May the 4th Be With You!
Today is a national holiday for Star Wars fans across the universe. May the fourth has been called Star Wars Day because of its close proximity to the original saying “May the Force be With You.” So in honor of this great day I want to share with you one of my favorite scenes from Star Wars. It’s from the movie The Empire Strikes Back and it takes place between our hero Luke Skywalker and his mentor Yoda. Luke has been a student of Yoda’s for some time now and his powers in the Force have grown tremendously, but when his trusty robot companion R2D2 tells Luke that his ship has fallen into the swamp completely, Luke exclaims, “We’ll never get it out now.” Immediately Yoda chirps up and says, “So sure are you? Tried have you? Always with you it can’t be done.” After some arguing Luke says, he’ll try and Yoda exclaims, “No! Do or do not. There is no try.” But Luke can’t seem to do it and he tells Yoda that the ship is too big. But Yoda’s response is, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size do you?” And while lecturing Luke, Yoda single-handedly lifts this gigantic starship out of the swamp waters and Luke looks on in awe and whispers, “I don’t believe it.” Yoda simply says, “That is why you fail.”
“That is why you fail.”
Luke’s failure to lift the ship out of the swamp had little to do with his ability, but his faith. He fails because he doesn’t believe. He says that the ship is too big which means he thinks that the task is too large for him to accomplish. He says he will try to do it instead of saying he will do it, so he expresses doubt. Deep down he doesn’t believe he can. Perhaps if the ship were smaller, perhaps if he had more training, perhaps if the task weren’t so huge… Aren’t we often like Luke? Aren’t there times when you’re discouraged from even trying because something seems too daunting? But Yoda says something profound. He says to Luke, “Size matters not… Judge me by my size do you?” It becomes very easy for us to look at the daunting task of filling the pews as something “too big for us to do.” It’s not like we haven’t tried in the past. It’s not like we haven’t WANTED to. But nothing so far has worked out or this place would be filled. But is that really because we don’t have the resources? Is that because we don’t have the money?
Think back to the early church.
I mean the REALLY early church, the church before buildings became popular. We’re going to read from Acts 2:42-47. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, you’ll want to go to the book of Acts, chapter 2 near the end, verse 42. Now, they not only didn’t have a place to meet, they didn’t have much of anything else either, but the Bible describes this group of people as being completely at peace with one another. We stress out over a lack of money, lack of resources, and lack of people, but the early church didn’t have any of those things either. What they DID have was something available to any church, but not what every church is willing to do. As we read this passage, think about the things they did have and how similar or different it is to our churches today.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Did you notice what the church had?
Devotion. Awe. Common belief. Giving spirit. Being together. Did you notice what wasn’t mentioned? Money. Buildings. Pews. Programs. None of the things we associate with the modern church. The only time they came close to talking about money was when they mentioned that the followers sold their things and gave to everyone who had need. And still “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Could you imagine if that were true here? Even if the Lord added to our number weekly, we would grow faster than our building could handle it. All they needed were these common core attributes – devotion, which they exhibited through worship and study; awe for God and the work he was doing in the world; common belief in Christ without bickering about the minute differences; a giving spirit which they showed by doing for those around them; and being together. That word is mentioned three times in this short passage. “Together.” They were together in serving the Lord. When we have those things we are open to the designs of the Holy Spirit and he can do amazing things with us that we haven’t even thought of.
That’s exactly what happened to Craig Groeschel.
He’s one of my favorite pastors. And it’s not because we share the same name, although admittedly it’s kind of cool. And it’s not because he has a HUGE church, because he does. It’s because he had the bravery and most importantly the FAITH to step out and do that which he felt God was calling him to do. Craig actually used to be a United Methodist pastor, but he felt called to start a new church and for whatever reason, the United Methodist church told him “no.” So he left. Not with a grudge. Not with bitterness. But with a strong sense of what God was calling on him to do and so he went out and did it. But he didn’t have anything to start with that we would typically call “successful.” They didn’t have a big building to meet in. They didn’t have a ton of money. They didn’t have a large children’s ministry. He often tells the story that they were so small that worship consisted of meeting in a garage with an overhead projector run by a guy with a missing finger. The children’s ministry literally met in a closet in the garage and he likes to joke that they came out of the closet every week. But he felt sure that this was what God called him to do and as he stayed faithful to God’s call on his life, his ministry grew. Pretty soon it grew so big he started to worry about losing it and that’s when he had the biggest revelation of all. We can’t be afraid to lose it. Because that’s when we start trusting in ourselves more than God! They started trusting in themselves more than God. That’s like putting the cart before the horse. So they did the opposite of what a lot of churches would do. They pared down the number of ministries they had to five. Just five. And if something didn’t fit into those five missions, they didn’t do it. They even invited people to attend other churches and he annually gives out pamphlets and brochures to other churches in the area. Not in a spiteful way, but in a loving way because God has a mission for this church and it may not be where God is calling those specific people. They were willing to lovingly let go of those who didn’t want to journey with them instead of trying to compromise where they felt God was calling them. And they grew. And grew. And grew. Last time I heard they were at 26,000 in worship in multiple services around the country. That’s just an example of how God can transform us when we go back to the core principles of devotion, awe, common belief, a giving spirit, and being together. What God does in each of us is different, so our story will be different from this “other Craig,” but it could still be ours. God is not done with any of us yet.
However, we could also go the other way.
When we become so used to what we like and what we want, we start to shut God out of the process. I told our Tuesday Bible study the story of another church I knew that was smaller like ours. They had about 30 in worship every week. They really only had one or two families with kids. And largely the church building was empty except for a local preschool that rented some of the rooms. When a friend of mine became pastor there he wanted to really get out into the community. He wanted to show the city that the church was still a vital part of God’s mission. But one gentlemen spoke up at a church council meeting and said he didn’t like what was going on. He didn’t like that the church was getting active in the community. When my friend asked him why he felt that way, the man said he liked things the way they were. They were a family. And if they had a bunch of new people showing up, it might ruin things. Even though they were a dying church, even though they struggled to afford a pastor, even though we are called by God to make disciples for Christ, he didn’t want things to change. Believe it or not, every church has people like this. Maybe deep down you’re even one of them. But if so, I hope you feel challenged by God’s Word for us today. We are called to be such a mighty force of love, kindness, giving, and hope that as Luke wrote in Acts we enjoy the favor of all the people. Pray about that this week. Are you willing? We talked about that same theme last week and we’ll explore it again in a couple of weeks from now. But think about that as we explore what it means to be the church. Are you willing?
Like Yoda said, “Size has no meaning.”
We’ve seen throughout the Bible that God does amazing things with small groups of people or even one. Gideon and his army of 300. David and his slingshot. Jesus and the 12 disciples. As Mark Twain put it, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.” That’s what matters. Are we willing to live up to the core values that Christ taught us? Because there really isn’t anything we can’t do if we are willing to go all out. If we are willing to do what’s necessary to reach people for God, we really can do it. But are we willing? I think we are. I think we can definitely do it. And I believe strongly that there is a reason why all of us were brought together in this time and place. But it’s something we have to decide to do together. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.