The Waltz of the Reformation

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My daughter will waltz away from me as she marries her good man in two months.

As we practiced our daddy-daughter-dance last night, I noticed that waltzing-that triple-time dance step- emphasizes the first beat.

STEP-two three, TURN-two-three, ONE-two-three…

As God’s story waltzes across history, have you ever noticed that the triple-step has been deformation-reformation-transformation?

·        Deformation was the distorting, warping, change for the worse that Adam and Eve brought, not only on themselves when they turned from the gracious God, but into all mankind born after them.

Created with open arms and open hearts, the disease of the deformation of sin slithered into the human race and bends us all away from God and others and into our own selfish cul-de-sacs.

Sin and self-sufficiency are initially arousing and spicy.  But all self-love eventually sours.

Formed to fixate love on God and neighbor, we redirect our love into our own selfish drives as we drive away God and others.

I appreciate author Heather Choate Davis’s summary of our universal deformation in her short book Man Turned in on Himself.  She reminds us that salvation hinges on the emphasis of the deformation of original sin. 

Sin is not primarily a little act that one does that can be trivialized or rationalized.  Sin, according to the story of God (see the book of Romans) is a spiritually congenital condition or state.

We must rewind church history to the time of Augustine around 400-420 AD to find a grotesque picture of sin’s deforming effects.  To explain Psalm one (where a person turning from God retrogresses from walking to standing to sitting) he painted a five-step curling and curving in process that went like this:

Step One:  We were created standing upright, heart lifted, arms outstretched and facing God.

Step Two:  We turn away with our backs to God in distrust and disloyalty.

Step Three:  We stand in settled opposition with arms crossed.

Step Four:  We settle into our selfish state so completely that we take our seat.

Step Five:  As the body has moved physically lower and further from God, the last submission to sin is to slump over and curve down to the earth like an animal.

Have you ever read the sickening story of Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 4:33)?  This glorious king created to bring God glory experiences de-creation and his curved fingernails and curved body bear the effects of sin’s curse and weight.

Said simply, we sin because we are sinners, just like we dance because we are dancers or sing because we are singers.  Sin is not localized outside of us but inside of us and actually embedded in our very being.

One thousand years after Augustine described the universal incurvation of humanity, Luther would coin the Latin phrase:

“homo incurvatus in se.”   He reminded the world that man is hopelessly turned in on himself and unable to uncoil and save himself.

Picture a beautiful portrait painted on paper.  Imagine the portrait selfishly crumpling itself up into a wrinkled ball for no one to see and helplessly unable to un-wrinkle and spread itself out again.

When we try to live in a spiritual fetal position, the addictions we incubate inside the curve fester while the help, hope and love of God we need, outside of the curve, remain shielded by our self-sufficiency.

·        In 1517 the second step of the triple-step dance of God’s story burst on the scene in an era called the reformation.

Since every self-fueled effort to reverse the curve of sin back-fired, the church searched the story of God in Scripture and rediscovered grace.

Grace, the unearned, undeserved favor of God, shared freely in the face of Christ, was preached with abandon.

The masses became drunk on grace and began to dance without inhibitions as they gathered to worship and spread grace everywhere without cost.

Christ came to save us not just from the wrong in what we do but in the wrong in what we are.  He did not come to save friends or even strangers, but enemies.

Like a threatened cat, our arched back, raised hair and extended, curled claws met God’s forgives and free favor.

And like never before, those that trusted in this message of grace began to uncoil and uncurl.  They experienced transformation.  Wedded to Christ, a “truster” in His death for them and life in them experiences the transformation of who he or she is.

·        Transformation, the third step in the waltz of God, is not an insignificant alteration at the edge of one’s life.

Transformation describes how the hands of Christ, through the power of the Spirit, remold man in a movement from a tight, fetal, selfish clay-ball of sin into a pliable, yielding, entirely outward giver of love to God and others.

The defaced masterpiece shifts and stretches outward in sacrificial love.

Transformation, described best by author Matt Jenson, is dancing away from incurvatus in se to excurvatus ex se.

As Christ dances with you he turns you entirely outward extending his love.

We now curve out conveying a life-giving convexity free from addiction, fear and greed.

When any of us dance with Christ we experience daily transformation where we lift up our hearts to God in worship and love others, sourced with his self-giving love.

Deformation-Reformation-Transformation.  The triple-step dance.

Imagine your anxiety, narcissism, and addictions turned inside out.

Anxiety-that feeling of failure in advance-transformed from “fear without faith” (as Robert Kelleman puts it) into peace, fixated on the present care of God.

Narcissism-falling in love with your own warped reflection- transformed into falling in love with God as you reflect His love towards others.

Addiction-an over-attachment that enslaves us and constricts us like a boa constrictor-transformed into an addiction to share and smile and sacrifice forever.

As I’ll practice my three-step waltz with my daughter to ready me for the wedding day, I invite you to practice the waltz of grace

               …as you emphasize deformation, stepping to reformation and ending in transformation.

Dancing with Jesus forever,

Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church