Dispelling the Darkness in an Empire Strikes Back World


Several years ago in my last pastoral appointment, I offered a sermon series called “Summer at the Movies.” One summer, I decided to preach through the Book of Romans, using illustrations from the six original Star Wars movies. I found it fascinating to discover examples that related to Paul’s themes playing out in those movies. 

For example, in the first three chapters, Paul argued that humanity is caught under the power of sin. To me “The Phantom Menace” appeared to be a perfect example of that struggle against sin. In Chapter 4, Paul explored the story of Abraham’s faith. That faith contrasted so clearly to the fear that dominated Anakin Skywalker’s life. The Emperor manipulated that fear bringing about the “Revenge of the Sith.” At that point, I was ready for “A New Hope.” And that is exactly the point Paul makes in Romans 5:8 writing, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Just when you start to think we are done with sin, watch out because “The Empire Strikes Back”. As Paul reminds us in Chapter 7:19, we risk backsliding every day. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” 

Doesn’t it seem we are living in an “Empire Strikes Back” kind of world? The COVID-19 virus continues to mutate, stressing our health system and causing more economic disruptions right when we are ready for some hope. The debates over masks and vaccines, along with the political disagreements, widen the distance between us, breaking up friendships and leaving both families and churches divided. 

Having just celebrated the hope that Christmas brings, we might start to wonder what happened to Christ’s unconquerable light that shines in the darkness that we proclaim at Christmas. We know Christ’s light endures. 
However, we may question how well we, his followers, have been shining Christ’s light into the world. 

So how can we get back to allowing his light to shine through us, dispelling some of the darkness threatening our world? I suggest we return to basics like Christ’s Great Commandment. Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus also said the world would know we are his disciples if we loved one another. 

That’s a pretty big task and hard to do living in such divisive times. Let’s recall some of the qualities of love Paul lifted up in 1 Corinthians 13 and consider what they might look like in our lives. 

Love is Patient
How can we be patient with rules about masks on airplanes or social distancing in public buildings? When our family or friends disagree with us, how can we listen to them with patience and not just dismiss them outright?

Love is Kind
How can we be kind when it comes to protecting our neighbors from COVID-19? Could wearing a mask in public be a way to offer kindness to others by trying to protect them from this frightening disease?

Love is Not Envious or Boastful or Arrogant or Rude
How might we monitor our own comments on social media or in public, so we share our ideas with clarity but in a respectful manner?

Love Does Not Insist on its Own Way & is Not Irritable or Resentful
As we wait in lines for testing or search the stores for rapid tests that can’t be found, how can we curb our irritability so the store employees can serve us to the best of their ability?

Love Does Not Rejoice in Wrongdoing; It Rejoices in the Truth
Reading the news, watching programs on television or social media, how will we respond when someone applauds a lie or denies the truth? 

That is a lot to reflect on as the year opens. Still Paul assures us it is possible for us to make Christ’s love visible in this broken world. We may live in an “Empire Strikes Back” moment. But I’m counting on the light of Christ to keep shining through us, overcoming the darkness. So, this year, let’s rededicate ourselves to resisting the empire of sin and darkness with the faith, hope and love Christ offers each of us by, letting his light shine through our actions each day.