Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sermon on the Alternate Gospel at Matins on 30 October 2016, Reformation Sunday (Observed)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Matthew 11:12–19
The Kingdom of Heaven
Reformation Sunday Matins, 30 October 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Today is not the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. That’s a year from tomorrow, 31 October 2017. Yet, the celebration begins here and now. The Protestant Reformation was a protest: a protest of errors, false practices, and misuse of Church authority in the hope and prayer of reform centering on Christ, returning to God’s Word, emphasizing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reforming human traditions on the basis of Scripture and the Gospel!
The Church was in need of reform. Some priests knew enough Latin to get through Mass, but rarely preached sermons, if at all. Others didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. Most people couldn’t understand the services. Many could not read. Many were not taught much at all about the Bible or Jesus or Christianity. Positions of authority like bishoprics were sold for money. People were eager to pay especially for positions like the archbishopric in Mainz, because the officeholder was an elector and could vote for the next Holy Roman Emperor. The HRE wasn’t that holy, wasn’t very Roman, and wasn’t much of an empire. Yet, an Elector like Frederick III of Saxony could protect a reform-minded friar, priest, and doctor of the Church like Martin Luther.
One can see why Matthew 11 is an appropriate Gospel reading for the celebration of the Reformation of Christ’s Church.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,4 and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear,5 let him hear.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 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!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”6 [1]
The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. Sin is violence against the Lord and His heavenly kingdom. Sin is a violent act, especially when people sin against the Lord and His kingdom by preaching, practices, and lives lived contrary to God’s Word. There is always need for reform in the Church because there are sinners in the Church. Some don’t like what is said or what is done, so they seek to change things one way or another. The Judaism of Jesus’ day had Pharisees, seen by many as hypocrites, Sadducees, who resemble Scripture-denying religious progressives today, Zealots with a radical political focus, Essenes who dwelt as a hermit-like purified community in the wilderness, and Herodians who supported King Herod.
John the Baptist is dead because he dared to speak God’s truth to one with worldly power, Herod. Herod had his brother’s wife move in with him and he made promises without thinking because of his niece’s dance at a dinner party. John lost his head and the kingdom of heaven once again suffered violence.
Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds. Jesus speaks true wisdom to his hearers in Matthew 11, crowds eager to hear what He would say after He and his disciples met with messengers from John the Baptist. John is one like the Old Testament prophet Elijah. John is the last Old-Testament-style prophet. John prepares the way for Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah, the prophet, priest, king, suffering servant, temple, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus speaks wisdom.
Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds. Jesus was all in. He was committed to His ministry of teaching, His ministry of suffering, dying, and being resurrected for you, and His ongoing ministry of Word and Sacrament here and now. Jesus’ words are true and wise. Jesus’ words are also backed by deeds that reveal Him as God and Lord, creator and redeemer.
Some in this world will never be satisfied with us as Christians. They urge us to change. Some are even so bold as to tell us so: “(And) deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” When words like that are said aloud, religious liberty is under attack. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that we’ll all be persecuted tomorrow. We do need to stand up for what we believe on the basis of God’s Word. We stand for religious liberty, Biblical marriage, and life when we speak in the public square.
Suppose for a moment we did change one of our sincerely held beliefs. I do not intend to, nor do I wish us to. But suppose for a moment we changed one. Would the world be satisfied? No. Say we changed another and another and another, rapidly or gradually. Would we ever earn the approval of this world? No. It would always be a losing battle. Approval from the world is always a moving target. Flute or dirge, we Christians dare not dance or mourn at the bidding of a sinful, fallen world.
Source of the following:
Luther arrived in Worms as part of a triumphal procession. The emperor and church officials expected him to recant his theses while at the Diet.
Luther's books were placed on a table. He was then asked if they were his works and whether he wanted to recant any of the information. Luther requested time to think over his reply and the next day he answered with the well-known speech: "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." [According to] legend (that) Luther [also] said the words "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!"

There are days we are on defense because the Church and Christians are under attack. There are days we are primarily on offense. That is when we make ourselves known primarily for what we are FOR rather than AGAINST. That is when the Church is known for making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching God’s Word. God help us! Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Lutheran Service Book Historic (One Year) Lectionary. (2009). Bellingham, WA: Concordia Publishing House.