by Rev. Joe Connolly
“Then Moses went up to God; and Yahweh— God— called out from the mountain and said, “This is what you shall say to the house of Jacob, what you are to tell the Israelites: ‘You saw for yourselves that which I did to Egypt, and how I bore you, carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.’” — Exodus 19:3-4.
In case you have not heard, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the space opera Star Wars. And yes, it is a film beloved by many.
And yes, Star Wars earned more money that year than any other movie. How much more? In 1977, the year it was released, Star Wars earned more than twice as much money as its closest competitor which, by the way, was Smokey and the Bandit.
Now movie studios are corporations seeking profit. Because of the earnings potential in the Star Wars model of movie making, studios recognized a lucrative cash stream was available. This changed the way the film industry operated. These blockbuster style movies have become the cultural norm, especially in the Summer.
However, I think many, many, many years hence, or perhaps even “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…,” when historians look at Star Wars, how much money the film earned and how it changed the movie industry will be a minor topic. I think the more likely topic will be “how did this film enter into, feed into and even meld with the psyche of America.”
And here’s an obvious question on that count. ‘What is it about the psyche of this nation which enabled, empowered this film to enthrall us?’ (Slight pause.)
Well, what is Star Wars about… really? Is the film simply about Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo and the Wookiee Chewbacca and the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, as they traverse across galaxies? Is that what it’s about? Or is it about something else, perhaps something more engaging, more central than mere action? (Slight pause.)
I want to suggest Star Wars taps into our psyche— and by labeling Star Wars as tapping into the American psyche I was not giving the film the credit it is due. Star Wars does not just tap into the American psyche. Star Wars taps into our human psyche. In any case, I want to suggest Star Wars taps into our psyche because it is about three very basic human experiences.
Star Wars is about the journey— the journey called life. Star Wars is about freedom— human freedom. Additionally, in the story there is a sense of some kind of spirit reality, a reality beyond human understanding, which seems to be a constant presence. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work known as Exodus: “Then Moses went up to God; and Yahweh— God— called out from the mountain and said, “This is what you shall say to the house of Jacob, what you are to tell the Israelites: ‘You saw for yourselves that which I did to Egypt, and how I bore you, carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.’” (Slight pause.)
We Christians— especially Western Christians— often seem to be comfortable with what the early church and even the church historic would label as a heresy. That heresy says the salvation offered by God started with Jesus. I won’t go as far as to call this a heresy, but I would certainly label the idea that salvation started with Jesus as a misunderstanding of or an inaccurate reading of the message in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Even a cursory reading of the Exodus should clearly tell anyone God offers salvation. (Quote:) “You saw for yourselves that which I did to Egypt, and how I bore you, carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” These words describe the action of God and action— especially that action— constitutes salvation. That action is salvation.
Now, my guess is, especially Western Christians, don’t count the action of God in our lives as having anything to do with salvation. Why? Besides the idea that salvation started with Jesus, Western Christians seemed to have grasped onto the notion that salvation is somehow postponed to an afterlife.
And that, indeed, points out a second way we misunderstand, don’t understand, fail to understand the message in Scripture. We equate afterlife with salvation.
Now given that, I find it interesting that often oppressed communities clearly and obviously understand the salvation God offers can be seen as the present action of God. Oppressed communities understand salvation as something tangible, real, something which can happen and even is happening now.
The best proof I can offer about how oppressed communities see salvation as a possibility in the present tense are two hymns based in the experience of African-American community. These two hymns are Go Down Moses and In Egypt under Pharaoh, a hymn we used today. These hymns reference the experience of God as something which can happen now and, therefore, something which should be equated with salvation.
So, why do oppressed communities equate the experience of God right now, in our time, in our midst, with salvation? (Slight pause.) Let’s, for a moment, go back to Star Wars and, once again, explore how that film taps into the human psyche.
I made three claims about that story. Star Wars is about the journey called life. It’s about freedom— human freedom. And in the story there is a sense of some kind of spirit reality beyond human understanding which seems to be a constant presence. (Slight pause.)
You see, Star Wars is not about Luke and Leia and Han and Chewbacca and Obi-Wan as they travel across galaxies. That is merely the story.
So too it is with the Exodus story. Indeed, when this passage was introduced it was said the Sinai episode is at the center of Exodus. It is central to Exodus. And what should draw our attention about that story?
The Exodus story has some basic ideas which tap into the human psyche. The Exodus story tells us life is a journey. The Exodus story tells us that the journey moves us toward freedom. The Exodus story tells us there is some sense of a spirit reality beyond human understanding which seems to be a constant presence.
Star Wars fans call that spirit reality the force. Readers of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures call that spirit reality God. (Slight pause.)
All this should lead us to ask yet another obvious question. If that is a valid reading of the Hebrew Scriptures and accurately assesses how the Hebrew Scriptures address salvation, how should we be reading New Testament on the topic of salvation? (Slight pause.)
Street corner evangelists sometimes ask the question: “Are you saved?” The implication is somewhere, somehow there is a goal to be achieved. But is that the message of Jesus about salvation? (Slight pause.)
In the reading from Matthew we heard these words (quote): “…go make this proclamation: ‘The reign of heaven has drawn near.’” Biblical scholars agree on this. The message of Jesus in the Gospels is clear: God is near. God is with us on the journey. On that journey God walks with us toward the freedom God offers. (Slight pause.)
You see, the prime message of Scripture— the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures— is this basic: life is a journey. The journey moves us toward freedom because of the presence of God. And, by the way, there is a sense of some kind of spirit reality beyond human understanding which seems to be a constant presence. And we call that presence God. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I’ve said this here before. It bears repeating. The late poet Maya Angelou said she was always surprised when someone told her they were a Christian. She was under the impression that took a lifetime to accomplish. Life is a journey. The journey moves us toward freedom. God walks with us.”
BENEDICTION: Let God’s love be our first awareness each day. Let God’s love flow through our every activity. Let us rejoice that God frees us to be witnesses for God. Let us understand every day as a new adventure in faith because the Creator draws us into community. And may we love God so much that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.