Monday, July 17, 2017


Here is my sermon from Sunday. It was based on Romans 8:31b-39 and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

When people are asked to name the best villains in movie history, Darth Vader is consistently near the top of the list. He is easily responsible for hundreds of deaths, and that’s before we begin to talk about the entire destruction of the planet alderon. But one of the things that separates Vader from the other top movie villains, people such as Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, is that he is not psychotic, or at least to me Vader doesn’t appear to be psychotic. Now I could be wrong on that, and I’m not saying he’s a good guy. He’s not, for example, Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, who tops the list of the best movie heroes. He seems more like Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, who are not mentally ill, they are just mean and nasty people. Perhaps that’s even worse because it means that they intentionally chose to be the people they were, and they are not people you want to invite over for a dinner party. But the question we have to ask ourselves, and the question we will seek to answer today is whether these nasty people, these villains, because of the choices they have made in their life have moved beyond God’s grace and redemption, and we will do so by looking at the film that completed the original Star Wars trilogy Return of the Jedi, which is my personal favorite film.

Released in 1983, Return of the Jedi has the empire working to rebuild the death star, but it begins in the palace of Jabba the Hutt, sort of the Godfather of a crime syndicate, who has Han Solo encased in carbon and hanging on his wall, and so Luke, Chewbacca, Leia and Lando Calrisian undertake a rescue operation that eventually leads to Jabba’s death at the hands of Leia. Intelligence, and a trap set by the emperor, then leads the rebels to the forest moon of Endor where the new death star is being built and is protected by a shield being generated on the moon’s surface. While Han, Leia and Chewie make their way to Endor, where they encounter the Ewoks, a race of small teddy bear like creatures who will help them in their battle with the empire, Luke goes for some final training with Yoda, who dies, but not before revealing that Princes Leia is Luke’s twin sister, and thus the daughter of Vader. Luke eventually joins them all on Endor, voluntarily surrendering to the imperial troops so he can meet with Vader, who takes him to the emperor. Vader and Luke again engage in a lightsaber duel, but Luke puts his weapon away because he will not kill his father and he finally realizes Yoda’s lessons about violence and the dark side, and when he refuses to fight, the emperor then seeks to kill Luke himself, but I don’t want to give away the ending just yet, as it works into the understanding of redemption. But two issues to point out.

The first is that in this film, Luke changes from the outfits he had been wearing, starting out all in white in the first film, to wearing all black, much like Vader, because as we discussed last week he has come to realize that the is both darkness and light in people, and it’s about the choices we make. He is not the stock good guy out to save the universe anymore, there is much more complexity to who he, and everyone else, is which clearly works into redemption. The second is about the famous, or infamous, scene of Princess Leia and the gold bikini. There is the conversation that surrounds this and the objectification of women, which I think was exactly the point, as we can be seen by how Jabba treats an earlier non-human woman who is there simply for his own enjoyment. He does not see her or Leia as anything other than a piece of property to be used as he wants. That is the point that I think Lucas is making, but we have to remember that it is Leia who ends up killing Jabba. She is not just a victim of the situation, she has her own agency which she uses. More importantly is the significant change in the role of women in the movies. In the original, there are only two women, at least that we know of. The first is Luke’s aunt who is killed right at the beginning and the second is Leia. But this film, and increasing in the ones to come after it, not only are there women, but they play increasingly important roles, such as that of Mon Mothma, who is the head of the rebel alliance. That’s sort of off topic, but I think important to address.

Now, last week we talked about the difference between a predestinarian approach, as presented through the Protestant reformer John Calvin, versus a free-will approach as presented by the works of Jacob Arminius and John Wesley, and today’s message continues that free-will thought because if we are predestined to for either salvation or damnation then in some ways it’s impossible to talk about redemption, because there is nothing to be redeemed from or for. Everything is set. Indeed, one of Wesley’s strong objections was that it would lead to what is known as antinomianism, which is that there are no rules or laws that need to be followed because nothing we do makes any ultimate difference. But, as Wesleyans we believe that what we do does make a difference, that we get to choose the path to follow even whether we are going to accept God’s grace or not. Now is that what saves us? No, we are saved by the grace of God that is already extended to us, but by accepting that grace and then seeking to live like Christ we then manifest the fruits of the spirit and God’s righteousness is given to us because of that initial faith and grace. We can see that in the two passages we heard from this morning.

In the gospel text, Zacchaeus, who was a wee-little man and wee-little man was he, is called down from his sycamore tree where he had climbed in order to see Jesus. Now the key piece of information about Zacchaeus is not that he was short but that he was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated for multiple reasons. Not only were they seen as collaborators with the Roman Empire, but worse, in order to make any money at it they had to lie and cheat and coerce in order to get people to pay above and beyond the normal amount, and since we are told that he is both the chief tax collector and rich we know that he was really good at what he did. And the fact that everyone grumbles about him, says how much he is disliked. Now I don’t think that Zacchaeus is exactly Vader, but he’s probably liked just about as much. But when Jesus calls to him, not only does he say that he is going to give half his money to the poor, but to anyone he has defrauded he is going to give four times as much to them. Of course, the truth is, he doesn’t have enough money to give four times as much because defrauding people is what he does, and then Jesus proclaims that salvation has come to his house. Is it because of his giving away money? No, because that would be dependent upon his actions, not on the saving grace of God. Salvation has come because he is a son of Abraham, one of the called, and Jesus had come to seek out and save who? The lost. But, in order for that to happen, Zacchaeus had to recognize that he was lost and to take the steps necessary to do something different. While the story doesn’t say it, I think it’s implied that had Zacchaeus kept doing what he had been doing, if he hadn’t agreed to make a change in life and practices, that Jesus would not have made the proclamation he did. It would not have changed how God viewed Zacchaeus, he would still have been a son of Abraham, he would still have been a recipient of God’s grace, but he himself would not have been able to receive that grace.

That’s where Vader originally finds himself…. Notice that Vader does not say that Luke is wrong, but that it’s too late for him, that Luke doesn’t understand the power, or we might say the pull of the dark side, that Vader cannot be saved, as it were. But that’s the belief that there is a timeline for grace; that past a certain point there is nothing that can be done, but that’s not the way that God’s grace, love or forgiveness works. No matter how long you have been on a particular path, no matter what you have done in your life, God’s grace is still there for us. There is a member of the congregation who served in Vietnam and carried the weight on his shoulders for a long time the things he did there, including the taking of other people’s lives, and he truly wondered if God could or would ever forgive him. Was he more than the worst things that he had ever done in his life? The answer was yes, and then he discovered the love of God, that God actually loved him, and his life changed dramatically for the better. There is nothing which can separate us from the love of God. Do you believe that? More importantly, do you have faith that it is true? Does it ground what you do and how you live? Not so that you can do anything we want and get away with it, but to know that when we truly repent, when we turn around, when we change our lives that redemption is not only possible, but that grace and love are present?

That leads into the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, and the redemption of Vader. As I said earlier, Luke refuses to kill his father as the emperor wants, and throws away his lightsaber, and so the emperor tells Luke that he will die and begins sending force lightning at him. Longer because there is a battle scene in the middle, but I couldn’t easily cut it out….

Luke was right. In the killing of the emperor, in defending his son, Vader moves from the dark side back to the man he was before he made that fateful decision to follow the emperor. It wasn’t too late, and in taking off the helmet, Vader’s redemption is complete because he is no longer the machine, but instead he is human again, flaws and all, but a human who loves and is loved. Now I can safely say that Vader was redeemed, but being happy about the real-life implications of that is something else entirely. I thought this sermon was going to be the easiest to write because one of the things I like about this movie, was the fact that Vader was turned and redeemed, but writing about that is different, because are we truly happy with that outcome? It’s great to think about the fact that nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, especially as that applies to us, and those we like, but are we ready to apply that to others? Are we ready to accept that for our worst enemies? Because that is what we have to be willing to accept not only with Vader but more importantly with real enemies. Are we ready to accept that with repentance on their behalf comes forgiveness on God’s behalf? What about all those who were affected by their actions when they had fallen away? Are we just supposed to forget about all those events? I don’t have an answer to that other than to say I am going to leave that to God, as unfair as it might seem, because I have to also accept that the good news for us is also the good news for others. Here is what I know. Love wins. It beats hate every time. It might seem like hate and evil are more powerful, but in the end love wins. And I would rather settle on love that I don’t understand than on judgment and hate that I do. And what Jesus tells us is that the angels in heaven rejoice for that one lost sheep who is returned to the fold, because the son of man came to see out and save the lost.

When the original Star Wars trilogy began in 1977 and was completed in 1983, we thought they were about the path and journey of Luke Skywalker. But when the prequels were released it turned out it wasn’t about Luke at all, instead it was about the fall and rise from grace of Anakin Skywalker, the man who became Darth Vader. The good news for us, the good news for the world, the lost and the found, is that God did not withhold even God’s own son from us because there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and when we seek forgiveness, forgiveness will be given, to you, to me, to everyone, even Darth Vader, that redemption and salvation are possible, and in that we should give thanks. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment