In Rev. Peg Bowman sermon, she uses Star Wars, specifically a scene from “The Empire Strikes Back,” as a metaphor to discuss the concept of faith in Christianity. She asserts that faith is not a force we control to change things, but rather it is about trusting God and believing that God will do as promised. She notes that faith is not about the success of our prayers or having things turn out as we hope, but instead, it is about trusting God’s wisdom and timing, even when prayers seem unanswered. Rev. Bowman emphasizes that faith, unlike the ‘force’ in Star Wars, is about acknowledging that God is the one with the power and ability, not us.
She further illustrates the concept of faith through Biblical stories, particularly the stories of Abram (later renamed Abraham) and Matthew, the tax collector. Rev. Bowman emphasizes how Abram demonstrated great faith by following God’s call, despite the risks and challenges, and how that faith resulted in him becoming the father of a multitude. Similarly, she discusses Matthew’s transformation and faith in following Jesus, even though he was a despised tax collector. Rev. Bowman concludes the sermon by encouraging her audience to be audacious in faith, drawing attention to the transformative power of faith, and emphasizing the need to remove societal barriers, promote inclusivity, and spread Jesus’ mercy, forgiveness, and healing to all.
So I have to confess to a guilty pleasure. Whenever possible, I eat dinner in front of Wheel of Fortune. Don’t ask why. I have no idea.
Anyway, this past week on Wheel of Fortune, they were having a Star Wars week, and I am a huge Star Wars fan. Yeah, all right. And one of the puzzles, which I figured out before the contestants did, was you don’t know the power of the dark side. You can just hear Darth Vader saying it.
You don’t know the power. Anyway. Our scripture readings on faith this week remind me of a scene from Star Wars. In the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, where Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker how to use the force.
In the process of the training, Luke’s ship, his X-wing starfighter, sinks into the nearby swamp. And Luke tries to raise it using the force, and he fails. And Yoda, who’s only about half Luke’s size, quietly gets up and raises it, and directs it over to the dry land and sets it down. And Luke is astonished and he says, I don’t believe it.
And Yoda says, That is why you fail. (laughs) This scene, this conversation between Luke and Yoda has become so much a part of our society on so many levels. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, It’s out there in the blogosphere and everything. Scenes like this from Star Wars have become somewhat parallel to faith, but the force is exactly not how Christian faith works.
From time to time, I have heard people say that if something didn’t happen the way they thought it should or the way they prayed it would, like a job offer or a prayer for a friend, if these things don’t work out the way we prayed for them, then the people praying or the person praying didn’t have enough faith. This is exactly not what the Bible teaches. Faith is not a force that we can use to move things and change things. Faith is not a name it and claim it kind of deal.
The Bible tells us that when we have faith, God does the work. Jesus said if we have faith just the size of a mustard seed, Y’all who garden, you know how big those, how small those things are. Size of mustard, that’s all we need to have. We do not need to work ourselves up into a state of emotion or a state of mind or work up the force or whatever.
Faith, from our side of the equation, is simply listening to God and trusting God that God will do what God said God will do. God is the one who has the power and the ability. Now, quick side note, for those of us, probably most of us, who are still waiting for some answers to some of our prayers, God sometimes answers prayer by saying yes, sometimes no, sometimes not yet or wait for it, and sometimes we don’t seem to hear any answer at all and we only find out sometime 10 years later that a prayer got answered. We don’t know.
God may do any number of things in response to prayer. for reasons that we don’t see, and God certainly knows things we don’t know. Our prayer, our part is to trust God and do the best we can in the moment right now. So all of that said is sort of a foundation.
I wanted to take a look at the examples of faith from our scripture readings today. We basically have two scenarios today. The first in Genesis, where Abram talks to God, and the second in Matthew, where we see Jesus responding to varying levels of faith in the people around him. And I’ll take these in chronological order.
So the story of Abram, the father of the nation of Israel, the Jewish people, begins in the 11th chapter of Genesis. And up until that point, the book of Genesis has basically been giving us the story of the beginnings of the human race, with highlights on creation, the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, the beginnings of formal religion, Noah and the Ark, and the Tower of Babel. And these stories all tell us, teach us lessons about the nature of God and creation. Now the attention shifts to Abram and his family and their relationship with God.
And most of the rest of Genesis will be about Abram and his descendants. When Abram meets God, first off, his name is Abram, A-B-R-A-M, which means exalted father. Later on, when God gives Abram the sign of circumcision, Abram is renamed Abraham, with H-A-M at the end, which means father of a multitude. And I imagine that these names are probably very awkward for a man with no children, especially in a society where names had literal meanings.
How would Abram explain that he has no kids? Even so, God comes to Abram, tells him to pack up and move to Canaan. Now, Abram, according to Jewish scholars, Abram lived in Mesopotamia, which is somewhere around near or in modern-day Iraq. And he traveled roughly 700 miles to the border of Iraq, and then another 700 miles to Syria, and then another 800 miles to Egypt, because when he got to the promised land, when he got there, there was already people there. And so he stopped, as you heard today, he built the altar and kept going.
So Abram was following God’s lead all this way. Now imagine this, especially for those of you who have moved in your lifetime, maybe for college or for the military or for a job. You know what it’s like to pack up everything you own and all your family and move hundreds of miles away. And Abram did this with a wife and servants and herds of animals and all the tents and all this on the word of God.
Imagine what it was like for them on that journey of hundreds and hundreds of miles, passing through countries they’d never been in before and cities and towns they had never seen before and meeting people whose languages they didn’t speak. Imagine trying to do business in these places, buying food or selling animals to get money in places they knew nothing about, where they didn’t know the customs. It’s been said that refugees are people of great faith, and this is just one example of how and why that is. People who dare to take such risks know that they are being led by God out of the safety of the familiar and into something new and potentially dangerous.
God tells Abram, He will be the father of a great nation, and that nation will be blessed. And Abram believes God. God tells Abram his name will be great and he will be a blessing to others. Now the Jewish scholars agree that Abram was not chosen by God because he was any better than any other people or more religious than anyone else.
Abram was simply God’s choice. And Abram believed God and said yes. And because of that yes, today over 6,000 years later, all Jewish people, all Muslim people and all Christian people trace our physical and/or spiritual roots back to Abram. God’s word to Abram is still true today.
So when Abram first arrived at Shechem, like I said, God repeated his promise that the land would belong to him and his descendants, and even though the Canaanites were there, Abram trusted God’s promise. He built an altar to the Lord right there and headed down to Egypt, and a few years Years later, at God’s leading, he returned and settled in the Promised Land. By faith, Abram then did become the father of a multitude, as God had promised. That’s another sermon for another day.
The apostle Paul, when he was teaching the new Christian believers about Abram’s adventures, pointed out that Abram was over 90 years old when God made this promise, and Sarah was well past childbearing years. Paul says Sarah’s womb was technically dead, but God brought life from it. And he says Abram’s faith is a model for us all, something we can aim for in our own lives, to trust God this deeply with our lives. So moving on to the second reading for today from Matthew, we see faith happening all over the place in this one.
First we meet Matthew, the tax collector. He was a very unpopular guy. I mean, not that anybody likes tax collectors to begin with. Back then it was worse because the tax collectors worked for the Roman government.
So they were collaborators as well as tax collectors. And they overcharged people and kept the difference. So they were highway robbers of the worst kind. But Jesus chose to call Matthew and not only call him, but invite himself to Matthew’s house for dinner.
So Matthew, like Abram, got up, left everything, and acted on faith. He gathers together his tax collector buddies and they throw Jesus a big banquet. And meanwhile, the crowd and the Pharisees are shocked and horrified. How could Jesus, a rabbi, and a local Jew, a loyal Jewish citizen, How could he hang out with sinners and traitors? The thing is, though, when Jesus comes into contact with sin or uncleanness, Jesus doesn’t get dirty.
The dirt gets clean. Like Armorall, dirt doesn’t stick to Jesus. Jesus keeps company with sinners, not so he can look cool and hang out with the sinners, but in order to share his goodness with sinners, and all it takes on the sinner’s part is faith. Immediately after Jesus called Matthew, in fact, maybe even at the banquet, a synagogue leader comes in and asks Jesus to come and touch his daughter who just died.
And on the way to the house, Jesus is touched by a woman in the crowd who had the flow of blood for 30, 12, sorry, 12 years, which is still unimaginably a long time. Under Jewish law, law of Moses, being involved in either of these events or both would make Jesus ritually unclean. Touch a dead body, unclean. Touch someone with a flow of blood, unclean.
But when Jesus is involved, The unclean becomes clean, the woman with the flow of blood is healed, and the dead girl is made alive. In both cases, it’s faith that makes the difference, not the kind of faith that people work themselves up into. The woman with the flow of blood simply knew if she touched Jesus’ clothing, she would be well, and that’s exactly what happened. The synagogue ruler knew that if Jesus touched his daughter, she would live, and that’s exactly what happened.
Not because he believed it would, but because Jesus said so. Jesus told the mourners the girl isn’t dead, and they laughed at him, ’cause they knew dead bodies. They’d seen dead bodies before they knew what dead was. But the girl’s father trusted Jesus rather than the crowd, and she was restored to life.
Faith begins with God, not with us. Faith begins with God’s call, a call to leave behind what is familiar, to leave behind the ways of things that have always been, and venture into the unknown with God. God’s call always has a purpose, both for the person called and for others, some of whom that person might not ever meet. God’s word to Abram was, In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Abram could not have begun to imagine 6,000 years later when millions of people are his descendants, either physically or spiritually or both. There’s no way Abram saw that coming. But Abram sets an example that we can follow. He trusted God and God called that righteousness.
The result of faith in both of our passages today is that God counts in many people whose society counts out. And Jesus calls us to do the same. To remove barriers, to take down walls, to erase the line between insiders and outsiders, between us and them, so that Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness and wholeness and healing can come to everyone. Real faith, real faith, has an element of audacity and daring about it.
And I want to encourage us, each one of us, to be audacious for Jesus. Amen. [BLANK_AUDIO].