Youth Sunday message by graduating senior, Ryan Kelley.
The book entitled, “The Gospel According to Harry Potter” was written by Connie Neal. In speaking of the joy of reading, Neal says, “Not only can we enjoy the story itself, we can go on to share what it means to us, what it reminds us of, and what that makes us think about in other stories and in real life.” Years ago, some anti-Potter critics saw “real” witchcraft and occult practices in the Harry Potter stories. Neal, as a Christian, chooses to find the Christian gospel instead. She quotes J. K. Rowling the author of the Harry Potter books, who once said, “People tend to find in books what they look to find.” I choose to find parallels to my faith, as Neal has done, and here are some examples from her book.
God’s love for us – “The Curse of Death and the Boy Who Lived”
Soon after Harry was born, he was targeted for death by the Dark Wizard, Lord Voldemort. When his parents, James and Lily discovered this, they took Harry into hiding. However, Harry’s parents were betrayed and Voldemort learned the location of their refuge. Upon Voldemort’s arrival, he killed Harry’s father, James. When he attempted to kill Harry, Lily Potter placed herself between Voldemort’s killing curse and Harry, sacrificing herself. Again, he tried to kill Harry, but this time the curse rebounded and Voldemort’s power was mysteriously broken; Harry became, “The Boy Who Lived”. The mystery, of course, was Lily Potter’s love for her son. As Dumbledore later explains to Harry, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s love for you leaves its own mark....to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
Lily Potter’s willingness to lay down her life for her son can remind us of the love of Jesus Christ. From the book of Romans, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Lily dies for Harry, but Jesus dies for us all; all of God’s children. The curse of death was broken, not only for Jesus, but for everyone who believes in Him.
As news of Voldemort’s demise spread, and Harry’s story begins, the wizarding world rejoiced. Shooting stars streaked across the sky, messages were sent to loved-ones, outbursts of great joy filled the air. This celebration could remind us of another joyous beginning where the sky was filled with angels pronouncing great joy while in a lowly stable, a baby sleeps.
God always knows where we are – “The Unstoppable Invitation”
For the next ten years, Harry was raised by his “muggle”, or non-magical, aunt and uncle. J.K. Rowling wrote, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.” Right before Harry’s 11th birthday, he received a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The address indicated that the sender knew not only his street address, but that his “bedroom” was the cupboard under the stairs! Since his aunt and uncle considered magic to be nothing but “hogwash”, they never told Harry about his wizarding past. So, when the letter came, Harry was not allowed to read it and it was destroyed. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia thought that by ignoring the letter, Hogwarts would give up and not contact Harry again. They were wrong! In the following days, number four Privet Drive was invaded by a multitude of owls delivering Hogwarts letters, and no matter what Uncle Vernon did to discourage their delivery, the letters found a way into the house. Distraught and at his wit’s end, Uncle Vernon drove the family far away; to an isolated hut on an island in the sea. Incredibly, that same night, Harry receives a visitor, Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and grounds at Hogwarts who personally delivered his letter. Harry finally got to read his acceptance letter to the wizarding school!
Even though some people act like Uncle Vernon, there is no successful way to run away from God. Just ask Jonah. When the Lord told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to warn the people against their wickedness, Jonah fled in the opposite direction and boarded a ship to Tarshish. When the seas grew rough, Jonah told the sailors to toss him overboard because he knew that it was God’s displeasure with him that caused the storm. With that, the seas became calm. The Lord then sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah where he spent three days and nights in the fish’s belly praying to God. Jonah was then spit upon the shore and again commanded to go to Nineveh. This time he went.
There is someone out there who knows each of us, loves us, cares about us and calls us by name. Neal writes, “His message has been sent out through prophets who wrote it down, read it aloud, and delivered it to kings and peasants, religious and irreligious, young and old alike. God’s message, compiled in the Bible, holds an invitation to enter a supernatural realm where we can learn his ways and take an active part in the battle between good and evil.”
Professor Dumbledore was not deterred from getting his invitation letter delivered to Harry just as God was not deterred in reaching humanity. Just as it became necessary to send Hagrid to personally deliver Harry’s letter, there came a time for God to send his message in person as well. He knew this would be the case from the very beginning. From the book of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “God’s Holy Spirit continues to seek out those who are lost and to urge them to accept God’s invitation to come into his kingdom and learn of him.”
Jesus is Betrayed by a Friend – “The Rat Who Betrayed Harry’s Parents”
In the third Harry Potter book, we learn that Ron’s pet rat was really a man named Peter Pettigrew. Peter attended Hogwarts with Harry’s father and was one of a band of friends that included James Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin. These friends stood against Voldemort when he terrorized the wizarding world.
When it became known that Voldemort meant to kill Harry, the Potter family went into hiding. They used their friends and a Fidelius Charm to keep themselves hidden. Voldemort would be unable to find them as long as the friend they entrusted with their location kept the secret. They chose Peter Pettigrew as their secret-keeper. Unfortunately, Pettigrew, a man they considered to be their friend, betrayed them to Voldemort, which led to the deaths of Harry’s parents and the attack on Harry.
When Jesus began His ministry, he chose twelve disciples that he called friends. One of them betrayed Him to the religious leaders who felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity and influence. These leaders sought to have Jesus silenced forever, so they worked against Him. Their plan was to arrest Jesus when he was away from the crowds, so they enlisted the help of someone close to Him. Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, offered to betray Him. After the Passover meal, when Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas came with a military force whose purpose was to arrest Jesus. Judas identified Jesus to the soldiers with a kiss.
Neal summarizes by saying, “We do know that even though Jesus was betrayed by one of his friends, like James and Lily Potter he showed us the greatest act of love and friendship one can possibly demonstrate when he laid down his life for us.”
God’s compassion for all people – “The Muggle Protection Act”
In book three, Arthur Weasley introduced “The Muggle Protection Act” at the Ministry of Magic. Voldemort’s followers saw muggles as less-than-human; hurting and killing them for fun. Additionally, magical people born of non-magical parents were also discriminated against. But, those on the side of good, including the Weasleys, Dumbledore and Harry, sought to protect muggles and muggle-borns. Muggles were valued as people even though they didn’t belong to the wizarding world.
This can remind us of how Jesus treated the crowds of people that came to hear Him preach and to be healed. Neal writes, “These crowds were not just made up of those in the Jewish religious establishment. Indeed, these masses of humanity were made up of Gentiles, Samaritans, and people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds.” From Matthew chapter 9 we read, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.
Neal’s book only covers stories from the first four Harry Potter books since it was written before the other books came out. However, we can look ahead to the end of the series and the final battle between good and evil. During Voldemort’s reign of terror, innocent people both magical and non-magical alike, endured unspeakable suffering and torment. At the final battle, Harry’s mother’s love that had previously protected Harry from Voldemort’s killing curse as a baby, again saves his life. And with help from his friends, Harry succeeds in defeating the evil that was Voldemort. The battle is won!
At the end of Jesus’ ministry, there were those who opposed his teachings and were threatened by his popularity. The high priests and religious leaders felt Jesus undermined their authority so they conspired to have him killed. Thinking that his death would end his influence, we learn in Matthew chapter 26 that after Jesus’s arrest, “...the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death.” Jesus, after being crucified and buried, was raised from the dead three days later as the scriptures foretold. His resurrection foretold a glorious reality. “Death has been swallowed up in victory”. (1 Corinthians 15:54) The battle has been won!
I feel prepared to go into the world and look for God in my everyday life because of all the support and kindness I’ve experienced over the years that I’ve attended UPC. All the services, all the Sunday school classes, all the youth group meetings, and every other UPC related activity have all cemented themselves as happy moments in my life that I will remember for a long time.