In 1977 the galaxy as we know it was forever changed when the first Star Wars movie hit the theaters.
If you’re a nerd like me, you might have raised an eyebrow at the previous statement. It’s not wrong, but there’s a sense in which it is kind of wrong. The Star Wars movie that premiered in 1977 was certainly the first to be produced, but it was not the first episode. It was Episode 4: A New Hope.
If you’re even nerdier than I am you’re now raising an eyebrow, because there’s even more to the story. But I didn’t know that until recently, because I wasn’t born until 1978. I didn’t see the first Star Wars during its May 1977 release. I never saw the original movie posters:
I didn’t see, first-hand, that the title listed on them isn’t Episode 4 at all.
It’s just… Star Wars.
My fellow nerds have debated the reason behind this. Some say that Star Wars creator George Lucas always intended for a 9-part series but felt sure that the original film would flop at the box office and kill the deal. Maybe so. What’s clear is that when the next film in the series came out in 1980, it changed things. It was titled Episode V, and at that point the opening credits of the 1977 film were altered to label it Episode IV.
If you’ve wondered why Star Wars is so captivating – why it drives people like me to know trivia like this – then this is part of your answer. George Lucas (at some point) recognized that a story is more interesting when it’s situated within a larger narrative. An unimportant, small town boy from Tatooine becomes wildly important when we realize his part in a much bigger story.
In fact, the opening text of every Star Wars movie almost requires us to take a step back and see a bigger picture: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
In 627 BC the world as the Israelites knew it was about to change. In that year a boy named Jeremiah received a call from God. He was young and inexperienced with public speaking. Regardless, that boy’s ministry would one day become the backbone of the second-largest book of the Bible. He’d speak boldly to Judah – the southern kingdom of Israel – and stand against their disobedience to God even as God left them vulnerable to attack and eventual exile from the Babylonians.
How did an unimportant boy do all that?
If you like the opening lines to the Star Wars movies, then you’ll love God’s opening line to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
In other words, Jeremiah is part of a bigger story.
That’s what Eugene Peterson points out in his book on Jeremiah, Run with the Horses. And I think he’s dead on. If God formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb… if God not only knew but consecrated Jeremiah before he was born… well, there’s a bigger story at work here, a narrative in which Jeremiah has a contributing part to play.
To see the narrative we have to step back to take in a galactic-level view. Samuel Wells has described God’s story in five chapters, which I love – but let’s re-name those in light of the Star Wars theme for today:
Episode I: Creation
Episode II: Israel
Episode III: Jesus
Episode IV: Church
Episode V: Completion
Seeing it this way helps me to understand that we are also part of a much bigger, multi-episode story. Like Luke Skywalker, we might sometimes feel like insignificant water farmers (maybe?). Like Jeremiah, our gut reaction might be that we’re too young and poorly spoken to do anything of importance. That might be true if this story is just about any one of us. But it’s not… it’s much bigger than that.
And a story is more interesting when it’s situated within a larger narrative.
One of my favorite places as a kid was sitting on the bow of my family’s boat. We’d pack a picnic lunch and cruise out into the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually the land would fall out of view and all I could see ahead of us was a line of dark blue water against the light blue sky. I’d sit there taking it in, feeling small in comparison to that bigness. Somehow, strangely, my smallness didn’t feel bad; it felt wonder-fully good.
The first time I climbed a mountain I got that same feeling. Around here you can stand on some peak in the Smokies and see layer after layer of green ridge lines, going on and on for so long that they turn blue in the distance. That expanse of creation makes me feel small in the presence of its bigness… but it’s that same strangely good smallness.
I think what I feel in those moments is my appropriate relationship to God and God’s big story. Yes, I am small. But my God is big, and my God’s story is big. In my smallness I am asked to play a part in God’s bigness. Isn’t that a great wonder?
This feeling is not reserved for the Jeremiahs and the Skywalkers; it’s not just for pastors like me; it’s not exclusive to those called to some famously-known work. Every one of us has been created by God in our mother’s wombs. Every one of us has been ordained to play some part in this story.
So you – what’s your part?
It’s 2016, and here you are in Episode IV: Church. God is calling you.