The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE REAL FORCE BE WITH YOU!

Delivered 5/23/99
Text: Acts 2:1-21
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

The burning question of the week: Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? The movie - "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." For a zillion or so "Star Wars" fans who stood in line for days for tickets, the waiting was over Wednesday at 12:01 AM, as the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared onscreen in more than 2,000 theaters across North America. At last we hear how an adorable 9-year old slave boy named Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, the dreaded enemy of all that is good and right.

We also hear, "May the Force be with you," a prayer or benediction from the earlier Star Wars movies that quickly became one of cinema history's most familiar quotations. It also generated theological conversation among folks who speculated on how much Christians could identify the Force with accepted understandings of God. Most agreed that the Force left something to be desired, but even George Lucas himself said in a recent interview, "I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people--more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery."(1)

A commendable goal, Mr. Lucas. For our part, the Christian Church on this Day of Pentecost will go a step farther: we will identify the REAL Force. We encountered it in our lesson:

Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
POWER! And it changed everything. Suddenly, a rag-tag band of depressed disciples who had hidden themselves behind locked doors in fear for their lives became powerful public proclaimers of the resurrection. The REAL Force is with us, and that can make all the difference in our lives.

Is that what we want here? In this dignified sanctuary? Among God's frozen chosen? Should we have the ushers shush anybody who gets too caught up in the Spirit of God? "You can do this sort of thing at a store-front mission, one with a flashing neon sign that says 'Jesus Saves' -- but not here." Still, wouldn't you like to be present one time where the Spirit did take over that way? What a remarkable, unforgettable experience it would be! Feeling the Spirit like the rushing of a mighty wind through the sanctuary, making the flames of the candles on the communion table leap up high, sucking air, and rustling the antependia on the lectern and the pulpit, stirring the pages of our hymnbooks and Bibles. Wow!(2)

Annie Dillard, one of our most eloquent writers, has asked, "Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet gloves to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets..."(3) The REAL Force be with you.

One of the things folks remember first about that Pentecost story we read is the speaking in other languages. Not in some celestial language, not "glossolalia" - language language...the kind that people use to communicate. The message was not just heard, it was HEARD...and all this despite the fact they were speaking dozens, perhaps hundreds, of dialects and tongues.

That is a miracle in itself, isn't it! Not the part about the languages, but the part about hearing. It does not happen often in the world.

As some of you know, in recent months I have been involved in an ad hoc effort to bridge the gap between our Guilford County School Board and segments of our community who are upset at current redistricting and student assignment plans. What has been happening is that the two groups have been talking AT each other, but no one on either side appears to be hearing anything. One of our number offered a parable: Two children were in the kitchen fighting over the one orange in the house. Each needed the orange for a recipe. Mom came in, saw the problem, and with great apparent wisdom, cut that orange in two and handed one half to one, one half to the other. No one was satisfied. If only someone had listened. You see, one recipe called for the meat of the orange, the other called for the skin. BOTH could have had what they wanted...if only anyone had bothered to listen.

It happened at Pentecost. Perhaps that is one more lesson we can learn: in the church, beyond all other places in the world, we are supposed to learn to listen to one another, to value one another's feelings and opinions, as a foretaste of heaven itself, where everyone will be heard perfectly. Would that be something? We might not be rich. We might not have great crowds. We might not sing very well. We might not look very successful in the world's eyes. But if we could listen to one another, and love one another with our hearing, that would be something, wouldn't it!(4) The REAL Force is with you.

The result of all that? That little band of believers grew. Big time. They had the biggest revival any church ever saw. They exploded from being a few dozen members to adding 3,000 more that day and a couple thousand more soon after. People saw this divine "Force" in action and wanted to be a part of what was happening. Their lives were changed. They began to share. They were so caught up in the Spirit and so happy with one another that they just pooled what they had to the glory of God and the power of the kingdom. Each one had enough. Can you imagine that?

Have you ever been in a church with money trouble? Or should we say have you ever been in a church with NO money trouble? Sad to say, more churches have trouble over money problems than over anything else. People who cannot get along over money in their own families come to church and get upset about money at the church. They say that the most sensitive nerve in a person's body is the one attached to the pocketbook. If the Holy Spirit can touch that one, as was done at Pentecost, then you know the experience is powerful. The REAL Force, for sure.

"May the Force be with you." Words we will no doubt be hearing more and more in days to come as folks see the new Star Wars adventure. More than $400-million worth of "Force" on just the domestic run if estimates are correct.(5) People enjoy the cinematic escape. Wonderful! But outside those theaters is the real world, the world of bombs over Kosovo, shootings in our schools, disease, despair, and death. It is to that REAL world the church announces a word of genuinely good news on this Day of Pentecost: the Holy Spirit of the living God, the REAL Force, IS with us and WILL BE with us...now and forever. Hallelujah!

Amen!


1. Time, April 26, 1999, Vol. 153 No. 16

2. John Killinger, "Jesus' Rules of Order," Preaching, May-June, 1995, p. 38

3. Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone To Talk, p. 58

4. Killinger

5. Andrew Hindes, "New 'Star Wars' Movie Opens," Reuters News Service, via Internet, 5/19/99

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