The Force Is Strong With This One

Who is The Last Jedi?

That question is going to be bugging me all the way until December. The title of the new Star Wars movie is called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. So the question of course is, who is the last Jedi? As soon as the title was revealed, theories started popping up all over the place. Is Luke the last Jedi? Is Rey? Are they both the last Jedi? After all the word “jedi” is both singular and plural like “sheep” and “deer.” And then in the new trailer, Luke cryptically says, “I know only one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end.” It’s going to gnaw at me until the movie comes out at Christmas. Of course you can’t talk about the Jedi without talking about the Force. As Obi-Wan Kenobi first described to a young Luke Skywalker, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together.” The appeal of this concept of the universe has been so pervasive, an official religion was established as Jediism with it’s own 501(c)3 status.[1] While they are not officially connected to the Star Wars franchise, you can in fact become a Jedi. In 2001, there was a campaign to encourage people to list “Jedi” as their official religion in census polls all over the world and over 70,000 in Australia, over 50,000 in New Zealand and nearly 400,000 in the UK did it.[2] It was assumed that most of those people did it as a lark, but when the next census came around the numbers were still high with 65,000 in Australia, 20,000 in New Zealand, and still more than 176,000 in the UK. There is something to this idea of an unseen force that guides and unites us in ways we can’t possibly imagine.[3]

In a year filled with some pretty spectacular movies, this will still be the best one to me – the poster for The Last Jedi

We call this unseen force the Holy Spirit.

If you have a Bible or a Bible app with you and you’d like to follow along, would you please find the Gospel of John chapter 14 beginning with verse 15? John 14:15. The fact there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who officially consider themselves followers of Jediism says something about our search for something more and the belief that this “something more” exists. It also says that this “something more” is not easy to identify, and while we call that existential force the Holy Spirit, it hasn’t been any easier for Christians to identify either. The concept of the Holy Spirit and of the Trinity is perhaps the most difficult one for Christians to wrap their minds around. The fact that it is unseen is troubling and Jesus knew it would be as he explained to the disciples. If you would please rise for a reading of the Gospel, we’ll be reading this morning from John 14:15-21. Hear now the Word of the Lord.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

God was a burning bush, Jesus was a real human being, but where is the Holy Spirit?

Each of the other beings of the Trinity made themselves known to us directly through our senses of sight and sound and in the case of Jesus touch and smell. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t interact with us the same way, which is why Jesus said, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” In a world that has difficulty accepting things on faith, it’s no wonder the idea of the Holy Spirit doesn’t work for many of us. Jesus tells us the Spirit is what lives in and around us, trying to direct us toward a life with Christ at the center. It’s what our tradition calls prevenient grace – the work of God in our lives before we even know it is him. And that’s why I think the idea of the Force in Star Wars is appealing to so many. It gives a name to this thing that is working inside of us, this urge or compulsion to do the right thing. Now whether we listen to it is up to us, but it is the part of us that constantly leans toward God. Over the centuries, we’ve given it other names, too. The little angel on our shoulder. Our conscience. Jiminy Cricket. The heebie-jeebies. But whatever name or form we assign to it, it’s our struggle to conceptualize the Holy Spirit of God.

I wonder if that’s why the Holy Spirit gets the short shrift in the Apostles’ Creed.

We talk about all three beings of the Trinity as being equal, but the Holy Spirit only gets one line! “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” That’s it. And then we move on. It doesn’t even get its own section. It just gets lumped in with everything else. But I don’t that’s because it’s not important. Rather it’s because we have such a hard time pinning down exactly what the Spirit is. We have a hard time explaining how it works. We often don’t even give the Spirit a gender (even though Jesus did) because I don’t know if we’re sure if the Holy Spirit should be described as being male or female. I think we’re more comfortable with it simply being “the Holy Spirit.” But the very indefinable nature of the Spirit is what also makes it hard to relate to. Instead of trying to paint a picture of what the Spirit looks like, we should instead imagine the Spirit as being part of each one of us. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” The Spirit is what allows God to reside within us and to guide us. When God told Jeremiah there would come a day when the people no longer needed the Law because it would be written on our hearts, this is what he meant. Instead of having to try and follow a book, we simply needed to be guided by what God had put on our hearts.

A lion at Project Survival’s Cathaven – it’s easy to forget how strong and deadly these noble animals can be and Samson defeated one with his bare hands.  I was really this close to the lion.

The Spirit isn’t something new.

It’s always been there. Just as Jesus was there in the beginning, so was the Holy Spirit. In fact, there are tons of references to the Holy Spirit all throughout the Bible. In his book Creed, Adam Hamilton talks about some of the different times the Spirit is mentioned. When Samson’s family was in danger from a lion, the book of Judges (14:6) shares the tale of how “the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him” and he was able to save his family. Sometimes the Spirit was more subtle. When Moses passed away (in Deuteronomy 34), the Spirit gave Joshua the gift of wisdom and he knew what to say to the people to gain their trust. And of course in the New Testament the Spirit comes down upon the Apostles and gives them the ability to share the Gospel in many different languages – languages they didn’t even know. Today we believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world through you and me and those around us. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.” We see Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in all of us.

The chapel at Roswell UMC where I served back in 2007-2009

Stories you hear about the Spirit are not always easy to believe.

Sometimes you hear one and it just seems so far-fetched it stretches the imagination. But I guess they wouldn’t have made it in the Bible if they were ordinary stories. You never read about how the Spirit moved in Joseph so he wouldn’t stub his toe on a rock. But the Spirit is there in our quiet moments and in the Bible-making headlines. And it still moves within us today in much the same way. There was a time I gave a sermon while I was at Roswell and afterward, a woman came up to me and told me she felt like that message was just for her. That alone for me is evidence that the Spirit is moving among us, in those moments where we feel convicted by the Spirit about something or someone. But then she told me what it was that I said that inspired her – and I hadn’t said anything even remotely close to it. No one had. No one in worship had said what she heard. None of our songs said what she heard. But she was so grateful and felt so moved that she left worship with a sense of having heard the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt she did.

The Holy Spirit is the way God works in us today.

We won’t see him in a burning bush or watch him pass by while we huddle in a cave. We won’t experience him as the disciples did through Jesus Christ. Instead, we’ll experience God through the Holy Spirit that resides within each of us. We’ll experience him in the subtle nudges of our conscience or through the miracle of healing and wholeness that at times can only be attributed to something beyond our explanation. Sure you can attribute those things to luck or random chance. You might explain it away as delusion or psychosis. But if you’re open to it you just might develop a sense for the Spirit in your life and how God is moving in and around YOU. I want to encourage you to just pray to the Holy Spirit to come and work within you. Invite the Spirit in to your life and ask it to make itself known to you. If you do that with a sincere heart, I know you’ll see results. It might make you feel foolish. Believe me, I get it. But trust me when I tell you that the Holy Spirit wants to affect your life in strong and powerful ways.

Something like “the Force” is simply a different way to see the Holy Spirit.

God works in and through everything to try and reach us. And when something like Jediism becomes more than a lark but a religion people take seriously, it’s evidence to me that the Holy Spirit is trying to reach out to them in a way that connects to their lives. But I believe that when you come to know the Spirit not as an impersonal energy field but truly as a distinct and vital part of the Holy Trinity, you realize that God loves you, wants you, and is still active in your life. Open yourself up to the possibility of the Spirit moving in and through you and I know you will see life in a different way. May the Holy Spirit be with you always.

This was part 3 of our sermon series exploring the Apostles’ Creed following the book by Adam Hamilton called Creed.  The Holy Spirit is one of the most puzzling aspects of the Trinity and one we hope you feel a bit more like it can be understood.

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[3] Definitely a reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s line to Darth Vader in A New Hope, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

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