Matthew 11:16-19 – [Jesus said] “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Who Calls the Tune?
I’ve never played in a band, but I do know – as anyone would – that if a band is hired to play a wedding reception, they probably shouldn’t play funeral dirges all night. And, conversely, a violinist hired for the funeral wake probably shouldn’t fiddle away like he’s at a square dance.
Why? Because, although the band is hired to play the music, they’re not necessarily hired to call the tune. The one in charge of the event – the one who paid – calls the tune.
Who chooses the melody for your life? You or God? And who calls the tune for the church? You, the world, or the Lord?
Jesus compared ‘this generation’ – which includes the people of His day and us today – to children in the marketplace who play whatever melody they want to play, and then they get mad that the others aren’t dancing accordingly. “We played a flute, and nobody danced. We played a sad song, and nobody wept.” Children get angry when they don’t get to call the tune.
‘This generation’ gets angry at God, at God’s servants, and at God’s church whenever they play a tune but God and His servants and His Church don’t dance the way they want.
God’s creatures decide for themselves who they think God ought to be – what God ought to be like – and when He’s not like that, they say, “We don’t want this God’, and they make a god of their own – one that will move according to their beat.
The world decides what tune the preachers of God ought to be preaching. When God’s preachers don’t preach accordingly, they say, “You’re not God’s preachers!”, and they tune out.
And now there are a myriad of churches. A different church for every child who decides to call a tune. In the past, pagans would take a block of wood or stone and carve it into an image. Then they’d look at what they carved and say, “Look, this is our god.”
Today, we carve out households of faith according to what we would like to believe, and then we say, “Look! This is my church.” Or we seek to re-carve the faith of the church we’re in to fit the times. ‘This generation’ calls the tune and demands that God and His house dance accordingly.
So it is now. So it was in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus. Violently so. John the Baptist wasn’t what the people wanted a preacher to be, so they said, “He has a demon.” And John was executed, beheaded, in Herod’s dungeon.
Christ, the Lord, came. And the Lord wasn’t what the people wanted the Lord to be. So they slandered Him – “a drunkard and a glutton”. And they hung Him on a tree.
John the Baptist’s preaching made the people feel guilty. He made them feel as if they weren’t as morally good as they thought they were. That wasn’t the tune they wanted. Jesus, our Lord, had friendship with the one’s ruining their nation and neighborhood. That wasn’t the tune they wanted.
But who calls the tune? That’s the point. We don’t call the tune. Our Lord does. Since our Lord calls the tune, it is the Word of the Lord – Holy Scripture – that alone tells us how to walk and step. Scripture alone – not our opinion, not our wisdom – Scripture alone is our melody. Because Scripture, the Bible, is God’s very voice, His Word, His tune, breathed out by Him for us [2 Timothy 3:16].
This is Reformation Sunday. October 31st is Reformation Day. A central question in the time of the Reformation was, “Who calls the tune?” Whose word is authoritative?
Our assertion and belief was and is that the written Scriptures are the Word of God, and, therefore, through the Word of Scripture alone and above all other words, God is always calling the tune – in regards to how we live – in regards to what we believe and teach – in regards to how we worship.
There is no other word – not even the Church’s word – which can sit beside the Word of God as its equal. And there is no other wisdom – not even the best wisdom of this world – that can sit above the Word of God as its interpreter. Instead, we are recipients of the Word of God which is breathed out to us by God, concretely, in the Holy Scriptures. Scripture is God’s music which causes His truly believing people to live and dance according to its own beat.
It is Scripture alone which bears God’s authority – because nothing else is said to be God’s Word, breathed out by God, in the way Scripture is said to be – and, therefore, it is that Church, those believing people, whose walk and belief are driven by Scripture, which are the true Church of God, wherever they may be found.
Who calls the tune? Scripture alone and Scripture itself is God’s melody, and it dances us.
What does this mean for you? Ask yourself: How strong has the world’s tune and melody become on your mind? How often does your political party or favorite radio commentator call the beat for you? Or, on the other hand, how many of you are hoping your Church would “get with the times”?
In the Reformation, the big voice which was set up over the authority of God’s voice in Scripture was the voice of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. His voice called the final tune. And that’s still true today – in some ways even more so than it was then.
But you don’t live under the authority of the Pope in Rome. And your church life and beliefs aren’t carried out under his thumb anymore. We might, therefore, be wise to have much greater concern for the powerful voices in this world which do, so often, gain the upper hand.
Back then it was the Pope. Today, politics is the closest thing the world has to a religion. The written party platforms of the Republican and Democrat parties have become the scriptures – even, maybe, in many of your hearts and minds. Do your politics determine how you think, how you feel, how you treat your neighbor? And do you even get God’s name involved?
On Reformation Sunday, we are wise to remember that Scripture alone holds the rightful place of shaping, forming, and growing-up the heart and the beliefs of the child of God and of the Church. Not the Left; not the Right; but God from above through His Word shapes God’s children.
However, for each of us, in every generation, the biggest Pope is ourselves. Our own opinions. Our own desires. We each make it our place to tell the Lord to dance our way. Of this we each need to repent. And we each need and have forgiveness.
Forgiven in Christ. God’s Word to you – the central word of all Scripture – is that God forgives you all your sins for Christ’s sake. That Jesus, His Son, has carried to the cross the sins of tax-collectors and prostitutes, of sinners and idolators, of grumblers, the sins of tune-callers, and the sins of those who have too often sought to dance by the world’s melody – that Jesus, God’s Son, has carried all this sin of yours to the cross and that He Himself has died for sin in your place - this is the whole song of Scripture. God’s central and final word in all Scripture is, “You are forgiven.”
All of Scripture sings to us this tune: “the righteousness of God – not by works, but – through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” [Romans 3:21-25] “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (counted right with God) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption (the price-paying sacrifice) that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (as the atoning-sacrifice which appeases God’s wrath) by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Christ’s death and resurrection is the song of Scripture. It counts the sinner righteous on account of what Jesus did. And Scripture even begins to make the sinner walk and dance righteous, renewing us in the spirit of our mind, conforming and shaping us according to the law of Christ and in His image.
Forgiven and the beginning of a godly life – this is the gift of God. Living in ‘this generation’, let’s repent daily of our attempts at calling the tune for God and of our sin of listening so much to this world’s voice. Let’s be Lutherans and let Scripture alone, God’s own Word, be our tune and beat. Amen.