribution for a failed rebellion against the Capitol’s rule. It’s a way to control the citizens and remind them of who has the power.
We first meet Katniss on reaping day, the day when the children are chosen from the districts to compete in the Hunger Games. When her younger sister Prim's name is drawn in the District 12 reaping, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the arena. Joining her from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son who had once saved Katniss' life by giving her bread when she was desperately hungry. With their mentor Haymitch Abernathy, the solitary District 12 victor from a past Hunger Games, they are taken to the Capitol for complete makeovers, games training and to be paraded in front of the adoring Capitol crowds eager to see them get slaughtered.
One thing we learn about Katniss is that before her father died in a mining accident, he taught her how to hunt in the woods, which was forbidden by the Capitol who use trained policemen to make sure that their rules are followed, these police are ironically called “Peacekeepers.” Katniss would sneak off in the woods and hunt with a bow and arrow to provide for her family and for some others in the District 12. Just a side note, much of the film was shot in Shelby, Asheville and Concord, NC. The sunshine club actually took a trip to see where District 12 was shot, it was neat.
Katniss proves to be a formidable tribute in the Hunger Games. She knows how to hunt and how to survive in the woods. And the reason the games are called the Hunger Games is because if a child isn’t killed by another contestant then they will probably starve or thirst to death. The setting of the Hunger Games is a huge arena where the games could last for days and days and days.
Through a series of events and really one subversive act of mutual sacrifice, Katniss and Peeta both win the 74th Hunger Games. By having two victors they have changed the rules. Katniss becomes a symbol of hope for all the other districts and she doesn’t even realize it right away.
The second novel Catching Fire begins with the couple’s Victory Tour six months after they are named champions. The ruthless government of Panem is not pleased with the admiration the crowds show for Katniss and Peeta . The President fears that other people under oppression will follow the couple’s example and defy the government. The couple must fight again in the 75th Hunger Games. The second book ends, as Katniss and her allies unleash a revolution, another rebellion against society’s corrupt rulers, against the Capitol and especially the president.
In Mockingjay, the final book of the trilogy, Katniss becomes the face of a nationwide rebellion. At the end of the book, after many twists and turns, Katniss secures freedom for her people. After she experiences great personal loss and has been through just terrible, The Hunger Games have ended and the oppressive regime that was in power is destroyed. So as dark as it is, it ends well.
Again, like last week with How to Train your dragon, there are several themes found in the Bible that I could use this movie as a platform to explore. There’s the theme of love and sacrifice (of course there’s a love triangle going on in the book, you can’t a Young Adult book without that right, but there is the theme of sacrificial love as well), there’s the theme of how to have hope when you are under oppression, there’s the theme of grief and loss, there’s the theme of survival and the importance of family and friends. There’s the theme of desenzitation towards violence and the role of entertainment in our lives. There’s the theme of excess and scarcity, having enough resources to feed all people in Panem, yet some people are starving and some are living in ridiculous luxury and excess.
Hopefully you can already see some of the parallels with modern society and hopefully you can see how some of these themes are important to God and should be important to us. I want us to look at the theme of thirst and hunger. Afterall, it’s title is the Hunger Games and the Bible has quite a bit to say regarding thirst and hunger.
There are two types of thirst and hunger in the Bible. There’s the literally thirst and hunger that was a matter of physical life or death. We tend to forget that the entire Bible is set in a time when they did not have indoor or outdoor plumbing. The people of the Bible, all of them, could not just turn on a faucet for water. So if you were thirsty and you had run out of water that you had gathered from the rain or from the river or from the lake, if your family is out of water, you have to walk miles to get the water and bring it back. And what happens if you don’t make it back in time? So when we think of being thirsty, it is not a thirsty like, oh I would like some water because I’m thirsty, it was more like, if I don’t get a drink of water today I will die. It was a matter of life and death.
In Jesus’ day, poverty was not like what it is today. There were no social institutions, or local soup kitchens or warm places to stay overnight, people that were poor, had no options except to beg if you were a man or be a prostitute if you were a woman. It was sell yourself or die. And that’s why Jesus talked so strongly about feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, those who needed were in poverty and had no way to live.
So we come to a parable Jesus is telling like in Matthew 25 and we see how important feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty is: Read 34-46. The assumption Jesus is making in these verses is that if you are truly my disciple, this is what it looks like, feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty and clothing the naked. Because in this culture, it was literally a matter of life and death. The only options for survival was begging or prostitution, that was it. While poverty looks different today then it did back then our country, we are still called to be generous and selfless and helpful and we are still called to be a blessing to people who aren’t as fortunate as we are. When I read these verses I am convicted, I hope you are too.
That’s the literal, physical thirst and hunger. Lets talk about the spiritual thirst and hunger. When is the last time you thirsted for God the way you do when you are thirsty for water? When is the last time you sought God with the same conviction you seek food for your family if you and the ones you loved were starving? Jesus said in John 6:32-35. The psalmist wrote in 42:1-2. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6. When is the last time you took time to seek God because you were hungry and thirsty for Him? If you don’t think you have a spiritual hunger and thirst for God, try living without him. Try it, say no and see how your life turns out. See how your eternity turns out. God doesn’t force himself on anyone, yet, he has placed within each of us a spiritual hunger that only He can fulfill…both on this earth and for all eternity.
There’s a part in the book towards the beginning of the first Hunger Games that Katniss is in and she has gotten far into the woods but she’s thirsty. And she knows if she doesn’t find water soon that she will die of dehydration. And so she wonders why her mentor, her trainer, Haymitch hasn’t sent her any water. Because he can do that...he could pay the people who run the Hunger Games to send her a bottle of water from the sky. But he doesn’t. And at this point she is so dehydrated that she is crawling and feeling dizzy and she knows the symptoms. And she wonders is my mentor, the one that is supposed to be helping me, is he going to just let me die. Then she realizes that the reason he’s not sending water is because she must be close to a water source. And it turns out to be true. He didn’t want to use the precious resources he had to send her water when she was so close to it already. And she finds water and ends up being okay. By the way, the movie does not do a good job of portraying scene, that I thought was so powerful.
Unlike Haymitch who was limited by how much he could help Katniss, we have a God of unlimited resources. In fact we have a God who is our source of satisfying our spiritual thirsts and hungers. The only question is…are you seeking after him? Are seeking after righteousness? Are you hungry for justice to be done in this world? Do you thirst after being more like God so that you can overcome the forces of wickedness in this world? Just like in the world of the Hunger Games, there is evil in this world…what are you doing about it? Are you a beacon of hope and life and truth and justice and faith…or are you a contributor to the evils? We have a God who desires to overcome the evils in this with love, with forgiveness, with joy, with hope, with grace, with mercy…how are you doing with those things?
May we be the kind of people that thirst and hunger after God so that we can make a difference in this world. Katniss becomes a symbol of hope. Jesus is our symbol of hope…are you pointing people to him?