28. October 2012
The Festival of the Reformation
“We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.”
The problem with expectations is that they are easily shattered. Politicians rely upon expectations of the people to be elected. When re-elections roll around they rarely meet your previous expectations. Hope and change? Not really. The entertainment industry thrives on giving you exactly what you expect with perhaps a little twist of creativity. Your first consumption is enjoyable but their products don’t live up to repeat listens, views, or experiences. The sales person plays your expectations to sell you just what you want. They know that once you get home, chances are good you’ll keep the product even if it fails to meet your expectations.
This is an important reminder for us on this festival of the Reformation. Why had the Christian church of Luther’s day departed from the Apostolic truth? Why had they stopped listening to the Word alone? Why did they believe that there was salvation not alone but by some other means? Why had faith and trust in God alone been replaced with trust in rulers and works? Why had Christ taken the backseat while the cult of the saints drove the car?
Their expectations of God were driven not by the Holy Scriptures, not by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not by His grace, and not even by faith. Their expectations were driven by their own fallen desires. The holy message given by Moses, the Prophets, and Christ himself, delivered to us by angel-apostles was sidelined in favor of the thoughts and intentions of our sinful heart. Rather than be subject to Christ, the church subjected herself to the desire for self-worked salvation, big bank accounts, and earthly kingdoms. She gauged her hopes and dreams on the ways of the world and not the intents of God.
Luther needed a true set of expectations. When he asked, “How can I stand before an angry God?” the church of his day answered, “through works of penance, prayer, and fear.” The polluted God demanded righteousness by the Law contrary to the Holy Scriptures. The blood of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world was mixed with the bile of man’s own merit. Luther’s conscience could not bear the the torment and despair. In an act of divine providence, his confessor Staupitz directed Luther back to the Scriptures.
There Luther rediscovered what had long been hidden under a dark cloud of false piety: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
Our yearly festival commemorating the Reformation is not a day to go “rah-rah–Lutheranism!” or “Boo! Catholicism!” Most of us don’t even know what the church of Rome believes today, wrongly thinking that Lutherans abandoned all the ancient practices. No, today we celebrate the recovery of the Gospel by the Holy Sprit through Martin Luther His angel. The good news is that Jesus Christ alone has saved you. He has done this through His Holy Scriptures alone which grant you faith alone to receive salvation through grace alone. Not three alone-s but one alone in Jesus Christ.
Luther’s false expectations needed reforming as do ours and as did our fathers’ of old. For example, Jesus sent His messenger John to prepare the way. But what did they go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken in the wind, that is, a false prophet who will capitulate to their itching ears and will gladly blow over if it suits them? What did they expect of John? A man dressed in the latest GQ fashion, hip, and utterly approachable? Ah, yes, they went for a prophet and Jesus gave them one. Not what they wanted nor expected but exactly what they needed.
John came preaching a hard, unlikeable message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The sinner scum came to John from all Judea and the region of the Jordan came to be baptized by him, confessing their sins. Meanwhile the Abrahamic bourgeois come to him trusting in birthright and personal piety and he runs them off: “You brood of vipers! Even now the axe is laid to the fruit of your legalistic tree. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” No one expected a prophet quite like John the Baptizer. Yet he is precisely what God foretold: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
Expectations are everything. John came neither eating nor drinking and they said, “He has a demon.” Jesus came eating and drinking and they said, “Look, a glutton and drunkard.” It’s not that John failed the expectation of their fathers. It’s not as if Jesus was something other than the Messiah promised of old. They had long since stopped listening and no longer had ears to hear.
As their hopes for the new wilderness Elijah were off-base, the expectations for the Messiah-Christ were worse. John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” The people of Israel’s hope for change was nothing like what God had in store for them. Jesus is not the earthly Enemy Slayer but the Lamb of God who is slain by the enemy. He is not the Great Yes Man but the Great Judge with winnowing fork and fire. He is not the Bread King but the Bread from heaven. He is not the king of this world but the King of heaven. He is not the friend of elites and a rock star pop icon but the humble friend of sinners and tax collectors. He does affirm the Pharisaical law in the temple but preaches the Gospel to the poor.
Sinner’s expectations are never God’s. God is not forced to conform to our hopes but rather we conform to His. Blessed is he who is not offended by God’s expectation fulfilled in Jesus. Most expect a different kind of prophet. Most do not expect such a hard call to repent or such a sweet message of release. Most want a slick pastor with a wishy-washy message that tugs at the heart strings and addresses the felt needs. They care nothing for God’s way nor His thoughts. This is why from the days of John the Baptist, through the life and death of Christ Jesus, and even now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Jesus will not dance to our song nor lament when we whine.
The hopes and dreams of fallen men do not coincide with God’s hopes and dreams for them. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. The Jesus campaign promises would never get Him elected. The sweet voice of Christ chanting the Psalms doesn’t fit our fancy. The show Jesus puts on is a gruesome and horrible display that lacks the entertainment value of a DVD in the discount bin. And the product he procures for us we neither desire nor will receive.
God sends his messengers to reform our false expectations. His holy prophets come with confession and absolution. These prophets’ sons expose your sin and preach the good news to you. They’re not impressive and don’t submit to your strong gusts for change. The pastor-angels have received their marching orders from the Good Commander. They are clothed with the rough garments of salvation and are ready to give you the very thing you need whether you expected it or not. They are preparing and preserving the way for the Lord to dwell in you His redeemed.
Jesus reforms our sinful expectations. We think we’re worthy of salvation and he humbles us by the law redeems us by His shed blood in His body and His blood. We think we can contribute to grace and He gives us his abundant mercy and complete grace as a free gift in Holy Baptism. We think there is wisdom unto salvation in earthly gurus and He gives us everything our faith needs in the Holy Scriptures. Our sinful expectations are reformed to His, all though the giving of the gifts.
Wisdom proceeding from the mouth of the Most High reorders and governs the Christian expectation. This work of God was given by the Scriptures and through violent suffering. This work will continue until our dying day or Christ comes again. Martin Luther was without hope and true desire for God. In God’s mercy he revealed the truth of to our church’s namesake. Today, you may not have wanted Him as He has promised but now you know we need Him and you know right where to find Him. Our hopes and dreams are restored by forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus who dances to his own flute and sings a new song of salvation for you.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church