The Empire Strikes Back (A Sermon)

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When Star Wars opened in 1977, the world met unforgettable characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and those quirky robots, C-3PO and R2D2. With “the Force” at our disposal, we cheered the destruction of the evil Death Star and went home happy.

But I’m afraid the happiness was short-lived. A mere three years later, we learned the terrible news that the Empire had struck back. Darth Vader, that dastardly villain, had gone on a mission of vengeance. From the movie:

Admiral Piett: Lord Vader, our ships have completed their scan of the area and found nothing. If the Millennium Falcon went into light-speed, it’ll be on the other side of the galaxy by now.

Darth Vader: Alert all commands. Calculate every possible destination along their last known trajectory.

Admiral Piett: Yes, my Lord. We’ll find them.

Darth Vader: Don’t fail me again, Admiral.

With such open vengeance, George Lucas picked an appropriate title for his movie sequel. The empire did, indeed, strike back. Oddly enough, it serves as a perfect title to the New Testament’s Matthew chapter two as well.

The book of Matthew begins with a genealogical list that confirms the truth that God is behind everything even though his ways are different than the ways of the world (for example, how could Tamar & Rahab & the woman who “had been Uriah’s wife” lend the first bit of royal credence to this ancient biography of a man named Jesus?). God’s different ways are once again highlighted in the birth story of Jesus who is offered as God’s crucial move to make his saving presence known to the world.

Well, in Matthew chapter two, the empire strikes back at God. King Herod plays the part of Darth Vader, and we are offered a striking example of what the world needed saving from in the first place.

MATTHEW CHAPTER TWO

#1: It begins as a tale of two cities. Jerusalem, home of power (political kings & religious priests), versus Bethlehem, a.k.a. “nowhereland.” In verse 3, all of Jerusalem is disturbed by the news of a true-blood king of the Jews – the powerful city is threatened by the tiny village.

#2: It continues as a contrast in intellectual wisdom. The Magi in all of their Gentile astrologist quackery stand next to the very best in Jewish Bible scholars. The former chase a bright star while the latter decipher Micah properly as to the birth place of the Messiah. Both end up with the same place. Only one side came to worship.

#3: And it is also a tale of two types of kingdoms. Herod’s type of kingdom is held against a new type of kingdom described with the metaphor of a shepherd (verse 6). Herod wouldn’t be a very good shepherd since he oppressed his own sheep, but then again, Herod had no intention of ruling like a shepherd. Power, not care, was his modus operandi. And in fact, when Herod (continued by Matthew) refers to his rival as “the child,” it further reinforces the ruling contrast. To be called “a child” was an insult in the time of Matthew’s writing, so the choice becomes clear: a powerful king vs. a shepherd/child.

So Matthew offers us quite a contrast: a powerful city with powerful intellects and a powerful king standing against an insignificant village and religious quacks and a childish shepherd-king.

Place your bets on the table, boys…

But verse 13 betrays a much bigger picture. We learn that we’ve been down this road before in God’s story.
* A man named Joseph has a dream and ends up in Egypt (sound familiar?)
* A cruel king murders baby boys to squash potential rivals to his power
* God keeps a baby safe to lead oppressed people to freedom
* A journey is made out of Egypt to a promised land

Yes, the powers of this world are scary, making the world a very dangerous place for followers of God. World powers don’t like threats, and God is always a threat to them. World powers will do anything (Herod lies, Herod kills) to stay in power. Yet Matthew 2 is a story filled with hope. We are assured in knowing that, despite of the empire’s strikes, God is still about his purposes, using the most unlikely of folks. And we are reminded that nothing can ultimately stand in the way of God (though “the god[s] of this age” will try their best). Faithful obedience from unlikely people will win in the end. God will see to it.

C-3PO once said, “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.” Han Solo replied, “Never tell me the odds.”

Han’s response is the mantra of God-followers.

Well, you probably remember that The Empire Strikes Back was not the end of the movie series. In fact, even after the Jedi returned, we learned that there were many stories that even preceded the others. Similarly, Matthew 2 was not the end of the story either, though God prevailed. Before the chapter even ends, the appearance of evil Archelaus betrayed the resilience of the powers of this world. God responded unconventionally again with a move to despised Nazareth. Who would have thought it?

And today, the battle continues. Economically, the powers of greed and materialism continue to strike. Socially, the powers of self-absorption and “busy-ness” continue to strike. Religiously, the powers of segregation and self-righteousness continue to strike. But as in Matthew chapter 2, God continues his unconventional counter-moves.

Which leads me to a question: Whose kingdom will you choose to follow? The world that will lie and kill to maintain its power, or the God who would take risks and die out of love for others?

Paul once wrote to Colossae, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

May that force be with you.

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4 Responses to “The Empire Strikes Back (A Sermon)”

  1. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Al,
    A closet Star Wars “trekkie.” I had no idea!
    Someone should – and maybe they already have – write a book about the religious references and symbolism of Star Wars. They are all through the entire series.

    I’m going to copy your post and send it to my son. He was seven years old when the original movie came out and I took him to see it. From then on, ever “want list” for Christmas or his birthday started out with the latest Star Wars or Star Trek action figure of toy. At some point in high school or college, he started buying them himself, and he has never thrown away or broken any of it. He’s now 36, and his finished attic (known to his wife and family as “The Upper Room”) is a Star Wars/Star Trek museum that would impress George Lucas himself. For instance, there were over a hundred small action figures, with tiny ray guns and helmets and such things, in the very first and most sought after edition that came out in ‘77 or ‘78. I once ask him how many of them he had. “All of them, of course,” he said. Naturally, he can quote you almost any dialog from any episode.
    Other than that, he a fairly normal computer programer.

    JFYI In the summer of 1977, I was flying a Falcon for FedEx and had a weekend layover in Burbank. On Saturday afternoon, I went downtown to the Convention Center in LA to a Sci Fi Convention called SPACE CON – I had been a Star Trek fan until it was canceled after the third season. While I was there, I noticed people talking about a new movie and selling bumper stickers like Walk Softly and Carry a Light Sabre and Wookie Power. When I ask about it they told me about something called Star Wars.
    The next day, I looked it up in the movie listing, but the only place it was playing that I knew how to get to was Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I rode a bus down to Hollywood, and when I got there, the line was out the door and around the block. I stuck it out, though, and got to see the original Star Wars in the theater where it premiered. Quite an experience.

    Another testament to God’s Word that it not only has survived the centuries, but continues to influence even things like Sci Fi movies.

    May the FORCE be with us all.

  2. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Al,
    Here’s my son’s comment upon reading your “Empire Strikes Back” post and my comments about him:

    Very cool! Now that he’s written his sports book, he should start on a Star Wars one. The only thing you forgot to mention was that I have already passed the Star Wars gene down to Jamie and now I have Jordan to work on too!

    FYI Jamie is his 3 1/2 year old son and Jordan is his new (one month old) daughter.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Cap’n!

    Now for the bad news. I’m not a big Star Wars guy after all, though like with anything, I think I could easily be… I was very intrigued by all the connections in the saga to the story of Jesus, and I think there’s lots of good avenues to explore. Maybe that could be YOUR next book?

    Hey, who would Bonnie & Clyde be in the Bible? Ahab & Jezebel? Ananias & Sapphira?

  4. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Hey, who would Bonnie & Clyde be in the Bible? Ahab & Jezebel? Ananias & Sapphira?

    Ananias and Sapphira? No way!! They were sneaky. Bonnie and Clyde were more “in your face.”.

    I don’t know about Bonnie as Jezebel. After all, Jezebel was the daughter of a king. Bonnie was just a common Texas teenager in 1930, when she met Clyde. She was separated from her husband who was then in prison, had lost her job as a waitress when the café she worked for closed at the beginning of the Depression, and was still living at home with her mother – along with her little sister, her sister’s husband, and baby. In short, Bonnie was about as flat broke, bored, depressed, and hopeless as a 19 year old little blue eyed blonde could be when she met this guy at her brother’s house – a friend of a friend – who was a flashy dresser, nice and polite, and who seemed to have a little money. They fell for each other like a ton of bricks. Of course, things only went down hill from there. As to which came to a worse end, however, it would be hard to say. Thrown out a window and eaten by dogs, or shot 26 times by a posse on a lonely dirt road. Take your pick.

    Clyde, on the other hand, would have identified strongly with the fellow who killed Jezebel, or had her killed. When this man approached Jezreel in his chariot, leading his troops to carry out God’s command to wipe out the house of Ahab, the lookout in the tower of the city called down to King Joram, Ahab’s son, and said … The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi – he drives like a madman(2Kings 9:20 NIV). Just substitute a ‘34 Ford V-8 for the chariot, and that was Clyde for sure.

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