May the Force Be With You

“May the Force Be With You”

Scripture: Psalm 24, John 14:18-31

Sermon Written and Preached by Rev. Shane Montoya on January 21, 2018 at Edwards Church, Framingham

A small group huddles in the darkness. They know hope; but on nights like these, it seems distant.

An evil Empire, vast in power and might, especially in its destructive capabilities, seeks their complete annihilation. For this evil Empire, once a proud republic, desires nothing more than the domination of all in its path, and the members of this small group have a different political vision than what the center of power holds.

They know that domination is not the way forward, but cooperation. They seek a system where all are equal.

I am, of course, speaking of the Early Christian Church, and not Star Wars, but, yes, both our Christian story and Star Wars both feature Evil Empires, inspiring heroes and heroines, danger, temptation, and at least metaphorical death and resurrection.

We can even see an arc of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection can even in the titles of the Original Trilogy of Star Wars movies, released back in the 1970s and 80s:

With A New Hope, referring to Jesus’s Birth, The Empire Strikes Back referring to Jesus crucifixion and death at the hands of the Roman Empire, and Return of the Jedi, well, I’m trying really hard not to refer to it right now as the Return of the Jesus.

This is partly because are similarities in how the Gospel story and Star Wars are structured: both make at least some use of the “Heroes’ Journey” format, in which a character performs deeds, becomes famous, falls afoul of some powerful political leader, and then metaphorically (or literally) descends into hell, only to return stronger.

But what’s been intriguing me lately, and this is a theme that I touched on briefly a couple of weeks ago during the Epiphany worship service, is that the Star Wars saga gives me great insights into the difference between consuming and participating in a story. I’ve come to realize that this is incredibly important to our lives of faith.

It’s taught me that Christianity is not, or well, should not, be something we consume, like listening to a pop song or reading a fun novel, but something we participate in. Our story is not one in which we should hear it or read it on Sunday mornings and then not have it be in our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our souls the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week.

It is a story we participate in, not one we consume; to hone that difference a little bit, let’s go back to our first scripture reading today. In our psalm reading, Psalm 24, Clair reminded us that while the Earth belongs to God, there are some places that are special.

There are mountaintops, both physical and metaphorical, where only the pure, the clean of heart, those who seem to hunger and thirst for God, can approach. They are exclusive places, places reserved for saints, for the prayer warriors, for those who seem to always know what to do to please God.

They are for Moses and Elijah, Peter and John, for the grand heroes of our Christian Story, who changed the world through their deeds. Certainly not the sort of place for someone like me, Full of self-doubt, full of doubt about whether or not I’m doing the right thing, if I’m reading enough Bible or spending enough time with God.

A place, it sometimes feels like, that is designed to make the rest of us feel a bit inadequate. Make us feel as though that story wasn’t written for people like us. A story that I can’t, we can’t, participate in. It forces me out of participation mode and back into consumption mode.

The old Star Wars movies are the same way. I didn’t live in a world with robots and laser pistols and Lightsabers. I wasn’t and would never be a Jedi Knight, like Luke Skywalker, a lovable and charming rogue like Han Solo, or even confident like Princess Leia.

So they were fantasies that existed over there. Sure, I could play the video games, read the books, and watch the movies, but I was always aware in the back of my head, and I don’t think I could have named it then, that the stories weren’t really for me to participate in. They were there for me to enjoy myself with.  A worthy goal, to some extent.

But its not the stuff of stories that help us make meaning out of the world. Those consuming stories are not the stories that define and shape how we live. Which is part of why the most recent Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi is so interesting.

I believe that The Last Jedi was an attempt to make Star Wars more like a participatory story. There are signs all through the movie about this: there’s a main character, Rose Tico, played by Asian American actress Kelly Marie Tran, who isn’t anything special.

She’s a maintenance worker, a mechanic. She’s bright, but not a genius. She’s not a skilled fighter or ace pilot. She’s kind of a normal person.She does step up and become brave when she needs to be, but that wasn’t because of any special ability, power or talent that made it easy for her to be brave, but because it was what she needed to do to save the people she loved.

And stepping up? Well, that’s something I can see myself doing.

Maybe not by traveling through space on a one-in-a-million chance space adventure, but maybe by advocating for people who need my voice.

Maybe by listening to someone who’s not doing so good, or making lasagna for someone who’s recovering from surgery; and when I can see myself in the story, And especially when folks who don’t see themselves in stories very often, especially women, and folks of color can see themselves in stories, and begin to participate in them.

It’s important.

It really does mean something.

So when stories in our Bible like our second scripture reading today, from the Gospel of John, tell us, point blank, that this whole Bible thing, this Jesus guy, this whole Christianity thing is participatory gig, I take note.

He reminds us, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Jesus Christ here is literally telling us that we are called to a participating faith, one in which we have a major part to play. Jesus is subverting the message of the psalm, that the mountaintop experience of God is only for the holy rollers, instead saying that it’s for everyone who tries to love God and their neighbors and has good days and not so good days and bad hair days besides.

For we do not have a religion that calls us to a life of passivity, a life of watching only heroes and stars do faith, over there, but a sometimes messy and often beautiful faith lived right here. This is because Jesus’ way- God’s way- is not based around worship of a distant God, existing solely in the realm of metaphor, who exists only in our beautiful choir pieces and piano solos, but in the sometimes awkward singing of our whole congregation in an unfamiliar song, and in a God who jams out with us while we’re singing a little bit louder than we should to Uptown Funk.

Because God wants all of us to be in Christ, not just the parts that society tells us that we should feel good about. God loves and wants our bodies that have gained a little bit more weight than we wanted to, that maybe we think aren’t that pretty anymore, simply because God wants to be around us, to be with us, to be in us.

God wants our addictions and annoying habits that we want to break, God wants our jealousies and petty rivalries, because God wants us to become the people that deep down inside, we know we can be.

Our God isn’t the God of the philosophers, unchanging and unfeeling, ontologically pure but emotionally distant. But a God continues to grieve with us, as Jesus mourned the death of Lazarus beside Martha and Mary.

That is the truth about our God.

Truth with a capital T is not something I talk about much when it comes to religious and theological discussions, but I will do so for this; our God calls us to a life of faith that is in active partnership with God, in our joys and struggles, and in our hopes, our dreams.

It’s not an easy thing to do; no one ever said it would be.

No heroes’ journey is ever easy.

So I send you with this ancient blessing, from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,

“May the Force be with you.”