1 Peter: 1:17-23
You may not be aware of it, but one of my favorite holidays is coming up this week. I am not sure why it is not yet a national holiday, but this Thursday is May 4th, Star Wars day. Then, two weeks ago the Star Wars celebration happened in Orlando and a whole bunch of new trailers and information about the Star Wars universe was released. So between all of those announcements and May the 4th (be with you) coming up this week, I really have Star Wars on the brain (more than usual). As much as I love Star Wars, I have to admit there are some things about it that do not make sense. Even with the suspension of disbelief required to accept laser swords, planet destroying weapons and an all-powerful force that binds the universe together there are still some unanswered questions and unexplainable oddities. A few of these revolve around the character Chewbacca. If it has been a while since you have seen Star Wars, then hopefully this scene can remind you. Chewbacca is the big furry alien.
As you heard Chewbacca’s language is a series of growls. So if that is true, how on earth did he ever communicate that his name is Chewbacca? Also, why is his name something that he apparently cannot even pronounce? How does that work? Another thing that is not fully explained is why Chewbacca even spends time with Han Solo in the first place. To get answers to that, you have to go fairly deep into Star Wars lore. In the novelization for the original Star Wars it is explained that Chewbacca owes Han Solo a life debt. At some point Han Solo did something so profound and great for Chewbacca, that he pledged his life to Han Solo. The official Star Wars cannon mentions this is related to freeing Chewbacca from slavery, but none of the exact details are known. In 2019, there is a young Han Solo movie coming out so that might finally answer this detail that Star Wars fans have wondered about for years.
The idea of a life debt is an interesting one. While the fictional details are not known, Han Solo did something so profound for Chewbacca, that the Wookie forever changed how he lived his life in order to honor something that he could never hope to repay. As I first read this morning’s scripture I was reminded of the life debt that Chewbacca owed Han Solo, and I wonder if the idea of a life debt can help define how we understand our faith?
One of the reasons why this morning’s scripture invokes the idea of a life debt is because it frames salvation in economic terms. Verse 18 states, “for you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed.” The word translated redeemed could also just as accurately be translated as “ransomed”. A ransom is a payment made to get something back. The New Living Translation states this most plainly and renders verses 18 and 19 of this morning’s scripture like this: “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”
God paid a ransom, which means God wanted us back. The concept of a ransom implies that we were God’s, but we were lost. This one word contains so much about the condition of humanity. We were created by God, in the image of God, to be in relationship with God. But we were lost to sin and death. Our own rebellion separated us from our creator, and like stubborn sheep we all went astray. As we just celebrated a couple of weeks ago, it was through the sacrifice of Jesus that we were redeemed. Jesus came to be the price that ransomed us from slavery to sin and death. The life of Jesus was the price to buy our eternal life. It is through him that we are reconciled with God. It is through him that we are liberated from the empty way of life. It is through his example that we are shown a new way to live, and it is through him that sin has lost its power and death has lost its sting.
What is truly remarkable about this ransom is that God was willing to pay it. This morning’s scripture states, “[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” God created humanity out of God’s goodness and love to be in relationship with God. Yet this verse implies that God knew humanity would break God’s heart. God knew we would rebel, God knew we would worship false idols, and God knew we would be stiff-necked. God knew humanity would fall and God knew humanity would turn their back on their Creator. Despite knowing all of the trouble we would cause, God created us anyway. God loved us so much that before the world began, he chose a part of Godself to be the price that ransoms us from our sinful behavior. Think about that. God created humanity knowing that God would have to ransom back God’s own creation. God created us knowing the price to be in relationship with us was Jesus himself. Indeed, how great the Father’s love for us is! For God so love the world he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God’s love was so great, so unfathomable, that God resolved to do this before the world was even created.
As this scripture states, Jesus has been revealed, and it is through him we believe in God; it is through him we have faith and hope. God so love the world that the gift has been given. The blood of Jesus was shed to atone for the sins of the world, not just a chosen few. As this scripture states, Jesus was a lamb without blemish or defect. He was the perfect sacrifice. The life of Jesus was pure enough, strong enough, and valuable enough, to redeem all of humanity. The ransom for you, me, and every single person who has and will ever live has been paid. We simply need to accept that truth, we need to open that gift. As Paul wrote in Romans, “If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”
This all-encompassing love of God that was made known through Jesus Christ is quite honestly defines comprehension and attempting to define it boggles our minds. In the hymn “And Can it be that I should Gain”, Charles Wesley attempted to define this love. In the first verse of the hymn he asks the question that all of us should be asking: “Amazing love! How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me?” We cannot understand the depths of that love. This is what makes the grace of God so amazing. We cannot understand this love, but we can respond to it. The question is, how? Once we accept that Jesus is our savior, once we accept that he died for our sins how do we continue to respond and honor that great act of love?
This is where the concept of the life debt comes in. Like Chewbacca and Han Solo, Jesus has done a great act on our behalf. The ransom paid to reconcile us with God is something we can never repay, but like Chewbacca we can honor it with our lives. Since we cannot repay the debt we owe to Christ, we can do the next best thing. We can submit our life to him. In Star Wars Chewbacca does this by pledging to always be there for Han Solo for the rest of his life. In our faith, we can have a similar Wookie sized faith by submitting our lives to Jesus rule. That is what Peter advocates here. In verse 22 he wrote, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, lone one another deeply.” We have to remember that Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He was the one that Jesus said would be the rock that church would be built on. It makes sense then, that Peter tells followers of Jesus that in response to the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ, that he tells them to love one another. After all, when we look at the gospel of John, Jesus gives his disciples a new command: Love one another. Peter lifts up following this command as a way to express our gratitude to Jesus and to honor the debt we cannot hope to repay.
Peter also gives a great expression what it looks like to do this in verse 23 the letter states,: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring word of God.” When Chewbacca swore a life debt to Han Solo, it was a bit like being born again. He gave up the life he had previously known to be the first mate to a smuggler flying all over the galaxy. In the same way, our faith should lead us to being born again. The way that we live our lives, should be different than the way we used to live our lives. Being saved through faith should have a real and tangible effect on how we live our lives. Try to consider, if you were not a Christian, if you never accepted the gift of salvation made possible through Jesus, how would your life be different? If you did not know grace how would you be living differently? If trying to think about it from that direction is a little too hard, consider it this way: How is your life different because you are a Christian? We should be living as if we have been born again. We should be live life differently due to the fact that we are saved by grace. As Christians we should live life as if we have sworn a life debt to Jesus. The act he has done on our behalf is so great so impossible to repay, that we should seek to honor that sacrifice with every fiber of our being.
There are many people whose faith story exemplify what this means. One such example is Johnny Lee Clary. Clary grew up in a racist environment in the 1960’s and he fully embraced the white supremacy. He became a leader in the ku klux klan, where he intimidated and beat people of color. His life of hatred and violence led him to a point where he committed arson and burned a black church. After serving time for that crime, he had his come to Jesus moment, repented, and lived a born again life. Clary sought to make amends and seek forgiveness of those he had wronged and those he had hated just because of their skin color. Over time and living out a life based in love and repentance, Clary found himself as a recognized evangelist and elder in the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African American denomination. The former racist became a leader in the type of church that he had previously set fire to.
Clary’s found faith in Jesus, and it changed his life. From that point forward he did live as if he was trying to honor a debt that he could not repay. Most of us have not lived a life that was defined by hated like Clary, but all of us can allow our faith to better define our life. We can turn away from the things that we know are wrong and empty in our lives. We can follow the example of Jesus. We can love God with all of our being we can love our neighbor as ourselves. We can perfect the love of God by loving one another. We have been redeemed, ransomed, back to God because of the blood of Christ. May we live like the redeemed. May we live like those who have born again, and may we seek to honor Jesus with our lives. May we have a Wookie sized faith, where all we do is done to honor our Lord and our savior.