On Dec. 18 of this year, I know where Timothy will be. That is the day when the new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens” will be released. I can guarantee that Timothy will be at the movie theater watching the movie on the first day it can be seen, because he has told me is going to do it. I will not be at all surprised if he and his Uncle Mike do whatever has to be done to make sure they have a chance to see the movie on that day.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the much anticipated continuation of the Star Wars movies that carries the story on after the end of the last movie, “Return of the Jedi.” The Stars Wars franchise has a large following, and the movie has generated tremendous excitement because it will include members of the cast from the first three movies. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamel will reprise their roles as Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.
Now you will note that I just referred to the “first three movies.” Actually, how you talk about the Star Wars movies is a source of contention in the Surburg house. Star Wars appeared in 1977, followed by the Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. I saw the movies when I was the same age as my children.
However, this trilogy of movies actually told a story that had already begun. They were technically episodes IV, V and VI. Yet it wasn’t until 1999, 2002 and 2005 that the prequels, episodes I through III, were actually released. The timing has meant that my children have never known the Star Wars movies as anything but a series of six movies that go in order from I through VI. In fact, Amy and I saw the 2005 movie Revenge of the Sith the day before the twins were born.
At the same time, I have never been able forget about how I experienced the movies when I was their age. I still refer to the 1977 Star Wars as the “first movie” – something that is guaranteed to prompt my children to correct me as they say that no, that is the fourth movie. Sometimes I do this without realizing it. And sometimes I do it just to prompt the response, because, well … that’s what dads do.
Today is the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist. While that title focuses on St. Luke as the writer of the Gospel that bears his name, Luke was also the author of the book of Acts. In fact, Luke and Acts are really a two volume set.
George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise apparently had difficulties when it came to doing things in order. St. Luke was the exact opposite. He begins the Gospel of Luke by writing: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
And then, when Luke begins his second volume he says in Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” From there, Luke then proceeds to narrate the work of the Spirit as he leads and empowers the Church to share the good news about Jesus from Jerusalem all the way to Rome.
In the Gospel lesson for the Feast of St. Luke we hear about how Jesus sent forth seventy two disciples ahead of him to prepare the way. Luke has just told us near the end of chapter nine, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus has begun the final stage of his ministry. And in the same chapter Jesus has just said what the trip to Jerusalem will bring. He told his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Our Lord sends the seventy two disciples to prepare the way for him. He tells them to travel light and hurry, not even pausing to greet travelers on the road. He tells them in our text that when they come to a town that receives them they are to, “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
The disciples were to proclaim that God’s saving reign had come near to those who heard the message. They were to do this as they talked about Jesus, because in Jesus the reign of God was present in the world. Jesus was the presence of God’s reign to turn back the forces of Satan, sin and death. That was why he was journeying to Jerusalem, for Luke tells us of how on Good Friday Jesus died on the cross for your sins. He was numbered with the transgressors as he took your place. But then God raised him from the dead as he defeated death.
Now all of the Gospel writers do this. But Luke then narrates something that no one else does. He tells us about the ascension of Jesus. And he also helps us understand what it means. In the first chapter of Acts Luke tells us that after the resurrection Jesus ordered the disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And then he went on to say, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Sometimes it is easy for us to wonder about how much power the Gospel really has. We know that through faith in Jesus Christ we receive forgiveness and salvation, and we want others to receive this too. We want them to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And yet when we share the Good News, people react like it is “Boring News” or “Pointless News” or even “Dumb News.” This hurts. It can shake our confidence. It can lead to doubt and uncertainty.
Luke knew that the Gospel does not always meet with what we define as success. Immediately after our text Jesus goes on to say, “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” In the face of rejection Jesus had the disciples say the exact same thing because the exact same thing was true. The reign of God is present in the very speaking of the message about Jesus. It can bring salvation when it is believed or it can bring judgment when it is rejected, but either way in the proclamation of Jesus, God is at work.
And make no mistake, this Good News has power because it is the Holy Spirit who is the presence of Christ through the Gospel. Only Luke tells us about the events of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church in fulfillment of God’s words through the prophet Joel. On that day Peter proclaimed to the crowd, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” The Spirit is the continuing presence of Christ’s saving work.
Was Jesus rejected during his ministry? Yes. In fact, it happened in his own home town of Nazareth as they even tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. But that rejection did not mean he had no power. In the same way the Spirit of Christ was the continuing presence of Jesus with his Church as he enabled her to preach the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. In his mission work, Paul met with rejection of the Gospel. Yet it was always the Holy Spirit who led him in his work and caused him to proclaim the word about Christ as churches were founded in Asia Minor and Greece.
Luke teaches us that God works in the midst of circumstances that often appear to be the opposite of what we want them to be. Yet God is at work. And Luke also teaches us that the Holy Spirit does bring sinners to salvation. He does produce a harvest of believers who have received the forgiveness of sins.
You want proof? Look around you! You are the harvest of the mission to the Gentiles that the Spirit has produced. The Spirit who called Cornelius and the first Gentiles to faith in Jesus Christ in Acts chapter 10 has called you as well.
And the Holy Spirit will not be finished in this work until our Lord returns on the Last Day and raises our bodies from the dead through the work of the Spirit. As he carries out this work he draws us in and uses us as well. He uses us to care for our neighbor through acts of love that share the love of Jesus Christ with others. He uses us to care for our neighbor through words that address their most profound problem – words that share the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins.
What response will this receive and why? Only God knows. What St. Luke teaches us is that like the seventy two, when we speak the Gospel we can know that the kingdom of God – the reign of God has come near. And we can know that Spirit poured forth by the risen and exalted Lord is the One who leads and enables us to do so.