Sunday, May 4, 2014

May the Force Be With You.

May the Force Be With You. 

Today is Star Wars Sunday, and that’s kind of special because it only happens every seven years or so, and for some of you, you know exactly what I’m talking about and for the rest of you when I explain it will simply diminish me in your eyes.
Today’s date is May the Fourth, May the Fourth Be With You.  Get it?   Actually the first time the phrase was used it was less geeky, maybe. 
The reference was first used on May 4, 1979 when Margaret Thatcher's political party placed an advertisement in The London Evening News after she took office as Prime Minister the ad simply said  "May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations.”
But it wasn’t until 2011 that people really began to connect the dots when the first organized Star Wars Day took place in Toronto, in 2012 the event happened again and geeks around the world embraced the day. 
So what does that have to do with Sunday, and church and Denn’s message?  Glad you asked. 
For those of who have never seen any of the Star Wars movies, what’s wrong with you?  Sorry that was judgemental. 

Most of you understand that the story was set A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.....  I still remember how I felt the first time I saw that crawl across the big screen with John Williams score playing behind it.
And I don’t want to get into the theology of Star Wars, but let if be suffice to say that the original movie and all that have come after tell the story of good and evil and the conflicts of human nature.  Plus they have really cool light sabres and a wookie. 
But after six films the entire franchise is still identified with the words; “May the force be with you.” 
The expression "May the Force be with you" has achieved cult status and is symbolic of the Star Wars legacy. The line has been said in some form by at least one character in each of the Star Wars movies
In 2005, the line was chosen as number 8 on the American Film Institute list, AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.
If you are wondering what the other seven were, four of them were “Go ahead make my day”,   “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” ,"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." And of course the number one movie quote was Rhett Butler’s line in Gone with the Wind. 
And you are thinking, “So what?”  What does that have to do with anything?  And that’s a good question, one you should ask every time you hear someone speak into your life.

Well here’s the back story, in the quest of good and evil the Empire is Evil and the Rebels are Good, it comes down to a show down where Luke Skywalker and others need to destroy the Death Star.  Their military leaders gather them together for one last locker room pep talk. 
The famous line is actually said by General Dodonna after explaining the Death Star attack plan to the Rebel pilots and then it is said again by Han Solo to Luke, right before the attack on the Death Star battle station
For those who missed the movie or have forgotten the scene here it is.  (Video Clip)
1) The Reality is Defined
2) A Vision is Cast       
3) The Victory is Placed in the Hands of a Higher Power 
And again you are wondering “So What?”   Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier. 
2 Corinthians 13:7 We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority.
1) Reality is Defined  Sometimes you will hear someone say they wish the church was more like the New Testament Church, or when someone is starting a new church they will say that their church will be a New Testament Church.  Seriously?  When people say that I wonder if they have actually read the New Testament?  If they even know what the New Testament church was like? 
For those of you who are familiar with the two letters in the bible that are written to the church in Corinth, the church was a mess.  I have received letters through the years challenging the way we do things at Cornerstone and sometimes the way we’ve handled a situation.  But if I had of got a letter like the first letter that Paul sent to the church in Corinth I would have gotten a blankie, gone and curled up in bed and never come out. 
This was the church that Paul had started, it was his baby, and now he was writing them because of divisions in the church, spiritual pride, substance abuse, Christians suing Christians, sexual sin, divorce and remarriage, issues around how they viewed idols, problems with how they related together as believers, their worship service, their lack of love for one another, denying the resurrection of Christ.  He even had to talk about money, not once, not twice but  multiple times.
This wasn’t a model church, although as my father used to tell me “Everyone is good for something, even if it’s being a bad example.”
When Paul was challenging the Corinthians about their behaviour he said 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
He wasn’t being nasty he was simply defining the reality of the church.  Just as General Dodonna was simply defining the reality of the death star.
And when people got all bristly and said “Don’t judge me”  Paul responded by saying 1 Corinthians 5:12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.
And while it’s easy to condemn the Corinthian church and call it the “carnal church” aren’t those the same issues that people still struggle with in their Christian walk 2000 years later?   Divisions, sexual sin, substance abuse, bad theology?
And it would be easy to write off those who struggle with sin, but don’t we all struggle with sin, of some kind?
And maybe Paul realized the reality of what William Cowper wrote “No one was ever scolded out of their sins.”  Because in 2 Corinthians the tone of Paul’s letter changes and we read words of encouragement such as 2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 
It was Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote “The saints are the sinners who keep on trying.”  Which is why Paul encourages the believers by writing 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.
But Paul doesn’t let them off the hook, he doesn’t nod and smile and say that’s ok, you can’t help yourself so don’t worry about changing.  Sometime we fall into that trap and never challenge people to be more than they are, never challenge their behaviour.
It’s easy to excuse sin, Bill Maher quipped one time that “Everything that used to be a sin, is now a disease.”
But Paul recognized it as behaviour that needed to be corrected. And so at the end of 2 Corinthians Paul writes 2 Corinthians 13:7 We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority.   You know what Paul was saying?  The same thing that every parent who has ever gone for an extended drive with their kids say at one point or another, “Don’t make me come back there.”
And so Paul talks about the reality of what was happening with the church in Corinth but he doesn’t just leave it there. 
Which leads us to our next point where Paul writes,  2 Corinthians 13:11-12 Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet each other with Christian love.
2) A Vision is Cast  If we go back to the original Star Wars analogy the General defines the reality of the Death Star but then he casts a vision for what could happen.  How in the face of overwhelming odds that they could be victorious. 
I love the “What could be”.  I am an optimist, a Pollyanna if you will.  I want you to see the preferred future, to move beyond whatever it might be that you feel that you are ensnared by.

That’s what Paul was saying, you don’t have to be caught in the struggle of sin, instead he says be joyful in your victory.  You don’t have to be divisive and caught up in disputes and arguments instead he says you can live in harmony and peace.  You don’t have to remain immature, you can grow up in your faith and all of this can be done in and with Christian love.
The story is told that one Sunday evening during a church service an elderly woman stood up and testified saying, “I ain’t what I oughta be, and I ain’t what I’m gonna be, but praise God I ain’t what I used to be.”
You can’t just get stuck in a rut of sinful behaviour, saying “I can’t change, I will never be any different, I’ll just rely on the grace of God to keep forgiving me, because he understands.” 
That’s not what his word says.   We all love the story of how Jesus treated the woman who had been caught in adultery.  How he stood up to her accusers and challenged them to throw the first stone, only if they were without sin.  And how they all backed down and walked away.  People love when Jesus reached down and helped the woman to her feet and says, “Neither do I condemn you.”  But people forget the challenge he makes to her when he said, “Go and sin no more.”
Paul puts away the Grace argument when he tells us in Romans 6:1-2 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
The Bible talks about the reality of sin, it doesn’t deny our sinful nature, but over and over again we are challenged to move beyond what we are and become what God wants us to become. 
I don’t know what you struggle with, but God wants to help you move beyond that.  We’ve talked about this before, those things that the Bible defines as sin, or the acts of the sinful nature are things that ultimately will harm you and your life.  Maybe they don’t feel bad right now, they might even feel like the right thing.  The bible talks about the “Pleasures of Sin” but it tells us that those pleasures only last for a season.  And if we continue to follow our sinful nature God’s word tells us that ultimately we pay a price, physically, emotionally and eternally.  That means a separation from God. 
In the book of Galatians Paul lists what he calls the acts of the sinful nature.  And he begins by saying “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious”  They knew what they were, we know what they are, we might try to deny it but we know what is right behaviour and what is wrong behaviour. But in case they missed the obvious Paul lists the acts of the sinful nature, not an exhaustive list but enough that they get the picture.  And he finishes by saying those who live that way, meaning they continue in that life style, will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  They will not receive all that God offers them.  But then he offers them hope, he tells them Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!   Remember, after the but comes the truth.  And Paul is telling us we don’t have to be stuck in our sinful nature.  There is a better way.
And understand that if we decide that we want to be stuck in our sinful nature, there is a price to be paid.  Kara Defria wrote “These days, the wages of sin depend on what kind of deal you make with the devil.”  But the reality is that is doesn’t matter what type of deal you’ve struck with the devil, we are told in the word of God, Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, and while that sounds hopeless the verse continues to say but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Which takes us to the next point.  Paul has spent the best part of two letters warning the Corinthians about their behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour, then he casts the vision for what could be.  But how do you get from what is to what could be? 
Well, in the movie General Dodonna pronounces a quasi-benediction over his troops when he says “May the Force be with you”  Whatever the Force was, Dodonna was asking for it to assist the troops are they sought to overcome the forces of evil.
In the passage we started with this morning Paul does the same thing when he leaves the Christ Followers in the Corinthian church with these words:  2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. It’s here we discover that Paul was from the South when he refers to the church as “You All”.
3) The Victory is Placed in the Hands of a Higher Power  I am not trying to develop a theology for Star Wars and trying to deify the Force, whatever the force may be.  Some of you need to repeat after me: It is just a movie.  Or as William Shatner once said in regards to Star Trek Fans “Get a Life”
But the reality for us as Christ Followers is that we will never be all that we could or should be in our own power.  But the promise is that we don’t have to do it in our own power.  And so Paul takes the struggle for spiritual maturity out of the hands of the Corinthians and gives it to God.  And I love the way the character of the Trinity is defined here.  And this is in no way an exhaustive discussion of the Trinity, after all it was Augustine who said “If you deny the Trinity, you lose your soul; if you try to explain the Trinity, you lose your mind.”   
But here Paul asks for three specific things for those who chose to follow Jesus.  He asked for the Grace of Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. 
Remember, grace means getting what we don’t deserve.  It was only through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ that we are offered forgiveness, salvation and eternal life.  Nothing we have done, and everything he has done.  We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it but ultimately it is offered to us.  The majority of the letters in the New Testament take the time to remind their readers of the Grace of Jesus. 
And why is that grace offered to us?  Because of God’s love.  It all goes back to John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  And if we missed it there are verses like 1 John 4:10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.   God loves you, and he loves you so much that He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for you. 
And finally Paul reminds us not only of God’s grace and God’s love but he reminds us of God’s presence when he says, may the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.  Sometimes we feel all alone in our Christian walk, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. 
When Jesus got close to the end of his earthly ministry and told his followers that the end was near they were upset, and we really can’t blame them.  But Jesus makes them this promise John 14:26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. And the result of that is spelled out in the next verse John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
Where does the peace of mind and heart come from?  From the presence or fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  But the Holy Spirit will only be present in our life when we allow him to be, goes back to the concept of Free Will.  Holy Spirit will not be where he’s not welcome.  When I first began preaching we used to sing a chorus that said “Come Holy Spirit I need you.”  And that should be the prayer of our heart every morning.  If we are going to see the benefits of the grace and love of God worked out in our lives it will only be when we allow God, the Holy Spirit to have control of our lives.
Paul believed that God wanted  the very best for the Corinthians and he believed that the Corinthians could achieve what God wanted them to achieve, because in spite of our their failures listen to how he addresses them,  1 Corinthians 1:2 I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Let me read it for you this way 1 Corinthians 1:2 I am writing to God’s church at Cornerstone, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
And let me pray for you, And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  Or in geek speak, May the Force be With you.

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