A Cheerful Heart or Dry Bones
January 14, 2017 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
A CHEERFUL HEART OR DRY BONES
Our first thought of Jesus is usually a very serious one. Isaiah called Him a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. True as that may be, His life was not one long, unrelieved agony. Today's Gospel shows us one of the many lighter moments, as He went with His disciples to a wedding at Cana, near Nazareth. His mother was there as well, indicating that this might have been a family wedding. In those ancient days before football or television, people used to get together to celebrate the great events in their neighbors' lives. Celebrate is the right word. According to John, when they ran out of wine Jesus made about 30 gallons more. And that wine was a sign. Along with the singing and dancing, along with the refreshment, Jesus was looking back to the story of Melchizedek. The Messiah was prophesied to be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. In Hebrew that means "King of righteousness." As the ancient Melchizedek served Abraham with bread and wine, so Jesus would serve the children of Abraham with bread and wine.
We have a good time at weddings today, as well we should. Consider the words of Solomon before us: a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. We have better reasons to celebrate than the people in the Gospel. We know about the cross and resurrection. St. Paul does speak of godly sorrow, that is, the sorrow that leads to repentance. It's all right to be sorry because of your sins. But we must not dwell on them. All sins are forgiven by God's grace, on account of the sacrifice for sins that Jesus made. Sadness is out of place when we consider Christ's great victory. Every time the Bible tells us that someone's countenance fell, bad news comes next. Cain's countenance fell, then he murdered his brother. The rich young man's countenance fell, then he stopped following Jesus because of his possessions. All who seek the kingdom of God need to be aware of the cost.
Christian worship should not make one's countenance fall. We sing, we make music with instruments, we treasure a choir that rehearses, and quality music that was not written in haste. According to the Psalms, the Lord likes all kinds of musical instruments. He also likes proper preparation. He wants the instrumentalists and vocalists alike to practice. He wants the pastor to prepare the sermon. He wants the people to be familiar with the elements of worship, to anticipate the theme of the day, perhaps to come early so they can look over the hymns before the service starts, to understand the lyrics and to make sure that their children understand them too. In Ephesians 5, a passage where St. Paul is telling us how to walk in the light, he urges us to address one another in Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart. In I Kings we read that at Solomon's coronation the people rejoiced so loudly that the earth was split by the noise. That was in the 10th century BC, long, long before amplifiers were invented. Lutherans were distinguished for many years as "the singing church.” About fifty years ago something went wrong. The junior and senior high school years seem to be the time when our offspring hang their harps on the willows. It was about sixty years ago that our society started to brainwash them with the mantra that they didn't belong, that this music wasn't for them, that they were strangers and aliens in their parents' world. As a result many of them stopped singing even when they were happy. Young people, don't let your bones dry up. This is your music. You have every right to enjoy it. You belong here just as much as the senior citizens do. We were all baptized with water in the name of the Triune God. Jesus has set us all free from sin, death, and the devil. That is worth singing about. If Jesus tells us to look happy even when we're fasting, then certainly in the joyful assembly of the saints we should celebrate His victory, and rejoice that we belong here.
Since that first Easter morning everything is different. God rules, as He always did, but now His justice and mercy are reconciled, His holy light can shine upon us without destroying us. Our sinful human nature wants to duck back into the shadows. It puts up parasols. Sin makes no one happy, so the more we hide behind the parasols the more miserable we become. You can no more become independent of God than you can become independent of the sun. You shrivel up and freeze.
We tend to think of Gethsemane as a dark time in Jesus' life. It was a stressful time, a sad time, but it was not dark. The True Light was shining at its brightest, so bright that Peter, James, and John drew back from it. Their spirits were downcast; their bones were drying up. When the guards came they ran. Then on Sunday we see their surprised faces as Jesus stood beside them without opening the door. The Light had penetrated their parasol. He wasn't angry. He said Shalom. Since He had faced sin, wrestled with the devil, and overcome death, there was no reason for Him to be angry. Everyone can count on Him because He fulfills every trust.
The bright light that loomed ahead of humanity as a consuming fire devoured the Lamb of God instead. He was cast down and dried up so that we might enjoy the medicine of hope. He cried out in thirst so that we might drink the water of life, which in time He would turn into the wine of celebration. So consider what that makes us. We have seen His face and yet we live. His grace renews and reshapes our nature. Not by magic of course. We have to do it. Some of our starts will turn out to be false, so that we have to start again. Some of the steps take considerable courage. God will give it when we need it. Since the Old Adam continues, so will the godly sorrow, the repentance, and a good, long drink from the Fountain of forgiveness. Each time your countenance will try to fall, but in Word and Sacrament Jesus reaches His hand to you. Hold it a little longer. We know that the Light is going to win in the end.
This is the assembly of thanksgiving. What we have received in part is already overwhelming, but someday we will receive it in full. So we sing. So we're happy. So we celebrate. All of you belong here, whatever your age. Jesus turns your godly sorrow into joy. Sing with us, even if it's hard to do at first. Play all those instruments. Let the world know that Jesus has turned our water into wine, the evil of our lives into good. AMEN.