At The Movies - Week 4: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

This week we are concluding the sermon series "At The Movies" for the month of July--and if it sounds a bit familiar, you would be correct in assuming we've done something like this before.  I say like this, because this is actually the second year in a row that we have scheduled the sermon series "At The Movies" during the month of July. 

We did this for a couple of good reasons:  First, July typically is the worst month of the year for church attendance and so most churches just fold it up for the entire month.  But not us.  We decided to ramp up this month for the most interactive, creative sermon series of the year. 

The second reason why we are doing At The Movies again, is because as Christians we need to learn a powerful lesson about the universe:  Everything is Spiritual.  We need to be able to look at the world around us, at culture, at art, at theater, music and even movies and be able to find the spiritual core at the center of it all.  

We need to learn to look at the world through a Jesus-shaped lens.  So, each week we are going to be taking on a new topic, illustrated by some of the biggest movies of the year.  I used to have this coach that would tell us that you play like you practice--so let's practice using those Jesus-shaped lenses. 

This week we are going to be using the hit movie "Star Wars: " as our theme and illustration as we learn a valuable lesson in what it means to not be overwhelmed by all of the evil, violence and bad things that are happening in the world all around us.  

Here's a quick synopsis of the latest in the Star Wars pantheon of films: 

Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last of the Jedi Knights.

We have a clip to give you a visual as to what this particular movie was all about... 

The theme for this particular entry into the Star Wars pantheon is simply this: It can feel like evil is never going to give up until it overwhelms good.  But if there is one spark of hope—that’s enough to turn the tide.

Which is not that dissimilar to what I want us to focus on today as we dig into our sermon:  
Evil might seem like it’s winning, but we have the force within us to show the world that it’s already lost. 

Let me ask you a question--an important question.  Have you seen all of the Star Wars movies?  If not, do you have plans to see all of the Star Wars movies?  Because I am recommending this as your pastor.  Tell your boss you called in to work sick because your pastor told you to watch Star Wars.  They will understand.  

I love Star Wars.  When Star Wars was released in 1977 my family didn't go see movies because we were being told that movies were evil and movie theaters were dens of iniquity.  We've grown up in our faith a tad since then.  

But I read all of the Star Wars books, comic books, anything I could get my hands on.  I had tons of Star Wars toys, action figures, ships and the like.  We were poor and so my mom put an X-wing fighter on layaway one year, and Darth Vader's tie fighter on lay away the next year--paying a little each week until she paid it off so I could have Star Wars toys. 

My dad let me use his tools and pieces of wood he got for me so I could build my own playsets, including my interpretation of the Death Star made of 2x4 chunks of wood. 

Star Wars has always been a huge part of my life.  When the new movies came out, I always went to see them as soon as I could.  My kids have Star Wars toys, my oldest son and I used to play the Star Wars Battlefront video game for hours at a time when he was little.  

It's a timeless story of good vs. evil and the love for this ongoing story has been passed down from generation to generation until now.  Forty years since it debuted, the original cast was reunited once again for this latest film.  They might be a little grizzled, a little thicker around the waist... but then again so are most of us who have grown up with them. 

I got to thinking about how the world has changed since 1977.  Would you think that the world was better in 1977 or worse? 

Well here are some things that were probably better:  Gas cost $.65, average home price was $49K, average rent was $240 a month, a BMW 320i was $8K... so there's that.  

But here are some other things that happened in 1977:  

There was a blackout in New York City that lasted for 25 hours that resulted in looting, fires, destruction of stores, 4,500 arrests, 500 police officers injured.  It was a war zone. 

The army in Bermuda had to be called in to quell major race riots there.  

Four Palestinian hijackers took over a Lufthansa airline demanding the release of 11 militants imprisoned in Germany. 

The Son of Sam killer stalked and killed victims in New York City. 

The Hillside Stranglers stalked and killed victims in Los Angeles. 

12 Muslim terrorists took 149 hostages, killing one outright and responsible for the death of another who died in the hospital.  They did this in Washington, DC for 39 hours before being captured.  

In St. Louis there was a series of car bombings that took the lives of several people.  The crimes were never solved.  

It's far too easy for us to say how bad things have gotten--but all it takes is a bit of research to discover that Evil has been at work in one form or another for a very long time.  In the same year that people were standing in line to see Star Wars, all of these things were going on around them. 

Some might say that we know more about these kinds of things now because of the way our world has become flattened by social media and the internet.  There's some truth to that, but it doesn't do anything to get to the heart of what is happening and why. 

What do we know about Evil, anyway?  If we are being completely honest, we have to admit that Evil does exist.  It also has the ability to permeate the minds, hearts and souls of human beings with disastrous results. 

But does this Evil have a name?  Some might say yes--it has a name:  Lucifer, the Devil, the Enemy, and Satan to name a few. 

In 1 Peter 5:5-11, the Apostle Peter wrote about how powerful our Enemy, Evil, can seem.  He also gives us some hope as he reveals how Evil--even though it might feel like it's winning sometimes, doesn't get to win, it doesn't get the last word.  

5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[a]
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter is trying to help these Early Christians to whom he is writing to understand and reframe the horrible things that are happening all around them.  Christians are being persecuted, executed in horrible ways.  The world was always at war. Terrorism was everywhere.  

And Peter wants them to know that they will have to exhibit some humility and possibly some suffering in the short term, but that it wouldn't last forever.  That one day they would be exalted and glorified--that all things would be made right.  Because of the hope they had in Jesus, they didn't have to be afraid of anything. 

But he also tells them that they can't underestimate their enemy--that they needed God;s power to overcome evil, to transcend it.  He described the Enemy as a "roaring lion" who walks around trying to eat people.  The lion is often used in Hebrew writing to describe enemies that are out to get you.  

Peter also ventures into a bit of Jesus' own theology of the "now" and the "not yet."  Jesus declared that the kingdom of God was at hand, that even at the moment he was speaking things were moving toward justice.  But it's hard to see that when everything around you seems to speak to an alternate reality.  

Jesus often spoke of the tension that exists between the now and the not yet.  We have signs and symbols of what is to come even now.  We can catch glimpses of the way the world should be, but it's not as it should be yet.  It requires hope and a vision of the resurrected Christ to ease the tension between the now and the not yet.  

We are not as we will be--but we are becoming what we will be.  The world is not as it should be, but slowly, ever slowly, we are taking back ground from the Enemy, and the kingdom of God is being made known.  

We do have to contend with bad people, don't we.  Let's not lose sight of that fact.  There are some really awful people in this world.  But we can't lose sight of the nature of Evil either.  It has been said that "the devil's cleverest trick" is to make sure we believe he doesn't exist.  

Let's be clear.  Evil exists.  We know that it does.  And there are powers of evil that transcend human action--systems that are corrupt and evil, ideologies that spread violence and hate...  

Because people--even those we consider the most evil--can be redeemed.  We have to believe that.  Name a Star Wars villain.  Go ahead.  I bet you thought of Darth Vader, right?  Here's the funny thing, out of all the villains you could have named, the one you probably picked is the only one of them who found redemption in the end.  

He died to save his son, and in so doing remembered who he was, and allowed the good in him to overwhelm the evil.  

In this new Star Wars film, we see the pervasive nature of evil and how by giving it power it never should have had--it can become glorified, lifted up, and idealized as the only true power.  And we also see how a glimmer of hope can take it down. 

Can you name some of the "principalities" the "kingdoms" of evil that exist in the world today?  The "isms" that seem as though they are too powerful to be defeated, that too many people are idolizing and lifting up?

I want you to know something.  

Because of Jesus and what Jesus did for us--we don't have to fear Evil.  It doesn't get to win.  I've read the end of the story--it ends well, by the way.  Evil doesn't get the last word.  The violence, the hatred, the war, the strife, disease, hunger, poverty, bigotry, and malice don't get to win.  

Evil might seem like its winning right now, but we have the force within us to show the world that Evil has already lost. 


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