A couple of years ago, my nephew and I started a tradition of seeing Sci-fi / Fantasy movies at Christmas time. It started when we saw the first movie of The Hobbit trilogy. I was already hooked on Sci-fi movies after watching Avatar. The Hobbit drew me deeper into an appreciation of Sci-fi / Fantasy movies. I went and watched all the Lord of the Ring, Star Wars and Star Trek movies. And, I saw all of the Hobbit movies with my nephew.
This year, we saw the latest Star Wars movie. I loved it and really want to see it again. I’ve read lots of articles about the Star Wars movies. There is something I find fascinating about this genre of Sci-fi / Fantasy movies, specifically Avatar, Star Trek and Star Wars. They are all set in the future. They all imagine what the future could be with technological and aerospace advancements. And, they all envision evil will still exist.
I like how Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit present evil, not as a person, but as a force. I’ll keep with the story of Star Wars, because I suppose more of you have seen a Star Wars movie than a movie based on the work of Tolkien.
The Star Wars movies have become a phenomenon and references pervade our pop culture and lexicon. If I say, “Luke, I am your father,” most people know that comes from a Star Wars movie said by Darth Vadar, but true fans know that it is misquoted from the movie. Most people know who Darth Vadar is and may have heard of a person being described as a Darth Vadar. If I say, “May the Force be with you,” most people know that come from a Star Wars movie. I want to talk a little about that Force.
Obi-Wan Kenobi defined the Force as an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. I found a Wookiepedia article that describes the Force as the energy of all living things and those energies feed into the Cosmic Force. I’d like to think of the Force as a metaphor for God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives in all things and inspires all things. When we are connected to the Cosmic Force we are sensitive to its gifts and are enabled to do good. The Force helps us recognize the light of the Force and allows the light to burn brightly within us.
But, there is a dark side of the universe which tempts us to misuse our power and gifts. The dark side causes us fear. The dark side creates nuclear weapons and Death Stars. I think we’re drawn to movies and TV shows that portray people affected by the dark side, because we want to understand the dark side. We want to understand what causes good people to do evil. We want to see the good guys defeat evil in one – two hours of a show or movie.
You know I don’t like to talk about evil. I like to spend more of my time talking about what God has done, is doing or will do and less time thinking about evil. But, as a demon is the focus of Jesus’ miracle today, I’ll talk about evil. It will be awhile before you hear about evil from me again, because I think we give power to evil when we talk about it and begin to fear it.
I was with a group of colleagues recently. One colleague kept talking about all he thought Satan was doing in his church. The rest of us couldn’t get a word in about what we thought God was doing in our churches. It seems this colleague does more ministry as a reaction to evil than a response to grace. I have a friend who says that the more we talk about Satan, the more power we give him. And, the more power we give him, the less power we give Jesus.
On Christmas Eve, I talked about the power words have in our lives, especially the power of the Word of God. The more we talk about Jesus, the more we can recognize what God is doing in our lives; however, the more we talk about Satan the easier it is to think about the work of evil in our lives.
As you know, I have trouble thinking about evil as the Devil, one individual and a legion of demons roaming the earth tempting and attacking everyone. The Star Wars movies suggests that evil is not the personification of one spirit who attacks us, but a force within the universe that tries to draw us in. This is how I think of evil.
I think there is a life force within us created by God. The force gives us life and power and gifts. We choose if we will do good or do evil. There is the Holy Spirit which God gives us when we place our faith in Jesus Christ helps us recognize and see the light of the world. The Holy Spirit helps us stay connected to God.
There is a dark side which gives us evil thoughts and inspires evil actions that take life for granted and misuse our power and gifts. This dark side causes me to have greedy, self-centered, arrogant, malicious thoughts. I know all of humanity has some type of evil thoughts they have to overcome. I was watching a comedy movie this weekend in which a couple was joking about having thought about killing the other and they share how they would do it. The movie’s presentation of the thoughts as a joke makes light of the fact that all of us have had evil thoughts, maybe not how you’d kill your spouse, but some type of evil thoughts.
Most of humanity chooses the good, but some are overcome by the dark side and do evil. Sometimes people try to blame mental health illness for some of the darkness in the world, but I think that is a cop out. We all have “demons” we face, whether we have mental health illness or not. Evil is trying to draw us all in.
So, I think the question our Scripture reading today raises is, “how does Jesus cast out the evil that’s in all of us?”
The spirit who possesses the man from our story recognize Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” In the Gospel of Mark, this spirit is the first to recognize who Jesus is and proclaim Jesus’ identity. It’s not the first Disciples Jesus calls. The first to say who Jesus was is the unclean spirit. Once the spirit recognizes Jesus’ power, it comes out of the man at Jesus’ command. The first step in allowing Jesus to cast evil away from us is to recognize and proclaim His power in our lives.
A study of Christians in churches like ours revealed that almost half of Christians believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that God has done something to bring life and salvation; yet, they have no real idea how to honor that in their lives and make decisions. “In other words, they know who Jesus is but can’t quite figure out how to live differently as a result.”
The fact that we are here and have a common faith that Jesus is the Son of God means that we recognize who He is, just as the unclean spirit did. The next step is to give Jesus the power to cast out evil in us. That’s the difficult part. It is one thing to know who Jesus is; it is another, more important thing, to follow Him and live as a Disciple. “One is a matter of information. The other is a matter of commitment.” The unclean spirit responded to Jesus’ command to leave the man. We need to have the same conviction to respond to Jesus’ commands.
I’d like to offer us a spiritual practice that will guide our prayer lives this year. My hope is this practice will deepen our commitment to Christ and strengthen our conviction to follow His commands. I’d like to offer each of you a word to meditate on for the year that may be an important theme of your journey.
This day, in the life of the Church, is known as Epiphany Sunday. Our sanctuary is still decorated because we are still celebrating the Christmas season until January 6th when the church remembers the visit of the Maji. Last week, you read the story of the Maji, along with various stories of Jesus’ childhood leading up to the beginning of his ministry with today’s text. But, it is still Christmas and we still need to honor Epiphany Sunday. So, I offer you a word on a star. Let the star guide you throughout the year toward Jesus.
Pass these baskets around the sanctuary. You don’t have to take the one off the top. You can ruffle around in the basket for a star. Let the star choose you.
Meditate on the word throughout the year in your prayers. Think about how your journey is leading toward salvation, toward healing, toward Jesus who will cast evil away from you.