Monday, July 24, 2017

Giving All You've Got

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The scripture was John 15:12-17 and based on Star Wars: Rogue One.

When we think of the word love and when we talk about love, the most common reference is that of romantic love or the love we feel for our families. The love that’s expressed in Hallmark cards and Lifetime movies. It’s not necessarily physical love, but it does make us feel something different than what we feel for other people, and thus when we hear that we are to love everyone, or that, as the Beatles prophetically said, all we need is love, and we realize how difficult or impossible it is we begin to despair thinking that perhaps we aren’t worthy. That perhaps there are people who are capable of doing this, but we aren’t, and are thus failures. It’s as Father Zosima said in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, “The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular.” Or worse, we begin to think that maybe Jesus wasn’t actually being serious about this, that it was hyperbole, just as he said that we should rip out our eye or cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. It’s there to help us to understand the seriousness of the command, but to understand that it’s not really what he is saying to do.

Now there are multiple different words in Greek that are translated as love. One of those words is eros, from which we get the word erotic, that touchy feely love, but that is not the word that is translated here that Jesus is using. Instead, the word here is agape, which when translated into Latin was caritas, from which we get words like charity. That is that this is not a feeling that we are supposed to have for one another, this is a doing, a way of being. So, while we can have eros for a few people, we can have agape for everyone. And I think it’s crucial to pay attention to the fact that Jesus does not say this is a recommendation, or even just come out and say love one another. Instead, what does he say? Let’s read it together. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. And no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is a commandment. The reason why the Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday is because this passage is read, and Maundy comes from the Latin word Mandantum, meaning commandment. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as we have first been loved. And so, we are going to be looking at that idea as we conclude our all too brief sermon series on the gospel in Star Wars, although perhaps some think it’s been too long, by looking at the last of the Star Wars films to come out which was Rogue One.

Rogue One is the first of many yet to come Star Wars films that are stand-alone films, that is they are not numbered as part of the original story line and characters, although this one is directly connected and takes place immediately before the original Star Wars. The main story line tells us about Jyn Erso, the daughter of the man who designs the Death Star.  Before I go on, as I noted last week, as the Star Wars movies have progressed, the role of women has dramatically increased, with the last two movies having women as the main characters, and in strong roles too, including the transition of Leia from a princess to a general, something Disney might pay attention to. But, there has also been a significant increase in non-human and non-white characters. In the original Star Wars, every cast member was white except for one you could not see, and that was James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader, and George Lucas was originally opposed to casting him in that role. Not because he didn’t think he’d do a good job, but because he said that what the casting director was recommending was that the only African-American actor in the film be cast as the voice of the worst villain in the film who was already dressed in black. Fortunately, he listened to reason and the voice of Vader was born. And while there are aliens in the other films, there are none associated with the rebel alliance. The irony of this is that the emperor is a white supremacist, as the storm troopers being all dressed in white is not an accident, and so having all the rebels being white too didn’t really show any true difference. But, as the movies went on true diversity began to be shown among the rebels not just on race but also with increasing alien species, and so the original stands in stark contrast against what we see on the screen now, which is not only closer to Lucas’ imagination of the alliance, but also closer to what the Kingdom of God looks like. But that’s my inner Star Wars geek getting out again.

As a young girl, Jyn watches her father get taken by the empire and her mother killed, and then is rescued by Saw Gerrera, a militant leader. Rather than resisting the empire and being killed, her father Galen, helps build the death star, but designs a flaw into the entire system so that with one shot it might be destroyed. He gets an imperial shuttle pilot to defect with a message for Jyn, which he takes the city of Jedha, the home of a former Jedi temple and a mine for Kyber crystals which not only power lightsabers but also is what powers the death star’s weapon. Captured by the rebels to help them get the plans, Jyn travels with Cassian, who is shown to do whatever he thinks is necessary for the rebel cause, and K2SO a reprogrammed imperial droid. While on Jedha, they encounter the blind seer Chirrut, the coolest force user we’ve met in a while, whose personal mantra and breath prayer is “I am one with the force and the force is with me.” We are told that Chirrut is a guardian of the whills, which is an ode to Lucas’ original story idea before he came up with the force, and he is accompanied by Baze who helps protect Chirrut, although the force helps him overcome his blindness. Although Jyn thinks of herself as being totally independent, of not being able to trust anyone and making it on her own, we get an early indication of who she is when she and Cassian are caught in a street fight.

Jyn would like to pass herself off as someone who doesn’t need anyone else, that she’s in it all for herself, and yet she is the one who comes to rescue the little first. That is not someone who is only concerned about themselves. In fact, it shows her as someone who cares for others, who loves, others even if she may not know it yet. Now there are people most of us would be willing to risk our lives for, children, spouses, significant others, siblings, those people we are close to, those that we love. But are we willing to lay down our lives for others? Who would we be willing to risk our life for? Who would we be unwilling to risk our lives for? These are not hypothetical questions. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. And no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Now this is where the Greek comes into play again, because the word translated as friend here is philos, which comes from the Greek word phileos, which means to love. So, Jesus’ call is to lay down our lives for those we love. And whose example do we follow in this? Jesus himself. This passage from John comes from what is known as the farewell address, as Jesus is giving final instruction to the disciples before his arrest and execution. But as we think about Jesus’ example, it’s important to know that in John the last meal is not surrounded by the institution of communion, but instead by foot washing, or being of service. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus says, or just before that, abide in my love as I abide in you. Which means we have to remember that it’s not about us as individuals, but about us as a community. This message stands in opposition to the heavy emphasis on the individual and individualism that we have in our culture. It’s about recognizing that we are a branch in a much larger tree, which means we are all in this together. Which is not only what Jyn, but some of the other rebels also come to understand.

They make their way to rescue Jyn’s father, but he is killed but not before telling her that she can find a full set of plans for the death star at Scarif, and so they go before the alliance council to make a plea to try and stop the empire….

No one had ever stayed around with Jyn before, and a line from earlier in the film begins to play itself out here. Cassian was preparing to go and kill Jyn’s father when Chirrut, remembering his blind, asks if Cassian has the face of a killer, and Baze says “no he has the face of a friend.” There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.

How is it that we know of God’s love? Is it because God tells us that love? Yes, and how does God do that? Through the actions that God carries out in the world, especially through the giving of Jesus, who in turns shows us love through his actions and then tells us to repeat them. And so, the little rebel alliance team make it to Scarif and engage in a battle with the imperial forces and Jyn and Cassian are able to get the plans and get them uploaded to the rebel forces who give them to Princess Leia giving them hope, which is where the original Star Wars begins, but the death star has appeared on the scene and has sent a bolt of electricity to destroy Scarif….

Jyn gives her life in order to save others. Does that remind you of anyone? Jyn is a Christ figure, a fairly common motif in literature and film. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend. When my nephew Wyatt died, his parents decided to donate his organs in order to make something good come out of tragedy. And the same weekend he died, a friend of Pearl Sanchez’ grandson suffered significant burns in a fire and was transferred to UNM Children’s Hospital in order to have skin graphs put on, the same hospital where Wyatt’s skin was being harvested. Now we don’t think that Wyatt’s skin was used on this little boy, but we do know that someone’s was, and that Wyatt’s skin and other organs also changed someone else’s life. Brought triumph out of tragedy. Love one another, as I have love you. But, of course, it’s more than just literally laying down your life that can make a difference as well.

I had a parishioner come to me with a moral dilemma. He worked for a pharmaceutical company and he found out there had been a problem in one of the manufacturing plants that contaminated some of their medicine, and the company wasn’t doing anything about it, and he wanted so help to figure out what he should do. Well, actually he knew what he should do, but needed to talk through the consequences. He hoped that the higher-level administrators would finally do the right thing, but was prepared to go to the FDA to report it as a whistle-blower if they didn’t. But with that action he also knew that his career would be over, that he would be blackballed in the industry and he was at an age where just getting a new job, let alone starting over somewhere, was not going to be easy. So, what do you do? Do you go along because it’s easier for you and best for your family? Or do you do what you know is right and accept the consequences that come with that decision? Laying down your life is about more than just dying. It’s about saying that the me is not more important than the we, that I am willing to do things that might be harmful to me in the short-term and long-term in order to do the right thing for others. To protect them, to offer them the love that we have received from God, and hope that we too will receive from others.

Love requires community, and thus calls us beyond ourselves into relationship. There are no free-standing individuals, and the ability to bear to fruit is not only corporate in nature, it is also dependent upon the health of the rest of the tree. One branch cannot bear all the fruit, it is dependent upon the entire tree or vine. A unity that is shaped by the love of Jesus. Rarely in Star Wars is reference to the force ever made about the person saying it. Instead, they say “May the force be with you.” It is not self-referential, it is directed outward, and so too is God’s love, not as a feeling or an emotion, but as an action. This is my commandment, Jesus says, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That does not mean being killed for them, but about laying aside your own preferences and living for others. As Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment