Friday, May 19, 2006

What I haven't heard in the DaVinci Code discussions

I finished reading the DaVinci code the other day. Having recently read the Patrick O'Brien (Jack Aubrey, British Navy) series and having delved into some genuine literature lately (Dickens, Dumas, Austen), I will say that Dan Brown's writing style leaves a great deal to be desired. There's not much in the way of character development, etc. I, for one, get annoyed at the "cliffhanger" chapter endings. Having said that, some thoughts about the content of the book have been mulling around in my pastoral mind and I thought I'd preserve them here in cyberspace.

The "real" premise for this fictional book is this: Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene and they had a child together. Since Jesus was actually an aristocratic born heir to the Jewish throne, His real mission was to restore the king (Himself) in Israel. Jesus and Mary's bloodline passed its way down through history in the Merovingian kings of France and still exists today. Let me state clearly that's all just baloney. Aside from being blasphemous, it's just silly. Repeatedly in the book, the notion is presented that whatever else Jesus is, He's not a Savior. His teaching is the basis for our living good lives and that's the big deal, not His dying for sinners to save them from God's wrath against sin. That's just more works righteousness. The big emphasis is on the so called "sacred feminine" which has been obscured and covered up by the church. In short, the religion espoused in Dan Brown's novel is a mixture of gnostic teaching (secret knowledge) and paganism (which was chock full of feminine worship, sex-fertility rites and all that). I certainly have nothing to contribute to the laying out of the facts or the debunking of the factual errors of the book or its real life inspirations (Holy Blood, Holy Grail and others). For a good job of that, go here. What I do want to do is examine two Scriptural ideas which are, in my own view, neglected in the whole discussion and which refute the DaVinci nonsense theologically rather than just apologetically.

The first is the notion of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene. This is not possible because Jesus already has a Bride: the holy Christian church. This is stated clearly in Revelation 21:2. The church is the Bride of Christ. She was born, as Eve was, from His side. The blood and water which flowed from His side, giving us the elements of His holy sacraments, are a picture of Christ bringing forth His Bride from His side. Notice that Christ even leaves His mother behind, as Genesis states a man shall do. (Gen. 2:24; He leaves her care to the Apostle John and the ministry of the church). That the Lord has long considered His people as a Bride is testified by Ezekiel in great detail. (Ezek. 16:1ff). St. Paul is the makes a most beautiful statement of this connection between marriage and the church in Ephesians 5.

Dan Brown portrays the "true church" of the "sacred feminine" as a dirty secret covered up by a misogynist (woman-hating) Roman Catholic Church. There is no doubt that the Scriptures have been used to justify the ill-treatment of women just as much as to justify slavery, Hitler, the Crusades, and whatever else one fancies. All that aside, the right teaching of Christ and His church actually exalts women. Not in an idolatrous sense of some "sacred feminine," which is worshipped in a pagan fertility cult. Rather, we see in the way that Christ loves the church, "by giving Himself for her, a ransom, so that she might be pure, spotless and holy through her washing," the example for men in loving their wives. In a certain sense, men are commanded to "put their wives on a pedestal." Not an idol-like pedestal, but, rather, to love them as themselves, and in this way: even to giving their lives for them. In this way Christ loves the church. All this would not be true if Christ were married to Mary Magdalene. Then the church would not be His Bride. There would be no marriage feast of the Lamb to which we look forward. We would have no perfect example of how a husband should love a wife. In fact, we have the opposite: a Jesus who marries Mary and then abandons her by getting Himself killed trying to fulfill some wild politcal ambition!

The other idea that I haven't heard anything about is this: if Christ has earthly children, then we are not children of God. The Scriptures teach clearly that we are Sons of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus speaks of this birth as one "from above, by water and the Spirit." St. Paul makes this point repeatedly in his epistle to the Galatians: We are all sons of Abraham (and God) through faith in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus is the Son of God (in His Divine Nature) we, through our union with Him in Holy Baptism, are made sons of God in our human nature. We have been restored to what Adam was. (St, Luke calls Adam the Son of God in his genealogy). St. John says, "Behold what manner of the love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 1:1-3). The manner of God's love is that He calls us His children in Christ. If the Lord had simply had earthly kids, that would not have been the manner of God's love, but a self-centered love on Christ's part, for then He would not have come to bring sonship for all, but only for His own children.

I realize that to the whole DaVinci Code idea rests on certain assumptions about Christ: that He was not true God, that He didn't exercise His power in performing miracles, that He didn't rise from the dead, and in fact probably didn't even die on the cross. (This last is the argument of the Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors). The other two wrong assumptions that Dan Brown uses are (1) that Christianity was really a diverse blend of various religious elements and that it was the "Orthodox" who won out and silenced everyone else; and (2) that Christianity is just a step along the whole evolution-of-religion ladder. It just absorbed, adapted and changed other religions by which it was influenced. These are foolish notions of human "wisdom" that have been around a long time and have been thoroughly refuted elsewhere.

Finally, it bothers me to see so many Christians getting all worked up over these blasphemies as if we must somehow protect Christ from any smear campaigns that get waged against Him. If that were the case, He would have let Peter fight for Him in the Garden or appeared Himself to the Pharisees after He rose from the dead. It's no surprise that the Devil has worked out a clever "shadow church" of intrigue and conspiracy to continually draw people away from the Truth. Yet faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes through the preaching of the preachers that Christ sends (Rom. 10) Those who are inclined to believe that the DaVinci Code is true are the same people who are un-inclined to read and hear and believe what the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels tell us. Pastors certainly have to be ready to answer the kinds of historical questions the DaVinci Code will raise. More than that, however, we need to be ready to show why such a Jesus as the DaVinci code pushes is not a Jesus who saves us from our sins. The real Jesus is the One who has indeed taken a Bride, His holy church, and who has, by His death and resurrection, and the delivery of that salvation in the means of grace, made us children of our heavenly Father. +SDG+

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sermon: Laetare-The Fourth Sunday in Lent - St. John 6:1-15 (March 26, 2005

Laetare—The Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 26, 2006

St. John 6:1-15

Brothers and sisters in Christ what is a “sign?” Isn't a sign something that points you to something else? A sign points you to something else not to itself. For example you might see a sign for “Six Flags.” It might have a picture of a roller coaster on it. Now the sign is not the thing itself. You wouldn't go on a trip to see a Six Flags sign would you? But the sign points you to where Six Flags is. Tells you how far and what exit and all that. But you could misread the signs. You could see a roller coaster on a Six Flags sign and think “Six Flags must be where they manufacture roller coaster parts. I don't want to go there.” So you have misread the sign and it is no good to you. In the Holy Gospel appointed for Laetare the Fourth Sunday in Lent, St. John calls Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 a sign. Not just a miracle but a sign. What does he mean to say that it is a sign? What is it pointing to? What is it telling us? How do the people misread this sign? The sign that St. John records for us is one which points back to the Old Testament: Jesus is the same Lord who fed the children of Israel with bread in the desert. The sign also points us to the New Testament: for Jesus is the Bread of Life who gives His flesh for the life of the world and His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The crowds, however, misread this sign. They see the miraculous feeding of 5000 people with a handful of bread and fish and what do they make of it?. What do they want to do to Jesus? They want to make Him King. Why? Because they'll never have to make groceries again! With a King like Jesus, who needs to take care of themselves or others? He'll just multiply food whenever they need it! His would be an even better government than one which had welfare for everybody. After all, Jesus can provide food for everyone at no expense to the taxpayers! Turns out the crowd in the desert is not much different than the children of Israel in the desert. They were doing fine as long as God was giving them what they wanted. But if they weren't sure where their next meal was coming from they began to grumble. They doubted God's goodness in the wilderness. Nevertheless He fed them anyway. He gave them manna and quail in the desert to satisfy their hunger. Though there was judgment too. It says in the Psalms that He gave them bread for their bodies but sent leanness into their souls. They looked to the Lord not as their Savior and provider of every good gift, but only of what they needed for the moment. Likewise the crowd with Jesus. They didn't care about salvation and eternal life. Just more catfish po' boys. And that is the worship of Jesus that most people have today. Worship the Lord. Praise and adore Him. As long as we're well fed. As long as we've got money and a job and we're healthy. As long as things are good and working out my way, then I'm all for Jesus! But what about when times of suffering come? What about times of need or want? What about the carrying of the cross the Lord lays upon me? Then we want nothing of Jesus. Because for most of the world, that's all Jesus is: a Bread King. And How does the Lord deal with these crowds? Read on in John 6. He leaves them behind. They follow but then He teaches them about the true bread from heaven. After He tells them to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they all leave. All except the twelve apostles. For the Lord will not let us have Him as merely a Bread King. A wish-granter. No, He has come as Savior and that is how we shall receive Him. Or not at all.

So let us read the signs aright, dearly beloved. Let us see Jesus feeding the 5,000 and understand what the Lord would teach us by such a miracle. This sign in the deserted place points us to Jesus as True God who provides for His people. Just as the Lord gave manna to feed the children of Israel, so now He gives bread and fish in the desert to the people. Psalm 23 tells us that the Good Shepherd “maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” St. John is careful to note that there was “much grass” in that place where Jesus and the crowds were. You see? All the signs point to this Jesus as the same Lord of the Old Testament. All the details of John's Gospel point us to Jesus who is God in the flesh, God providing for His people. And so we hear St. Paul tell us: “If the Father did not spare His only-begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also graciously give us all things?” The same Lord who feeds His people in the desert is the Lord who has promised to feed and clothe you even more than lilies and birds. This is the Lord of whom the Catechism teaches us that He gives us “all that we need for this body and life.” The same Lord who “made us and still takes care of us.” Jesus, feeding the people in the desert is teaching us to look to Him for all things in our lives. Yet the sign that He does also points us beyond the mere earthly things which we need. The sign of Jesus feeding the 5,000 points us to Jesus as Savior and Lamb of God who takes away our sins, a gift we need far more even than food or clothing!

Again, St. John won't let us misinterpret the sign. He tells us that it was near Passover time. Passover was the holy day on which the Lamb of God was killed and eaten, just as it was in the time of Moses. The Lamb is killed and eaten and the blood is put upon the doors so that the Angel of Death passed over. Jesus is the Lamb of God—so John the Baptist has told us—who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Passover Lamb who is killed and eaten. So Jesus, being on a mountain to feed the 5,000 is a sign of His being on another mountain. No longer Mt. Sinai, where the Law is given, but Mount Calvary where sins are atoned for. Jesus on the mountain feeding the people is a sign pointing us to Jesus on the mount of the cross, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, whose flesh and blood we eat and drink for our salvation. Dear Christians, it is indeed true that Jesus is “the Prophet who is to come into world,” but not because He can do neat tricks. Rather, because He brings to us the preaching of the reconciliation between God and man. True indeed that He is a King, but not a bread king who has a sandwich ready for whenever we get the munchies. Rather, the King of Kings, crowned with thorns and the great King who has conquered and saved His people from their wicked enemies: sin, death, devil, world and flesh. Jesus Himself explains this sign on the mountain to the people by telling them “Eat my flesh and drink my blood and I will live in you and you in Me and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” Not only is He the One who leads His people out of the slavery of sin, Jesus is the Lamb whose death is the day of our salvation.

Jesus feeding the 5,000 on the mountain with green grass is a true sign which points us to Calvary and what is accomplished there. Yet even Calvary is a sign which points us to where Jesus is now, today, for us. For the truest meaning of the sign is not that is just points to Jesus on top of a hill, but that it points us to Jesus as our food! No longer on mount Sinai or even Mount Calvary, but on Mt. Zion. The heavenly Jerusalem. Holy Mother Church. In the church is where Jesus is now. The blood and water which flowed from His side on Calvary are now flowing in this place. Water flowing from the font to you, washing you clean, bringing you through another “Red Sea” and into God's Promised Land: eternal life with Christ. Blood spilled, and flowing, not upon door posts of Egyptian slave quarters, or upon a cross, but upon the altar, for you to drink, to deliver forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Dear Christians, let us repent of any clinging to Jesus just for some bread and fish. Let us turn away from desiring a King who can make us happy all the time and Whom we worship only when things are going good or our way. Repent and read the sign! See what it points to. See to Whom it points. See what that One delivers. Here, in the church, all that is said and done should point to Christ, to your Baptism, to His Word and to His body and blood. For those Holy Sacraments and Word give us Jesus. No mere sign or symbol! It's Jesus Himself. And not just Jesus as some guy, but Jesus our food of salvation. That's how you can be sure you have Christ. And that He has you. The sign of the feeding of the 5,000 points to Jesus the Lamb of God slain on the cross. And the Sacraments bring that Jesus to us. All signs point to Jesus. And here He is in His church. For you and for your salvation. Amen.