Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

Sermon 12-24-19: “Good News of Great Joy”

December 27, 2019
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So the new Star Wars movie opened last week: “Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” My kids and I saw it last Friday. Not to spoil anything, but I was very surprised to learn that the heroine of the trilogy, Rey, was the granddaughter of Jar Jar Binks. I did not see that coming at all, did you?

I’m kidding, of course. I’m not going to spoil the new Star Wars by giving away the ending. But I hope you won’t mind if I spoil the beginning: because it begins the exact same way that the previous eight installments of the series began: a black screen with these words: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” This is, in other words, the filmmakers’ way of saying, “Once upon a time…” “Everything that you’re about to see—no matter how impressive the CGI and special effects—it’s all just make-believe.” Despite the fact that according to a recent census of Great Britain, a depressingly large number of respondents—at least thousands—claimed “Jedi” as their religious identification, the Star Wars universe is nothing more than a glorified fairy tale. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with fairy tales, but let’s please notice how drastically different the beginning of the Christmas story is. Luke tells us that the following events occurred in a specific time and place in history—when Caesar Augustus was emperor. But he was emperor for a long time—from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. So Luke is more specific: This was Caesar’s first registration—you know, the one he did when Quirinius was governor of Syria

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Christmas Eve Sermon 2016: “Angels, Why this Jubilee?”

December 30, 2016


In today’s scripture, the angels announce good news to the shepherds, not good advice. In other words, it’s an announcement about something that God has done for us, rather than something we do ourselves. As I say in this sermon, this distinguishes Christianity from every other world religion. Apart from Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, we face a crisis in our lives that none of us is able to solve. The good news is that, like any gift under the Christmas tree, God has given this gift of forgiveness and eternal life for everyone. All we have to do is receive it.

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Sermon Text: Luke 2:1-20

A couple of days ago, my boys and I went to see the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One. It began the same way all the other Star Wars movies began—with a black screen and these words: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

In other words, no matter how much tinkering with computer-generated imagery that George Lucas and others have done to keep the movies looking as visually “realistic” as possible, these ten words may as well read, “Once upon a time…” They remind us from the beginning that, despite the fact that thousands of British people in a recent census claimed “Jedi” as their religion, the world of Star Wars is nothing more than a glorified fairy tale.


There’s nothing wrong with fairy tales, of course. But please note that the beginning of Luke’s Christmas story couldn’t be more realistic. True, it does take place long ago and far away—but not so long ago that we can’t date it and not so far away that we can’t pinpoint it on a map. No, it happened in “those days” during the reign of Caesar Augustus reigned—we know when that was—and when he issued a decree that the entire Roman Empire would be registered for a census. And not just any census—this was the first one, Luke tells us, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Luke wants us to know, in other words, that the birth of Christ was a real and verifiable event in history.

Why does that matter? Because Luke is reporting news to us—this happened in this time and place, and you need to know about it. He’s not giving us advice. Think about it: Fables, fairy tales, and even science-fiction fantasies can impart valuable life lessons to us. They can give us good advice. Live your life like this, they say. But they can’t give us good news. Read the rest of this entry »

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 10: Good News, not Good Advice

December 10, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 1:1, 12-17

glory_cover_finalAs of this writing, many people around the world—including at least one of my three kids—are excited about the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Each of the previous seven Star Wars movies—along with the new one, I’m sure—begin with the following words on the screen: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

In other words, no matter how much tinkering with computer-generated imagery that George Lucas and others have done to keep the movies looking as visually “realistic” as possible, these ten words may as well read, “Once upon a time…” They remind us from the beginning that, despite the fact that thousands of British people in a recent census claimed “Jedi” as their religion, the world of Star Wars is nothing more than a glorified fairy tale.

Notice, by contrast, how different the Gospel of Matthew is. By the time we reach the final third of the genealogy, we know little, if anything, about these names. Matthew records them, not because they represent great heroes of faith, but for the sake of historical accuracy. As Tim Keller writes, “That means he is grounding what Jesus Christ is and does in history. Jesus is not a metaphor. He is real. This all happened.”[1]


Fables, fairy tales, and even science-fiction fantasies can impart life lessons to us. They can teach us how to live our lives better and how to be better people. But notice this isn’t what Matthew and the other gospel writers are up to. They are not giving us good advice; they are bringing us good news. Keller puts it like this:

Advice is counsel about what you must do. News is a report about what has already been done. Advice urges you to make something happen. News urges you to recognize something that has already happened and to respond to it. Advice says it is all up to you to act. News says someone else has acted. Let’s say there is an invading army coming toward a town. What that town needs is military advisers; it needs advice. Someone should explain that the earthworks and trenches should go over there, the marksmen go up there, and the tanks must go down there.

However, if a great king has intercepted and defeated the invading army, what does the town need then? It doesn’t need military advisers; it needs messengers, and the Greek word for messengers is angelos, angels. The messengers do not say, “Here is what you have to do.” They say rather, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” In other words, “Stop fleeing! Stop building fortifications. Stop trying to save yourselves. The King has saved you.” Something has been done, and it changes everything.[2]

He goes on to say that the biblical Christmas texts are not moralizing stories like Aesop’s Fables, which tell us how to live. Rather, they are descriptions of actual events in history. “The birth of the Son of God into the world is a gospel, good news, an announcement. You don’t save yourself. God has come to save you.”

I would argue that other religions and many churches, when they talk about salvation, understand it and proclaim it as advice. Salvation is something you have to wrestle and struggle for, you have to perform. It comes only if you pray, obey, or transform your consciousness. But the Christian Gospel is different. The founders of the great religions say, in one way or another, “I am here to show you the way to spiritual reality. Do all this.” That’s advice. Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, comes and says, “I am spiritual reality itself. You could never come up to me and, therefore, I had to come down to you.” That’s news.[3]

What’s the difference between Christmas as news and Christmas as advice? Are there ways in which you trust yourself rather than Christ to save you? Do you live your life as if it’s news or advice?

1. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 21.

2. Ibid., 21-2.

3. Ibid., 22.

Sermon 12-20-15: “Reel Christmas Classics, Part 4: A Christmas Carol”

December 23, 2015


This sermon uses themes from the 1984 George C. Scott adaptation of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” to illustrate Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:12-24. It explores the nature of idolatry and how it relates to our lives. And, as always (I hope), it communicates the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I’ve inserted the videos below in the order in which they were shown last Sunday.

Sermon Text: Luke 14:12-24

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Last week, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, announced his decision not to lift the Pete Rose’s permanent ban from the game—a ban put into effect 25 years ago after it became clear that Rose had bet on baseball, both as a manager and player. Although, to be fair, as best anyone can tell he only bet on his team to win, which, if anything, would have given him more incentive to win. Because of this ban, Charlie Hustle, as he was known, the all-time hit leader who sprinted to first base even on walks, who is easily one of the best to ever play the game, and who—from the perspective of a kid growing up in the ’70s and ’80s was never less than a great role-model on the field—this same Pete Rose has been excluded from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He wants in the hall so badly. No one will invite him. You know why he can’t get in? Not only because of the sins he committed while he was coaching and playing, but also because he’s lied to the baseball commissioner since then—to hide embarrassing details about his sins. No one else ever does that! And because he continues to gamble on baseball in Vegas, where it’s a perfectly legal activity. Not that anyone else does that, either! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 12-13-15: “Reel Christmas Classics, Part 3: Elf”

December 17, 2015


This sermon uses clips from the movie “Elf” to explore themes related to God’s gift of salvation, faith, and Christian discipleship. It connects Jesus’ words about children in Mark 10:13-16 to the movie. Enjoy! I’ve inserted YouTube clips, where possible, in place of the clips I showed in the worship service. 

Sermon Text: Mark 10:13-16

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Clip 1: As a baby, Buddy is in an orphanage. When Santa visits, Buddy crawls into his bag of toys and winds up at the North Pole, where he’s adopted by Papa Elf, played by Bob Newhart.

So this human child, who was named Buddy, was raised as an elf in the North Pole. And as we’ll see in a moment, he had a special mission to fulfill—I want to say “on earth,” but of course the North Pole is also on earth. But it’s just that the rest of the world—the world south of the North Pole—is very different from the world of Santa and the elves—far less friendly, far more dangerous, far more cynical. This is the world into which Buddy is sent.

But I want to take a moment to appreciate an unsung hero of this story: Papa Elf, played by Bob Newhart. The adoptive father to Buddy. Think about it: Buddy becomes the person he is, and is able to do the heroic things that he does, in part because of the role that Papa Elf played in his life. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 11-30-14: “Beginning with the End”

December 10, 2014

My new Advent series draws on ideas from Hamilton's new book.

My new Advent series draws on ideas from Hamilton’s new book.

During Advent this year, I take a cue from Adam Hamilton’s new book, Not a Silent Night, and tell the Christmas story through Mary’s eyes. This first sermon in the series begins near the end—after the resurrection and ascension of her son Jesus. Although Mary only gets one mention in scripture after those events—in Acts 1:8-14—we can infer that she devoted herself to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Her mission is our mission, too!

Sermon Text: Acts 1:8-14

Audio only this week. Click on the play button below, or right-click here to download .mp3 file.

The following is my original manuscript with footnotes.

There was big news in the world of entertainment last week, as we got our first glimpse of the new Star Wars movie, number seven in the franchise. Of course, when I was a kid, there were only three Star Wars movies. And at the end of the third movie, which we used to call Return of the Jedi, but is now more often referred to as “Episode VI,” the rebels defeated Darth Vader, and the Empire, and the “dark side,” and everyone lived happily ever after, as far as we knew.

From the new Star Wars trailer

From the new Star Wars trailer

But now, guess what? The story wasn’t over after all. And in a voice-over, a menacing voice says, “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” I don’t know what has been awakened, but it sounds pretty bad.

The point is, despite the happy ending in the previous movie, the Star Wars story continues—and will continue for at least three more movies.

And believe it or not, something similar is happening in today’s scripture. Whereas we thought that the Gospel of Luke was the end of the story, it turns that it was just a prequel to the next story, one which Luke will tell in the Book of Acts. Luke writes in verse 1: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…” Read the rest of this entry »