Prayer Before Sermon,
Blest be the God of Israel
who comes to set us free
and raises new hope for us:
a Branch from David's tree.
So have the prophets long declared
that with a mighty arm
God would turn back our enemies
and all who wish us harm.
With promised mercy will God still
the covenant recall:
the oath once sworn to Abraham,
from foes to save us all;
that we might worship without fear
and offer lives of praise,
in holiness and righteousness
before God all our days.
A prophet of the Lord,
will prepare the way,
to tell God's people they are saved
from sin's eternal sway.
Then shall God's mercy from on high
shine forth and never cease
to drive away the gloom of death
and lead us into peace.
Now Lord let the words of my lips, and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
December 20, 2015
Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church
Luke 1:39-45, Year A, Advent 4
The Force Awakens
This Thursday at 1am my life was changed by a story that has stood the test of time. A story that many people have known and been excited about for generations. Some for almost 40 years. A story of a story of father and son, of light and darkness, of a princess and her lover. A story that transcends time and space. Yes, this Thursday I went into the movie theatre ignorant and left a fan of the Star Wars saga. I’ve long felt that the best way to get in to a story is to read it or, watch it in community, with people who are excited about it. I joined a couple hundred people; some dressed as robots, some as Jedi, some with their own light sabers and we spent twenty hourstogether watching all seven Star Wars films ending with the most recent episode. During our breaks I would go out into lobby and be amazed that as early as 10am groups of people with lawn chairs and Darth Vader costumes waited for 8 hours for the the best seats tothe first showing of the new episode in the Star Wars franchise. When I left the movie theater that night, I left changed. I had officially been bitten by the Millennium Falcon bug. The hysteria that has been going on for 38 years over George Lucas’ films made sense. I am now low key obsessed witha tiny green mentor by the name of Yoda, so much so that I have been popping my head into every store I can and online to see what Yoda paraphernalia I can attain. I feel strongly that either by the new year or ifthere is an episode 8, I have vowed to be a member ofthe grand family of Star Wars geeks. The reality is there are some things worth being a geek or overly enthusiasticfor. I foresee not too far from now, me being the adult in the movie theatre wearing my Chewbacca pajamas. I was reminded this Thursday that a good story can change your life and that some storiesare worth getting excited for and anxiously waiting for.
This morning, we are again in the Gospel of Luke. Perhaps not in a galaxy far far away but, in a village far far away two women, two baby boys in utero are about to unwrapa story that will change history. It is an epic saga that stands the test the test of time. The story pregnant in the wombs of two women is a story about redemption and grace. The story we enter in to this morning is a story of light breaking forth into the dark world, a story of peace, justice, and hope. And it starts in the hills of the Judean countryside at the home of a country priest recently made mute by his disbelief. It starts when a teenage girl- ripe with news that she is pregnant out of wedlock, shows up at the door of her also pregnant, post-menopausal cousin. For the first and only time in the biblical witness we meet Mary and Elizabeth. Mary and Elizabeth together; it is the intersection ofnew and old stories simultaneously. Our story begins with the force. Yes, this epic story starts with a force. My favorite prophet and fashion icon, John the Baptist is in his mother’s womb kicking. It begins with force, the force of an unborn baby boywho jumps in his mother’s womb at sounds of Mary’s voice. The force has awakened. The force awakens, as the Holy Spirit burst onto the scene. With the kick of her baby boy, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Between the two books, Luke and Acts, the Holy Spirit is referenced fifty times. The force is alive in Luke, and the force is alive in Elizabeth and the force is alive in me and you. It is a force that does not need light sabers oreven Harrison Ford. Brothers and Sisters, the force I speak of this morning doesn’t even need you or me, it chooses us.
The Holy Spirit chooses to find a home in the womb of an old woman, in the tongue of a soon-to-be mom. The Holy Spirit chooses to dwell among us beginning with the birth of Jesus Christ, whom we have been anxiously awaiting this advent season and whose incarnation we will celebrate this Friday. The force has been awakened.
In the margins, God chooses to share Jesus Christ and through him unleash the force of the Holy Spirit in a way that has not yet been known. It is not in the capital of empire and wealth but, in some Podunk town about 80 miles from Galilee that a pregnant and no doubt scared and skeptical teenage girl travels to be with her aging relative, and together they unleash the salvific saga of God’s sovereignty on an unsuspecting world in need of a savior.
The messenger(John the Baptist) and the message(Jesus Christ) together, still in the wombs of these two ancient outcast women. Elizabeth connects this new story to the larger story of God’s concern for Israel, as she is from the lineage of Aaron, brother of Moses and also, the wife of Zechariah, a priest. Her baby boy will connect the covenant that began with Abraham to the new covenant that will begin in Jesus Christ. In Mary’s extended stay with her cousin, the two women bridge the gap of age and unite over what they share in common, the force that has awakened. For Elizabeth the force woke her up and inspired her to speak over Mary’s life, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Blessing both the scared Mary and praising the Christ with in her. Through the force awakened, the force of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth becomes a part of the story, our story of redemption. It is because of Elizabeth’s humility and praise of Mary, that the young girl is emboldened to speak, as she does so eloquently later in Luke in the Magnificat. Because the force is strong in Elizabeth, Mary is no longer scared but walks and receives her call as the woman whowill bare the son of God.
Chestnut Street, in these few verses before the birth narrative of Jesus and his three years of ministry that will form the bulk of the gospel of Luke, there is a specific word for us at Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in 2015. The connection between Mary and Elizabeth is an intergenerational connection. Historians estimate Mary is about thirteen or fourteen and place Elizabeth at eighty-eight when she gives birth to John the Baptist. The world would say there is nothing in common between these two. But praise God, the myth of generational difference is shattered when we allow the force of the Holy Sprit to inhabit our relationships. Mary needs Elizabeth to speak a blessing over her life, to affirm that God is working in her. What might it look like for us at Chestnut Street filled with more Elizabeth’s than Mary’s to speakblessings and affirmations over the lives of Mary’s in this church or, the Mary’s who attend D.C Virgo? What would it mean for us to speak blessing over the lives of young people all over Wilmington and affirm that the God that brought us from a mighty long way is alive and working in the younger generations?
I have been a Mary, scared that Jesus was doing something inside of me, and there were Elizabeth’s in my life, who spoke God’s blessing over my life: people in my teenage years such as my grandmothers, and my Sunday school teachers, and camp counselors. There are still Elizabeth’s who speak over my life, who affirm my calling people like Elder Janice Jones, a woman who became my cherished friendwhen I stayed with her one summer as I interned at her church on the Southside of Chicago. People like Synthia Foskey who is the financial secretary at University United Methodist Church who saw the light of Christ flickering when I thought it had grown dim. People like Dr. Cleo LaRue and Dr. Sally Brown preaching professors of mine in seminary who demanded that I slow down and realize that I had something to say, and a could be a vessel for the Lord. My life has been filled with Elizabeth’s some who share a blood line and others who do not and, so I know the power of an Elizabeth to speak a blessing and an affirmation over the life of a scared young person. Chestnut Street, you can be someone’s Elizabeth. Let the force of the Holy Spirit compel us to look pastsneakers and hoodies, headphones and bowed heads, and whatever things we might think distract us from believing that Christ is doing something inside of young people. May the force compel and inspire usto bless the young folks around us, and to speak words of affirmation to the Mary’s of the world.
If we trust that through Christ we are all one family, then we speak truth into the lives of our younger relatives as Elizabeth did to Mary. But, friends the story of the visitation is not just about an older woman speaking over a younger woman. They need each other. Elizabeth needs Mary just as much as Mary needs Elizabeth. The scripture tells us that it was only after Mary enters into the home that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims a blessing. The sound of Mary’s voice or the creak of the door is what excites John and brings the force of the Holy Spirit to the heart and eventually the tongue of Elizabeth. Mary triggers something in Elizabeth that causes her to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Mary of the Gospel ofLuke is carrying Jesus Christ but, the Mary’s in our lives, either who slip in and out of these sanctuary doors or other parts of our lives might also becarrying some significant contribution to humanity, if only we would respond to their greeting with the conviction and comfort of the Holy Spirit. The force awakens.
The force is not dormant, it only needs to be used. In the Star Wars saga, the force is strong and it moves from generation to generation. In Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, Luke a young Jedi learns how to usethe force from Yoda, who is 800 years old. Mary needed Elizabeth, as they both learn from each other, two generations, one force. So is the case in Star Wars, Luke would not have been victorious if other older people and mentors had not spoken over his life, and told him about the force. From Yoda to Obi Wan Kanobe to Anakin to Luke, the force transcends time and difference, even galaxies. This force, that I speak of and the gospel proclaims is the power of the Holy spirit. In Return of the Jedi , Luke is talking to Princess Leia about the force, their conversation go like this…
Princess Leia: You have a power I don't understand and could never have.
Luke: You're wrong, Leia. You have that power too. In time you'll learn to use it as I have. The Force runs strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. And... my sister has it. …
Princess Leia: I know. Somehow, I've always known.
The Force of the Holy Spirit is in you, and in me. Maybe like Leia you haven’t understood it and just need a brother or sister to tell you, that the Holy Spirit, the force is in you, to affirm the unspoken you may have already known but never felt free to say. The force was in the Elizabeth’s who spoke over our lives whenwe were Mary’s. The force is alive in mentor and men-tee. The force is alive in babies and babushkas. The force of the Holy Spirit is strong, it cannot be contained simply to John the baptist, so it extends to his mother Elizabeth. The force is strong it extends in one family from a baby to a mother to a father to their younger cousin, and through her son, Jesus Christ the force extends to the entire world. The force awakens.
The Force Awakens, Episode 7 of Star Wars which was released this past week globally, broke Fandango- with the most pre-purchased tickets of any movie in history. It is estimated that the film will make between $500-600 million dollars this weekend alone. The box set of the previous six films went up 25% on Amazon and was sold out at Barnes and Noble. I know for a fact that the Yoda Christmas ornament is sold out at my beloved Wilmington Target. You cannot go to any store without seeing paraphernalia from the Star Wars franchise. And the reality is, this is not a new thing. I remember seeing photos from 1980 when the second movie was released of people in costume, anxiously awaiting the movie wrapped around the block. The original Star Wars film is the third top-grossing movie of all timeat $2.8 billion dollars. For 38 years, two generations of people have been desperate to be engulfed in this epic story of redemption. It is a story that permeates our culture in ways that are unfathomable. Without seeing any of the films until this week, I knew all the characters and many of the quotes. Star Wars is a story that engulfs you. It is a story of redemption. Creator George Lucas said in an interview that the original trilogy was the story of a father who is redeemed by his children. PAUSE Our story too is a story of redemption, a story of father who redeems his children and his children’s children. This week as we enter into the final days before Christmas, let us be reminded that there are stories worth getting wrapped up in. There are stories that are worth looking foolish over. There are stories worth the impatient waiting and the excited anticipation. The world is just as desperate to hear this story today as it was two millennia ago. Tell the story, share the story, inhabit the story. It is ours not to hoard but to share. One of my former youth went to a premiere of the film with her mother on Thursday night, two generations eager to hear again the story. Star Wars is a great story but so is our story. The story of the gospel is not an ancient story, the mercies of our God are new every morning and there are generations of people who haven’t yet heard the story, who do not know of the force of the Holy Spirt. Let us remember that the story of Jesus Christ is a story worth banging down doors for, a story worth hearing in community, a story that needs to be told again and again and again. A story that speaks to Elizabeths and Marys. And through the birth of Christ, we are invited not only to watch such a story unfold but to be an active participant in the story through the force of the Holy Spirit.
So today and everyday, sisters and brothers May the Force Be With You.