Rediscovering a New Hope

Welcome to Advent, the season when HOPEFULLY we rediscover GOD’s hope for the each of us as revealed in Jesus.  Hopefully we are transformed by that rediscovery.  Which is why we enter the story of Christ’s birth again and again.  And so as a way to bring that about, I thought I might seize on the December premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the first new installment in the Star Wars franchise in more than ten years.  It has inspired my advent sermon series which I’ve titled “The Faith Awakens.”

I confess that I am a Star Wars geek but I’m also a bible geek. StarwarsWhether we’re talking first century Palestine or a galaxy far, far, away, there’s something magical and transformative in both.  Author director George Lucas admits that the Star Wars films contain elements of biblical truth mixed with fiction designed to lift up the ongoing battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

But would the movie going public recognize hope when they saw it?”  Apparently they did. From Christians to Taoists to those who identify their religion as “Jedi,” fans of “Star Wars” have long seen elements of their faith reflected in the films.  The films offer a model for how to find strength in God or internal balance. He knew exactly what he was doing when he created the concept of “The Force.” (The mystical energy of good and evil) In fact he said, “I put the Force into the movie in order to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people.” He also said “Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to [ever] ask the question, “is there a God or is there not a God?’–that is for me the worst thing that can happen.”  Lucas and I have that fear in common.  Every time I step into this pulpit I pray that your faith will be awakened and that you’ll find a fresh relevance in these old stories.

And so in the words of Yoda “Much to learn you still have…my padawan.”… “This is just the beginning!” On this first Sunday in Advent we begin with the little known but important story of  King Josiah.

Josiah’s reign changed the history of Judah forever because something happened to Josiah that changed HIM forever. Josiah discovered the word of God.

Throughout our Old Testament study the story has been building to this scene. There has been this long trajectory of the people falling in and out of relationship with God. It’s a cyclical story of remembering God and forgetting about God, of God sending a king, then a new king, then a judge, then another judge, then a prophet then another prophet.

Spoiler alert. You and I know what Josiah did not.  Ultimately God will take matters into God’s own hands. How? By being born in a manger as a baby who would walk with us, directly leaving it up to us whether or not we recognize hope when we see it…

It’s a human conflict as old as time. God continuously calls us back to the centrality of relationship.  Sometimes we listen and sometimes we relegate the entire matter to a very nice story that doesn’t have much to do with our real lives.  Or worse, we memorized just enough bible stories to pass question night during our confirmation years…and for some, never picked up a bible again.

Last week I read an article about a recent survey. The survey rated how involved Christians were with their faith as evidenced by how often they attend worship and what kind of programming they participate in.  Would it surprise you to learn that Lutherans are at the bottom of the list with the only denomination less engaged being Episcopalians? At the top of the list were the Mormons and evangelical Christians.

I am a convert to this Lutheran faith. I was a Mormon and it breaks my heart that most Lutherans do not recognize the theological treasure that is ours.  Evangelicals rush to church because they cannot get enough of the bible. Mormons and evangelicals hang on every word, every preposition, and every participle in certain and desperate hope of deepening their relationship with God. It’s an obsession.  But there’s a problem. Their literal and sometimes ignorant interpretation of scripture gets them in trouble.

Mainline denominations like ours brings with them a method of interpretation that is sane, historic, contextual and full of grace and scholarship.  It can lead us to a depth of relationship with the holy that cannot be rivaled.  But Lord in your mercy we have got to open the book and let it speak to us as it spoke to Josiah. King Josiah was transformed by the reading of the book and so should we be transformed.

The hard truth is that church is no longer central in people’s lives because God is no longer central. Why is everything in life more important than wanting to be here and wanting to be about THAT?  Otherwise we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water even if we put the baby back into the manger for the annual Christmas pageant.

Which brings me back to Star Wars.  Are not you and I are star followers who, like the wise men, spend our lives following the Christ child?  In the gospel according to Yoda, “Yoda says, `Do or do not. There is no try.’ Becoming a Jedi master and taming the force, this isn’t something you just try. It’s the same as Jesus’ saying, `Be doers, not hearers.’  Advent is our time of reawakening our faith. It is also a lot like a gym. You get out of it what you put into it.

I hope you will be a part of the adventure.  “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’  (Luke 24)


…In the place just right

Hosea 11:1-9

Pray with me please… As we focus our compassion on France, Beirut, Bagdad and beyond remind us this day that our every action allows us the opportunity to expand love or contract love, to hear & see the divinity within another or disregard their humanity. Remind us today that in the midst of the grieving you are present, saddened by the failure of your people — all of us — to live as we were created to live.

All over the world people of faith are gathering. Gathering to worship and gathering to make sense of what is happening in the world. People of God gathered here today– you are in the place just right.

The things that have happened in Paris, in Beirut, in Bagdad and in Syria have prompted many to conclude that we have entered a new kind of world war, a piecemeal war.

The world doesn’t feel safe today.

This— is a molten moment for the people of God. How will we arrive in a place just right when we are frightened out of our wits sitting in Lazy Boys in Minnesota?

Is our faith relevant and is it enough when the world feels off its chain?

And there is something else. No doubt there are those who rail at God asking “Why did God let this happen?” Answer: God didn’t. God is never the author of such atrocity. It is one of many miscarriages of theology that lead people leaving the church.  Believing God to be author of violence is not an accurate depiction of God’s pathos! Believing God is an absentee God is wrong.

It is not God’s job to stop evil in the world. Defying evil is humanity’s job.  However, God promises to be in it, with us.

Which brings us to this beautiful and challenging passage from the book of Hosea. The metaphor of parent and child can be powerful and intimate when it shows us how God feels, when it shows us God in relationship during times of great joy and great pain.

Hosea was a prophet from the northern kingdom of Judah. And he was a prophet to the northern kingdom. He lived about 850 years before Jesus. He was no stranger to unstable governments and dynasties which puts him in the place just right to teach us things about God we forget when we’re frightened. Having spoken judgement, his predictions have come true and now Hosea issues this incredible and beautiful promise of God.

Hosea offers us an accurate pathos of babiesGod’s tender and very real love and pain—the love and pain of a parent. How do I exercise my relationship with this rebellious child of mine? Hosea’s metaphor shocks us into facing a God who weeps, loving Israel despite Israel’s continued infidelity.  God’s anger is not the opposite of God’s love, its part of the love.  Parents, am I right?

At one time or another every parent has to deal with an errant, strong willed child! When we disappoint God, God never gives up.  I wonder to what extent children are oblivious to all that their parents do to make them happy and whole, courageous and competent? Does any parent have any less of a wish for their children? Of course not.

In a few minutes we will participate in another depiction of God’s relational hope for us as we witness the baptism of Genevieve and Henry.  Little Vivi and Henry will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We will reprise our oaths to renounce the forces of evil that defy God.  That is how we “come round right” for this world God loves and how we consciously allow God to work in, with and through our lives.

Baptism is its own defining and molten moment. It’s when we acknowledge what God has already done.  Remembering our baptism is the daily spiritual practice of paying attention to what God has, is, and will do in our lives and in the world.

Michael Chan is assistant Old Testament professor at Luther Seminary. He writes, “When Christians think about God’s willingness to suffer on behalf of sinful humans, we often think about Christ hanging from the cross. And we should. But Hosea 11:1-9 helps us realize that the cross is not a new development in the life of God, it represents who God is fundamentally.”

It is that truth that should captivate our hearts. The terrorists will continue to wreak havoc but think of this.

According to reports it only took a handful of people to cause the level of havoc we’ve seen this week.

In a moment we will sing the Shaker Hymn Simple Gifts. What is our role in turning the world and bringing it around right?

What if the body of Christ said, “No more!”  What if we expanded and radicalized love? What if we never again disregarded the humanity of another person? What if we did all we could do to help others live as they were created to live?

What we know for sure is that despite pain, God will redeem. God will heal. And God will bring to new life. “Liberté, égalité et fraternité” These are God’s values. Amen.