Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Momence, Illinois
Reformation (October 31, 2010)
TITLE: “Mourning and Dancing”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for the Festival of the Reformation is from St. Matthew chapter eleven.
It’s amazing our fickle our tastes can become at the dinner table, isn’t it? Everyone’s favorite dish one can can quickly turn into something left to rot in the back of the fridge. What I used to like a day or a week or a month ago just, well, no longer seems appetizing. And of course, children are even better at this than we adults. Macaroni and cheese may be the watchword of the day one week, and the next, it’s bologna. We fickle people are never satisfied with what is right in front of us. There is always something more, something around the corner. It is so difficult to find satisfaction in the things God has placed before us this day.
What’s more, our fickleness doesn’t just mean we change our minds. It can mean that we don’t get what is right in front of us. You play dancing music, and they want to sit along the wall like a flower. You play a funeral dirge, and the music is too slow and depressing., or they just aren’t ready to mourn.
What we have in our text today is Jesus describing what the people of His generation were really like. They could not be satisfied with what God had to give to them for that day. They believed there must be something more, something different, something better. This was true in His day, and it is true in ours as well. He points us to the simple reality that we neither accept the Law nor the Gospel from God.
What I mean is this. John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and they said he has a demon! The preaching of the Law of God, which John certainly typified in his life and his preaching, drew great criticism in Jesus’ day, and it still does even until now. Hate speech, it might be called. Overly negative. I’ve even heard the Law called a neuroses, or some kind of sickness that is itself a sign of evil. To quote the Star Wars movie from a few years back, “only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
If we claim, as God’s Word clearly teaches, that we are all dead in trespasses and sins, then the only place where the Law can go is drive us to either outright rejection and rebellion, or to despair of our own works. Nobody likes to live in despair and guilt, so it is easier to rebel than to repent of our sins. There is so much in our culture today that militates against despairing of our own works. One can hardly turn around without hearing one more variation from the philosopher Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough; I’m smart enough; and gosh darn, people like me!”
Jesus berated the generation of his day for refusing to hear the wisdom of John’s words. John was the greatest man ever born of of a woman, and his message of preparation was for the good of all. John was the mountain leveler and the valley raiser. When he spoke the Word of God, things happened, marvelous things. Even unrepentant hearts like yours and mine can be broken with the piercing Word of God’s Law.
So what are the barriers today to hearing God’s Law? “We sang a funeral dirge and you did not mourn.” So often in our denial of the reality of sin and death, we refuse to mourn either our sin or even the death of those we love. It seems so old fashioned to mourn, so negative and unenlightened. I wonder sometimes if this is what Luther was thinking of in part when he penned the words, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, `Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Repent this day of your sins. That is the first message of the the Reformation. We are all sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and hell, and that simple reality must be clear in our minds this and every day. The Church must always be reformed (ecclesia semper reformanda), the ancients said. And Reformation always begins with repentance.
But reformation does not end with repentance. It moves on to faith. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. That Word of God, so simple so clear, is completely and utterly liberating. What is it worth to you to know that God saves you? He saves you from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. He does this not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. It is the sweetest, most beautiful message in all the world.
Christ plays this message for you. Here he calls it a dance, where everything works just as it is supposed to word. Jeremiah puts it this way:
“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13 ESV)
Hear the message of the Word of God this reformation. Mourn over your sins. It isn’t in vogue. It isn’t popular or fit with the ways of this or any generation. Mourn your sin nevertheless. Don’t be afraid of them. Confess them. Recognize your sins as what divides you from God and what divides us from each other. God will turn your mourning into dancing. The Holy Word of God endures forever, and this Word from Him declares that you are righteous, holy as He is, beloved by God. This is not because of your own words and yourself, but it is because of Jesus Christ, His Son, who cleanses us from all sin.
Believe it for the sake of Him who died and rose again for our justification, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 Cyril of Alexandria: When some children are dancing and others are singing a dirge, their purpose does not agree. Both sides find fault with their friends for not being in harmony with them. So the Jews underwent such an experience when they accepted neither the gloominess of John the Baptist nor the freedom of Christ. They did not receive help one way or another. It was fitting for John as a lowly servant to deaden the passions of the body through very hardy training, and for Christ by the power of his Godhead freely to mortify the sensations of the body and the innate practice of the flesh, and to do so without reliance on strenuous ascetic labors. Nevertheless John, “while he was preaching the baptism of repentance,” offered himself as a model for those who were obliged to lament, whereas the Lord “who was preaching the kingdom of heaven” similarly displayed radiant freedom in himself. In this way Jesus outlined for the faithful indescribable joy and an untroubled life. The sweetness of the kingdom of heaven is like a flute. The pain of Gehenna is like a dirge.