This is a copy of my talk given on Sunday 27 December 2015.  It seems right up to the minute and thought it would be worth reading!!  My Bible Readings were Luke 3:7-18 & Ephesians 6:10-17.

Star Wars: Opening Crawl 1977
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…” Written against the blackness of space, these words pop up at the beginning of every Star Wars movie. They signify that we are about to see and hear a story that transcends time and space.  They first appeared in 1977, when the original Star Wars film hit the screen, followed by The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Now, after a long wait, the first of three sequels has been released: The Force Awakens.

Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi the movie features some fresh characters alongside the heroes of previous Star Wars instalments, such as: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia – there’s also Storm troopers, X-wing fighters, R2-D2, C-3PO and, of course, Chewbacca. No spoilers today!

The Force
Running through every Star Wars film is the natural and supernatural struggle between darkness and light: ‘The Force’ It speaks to me of Ephesians 6, which reminds us that we are involved in a spiritual battle between ‘good and evil’ and the importance of wearing the Armour of God.

‘The Force’ is overseen by a Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi – a bit like at OT prophet or a NT John the Baptist!! The Force is what give a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.  The Force has a light side and a dark side, and can be used for good or for evil.” Let’s hear what Luke Skywalker has to say: My father has it.  I have it.  My sister has it. You have that power too.”

John the Baptist
Today’s reading comes from the Gospel of Luke of course! He writes of a force that appears when John the Baptist speaks to the crowds that came to be baptized by him in the River Jordan.  “You brood of vipers!” he shouts.  “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:7).

He describes the people as poisonous snakes, quickly slithering away to escape the danger of a fire. The only way for them to avoid condemnation is to change their behaviour and “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (vs8).   John wants them to focus on doing good instead of evil, which doesn’t come easily.

Such a message fits the world of The Force Awakens.  It reminds us that the greatest evil is the evil that comes from within, not the evil that attacks us from outside.   Obi-Wan Kenobi:

Fear, anger, aggression, hatred … in a world as broken as ours these emotions often come to us unbidden. Any one of us — even the best of us, if we’re not vigilant – can allow these  powerful emotions to blur our vision, and cause us to embrace our darker selves.” 

The crowds who gather by the River Jordan find their security in having Abraham as their ancestor.  But John reminds them that God can raise up children to Abraham out of the abundant stones of the desert floor (vs8).  Goodness doesn’t come from being a branch on Abraham’s family tree. John challenges the people to be trees that bear good fruit (vs9) – Just as Jesus did, Text 2016.

Darth Vader
John wants them to avoid the fate of Darth Vader, who fell from grace because he forgot that goodness is expressed through love for others.  But Darth Vader wasn’t always this way; he started out as Anakin Skywalker –  a generous, loyal, compassionate boy, so powerful in the Force that many thought he was “The Chosen One” of ancient prophecy.  Anakin used the Force to do good as he grew up, fighting for peace and justice while protecting the innocent and opposing the wicked. Obi-Wan Kenobi:

But Anakin lost his way.  He became so powerful, he began to feel like he could do anything, save anyone, correct any wrong.  Over time, he became so obsessed with his passions and his fears, his anger at injustice, that they ended up taking him over completely, and erasing his empathy and concern for others.  Anakin came to think of himself as the wisest, the strongest, and the purest man in the world; and finally he allowed his own ambitions to make things right to justify truly terrible actions against others.

Anakin always saw himself as the Good Guy, but in the end he failed to bear good fruit. He became the evil Darth Vader, and was cut down and thrown into the fire, vs9.

What Should We Do Then?
The crowds around John the Baptist want to avoid this fate, so they ask, “What should we do then?” (vs10).  John says that “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do the same” (vs11).  Tax collectors should collect no more than the proper amount and soldiers shouldn’t extort money or accuse people falsely. (vs12-14).

Behave in ways that are fair and just, recommends John, and focus on caring about needy individuals.  Being good comes from doing good, not just thinking of yourself as the Good Guy.

When God’s force awakens in us, we are challenged to channel it into concrete acts of justice, care and compassion.  But at the same time, we cannot trust ourselves to remain in the light of God at all times.  Each of us is a sinful, fallible human being, as inclined to sin as Anakin Skywalker was on the path to becoming Darth Vader.  Each of us needs a powerful and godly leader to guide us in his way and save us when we stray – and we have one in Jesus, “the Messiah” (vs15).

May The Force Be With You
John knows that he cannot play this role himself.  He says, “I baptize you with water; but one more powerful than I is coming. … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (vs16).  John points the people toward Jesus the Messiah, predicting that Jesus will offer a baptism that includes the purifying and inspiring power of the Holy Spirit of God.

Each of us needs to be filled with this Spirit if we are going to follow Jesus and act as his disciples in the world. But we need a power greater than ourselves. Luke Skywalker realizes this when he suffers, in an earlier film, a monumental shock and discovers that Darth Vader is his father.  He sees that he is cut from the same cloth and he struggles with how good and evil can exist in the same family.  This is why he says: “The Force is strong in my family.  My father has it.  I have it.”  Luke is told by his mentors that the only way to defeat Darth Vader is to confront and destroy him.

But what does Luke do?  Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Instead of relying on violence to defeat violence as his father did, Luke reacts with compassion for Vader — he responds with love.  This was not an abstract or ceremonial love, but a concrete, self-sacrificial love for the human being that Darth Vader is, even with all his faults and sins.  This love is the essence of the light side, and how the Force was ultimately restored into balance.”

A Type Of Christ
At this point in the Star Wars series, Luke Skywalker becomes Christ-like and the Force becomes a truly Christian power.  Like Jesus, Luke cares more about real people than he does about abstract ideals.  Like Jesus, Luke shows sacrificial love for his friends, his sister, and especially his father Darth Vader.  Luke’s readiness to die for them is the key to the defeat of ultimate evil.  Just like Jesus did on the cross.

Obi-Wan: “There has been an awakening.  Have you felt it?  The dark side, and the light.”  In the Gospel of Luke, there is an awakening as well. God’s force comes into human life and offers examples of what it means to act with compassion and justice.  “Have you felt it?  The dark side, and the light.”  Each of us is challenged to open ourselves to God’s force, and to receive the help of Jesus the Messiah.  To show the world that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

The force of God, his Holy Spirit, is awakening as well.  It is uplifting and hopeful, inspiring and challenging. This force is not trapped in a galaxy far, far away, but is with us here — transforming the world we live in, making us more caring and compassionate, selfless and sacrificial.  This force is at work today — in our homes, our schools, our community. Obi-Wan: “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

God’s Force Awakens
God’s Holy Spirit awakens most visibly in Jesus the Messiah.  The force is strong in him, in his father, and in all of us who follow him in faith and obedience.  And as Luke Skywalker reminds us, and Jesus in John 17, “You have that power too.”  Amen.