Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rev. Golden on Da Vinci

Here are some recent comments by my friend and classmate Rev. Kevin Golden, of Grace Lutheran Church, Holts Summit, Missouri. I will add these to my collection of Lutheran Da Vinci Code resources.

Rev. Golden writes:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (I Corinthians 15:3,4)

Dear Friends and Members of Grace,

Like the Gospel of Judas, The Da Vinci Code has been thriving upon sensational claims. Author Dan Brown has captivated reader’s imaginations with an edge-of-your-seat suspense novel. Brown’s writing is far from the masterly level of the great American novelists (Steinbeck, Hemingway, Melville, etc.), but it is certainly an entertaining read. But as The Da Vinci Code prepares to move from the pages of a book to the silverscreen (and thus hit a much wider audience), it is wise to reconsider the fictional nature of Brown’s work. As many critics of Brown’s book have noted, he has bent the rules for fiction writing. There are two basic sections of a novel, there is a foreground filled with the fictional characters and events which the author is free to manipulate according to his/her desires. For sake of example, the foreground of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind includes the fictional characters of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler as well as Scarlett’s beloved home of Tara. A novel also has a background which is the historic frame in which the foreground is located. For Gone with the Wind the background is the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction. Typically, the background is to be historically accurate unless it is patently obvious that it is a fictional background (like in a science fiction novel taking place on Planet X) or if the author makes it known that the background is concocted. In this latter case, you can imagine a novelist writing in the fictional background of the post-Civil War South where the South had won (which we all know did not take place). One of the chief problems with The Da Vinci Code is that it operates with a concocted, false background, which many people are taking as true.

For example, those who have read the novel will recall that Brown notes at the beginning three basic “facts” upon which the novel is written. One of them is that the Priory of Sion is a secret society that has existed for centuries, including Leonardo Da Vinci as one of its historic members. As you read Brown’s make-believe world, you discover that the Priory of Sion claims to hold the lost secret of the royal lineage that has descended from Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, which has been hidden by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries because this “truth” would undo Christianity as we know it. The big problem is that while Brown describes the Priory of Sion’s centuries-old existence as a “fact”, that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. In fact, scholars (Christian and otherwise) have long ago demonstrated that the Priory of Sion was invented in 1956 by Pierre Plantard in France. He built it completely from his own imagination, with no basis in historical fact. To substantiate his invention, in the 1960s Plantard forged the “Secret Dossiers” (which offered fake evidence of the society’s long existence) and planted them in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris so that when researchers went to investigate his claims, they would stumble upon these fake documents and believe them to be faithful evidence. The evidence of Plantard’s deception has been so overwhelming that he has even admitted that the Priory of Sion is his own invention! If Dan Brown truly did his research, he would know that the Priory of Sion is not a fact, but a colossal fake!

Now, you may wonder: why would Plantard invent this secret society? Out of delusions of grandeur. His false legend of the Priory of Sion included the mystical Merovingians within the royal line of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Merovingians were supposedly the original royalty in the nascent days of France. So Plantard invented the Priory of Sion as a means to create evidence of his own descent from the Merovingians in an attempt to claim that he was of French royal blood and thus should be ruling in France. In an interesting twist, those of you into sci-fi will recognize the Merovingian name from the Matrix trilogy. Key in that trilogy is a belief that the life around us is a concocted falsehood meant to deceive us and keep us in line. In reality, it was Plantard who invented a false reality to deceive others and Dan Brown has been complicit in perpetuating that false reality.

Of course, Dan Brown also throws in other outlandish claims with no historical veracity. For example, he has a character state that the Roman Emperor Constantine made Jesus to be God and that prior to Constantine’s proclamation Jesus’ divinity was a matter of debate in the early Church. That incredible claim is unchallenged by any other character in The Da Vinci Code. Volumes could be written debunking that falsehood. But suffice it to say that Constantine’s hay-day was in the 4th century AD. Even the most liberal and critical Biblical scholars hold that the Biblical texts that claim Christ’s divinity are dated to a full two centuries prior to Constantine (I would, of course, argue that the evidence demonstrates the writing of such Biblical texts even earlier than that). And then there is the presence of early Christian teaching resources such as the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas (both dated to the late 1st century AD) that speak of Christ’s divinity. And then there are non-Christian historians of the 1st and 2nd century AD who speak of the Christians as believing that Jesus of Nazareth was God and had risen from the dead.

With so much evidence running counter to the background of Dan Brown’s novel and in direct contradiction to what he claims is “fact”, you may wonder if he truly did much research. I am convinced that the relative disregard for the truth in post-modern western civilization led Brown to not care if he wrote of “facts” that were false. Brown appeared on NBC’s Today show to discuss his novel some time ago. He commented that he found it amazing that the ideas in his novel could be true – not that they were true, but that they could be true. That is of the same intellectual pedigree of the sci-fi buff who says that it is amazing to believe that Jesus was an alien who came to earth to try to set humanity on a new course. It’s an outlandish claim with no evidence and with a foundation built upon a pure personal flight of fancy. But then so is Dan Brown’s vision of Christ.

This is but a brief look into the imaginary alternate universe of The Da Vinci Code. If you read the novel or watch the movie, prepare yourself for a fast-paced, exciting ride. But also prepare yourself for that ride going through an imaginary land of equivalent veracity as a movie set in a world where Hitler and the Nazis defeated the Allies. For those of you interested in learning more about this topic, I would direct you to my alma mater. On May 16, two professors at Concordia Seminary will address these matters at a convocation. The audio of that convocation will available at the seminary’s website beginning on May 17.

The Peace of the Lord be with you,

Pastor Golden

Friday, April 28, 2006

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Welcome to the Lutheran Blogosphere, "St. Charles Place"

A now "ex" employee of a Christian bookstore, Charles writes this about his former place of employment:
A theology of glory permeates everything; but then again, why not? The consumer's decision to buy Jesus in the Christian bookstore differs little from his decision to accept him in the evangelical church.
I've been wondering who's been reading me from Macon, GA!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Old TV Analogy

"Sir, we would like to see Jesus" John 12:21

I have been using an analogy lately when faced with questions of comparative religions/denominations. I call it the "TV analogy". See if this makes sense to you.

Your religion is like an old TV. You know the ones before cable, when we had to adjust the rabbit ears.

People on channel 4 are Jews, channel 7 is Christianity, channel 9 is Islam, etc....

Say you are tuned in to channel 7 - does that mean you are getting the "program"? Not necessarily. Your reception may be fuzzy. It may be terribly fuzzy, so that you don't even know what you are watching. Or it may be pretty clear - with only a vertical hold problem or some intermittent static. Tuning the rabbit ears is your denomination.

I believe Confessional Lutheranism not only has the right channel, but has the rabbit ears adjusted for the clearest picture of what Christianity actually teaches. In other words - the truth!

Does that mean that Christians of other denominations are all going to hell? No. I suppose they will most often "get the picture" even if it is fuzzy or unclear. Perhaps it becomes so unclear at time that they DON'T actually get the picture, and this is a tragedy.

Don't believe the people who tell you it's the same show on every channel. It's not! And don't believe those who say you can watch two channels at the same time. You can't! And don't believe those who tell you it doesn't matter how you adjust the rabbit ears - that "it's all in the interpretation"!

Don't we want the clearest picture possible?

Anyone want to build on this analogy?

Sermon - Easter 3 - Luke 24:36-49

Easter 3 – (Thursday April 27th 2006)
Luke 24:36-49
“Open Minds”

I. Introduction –
There’s a certain church with a banner in its yard, which reads, “Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors”. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I have my suspicions. Sure we want to be open, but let’s be careful what that means, and let’s do it according to God’s word.

Today we read about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday. We heard John’s account last week, including the doubting Thomas episode. Today we hear a little more of what happened on that first visit, when Thomas wasn’t there. And we see Jesus opening minds, and hearts and doors – as only he can.

II. Wide Eyes – Gaping Mouths
The recently risen Jesus pays an Easter visit to his fear-stricken disciples. They are huddled in a house, hiding out from the same people who killed Jesus. John tells us, they had the doors locked. No one was getting in there. Except Jesus.

Luke simply says Jesus “stood among them” as if appearing out of nowhere. He didn’t have to unlock or even open the door. He was there, among them. This minor miracle of Easter evening was nothing compared to the great one of the same morning. And his appearance caused the disciples trouble and doubt. For more than walking through a locked door, Jesus was supposed to be dead. And now he stood among them! He even eats in their presence as further proof he is not a ghost! Perhaps their eyes opened wide in surprise. Perhaps their mouths hung open in amazement. Jesus was truly alive!

No the disciple’s door couldn’t stop Jesus any more than the heavy stone rolled in front of the tomb. Jesus will not be kept out – of their presence, or out of life itself. Sin can’t stop him. Satan can’t stop him. Death can’t stop him. Do you think a little lock will? He had the authority to lay his life down. And he had the authority to take it back again.

So too, Jesus “breaks in” to our hearts, our lives. He comes miraculously. He comes by his Word. He comes in the sacraments. He opens the heart closed and hardened by sin. He doesn’t wait for an invitation or for us to choose or decide for him. As if we could reach out and grab him and pull him to us. Dead in our sins, we can do nothing more than the fearful disciples quaking and huddled together. But he comes to us, he calls to us, he takes the initiative and reaches out to us. And so he does what we cannot do. He opens the door.

III. Opened Minds
But Jesus was about to do more opening, there in the locked room. He opened the disciples’ minds to the scriptures. Perhaps this was the first time the disciples really “got it”. What Jesus was all about.

You’ve probably had one or two of those “AHA!” experiences in your life. I remember several well. When the cloud of ignorance seems to break into the bright beams of understanding. When it’s as if someone took a veil and pulled it from your eyes, so that you were blind but now you see.

Here the “AHA” is that it’s all about Jesus, and his sacrificial death, and his open and empty tomb. It was always about the cross and the resurrection. Jesus shows them how the entire Old Testament led up to this. We could say he opened the scriptures to them – but it wasn’t the scriptures that were the problem, it was them. So he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And we can learn from this too.

The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us, so says our catechism. Enlightens – that means he helps us understand. He sheds light. He puts the spotlight on Christ, actually. He shows us Jesus. He helps us see Jesus in the scriptures, and know the promises and the love of Jesus contained there. This isn’t so much a head-knowledge, as we might call it, but a faith-knowledge. As we grow in our appreciation and grasp of ‘all that has been written’ about the riches of God for us in his Son. And so, the Spirit opens us up to wider vistas of deeper faith. The wisdom of God, which is foolishness to this dying world.

It was also there in the locked room, according to John’s account, that Jesus also breathed on his disciples and said, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you do not forgive the sins of any they are not forgiven”. And the Greek word for forgive means “loose” or “unlock” or “open” – and to not forgive means “retain” or “bind” or “lock”.

So as we study the Small Catechism, we learn about the “Office of the keys” which is that power Christ gives to his church to forgive sins, and thereby to unlock the very gates of Heaven.

When you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you, Heaven is opened. When you were baptized, when you receive Christ’s body and blood, heaven is opened. When the pastor says, “your sins are forgiven”, heaven is opened. Jesus is about opening doors and setting captive souls free.

This doesn’t mean we get to hang on to our sins. The same one who says, “neither do I condemn you” also says, “go and sin no more”. Repentance means turning away from sin, confession means admitting sin, and forgiveness can only be offered when there is a sin to forgive. Many who preach a welcoming and open Jesus paint him as open even to sin! But Jesus doesn’t ignore sins or excuse them. He doesn’t explain them away. He calls us to confess them, and he promises to forgive them. This is how the door is opened.

IV. The Kingdom Opened
And in Christ, the kingdom of God is opened to all. It is opened to the Jews who had anticipated his coming. It is opened to the Gentiles: The Samaritans, the Romans, those from Cyrene and Ethiopia, Corinth, Thessalonica and Galatia. It is opened to slave and free, male and female, rich and poor. The kingdom of heaven is opened to Tax collectors and prostitutes. To all sinners, the call goes out, the word is preached. Repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name..

This Sunday is Mission Sunday here at Grace. We will have a special guest preacher coming to represent Lutheran Heritage Foundation. He will surely be talking about some of the great work that group is doing, spreading the Gospel throughout the world today. As they translate bibles and Lutheran materials, surely many more minds are opened to the scriptures, and to Jesus and his cross. And though you might not attend this Sunday for worship, I do encourage you to read about this important work – as the information is in your bulletin.

And know that you are a part of that mission. Through your prayers, through your congregation’s support, and in so many other ways, God is working to open hearts and minds to the Gospel. God is opening the kingdom to all nations.

Jesus Christ – who opens hearts that are hardened, who opens minds that are clouded, who opens the kingdom to all nations, and heaven to his people, who opens the door of death itself – first his own tomb – and one day ours. To him be glory forever and ever, Amen.

V. Conclusion
The risen Jesus has a way of closing what was open, and opening what was closed - opening eyes and ears, hearts and minds. Through him, heaven is opened to us and all people.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Blessing of the Bikes"

I have been invited to officiate at a local "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony for a local motorcycle club. The following is my plan for the day.

My name is Pastor Thomas Chryst. I serve as Associate Pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Racine. I thank you for the invitation here today to offer a few words and lead a short ceremony at your “Blessing of the Bikes”. After I share a selection from God’s word, I invite all of you who are Christians to join me in prayer to our God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(?)Genesis 28 - Jacob at Bethel
Luke 24:13-35 – The Road to Emmaus

Let us pray…
Oh God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, You have created this world and all that is in it. We thank you for the blessings you continue to bestow on us, your creatures. You daily and richly provide us with home and work, family and friends, food and drink, and all our possessions.

Today we especially thank you for these motorcycles you have given us to enjoy. We thank you for the beauty of nature in all its richness and variety, which we will enjoy as we ride. We thank you for the freedom of the open road we are allowed in this great land. We thank you for those friends we have come to know through it all, and the love we share with each other.

But we do not always appreciate your goodness to us, O Lord. We take your love for granted. We treat some of your gifts carelessly, and misuse others. We fail to love as we should and live as we ought. So we ask your forgiveness for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For he came to set us free from sin, and by his death and resurrection bring us life that lasts forever.

We ask also, this day, for your blessing, O Lord. For you kept Abraham and Sarah in safety throughout the days of their pilgrimage. You led the children of Israel through the midst of the sea, and by a star you led the wise men to the infant Jesus. Protect and guide us now as we travel on these bikes. Make our ways safe and our homecomings joyful. And bring us at last to our heavenly home, where you dwell in glory with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen.

Go in peace. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Laughing Out Loud

It's been a while that I have laughed aloud while simply reading something, but such was my reaction to a new Lutheran blog:

Luther at the Movies

You simply must, check it out. What a scream!

Lutheran Carnival 22

Lutheran Carnival 22 is up at "Ask the Pastor"

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Gospel of Judas - Local Weblog

I have been discussing the Gospel of Judas in the weblog of our local paper, the Racine Journal-Times. You can read the conversation (debate) here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Parson to Person Partly Right, Partly Wrong

Today's Journal-Times ran another "Parson to Person" coulmn. As a conservative local clergyman, I have often criticized these commentaries and their writers for an overwhelmingly liberal bent.

The last time Rev. Glen Halbe wrote about homosexuality, I responded with this.

Well he writes again today, on the same topic of homosexuality (got any other material, Rev. Halbe?). At least he gets it partly right today. Let me explain:

In pondering how the laws of the Bible should be understood, Halbe rightly points out that much of the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality is found in the book of Leviticus. He's right, in a sense, that these laws do not apply to Christians and that they were meant for the ancient Israelites. Even the most conservative Christian doesn't advocate the death penalty for homosexuality, as Leviticus did. Well, maybe Fred Phelps, but 99.9% of Christians recognize he is a whacko.

However, the fact that the civil laws of the Old Testament do not apply to modern American society does not negate the fact that the moral law of the entire Bible is still valid. Homosexual apologists often resort to the "Leviticus strategy", which is really just a tactic of argumentation. A more appropriate place for modern Christians to begin their application of the Bible to the homosexual question is the NEW Testament book of Romans (chapter 1). Read it. It's clear. But, of course, liberals throw out any Bible passage that they don't like.

If a Christian believes Christian morality is true and right, then he will vote for laws which generally enforce that morality. This is not Theocracy, it's Democracy informed by Christian morality. For this, Rev. Halbe wants us to feel guilty. Voting what you think is right is "imposing" your morality on someone else? Oh, but only if you are voting for conservative morality. I see.

Now, I'm not saying that everything that is moral or immoral should be legislated by the civil government. No one wants Uncle Same policing every time we tell a white lie, or insult someone, or fail to love our neighbor. That would be more like how the early American Puritains tried to live - burning witches and all.

But on the other hand, society has various was of dealing with immoral behavior. For example, what would happen in polite company if someone used the "N" word? Good people just wouldn't approve. And they would deal with it apart from the penalties of criminal law. Homosexuality was against the law at times and places in our country's history, but was universally morally unacceptable.

I think most Christians who understand the immorality of it would not endorse legislation against it, but just don't want special legal protections for it. True tolerance means allowing something that you disagree with, not approving it. But the homosexual agenda is not about simply seeking tolerance, it wants everyone to approve. And if you don't, then YOU are tarred as a bigot and feathered as intolerant.

Finally, I have to say that I believe my role as a pastor is not to prescribe specific political action on a given topic, but to be concerned with what the Bible teaches clearly. Christians can disagree on the best way to implement their values in our society. Maybe a constitutional ammendment is the best way. Maybe other laws, or no laws are better. But in any case, Christians who read and do NOT twist the Bible will come to the clear conclusion that God condemns homosexual behavior as immoral. This, Rev. Halbe seems unable to do.

Cross-posted at The Kringlesphere

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ann Coulter

The usually political and always conservative commentator Ann Coulter has nailed it with a piece on morality and current events. Though I don't always agree with her, I think she makes a pretty good case here. I especially like her understanding of the difference between Christianity and other religions in the closing paragraphs.

Here's her column.

Da Vinci Code - Online Resources

Here is a collection of LCMS Lutheran resources responding to the book and movie, "The Da Vinci Code". I will update this along the way as I find more...

Downloadable Study, prepared by Concordia Publishing House, "Changing Currents: Decoding The Da Vinci Code" ($4.99)

The Da Vinci Code: "Truth Revealed" (9-week study by 2 LCMS pastors - $49.95).

"Issues, Etc." Lutheran Radio has had a number of shows related to the topic. You can listen to archived programs online:
February 8, 2006 2 hours, "The Da Vinci Code"
June 22, 2004 2 hours, "Cracking Da Vinci's Code"
March 17, 2005 1 hour, "Open Lines: Roman Catholic Leaders & 'The Da Vinci Code' & Bush & Gay Marriage"
March 29, 2005 1 hour, "A Maureen Dowd Column on 'The Da Vinci Code'"
February 14th, 2006 1 hour, "Open Lines: Muslim Riots, The Da Vinci Code & Opus Dei"
November 15th, 2004 1 hour, "The Da Vinci Code & Evangelism"
May 2nd, 2004 2 hours, "The Da Vinci Code" Guest: Rich Abanes
February 27th, 2006 1 hour, "Open Lines: Da Vinci Code Copyright Controversy..."
March 1st, 2006 1 hour, "The Relationship Between 'The Da Vinci Code' & 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail'"
March 8th, 2006 1 hour, "The Da Vinci Code..." (Open Lines)
March 13th, 2006 1 hour, "Da Vinci Trial Update..."
March 15th, 2006 1 hour, "Da Vinci Trial Update..."
March 21st, 2006 1 hour, "Da Vinci Trial Update..."
March 22nd, 2006 1 hour, "Da Vinci Trial Update..."
March 29th, 2006 1 hour, "The Last Supper Painting & 'The Da Vinci Code'"
April 11th, 2006 1 hour, "Da Vinci Trial Verdict"
April 19th, 2006 1 hour, "Opus Dei & The Da Vinci Code"
May 10th, 2006 1 hour, "The Da Vinci Code"
and Many more at "Issues, Etc." after May 10th... I simply can't keep up but you can search their archives.

A book, "The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?" (one of the authors, Paul L. Maier, is an LCMS professor) cost: $3.55 to $5.99

Concordia Seminary, St. Louis "Semcast" interview of Dr. Paul L. Maier "Deciphering the Da Vinci Code"

April 2006 Lutheran Witness online, which contains an article by Paul L. Maier, "The Da Vinci Distortion"
May 2004 Lutheran Witness online, with article by Brent McGuire, "The Truth About the Da Vinci Code"

The Lutheran Church of Canada has a nice collection of resources, including a bulletin insert.

Blog Posts:

Was Jesus Married? From Ask the Pastor
"Da Vinci Crock, I mean, Code" From The Burr in the Burgh
"Rev. Golden on Da Vinci" From Preachrblog
"Luther" comments on India protests From Luther at the Movies
What I haven't heard in the DaVinci Code discussions From The Wartburg
Luther, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene from Aardvark Alley
Da Vinci Deception and "As Dull as Watching Da Vinci's Pain Dry" from Cyberbrethren

Non-Lutheran responses (collections):

Collection of Resources at "Emergeqsue"
Collection at "The Baptist Start Page"
Skeptic Magazine: "The Da Vinci Code Cult: A Critical Look at Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code"
"Doug G." Sunday School Resource - 9 page "fact sheet"
Ekklesia Blog - Many links

If you know of any other good resources, leave a comment below. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

LCMS Church and Trans-sexual

Here's an intruiging story about an LCMS church in Minnesota, involved in a contraversy about its refusal to serve a trans-sexual in an social outreach program.
The church declined to accept her. It said its staff wasn't trained to deal with such a person. It feared discomfort among members and other clients, not least over use of the bathroom. And it pointed to its own theological beliefs. What she has done, Maxfield said, runs totally "contrary to God's revealed will."

As a result of the church's refusal, they are losing $30k a month in public funding. Interesting...

(As a side note, the story is written by a one "David Peterson". No relation to the blogging Rev. Petersen, I am sure...)

Some Help Please?

I remember seeing a resource posted by a fellow Lutheran blogger recently, but I can't remember who it was... Anyway, what I am looking for is this:

A chart or list of all the different scriptural citations corresponding to the Divine Service (especially the LW versions).

Does anyone have this or know where I can find it? It would save me a lot of work in preparing for my confirmation class.

Monday, April 17, 2006

On Church Signs...

Got the little sign above at

We had another comment by a visitor at our Easter services regarding our church sign. The person said they were "often blessed by its message". Which got Pastor Poppe and I to talking, about the many similar comments we have heard since we got our new sign in 2000.

But one thing we have kept in mind as we choose the weekly sign message is to avoid being "cutesy".

This book seems to be the bible of church signs for many churches. It's where they get all those "catchy" and "clever" messages about

"Avoid Truth Decay"


"God Answers Knee-Mail"


"C H _ R C H - The only thing missing is U".

Put aside the fact that after you've seen one of these humorous messages once, it's old hat on the next church sign. Thus, what is intended to be clever and creative becomes just another church following the same tired trick...

My thought has been that a church sign like ours is a wonderful place to post a short weekly message from the actual word of God. What a novel thought!

Now, usually there's no punchline. Especially in a smaller sign such as ours, the message must be of limited length. We don't even post the book and chapter, usually... just the key phrase of the week. Occasionally a sermon theme or title, but since we preach textual sermons that's usually not too far from the scripture text anyway. Like:

"Christ is Risen"


"My Sheep Hear My Voice"

"Son, Your Sins Are Forgiven"

"Christ Our Sabbath Rest"

We also try to make our short messages less moral guidance and more of God's promises in Christ.

Admittedly, we occasionally veer from this to announce a special event or service being offered. Sometimes the message is a little cryptic, intended to pique some curiosity.

But I find it ironic that so many churches take a page here from the book of "Church Growth" thinking, in an effort to be unique and clever, and really do just the opposite. Instead of trying to be cutesy, or relying on a book of "clever" one-liners, why not rely on THE book, and let God's Word be your face to the world?

The Gospel of Judas

Online audio is available of a recent panel discussion on the topic, by several professors at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.
Here is the link.

Well worth your time.

HT: Stuart Floyd at Evangelical Lutheran

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sermon - Easter Sunday - Mark 16:1-8

Easter Sunday
“Just As He Told You”
Mark 16:1-8
April 16th, 2006


Jesus is alive. Death was not the end of him. The dark cloud hanging over Good Friday is dispersed in the bright beams of this morning. Surprised women find a stone rolled away, a dead body missing, and an angelic greeting. “He is not here. He has risen!” Joy of joys, Jesus has conquered death – and oh what that means for us.

In a way, this morning we join those women at the open grave of our Lord. This morning takes us back to that moment. The smell of the lilies reminds us of the garden. The music and decoration help set the joyful mood. But mostly it is the words – these ancient words – this word of God that brings us there. Today we hear the angel’s words and know that still, CHRIST IS RISEN! (HE IS RISEN INDEED) ALLELUIA!

Are we surprised? We shouldn’t be. For this he told us. He would die. He would rise on the third day. And soon his disciples would see him in Galilee. So this Easter, we focus on these words of the angel: “just as he told you”.

“I Told You So” Not usually words we like to hear. “I Told You So” is usually a gloating expression of someone who warned us about something, but we didn’t listen. “See, I Told You So”. It usually means we were foolish, and now we are embarrassed.

Jesus had told them so, on several occasions. Jesus had told his disciples they were going to Jerusalem, that he would be arrested, tried, convicted, killed, and on the third day rise again. Now the angel asked the women at the tomb to carry the “I Told You So” back to the apostles. But there is more here than simple gloating that Jesus was right and they were wrong.

“Just as he told you” shows that Jesus always tells the truth. (He is the Way and the Truth, after all). Even in his most incredible, fantastic, unbelievable claims – Jesus is to be believed, because he tells the truth. He is risen, “Just as he told you”. It happened on the third day, “Just as he told you”. He would meet them in Galilee, “Just as he told you”. In fact everything Jesus had told his disciples would come true. He told them so.

But they doubted and disbelieved. To various degrees, the disciples had a hard time believing what Jesus said. Judas lost faith entirely. Peter denied Jesus temporarily. Thomas doubted it until he saw and touched. The women came that morning expecting to find a dead body. None of them believed perfectly and fully. And neither do we.

But Jesus died for such sinners, and rose to give evidence that he can be trusted, that his word is sure. His disciples would come to believe what he told them, and by his spirit we believe it too – that Christ is risen, Just as he said.

If what he said about his resurrection came true, just as he said, then it only follows that other things he says are true. If his most fantastic claim is proved right, then we should also hear what he says on less miraculous matters. So what does he tell us? What does Jesus say? For it too must be true. Let’s avoid another “I told you so!”

Well, he says a lot. More than I can cover in this sermon. He had three years of public preaching and teaching, much of which was written down (and perhaps even more that wasn’t). Jesus said a lot. So we must summarize.

Jesus summarized. When asked what the most important law was, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself”. Love God and Love neighbor, Jesus tells us. And in this we fail. We fail miserably, we fail often, we fail accidentally and willfully. We don’t love enough or good enough.

But far more than showing our sin, Jesus showed the way out. Far more than reminding of death, Jesus lead the way out. His promises, his gospel, the good news that he brings – this is our faith. That he died for us, that he rose for us. That the promises he made came true. That the promises “still out there” will be fulfilled just as surely.

Easter tells us – that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. That his work was good enough to deal with our sins.
Easter tells us – what we have to look forward to. For as Jesus rose from the dead, we will rise from the dead. He is the first-fruits, the first-born of the dead. Which means there will be others. And so will be fulfilled his promise, “whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies”.

We’re not talking about our spirit simply being with God. Sure that happens when we die – but that’s not the end of our faith! The final, the fullest, the completion of his promises happens when we rise again on the last day, and live forever – incorruptible soul and imperishable BODY - with Jesus our Lord. This is the hope of Easter! This is the promise of Christ. Then too, it will be, “just as he told you”.

So that means, Jesus isn’t the only one with something to tell. The angels spoke the message, and then commissioned the women to “go and tell” the men. The men would be charged to “go and tell” the world. And all of us Christians carry that same message, all of us are to “go and tell”. I don’t mean some canned, corny, pious platitude. But a natural, honest sharing of the hope that is within us. We have good news!

We can tell what he, Jesus, has said, what he has done, and how it is always, “just as he told you”. We can tell by our kindness to others, we can tell by a comforting word when the opportunity arises. We can go and tell as we are able, and also invite others to come and hear more.

To go and tell means you must first come and hear. So don’t neglect the blessing. Be in God’s house. Come to hear his word. Not because you must, but because here we hear good news in this world of bad news. Here we find the truth in a world full of lies. Here is someone reliable in this world of unreliable people. Here we touch his presence in the sacrament of bread and wine that are body and blood. Here, in his presence, according to his promise.

Here, in the message of Jesus, is the only real and lasting hope for struggling through this life of sorrow. For as he says, so it always is, “Just as he told you”.

Mary and the other women went and told what they had heard and seen. We can all do the same. Forgiveness, Life,

For as he has told us, so it is. Just as he said. CHRIST IS RISEN! (HE IS RISEN INDEED!) ALLELUIA! Amen.

Sermon - Good Friday - Luke 23:34

Good Friday
“The Best Chance for Forgiveness”
Luke 23:34, Psalm 22:14-18
April 14, 2006

And so we have arrived at Calvary. We gather here, at Racine Lutheran High School – in a gymnasium – but we are transported by God’s word to the foot of the cross. And as we do every year, we will hear from our Savior, and over the next few hours, meditate on his final words before death.

This year, we will also be drawing on the Psalms. Connecting each of the 7 words from the cross with an appropriate portion of the Psalms. We take Jesus “last words” to heart, but also when he says of the Old Testament scriptures, “These are they which testify to me.” Indeed, a foundational principle for the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures is this, that all scripture is Christ-centered. Yes, even the Old Testament.

Psalm 22 is striking in its application to Good Friday. You will hear the opening words of this Psalm later, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”. But for now, the almost eerie predictions of verses 14-18:

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

When Jesus was led to the place of execution, his hands and feet were pierced by the large nails which fastened his suffering body to the cross.

A band of evil men. The Romans – brutal soldiers, hardened killers – kept close watch – circled around – those condemned to crucifixion. The Jews had a pejorative nickname for these Gentiles – they called them, “the dogs.”

To pass the time, and as one of the perks of their position, they divided up the garments of their victims. You were crucified naked, you see, to enhance the shame and humiliation of it all. But one such garment was too fine to tear, and one lucky soldier would win Jesus’ cloak in a game of chance.

Some might have said that Jesus’ luck had run out. That, after years of causing trouble to the Jewish religious establishment, that finally they caught up with him. Whether he deserved this punishment or not, chances are, they would get rid of him somehow.

But all this was predicted ahead of time, by the Psalmist. The soldiers, they had no idea the significance. They were participants, you see, in something much larger than they could imagine. A plan for the salvation of the world. They knew not what they did. But Jesus knew all too well what was going on. He knew it was all about forgiveness.

It is striking that his first word from the cross is one… of forgiveness. For us sinners, a reaction beyond comprehension. For when someone attacks us, does violence to us, or even says something we don’t like – our instinct is to return evil for evil. To swing when swung at, to yell when yelled at, to hurt when we are hurt. But Jesus says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

And of course, the soldiers weren’t the only ones Jesus meant to forgive. The Jewish leaders, too, had a hand in this sad scene. Pontius Pilate who washed his hands, but the blood was still on them. Herod, who wanted Jesus to do magic tricks. Even the crowds who turned against the Lord and called out, “Crucify! Crucify!”. “A band of evil men has encircled me.”

But let’s do as Christians always do on Good Friday. Let’s include ourselves in that “band of evil men”. You know the hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Let’s imagine we were. We’d like to think, perhaps, that we would be faithful – that we would be strong – that we would be there for Jesus, that we would have given him a fair trial, that we would have stood by him to the end, that we – if we are delusional like Peter – would even die with him! But what are the chances of that? Not very good. Much more likely that we too would be swept up in the tide calling for his blood.

A true view of ourselves shows that we are a band of evil men and women – in our sin. That we, by our sin, by our own most grievous sin, bear just as much blame for the injustice of the cross as the Romans and Jews. And still Jesus cries, “Father, forgive them…”

What is the chance, that we can stand before God and answer for our misdeeds and offenses? What are the odds that God will overlook our sins, ignore our evil deeds, or that he simply doesn’t care? Scripture says, “Not good”. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. “There is no one that is righteous, not one” “The soul that sins shall perish”.

And yet, many people today would take the gamble, take the risk, on the off chance that their meager works of supposed charity and goodness will pass the test. That I’ve been “pretty good” or “not as bad as the next guy”. That I’ve never killed anyone, or cheated on my wife, or stolen something, or…. And soon the list ends because most other sins we have committed. Still, there seems to be this hope – however ill conceived – that I will be “good enough” somehow, for God. Even though God says that only perfect is “good enough”, some still roll the dice with their eternity.

The only chance for us in Christ. The only chance to be good enough, the only chance that God’s anger will be turned away, the only chance for us to live!

I say chance, but I really don’t mean it like it’s a probability. As if Christ’s forgiveness is like an 80% chance of showers or a 1 winner in every 25 tickets sold. The only opportunity, the only hope, the only way – the 1 in a zillion – is Christ on the cross. But he is the way.

Our God is in the business of small probabilities, you see. What were the chances, that a virgin would conceive and bear a son? (But with God, all things are possible). What were the chances that water would turn to wine, that a man could walk on water, that the deaf would hear, the lame walk, the blind see, that a bag lunch could feed a crowd of hungry people, that a young girl, a widow’s son, and a man named Lazarus would see life after death? But in Christ, all this did happen.

What were the chances that this bloodied and beaten, condemned and dying man was the Son of God, (And yet the centurion confessed it). And what are the chances that one so thoroughly dead (as the spear to his side attested), what are the chances that he would be back, that he would do what he said, that he, himself, would rise from the dead? You know the answer to that.

And so the soldiers competed in their little game of chance, there in the shadow of the cross. And so we go about most of our lives, not knowing what we do, but still in the shadow of the cross. But Jesus knows all, and he knows us. And there, in the One crucified, is our best, our only chance for forgiveness. It’s a sure thing. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sermon - "Lead Us Not Into Temptation" - Matthew 26:40-42

Maundy Thursday – April 13th, 2006
Matthew 26:40-42
“Lead Us Not into Temptation”

I. Introduction –
We began our Lenten journey to the cross with Ash Wednesday, as Pastor Poppe began a sermon series on the Lord’s prayer. And over the past weeks, we have heard sermons each Wednesday focusing on the parts, or petitions, of that great prayer. Often, we have connected these petitions of the Lord’s prayer with a prayer prayed by our Lord himself. Tonight we will do the same.

“Lead us not into temptation” – the 6th of 7 petitions. Tonight, Maundy Thursday, is an appropriate occasion to think about this. For it was a night fraught with temptation. Hear these words of our text - from Matthew’s account of Maundy Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsemane: Matthew 26:

40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

II. Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak
One hour. That’s all he asked of them. One single hour. If they only knew who little time they had left, they might have tried harder. But Jesus prayer habits far surpassed his disciples, and while he passionately prayed in blood, sweat and tears – they took a nap. While his work on our behalf began in earnest – they rested. Perhaps a little too much wine at the Passover feast they just finished. Maybe a “food coma”. Or maybe just another long, busy day trying to keep up with Jesus.

They wanted to stay awake. Perhaps they even tried. “The spirit is willing,” Jesus says, “But the flesh is weak”. And here we see more than the drowsy disciples. We see ourselves.

Spiritually “asleep at the wheel”. We want to be good people. We want to live the Christian life, walk the Christian walk, talk the talk…. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. There are so many distractions, so many temptations. We want to pray. We want to read our bibles. We want to be kind and loving and forgiving and… yet…. We don’t.

For the New Creation within us is willing, but the Old Adam within us is not even willing. To borrow some clarification from Paul, in Romans 7:

19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Part of us doesn’t even want to do good. That’s the sinner. The flesh that is weak. But in our “inner being” as Paul says, we want to please God. The spirit is willing. So how do we solve the problem? “who will rescue me from this body of death?” God does. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

III. Prayers Against Temptation
Jesus sees the real problem is not sleeping or staying awake, but temptation to sin. The tempter would be hard at work. This “hour of the power of darkness” would bring many temptations. Peter, for his part, would be tempted to deny his Lord. And he would fail the test. The other disciples would be tempted to scatter and desert. And they too would fail. All would be tempted to believe that this was the end – that Jesus death meant “no more Jesus” – tempted to doubt his clear predictions of resurrection on the third day. It would take “many convincing proofs” for some of them to finally believe – even after Jesus rose from the dead.

And it doesn’t take much for us to fall. Since the first humans fell, we humans all fall too easily to the devil’s scheming plans. We are lead into temptation, and the sinful muck and mire that follows. We fall and we fail. Sometimes we even now as we are doing it, that what we do is wrong, that we shouldn’t be doing it, that it will bring us a world of hurt, that it is against God’s clear will, and… we do it anyway. We could say with Paul, “what a wretched man I am!”. Sure, we talk big, like Peter, “I would die with you, Lord!”, but when temptation comes, all it takes is… well, not much. We fall, and we fall again. Sin comes so easy.

For his part, Jesus is being tempted. He is being tempted to assert his own will over his Father’s. Yet as always, Jesus is without sin. He passes the test. He defeats the Tempter.

The movie, “The Passion of the Christ” agrees that Satan was clearly assaulting Jesus during the passionate prayer of Gethsemane. In that scene, Satan whispers to Jesus that the suffering is too much for one man to bear. No one can bear the sins of the world, he taunts. Then, as Jesus prays face down on the ground, a serpent slithers toward him in a graphic depiction of Satan’s eerie taunting. But suddenly, Jesus stands and stomps on the snake’s head – in a marvelous allusion to the promise of Genesis 3:15 “he will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel”.

The Bible does not spell it out that the devil was in Gethsemane, but Satan’s influence can certainly be seen – in Judas, in the Jews and the Romans, in all those who would jeer and mock the Savior. And in the crowd that cried, “crucify!”

IV. Drinking the Cup
But all is not lost, for as we said, Jesus defeats the temptation and the Tempter. Jesus has work to do, a cup to drink – suffering and death to face. That’s the point, you see. And in doing all this for us, in dying on the cross for the sins of the world, he provides for those who have fallen into temptation. By submitting to his Father’s will, by taking our place of punishment, he frees us from the hold of the Tempter, and the consequences of our failure in temptation.

And so the same Jesus who predicted Peter’s denial, would later restore him with the commission, “Feed my lambs”. The disciples who had scattered in fear he would seek out and find in the locked room, breathing his Holy Spirit on them. And to those that doubted his resurrection, he showed them his hands and side, he said, “Touch and see that it is I. Stop doubting, and believe”. Jesus is always about restoring those who have fallen into temptation. His blood shed at the cross makes is possible. And our faith in his promise makes that forgiveness real to us!

One of the ways he gives his gifts is also a highlight of this night. And it also has to do with a cup. Only now, not a cup of wrath, but a cup of grace! Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins! Yes, Jesus who drank God’s cup of wrath gives us, this night, his own cup of forgiveness, his own bread of life – blood and body – here in the sacrament of the altar. And drinking such a cup brings benefits to us!

The chief benefit of the cup he gives, is of course, forgiveness of sins. Along with forgiveness, we also receive new life and salvation. But another blessing of His Supper is strength to withstand the temptations of the evil one. Regular reception of Christ’s body and blood reminds us that we are God’s children, strengthens our faith, and helps us in our daily struggle with the foe. “Lead us not into temptation” is more than a prayer, it is the Christian life – created in the Water, strengthened by the Word, fed by the Supper.

Like the disciples, our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak. Thanks be to God for the Body of Christ, sacrificed at the cross, and given us to eat in his meal. Thanks be to God for the blood of Christ – the cup of suffering he drank, and the cup of forgiveness he offers. “Lead us not into temptation”, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

V. Conclusion
While Jesus prays in Gethsemane, he instructs his disciples to pray also. For all of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. But Christ drank of the cup, and gives us His cup – that we might be free from the tempter’s power.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sermon - "Dropping the G-Bomb" - Exodus 20:7

The following homily is an adaptation of an article I wrote for the Spring 2006 issue of Higher Things, a Lutheran youth magazine. This homily was preached at Racine Lutheran High School's regular Wednesday chapel, January 25th, 2006.

You can also listen to my discussion of the article on "Issues, Etc." radio program, archived here.

Exodus 20:7
“Dropping the G-Bomb”

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name”
Ex 20:7

This, for most of us, is the commandment that reminds us not to swear or use curse words. It is perhaps a commandment which is broken quite frequently, especially when our teachers and parents aren’t listening. We often have a different way of talking amongst our friends. We use different words.

Then there’s the mother of all curse words. The foulest, most potent, most explosive word in our language. The F-Bomb. You know what it is, I don’t have to spell it out.

But would you believe me if I said this: That as a pastor, I am more offended by someone taking the Lord’s name in vain? I am. I call it “dropping the G-Bomb”. You might call it, breaking the Second Commandment:

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”

“What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, lie, or deceive by his name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.”

God’s name is one of the most precious gifts we have. But we sinners like to abuse our gifts, don’t we? Just like we dirty up the language about sexuality – we drag God’s name through the mud too.

One way to misuse His name is purposely. Like when we “curse, swear, lie, or deceive”. Oh, but there are other ways…

The one I notice most, is the phrase, “Oh my God!”. Now really, is this necessary? It’s just a careless use of a precious thing. Throwing around God’s name just to express our excitement, disgust, surprise or whatever… We do it so much we even have an abbreviation for it now: “OMG!”

Now, that’s what I call “dropping the G-bomb”. But it’s a bomb people drop with reckless abandon. Carelessly, thoughtlessly. God’s name is to be kept holy! We pray that every time we utter the Lord’s prayer, don’t we?

And don’t try to tell me “OMG” is used as a prayer. I don’t think so. Not unless you are finishing the thought with something remotely prayer oriented. Otherwise it’s like calling up your friend and hanging up as soon as they say hello.

Here’s a game to play. While watching TV sometime see how many times people drop the G-Bomb. Or even better – count the number of times your friends use it in casual conversation. Or even better- catch yourself when you are about to say it – and STOP!

It’s not easy to break a habit like this. It takes time, practice, and most of all, repentance! But know that God forgives your thoughtless words and your disrespect of his name just as he forgives all our sins in Christ.

The flip side of the coin, is that God DOES want us to use his name. How? “…call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.” This is Gospel. That we get to use, to speak, to even know the name of God is a blessing and a privilege.

Back to the phone analogy. Having God’s name is like having his phone number. I don’t know about you, but I don’t give out my phone number to just anyone – only those people I want to talk to. Likewise with God. He wants us to call him, to pray, to ask for what we need, and to thank him for our blessings.

That’s why that whole burning-bush “thing” was so important in the Old Testament. God was sharing his name with Moses and the Israelites. But it was more than that. It was – “Hey – give me a call sometime. I’m here for you!” And God says the same to us.

Maybe you’ve seen that poster with all the different names for God – there must be dozens. Each name tells us something different about God. And almost always, the name tells us something good he does for us. Redeemer. Father. Savior. Teacher. Friend.

Perhaps the most important name God tells us is the name of his Son, “Jesus” (which means, “God Saves”). What an appropriate name for the one who died and rose and lives and reigns – and truly does save us. In fact, only Jesus Christ gets us to the Father – which is why even our prayers are offered, “in Jesus’ name”. Perhaps we could call this name, “the J-Bomb” that God dropped on Satan, and ruined his day.

And then there’s the three-fold name of God that you carry around with you – you who are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a name which means something, a name with has power, and a name with a promise of salvation for you. It identifies you as belonging to him.

In the movie Toy Story, which my 4 year old daughter watches 50 times a day and I can now, unfortunately recite backwards, the Toys are quite pleased when the boy they belong to writes his name, “Andy” on them. We bear the name of God, and that means we belong to him forever – no one can steal us away. His Name is on us.

So think about it. Next time you go to drop the “G-Bomb” instead, why not keep God’s name holy? It’s a precious gift. Let’s use it the right way! And we will be blessed, in HIS Name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Issues, Etc. Interview

I will be a interviewed at 5 PM today on the Lutheran radio show, "Issues, Etc." We will be talking about my article in the current issue of Higher Things Magazine, entitled "Dropping the G-Bomb"

You can listen to it streaming (live) at
or, you can listen "not-live" in a couple days when they post the archived program.

The program is now available in MP3 here
or in WMA format here

Happy listening!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Does something seem wrong with this?

From the "I don't make this stuff up" files:

I just received a free "sample" in the mail. Three of these:

Aside from it being juice, not wine, does this bug anyone else?