Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Funeral for Clyde Manuel (18 September 2017)

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

Text: Matthew 28:18
Theme: All Authority To Save

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Clyde, John, Barry, Robert, Trevor, Kevin, and especially you, Cora;

There’s no preparing for the surreal-ness of death. It hits us with mysterious, inscrutable perplexity- even when we “expect” it. Only through the promises of God can the shock be properly absorbed. Christ has overcome death and He has the final word. Humans will always have questions about the circumstances of dying. Why now? Why in this way? Why so much struggle or so little? Why so much pain or hardly any at all? Why seemingly unnecessary drama or not more warning? Why did it drag on or why didn’t we have another chance to say goodbye? The questions are valid, but we can only peer so deeply into the wisdom of God. Every death is a reminder that we are only mortals and we should be prepared to depart this life at any moment. Clyde’s death was a blessed one; quietly….in the night. He has now been received into the eternal paradise of God. Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love.

We’re not gathered here today under false pretenses. We’re not here to whitewash Clyde’s life history; to build him up in death into something he wasn’t in life. We’re here to recognize the reality of God’s work in the case of one specific man and reflect on what it means for us as well. It wasn’t altogether easy to convince Clyde to do something he didn’t want to do. Cora could tell us a few things about that; the boys too. You can try to topple a steam engine off its tracks, but you’ll need a few friends. But we’re here because the strength of God always reaches beyond human weakness and the compassion of God extends beyond human comprehension.

We might say that spiritually, Clyde was somewhat of a late-bloomer. It’s not a recommended example to follow. But no one can say Clyde wasn’t mature when he was baptized. Some might wonder if Cora finally wore him down? But those in the know understand it was nothing to do with her nagging, and everything to do with her faithfulness. God was working through that. Once you pass 70 years of marriage you probably know whether pressure is going to work or not. My part in the process spanned only ten years. Some careful conversations were had around the topic. Clyde taught me the wisdom of knowing when to stop and when to explore a little bit further. I hope you noted the wording in the obituary. Clyde “requested to be baptized”. It wasn’t a rash decision. He didn’t make it on whim or under duress. The full consequences of baptism are now his eternally.

So what counts is God’s perspective on the matter. Clyde was tenacious. He was persistent. But no one can outlast God or wear Him down. People may die trying, but it’s all in vain in the end. God draws us with a tireless, thoughtful, and genuine love. The Good Shepherd searches for the one lost sheep. You can’t outrun Him, or outwit Him. And you cannot hide. He knows how to warm the coldest hearts, soften the toughest exteriors, and cut doors into solid walls of pride. God doesn’t coerce or intimidate us, but the Holy Spirit is resolute in convicting us of our sins and Christ is absolutely unwavering in His attentiveness. The Scripture we heard earlier sums it up well, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”1

Raising five boys while farming in the Mallee was no easy task. Clyde was generous and helpful with his neighbours. He had a sharp wit, a good sense of humor, and loved a good joke. He was blessed to be a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather- if he had lived any longer…. who knows? But Clyde was still a sinner in need of God’s grace. In that regard, he was no different than any of us. Placing ourselves completely at the mercy of Christ is the only way to God’s favour. Sin cannot be excused, denied, or negotiated. It can only be repented of. Salvation is by grace, through faith. There is no other way.

Clyde has no worries now. For us, there’s grieving left to be done. It’s not something to be made light of, avoided, or denied. But death has no final power over believers. We feel sorrow but we are not in despair. The Scripture says, “We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”2Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies.”3 And again He said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”4 That authority was proven by His crucifixion and resurrection. His death was the sacrifice for your sins, mine, and Clyde’s.

It’s okay for family members to feel relief when a loved one dies, and not only when they’ve enjoyed exceptional longevity. The stresses of coping with frailty become cumulative. Uncertainty weighs on our hearts and minds. So, relief is not an incongruous emotion at the time of grief. Cora, Clyde’s journey here has ended. All the challenges you tackled together, the joys, the sorrows, the difficult times, and the times full of laughter, all form the collection of memories of your shared life. Death brings an irreplaceable loss. Life will not be the same. No one can understand exactly how radically your life will change. When a believer dies, one piece of the body of Christ transitions from the temporal to the eternal. The church is collectively diminished in the here and now, and we all suffer that. But in the bigger picture, the kingdom is increased.

So, the magnificent thing about Christian truth is we don’t have to get caught up in the melancholy of looking back. We look forward with great anticipation. Clyde is absent from our lives, but he is present in a more important place. He is in the presence of the Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, angels, and believers who have gone before. He’s not bothered about the trivial and mundane details of our lives. He awaits the bodily resurrection of the dead, but his soul already enjoys a profound peace and bliss which we have no applicable words to describe. The Scripture simply says, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”5 And that we will see God “face to face”6

Clyde was blessed to have his mental faculties right to the end. He knew what was going on. Think of what it means that he’s now been released from all the limitations of sin! He has been crowned with life. He is home. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of (Edwin) Clyde Manuel
18 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 8:38-39
2 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
3 John 11:25
4 Matthew 28:18-19
5 Revelation 21:4
6 1 Corinthians 13:12

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 18:27
Theme: “He Forgave The Debt”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is merciful. But no one plays Him as the fool. Jesus vividly illustrates these truths today in response to Peter’s question about the limits of forgiveness. In the parable, the greater debtor is pardoned but doesn’t extend the forgiveness to a fellow debtor who owes far less. The man in question owed 10,000 talents to the king. One talent was equal to about 20 years’ wages for a common laborer. A blue-collar worker might only earn two talents in a lifetime. But this man owed ten thousand talents, the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars. Hopelessly indebted, he could never repay the king. The Holy Spirit wants us to understand that spiritually, we are hopelessly indebted also.

In contrast, a fellow servant of his owed him a hundred denarii. A denarius was about a day’s wage. It was not an insignificant amount for someone who lived at that income level. But in comparison to what was owed to the king it was miniscule. It wouldn’t even be taken into account in financial insolvency negotiations. So, the hypocrisy and cold-heartedness of this debtor is dramatically revealed. Graciously pardoned, he refuses to show compassion to a fellow debtor. His ruthlessness does not go unnoticed. His actions are promptly reported to the king. The king then renders the punishment that was due him. Note that both pleas are the same, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you.”1 The responses, however, are diametrically opposed.

The history of humanity is one long saga about the need for reconciliation, the need for pardoning of debts. Not, of course, that sinful human beings necessarily see it that way. If people don't realise something is broken they won't seek to fix it. How many marriages, business partnerships, and general friendships have come to a sudden and surprise end for one party or another because they didn't know the relationship was broken! Sometimes ignorance is the cause, other times denial, and in other cases the self-absorption is so extreme all perspective is lost. Most important is a clear understanding of the need to be reconciled with God. Sin separates us from Him. Our debt is enormous. Forgiveness is a necessity. Ignorance is no excuse. Consider what the apostle said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.”2

If forgiveness was easy it wouldn't require divine facilitation. The Son of God did not come to mend things that were not broken. He did not come to pay debts that we could handle on our own. Christ was committed all the way to death on the cross. He humbled Himself beyond human capacity or understanding. Mending seriously damaged relationships requires commitment. Shattered trust is not rebuilt overnight. How could early Christians forgive Paul after his ruthless persecution of the church? How could Jacob forgive Laban for cheating him out of his wife? How could Joseph forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery? How could David forgive Saul for trying to put him to death? How can we forgive those who have hurt us deeply? We cannot do it under our own power. The Holy Spirit must carry a burden that’s too heavy for us to bear.

When someone seeks forgiveness from us we do not have the option to deny them. If we do, we are essentially claiming jurisdiction that belongs to God alone. That is the meaning of the central part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”3Even if we suspect the request for forgiveness is compromised by hypocrisy, we still give the benefit of the doubt. Even if we wonder about the authenticity of the repentance, our gracious willingness to forgive may soften the heart of the one who has sinned against us. It’s never our place to seek restitution or revenge. Civil authorities have that responsibility. Spiritually, our desire for retaliation must be left in the hands of God. The Scripture says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”4 And again, “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”5

Dear friends, forgiveness is not only relevant for the life hereafter. It governs all of our relationships. Why do we cherish the institution of marriage- husband and wife united together- and support the expression of sexuality within those parameters? Why do we value life from the time of conception to the time of death and seek to support those who are in the most vulnerable conditions? Why do we seek to speak truthfully to and about our neighbour, not gossiping or slandering? Why do we strive to protect and support our neighbours regarding their possessions and livelihood? Paul says today not to “quarrel over opinions.”6 Our concern is authentic, genuine love, not trivial matters. The Ten Commandments are not arbitrary demands, they are parameters of love. They take us beyond ourselves. Think of what the apostle said, “None of us lives to himself, and none of dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”7

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”8 These aren’t just words, He is the merciful one par excellence. From the cross the Man who is perfect love said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”9 What does the Scripture say about Stephen when he was put to death for the faith? “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”10 The Psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.”11 And the Lord says through Isaiah, “God has blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”12 God announces this forgiveness to you publicly, clearly, and definitively in the absolution in the Divine Service. The Holy Spirit showers you with this forgiveness in your baptism. Jesus dispenses this forgiveness to you through His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Dear friends, God has forgiven us a debt that cannot be measured or valued. What price can be placed on an eternity in God’s presence? How can we make a valuation on rescue from hell, protection from Satan, and triumph over death? It’s exactly the incomparableness of God’s mercy that Jesus is illustrating today. The debt has been paid. The punishment has been taken. Jesus Christ was crucified for us. He is risen. We have no encumbrances. God is always merciful. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
17 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 18:29 2 1 Timothy 1:15
3 See Matthew 6:12 4 1 Peter 4:8
5 Colossians 3:13 6 Romans 14:1
7 Romans 14:7-8 8 Matthew 5:7
9 Luke 23:34 10 Acts 7:60
11 Psalm 32:2 12 Isaiah 44:22

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 12:14
Theme: Sealed With Blood

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is ageless. The Holy Trinity IS eternally existing life. Jesus extends God’s immortal life to believers. Christ isn’t constrained by time and neither is His word. The progression of years that we experience doesn’t cause His memory to fade or His blessings to diminish. The kingdom of God is marvelous because it is incomparable. It’s history never becomes obsolete because it is an unbroken chain of life. God is the God of the living, not of the dead.1

Today God tells the Israelites to remember their deliverance from bondage. The reason wasn’t simply historical and certainly not sentimental. It was indicative of their future and their new identity. It was a celebration of life. Blood would be the requirement for the ultimate deliverance: From the slavery of death. The angel of death passed over because God’s people were sealed with blood. The meaning of the Passover remains significant.

Lamb’s blood over the doors of their houses was the sign. Now, of course, it’s not that God needed this mark of identification so as not to make a mistake. God knew exactly who the Israelites were. The benefit was for the people, not for God. It was not a time for doubting, second-guessing, or divided loyalties. God would render judgement against the idolatry of Egypt. It would require a radical reprisal to force Pharaoh’s hand. But the Israelites would be spared God’s righteous indignation.

On what basis is the wrath of God turned away from us? How can we be sure His condemnation is no longer directed to us? The Scripture says that believers “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”2 A propitiation is a sacrificial offering that appeases the divine wrath. God is not arbitrarily angry. He is just. And in His justice, He punishes sin. Unforgiven sin separates from God.

The Israelites became so disillusioned wandering in the desert they wanted to return to the oppression of Egypt. "Better the devil you know than the one that is unfamiliar." It's never easy to leave one's comfort zone. We all have a lot of Lot's wife's blood running in our veins. We like to look back. When the present seems too challenging or the future too uncertain, we're tempted to long for what was. Our priorities become self-absorbed instead of focused on our neighbours and their well-being. Derailing our priorities is one of the devil’s more successful tactics. In an old recipe book for preparing rabbit, the first line of the description reads, “First, catch the rabbit.”

Dear friends, salvation in Christ means that we leave the past and its baggage of sin behind as the Spirit draws un into the future. The Scripture says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”3 It says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”4 And again it says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”5

But the old self always likes to reassert itself. The disparity between who we are in Christ- reconciled, liberated, restored, forgiven, holy, and freed from condemnation- and how we are in and of ourselves- selfish, broken, doubting, guilty, prone to sin, and vulnerable to temptation- is a paradox only the Holy Spirit can resolve. Living baptismally means always being in the fray. In Christ, we are free from the condemnation of sin, but not the complications. Repentance characterizes our struggle.

Maturity in the faith doesn't mean we need less forgiveness, but that we crave it more. As we grow in our faith, as it is tested and refined, we don’t become more spiritually self-supporting, we become more dependent on the forgiveness of Christ, more in need of the Spirit’s comfort. We don’t need less of the power of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we need more of it. We don’t move further away from our baptism, we move closer to it. We become less attached to the temporary things of this life and more connected with what’s permanent. Over the triple doorways of the cathedral of Milan there are three inscriptions spanning the splendid arches. Over one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, "All that which pleases is but for a moment." Over the other is sculptured a cross, and there are the words, "All that which troubles us is but for a moment." But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, "That only is important which is eternal."

Therefore, we cherish the blood of Christ because through it we gain entrance straight into the holy of holies. It is the price that ransoms us from the power of eternal death. It silences Satan. It gains us a hearing before the throne of grace. When St. John made his query about the white-robed martyrs he saw in heaven this was the reply, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”6 The Israelites were delivered from the ordeal of slavery, but sinners are rescued from the far greater crisis of death. It happens only by the blood of the Lamb.

But that blood is not only the historical substance of the sacrifice, it is also the gift in the sacrament. Holy Communion is strength for our new life. It’s a meal that is always a foretaste of the feast to come. At the Lord’s Table we dine not only with our fellow believers in the here and now, but with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the faithful departed of all time. At His altar, we remember the Passover as we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”7

Dear friends, the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt is the same God who rescued Noah’s family in the flood, called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, and established the lineage of David on the throne of Israel. The same God establishes His spiritual kingdom “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.”8 The kingdom was constructed on the blood of the Son of God. That will not change. It is our guarantee for all eternity. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
10 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Matthew 22:32 2 Romans 3:24-25
3 2 Corinthians 5:17 4 Romans 6:3-4
5 Colossians 3:9-10 6 Revelation 7:14
7 1 Corinthians 11:26 8 Ephesians 2:20

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Christian Burial of Linda Thiele (4 September 2017)

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

Text: John 3:16-17
Theme: Crowned With Life

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Linda, and especially you, Erica, Lorraine, and Irma, her daughters,

Linda Thiele understood the gospel. She knew she could not justify herself to the Almighty God. None of us can. She wasn’t laboring under the illusion that her efforts, good intentions, or integrity merited God’s favour. She knew her redemption was in the hands of Christ who came into the world not to condemn, but to save. If the virtue that Linda displayed during her 99 years didn’t merit the unlatching of heaven’s gates, then that probably leaves many of us in a precarious position. But comparisons won’t get us anywhere. Perfection is the mark. All fall short.

Linda’s faith was authentic. When the wife of the local pastor contracted glandular fever the congregation members rallied to her support. One Sunday after service I was greeted by Linda. She offered to help. Mind you, she was almost ninety years old already. Her hearing was very poor and though she was still mobile she wasn’t exactly agile. Linda wanted to know if she could come around and vacuum or cook meals. It caused an interesting little conflictive crisis for the pastor who was somewhat obligated to give a prompt response in the hearing of others. Images passed through my mind of my wife and I relaxing in the lounge room while this lovely elderly lady did the vacuuming and cooked us dinner! I prayed that she wouldn’t be offended when I politely declined her offer. Despite my refusal we seemed to get on just fine afterwards.

Of course, that’s nothing to brag about as it wasn’t too difficult to get along with Linda. It required exceptional impertinence to precipitate a row with her. Those who knew her in her younger years might know differently, but I’d be surprised! Linda’s capacity for hospitality was prodigious. Thoughtful and pragmatic she got on with the activities of life. But we’re not here to saint Linda. Christ has already done that. He did it already at her baptism and now she has received the full benefits of the accompanying inheritance. She is crowned with indestructible and immortal life. It’s not something she, or any other glorified believer possesses of their own fortitude or merit. That indestructible life is continually, and unfailingly extended to her by the magnanimous mercy of the triune God. He will no longer suffer being parted from His children. He delights in having them in His presence.

God had been preparing Linda for her reception into heaven for some time. She was well and truly ready to be home with the Lord. She wouldn’t have minded a letter from the queen, but she had no fears of a premature departure. She now has a seat with the King and has no fears at all. Her soul is in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saints and angels. Thanks be to God for the compassionate embrace of His love!

Every Christian funeral is an opportunity to properly reflect on mortality. Mortality is characterized by limitations. It is marked by decay, by injury, and finally, complete incapacitation. To be mortal is to be subject to obsolescence. Mortality implies eventual death. That’s why every contemplation of the meaning of death is also a call to repentance. There is, of course, great danger in denying our mortality. Denial doesn’t alter reality or stave off the inevitable. The Scriptures call us to be realistic without being morbid. But it’s also risky business to probe too far into the nature of death. Speculating beyond what God has revealed in His word can lead to all kinds of fears and falsehoods. Our own opinions about the afterlife and how we get there are easy to construct. But if they’re not founded on truth we’ve only built a house of cards.

Without the word of God, we do not have access to the Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit the heart, the will, and the conscience cannot be transformed by the grace of God in Christ. One of the most common misunderstandings about Christianity is that it consists mostly of following a code of morality. Dear friends, if that were the case there would be no need for Christ, no need for sacrifice, no need for the shedding of blood, no need for His crucifixion and resurrection.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself.1 He says, “In My Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with Me.2 Again, He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies.”3 Christ died and rose again for Linda. He died and rose again for you. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”4

There is no measure of moral virtue or devoted obedience that can cover the debt of sin. Christians are simply sinners who recognize their need for forgiveness, reconciliation, and salvation. Death is an enemy none of us can overcome. But Christ has. The gospel is not merely information. It is the power of God for indestructible life. The Scripture says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”5 So, we live simultaneously under the shadow of the cross and in the light of Eater morning.

Linda lived a long and full life. She persevered through the challenges of establishing a block and raising a family. She excelled at the vocations of being a faithful wife and devoted mother of three. She experienced the grief of several miscarriages. Yet her trust did not waver. Daily living changed dramatically during her lifetime. She lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Through it all Linda clung to the unchanging nature of God’s love in Christ. She worshipped regularly in God’s house. She received the blessing of holy communion. She supported the work of His kingdom.

Erica, Lorraine, Irma the grief you experience is a proper recognition of loss. Linda can’t be replaced. But, through the Holy Spirit’s comfort, your grief will be tempered by gratitude and moderated by joy. Where will the locus of your grieving be? Will it be at the cemetery? Will it be in the sharing of memories together? Will it be in places and activities associated with her? All have their role. Yet, the nearest you can be to Linda is in God’s house and at His altar receiving the gift of Christ’s body and blood. Linda, you see, is in the unveiled presence of Christ; the same Lord who meets us clothed in His word and sacraments. Linda is where she was always meant to be. She is safely in His eternal refuge awaiting the great and glorious day of the resurrection of all flesh. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Linda Anna Thiele
4 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 5:25-26
2 John 14:2-3
3 John 11:25
4 John 3:16
5 1 Corinthians 1:18

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 3:14
Theme: “I Am”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Moses was 80 years old when God called him through the burning bush. Imagine beginning the busiest and most difficult phase of your life at that age! He didn’t readily agree to the challenge, but God equipped him as needed. The rest, as they say, is history. And important history it is! The baby who was floated in a miniature ‘ark’ on to the Nile became the powerful deliverer who parted the Red Sea. The man who was cultivated in the school of Egyptian royalty brought freedom from Egyptian oppression. More importantly, he was a type, a foreshadowing, of the true redeemer to come, Jesus Christ.

The encounter at the burning bush reaches its apex with this conversation: “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”1 Here we are brought face to face with profound mystery. The Lord declares to Moses that He is the EXISTING God. He is the eternally living being. What Moses really needs to know is that God intends to save and not destroy. These truths are both a matter of faith and of future revelation.

How do we know God is a God of love? Can the empirical evidence prove He is not aloof, or whimsical, mostly uninterested in human affairs, or even inept? We observe as much disagreement, danger, and disaster in the world as we do unity, security, and goodness. There’s never any shortage of bad news for the media to report. The question of how a loving God could allow bad things to happen is always on the lips of skeptics. The query should not be brushed off as illegitimate. Life is seldom a series of harmless, positive, and stress-free events. Often the opposite is the case. How does God fit into the picture?

The reality of sin in the world is transparent for all to see. Danger, selfishness, harm, and pain are perpetrated intentionally by people against their neighbours and also cause much ‘inadvertent’ collateral damage. But it’s dangerous to generalize. God holds the mirror in front of us. How do we fair when we look honestly at our lives? What if others could read our thoughts or our hidden motivations? Do we make excuses for, or simply ignore our transgressions against God’s holiness?

We can fool ourselves. We can fool others. We cannot fool God. He knows exactly what our idols are. He knows precisely where our trust lies. He knows what motivates our priorities and informs our decisions. The punishment for sin is separation from God. Eternal separation is called hell. If hell doesn’t exist then Jesus is guilty of wild exaggeration, misrepresentation, or outright falsehood. He spoke of hell frequently.

How do we know God intends to save sinners who turn to Him and not destroy them? We know because of a single man who was nailed to a Roman cross. And that’s the only way we can know that God’s love is more than temporary providence; a kindly gesture to provide some necessary things during this temporal life. The question is not whether we can look around and find examples of beauty, virtue, and harmony in the world. We can because those things are part of the magnificence of His creation. But that cannot tell us if we have God who is willing to forgive our sins and spare us from death. It tells us nothing about facing mortality and the leap into the unknown. It’s not a question to be left to chance.

Thankfully, Jesus left nothing to chance. The plan of salvation was completely antithetical to human wisdom. Did it make any sense to wrap a crown of thorns around the head of Jesus? It certainly didn’t to Peter, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’”2 How could the Creator of the universe be subject to the humiliation of criminals? How could the Author of life be subject to the curse of death? Yet, that’s exactly what grace means: God sacrificing everything for us. That is the good news; the gospel.

You can spend a lifetime but you will never wrap your mind around what this grace means. You will never plumb the depths of it. Logic cannot come to terms with it and you will never circumscribe it with your intellect. But God wraps it around you. He encompasses the believer with the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection from the time of baptism. This power is the Spirit’s tool to work forgiveness and reconciliation in your life. It has the power to radically transform one’s heart, mind, and outlook. Loving the neighbour is no longer a matter of being guilt-tripped, and point-scoring with God, but of spiritual vocation.

Did Moses leave that encounter with God entertaining any ideas about how he would go out to build his personal career? Did he dismiss God’s claim on him as nothing more than a reminder to occasionally nurture the spiritual aspect of his life? Did he walk away ambivalent or apathetic? Hardly! His life was radically reoriented to the service of the living God. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”3

The closeness Moses had with God is well-documented. The Bible says, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”4 We must balance that with the fact that Moses was only allowed to see the ‘backside’ of God.5 It was a preview of greater things to come. “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”6 In Christ, we know the Father. And we know He desires to save, not destroy. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”7 It’s a timely reminder. Surely fathers need as much respect and support as at any time in recent memory. Fathers have the privilege of reflecting the gentle strength and genuine compassion of the heavenly Father.

So, Moses met the great I AM at the burning bush. He never looked back, only forward to the fulfillment. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”8 “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”9 “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”10 He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”11 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”12 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”13

The burning bush was an altar for Moses; a place of interaction with God. We have our burning bush too. Here, at this altar, the I AM meets us to bless us with His life. Here forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace are offered to you through His body and blood. Here the mystery, insofar as we can perceive it in this life, is revealed. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
3 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Exodus 3:13-14 2 Matthew 16:22
3 Matthew 16:24 4 Exodus 33:11
5 See Exodus 33:23 6 2 Corinthians 4:6
7 Psalm 103:13 8 John 10:11
9 John 6:35 10 John 11:25-26
11 John 14:6 12 John 8:12
13 John 8:58

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Funeral of Barry Thiele (August 28, 2017)

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

Text: 1 Peter 1:3
Theme: New Birth- In Heaven

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Barry, Michael, Lynette, and especially you, Kath,

Barry is at rest. His soul is in the presence of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is at peace. The authority to say that is based on the promise God made to Barry in his baptism. Baptism, you see, doesn’t require any certain level of cognitive ability. It only requires a beating heart and a living soul upon which the Holy Spirit can work. In baptism, the Holy Spirit promises to create spiritual life, He washes away the guilt of original sin, He makes an individual part of the family of God, and He promises the eternal inheritance of heaven. The fulfillment of those promises is what we recognize and celebrate today.

Baptism, of course, isn’t a magical or independent ritual. The power lies in the redeeming work of Jesus. He alone has the power to forgive sins because of His crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, He says to all who are reflecting on mortality, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.”1 He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”2 We need not fear even death itself, because Christ has shattered its power.

God gives life. He created it from nothing. He sustains it by His power and presence. Barry wasn’t expected to live. From a human point of view the circumstances were bleak. Arrangements were being made accordingly. It was shocking news for Kath and Keith. Horrifying! The prospect of a life ended before it began was dark and foreboding. Grief had already set in. But God had other plans. Barry had a life to live, a life to share, and a lot to offer. Why God allows disability is a question we cannot answer. We live in a fallen world. Yet, surely, we must be humble enough to accept that what we consider normal physical or mental capacity doesn’t prevent God from blessing those with other abilities or limitations. The stresses and anxieties we bear often do not worry them.

Imagine the effect Barry had on the staff at Minda Homes over those many years. The community there became his family. Imagine the love and joy he shared with the other residents. He couldn’t articulate what he was thinking, but expressions of love don’t require words. Barry treasured aspects of life that most of us take for granted. Barry certainly wasn’t taken granted by his Lord. Barry’s physical birth was difficult but that doesn’t affect the life of the soul. Remember the words of Scripture we heard earlier, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you.”3

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”4 Everything stands or falls with this promise. Grace carries us over the threshold and nothing else. Barry had neither a disadvantage nor a leg up in regard to being received into God’s presence. We are all sinners and only the undeserved mercy of God suffices. All of our material assets and personal accomplishments fade into the background. Only the merit of Christ matters.

Today we give thanks even in the midst of our grief. And we carry no false hopes about God’s intentions. Paul once wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”5 Dear friends, to grieve without hope is to feel the bitterness of separation without the expectation of reunion. It is to concede that the coldness of death is the final reality. Left to our own devices it is the conclusion we always reach. Death is a burden that is too heavy for us to bear alone. The Holy Spirit understands that. He reminds us of the empty tomb. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid…I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”6

Barry liked to go riding in the car. It seems that’s when he was most expressive with his emotions. Barry has now taken his final journey. Escorted by angels his soul has been transported into the presence of the triune God, the fellowship of the saints and the company of angels. He’s been released from every infirmity of body, mind, and spirit. He has no burdens, cares, or frustrations. He awaits the perfecting of his body and that great and glorious day of the resurrection of all flesh when Christ comes again in power.

Kath, it’s never easy when a child dies before a parent. It seems to subvert the expected order of things. But the compassion of God is not restricted by what we deem to be proper chronology. Barry has now received the heavenly inheritance that does not perish, spoil, or fade. He has been freed. He is embraced in the love of Christ and has a joy beyond our knowing. He is home and he has no regrets. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Barry Keith Thiele
28 August 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 14:1-2
2 John 14:27
3 1 Peter 1:3-4
4 John 11:25-26
5 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
6 Revelation 1:17-18

Monday, August 28, 2017

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

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

Text: Exodus 2:10
Theme: Moses In The ‘Ark’

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The biblical storyline is too candid to be suspect of fabrication. The frank descriptions of the faults and foibles of people and nations lends great credibility to the Scriptures. Today the saga of the saints continues. The ending won’t be written until Christ returns in glory. Joseph died in Egypt. He was embalmed according to their customs. More than 400 years later his bones were carried to the Promised Land, according to his own prophecy1. What key events occurred before his words were fulfilled?

The providence of God brought the Israelites to Egypt. In the land of Goshen, they prospered. When a new Pharaoh came to power that prosperity was the cause of fear. Had the Hebrews become too powerful? Would they join the enemy in a time of war? Concerns about the sovereignty of the nation were raised. The Pharaoh took action. The first decision was hard labour. It backfired. The second decree was infanticide. All the male newborns of the Hebrews were to be thrown into the Nile. Girls were exempt. The implementation was another matter, however. The Hebrew midwives named, Shiphrah and Puah, were evidently at the head of the obstetrics guild. How did they respond? The Scripture says, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”2

The decree previews that of King Herod’s 1500 years later. The parallels in the storyline of salvation are clear. Pharaoh wanted to weaken the vitality of the Hebrew population. Herod’s goal was more precise. He wanted to destroy the true King of Israel. Neither one was successful. In the first case, the infant Moses was protected and groomed to become the deliverer from Egypt. In the greater case, the baby Jesus would survive to become the victim of the cross. Tyrants of great power could not derail divine plans. Satan has his puppets, but God has His servants.

Things were going well for the Israelites, but times changed. Just as a new king arose in Egypt that did not know Joseph, so a new power is rising in the West that has waning interest in the of the faith of its forbearers. The secularization of society is happening at a rapid pace right before our eyes. How does God want us to respond? Paul gave this advice to Christians living at a very difficult time, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial (Satan)? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the Living God…”3 If we simply capitulate to falsehood and unrighteousness we make a mockery of God’s holiness. Some things cannot be reconciled…. They might find ways to coexist- and often they do- but black is not white and white is not black, wet is not dry and dry is not wet, light is not darkness, and darkness is not light, faith is not unbelief and unbelief is not faith. If they were, truth would have no real meaning.

But that doesn’t mean we separate ourselves from society or shun it. St. Paul also said, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world…for what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those who are outside.”4 So, we make distinctions. We strive to be in the world, but not of the world.

Christians have historically never been alarmists. There are always fringe exceptions, of course. The world is corrupted by sin. Tangible and substantial consequences result. We expect that self-interest will lead to a desire for power that departs from the law of God. Many expressions of lawlessness and tyranny are inevitable. The Scriptures don’t advise us to panic or bury our heads in the sand. The God who created the universe knows well enough how to manage human schemes that presume autonomy. Pharaoh thought he was a god on earth. He was soon shown the limits of his strength. The power structures of every age are subject to the higher authority of God. Jesus said to Pilate “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above.”5 That truth still stands. It is why Christians are not pessimistic doomsayers.

Remember, dear friends, what the Lord said today, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”6 Jesus is not talking about a particular congregation or church body. Christianity has essentially ceased to exist even within whole nations. We have no special status or protection because of our location or the era in which we live. North Africa used to be a stronghold of the Christian faith and now it’s been almost completely wiped out. We dare not think we could be an exception. The sinful human nature is always prone to reassert its idols.

Yet, here is the unbreakable promise about the church from the Lord of the church. The Bride will not be parted from the Bridegroom. Satan will not prevail. The church will be attacked from within and without, it will be vexed and flayed, persecuted and punished, but it will never be completely destroyed. The fortress will not be breached because God is in the midst of it7. Christ has already been raised from death. He will not submit to it again. He has broken its power.

The crucifixion was an assault on all the autonomous power structures of the world. The power of sin was demolished by the sacrifice of the Innocent One. Christ destroyed the eternal punishment of guilt due to you, me, and every sinner. We need never despair. We are His baptized. The day will come when the sun will not set. That is the lens and prism through which we view and assess everything in the world. The cross takes every sinful, selfish, skewed, and imbalanced perspective, filters out every poisonous illusion, and realigns it to the clarity of truth in Christ. The Holy Spirit does that through the word. The crucified and risen Jesus is not frightened by the dark specter of the world. He is your Shepherd; the good One. He is your Saviour; the gracious One. He is your Brother; the gentle One. He is your bridegroom; the faithful One.

God cherishes life. Moses was placed in a small basket and floated onto the Nile. The Hebrew word is the word used for ‘ark’. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Moses had a tiny ark. Noah made a bigger one. The tiny one saved the future deliverer of God’s people in the time of their bondage. The bigger one saved the entire human race. The church is sometimes referred to as an ark also. In it we are saved from drowning in sin and death and transported safely to the port of heaven. We should never underestimate what God can accomplish even in the most unlikely of circumstances. The cross and empty tomb prove that. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
27 August 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Exodus 13:19
2 Exodus 1:17
3 2 Corinthians 6:14-16
4 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 12-13
5 John 19:11
6 Matthew 16:18-19
7 See Psalm 46:5