Sunday, May 24, 2015

Funeral Sermon for Ryan Willweber: "The Road Home"

+ In Memoriam - RyanWillweber +
December 24th, 1997 - April 30th, 2015

Lamentations 3:22-33; Romans 8:31-39; John 14:1-6

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

Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus had told Thomas and the disciples repeatedly where he was going. But they still didn’t understand that for Jesus, the road home goes through the cross.

Jesus knew exactly where he was going. For not all who wander are lost. Jesus journeyed – through life, death and the grave – for Ryan, for you, and for all.

Jesus loaded his shoulders with the burden of our sin. He prepared himself to die in order to prepare a place for Ryan, and us, with him. Jesus walked up the mountain. Jesus, crucified on the cross. For you.

Our road home goes through Jesus’ cross. It’s a narrow passage with one door: Jesus’ cross. But it’s wide enough for all broken sinners. Jesus journeyed in life and death to save Ryan and you.

And in this, Ryan and Jesus have something in common. Both loved to travel. Ryan - with friends and family. Jesus - for the love of Ryan, and you, and the world – journeyed to the cross.

For Ryan there was always a new adventure, a new trail, or a new road to run down. Hiking, family vacations, countless miles in cross country.
For Ryan and for us, the road home is Jesus’ cross.

Ryan’s journey began on December 24th, 1997. The Willweber family celebrated two births that Christmas: One in Odessa, TX; the other in Bethlehem of Judea long ago. For unto us is born a Savior.

Ryan’s journey began again in Holy Baptism on January 18th, 1998, his second birthday. And the angels in heaven rejoiced as Ryan received the new birth from above by water, Word, and the Holy Spirit.

Ryan’s Baptism, like every Baptism, is a journey. Like Israel crossing the Red Sea, Jesus brings the baptized through the waters to the Promised Land. Baptism is our exodus. Baptism is our day of resurrection, just as it is for Ryan. Baptism buries us with Jesus, and raises us from the dead with Jesus.

And from Baptism through childhood, Ryan’s journey continued. He grew in wisdom and stature before God and man. He traversed the pages of Scripture at home and church. God’s Word was a lamp to Ryan’s feet here in the shadowlands, as it is for all read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it.

Jesus’ Word is our life, even in death. For Jesus’ death is our life. This is Ryan’s Savior, and yours. Jesus died for Ryan’s sins, and yours.

As the road continued on, Ryan confessed this faith at confirmation, hearing God’s promises in Isaiah 41: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

As Ryan continued to sojourn throughout life, Jesus fed and nourished him with holy food. This is My Body. This is My Blood. Given for you. Shed for you. Jesus journeyed to the cross so that when we journey to the Altar, Jesus’ body and blood are given to us, for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Through God’s medicines of mercy, He sustains us as He did Ryan, in this unmerciful world.
For we live in the shadowlands, where, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, it’s a dangerous business, going out your front door.

We’re pilgrims in this broken world of car accidents and death; and we are broken by life in this world. Some wounds doctors can fix; others, only the wounds of Jesus our Great Physician can heal. We suffer. We grieve. We know tragedy. We journey under the cross.

But we do not walk alone.

We go in the peace of Jesus. And I will not say: do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.
We weep to God who wept for us, as one of us. We lament to God who made our sorrows and Ryan’s his own. We grieve before God who has taken Ryan’s death – and ours - upon himself in His death on the cross.

Today we might think that Ryan’s journey has ended. But we would be wrong.

For we have Jesus’ words of comfort from the end of the road.

Let not your hearts be troubled. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Our road home goes through Jesus’ cross. And it continues on the other side of the grave. In my Father’s house are many rooms. And each one of them with a view of the Lamb who was slain for us.

And though we cannot wrap our children with an invisibility cloak as they head out the door, or take their suffering and death upon ourselves, there is one who can. Jesus has for you.
Jesus’ death destroyed Death. Jesus is risen. Risen for Ryan. Risen for you.

Jesus has taken the road home head of us, and for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

We grieve, but not without hope. Hope such as we hear in a travel song from one of Ryan’s favorite books.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Hope in Jesus. For in him we rejoice. Ryan is home. He is with Jesus in the undying lands. And through our tears we glimpse our heavenly home on the horizon. And we wait with Ryan, for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting – that great, eternal homecoming with Jesus.

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

 Let us pray:
Our journey be with God today,
His holy angels lead the way,
Just as He led from Egypt land,
God’s people held in Pharaoh’s hand.
Have mercy, Lord!

Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Way,
The Truth, the Life, our hope and stay.
You follow us where e’er we roam,
You shed Your blood to bring us home.
Have mercy, Lord!

So then no storm or rising tide,
Can ever keep us from Your side.
If You a helping hand will lend,
With joy we’ll reach our journey’s end.
Have mercy, Lord!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Easter 7 Sermon: "Jesus Prays for You"

+ Easter 7 – May 17th, 2015+

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Acts 1:12-26; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11-19

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

Most of the time when Jesus prays in the Gospels, we don’t get to listen in on his prayers, like when Jesus leaves his disciples to pray by himself on the hillsides of Judea.

On occasion we get a few soundbites of Jesus praying. When he’s in the Garden of Gethsemane – “Father if it be your will, take this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” Or when Jesus on the cross prays – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Today we get to participate in a little divine eavesdropping. We get to listen in on Jesus praying in the upper room. The same upper room where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet; where he taught about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; where he instituted a holy meal with his holy body and blood in the Lord’s Supper; where he prayed with them and for them.

This is known Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. On the night before he intercedes as our great High Priest by offering himself for us on the cross, he intercedes on our behalf as our great High Priest by offering his prayers to the Father.

Jesus prays that you would be kept in the baptismal name that has been washed over you with water and Word and his Spirit. He prays that you would be one with him and with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. He prays that you would be kept from the evil one, and kept steadfast in his Word of truth. He prays that you would be holy by his Word which fills your ears, purifies your hearts, and declares you to be his child. Everything Jesus prays for is for you.

Now, it might seem strange to have a reading from the night before Jesus’ crucifixion on the Sunday after the Church celebrated his ascension. But this actually makes perfect sense. Jesus’ high priestly prayer gives us a glimpse into what Jesus is doing now at God’s right hand.

Jesus is our High Priest. Jesus intercedes for us. Jesus prays for you and with you. And think about what this means.

When you’re struggling with what college to go to or where God’s calling you to serve, Jesus is praying with you and for you.

When you’re wrestling with how you can possibly forgive someone who’s sinned against you, Jesus is praying with you and for you.

When you’re at the hospital sitting by the bedside of your grandparent, spouse, or child praying for their health and healing, Jesus is praying with you and for you.

When you’re stricken with grief over the death of a family member or close friend, when you’re asking God “why?” Jesus is praying with you and for you.

When you’re crying out to God in agony over your pain or someone else’s, Jesus is praying with you and for you.

When you’re praying for a restoration of faith for that child or grandchild, or best friend who’s fallen away, Jesus is praying with you and for you.

What comfort and peace it brings us to know that the same Lord Jesus who shares in our humanity, who bore our sin, sorrow, and death, who ascended to heaven, now stands in the Holy of Holies above, at the Father’s right hand praying for you to abide in his Word.
This is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that the richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.

For without the Word of God all is lost. Without taking time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word, how will we know when someone is twisting God’s Word or leading us astray? All we like sheep have gone astray.

Without a steady diet of the solid food of God’s Word and the daily bread of Jesus’ body and blood, how will we be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us? We will starve.
Without the sword of the Spirit how will we remain steadfast in a world that hates us as it hated our Lord? We would be devoured.

For this – and for all our sins – Jesus our High Priest intercedes. Jesus prays. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Our High Priest takes in hand our weak and faltering prayers and voices them to His heavenly Father – and he is heard. Jesus petitions the Father not to keep track of your iniquities, but to count only the drops of blood He willingly shed for you – and he is heard. Jesus prays His Father to keep you steadfast in His Word and truth until the end – and he is heard. And you are kept.

Jesus’ cross and prayer are inseparable. Jesus dies, rises, and ascends. And still he intercedes for us because of the cross.

We pray in light of Jesus’ cross and in hope of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. That is where the joy Jesus talks about is found – in his cross. In the Word he declares from the cross: It is finished.

This is what makes us holy – not what we’ve done or avoided doing - but what Jesus has done for you.

By God’ Word the disciples were sanctified, set apart and called, to declare God’s Word of truth. It was the Word that made them holy, nothing else.

So it is for us. God’s Word sanctifies us, sets us apart. Jesus takes his Word, water, and cleanses us in his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus takes his Word, bread, and wine, and offers his body and blood sacrificed on the cross for you, to give you his holiness, forgiveness, and salvation.

Everything that is holy - Holy Baptism. Holy Absolution. Holy Communion. The Holy Christian Church. The Holy Ministry - all of these are holy by the Word of Jesus, the Holy One who shed His blood for the cleansing and forgiveness of all.

We give you thanks, Holy Father,
For your holy name which you have caused to dwell in our hearts,
And for the knowledge and faith and immortality
Which you have made known to us
Through Jesus your servant;
To you be the glory forever….
Remember your church, Lord,
To deliver her from all evil
And to make her perfect in your love;
And gather her, the one that has been sanctified,
From the four winds into your kingdom,
Which you have prepared for her;
For yours is the power and the glory forever. (Didache, 10)

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Sermon: "Jesus Blessed Them"

+ The Ascension of Our Lord – May 14th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

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

You can learn a lot about a person simply by looking at their hands. Married, engaged, or single.  What they do for a living, hobbies or instruments they play. Every scar, wrinkle, and line has a story to tell.

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 

If hands tell us a story, what story do Jesus’ hands tell us?

Neither of St. Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ ascension tell us what words Jesus spoke as he blessed his disciples. But we need only look to his hands and we shall know. In the hands He raised in blessing we can read the meaning and blessing of Jesus.

These hands wiggled with joy and all our human littleness and frailty as he nursed from his mother Mary.

These hands learned to hold a quill and write the words of Scripture that Jesus knew so well by the time he was examined in the temple at age 12.

These hands worked with hammer and saw in the wood-shavings of Joseph’s workshop, sharing and blessing our work with us.

These are the hands whose hallowed touch brought sight to the blind, speech to the mute, and whose hands removed impurity.

These are the warm hands teeming with life that took hold of a little girl and brought her back to life.

These hands stretched out, touched, or grasped with that personal, individual love that marks the healings of Jesus. He could’ve healed people by the dozens with the snap of his divine finger. But instead he was there for each one that needed him, holding their weak and frail flesh in his own.

These are the hands that gathered the little children in his arms to embrace them and bless them.

These are the hands that gripped and rescued Peter as he looked away from Jesus and began to sink.

These are the hands that gave thanks, took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples – and his Church saying, “This is my body, given for you.”

These are the hands that Thomas saw and worshiped as doubt gave way to faith.
All of this is in Jesus’ hands as he blesses the disciples, as he blesses us. All of this and more.

For in each of Jesus’ hands remains a little red badge of redemption – for the disciples, for me, for you, for the world.

In Jesus’ hands we see the mark of the nails. Those jagged, glorious scars which give us Jesus’ blessing and proclaim how it was won for us.

All of our pain, our deepest sorrows, our every grief, our innumerable sins, even the cold grip of death were held in those hands. And by those hands Jesus has overcome every one of our fears, sins, and death. Every scar, wrinkle, and line of Jesus’ hands proclaim the story of your salvation.

All the sin that our hands – and minds and hearts – have wrought – is paid for by Jesus’ hands. Because Jesus’ hands were stretched out on the cross for you, today they are once again stretched out in blessing for you. And that means that we’re sinners in the hands of a merciful God.

Cross and blessing go together, especially on Ascension Day. After all, Jesus didn’t raise his hands in blessing that day only for his disciples, but also for you.

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
Jesus’ ascension is a day of hope and joy for us.

Jesus’ ascension, as we confess in the Creeds, is to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Though this isn’t some particular place. Jesus isn’t locked up in a distant heavenly throne room. The right hand of God is the exercise of the whole power of God, which now is in the hands – the crucified, risen, and ascended hands – of Jesus.

Or in the words of St. Paul, Jesus ascension is his coronation. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, who has ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things (Eph. 4:10). Jesus is now seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

And this is good news for us, just as it was for his disciples. Though you cannot see Jesus’ hands; they are still here in his Church blessing us.

Jesus’ ascension brings Jesus closer to you, not farther away. Jesus’ ascension allows him to be present with his church, to fill the earth with his human body and with those hands of blessing.

So when the pastor puts his hands on your head, pours water over your head, and baptizes you – his hands are merely instruments of Jesus’ hands.

When the pastor places his hands upon your head and pronounces “You are forgiven all your sins” – his hands – and more importantly his word of forgiveness – is Jesus’ forgiveness.
When the pastor’s hands place into your mouth and your hands Jesus’ body and blood, this is Jesus work of blessing for you.

All of this happens because of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus is not absent; he is our ever-present Lord and brother. The miracle and wonder of Jesus’ ascension is that he continues to raise his hands in blessing for his Church, for you his people. Wherever his word of repentance and forgiveness of sins is proclaimed; wherever Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are given for the remission of our sins – there are Jesus’ hands raised in blessing.

Today we join the disciples in worshiping our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord with great joy.

A blessed Ascension Day to you all…

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

This sermon was heavily influenced by the Ascension sermon of Norman Nagel, preached at Cambridge in 1965, available in print in “Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis. CPH, 2004, p. 144-146.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Easter 6 Sermon: "Abide in My Love"

+ Easter 6 – May 10th, 2015 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Acts 10:34-48; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

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

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

How do you abide in Jesus’ love? Do you set up a tent? Hold tight to those warm-fuzzy thoughts? Put your mp3 player on a constant loop playing “Bring back that lovin' feeling”?
But Christian love, God’s divine gift-love is much different. If God’s love for us was simply mushy-gushy feelings, he wouldn’t have gave his only begotten Son to die for you, he would’ve sent us emojis on our iPhones. Thankfully, God’s love for us is not like a teenage girl’s love for My Little Ponies and kittens. It is more than a feeling.

God’s love is action. Jesus feeding thousands. Jesus healing the sick. Jesus casting out demons. Jesus teaching. Jesus praying. Jesus bearing our sin. Jesus laying down his life for sinners. Jesus rising from the dead. This is the way Jesus loves. He gives himself.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

To abide in Jesus’ love is to receive what Jesus gives; and then to give what you have received. This is the pattern.

The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too. (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 1-2).
So, follow Jesus’ words downstream. From the Father to the Son (by the Holy Spirit) to you. And from you to others.

Abide in my love, Jesus says.

As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves you. Don’t skip over this and think, “great…now on to the really important stuff.” No! This is the important stuff. Without God’s love for you in Jesus, nothing else matters.

Abide in my love. Remain. Rest. Dwell. And never depart from Jesus’ self-giving, sacrificial love for you.

This is where “love” begins – not in our hearts, not in our decisions, choices, or our initiative. It begins in the heart of the Father and His love for the beloved Son. It flows to you from the Son by way the cross, the font, the altar, His Word.

I AM the Vine and you are the branches.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

And what does Jesus’ love look like? If you had to draw a picture, how would you illustrate it?

A heart, as in “I heart 90’s grunge rock”?

A diamond ring? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…one carat, two carats, or three?!

Or since it’s Mother’s Day, perhaps a mother’s love for her child. She quite literally lays down her life to bear, feed, and nurture her child.

Now this is closer to God’s love than the other kinds of love we have: romantic, friendship, or affection. But it’s only a picture. After all, only Jesus’ love is perfect.

Our love – even on our best day – is soiled with sin. The first commandment calls us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And yet we fear no one, love only ourselves, and trust no one. “We give our human loves – friendship, romance and sexuality, affection, enjoyment of God’s creation – the unconditional allegiance we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. They will destroy us.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 8) This is not love. This is idolatry. This is what our sin does to God’s love: twists, turns, mangles, and warps it, and the end result is always the same: self-love.

Repent, for we have not loved God with our whole heart; and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We have not let his love had its way with us and so our love for others has failed.

Where our love is selfish, Jesus’ love is self-giving. Where our love is envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, resentful, irritable, and insistent on our own way, Jesus’s love for you is patient, kind, enduring, and bears all things…yes, even unlovable, loveless, despicable me. God’s love in Jesus, covers the multitude of our loveless sins.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son as the propitiation for our sins.

For God showed his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus loves the loveless. We who were his enemies, sinners, are now his friends. And according to Jesus the picture he wants us to have of God’s love is his sacrifice. Here is love: Jesus crucified for you.

“God…creates the universe…already seeing the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is hoisted up time after time, for breath’s sake. If we may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates his own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and take advantage of him. Herein is love.” (C.S. Lewis, Four Loves, p. 127). 

So you don’t need to pluck a tulip with misty eyes wondering, “does God love me, does he love me not?”

Look to the font and where Jesus’ love is traced upon you in the cross; where God’s love is poured into your heart by the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Look to the altar where Jesus feeds you in love, and gives himself in his body and blood to you. Look to the Scriptures where Jesus’ love for you abides. And wherever you abide in his word – in the Supper, in Confession, in studying and meditating upon his Word, in praying and singing it – you abide in Him, and he abides in you.

These words I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

In fact, it’s more than full. Jesus’ love overflows. Jesus’ sacrificial love bears fruit in our sacrificial love for other. We love because he first loved us. You’re planted in him. Jesus is the Vine you are his branches. And his love will bear fruit in you.

Imagine the look on your neighbor’s face when they see you cleaning the trash off their front yard without even asking for help. Imagine how that homeless man or woman will feel when you offer to buy them some food or give them some extra clothes or water. Imagine how the visitor to Redeemer will feel when you leave your group of friends to welcome them to church and invite them to join you in conversation.
We love by sacrifice. In fact there is no love without sacrifice. We love in word and deed. We love by laying down our lives for others. We love others – not to get something from them or out of their wallet – but to give to them. To serve them.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Love is praying: “Lord, make me a better father, mother, spouse, son, or daughter; make me a faithful servant in all the places you call me.”
Love is praying for your enemies.
Love is asking God to give us patience as we bear with people who are unbearable.
Love is attending to daily devotions and going to confession and absolution, and receiving Holy Communion as often as you can.
Love is looking not to your own good, but the good of your neighbor.
Love is inviting your next door neighbor to hear the Word in church or bible study.
Love is pestering your friends or family to have their children baptized without delay.
Love is asking your brother or sister in Christ how they’re doing and taking the time to listen.
Love is comforting someone who’s grieving with good news of Jesus who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.
Love is writing a card to one of our shut ins or someone you see in the weekly prayer list who’s in need.
Love is telling others the Good News that God loves you in this way: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

This is what it means to abide in Jesus’ love: to receive Jesus’ sacrificial love and to give in sacrificial love to others.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lego Bricks and Apologetics: Imagination, Art, and Sub-Creation, Part 3

Note: If you want to see the spiffed up version of this article, visit 1517 and check it out, along with all the other goodies they have over there.

Part 3

Now that we’ve covered a fair amount of ground on the imagination and Tolkien’s idea of Sub-Creation, in this final installment we’ll put all the pieces together in order to form a valuable tool for tender-minded apologetics.

So, what do imagination, Lego bricks, and Sub-Creation have to do with apologetics?
At first thought, the most natural place for apologists to run to would be the idea of teleology. There is a purpose, an end or goal, to the use of building toys such as Lego bricks: there is both creative imaginative play as well as instructions and design. One can see the Lego watch sitting on display and discern that there must have been a Lego watch-maker. These kinds of apologetic methods are useful tools in the apologetic task. But I think there is more to be said about imagination, sub-creation, and apologetics. Once again, Tolkien’s writing provides a valuable insight.

One of the geniuses of Tolkien’s writing is his unparalleled ability to point out the extraordinary in the ordinary. Hobbits are a perfect example of this. Tolkien is able to achieve this by means of three facets of good fantasy story telling: Recovery, Escape, and Consolation.

Briefly put, Recovery is regaining a proper view of the world we live in. The potency of the written word helped Tolkien to regain a proper view of the world. In other words, literature (art) helped him to understand reality. Escapist is often the charge critics lay at the feet of those who read fantasy. Tolkien, however, saw Escape as a benefit. Why should a man who is unjustly imprisoned not want to be set free? Good fairy stories, Tolkien says, provide us with a view beyond the noise of this world, the hunger, poverty, illness, and death. They give us a glimpse of freedom. This is where Lewis and Tolkien agreed immensely, that good stories pointed them to the true story of the Gospel. Lewis’s “stabs of joy” were similar to the escape Tolkien describes. Finally, Consolation is the happy ending, or as Tolkien called it, the eucatastrophe, a good catastrophe. This was the sudden turn of events in the story, like when Gandalf reappears in Mirkwood or the Eagles rescue Frodo and Samwise from Mt. Doom.

Through his storytelling, Tolkien gives us glimpses of the Primary World within his secondary, sub-created world of Middle-Earth. The connection is found in the eucatastrophe. Tolkien found similar elements of fantasy and storytelling in the true story and historical events of the Gospel. Here is how he worded it in his essay. And I quote him at length here.

Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it…The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful fantasy can be thus explained as a sudden glimpse of underlying reality or truth. It is not only a consolation for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to the question, ‘Is it true?’

…The Gospels contain…a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. The birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the inner consistency of reality. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find is true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history…the joy would have been exactly that same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy story gives: such has the very taste of primary truth.  It looks forward (or backward) to the Great Eucatastrophe.  The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous.  Art has been verified.  God is the Lord, of angels, and of men – and of elves.  Legend and History have met and fused.[5]

Tolkien summarizes well the connection between his own writing, sub-creating, and the Scriptures, the overlap between his own imaginative literary world, and the historical events that happen in the Primary World in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

This is the defense of imaginative apologetics: to capture the mind, but also the heart. To testify to the truth, but also to demonstrate that it is meaningful. To teach and to delight. To give us objective hope and consolation, as well as a joy that each person can call their own as we do when we sing good hymns such as “God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ.”

In other words, simply because the Gospel is a true story does not mean it cannot also be told beautifully. The imagination is a gift from God that can and should be used in service to the Gospel. Tolkien and Lewis also understood that imagination and Sub-Creation are servants, hand-maidens to the Gospel story. One can certainly see it in their writings. Certainly, The Chronicles of Narnia is more overt at “stealing past watchful dragons.” But Tolkien is a master at the art of imagination and sub-creation nonetheless. And he uses it in service to what he called “Primary Art” or the “Primary World.”

What Lewis and Tolkien, and others have done in the fantasy genre, and in literature on the whole, could be done elsewhere by others. Part of their success comes, of course, from their own imagination and creativity. Thankfully, their writing is contagious. When reading their works the reader’s imagination and creativity is awakened and set free as well. Those who desire to be good storytellers and good apologists of the faith should spend time reading and surrounding themselves with good books by good writers. One good story leads to another.

That’s what I was doing as a little boy playing in my room with Lego bricks. I was sub-creating. I was doing what Tolkien had done with words in the form of interlocking plastic bricks. It wasn’t, of course, the same degree or quality, but I was using the same ingredients: Imagination and Art.
Pieces led to imagination. Imagination led to building. Building led to storytelling. You see, children don’t simply build stuff and let it sit around to gather dust. No, when children build they are sub-creators. Their work is full of imagination and art. (I love watching our three-year old daughter Zoe doing this. It’s fascinating and delightful). Along with their creations, they develop a story. In fact they’ll tell you the story too, even if you’re not particularly interested in hearing it at the time. (Talk about a good lesson in evangelism and apologetics!).

This is what children do, they build and then create a story about the train, or castle, or ship they’ve just built. This is what the young boy, Finn, did in The Lego Movie. And in the process, he unlocked not just his father’s imagination, but the viewers’ as well. But there’s more to this movie than excellent Lego graphics and artistic, in other words, imaginative storytelling. The Lego Movie had everything a good story should have: heroes and villains; a world that was in trouble and in need of rescue; a damsel and a people in distress and looking for hope and freedom; and a sacrifice that points to a greater story – to the Great Sacrifice of the one who’s name is also Truth. There was also a great resolution at the end, the happy ending that we all long for.

 SPOILER ALERT!!! As it turns out, the entire movie was a sub-created world born of the mind of Finn, the young boy behind all the imagination in the movie. One of his sub-created characters in his story was Emmet, the non-descript construction worker. In an act of sacrifice, Emmet saved the world from Lord Business (played brilliantly by Will Ferrell), and even managed to free his imagination as well. As I mentioned earlier, that makes Emmet the Christ figure of this movie. But this is just one movie. There are countless other examples: Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Disney’s The Jungle Book, and I could go on.

Why do all these stories seem to sound the same? Why do we keep hearing and reading similar themes in movies, books, and drama? How is it that even secular stories like The Lego Movie and countless others give us fragments of the Greatest Story ever told? Because these stories are in some way, shape, or form stealing from the one great true story, the Gospel. They're intentionally or unintentionally doing what Tolkien said about good stories; they're writing about Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. They're giving us glimpses of the great eucatastrophe, Christ’s death and resurrection.

Superman. Batman the Dark Knight. Neo in the Matrix. Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. Harry Potter’s defeat of Voldemort. Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. Frodo and Samwise’s sacrifice to destroy the ring of power. Spock in Star Trek Two. Obi wan Kenobi’s death to save Luke. The list could go on. But the point is all the same. They're all stealing from the one great story. It sure makes for a good story, and an even better one since it is true.

And here is where the apologist can operate. Here is where imagination, Sub-Creation, and yes, even things like The Lego Movie can be useful in the field of apologetics. Christians can and should use these familiar stories to show and teach the great story. We should steal back the examples of redemption, love, and sacrifice and use it to proclaim the true sacrifice, redemption, and love of Christ. We can steal past watchful dragons. Use our imagination and Sub-Creation to point to Christ’s greater salvation for all.

Imaginative apologetics is a vital part of making a defense for the reason for the hope that is within us. Not everyone resonates with a tough-minded defense of the faith. Thankfully the Christian faith reaches both our intellect and our imagination. Christianity is both true and meaningful.

Imagination, art, and sub-creation, all used to tell us a story. And aren’t these the kinds of stories we should tell our children? I think so. Imagination leads to Art; Art leads to Sub-Creation; Sub-Creation reflect or points to the Primary World, or Primary Art. Sub-Creation also leads to a story. And the story leads to an imaginative apologetic, a defense for the tender-minded.

Everyone is a storyteller. The question is what and who will the story be about? There are plenty of stories that are not worth watching or reading. But the best ones point to the one great story; the one true story that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Corinthians 5:9).

This is the story we need to tell, write, script, paint, sing, and declare: Christ crucified and risen for you. The world needs more Christians engaged in imaginative apologetics, more men and women who see their work or their hobbies as Sub-Creations, secondary worlds based on the Primary World. We need more artists whose work points to the Lord who painted the heavens and framed the earth’s foundations, more writers who point their readers to Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith, more characters like Aslan who bring us into a new world for a little while so that we might know the true Lion of the Tribe of Judah better in our world.

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret…now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”[6]
C.S. Lewis