Sunday, May 21, 2006

preaching the Da Vinci Code

I preached on Da Vinci Code this morning. The Bible text was Luke 24:44-49 and the challenge to be witnesses. Today, I think being a Christian witness needs to include some sort of response to Da Vinci … but the sermon faced potential potholes
– preaching Da Vinci not Jesus
– mocking something from a place of safety
– not listening seriously enough to the questions raised by the book and movie.

Some links I found helpful in preparation:
Steve Hollinghurst on The Da Vinci Opportunity;
Tom Wright on Decoding The Da Vinci Code;
Andrew on The Da Vinci Code (I asked his permission to borrow one of his stories).

And here is the sermon

In January 2004, I lectured a class on campus at Auckland University. About 30 students, from a huge range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The class was looking at the relationship between church and society.

And as part of the class, I took them on field trips. Which include a guided tour of an old, inner-city Auckland church. As we opened a door into a dusty back room, one of the students excitedly burst out, “Ah, this is where you keep all your secrets.”

And his comment perfectly described his views about the church. An intelligent young man, university educated, who was convinced that the church was covering up hidden secrets.

I could’ve laughed at him, mocked him in front of the class. And that would’ve merely confirmed his suspicions. Confirmed to him, that I was just part of the coverup. Instead I needed to listen to him, no matter how strange I found his questions.

Our Bible Reading for today comes after the Resurrection of Jesus. The disciples are confused.

Jesus responds to their confusion, not with laughter, but by pointing to ancient texts, locating God and the work of God, in ancient writings- of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms. The Resurrected Jesus then asks these disciples to be witnesses. To continue to speak of “The Christ [who] will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:46).

That was 2000 years ago. What does that mean for us today? What does it mean for us to be witnessess? What does it mean to a witness to intelligent young person, university educated, convinced that the church is covering up hidden secrets?

Or, a friend of mine, last week, riding in a taxi and the taxi driver, realizing that my friend was a Christian; Turning and asking him; “Was Jesus really married to Mary Magadalene?” Because the taxi driver had just read The Da Vinci code, a New York best seller.

What does it mean to be a witness to a taxi driver, asking questions about Jesus because of this book, The Da Vinci Code? A book that’s sold over 50 million copies. A book that’s become a movie, that opened in theatres in New Zealand and round the world, this week.

Or, Jason, our community development pastor, twice this week at the gym, 2 different gym instructors, asking him he thinks about the Da Vinci Code.

What does it mean for us to be witnesses today, to people asking questions about Jesus because of a book and a movie?

I read The Da Vinci Code 2 years ago and went to the movie on Friday. It’s the story of Harvard scholar and a French Police code breaker who, while trying to solve a murder, stumble across a 2,000 year old cover-up.

For some people the book is simply a fast-paced who-dun-it murder mystery.

Others are outraged because the book suggests that Jesus did marry Mary Magdalene, and that they had children, and that’s a secret the church has been covering up ever since.

To be witness asks 2 things of us;
Firstly, to listen to the questions that our world is asking
Secondly, to speak truthfully of Jesus, in response to these questions.

So what are the questions raised by The Da Vinci Code. Let’s listen to three.
Fact of fiction?; That there are other gospels, not in the Bible, that give us a very different understanding of Jesus.
The first witnesses to Jesus death and resurrection tell stories. The tell, and re-tell, the stories of the things that Jesus has said and done.

Remember that this is a culture in which very few people know how to read and write. It’s a culture that tells stories to preserve and to pass on information.

And after a period of time, probably 30 to 50 years, these spoken stories start to get written down.

Now, since Jesus never wrote a book. our entire Jesus understanding is based on these stories that get written down. The gospels.

The basic rule of being a historical eyewitness is this;
The closer you are to the events, the more likely you are to be accurate.

We live by this rule every day. If you want to know what happened last night at the rugby, you’re more likely to read the report of someone who was there, than someone who wasn’t. The closer you are to the events, the more likely you are to be accurate

The church applied this to the Bible. Over a period of time, involving lengthy discussion, they chose 4 gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – books they believed were written by someone who was there, rather than someone who wasn’t.

And so we came to have the Bible.

Now in 1945, 2 brothers in Egypt, found a jar filled with very ancient scrolls. These are what’s called the Nag Hammadi. Some of these old scrolls had titles; the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Peter.

Ahh, so are these new gospels, with different information about Jesus? This is the question asked by Da Vinci Code. Can we learn different things about Jesus from these new gospels?

And so we apply the basic historical eyewitness rule; The closer you are to the events, the more likely you are to be accurate.

And we note some things about these “Gospels of Thomas or Phillip or Peter”
First, they’re written in Coptic (Egyptian) and not Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Second, they’re very different in style than the 4 gospels; very few stories and mostly short sayings.
Third, based on their language, most scholars think they’re written about 200 years after Jesus death, long after a Thomas or a Philip or a Peter is dead.
Fourth, they’re quite racist, and say some quite nasty things about Jews.

So, it’s quite unlikely that the closest witness to Jesus would write in Egyptian,
would leave out their eyewitness stories of Jesus life and would make racist remarks about their own culture

So, yes, it’s a fact. There are other books, not in the Bible, that suggest a very different understanding of Jesus.

But to believe them, you’ll need to suspend belief in the basic rule of a historical eyewitness; You’ll need to start believing that the further away you are from events, the more likely you are to be accurate.

A second fact or fiction. Jesus was just a human and the church invented his divinity.
Because according to The Da Vinci Code, Jesus was simply a human being and the Roman Emperor Constantine, in 325 AD, forced the church to accept Jesus as divine.

Yet when we open the gospels, the eyewitness accounts of those closest to Jesus, written over 250 years before Constantine, we find what;

both; a fully human Jesus – he cries, he gets angry, he struggles in prayer to understand God’s will.

and a fully divine Jesus – “My Lord and my God!” says Thomas to Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:28). Every tongue acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, says Paul, eye witness to the Risen Jesus in Philippians 2:11.

And so by following the basic rule; That the closer you are to the events, the more likely you are to be accurate,

Long before Constantine, the gospels offer us Jesus as fully human and fully divine.

Third; fact or fiction; that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they a daughter named Sarah.
Which is good for a book. It gives you romance. And sex. And a big, juicy scandal. Which my intelligent young university educated, convinced that the church is covering up hidden secrets student – would love.

But let’s not laugh. Let’s think about it seriously. What would it do to your faith if Jesus was married?

For me, I’d think about the way Jesus celebrated weddings, in John 2. He obviously thought marriage was good.

I’d look at Mark 10 where Jesus blesses marriage as the means by which two become one flesh as God intended. So sex within marriage is blessed. One of God’s good gifts.

And reflect on Mark 9 and 10, Jesus love for children.

All reasons to suggest that Jesus celebrates marriage, blesses sex within marriage and enjoyed children.

So Biblically it’s possible to see Jesus married with children.

It wouldn’t change my belief in Jesus as FULLY human and FULLY divine.

As to whether he did, it might make good material for a New York Times bestseller, but there’s no sound evidence in early Christian documents.

Which still leaves the whole question of who was this Mary and how she is viewed by the church? But I might leave that to next week.

Because, at this point, you’re probably thinking, poor Steve, wasting his time reading books and going to movies that are more fiction than fact.

Or you might be thinking, what a job, reading books and going to movies. Can I have one.

So let me point out some facts in The Da Vinci Code I think the church needs to hear.

Fact one: the church has abused power and authority. The Da Vinci Code shows parts of the Catholic church as murderous and manipulative. And it’s a fact. That throughout church history, people have used the name of God in vain.

And you’re probably thinking that Opawa Baptist is a long way from Catholicism. That it’s highly unlikely you’ll find murderous pastors and manipulative Board members in this place.

But let’s face the fact of Da Vinci Code: Let’s remind ourselves that power and authority and success are a temptation, and that Jesus calls us to walk not in success, but in humility.

Fact two: The church has a history of excluding woman. It’s a fact that at times woman have found the church to be an oppressive place. A place that has limited their ability to minister and preach and led.

And so The Da Vinci Code actually encourages us to return to Scripture. To ask how did Jesus treat women? To ask what Paul meant when he argued for no distinction between male and female. So how can that apply to women’s experience in the church today.

Two facts in The Da Vinci Code that I think the church needs to hear.
Our Bible reading. Luke 24. Be witnesses. And for us today that means decoding Da Vinci. Listening to the questions from university students and taxi drivers and gym mates.

In 1988 an American Baptist Pastor named Mike Licona organised boycotts of a movie called The Last Temptation of the Christ.

And looking back, in hindsight, he began to regret his protest. And you’ll find him today, 2006, training churches to read and listen to The Da Vinci Code. As he said in The Press yesterday, “The Da Vinci Code is a big juicy softball lobbed at anyone who wants to talk about Jesus.”

I pray The Da Vinci Code gets lobbed at you in the days ahead. I pray that in the power of the Spirit, you’ll be found a good listener and a faithful witness. Amen.

Posted by steve at 11:11 PM


  1. I preached on this one, too, today. Here’s the link:

    Comment by Matt — May 22, 2006 @ 4:13 pm

  2. Nice Steve,
    Just watched the movie and enjoyed it (i could not get my head into the book), i really enjoyed the challenge of it to faith which at the end fo the day struck me as an important ‘message’. Becuase at the end of the day a lot of these things do fall back on faith. And maybe Langdon’s prayer as he struggled in the well and the feeling that Jesus was there with him should be enough. It’s a testimony – I think that Jesus was everything he claimed to be…and more. while the Church may have tried to protect that through the sword, the only way it can really be protected is through the witness of those who have faith and live by that faith….

    Comment by Michael — May 25, 2006 @ 1:46 pm

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