Biblical Text: Matthew 11:12-19
Full Sermon Draft
Reformation Day has had a number of modes of celebration through the years. This sermon mentions some of them, but maybe surprising for a Lutheran preacher, I’ve just never had much connection with the day. I guess part of that is my general distaste for the common forms of hagiography. If Luther is a hero (and he is) he can only be a hero in one form. Likewise, if he is a heretic who destroyed the church (and he did destroy a form of it), he can only be damned. Neither of those flavors ever appealed to me. We humans are way to complex for that. And it doesn’t give a good report on Luther’s key insight. In this life we are sinners and saints simultaneously.
Jesus uses a great visual image against “this generation” in the text. It was a generation that didn’t dance to the flute or sing to the dirge. Beyond that when the good law was proclaimed it said “he has a demon”; when the joyous gospel revealed it said “a glutton and a drunkard”. It danced to the dirge and sang to the flute, without recognizing the truth in either. For quite a while I’ve been feeling the same thing about Reformation Day.
But this year something happened that made it click. Stripping away the saint-stories and focusing on the story – A group of people confessing, remaining faithful, calling to the face the powerful and refusing to recant. It is a common story in the church. The only place I know of that celebrates those killed for being conventionally stupid. It is so much easier to recognize which side your bread is buttered on. The reformers did and they didn’t. Like Paul speaking to the Apostles wondering if his preaching had been in vain (Galatians 2:2) and confronting Peter to his face. Like the OT prophets sent to the Kings of Israel and Judah. Institutions go off track and sometimes need to be called on it. Separating the schismatics from the prophets isn’t always easy. And there is usually a little of both intermixed, but wisdom is justified by her deeds.
There is one more stripping away though. Institutions are fine and necessary. But as the hymn the choir sings in the recording tells us, God does not dwell in temples made with hands. He dwells in living stones. What is always most in need of reform is not the church or the collective or the other, but our hearts. Hearts that are no longer desiring only the clean story, but that desire God’s story – grace alone, faith alone and Christ alone.