Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reformation (Matthew 11:12-19)

“To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text this evening as we continue to commemorate the Reformation is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ: April 18th, 1521. Worms, Germany. The band is warmed up and ready to play. The lead singer is Charles the Fifth, Holy Roman Emperor and one of the most powerful men in the world. His backup singers and instrumentalists are the bishops, princes, and priests, all gathered around him. The dancer is a young monk named Martin Luther, standing on the dance floor for all to see. The tune was called the day before, and it was clear and unmistakable: Repent! “First, do you acknowledge that these books here now named publically to you one by one, which are published in your name as author are yours? Next, do you wish to retract and recall them and their contents or to cling to them henceforth and insist on them?” Dance, Luther, dance! The tune has been called, the music is playing—dance! You know how easy it would be; you can feel your body swaying to the music. This song has one word, and you can sing it whenever you like: Revoco, ‘I recant.’ Repent, recant, take it all back. Dance, Luther, dance!

The world calls the tune, it brings the instruments, it provides the dance floor, and only one thing is demanded of us, exactly what was demanded of Luther: Dance! The music is all around us; it is blared forth from television and movies, we hear the song sung by our friends and family, people are tapping their toes to it at school or in the park. Dance, Christian, dance! You know you want to; it’s so easy—just follow everyone else’s moves; staying away from church, using filthy language, destroying reputations, having sex outside of marriage, denying Jesus as the only Savior and Lord, being ashamed of the name ‘Lutheran’ and seeking to be a generic Christian. This is no ordinary dance; there is a cost for sitting this one out. Those who play the music will not tolerate anyone sitting out, or dancing to another tune. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” The world exacts a price for refusing to dance to the tune it has called. It can destroy your reputation, shame you in front of your friends, beat you up, or even take your life. Refusing to dance may mean sacrificing your life, money, job, family, success, or happiness.

And we won’t pay the price. The world says, ‘Dance!’ and we say, ‘Like this?’ We give in, we dance to the world’s tune, we conform ourselves to the world and its priorities. We sway to the world’s tune, we dance to the music it plays for us. We listen to the notes, we indulge ourselves, and soon we are moving to the music. We are afraid to pay the price the world charges for being different, and so we crumble, we lose our spine, we wimp out. We do not stand against the world, we give into it. We fail to follow the example set by Luther. He stood in the spotlight; the band was playing, and all were calling to him, ‘Dance, Luther, dance!’ But he refused. “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.” The world said, ‘Dance!’ and he said, ‘Here I stand!’

Luther was willing to pay the price; although he would die in bed, he would be an outlaw for the rest of his life, with martyrdom always around the corner. He knew when he said those famous words that the world would not be happy, that it would fulfill the words of Christ: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” The world had no kindness for John when he refused to dance to the world’s tune, nor did it have any for Christ Himself. “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” The world called the tune, they wanted John and Jesus to be the kind of prophet, the kind of Messiah that they wanted: Dance, John, dance! Dance, Jesus, dance! But they would not. They refused, and the world didn’t spare them. First the world slandered them: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” But the world did not stop with slander; those who will not dance to the world’s tune must be stopped by any means necessary. Luther died in bed; John would lose his head, and Jesus? He was nailed to a cross.

That is the fate that awaits you if you stand against the world, if you make the bold confession of Jesus, if you live different than your friends. This is the fate that awaits you if you hold to Lutheran theology among other Christians or those only pretending to be Lutheran: you will bear a cross. You will die—if not a martyr’s bloody death, you will certainly die to friends and family; you will die to yourself. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” But take heart, dear friends: the world doesn’t get to play the last note. “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” John the Baptist, languishing in prison, soon to lose his head, by all appearances a defeated failure, conquered by the world: this man is ‘Elijah who is to come.’ And if he is Elijah, who comes to prepare the way of the Lord, than the man who speaks must be the Messiah, the Lord come in the flesh. Like John, this Jesus won’t dance to the world’s tune, and He will be hung upon a cross for it; He had only to say the word, He had only to recant His teachings, and His life would be spared, but He refused. ‘Here I stand,’ He declared to the world, as He hung upon Golgotha’s bloody tree.

Jesus and His Word, by all appearances, were powerless on that day, and the world shouted with triumph. But Jesus told us: “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” The Wisdom of God seems foolish to the world, but it will be justified, it will be proven right only three days later. Jesus rose, triumphant over this world, victorious over death, proving that His Word is true, it stands forever, that nothing can or ever will overcome it, or any who cling to the Word in faith. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Hear the Word; do not depend upon appearances, but listen to Jesus. The same One who said, “He is Elijah who is to come,” when John sat in prison, who said, “It is finished” when He died upon the tree, is the One who says to you through St. Paul: “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This is the promise that you have despite all that the world does to you, despite the price it exacts from you, even if it declares you an outlaw like Luther or makes you a martyr like John. It is on this Word that you can rely, this is your rock in the storm; on this Word you take your stand.

The Reformation isn’t some moral parable about taking a stand on something and opposing the authorities that get you down. The Reformation is all about taking a stand against the world on the truth of the God’s Word. The Reformation isn’t just a call to confess anything, but a call to confess the Scriptures rightly. The world calls on you to change your confession, to change your life; to live and speak like those around you, to dance to its enticing tune. Dance, Lutherans, dance! Give up your confession, quit insisting on pure doctrine, acknowledge that all roads lead to God, or else! But the music you hear is Christ’s tune, and it speaks to you of victory even when all seems to be defeat: “And take they our life / Goods, fame, child, and wife / Let these all be gone, / They yet have nothing won; / The kingdom ours remaineth.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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