Sunday, October 26, 2008

Will You Please Get Out of the Way?

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Matthew 11:12-19

I think it’s fair to ask the question why we still cleebrate the Reformation in our day. Is it because we want to honor Martin Luther? Celebrate sixteenth century German culture? Lutheran theology? Maybe it’s a reason to have another festival on the Church Year calender, or a party, which we will be later on today with our Oktoberfest.

If these are the only reasons we’ll be celebarting Reforemation Day then we should get rid of the festival. Because the Reformation is not primarily about these things. It’s about us gettting out of the way. That’s what today’s Gospel readng shows us, as if it’s saying to us, will you please get out of the way? The Reformation is nothing if it’s not about Christ. The Reformation is all about Christ, which means that we need to get out of the way.

Some may think the Reformation is about Martin Luther. In a similar way, some might think that the ministry of John the Baptist was about John the Baptist. But what these men did was not about themselves. It was always about Christ. God sent them to point people to Christ. You could describe their message as, “You need to get out of the way.”

Has it ever happened to you that you read a passage in Scripture and you think it says something and then you come to find out that it really says something else? That happened to me with what Jesus says in the Gsopel reading: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” I had always took this as “from the days of the beginning of the Church until now” God’s Kingdom has suffered violence. The history of the Old Testament bears that out. But what Jesus actually says is that in the short time between John the Baptist coming onto the scene until now, when Jesus was speaking these words. This was just a short period of time, a few months, maybe a year or so. Of course, it’s true that the Kingdom of God has suffered violence from the beginning. But it’s as if Jesus is saying, as much violence as has been suffered in the Kingdom of God, you’d think it would stop when the Messiah has come on the scene. But no, it’s just the opposite.

That’s because people weren’t getting out of the way. The whole purpose of this is to see Jesus. Take John, for example. Jesus said that “the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” So was it about John the Baptist? Was his role as God called him to be the Forerunner of the Messiah about himself? No, Jesus says that he’s Elijah. It’s not about John, it’s about Jesus. John knew that he had to get out of the way. He wasn’t sent for himself, he was sent to call people to get out of the way and point them to Jesus. That’s why he said of himself that Jesus must increase but I must decrease.

This is what Jesus wants us to hear. He who has ears, let him hear, He says. What are we going to hear? Will we expect Jesus to tell us what we’d like to hear, or what He has to say? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. If we get out of the way then we will hear. If we’re in the way we won’t be hearing what He has to say, which is that it is in Christ that we have life. Not by hearing what we want to hear about ourselves. That’s getting in the way. We need to get ourselves out of the way.

What does Jesus say about those people He’s talking to? “But 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.’” They know the rules, but even though they want to play the game, they want to play by their own rules. When children are calling others to play along with them the others refuse because they don’t want to play by the rules. If a dirge is being played, then mourning is called for. If festive music is played then dancing is in order. But people don’t want to get out of the way, they want things on their own terms. So do we wonder why we need to talk about Reformation? Are we any different than the generation that Jesus spoke to in our Gospel reading? Don’t we need to get out of the way also?

If we look at John the Baptist and Jesus we see what it means to get out of the way. John came not for himself but to point to Christ. And yet that’s not what everyone saw. For his strange ways, some accused him of being demon possessed. On the other hand, Jesus came and He certainly couldn’t be the Messiah, as He said He was, because He didn’t live in the circumspect way that the Messiah ought to. He’s no Messiah, He’s nothing but a glutton and a drunkard. And look at the kind of company He keeps, He associates with disreputable people. In each case the problem was that people couldn’t get out of the way. They wanted John the Baptist on their own terms. Jesus, on their own terms. When we refuse to get out of the way, we miss Jesus.

Oh, we might see Him. But we will miss Him. We won’t see Him for who He is. Because we won’t see our true need for Him. “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Because this is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about us getting out of the way. True wisdom is Wisdom incarnate, wisdom in the flesh. Jesus Himself is wisdom made known to us and it’s by His deeds on which all of this turns. If we simply get out of the way we will see this. We will see that getting out of the way is the only way.

How do we do it? Do we stop coming here, into the House of God? That might seem a logical way to “get out of the way.” But no, this is right where we need to be. It might seem like an odd thing to do, to preach to the choir. But the choir is exactly who needs to be preached to, along with everyone else, of course. Why do we, who are here week in and week out need to be exhorted to be here week in and week out? Because we need to get out of the way. The way to do that is in being in the place where you’re not doing the work. Where you are receiving. Where God is gracing you with His gifts, blessing you by His action—through Word and Sacraments—by getting you out of the way and getting Himself into your life. So that it’s all about Him, not about you.

It’s most fascinating that when it’s all about Christ, and not about us, that with Christ it’s all about us, and not about Him. When He served, when He suffered, when He died, it wasn’t for Himself. It was for you and me and the world. If we get out of the way we’ll see that. We’ll see Him. For who He is. For what He has done. For who He has called us and created us and saved us to be. Amen.


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