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Faith on Film: Star Wars

“Faith on Film: Star Wars”

July 24, 2022 Cobleskill United Methodist Church - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Romans 8:18-25

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 8:18-25

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Welcome back to the second week in our Faith on Film series where we use a popular movie to try to illustrate some greater Truth about our faith in God, particularly for the times in which we live today. Today we’re pairing the classic original Star Wars movie with another scripture reading from Romans chapter 8. Now last week I mentioned that our movie night on Friday would be the first time I saw Star Wars, and it’s true. But as I was planning this series, I had heard enough about Star Wars to know this was an iconic enough movie that it needed to be included in our series. I’m sure that even if some of you have never seen the movie, you probably know the basic idea behind the movie. I have to say a special thank you to Nick Elder who served as my Star Wars consultant on choosing which Star Wars movie out of the many to show. The original, named A New Hope, proved to be a great selection.

I joked with the group that came to watch the movie Friday night, I said, “put on your special lenses as you watch this movie so you can help me see the themes that relate to faith.” They mostly all laughed said, “Ha, are you kidding?!” And they were very right. The question is not how our faith connects to this movie, but which theme to choose out of the many threads through this movie. Take, for example, The Force, an unseen spiritual power that binds the Universe together, or the take the theme of Good vs. Evil with the Empire and Rebels, the oppressors and the oppressed, or the theme of mindfulness as the Jedi warriors practice an inner strength in which the mind is mightier than the sword, or the theme of choosing the right thing to do, and what motivates us to make those choices, is it money or is it a conscience. For a secular movie this one is full of religious themes, and that was no accident.

Star Wars creator George Lucas has even said that the religious themes woven throughout the movie are intentional. “I see ‘Star Wars’ as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and accessible construct,” Lucas has said. “I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.”

Oh, how I love this. Ask questions about the mystery? Yes, please! Isn’t that a big part of what we’re all about here at church? So today, the question I have about the mystery of God in the universe is this. How is it that when the problems we face are this large:

God can find a glimmer of hope that is this tiny, and use it to show us a way through?

Let me explain. In the movie, there is a cosmic battle underway between the Empire, made up of oppressive bad guys who want to control the galaxy with fear and violence, and the Rebel Alliance, those who want to live in harmony together without fear. Yet it’s hardly a fair fight. The Empire’s stronghold is a giant planet-like space ship that has the actual power to destroy other planets. The rebels have no weapon that could counter the magnitude and scale needed to take down the Death Star. But that doesn’t stop them from trying. With the help of R2D2, that little robot that made an appearance in church last Sunday, the Rebels get a map of the Death Star’s inner workings that shows them one tiny point of vulnerability. What the Empire least expects is to be attacked by small, fighter-jets that look like mosquitos in comparison to the Death Star. But that’s what the rebels do and they end up bringing that giant space ship down by hitting its tiny point of vulnerability. That’s the way hope works in this movie. It’s the unlikeliest outcome. The underdog movement. The small, unlikely glimmer of possibility. It’s like the flickering light saber as Obi-Wan Kanobi let his body be defeated by Darth Vader so that his spirit could be free to make the Force stronger. It's like how the hero of the movie, Luke Skywalker, is just a farmboy from the planet farthest from the center of the galaxy. Hope is the long-shot answer. Hope is fragile and hard to see. It’s the smallest pathway to victory in the midst of seemingly unsurmountable odds.

And Paul agrees. Who’s Paul? Oh he’s not in the movie, he’s in the Bible. But it’s eerie how much the two overlap here. In the Romans passage we just heard, the author, Paul talks about hope not as something that is ever-present and certain, but as something we can scarcely make out. He says, “…hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25).” In other words, the definition of hope is outlandishness. If we can see it, if we can understand it, it’s not hope. Hope is the thing beyond any reasonable expectation. Hope is the last Hail-Mary when you’re out of all other options. It is the tiny pinhole in a vast universe that lets the light of God in. It is beyond comprehension, and yet somehow hope is still there. God promises us.

So, speaking of tiny specks of hope in the vastness of the universe, have you seen the images that came out from the new Webb Telescope last week?

The Webb telescope was sent on a mission to photograph what we humans haven’t been able to see with our eyes ever before. And the images have been astounding. Like the sort of thing an artist might create from their imagination, we see a part of creation that is so beautiful only God could be the artist.

Yet the most striking news, for me, about these images is just how many galaxies have become visible in such a small portion of the night sky. Astronomers have said this one image to the left here takes up about as much of our field of vision as a grain of sand held at arm’s length.

A grain of sand! A glimpse of the universe as small as a pinhole, and this is the possibility that comes through. Can you count how many stars and galaxies are visible in this one picture alone? It’s astounding.

These images not only show us in a new dimension that the heavens are telling of the glory of God, as the Psalmist says, but these snapshots of tiny corners of the vast universe tell us something else. They tell us about the possibility of impossibility. This picture is a metaphor for hope. It shows something so outlandish no one could possibly believe it to be true. Thousands of galaxies in a pinhole of light the size of a grain of sand? Absurd, we might have thought three weeks ago. Yet God knew. God knew the intimate details about all these solar systems and stars and galaxies, the ones in this tiny grain of sand-sized window, and the millions more than aren’t pictured here, long before we ever even knew they existed as dots of light. God sees what we cannot see. And what that means is that God can see our redemption, our freedom, our wholeness, our healing, our victory against the evils that work against, even when it seems like a long-shot, outlandish idea to us. God is finding a path for us against insurmountable odds because God can see clearly the hope that our human eyes need a telescope to make real.

I want to close with a story about one such pathway that God made against all the odds.

A woman named Auburn Sandstrom is now a writing instructor at a university, but many years ago she was in a place in her life where she could see no hope and her problems loomed large. She was lost. She tells of one night spent on a dirty carpet, in a cluttered apartment, suffering from withdrawal from drug addiction. Her husband was nowhere to be found. Her baby was crying, and she was desperate. After a fine upbringing, a college education, a master’s degree, a series of well-intentioned choices had led her now to the depths of despair.

“I was laying on the floor,” she said, “with a phone in one hand and in the other was this little folded up wrinkled up piece of paper I’d been carrying around for years with no intention of using it but not quite able to get rid of it.

“I hadn’t talked to my mom or my dad or any family for four or five years but somehow my mom had gotten me this piece of paper in the mail with a phone number on it of a Christian counselor. Well, this night, things got bad enough that I decided to call.”

It was 2:00 in the morning when she called the number on the paper, and a person answered on the other end. “Hello?” he said. You could tell he had been awakened from a deep sleep.

“Uh Hi. My name is Auburn, and someone gave me this number and said you were a Christian counselor, and I just thought maybe I could call and just talk to you for a little while?”

“Sure, sure,” said the person on the other line, “what’s going on?”

It had been years since she had told anyone the truth, but that night it all came out. Her addiction, her abusive relationship, her neglect of her child, her depression, anxiety, regret, shame. She told the man all of it, and he just listened.

“He was so incredibly kind, and present, and gentle,” she said, “and he stayed there on the line with me from 2:00 AM when it was pitch dark, until the sun rose in the morning. But you know what? It helped. I was feeling a little bit better, I was feeling calm. I was feeling like I could splash some water on my face and I can probably do this day.

“I thanked him and said ‘Wow, you really helped me. How long have you been a Christian counselor?’

“He replied and said this ‘Now Auburn, I’ve been kind of trying to avoid this subject, but, but just… What I need you to do is just not hang up the phone, okay?’

“Okay,” she said.

“You know that number you called? It was the wrong number.”

Auburn says “I didn’t hang up on him. I never learned his name. I never talked to him again, I don’t think I took any of his advice, but I need to tell you that the next day I experienced something that I’ve heard called ‘Peace that passes understanding’ because I had experienced that there was random love in the universe, and that some of it was unconditional, and that some of it was for me.”

She ends the story with these words, “This is what I know. In the deepest, blackest night of despair and anxiety, it only takes a pinhole of light, and all of grace can come in.”

In the darkest night of despair and anxiety, it only takes a pinhole of light, and all of grace can come in.

Never underestimate the ability of God’s grace to find the smallest, most unlikely path possible to find you in your hour of need. Because God moves in mysterious, outlandish ways. Ways we can’t understand and ways we can’t even yet see. Never give up hope. And may the faith be with you.

Let us pray.

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