Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Genesis 32:30
Theme: Face To Face With God

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The ways of God are often mysterious to the ways of men. God had plans for Jacob. His way of preparing Jacob for the tasks ahead was extraordinary. Near the ford of the Jabbok he grappled with the Almighty. The encounter is enigmatic, to say the least. It involves a long night of wrestling with God, a dislocated hip, a blessing, and a change of name. The meeting happens at a time of vulnerability and tension. Jacob is about to face his twin brother Esau, whose potential wrath has filled him with great angst.

Jacob spends the night wrestling with God in prayer. We are not privy to the exact nature of the struggle, but it’s clear that it was no nightmare or bad dream. Jacob was a man of faith and was seeking confidence from God in the tasks that were before him. We do well to consider that Jacob was wrestling with the pre-incarnate Christ. Referred to sometimes as the Angel of the Lord and at other times as a man, Jesus was actively involved in the narrative of the Old Testament. Consider St. Paul’s comments on the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”1 Nevertheless, it’s difficult to wrap our minds around this event. It will remain to us an encounter shrouded in mystery. The deepest truths of the faith are beyond human comprehension.

We would be on the wrong track if took from this event the idea that we need to wrangle with God to acquire His favour. We don’t need to wrestle with God to receive a blessing. Christ has already done all the work of mediation. He has struggled with the divine plan to the point of death. We have no leverage with which to negotiate with the Father. Jesus has it all. His death and resurrection put an end to the struggle for divine approval. He now makes intercession for us before the throne of grace.

It doesn’t mean our lives are exempt from trouble, however. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Our lives are precious to God now, not just at some point in the future. We are citizens of heaven but we still live in the fallen world. The struggle against temptation is one no one can avoid. Satan doesn’t sleep. He works tirelessly to lure us away from God’s kingdom. He plants seeds of doubt and stirs the pot of discontent. The apostle reminds us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”2 The Holy Spirit must do all the heavy lifting. But we’re not simply puppets or spectators. The struggle is within us and within our relationships. We are baptized for a purpose. We are living stones in His living temple. He nourishes us with holy food in which He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies3.

We do have a struggle. Not with God, but with the world, the devil, and our own sinful natures. Therefore, the Scripture encourages you to be persistent in your prayers. Be genuine, heartfelt, transparent, even raw and expressive of angst. God doesn’t command us to pray and promise to hear for nothing. It’s not a joke or a hoax. Jacob’s determined wrestling with God should remind us of the parable of the persistent widow who kept pestering the judge for justice. Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off?”4

Be candid with your repentance too. Imagine how many confessions have been made to the Almighty God. Imagine how many cries of repentance and pleas for mercy have reached His ears! And yet His does not make light of a single, whispered petition of the soul in need. He does not neglect the frail or faint of heart who are too weak to shout their appeals in full voice. “A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”5 Know, too, that there is nothing you can confess to God that will surprise Him. He’s heard every act of violence, hatred, treachery, falsehood; ungodliness and unrighteousness of every sort. He’s heard confessions describing sins of weakness, sins of ignorance, sins of selfishness; sexual sins, cold-hearted sins, mean-spirited sins, all sins of commission and omission.

And still, God authorizes your pastor to publicly declare His divine pardon to you. Think of what promise is made to you in these words! “I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you, and on behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”6 Think of the authority behind this promise! The God of Jacob stands behind it. The God who parted the Red Sea, dropped mana from heaven, and thundered from Mount Sinai sanctions it. The God “who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all”7 endorses this promise. This pledge is not substantiated by a trail of words but by the shedding of blood in sacrificial love.

Jesus is more than a well-intentioned friend. He is more than a life-coach or support resource. He is even more than the Suffering Servant and Son of the Father. He is God in human flesh. The Scripture says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”8 And again, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”9 He sends you His Holy Spirit. He demolishes the schemes of Satan. He defies the power of death. In this certainty, we can rejoice even in our sufferings. Paul had had his thorn in the flesh. Jacob had his dislocated hip. Both were scars from God. They were marks of mortality. They were gifts too. They were gifts of the Almighty reminding these saints of the sufficiency of grace. He gifts us with scars too. They identify us as God’s children.

God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. It wasn’t merely a nickname or an alternative way to refer to Jacob. It would become the collective name for God’s covenant people. Abraham was at the head of the ancestry, but Jacob was the one who would bear the name of the nation. The place of the encounter received a name too. “Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’”10 God had plans for Jacob. He has plans for you too. In Christ, the Spirit shows you the face of God. In Him you have life. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
6 August 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 10:3-4
2 Ephesians 6:12
3 See Psalm 23:5
4 Luke 18:7
5 Isaiah 42:3
6 LHS p.7
7 Romans 8:32
8 Hebrews 1:3
9 Colossians 2:9
10 Genesis 32:20

Monday, July 31, 2017

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Theme: Kingdom Parables

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jesus said, “This is how it will be at the end of the age.”1 He said it in the context of teaching parables. The reality we now experience will undergo radical transformation at the coming of Christ in glory. But the seeds are already being sown and bearing fruit. The leaven of God’s grace is already working through the dough. The parables are all emphasising the same truths. The kingdom of God cannot be presented in a single analogy. The parables of the hidden treasure and the valuable pearl teach the incomparableness of God's kingdom. His love is so deep and His grace so profound they exceed all earthy points of comparison. God Himself gives up His very own Son so that He may possess us as His treasure. Just as God Himself remains incomprehensible, the scope of His kingdom is beyond our grasp. But the Holy Spirit gives us images, insights, and understandings.

Looking forward to the restoration of all things is part of Christina hope. In heaven, all relationships will be reconciled. All creation will be in complete harmony with God. When we reflect upon the astounding richness of life on our planet, it shouldn't be hard to picture a heavenly paradise that's even more vibrant. The Almighty's creation has been subject to decay since the Fall, and still, it's a magnificent tapestry of colour, coordination, and communication. And as technology, and the means of studying things become more proficient and precise, we're finding the universe (from the very large to the very small) to be more mind-boggling than ever. The conviction that the universe is self-organised, a result of random forces, becomes less convincing with every discovery that is made. The more we learn, the more evidence accumulates that points to a purposeful Creator. This should not be a surprise for Christians. We believe that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

The God who created us is more than capable of providing for us. That is why Jesus comforts us saying, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”2 Seeking the kingdom always involves seeking truth. Jesus tells us to seek righteousness. Like yeast in bread God transforms us from the inside. Genuine repentance means the heart is mended first and our actions follow.
Good intentions do not necessarily lead to godly outcomes. The old adage is: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The will of God always takes precedence over the rules of men. Constructing our own truths will not only fail to resolve the issues that trouble us, it will invite the judgment of God.

Seeking the righteousness of God is not a pie-in-the-sky platitude. It involves struggling with the leaven of forgiveness in our relationships. If God has forgiven a sin, who are we to retain it? By what authority can we hold a grudge against a repentant person when God has commanded us to forgive? Do we not at the same time make a plea and a promise when we pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us?" Do we sit in the judgment seat of God? The question is rhetorical. Of course, the command to forgive and the transformation of the heart are not one and the same. The wounded heart does not easily warm again to the one who caused injury. Repeated offences leave deeper scars. Our selfish natures want revenge, not pardon. We want our pound of flesh.

Dear friends, people who cannot come to terms with the possibility that the grace of God in Christ can and does extend even to the most degenerate sinner, unwittingly exclude themselves from the purview of God’s forgiveness. We are each accountable to the Almighty and none of us is a position to quantitate the transgressions of others. We cannot restrict the forgiveness of God to those we deem undeserving. Do we falsely think it’s easy to remain spiritually humble? The sins of greed, or lust, or selfishness might seem easy to recognize within ourselves. But do we think we can judge someone’s repentance more accurately than God can? Thanks be to God that He has placed all judgment into the hands of His Son! Only in Him can justice and mercy be kept.

We can be pressed very hard in the struggles of life. The temptation is always there to give up or give in. We may become fatigued with unreconciled relationships or resentful about hardships or missed opportunities. Yet the Christian is never without hope. The parables teach us God is at work. Christ is hardly out of resources, determination, or ability. He is faithful to us because He is true to Himself. His love does not fail. It could hardly be proclaimed any more passionately than Paul does today in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “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.”3

When Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”4 He wasn’t speaking in riddles. He wasn’t illustrating a parable. In the most graphic, forthright, and tangible way possible He was making it clear that His death was a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. The message of the cross does not lend itself to speculation. In the end, it is either ridiculed as foolish idealism or believed as the one necessary and complete act of salvation. Many great plans in the history of the world have ended up being all talk and no action. It’s not the case with our Saviour who walked out of the grave defying death’s power. He has been given all power to intercede for His church and to rule it with love.

Our gathering here is a fellowship in that love. Here we share in the holy blessings of God. We do it in reality and in truth. We are real sinners meeting with the living God. Our sins can only be crucified by Him who was crucified for all. We’re not here to discuss theories about parables. We’re in the kingdom of light and truth and hope. Think of the blessings we receive in this place: the forgiveness of sins, heavenly mana, and the strength to live the baptismal life! The action of receiving holy communion is an act of proclamation of the sacrificial work of Christ. The apostle says, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”5 This meal is not only a remembrance of an event, it is a participation in the life of God. In Christ shadows become substance and parables become reality. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
23 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 13:49
2 Matthew 6:31-33
3 Romans 8:38-39
4 Luke 23:34
5 1 Corinthians 11:27

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Genesis 28:12
Theme: Stairway From Heaven

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The patriarch Jacob “had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”1 The event is recorded by the Holy Spirit through Moses in Genesis. The interpretation comes through Jesus when speaking with Nathanael in John chapter one. “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”21

Now, that would seem to be a very strange thing to say out of the blue. But Nathanael knew the context. He had been looking, searching, waiting, expecting. Philip had just approached him saying, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”3 This Messiah now spoke to him. What does a movement of angels commuting on this Divine conduit between heaven and earth mean? How do angels traverse that threshold? They are not omnipotent. They don’t do it under their own power. They do it under the power and prudence of Christ, in whose authority they joyfully serve.

Jacob saw the preview. Nathanael would see the fulfillment. But Jacob was not thereby deprived of any of the blessings. “When Jacob wake up from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’”4 Note that Jacob did not say, “Surely God is in this place.” For Jacob knew that the omnipresent God, the God’s whose existence permeates everything and everyone was undeniably there. But Jacob said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place.” Yahweh was the personal, covenant name God used with His people. Jacob knew that the God of salvation history was speaking to him. God’s presence everywhere prevents the universe from collapsing. Only God’s presence for you in Christ prevents the disaster of eternal separation.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” How many come to God’s house still today and leave unaware that God is present! How many undervalue, often quite innocently, the purpose of this gathering! How many mistake it for a consultation with the nurse rather than going into theatre with the surgeon? How many believe it’s like a news briefing (say, of political events) rather than a session of Parliament? How many think it’s like going to a library to brush up on historical events, rather than going to the forum where history is being made? How many mistake it for a civic-like gathering, a support club, rather than understanding we are gathered as the family for the dispensation of the eternal inheritance? How many mistake it for viewing a commercial advertising junk food, instead of having a place at the royal banquet? The house of God is the theatre for heart surgery, the forum of Divine council, the marriage feast with heavenly food.

Dear friends, God IS in this place. But He is not here in a generic way. The Bridegroom meets His bride here. The Father embraces His children with His love here. The Holy Spirit clothes us with the armor of God here. Right here, at this altar, Christ hosts us with His body and blood. In the means of grace- the word, baptism, and holy communion- the events of redemption become and remain contemporaneous for us. As to its efficacy, time has no effect on God’s word. When we are blessed with the forgiveness of sins and the peace of God that gives comfort to our souls, it doesn’t matter if the death and resurrection of Christ happened two millennia ago or two days ago. Time is no barrier. The vibrancy and intensity of God’s compassion does not wane. His passion never diminishes.

At Bethel God made this promise to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.”5 Yahweh would see things through to completion. The certainty that God is faithful in His promise to you is your baptism. Now, of course, the power that makes your baptism anything more than a symbolic ritual is the crucified and risen Jesus. When we doubt whether God is serious about His love for us the Holy Spirit reminds us of the full scope of the biblical witness culminating in Jesus’ sacrifice for us and our promised resurrection to life in heaven. Still, the initial point of reference is our baptism. From that point of entry, we are privy to the fulness of God’s grace.

Life wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for Jacob after he encountered God at Bethel. In fact, his life was filled with intrigue, treachery, disobedience, and drama. He was still a sinner and lived among sinners. He died in in Egypt, not in the promised land. Yet, he clung to God’s promise. He believed God was at work in the bigger picture. He knew he was only one cog in the wheel which is the communion of saints down through the ages. He prioritized his life accordingly. He still made foolish, selfish, and unwise decisions. He struggled in repentance and faith. God was still his Deliverer. He knew he was part of the inheritance.

Dear friends, nowhere does God promise our lives will go smoothly either. Nowhere are we pledged a prosperous, stress-free existence if only we obey Him. God doesn’t bless us for being obedient any more than He does unbelievers. Those who follow the law will reap the benefits the law offers. If children honour their parents according to the Fourth Commandment, or spouses cherish each other according to the Sixth Commandment, or people speak truthfully to each other according to the Eighth Commandment, they will generally benefit from these actions. Unbelievers can do this too even without recognizing the authority of God. Yet they still benefit and their ultimate motivation is to benefit themselves. God doesn’t bless us with spiritual treasures because we are faithful. He blesses us because Christ is faithful. We cling in faith to that truth, and then even the worst hardships become blessings in Christ’s name.

The Scripture says, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph.”6 The story of faith is the story of the church. The church is a remarkable, illogical, miraculous tapestry of lives of faith woven together by the Holy Spirit. It transcends time and space. Whose shoulders did Jacob stand on? His father Isaac, His grandfather Abraham, through the generations to Noah and back to Adam. Still to come were Moses, Elijah, David and Isaiah before the Messiah would make His appearance. And now we have 2000 more years and countless Christians whose lives are part of the weave. Does that mean we stand closer to God? Was Jacob grasping at shadows while we are illumed by the full light of Christ’s presence? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. The proximity of His righteousness never vacillates. But we do see more colour in the tapestry which is the church than Jacob did. Those who come after us will observe even more richness of complexity.

Christ is the stairway from heaven. We don’t need to climb up to Him. We can’t. He comes right down to our level. He stepped onto the ground so the avenue to heaven could be re-opened. He even descended to depths from which we could never return. In the incarnation Jesus descends into our humanity. He takes on flesh. The Creator visits His creation. We receive the Child of Mary in blood, bone and flesh; living, breathing, healing, and absolving. God comes down to His people as He always has. You cannot fall so far that you will not land on Christ. He is deeper than your sin. He is brighter than your darkness. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
23 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Genesis 28:12
2 John 1:51
3 John 1:45
4 Genesis 28:16-17
5 Genesis 28:15
6 Hebrews 11:20-11

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Romans 8:1-11
Theme: Life In The Spirit

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not the static backdrop of Christian consciousness. Christianity is not a drama now played out on the stage of human achievement with images of a martyred hero forming the backdrop for the set. The events of the atonement are not merely historical points of reference which inform a common interest. The crucified and living Jesus is the active power- the existing authority in the present time- that subdues the nefarious evils of sin and death. Dear friends, believers are not simply enthusiasts of the way of Jesus, we are temples of His living presence. God is not out there. He is right here; present among us and in us through His word and sacraments.

His presence means we are not alone, we are not autonomous, and we are not self-determining. It means our greatest foes are outmatched and our greatest fears will never gain the upper hand. The inspired apostle says today, “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 from the law of sin and death.”1 Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”2 Yes, believers are freed from the eternal guilt of sin. But that doesn’t mean we’ve been given license in the meantime. We are freed from the dominance of our own selfishness in the here and now.

The mind set on sinfulness cannot coexist with a heart of faith. Our Scripture says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”3 No amount of coercion can change that reality. Threats do not change the spiritual attitude of the heart. Fear often achieves conformity. Intimidation can be used to restrict any number of behaviours. But coercion never changes desires or motivations. It can only lead to hopelessness or self-righteousness. A study of a large number of heart by-pass patients found that after 2 years, eight out of nine people still hadn’t changed to a healthier life-style. Even the threat of crippling disability or death did not drive them to change. The truth applies spiritually. The law of God will not change our hearts. It will reveal our sinfulness, our shortcomings, and our need. But we go our own stubborn way until the gospel makes intervention into our lives.

And, intervene it has! The crisis of sin was resolved by a singular event, at a specific time, in a precise way: Jesus, the Christ, was crucified on the altar of the cross. In that event of redemption and in nothing else- not in the combined efforts of believers across the centuries, not in the good intentions of individual sinners, not in the tolerance of the Father of transgressions against His holiness, not in the deepest yearning of troubled souls- was the forgiveness of sins secured. Only the shedding of His holy blood reopens the gates to Paradise. At the cross Jesus took possession of our sins. They are His. He stands accountable. Christ has made you an heir of His heavenly kingdom. The certainty of this inheritance is given to you every time the promise of forgiveness rings in your ears. A foretaste is given to you every time the body and blood of Christ is taken upon your lips. At your baptism Christ took jurisdiction over the consequences of your sin and He promises to keep you separated from the punishment those sins have merited forever.

Satan pretends he can offer us an inheritance too. He promises us freedom from God’s tyranny and the liberty to do as we please without consequence. He woos us with the temptation that we can have our cake and eat it too. He deceives us with the idea that we have the ability to manage the effects and consequences of sin. Thus, sin appears to be no real threat and is not pondered until mortality is faced. When Satan tries to get into your head, point him right to the cross and say, “I am baptized!”

The sinful nature is a past identity no longer applicable to our new life in Christ. We are clothed now with His royal robes of righteousness. Our filthy rags have been thrown out. Dear friends, God doesn’t transform our sinfulness, our selfishness into something useful or godly (certainly He does bring good out of sinful circumstances). God doesn’t renovate our sinfulness. He crucifies it. He puts to death evil desires, designs and deeds. The Spirit does this individually within the believer. The struggle against temptation continues while we still draw breath, of course. It is real and the Holy Spirit must lead us in this battle. We are not spared this struggle. We are sanctified through it.

The way of godliness is not a future undertaking but a present exercise. The Bible doesn’t present us with a surreal dichotomy between the physical and spiritual worlds. The heavenly state of bliss is not a platonic idealism, that is., it is not a purely spiritual state of existence. It is not a state of mind. St. Paul is not speaking here of some separation between mind and body, as if, the more enlightened Christians become the less important physical reality becomes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The spiritual resurrection of the believer now means he or she can now understand the material world from a proper perspective. Christian truth is grounded in realism. It is incarnational. Christ was born of Mary. We are reborn of water and the Spirit. Yes, it involves mystery. We cannot comprehend the Holy Trinity. We cannot grasp the meaning of grace with our reason or senses. We cannot program how the Holy Spirit works. Miracles must be left to God. But remember, miracles are only such from human perspective. From God’s viewpoint, all His works are ordinary exertions expressing His purposeful love.

We live with apparent contradictions; paradoxes. We are sinners, but also saints. We are spiritually resurrected, but the decay of death accompanies our every thought and every move. The Scriptures are clear that there can be no final amalgamation between good and evil, between faith and unbelief, between hatred and love. Darkness cannot coexist with light. The final separation of good and evil, life and death, sin and grace in the collective dimension results in heaven and hell. There will be no eternal mingling between the holy and the profane. Heaven is the gift of the Saviour. Hell is the choice of unbelief. Heaven is an always an inheritance. Hell is always earned. Heaven is always gifted. Hell is always merited. No one earns their way to heaven. No one has hell foisted upon them. God might be doubted, reviled, or ignored. But who else would we want to have charge of the universe? He has taken our death that we may share in His life. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
16 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 8:1-2
2 John 8:36
3 Romans 8:7-8

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 11:29
Theme: Soul-Rest

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The gospel is a burden to no one...ever! The apostle says, “His commandments are not burdensome.”1 Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”2 Anyone who perceives, feels, or considers the promise of good news in Christ to be burden is not hearing the gospel. There are many reasons this happens. It might be because the conscience doesn’t want to recognize the guilt of sin which only Christ can remedy. It might be because the heart is set on taking credit for its own deliverance. It might be because the will is too stubborn or apathetic to take seriously the truths of mortality and eternity. The fault does not lie with the Holy Spirit, who clearly proclaims to us through the Scriptures: Jesus is not a new lawgiver, He is the Saviour. He does not give burdens, He takes them.

Jesus spoke to the habitual complainers today. In response to the malcontent of the crowds, Jesus quotes conventional wisdom. He denounces them for being like children playing in the streets; never satisfied, always changing the rules to suit their own advantage. There was no pleasing those who closed their minds to the message of God’s kingdom. John the Baptist was a strict ascetic. He didn’t indulge in the finer things of life. He didn’t recline at the table at anyone’s banquet. And yet, some accused Him of having a demon. Jesus dinned with tax-collectors and Pharisees. He healed lepers and prostitutes; and yet was accused of being a glutton and drunkard. Jesus was approachable to everyone in every circumstance, yet for those who wanted to silence His message and His mission, it was never good enough.

Discontent is a particularly unattractive feature of human nature. It is prevalent because it is one of the most common expressions of sinfulness. It easily becomes an habitual way of thinking and acting. We’ve all said or heard something to the effect, “There’s no pleasing him.” Or “There’s no satisfying her.” People held captive to this perspective often enjoy wielding judgment over the ideas or actions of others. It’s usually seen by them as a tool of empowerment. We’re all prone to it. In reality, an attitude of continual complaint only fosters unnecessary resentment and damages the well-being of the complainer.

Those on the receiving end become weary. The effects are cumulative. All consequences of sin are. Christ offers relief to the truly tired soul. What causes true weariness of the soul? It is caused by loss of hope that the present can be redeemed. It is caused by lack of confidence that the future can be better. Lethargy of the soul results from carrying a weight that only God can lift. Unforgiven sin will always burden the conscience. It makes us restless. David poured out his heart to God saying, “When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”3 The heart cannot be at peace when sin remains unresolved. The conscience is restless. The mind is distracted. The soul is burdened. Unbelievers can go on their merry way without the resolution of sin, blissfully unaware, but for Christians everything in life is liable to become a chore.

People are seeking rest. They are seeking rest from the relentless pressure of political-correctness. Failure to identify with the views of the political elite risks marginalization and censorship. Fatigue in public engagement is the result. People are seeking rest. They are seeking rest from the rat-race of the world. Over-scheduled, over-committed, running on adrenaline, they are fatigued from the pressure to meet the expectations of others. People are seeking rest. Scarred from fractured relationships, carrying the burden of resentment, they are fatigued from the brokenness of marriage and family. The list could be multiplied endlessly.

Jesus offers rest for the soul. What kind of rest is He speaking of? He is not talking about sleeping longer, taking a holiday, or finding a less demanding job. These might be helpful adjustments in our lives but they don’t address the core need. Christ is more than a listening ear, a kind word, and a gentle embrace. He is our Sabbath-rest. The grueling, exhausting, punishing work of atonement is finished. The demand of justice has been satisfied. Jesus has accomplished it. We didn’t lift one finger to help. There is nothing we could contribute. He bore all the weight. He carried the entire burden. The exhaustion of bearing the weight of sin was fully and finally relieved at the cross. The yoke of oppression was lifted.

You are gifted with His rest. You are baptized into the power of the living God. No matter how great the darkness which encompasses you; the light of Christ will pierce it. No matter how ugly your past record of sins is; Christ has wiped the ledger clean. No matter how many failures you have accumulated or promises you have broken; the Saviour makes restitution to the full. Regardless of your fears or anxiety for the future, the reigning Christ will deliver you from all evil. The blood has been shed. The ransomed has been paid. He has tasted death for us. You are cherished. You are freed. The risen Christ prepares your place with the Father and sends you His Spirit.

Your citizenship in the kingdom of heaven gives an entirely new perspective to your vocation in this world. You are not simply a moral or ethical influence; you possess an eternal hope to be witnessed by unbelievers. It’s fitting to ask ourselves why we do what we are doing? What is the purpose of our various vocations? Is our only goal in life to make money? To make a living? Is it to build our bank account, our reputation, or our image? Is our vocation as husband or wife, parent or child, employer or employee mostly self-serving? The Holy Spirit shows us deeper meaning in what otherwise might be considered drudgery. During your working, your parenting, your daily routine of activity, you reflect the humility of Christ. The Scripture says, “None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.”4 Your higher purpose is to be Christ to somebody in a place and context where only you can. You have the privilege of offering lasting hope and an eternal perspective. You can point those who are weary to Christ, the giver of rest.

Here’s the miracle: Believers have rest for their souls even while enduring demanding and exhausting circumstances in their lives. It’s a gift Satan is always trying to steal from us. It’s a gift we’re prone to give away in our doubt or our selfishness. But Christ is an endless supply. Christians are like yeast that leavens the dough. You cannot artificially manipulate faith to make it contagious to others. But the Holy Spirit uses us like living letters of God’s word. The soul at rest in God is a witnessing tool of the Holy Spirit.

We have the privilege of joining with the Psalmist in saying, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For You, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”5 Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…you will find rest for your souls.”6 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
9 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 John 5:3
2 Matthew 11:30
3 Psalm 32:3-4
4 Romans 14:7
5 Psalm 116:7-9
6 Matthew 11:28, 29

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Genesis 22:1-14
Theme: The Ultimate Test

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Father and son climb together. The destination is a geographical highpoint. But it sits on the precipice of a spiritual abyss. They are ancient figures, but their business is always contemporary. They go at the command of God, but the purpose seems to originate with Satan. The father is told to offer his son in sacrifice to God. Abraham, Isaac, God, together on Mount Moriah; the events recorded to fulfill the words of the apostle who said, “They were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”1 If we do not have the Scriptures we cannot have certainty about the things of God.

From a purely human standpoint the whole thing is complete madness. Today Abraham would be accused of insanity, and charged with attempted murder. Understandably so. The nature of the request is really beyond the parameters of our psyche and crosses the bounds of our reason. We don’t have the framework to comprehend it because we are so far removed from the practice of sacrifice. Abraham, however, understood the context and purpose of sacrificial offerings. But that makes the request less logical, not more; more shocking, not less. And that really is the point. God was not requesting of Abraham a token expression of His loyalty. Nor is He trying to drive Abraham crazy. What God is seeking is a sacrifice of the heart.

The God of Abraham universally condemned human sacrifice which was so often used in ancient pagan culture. He is not now suddenly changing His mind. Every animal sacrifice offered before the coming of Christ was also to be a spiritual sacrifice- a sacrifice of the heart. The prophets consistently rebuked the Israelites for offering faithless material sacrifices as a means of appeasing God. The journey to God cannot be completed by human effort. Isaac finally asks his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”2 How thick the tension must have been! Yet, the love between father and son persevered through this agonizing journey up the mountain. Abraham’s reply is the first climax of the event. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”3

Imagine how incomparably difficult it would have been to utter those syllables! We see how fitting the sobering words of Jesus are from last Sunday, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.”4 But, how can a person become worthy of God in such a situation? Trust! With God, all things are possible. The Holy Spirit gives us insight into the struggle of Abraham when He records these words in Hebrews 11, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”5

A resurrection was already foreseen in Abraham’s heart. We see now that this epic event was not just a personal test for Abraham. It is recorded in Holy Scripture for a reason. It’s not only a chronicle of heroism in the faith, either. Isaac was the chosen son of Abraham, the one and only son of the promise. The similarities found in the heavenly Father’s sacrifice of His Own Son are not coincidental. Justice demands that sinners have their own lives forfeited in penalty for their transgressions. But God provided the Lamb for the sacrificial offering. What does the Scripture say, “Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’”6 The mountain of provision became Calvary. There the final sacrifice was hung upon the altar for the cross.

What more could Abraham and Isaac need for the rest of their lives now that they had this experience of God’s faithfulness? Yet, God blesses them materially. God is not stingy. He doesn’t want to deprive us of the physical, material, and emotional support we need. His care is so intimate He even numbers the hairs of our head. He’d like our faith to be more like Abraham’s. He’d like us to cherish our baptism.

Yet, He knows how we are prone to selfishness, laziness, and greed. He knows our idolatrous heart. God can bring our best laid plans to nothing in an instant. He can shatter the dreams we’ve pursued with energy and investment for decades. If, and when He does so, we should consider that God is seeking to spare us hardship and heartache down the track and ultimately prevent us from becoming estranged from His will. He is keenly aware of the temptation of material prosperity. Satan is too.

Most people don’t make a sudden, bold and defiant denial of God. They are drawn away subtly and gradually. They think they can serve two masters, or even many masters. Dividing our time, energy, and loyalty is certainly necessary to survive in society. We invest a little time and effort here, and a little there. Our passions receive more. But God cannot be loved in half-heartedness. Half-heartedness is not an Abrahamic love. Certainly, our love for God is weak, frail, tainted, and incomplete. It is usually a very poor reflection of Christ’s love for us. But half-hearted love, that is., love that seeks to be just enough of an effort to please God is no love at all. It is either an expression of self-righteousness (because we’re not really seeking God’s blessing at all), or an admittance of unbelief. Faith never produces this kind of bogus love. We’re not called to try harder, but to repent.

It’s in repentance that we recover the proper meaning of sacrifice and its application to our lives. St. Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”7Abraham’s faith was severely tested. But we shouldn’t think Abraham was prideful after this grueling test. Abraham did not glory in his faith. Abraham trusted in God. Dear friends, faith is nothing apart from the object it is focused on. The reliability of the person or thing focused on determines either the foolhardiness or the wisdom of faith. If I put supreme confidence in a small child to drive me across the bridge to Berri, my faith is foolishness. Faith is a risk. In Christ, we are putting all our eggs into one basket. But it can be no other way. Only in Christ do we have truth that overcomes all doubt. Only He has the authority to forgive sin. Only He has power over death.

Every time we receive the body and blood of Christ we are beneficiaries of the fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham. God promised to provide the sacrificial offering. He did so in Christ. We are freed from the shedding of blood in our worship of God. We come into His holy presence cleansed by the blood of the cross.

Our faith will be tested throughout life. God refines and strengthens us in this way. But we don’t have to worry about passing any test of holiness. Jesus has passed the ultimate test. He is faithful, as the Scripture says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are His house.”8 Rejoice, you are children of Abraham, sons and daughters of the kingdom. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
2 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 10:11
2 Genesis 22:7
3 Genesis 22:8
4 Matthew 10:27
5 Hebrews 11:17-19
6 Genesis 22:14
7 Romans 12:1-2
8 Hebrews 3:5-6

Monday, June 26, 2017

Third Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 10:28
Theme: Love Drives Out Fear

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is fair. But we can never understand how that is true from mere observation. One person suffers terrible tragedy, while others seem to prosper in all they do. How is that fair? We can’t pretend to answer that question. We understand how cause and affect works for many things. If I live recklessly I will be in danger. If I take due care, usually I’ll be in a safe situation. Still, there are greater forces at work and only God understands them. Part and parcel with our faith in Christ and His redeeming love, is trust that God’s providence also oversees our temporal lives. Even when evil seems to prevail, God works goodness.

Of course, we easily get caught basing our expectations of God on our experience with human interaction. The Holy Spirit is not prone to human failure. Impartiality in human affairs will never exist. It is an honourable quest, no doubt. Still, any hope of achieving it is misguided. Fairness is impossible in a fallen world. Sin prevents it…. Sin introduced chaos into God’s orderly creation. A mindset of disobedience brings strife even into the best situations. People often query how a good God could let bad things happen. But it’s better to consider how anything good happens at all. We shouldn’t assume good, gracious, healthy and wholesome things will just occur automatically. They only do because of God’s patient will and persistent intervention. The lone sparrow does not fall to the ground without the Father noticing. Think of what that means for God’s attentiveness to us.

God is just. Only the crucifixion can teach how He is gracious at the very same time. Jesus’ words today are serious and sobering. He speaks of bringing division and not peace to the world. He warns against idolizing family and teaches about bearing the cross. Christianity does not allow for divided loyalties. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”1

How does it happen that we build our lives on so many false assumptions? Fear drives so many behaviors. Many of them are destructive. Many things we fear don’t even materialize. Christ tells us not to worry for good reason. Sinners see what they want to see. It’s in our nature. But the Holy Spirit equips us with eyes of faith and He constantly adjusts our prescriptions. That involves realigning our priorities. We shouldn’t fear those who have little real power over us, but Him who has the ultimate power.

Christians have a proper fear of God’s holiness, His presence, and His word. Reverence, awe, and respect should characterize our disposition towards Him who created the universe, judges, and redeems it. We should be comfortable with God, but not flippant. We should be at home in His house, but not disrespectful. We can be familiar without being irreverent. We can be conversant without being discourteous. There must always be space in our piety for God’s majesty and His complete sovereignty. We should pray constantly for His blessing, but we cannot prescribe the time and manner of His intervention. But we should never doubt that His love is absolutely incontrovertible. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”2

Only in His strength can we bear our crosses. It’s been nearly 500 years- it was June 25th, 1530 to be exact- that our Lutheran forefathers made a courageous stand for the Christian faith. They put their integrity, their livelihoods, and their lives on the line in order to cling to the truth. They took seriously the words of our Lord here in Matthew, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”3

They were champions of the truth and tireless advocates of the gospel. They led a worldwide reformation. Yet, their concerns are mostly out of fashion again. We venerate trend-setters and lavish praise on athletes and Hollywood stars easily forgetting that their personal lives are often very poor examples to those who would be their apprentices. We lift them up as champions of society when often they are building their own kingdoms.

Truly great champions are those who persevere in their daily vocations and do it with integrity. Those who persevere not for selfish gain, materialism, or recognition, but for the wellbeing of others. Such achievements cannot be made without the Holy Spirit. In spite of the mixed (the seeking of self-glory) motives of frail humans, God still accomplishes most of His work in this steady humble way, and not in showy and grand gestures. The Pharisees loved to stand on the street corners and pray ostentatiously,4 while believers are told to pray modestly and humbly.

Making good on promises has fallen on hard times lately. Think how many laws, rules, and regulations are established because people do not readily keep their promises in family or community, personal or professional life. Litigation is at an all-time high and the legal system is overwhelmed. More significant yet is the breakdown of dependability in personal relationships. The health of marriages and families is a direct indicator of the health of communities. (In a few moments Rodney and Laurel will be making a serious promise before God and to one another. It’s a promise that relies on God’s strength and compassion to maintain.)

We have a God who keeps His promises. He set the rainbow in the sky as a reminder He wouldn’t again flood the earth in judgment. He had something more radical in mind. He hung His Son upon a cross and so fulfilled His covenant with humanity. He didn’t offer an insufficient way to redeem us. He promised Sarah would have a son and she did. He promised David would have an heir to his throne and he did. He promised to rise again on third day, and He did. And He makes a promise to you in baptism.

You are baptized into the death of Christ. Your sinful nature was crucified with Him. Sin’s ultimate power in you has been broken. Christ has overcome it. The Scripture says, “The death He died, He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”5 This core truth of Christianity changes everything. We are reconciled to God. The holy God who cannot tolerate sinners in His presence now becomes the friend of sinners. His favour rests upon us. John says, “Perfect love drives out fear.”6 Christ is perfect love. Furthermore, believers are no longer held captive to the world view that this life is an end in itself. There is something more, much more! The Father was ‘unfair’ to His own Son so that we can enjoy His blessings eternally. You are worth more than many sparrows! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
25 June 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 10:28-31
2 Romans 5:8
3 Matthew 10:32-33
4 See Matthew 6:5
5 Romans 6:10-11
6 1 John 4:18