Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Second Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2018

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 1:51
Theme: Heaven Open

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The ministry of the Lord Jesus is like a diamond. A diamond is made of one substance; carbon, but it has many aspects. As you appreciate a diamond in the light its brilliance shines from many different perspectives. So too, the ministry of Jesus shimmers in the glow of miracles, healings, wonders and phenomena that reveal Him to be the Son of God. The Season of Epiphany is our opportunity to focus on and rejoice in these realities. And like the singular substance of a diamond, He has one goal: To open heaven for us.

The public ministry of Jesus moves from His baptism, to the temptation in the wilderness, to the gathering of disciples and revelation of His identity to Jew and Gentile alike. Today He is identified by a certain Nathanael whom Jesus saw under a fig tree. Nathanael confesses Him to be the Son of God, and Jesus responds, saying, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”1 The opening of heaven and the movement of angels on Christ is another way of expressing what Jesus says later in John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”2

There is one truth and one path, everything else is a dead end. You cannot outwit the Holy Spirit. You can outwit yourself. The Bible says, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”3 You can deceive others. You can lie to yourself so repeatedly and so consistently that you lose track of the truth. You can hide the truth from those closest to you- your spouse, your, parents, your children- so cleverly that you are forced to live a secret life. But why do we go to such lengths? Why is it so achingly difficult to say we are sorry, offer forgiveness or receive it? Because we want to have our way to the detriment of others and in defiance of God. Therefore, the objectives are always the same: justifying our transgressions and avoiding shame or humiliation. How can we avoid shame? How can we unwind the tangled ball of sin woven into the fabric of our lives? How can we even begin the conversation in those situations so overly charged with emotions and characterized by lack of trust?

The conversation should always begin with God and it doesn’t require any special skills in diplomacy. Don’t flatter yourself. When it comes to sin, you’re not that special. You’re not an exception. God won’t overlook your particular immorality because He owes you a favour. Neither will He be surprised by some indiscretion you believe is beyond the pale of normal transgression. He has seen it all and nothing escapes Him. Confess your sins candidly to God. God can see you “under your fig tree”. And to His eyes we are covered with less than fig leaves. The Scripture says, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”4

When we are gathered in His presence we have special opportunity to be tended to by the Physician of souls. You see, dear friends, it’s not necessary to keep pace with every movement and transition of the Divine Service. We’re not talking here about an excuse for being inattentive in church. We’re speaking of authentic acknowledgment of specific need. When the question is asked “Do you confess that you have sinned, and do you repent of your sins?”5 It will be a very worthwhile use of time to present to God just one issue that particularly troubles your conscience.

Yes, the Bible frequently addresses sin categorically, calling for comprehensive repentance. But it also targets our temptations and transgressions beyond mere knowledge of what qualifies as sin. This is essential for our wellbeing and the reason why the Ten Commandments are specific. For example, we live in an over-sexualized society and the world condones everything from adultery to homosexuality to promiscuity. What do the Scriptures say? “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”6

You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. God purges your house of sin so that He can take up residence. You, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…”7 Construction of our spiritual frames will continue for as long as we draw breath. But the promise of the resurrection awaits us. Today Jesus said to Philip, “Follow Me.”8 It is the call He issues to all of us. But how do we do it? What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to heed His word. “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.”9 Following is simply an activity of faith. Faith is not a sedentary reality. It is always in motion. Following involves the daily struggle with sin, of bearing the cross, of baptismal living. It’s a Spirit-led journey. It’s not trouble-free, but it’s not a lonesome journey either. It’s while we are engaged in the activity of following that our faith is strengthened. Usually our faith just need be sufficient for the daily grind. Sometimes it needs to carry us through exceptional circumstances.

Martin Luther had this strength of faith most of the time. But it wasn’t a gift he took for granted. Vibrant faith can only be maintained through continual contact with the word. The word of God was continually on his lips, in his mind, and on his heart. The word of God is to be heard, sung, read, prayed, studied, and meditated upon. The word is the power in baptism and in Holy Communion. Without the word we have no saving knowledge of God, no access to Him, no comfort from His promises. Recall the situation with Samuel today, “The boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”10 We note the significant detail that the word of the Lord was rare. Prophetic communication was very infrequent at that time. But remember, they still had the Scriptures. They had God’s promises in the books of Moses. Yet, very few were listening. Faith diminishes in direct correlation to lack of contact with the word.

How strong can faith become? Think of Abraham who was prepared to sacrifice his own son! Why? The Bible says, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”11 Dear friends, don’t fret if you feel your faith is weak. It doesn’t depend on you, but on Christ. What the Saviour says to Nathanael He says to you, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”12 He opens heaven for you. Heaven itself! He didn’t do it with cleverness or thrift. He didn’t bulldoze His way in. He did it with sacrifice. He did it with humility. He died the death we deserved so that we can live the life we could never earn. He was crucified. He was buried. He was raised to life to open heaven. Heaven is open for you when His word of forgiveness settles into your heart. Heaven is open for you when you take His body and blood upon your lips. Heaven is opened for you in the remembrance of your baptism. You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s name protects you. It strengthens you. It gives you identity.

The One who Samuel longed for is the One who Nathanael saw. In the season of Epiphany, the Spirit fits us with the eyes of faith. Like a diamond in the rough, the presence of Christ is light, joy, hope, and strength among us in a perilous world. His one task- to open heaven- has been accomplished. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday After Epiphany
14 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:51 2 John 14:6
3 Romans 3:4 4 Hebrews 4:13
5 Lutheran Hymnal, p.6 6 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
7 1 Peter 2:5 8 John 1:43
9 John 10:27 10 1 Samuel 3:1
11 Hebrews 11:19 12 John 1:51

Andrew Voigt Funeral 12 January 2018

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 3:17
Theme: He Came To Save

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is infinite compassion. He is unlimited mercy. He is unconditional love. Now, if these claims were made merely based on human speculation they would carry very little weight. Wishful thinking does not determine reality. Naive conjecture does not establish truth. But these claims are made on the basis of God’s intervention into human existence. He left the lofty heights of holiness and descended to our milieu of darkness and dissidence. Positivity cannot overcome death. But Christ can; He did. When the sun rose on Easter morning He was not in the tomb.

Andrew Voight was baptised on the 1st of April 1962. April 1st is the date for Easter this year. The resurrection of Christ was no April fool’s joke, and neither was Andrew’s baptism. Baptism is a promise God makes to a believer. But it is not a casual promise expressing mere interest or fondness. It is a holy covenant a merciful God makes with a helpless sinner. It is an unmerited, life-imparting action of the Holy Spirit. It brings the spiritually dead to life. It is the basis of the ongoing identity a member of God’s family has with the Heavenly Father.

Can the blessings and inheritance of baptism be rejected? Of course! God’s love is often spurned. The beneficiary of any estate can refuse to receive his or her allotment. But the intent of the giver is not thereby jeopardized. God never fails to uphold His oath. His attitude does not change. He does not become fatigued, confused, or disinterested. God desires at all times to give life, love, and forgiveness. Jesus reintroduced life into a dying world. The Bible says, “The LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you… ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.”1

Now, if we don’t see that we all need this life-giving love of the Saviour, then we don’t really believe that we are sinners and that we are mortal. And to us the patient Lord says, "Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.”2 The heavenly Father is always waiting with open arms. The Scripture says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”3 But death could not hold Him.

No one can walk in another man’s shoes. Sympathy, yes. Empathy? Well, empathy implies a shared experience and the overlap of shared experience has its limits. Mortals can resonate with the experience of other mortals, they can rejoice, they can grieve but only One, the Immortal One can truly empathise. Even those of you who knew Andrew well know that you cannot live some else’s life for them. You can advise. You can support. You can pray. And you can lie awake at night fretting, but each of us has our own journey and only God knows it fully.

Grief is a pain like no other. Who dares to tell Chantelle or Preston that they know how they feel; that everything will be okay? Yes, we may say it in a rush to offer comfort, but good intentions cannot heal raw wounds. The most striking example is that of Job. Having lost everything, his friends came to comfort him. The Bible says, “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”4 Seven days of silence. Seven days to simply reflect on the depth of grief Job was experiencing. Seven days of respect to honour the magnitude the loss. Seven days of acknowledgement that mortality is utterly beyond human control. How long did Job grieve going forward? For the rest of his life. But he did not lose hope. He looked forward to the resurrection.

If, as Christians, we don’t believe that God can raise the dead, then we don’t believe in much that’s ultimately important. The apostle Paul says it this way, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished... But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”5 A dead Christ is no good to us. History has a long list of martyrs we can venerate. But we have a living God. Death could not bind the crucified Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”6 Again the apostle says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”7 And, once more, the Saviour, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”8

Life is precious. It can be filled with laughter one day and sorrow the next. Everything is finally perishable. But, one-day God will re-create and restore. Andrew is in God’s care. He left us prematurely. God must see to it. Nothing troubles him now. Our trust rests in the magnitude of God’s love. He sent His Own Son to the cross because of His love for every human soul, Andrew included. Or comfort rests on that promise. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Funeral of Andrew Voigt
12 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Deuteronomy 4:31-32 2 Joel 2:12-13
3 Romans 5:8 4 Job 2:13
5 1 Corinthians 15:17-18, 20 6 John 11:25
7 1 John 5:11-12 8 Revelation 1:17-18

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Baptism of Our Lord (B) 2018

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Genesis 1:1
Theme: “In The Beginning”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”1 It is, of course, one of the most important sentences ever spoken and ever written. The subject, the object, and the verb comprise such fundamental realities that they encompass all existence. Christ wasn’t a spectator at creation. Jesus is the Word through which the Father brought creation into existence. The eternal, almighty God brings into existence, from no pre-existing materials, all things that exist. The truth is so essential that the Bible re-emphasises it many times. “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”2 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”3 And, therefore, the church throughout the ages confesses, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”4

This truth cannot be proven by any means available to us, though it can be said to be self-evident. But it cannot be disproven either. Every proposal to explain the existence of the universe apart from God is a theory based assumptions that cannot be proven. Much confusion and anxiety, contention and strife exist in the world today because we’ve lost sight of what it means that the world was designed with purpose. We’re not part of a mass of random chaos with no inherent meaning. We are not accidental by-products of mindless forces. God created Adam and Eve in His image. They were orientated towards Him. The image of God was lost in the fall into sin. Every expression of sinfulness that exists today; greed, selfishness, dishonesty, violence, sexual immorality, idolatry, abuse, cold-heartedness, all transgressions of all the commandments, are evidence of humanity’s estrangement from the Creator. We’re not exempt. We are called to repentance. The answer is certainly not for humans to forge their own way-to construct their own definitions of reality- the answer is to find the way back. Jesus Christ came to do just that. He came to find sinners. He came to rescue them.

At the beginning of a new year it’s good to be reminded what a central place the gospel has in our lives. Yesterday was Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation or “showing forth”. The season of Epiphany highlights those events in Jesus’ life which show Him to be the Son of God and Saviour of the world. These include prominent miracles and the fulfillment of prophecies identifying Him as the Messiah.

Jesus’ public ministry begins with His baptism. It was an event that called to remembrance the creation account in the minds of those who witnessed. The Father identified His Beloved Son. The Spirit descended. Promise and hope were renewed. The Child of Bethlehem now begins the journey to Calvary. John had the privilege of baptizing Jesus. But why was He baptized? He didn’t have any sins to confess. He wasn’t conceived in original sin. He wasn’t estranged from the heavenly Father. Jesus was baptized as part of His substitutionary work for us. It was part of His solidarity with sinners.

The way in which Jesus began His public ministry should not have been a surprise to anyone who knew the Old Testament Scriptures. The prophets had foretold it. He came calling people to repentance. He came announcing judgment against sin and offering atonement for sin. He came as a bearer of light in a dark world. He came redeem. He came to restore. He doesn’t preach a generic message. He doesn’t talk about possibilities or even probabilities. He doesn’t make suggestions or timidly float ideas. He doesn’t put out surveys or form focus groups. He’s not a consultant, an analyst; even a therapist or a coach. Rather He boldly, passionately, and fearlessly teaches and lives the message of God’s holy presence that has come in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus. Only He lived in perfect obedience to God’s law. Only He was capable of answering Satan’s accusations. Only He was worthy to atone for the sins of others. Only He could meet death and overcome it.

Dear friends, that means that Christ isn’t someone that anyone has the option to come to terms with. Everyone’s eternal fate lies with Him. Those who finally reject God’s saving work in Christ will suffer everlasting separation from God in torment. The Bible calls that reality hell. People will still go merrily on their way in life keeping God at arm’s length, or remaining ignorant or defiant. But the Shepherd keeps seeking the lost sheep. The Holy Spirit is armed with the forgiveness of sins that is so desperately needed. There is no sin so big that Christ’s sacrifice does not cover it. Conversely, no transgression is so small that God simply overlooks or ignores it. God never turns away the penitent soul. The death of Christ on the cross atones for every sin and it atones for the curse of being separated from God. Forgiveness involves the assurance that our relationship with the Father in heaven has been restored.

Baptism is a personal epiphany for the believer. In this divine act of being received into the fellowship of the kingdom, the sinner is now revealed also as saint. Condemnation is turned to commendation. The frozen soul is warmed to life. Baptism gives us continual access to the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Every time the Holy Spirit works repentance in our hearts and we receive His absolution we are living in the dynamic of our baptism. Jesus’ first publicly recorded miracle in the Book of John, was turning water into wine. That may have just been a glimpse of a far more important revelation of Himself when He offered His body and blood to His disciples in Holy Communion.

As we move into a new calendar year we can be certain that the blazing torch of God’s love leads us forward. At the baptism of Jesus heaven was opened. He opened again the way to Paradise. In the beginning God created. He created so that His life could be shared. We are privileged to benefit from His life, renewed in the sending of Jesus. Today the Father said to the Son, “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”5 Because the Father looks at us through the lens of the cross, He is well pleased with us too. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Epiphany
The Baptism of our Lord
7 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Genesis 1:1 2 John 1:3
3 Hebrews 11:3 4 The Nicene Creed
5 Mark 1:11

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Jean Hentschke Funeral 4 January 2018

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 14:3
Theme: At Home With The Shepherd

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jean Hentschke has received the crown of everlasting life. The weight of her mortality has been lifted. She has been released from all the consequences of sin. That means she has no anxieties or cares. Nothing troubles her at all. She is at peace. Most importantly, her soul is in the unmediated presence of the holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. She is in the company of saints and angels. She is with her Shepherd. She dwells in His house forever. Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love!

Jean and Glen had Psalm 23 as their wedding Scripture. It begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”1 Jean correctly understood that to mean that the Lord was her shepherd in prosperity and in adversity. She had a close relationship with her Saviour. She was not a fair-weather follower, nor did she know Him to be a half-hearted Lord. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me.”2 And that’s how it was with Jean.

We are gathered here now with the opportunity to hear God’s powerful Word and reflect on what mortality means. We have opportunity to pause and consider that life is fragile. It is fleeting. Nothing is guaranteed in this temporal sphere. We have no entitlements. In a list of topics people are most likely to avoid, mortality ranks right at the top. It’s not a mystery why. We naturally shun things that are particularly fearful or distasteful. And what is more distasteful than death? What threat is greater. We don’t like to be reminded of our limitations.

So, a Christian funeral is an occasion for grieving, for giving thanks for blessings shared with the departed loved one, and for self-reflection. God calls us from our selfish, sinful ways. He calls us from our obsession and preoccupation with fleeting things. He calls us from our attitudes of indifference and arrogance towards others. He calls us from doubt and scepticism. He calls us to repentance. And it’s only in the humility repentance brings that we can see things from a different perspective, with the Spirit-given eyes of faith. We can see that every day is a gift.

Jean was a genuine gift. She was a genuine person. She was a straight shooter. She didn’t try to keep up appearances. She could be forthright, but she was respectful. She wasn’t fickle, and you usually knew where she stood on disputable matters. She was familiar with the rigours of farming in the Mallee. She suffered the grief of losing a child and her husband, but she pressed on, grateful for the Lord’s blessings. She honoured a Sunday as a day to be in the Lord’s house, not allowing other activities to take pride of place. The rhythm of her week was set by the order of God’s love. Jean was devoted member of the St. Peter’s Ladies’ guild and supported it passionately. In these things she was well-grounded, and they were expressions of her faith. Family was important to her and she was always concerned for everyone’s well-being.

Jean was person who appreciated the gospel and what it really meant. Death is the arch enemy, over which, we have no power. It takes no prisoners and plays no favourites. You can’t negotiate with it. You can’t outwit it. That’s why the Scripture says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”3 How is this done? Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”4 Christ came down to live in the trenches. He immersed Himself in all the fragility of people’s lives. Their muck, their filth, and their dirt stuck to Him. He carried it all the way to the cross. The Bible says, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”5 Christ became the greatest sinner for us! The profundity of that truth is right at the heart of the gospel. Jesus suffered so that we might be spared.

Dear friends, there are no shortcuts to heaven. Jean knew this. You can’t forge your own path to get there. You can’t choose your own means of transport. That is, you can’t be carried to heaven in a vehicle called piety. You can’t ride the bus of popularity. You can’t be chauffeured in by your charm or generosity. There is no taxi for those who are more honest, upright, and righteous than others. You cannot buy your way in, bribe anyone or trick God. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”6 People are saved by grace, trusting in God’s mercy for Jesus’ sake or they are not saved at all. Jesus took our place on the cross. He died the death that we deserved. He paid the price of our debt of sin. He freed us from just condemnation. He bore Satan’s accusations so that we could be acquitted. Death could not hold Him and now He lives eternally and will one day come again in glory.

Grieving is probably a little easier when we feel the person has reached a certain age. But, it’s a loss nonetheless. Nothing fully prepares you for it. When we lose a loved one we lose a little piece of ourselves, a piece of our lives. Still, when a believer dies, we can confidently rejoice. The Scripture says that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents, how much more so when they are received into eternal glory! That truth is what lifts our hearts even in the midst of sorrow. The Holy Spirit leads us through the temporary fog of grief to the bright, clear, and certain permanence of the resurrection. How brief is the struggle and long is the bliss!

The Lord was Jean’s Shepherd. He protected her. He provided for her. He comforted her. His promise to her in baptism has come to fulfillment. His words have come true for her. “I will never leave you or forsake you.”7 And again, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”8 And again, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”9 Jean Hentschke was called home for Christmas and we raise our Hallelujahs because she is with her Lord. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Jean Hentschke
4 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 23:1 2 John 10:14
3 1 Corinthians 15:26 4 John 10:11
5 2 Corinthians 5:21 6 John 14:6
7 Hebrews 13:5 8 John 10:27-28
9 John 14:3

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year's Eve 2017

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: 1 Peter 1:23
Theme: Life in the Living Word

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”1 That Scripture intends to give us enduring comfort in an environment of change. Another calendar year has passed. It has been filled with joys and griefs, achievements and failures, realised hopes and shattered dreams. To some, it’s a year to be forgotten. Good riddance! To others it was a year to be cherished- something to be savoured for a long time. For some, important milestones were accomplished. For others, the year may seem to have cruised by without anything too noteworthy happening. Such lack of excitement may be just what the doctor ordered!

The end of a calendar year is a good opportunity to take stock. It’s beneficial to reflect on the passage of time and try to wrap our minds around what it means for our individual and communal existence. With each passing year there is a cumulative collection of experiences to assess. Grieving is part of stocktaking, but so is giving thanks. The Scriptures call us beyond a parochial view of our lives and the world. We’re not to look only at our personal prosperity or adversity. A biblical worldview sees the presence of the living Christ in a dying world at the heart of all things.

So, how do we understand this fleeting time we have on earth and the role we have? The Holy Spirit gives us some clarity through the apostle’s words this evening, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’”2 He calls us to repentance, reminding us we are sinners, reminding us we are mortal. In contrast, God’s truth, and those saved by it, will endure.

There is a call to earnestness throughout the Scriptures. Paul writes, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”3 And John says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”4 We should not assume that Christ’s Second Coming is a long way off, or that we’ll live to a ripe old age either.

Consider briefly what a relative reality human lifespan is. Noah’s Father Lamech was 182 years old when Noah was born5. Noah was 600 years old when the flood came6. That cataclysmic event radically diminished human lifespans. Still, Moses was 80 years old when he led the Israelites out of Egypt7. In contrast, some human lives never escape their mother’s wombs. And yet, because with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as a day8, each life is exactly as valuable to Him as the value of the life of His only-begotten Son.

Knowing this, Peter said earlier in his letter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”9 And what is this inheritance that is kept in heaven for us? It is life in abundance. It is the life we already have through the gospel. We receive it in the promise of forgiveness. We receive it in the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. When we receive these gifts, time becomes irrelevant because we are at the threshold of eternity.

Above all, the good news of the crucified and risen Jesus is what we prize as we move into a new year. We can never understand it too well or prize it too highly. The world, even those who are well-meaning, always have a different message, a different “gospel”. The true gospel, the Christmas gospel, the Easter gospel, the good news of Immanuel, God-with-us is NOT located in human effort to be more kind, tolerant, and loving. The gospel is not human obedience or piety. The gospel is not human striving against selfishness and greed. The gospel IS Christ for us, on our behalf, and in our place. The gospel is Christ among us as Absolver, as Defender, as Comforter. The gospel is the declaration of righteousness to sinners for the sake of Jesus’ sacrifice. The gospel is the announcement of freedom from divine condemnation. The gospel is thoroughly and unequivocally God’s activity through Christ and in Christ. Of course, transformed and renewed human hearts and lives are fruits of the gospel. They are evidences of the Spirit’s work.

Dear friends, we are fellow heirs with Christ. That is a spectacularly amazing reality. It wouldn’t matter if we ended the year without a single material possession, without any real prospects of prosperity, without any hope of keeping up with the Joneses, every believer is still rich in the only way that matters. The newly baptized infant benefits from the inheritance in the same way as the mature believer. When our mortality is fully realised only one possession matters, it is the possession of being possessed, as the Scripture says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”10 Come what may in 2018, you are still His baptized. Satan cannot take that away from you. He can throw a tantrum or a fit. He can devise a deception or plan an insurgency, and he most certainly will try, but he cannot take by force or trickery what the believer possesses by divine right.

New Year is also a good opportunity to reflect on our callings. We all have vocations. These vocations are gifts from God. We are husbands, wives, parents, children, grandparents, and siblings. We are employers, employees, students, and retirees. We serve in our communities in various capacities. It is a privilege to serve God in these ways. We are living stones in God’s temple.

How will 2017 go down in history? And what about in the bigger picture? Will historians be kind in their descriptions of life in the era in which we now live? What distinguishing descriptives will be used? Will we be described as shallow, spoiled, or erudite? Will we be known as fighters, quitters, or peacemakers? Will we be credited as innovators, or scorned as arrogant? Will the achievements of our age pale in comparison to other eras? And what about the spiritual state of affairs? Statistical analysis will tell one story, anecdotal evidence another.

In just a few hours we will step forward into a new year. (Well, some of us may be lying flat on our beds!) What will The Year of our Lord 2018 hold for us? We don’t know. Possibilities, fears, and excitements all lie before us. But we step forward bathed in Easter’s glow. It is humbling to think that all of our glory perishes like mown grass in the summer sun. But how magnificent to know that in the resurrection we will experience a glory that we can’t even now imagine! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

New Year’s Eve
31 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 13:8 2 1 Peter 1:23-25
3 Romans 13:11-12 4 Revelation 1:3
5 See Genesis 5:28 6 See Genesis 7:6
7 See Exodus 7:7 8 See 2 Peer 3:8
9 1 Peter 1:3-4 10 1 Corinthians 13:12

Sunday, December 31, 2017

First Sunday After Christmas (B) 2017

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 2:29
Theme: “Released In Peace

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The certainty of God’s love is never in doubt. It cannot, however, be verified by human measurements. Often it may seem that God has turned away or is inept. Only the eyes of faith see Him during times of adversity. Even Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem can appear pretty unimpressive in spite of the sentimental applause it garners. But remember, Jesus’ identity is underpinned by countless miracles, and finally resurrection from death. Christ brings the great reversal of the spiral into sin and death. His presence brings light, and joy, and peace.

Today the Christmas story progresses. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews. They took the baby Jesus to the temple according to the custom. He was received there by Simeon and Anna. They had long awaited the fulfillment of the promise. The world has now come to expect the advent of the next big thing; a ground-breaking technology or a life-changing innovation. New medical breakthroughs, new fashions, new entertainments, and on and on it goes. But the next big thing has already arrived and nothing bigger will ever come. Simeon and Anna understood this. Faithful servants, they were blessed to see Jesus, the Suffering Servant.

From the Spirit-inspired lips of Simeon we have a liturgical song of praise that has long held a prominent place in the church’s liturgy. The “Song of Simeon”, or, in the Latin, the “Nunc Dimittis”, is the believer’s response to having received the same divine blessings that Simeon and Anna enjoyed. Sung, after communion in the Divine Service, it expresses thanksgiving for having received Holy Communion, which carries the fulfilled promise of the coming Jesus. The emphasis is on peace. “LORD, NOW let your servant depart in peace according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation…”1

As in baptism and absolution, we receive the fulness of God’s love in Christ. You see, Christ is not present with us in a piecemeal fashion. We don’t get little bits of Jesus here and there, sometimes getting forgiveness, other times getting hope, and still other times strength. Yes, as mortals, we can only receive in finite measure. We have limited capacities. But God is not limited and it’s a great encouragement for us to understand that. The entire Christ, God and man, with all His gifts and all His blessings, the infant of Bethlehem and the Creator of the universe, the One who died and the One who lives is present with us according to His promise.

Now, to be sure, He attends to us according to our needs and our capacity to receive. Otherwise we would be overwhelmed by His majesty. To one He gives hope, to another, strength against temptation. The person racked by doubt seeks fortification of his faith. The person burdened with regret seeks relief from her guilt. Those living in fear need the certainty of divine protection. The living Christ grants all these according to the need. And, God always speaks to us according to our eternal need. This is so because God is always true to Himself. God does not see myopically, think short-sightedly, or fail to consider all the necessary parameters. He suffers no ignorance so there are no variables He needs to consider. He knows all things, and most relevantly, He knows we are sinners.

Because we are sinners He must speak to us His word of rebuke as well as His word of grace. The smug, idolatrous heart has no desire for a Saviour. Therefore, the law of God speaks not only to our reason, our intellects and wills; it speaks to our hearts. It’s an important concept. Consider how the Lutheran Confessions correct the common falsehood that we can be saved by our good efforts. “Here the scholastics, having followed the philosophers, teach only a righteousness of reason, namely, civil works, and fabricate besides that without the Holy Ghost reason can love God above all things. For, as long as the human mind is at ease, and does not feel the wrath or judgment of God, it can imagine that it wishes to love God, that it wishes to do good for God's sake. [But it is sheer hypocrisy.]”2

You see, the word of the law cannot woo the heart, it cannot transform it, because the law does not forgive, it does not show grace It cannot. No one can know the favour of God through the strength of the law. No one can be assured, therefore, of God’s acceptance of them based on their obedience. Trying harder or giving more effort, striving to be more pious or generous...it’s like trying to steer the Titanic away from other icebergs when it is already sinking.

Remember, the purpose of the law is to drive us to repentance but never to despair. The Scriptures are full of examples. Two will suffice. “The LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground”3 “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." “Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.”4 Cain’s mark was a warning to others and it helped to protect him.

Or consider the case of David, the adulterer. Nathan said to David, the self-righteous King, “You are the man!”5 And through these words the Holy Spirit did not commend him; the Spirit convicted him. Yet, it was not to drive him to despair. Soon the word of absolution came, “You shall not die.”6 So we see with what precision the Holy Spirit works, like a master surgeon. It is the same way with us. He seeks to purge us of our hypocrisy, idolatry, and unbelief, but always with the purpose of restoring us.

The law is not the final word of God. Of course, if in arrogance and unbelief, people reject the work of the Holy Spirit, they will be left under the condemnation of the law. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. But the Scripture says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”7 And today, “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law…”8 When the nails were being driven into the cross there was an echo ringing through the halls of hell. Satan knew he was finished. The plan of salvation could not be derailed. The light of Easter was waiting to burst through.

Christmas is the fulfillment of centuries of expectation. In a manger the immortal God took to His possession a fragile human body. In so doing, He made possible the redemption our bodies condemned to die. The body of Jesus was never relinquished. He possesses it now in eternal majesty. It is the same body conceived in Mary’s womb, crucified under Pontius Pilate, laid in a tomb, and raised in glory. His bodily resurrection is a preview of our resurrection from the grave. The great day of the resurrection will be our full experience of Christmas. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Christmas
31 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 LH, p.20 2 Book of Concord
3 Genesis 4:9-10 4 Genesis 4:12-15
5 2 Samuel 12:7 6 2 Samuel 12:13
7 Romans 8:1-2 8 Galatians 4:4-5
9 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Nativity of our Lord- Christmas Day 2017

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 1:4
Theme: The Word of Life

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“Do not be afraid,” said the angel to the shepherds. It’s common to fear the unknown. People resist change because they fear things they have never experienced. “Better the devil you know,” says the common proverb. Even in a world in which we are trained to relish the newest, and the latest, and the greatest, the wisdom of experience teaches us to be wary. There are dangers. The Bible says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”1 Often the biggest changes bring both good and bad. Remember what fears there were when television was invented. Many said it was tool of the devil. Well, they were right. But it’s also been a very helpful technology- a gift from God. The same goes for the internet. Or, think of medical science and its benefits to humanity. But it also makes evils such as abortion and euthanasia much easier to carry out.

And, what about God Himself? What changed when Christ was born? Christmas is a mystery that is right at the heart of the Christian belief. In a manger God exists in the frame of an infant. That’s a lot to take in, like musing on the Trinity or trying to wrap your mind around eternity. Christianity is a monotheistic faith. There is one God, but He exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is the creator of time and He dwells outside of it. Heaven won’t be measured by the passing of time.

Now, here in the lap of Mary is the Lord of heaven and earth! Our nativity gospel says it this way, “The Word became flesh, and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”2 And Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”3

Christmas brought new life into a world of death. Each of us needs that new life breathed into us. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”4 Christ is the new Adam. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”5 “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”6 The implication is that apart from Him there is death. Spiritually, all people are conceived dead and separated from God. There’s no life or goodness within us.

The Lutheran confessions say it like this, the “Scripture denies to the intellect, heart, and will of man every capacity, aptitude, skill, and ability to think anything good or right in spiritual matters, to understand them, to begin them, to will them, to undertake them, to do them, to accomplish or to cooperate in them as of himself.”7 It’s a damning assessment.

Now it may at first seem deflating to learn that we are completely spiritually inept, completely at the mercy of God. It certainly is a blow to the ego which always claims some goodness within our natural selves. But once we understand what Christ has done it is the most liberating thing in the world. We are freed from the intolerable burden of being “good enough” for God. It’s a deception of the devil to believe the way to godliness is to be just a little nicer than the next person. Much of the false philosophy of the Christmas season revolves around the assumption that during the “festive season” we are capable of being a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more thoughtful than we are during the rest of the year. Firstly, what does this say about our behavior during the rest of the year? Secondly, the assumption is patently false. Prodding an unwilling participant to be more righteous only makes them a hypocrite. “If we all just try a little harder the holiday season will be more pleasant for everyone,” is NOT the Christmas gospel. Jesus came to forgive sins, not to indulge our inadequacies.

How important is the incarnation? You cannot be saved apart from the flesh of the Son of God. You cannot be rescued from the peril of hell without the bodily sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His physical resurrection from the dead. Your relationship with the heavenly Father, established by His promise to you in baptism, maintained by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is only possible because the Word became flesh. It is truly a divine activity. Therefore, the church, the worshipping assembly, is more akin to a craftsmen’s workshop or a hospital than a social club. We’re not here for polite social interaction, but as holy subjects of a mysterious, merciful, and magnificent God. We are, as saints and sinners simultaneously, welcomed right into the holy of holies.

In the conception in the womb of Mary, in the person of the baby Jesus, God and man are united. Here we have the basis and the parallel for the mystery of Christ’s presence in Holy Communion. A sacramental union takes place in which the bread and wine are united with the body and blood of Christ. The substances of bread and wine remain after the consecration, but Christ is then truly present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. This is truly one of the great mysteries made possible by Jesus’ incarnation. Christmas is most tangible to Christians year-round in Holy Communion. In the Supper, Immanuel, God-with-us meets us and we partake of His divine blessings.

This Child was born for you. He lived for you. He died for you. He rose from death so that you might share in His life. There is absolutely nothing aloof about this Saviour born in Bethlehem. In a shelter for domesticated animals He becomes fully immersed in human vainglory and misery. The humble circumstances of His birth were an indicator of the excruciating manner of His death. At the manger the cross was already in view. He was born with a purpose. Satan tried with all his might to derail the plan. But his schemes were defeated. He rose again from the grave.

The mystery of God in human flesh, the mystery in the manger, the mystery about which the angels sang, the mystery of this Messiah who is, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,”8 is not a mystery to be feared. At least, not in the common use of the word. Holy, reverential fear is, of course, very appropriate. The Creator of the universe came to redeem the human race.

There may be many things that cause you fear or anxiety. Perhaps it’s hard, even to prioritize them. Christmas may even be a disappointment; an occasion of unrealized hope in regard to a fractured relationship or a long-held burden. Our Immanuel does not overlook these struggles. The angel’s message is for us, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”9Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Thessalonians 5:21 2 John 1:14 3 Hebrews 1:3
4 Genesis 2:7 5 2 Corinthians 5:17 6 John 1:4
7 FC SD 522:12 8Isaiah 9:6 9 Luke 2:10-11