This is close to a sermon I preached at First Lutheran Church in Hector, MN. I, of course, ad libbed for sections and delivered a different sermon, but this is the gist. Please feel free to comment on this--it is the only way I'll learn to get better.
Good morning! It's really great to be here on such a lovely day. Pastors usually ask a seminary student to come in on days where the readings offer tough lessons that the actual shepherd couldn't or shouldn't deliver. It's really nice of Pastor Keith to give the opportunity to a seminary student to work with a text that's more manageable than some of the others and not wait until the toughest texts before scheduling continuing education.
Let us begin with a word of prayer:
O Lord, open my lips and let my mouth proclaim your praise, grace and mercy. Let all that comes from the pulpit today be your saving Word. This is asked in Jesus' name. Amen
We didn’t sing the Psalm today, but there are some things in it that will be discussed in the sermon, so if everyone would please open their RED BOOKS to Psalm 145, it’s just after the last red tab. We will sing the Psalm, without accompaniment, I will sing the even verses, you sing the odd. We’ll sing verses 8-14.
8The LORD is gracious and full | of compassion,
slow to anger and abounding in | steadfast love.
9LORD, you are | good to all,
and your compassion is over | all your works. R
10All your works shall praise | you, O LORD,
and your faithful | ones shall bless you.
11They shall tell of the glory | of your kingdom
and speak | of your power,
12that all people may know | of your power
and the glorious splendor | of your kingdom.
13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures through- | out all ages.
You, LORD, are faithful in all your words, and loving in | all your works.
14The Lord upholds all | those who fall
and lifts up those who | are bowed down. R
Thank you all. That was beautiful.
Back to the Gospel, Jesus here is quoting children in a marketplace, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn." He takes one idea, that of dancing and rejoicing, and places it in juxtaposition of another idea, mourning and wailing. One group of children is calling to the other, I imagine the girls saying to the boys, "What's going on, silly boys, couldn't you hear our dancing music? Are you too chicken to come dance?" While the other group, again, I imagine the boys’ response, "But we are in mourning, can't you hear our dirge and wailing? Do you not see us covered in ashes?" The next thing I picture is us, the whole Christian body, sitting in between the two groups. We now hear both groups shouting for us to come and join them. Now remember this image, we’ll come back to it, I promise.
The first reading, from Zechariah, was quite a bit easier to hear . Some of us in the congregation may have remembered hearing this in Handel’s Messiah. The soprano soloist in the Messiah was telling us to REJOICE! Not to mourn. In fact, the music behind that text couldn’t even be remotely construed as mourning. The Zechariah reading is out of a prophecy, an oracle saying that soon your King will come. Soon, your King shall have dominion over all the nations. So, REJOICE!
Now with the Zechariah text, the Psalm makes more sense. Using the two of these texts side-by-side, one can see why we are to rejoice. It’s not only because our King is coming, but also because our King, who is coming, is gracious and full of compassion. It’s a much better idea than the tyrannical king we read about in History books and Fairy Tales. This King comes to save us, this King is our Savior.
So, then why do we have a Gospel reading that has mourning and dancing? If the King is coming, shouldn’t the flutes be playing a song of dance? Well, let us look at the Gospel text again. When Jesus is speaking, he says the comment about the children playing flutes, but then he immediately talks about John the Baptist and himself. John the Baptist, if we remember from last Advent, comes and shouts, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2) But Jesus, when he comes, does not to say, “Repent,” but rather, “Come.” There is a big difference in those two words. Repent is to turn away, but to come is to go towards.
I think Jesus is comparing those children to himself and to John the Baptist. John the Baptist was wailing and mourning, but Jesus was calling for a dance. And the important thing here is order, John came first, he called for repentance and mourning but after the repentance came the dancing and that call to follow. Why was Jesus calling for dancing? Because he knows that the kingdom of God is here, John preached that it was upon us, but Jesus IS the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God IS here now! We have already repented; we continue to repent daily. When those of us who are baptized were baptized, either WE were asked, or those who SPONSORED us were asked if we reject the forces of evil, the devil and all the devil’s empty promises. In other words, to the best of your ability, do you turn away from sin? Do you repent? And we did, and we do.
Jesus then calls us; we turn from our sinful self and follow Jesus. It is not easy, the work is sometimes hard, but we can rest in the LORD. We are part of the Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, for we have repented, and continue to repent, daily. We repented today; I heard your confession. And at the end, your sins were forgiven. Notice how I stood at the baptismal fountain during confession and forgiveness? I stood there to show that it is through this baptism and the repentance that we show daily that our sins are forgiven.
And they are forgiven because the Kingdom of God is here and now. Your sins were forgiven 2,000 years ago when Christ died on the cross. Your sins were forgiven when Christ rose from the grave. Your sins were forgiven when Christ ascended into heaven. Your sins are forgiven, because Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. Your sins are forgiven because of your baptism, and most importantly, your sins are forgiven because the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Christ has called you his own.
Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest, for the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.