Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday in Lent (B) 2018

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

Text: John 2:21
Theme: Jesus Now and Forever

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Everything in God’s time. Birth, death, resurrection, each moment of each hour; all are in God’s hands. It’s the safest place our lives can be. Anyone who had been following the storyline of John’s gospel would recall repeated references to the fact that Jesus’ time had NOT yet come. To His mother at the wedding in Cana Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.”1 To His brothers who asked why He wasn’t going up to the feast, Jesus replied, “My time has not yet fully come.”2 While teaching in the temple, the Pharisees could not seize Him because “His hour had not yet come.”3 It is therefore quite significant when Jesus says that His time has now come. It was time for the Son of Man to enter into His glory. That is, it was time for His suffering and death, His being lifted up on the cross4. Ransom from the powers of sin, death and Satan could happen in no other way.

So, in response to this request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus,”5 comes an unexpected, but weighty answer. Jesus foregoes any pleasantries of polite discourse. He thrusts right to the heart of the matter. The time for curiosity is over. These Greeks may have considered Jesus to be a novelty, a rarity, or a marvel, but what matters now is that He is revealed to be the Saviour. We don’t know if these Greeks ever got to meet Jesus face to face. But we do know that if they followed Jesus during the week of His passion they would have been brought face to face with God’s undying love.

The reality is however, many people didn’t recognize God even when they saw Him face to face. But, He was veiled in humility. He seemed to be an ordinary man with some supernatural skills. Even after the resurrection many had doubts. So, we must understand beyond all confusion and doubt that no amount of human effort or ingenuity can persuade or entice someone to believe. No skill of argumentation, or perseverance of negotiation can bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ. The most carefully crafted and generously funded program will not accomplish it. The Holy Spirit alone, convicting the conscience through the word of law can convict people of their sins. The Holy Spirit alone, comforting the heart through the promise of the gospel can engender faith. That being said, we are in no way exempt from deliberately, purposefully, and genuinely making known the truth of Christ both to those who don’t believe, and to those who do. Witnessing is part of our normal activity. We are God’s people.

We’re still sinners, though. Concern with the present is what often consumes us on a regular basis. The pressures of daily existence, of making ends meet tend to put us in survival mode. In survival mode we are less likely to learn from the past or consider wisely the future. We can become so wrapped up in the present that it controls us. We find ourselves just trying to get through the next day. It is both a delight of Satan and a craving of our sinful natures to be enslaved to our present needs and desires. But the believer lives continuously and lives presently in a state of grace.

Not only was God with us in the past, not only will He be with us in the future, He is with us now. God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is not with us as a remote observer. He is with us in His full power to intercede, to create, to destroy, to sustain, to comfort. What is remarkable about this is that God actively and dynamically dwells with sinners; yet only in and through and because of Christ. Because the Father forsook His Son, we are never forsaken as His children. On the cross Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”6So that He could say to His disciples, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”7Christians are not in bondage to the fallen creation, they are free to serve the Creator.

The pressures to live in the present are often matched by anxieties about the future? What if this happens? What if that happens? Will I be protected from this or prepared for that? These common questions must be left to the care and wisdom of God. Worry is a sin because it betrays a lack of confidence in the Almighty. Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear……For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”8 And the apostle says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”9 Christ has laid out the future and He will not fail to bring us safely into it.

Dear friends, as a believer, it is a profound privilege that you live your life in time under the auspices of eternity. Time and eternity are not really comparable. Time is of the finite creation. It will cease. Eternity is undiminished fellowship with the triune God. We are creatures that are elevated to share with the Creator because sin is vanquished. We are time-bound beings freed for eternity. That is the outcome of everything Christ came to do. It is the meaning of today’s Scripture, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be.”10

He was and is the crucified, risen and living Lord for all eternity. At the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the dimension of time was reconciled with the dimension of eternity. The entire created sphere was reconciled with the eternal realm. And regardless of how many more days this earth will exist, the crucifixion will always remain the portal to eternity. And this portal is opened wherever and whenever the gospel reaches and changes the heart, wherever and whenever the forgiveness of sins is received in true faith, wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit works through baptismal water, wherever and whenever the body and blood of Christ is received in humble trust. For in all these things, but only in these things do we receive Christ with all His blessings for our timeless salvation. “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”11 That request has been answered. Now we see with the eyes of faith, then in full vision. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday In Lent
18 March 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 2:4 2 John 7:6
3 John 7:30 4 See John 3:14
5 John 12:21 6 Mark 15:34 (cf Psalm 22:1)
7 Matthew 28:20 8 Matthew 6:25, 32
9 Philippians 4:6-7 10 John 12:23, 25-26
11 John 12:21

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Midweek Lent #2(2018)

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

Text: John 19:18
Theme: They Crucified Him

Dear followers to the cross,

They crucified Him. Most thought that was the tragic end of the matter. He would be recorded by the Romans as a failed revolutionary, though Pilate didn’t see Him as any great political threat. His own followers would lament Him as the one who they thought would restore Israel to independence and glory. So there He was, hanging between two criminals on public display: A pathetic and stomach-turning sight. The dirty deed was done, and hope seemed lost.

Soon to come was the darkness (explained by naturalists as an eclipse of the sun), and then the earthquake. The same explanation was offered, but the centurion on duty was still roused to a confession, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”1 The customary precautionary measures were taken before the bodies were removed. The soldiers did not find it necessary to break Jesus’ legs. They only pierced His side with a spear. What would one last wound matter for a man who was to be forever entombed?

Lent rehearses these events not only for the purpose of revising our knowledge, but for renewing our faith. Calvary, Golgotha, the Hill of the Skull, was not an end for Christ, but for Satan. The angel of darkness would, himself, fall into shadow. He would reel under the specter of the cross. It was necessary to lay the body of the sin-bearer in a tomb, so that the power of sin to entomb could be laid to rest, so that the power of Satan to accuse could be consigned to the grave.

The Christian cannot escape identification with the crucifixion- that messy, bloody, politically incorrect business- it is an inescapable distinctive of our persona in Christ. And don’t think for a moment that it’s not politically incorrect even in many so-called religious and Christian circles. The whole idea of blood sacrifice and substitution is thought to be draconian and uncivilized. “Enlightened” ideologues press upon us a sanitized theory of love and tolerance achieved by human agreement and sensitivity. To achieve any measure of plausibility it requires an emasculation of sin and a ‘humanization’ of grace. Sin becomes nothing more than poor choices made by uniformed individuals. Grace is little more than the inalienable right to pursue happiness on one’s own terms. It’s like building artistic sand castles on the beach on a perfect sunny day while a storm looms on the horizon. Sand castles will provide no refuge.

Dear friends, it’s hardly credible that Christ, the holy Son of God, would have shed His blood under those circumstances. The reality of evil is so profound it cannot be proven to anyone by tangible means. Yes, we are first-hand witnesses to wicked intent, scandalous and deceitful words, and immoral and malicious deeds. We feel our own faults, foibles, and flaws. We observe them in others. We harm and are harmed. We cause pain to others and endure pain from them. Still, we are called upon to take it on faith that the entire situation is unresolvable and irredeemable apart from the merciful intervention of the Almighty.

Faith sees that the One being held up by a rough-hewn assemblage of wood is Himself holding up the universe. He who’s body collapsed with that final breath is the One who breathed life into the soul of the first body. The One who was sinless died as the greatest sinner. Why could Jesus not just have suffered, but still lived? Why was there need for a resurrection? Because without a death the sacrifice was not complete and there would have been no finality to the Father’s plan. Human souls are not of such little value that redemption could be cheap. The crucifixion is an indication of what it means that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image and likeness2.

Lent is a time of going forward by revisiting origins. Living water is sourced from only one well. The only way we can be empowered to live our faith is to keep returning to the source. We return to Christ, His word, His promises, His forgiveness, His sacraments. There is no power, strength or refuge in the law. There is no aid in human might or ingenuity. And though we will get no appreciation from the world for living our faith, we do have the promise the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us. The Scripture says, “The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make people holy through His own blood. Let us, then, go out to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”3

People who thought they could keep finding God in Jerusalem were mistaken. The curtain of the temple was rent in two4. Christ fulfilled the old covenant. God is found where His means of grace are administered, where the gospel is proclaimed, where baptismal waters flow, where His body and blood is consecrated. God is present with, in, and among His people wherever two or three are gathered5. Christ is our only place of safety. He is our only place of rest.

And so, we are mistaken if we look for hope and comfort in the wrong places in this world. We have no enduring city here. That is not what living our faith is about. We are pilgrims in this life living sacrificially for others. We live our faith both inwardly and outwardly. Regarding the inner activity, Luther writes, “The life of a holy person consists more in taking from God than in giving, more in desiring than in having, more in becoming pious than in being pious; as St. Augustine says: Faith acquires what the Law requires. For this reason asking and seeking constitute the real mode of life of the inner man.”6 Regarding the outward expression, the Scriptures says, “Let us continually offer to God, a sacrifice of praise- the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”7 We can do so without fear, even enduring personal loss. There is nothing that we might forfeit that God can’t furnish in abundance. The apostle says, “He who did not spare His Own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”8

They crucified Him. The worst thing imaginable, was, for us, the greatest plan ever conceived. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Midweek #5 in series Lent 2018
14 March 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 15:39
2 See Genesis 1:26
3 Hebrews 13:11-14
4 Matthew 27:51
5 See Matthew 18:20
6 Martin Luther, Anthology #697
7 Hebrews 13:15-16
8 Romans 8:32

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Lent (B) 2018

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

Text: John 3:17
Theme: To Save, Not Condemn

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Our very existence is profound evidence of God’s patience. He not only continues to tolerate sinners but seeks to redeem them. His patience is not to be challenged, though. Unbelief will be judged. We are foolish to mistake God’s mercy for apathetic lenience. God is not patient because He doesn’t care but because He passionately “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”1

Today the topic of vital truth comes to the fore in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was an educated Pharisee. He would have been well-instructed in the Torah, the Books of Moses. He knew the history of God’s people. Jesus gives him a point of reference, the one we heard read from Numbers. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”2 As a cure for their self-inflicted punishment, the Israelites were given a point of focus. It was a bronze snake lifted up on a pole. It gave them a fixed point of concentration. All who were bitten by snakes were to look towards it, trusting God would spare their lives, which He did. It presaged greater things to come. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross was the macrocosm of God’s plan of salvation. All the prophecies, all the predictions, all the analogies carefully articulated referred to Him. He is Light and Truth.

Dear friends, the great truth of Christianity is that it doesn’t involve a legalistic system in which humans must earn salvation through obedience to certain laws. But that doesn’t mean God’s will is unimportant. It just means we must be diligent in distinguishing how God speaks to us. People endlessly seek to circumvent human laws. We shouldn’t think it would be any different with God’s law. Never has a law been enacted and enforced in any society, at any point in history that has enjoyed full compliance. Someone will always claim the law is unjust, unfair, inadequate, or not applicable to them.

In human courts of law things can get pretty crazy. The lengths people will go to to avoid culpability are sometimes extraordinary. A few humorous examples will suffice. Questioning the witness, an attorney asked, “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?” “No”. “Did you check for blood pressure?” “No.” “Did you check for breathing?” “No.” “So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?” “No.” “How can you be so sure, Doctor?” “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.” “But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?” “Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practising law somewhere.” A defence lawyer queried a distressed woman on the witness stand asking, “What was the first thing your husband said to you when he woke up that morning?” “He said, ‘where am I, Cathy?’” “And why did that upset you?” “My name is Susan.” In 1871, a Pennsylvania man sued Satan and his minions for putting obstacles in his life and causing his downfall. The case was thrown out of court on the grounds that the defendants did not reside in the state.

Dear friends, all we need remember is that all such vainglory is pointless before God. He knows the truth. His gaze penetrates the most heavily shielded soul as if it were exposed to the noonday sun. We can engage in the most complicated and persistent spiritual jurisprudence we can muster but we will never outwit Him or outlast Him. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”3

The are no laws, divine or otherwise, that can curb the desires of the heart. Threats and punishments may serve to limit sinful actions, but they cannot change a person’s motivations from unrighteous to godly. Sinful motivations must be transformed to holy ones and only the gospel can do that. A spiritual death and resurrection is required. Evil desires are put to death, crucified with the effectiveness of Jesus’ own crucifixion. New spiritual life is created from the ashes of contrition. The Holy Spirit conceives this life in the hearts of believers. Faith is the Spirit’s gift of a reconciled relationship with the Father. That relationship is nurtured through the word of promise and the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.

Imagine what a mind-blowing thing it was for Nicodemus to learn that Jesus was the only way to heaven. Claims are often made that Christian churches are too restrictive and oppressive. Certainly, legitimate criticism must be taken on board. Churches are collections of sinners and can collectively be self-centred and short-sighted. Hypocrisy and self-righteousness, understandably does untold damage to many reputations. But the case can also be put that large segments of Christianity don’t take themselves seriously enough. Kierkegaard warned centuries ago that being a Christian in Europe was already too easy. It required nothing more than a casual and half-hearted affirmation of the prevailing sentiments of society at the time. Christianity was the flavour of the day and no sacrifice was required to be associated with it.

Similar assessments are worthy of our attention. Is the church in the West in decline partly because it’s too hard to be a Christian, or too easy? Is the church too restrictive of peoples’ views, not allowing enough latitude in opinion, and therefore unappealing to people? Or is the church unappealing because it has largely surrendered its core convictions. Is it losing its identity and therefore becoming less effective at witnessing to the new identity believers have in Christ?

In reality, Christian truth is the most authentically emancipating power that exists. Much of what passes for freedom today (even in reference to spirituality) is actually bondage. What good is it to be taught that we can be self-determining beings- choosing our own moralities and destinies without consequence- when it’s not really true? The claim that truth can be whatever we want it to be is itself a great deception. Sin, its guilt and consequences, don’t magically dissolve just because we’ve tried to reinterpret pain and suffering in the world through a different paradigm. Sin must still be reckoned with, and only Christ can do it.

What can be more liberating than to know that we are freed from the eternal condemnation of God’s wrath? What can be more freeing than the certainty that death itself has no final power over the believer? In the knowledge of Christ’s redeeming love all of our darkness and gloom is finally dispelled by the radiance of His presence. Our sorrow will be replaced by joy, our doubt with certainty, and our anxiety with peace. Our pain will be relieved, and our scars healed. The Suffering Servant who was nailed to a cross and buried in a tomb also rose again victoriously on the third day.

This good news will never be surpassed. “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”4 And St. Paul says today, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.”5 We are gifted with a new identity through baptism. Therefore, we no longer seek to circumvent the God’s law. God’s commands to us are the boundaries of love. The apostle continues, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”6 There is nothing that God planned in the beginning that Christ hasn’t completed in the end. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday In Lent
11 March 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Timothy 2:4 2 John 3:14-15
3 Romans 3:4 4 John 3:17
5 Ephesians 2:8-9 6 Ephesians 2:10

Monday, March 5, 2018

Third Sunday in Lent (B) 2018

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

Text: Exodus 20:1
Theme: He is OUR God!

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God. Etched in stone (twice) they were given through Moses. These decrees of God do not come without context, however. They are not arbitrary regulations of a jealous and short-sighted Deity. The prologue of God’s directives through Moses is important., who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”1 In other words, there’s already history between God and His people. God initiated the relationship in the beginning and now He’s renewing it in dramatic fashion. He is a God who rescues, saves, and redeems.

So, God speaks to His people in love. Believers are redeemed, but we still live in a fallen world. Remember, when it comes to your propensity to sin, it’s not likely you are exceptional or special. The commandments weren’t written because you’re the only one whose mind gets flooded with lust, heart gets overcome with greed, conscience gets overwhelmed with worry, or whose will is stubbornly arrogant and self-centred. God has seen it all. Opportunities to participate in ungodliness take on a new look with every new technology that comes along, but the motivations of the human heart remain unchanged. We are conceived in sin and without God’s intervention would continue along that trajectory.

Don’t think for a moment, though, that you can achieve anonymity by morphing into the crowd or blending into the multitudes. Comparison to others is an age-old way to alleviate guilt. The refuge of comparison is a popular one. Yet, any pacification of the conscience is hollow. Just because you feel you’re meeting society’s standard of morality doesn’t excuse your guilt before God. Repentance that involves shifting the blame is not weighted with true contrition. The Holy Spirit breathes fresh air into the life of the soul that is truly penitent. When we try to hide our sins, we’re just playing games with God.

It’s important to remember that God has not given us the Ten Commandments to restrict our enjoyment of life. Again, they are not arbitrary rules, nor are they obsolete. The Ten Commandments are the parameters of God’s will for our wellbeing. They are perfect guidelines of love. We can only be certain that our attitudes, words, and actions are godly when they are within these dynamics of love. Still, even our best efforts fall short of God’s standard of holiness. There is no ‘close enough’ when it comes to following God’s will. Willful disregard of God’s will is certain to have consequences. We require forgiveness and restoration.

Christ meets our need in two important ways. Firstly, He kept all of God’s law perfectly and He credits His fulfilling of the law to believers. Secondly, He makes payment for our sins by offering His own life in sacrifice in place of ours. This is the core truth of our faith, and it is expressed in many ways throughout the Scriptures. St. Paul writes today, “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.”2 The apostle calls God’s saving work foolishness to the perishing. That is, it is illogical and unintelligible to the unbelieving mind.

But in what way is it illogical? While anyone can grasp the basic concepts of love and even sacrifice, and most can understand the martyrdom of someone for a cause, it’s impossible for the human mind, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, to appreciate what grace really means. The gospel is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It will always be counter-cultural because it doesn’t originate from humans but from God. It doesn’t matter if there are a million different cultures that change countless times over the course of human history, the gospel will never be innately understood. It must be proclaimed, taught and received as a gift. It is the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel isn’t just an abstract decree of God, though. Jesus said today, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”3 It was a provocative statement, and, in the minds of the Jews, arrogant, They have a logical response, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?”4 The conversation is so important, St. John gives us an explanation, “But the temple He had spoken of was His body. After He was raised from the dead He disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”5

Of course, dear friends, without the resurrection, the passion of Jesus becomes a tragedy. All the unjust suffering, the unwarranted accusations, the unrighteous condemnations that Jesus endured, His excruciating humiliation and death would just be a footnote in the history of religion had He not risen from the dead. Without the resurrection the plan of salvation would have failed, and all the effort invested would have mostly gone to waste. Having the risen Jesus doesn’t mean we can downplay the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. The two events are one seamless reality like the two sides of a single coin. The power of the gospel to enlighten darkened minds and convert unbelieving hearts is sourced from these events. Your baptism has the authority of God’s covenantal promise because through it you participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This bread and wine carries forgiveness because His body broken and raised empowers it.

We cannot submit God to the rules of plausibility. If we could, He wouldn’t be God. What kind of God would it be who was unable to contravene the observable laws of nature? What kind of God would it be who is unable to find the lost, heal the sick and raise the dead? What kind of God can’t be present wherever and whenever He pleases, especially in this sacrament? We can compose all kinds of theories about God and debate them, but we’re not finally interested in speculations. Jesus is the hard evidence of God among us. “They will call Him ‘Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’”6 “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”7 And again, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”8 Think of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through Him… and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead.”9

The Almighty begins the Ten Commandments by saying, “I am the Lord your God.”10 We can stake our confidence in that. Lent is the journey of understanding God’s deliverance. Jesus makes good on all of God’s promises. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday In Lent
4 March 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Exodus 20:2 2 1 Corinthians 1:18
3 John 2:19 4 John 2:20
5 John 2:21-22 6 Matthew 1:21
7 Colossians 2:9 8 John 1:14
9 Acts 2:22-24 10 Exodus 20:2

Monday, February 26, 2018

Second Sunday in Lent (B) 2018

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

Text: Mark: 8:33
Theme: Forewarned Is Forearmed

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Forewarned is forearmed. Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. If we know in advance the threats we will face, we have opportunity to be prepared. We can direct our energies to mitigating or avoiding the danger. If we fail to heed the warning the consequences should not be surprising. Lent is surely a good season to consider how this is true in our walk of faith. On the one hand, the Scriptures warn us constantly and clearly about the menace of sin and the consequences that follow. But on the other hand, God doesn’t fail to come to our aid, rescue, and support. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit attends to us. And we are fitted with the only weapon necessary which the Bible calls “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.1”

Being forearmed, however, is no reason to be apathetic, falsely secure, or foolishly self-confident. Nearing the end of a three-year intensive apprenticeship, Jesus and Simon Peter knew each other pretty well. Peter was impulsive, but passionate and loyal. He was seldom remiss in expressing his convictions or sharing his opinions. He had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”2 But now we see clearly that he didn’t know what that really meant. Peter was looking for the strident path to glory. Jesus was leading him by way of the cross. The agendas were irreconcilable. Peter would need to concede, of course, he just didn’t understand how harrowing or painful it would be. The apex is reached today when Jesus responds to Peter’s rebuke saying, “Ge behind Me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”3

Peter envisioned, in some measure, an earthly kingdom established by Jesus in which he would have a high-profile position. He felt very strongly the martyrdom of Jesus was not the way to achieve it. He was self-confident; but He was misled. The passion of his convictions didn’t prevent them from being proven false. He truly thought his assessments were godly. Herein lies an important lesson. If you have an intuition, a feeling, or a sense of what you think God is telling you or wanting you to do- perhaps you’ve seen a sign that supposedly affirms your instinct- don’t automatically assume it is the voice of God speaking to you. Anything and everything that conflicts with God’s revealed word is not a prompting of the Holy Spirit.

If I have a strong feeling that it’s okay to be unfaithful to my wife because I think the circumstances warrant it, that is not the stimulus of the Holy Spirit, but of my own selfishness. If I am convinced that it’s permissible to deceive a business partner because we haven’t been seeing eye to eye on things, that attitude is not being provoked by the Holy Spirit. If I have been hurt by someone in a relationship and now I’m plotting my revenge, my motivation is not from the Spirit, but from my sinful nature. The Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Commandments don’t make exceptions for me. My judgment will never be more righteous than God’s. In the context of today’s gospel account, Peter was so self-confident he actually accused Jesus of being off track. Such wrongheadedness cannot be mitigated or re-directed. It must be ousted. It must be defeated.

And this is precisely how the Holy Spirit deals with our sinfulness. He doesn’t try to refine or revise our sinfulness. He doesn’t make the best of an undesirable situation. Sin cannot be reformed, only the sinner can be. Ungodliness cannot be civilized. It must be rebuked. Conviction of the heart and will must occur so that repentance will lead to revival and new life. When you receive God’s forgiveness, He is not condoning your sin. He is not overlooking your transgressions. The Spirit works to crush your sinful motives, so that godly ones can leap to the fore. God does not tolerate sin, He atones for it.

Dear friends, our Lord goes right to the crux of the deepest concerns of existence when He says to the crowds today, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”4 Posed as rhetorical questions, they have very definite answers. It’s doesn’t matter if we have everything imaginable in this life, no one can save their own soul from God’s just wrath against sin. We have nothing to offer Him worthy of reconciliation. But Christ does, and He has offered it: His own holy, precious life. This priceless gift results in a favourable exchange for us.

The divine pardon proclaimed to you is not hypothetical or abstract. Your forgiveness was purchased with Christ’s blood, the blood from His thorn-pierced brow, the blood from His hands impaled by nails driven into a cross. It is the price of redemption rendered by the Holy Son of God. When He speaks it is with the Father’s authority. There is no caveat you can raise, no complication you can assert, no exception you can claim that He is ignorant of or too impotent to address. He’s heard all the reservations. “But my sin was different!” “I did it intentionally.” “I did it viciously.” “I don’t deserve to be forgiven because I’ve committed this same transgression so many times.” “I can’t get it out of my mind or out of my heart so that must mean I’m not forgiven.” “I’m beyond help.” No one is out reach of His mercy. Dear friends, don’t waste any time trying to assess the severity of your sins compared to others. Don’t spend a moment doubting whether you could be the lone exception. Throw yourself on the mercy of God in Christ. He welcomes you like the father welcomed the prodigal son.

The capacity of Christ to forgive is far greater than our wickedness. The law of God reveals the depths of sin, thus opening the way to recognize the mercy of Christ. The Scripture says, “Now the law came to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”5 You cannot be a greater sinner than Christ is a Saviour. Peter denied Him, yet he was restored. Thomas doubted Him, yet he was reconciled. David committed adultery and murder, and yet He was absolved. Can you really believe God is unable to forgive you?

God does forewarn us against the danger and consequence of sin. Those who hard-heartedly separate themselves from God can expect darkness and judgment. Forewarned is forearmed. Still, knowledge of the danger alone cannot save us. But God doesn’t leave us to our own resources. He doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. We are His baptized. We dine at His table. He clothes us with His armor. The outcome of the war is not in doubt. Satan is silenced. Death is defeated. The life we have now is only a shadow of what is to come. We pray that during this Lenten season our faith will become more firmly grounded in God’s unshakeable truth, so that the prayer of St. Paul which says, “I pray you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,”6 will be realized for us too! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday In Lent
25 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Ephesians 6:17 2 Matthew 16:16
3 Mark 8:33 4 Mark 8:36-37
5 Romans 5:20-21 6 Ephesians 3:17-18

Christian Burial of Margareta Hampel (Feb22, 2018)

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

Text: John 11:21
Theme: No More Ifs

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Margareta, Lyndon, Steven, Kathryn, Jillian, Bronwyn, Rosanne, and especially you; Cliff,

There are no more ifs, for Margareta. God has made good on His promise. She has been received into His magnificent presence. She has been released from the bonds of this mortal life. Martha had said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”1 She had hoped to spare her brother Lazarus from physical death. But Jesus had something more marvelous in mind. He 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.”2 Margareta lives. And she does so in a way that should be the envy of us all.

Dear friends, all of our greatest fears and hopes coalesce as we reflect on mortality. Death is a completely inescapable and ungovernable reality. We cannot circumvent it or negotiate with it. Death can be denied, but that hardly accomplishes anything. We will be subject to it. It is the inescapable punishment for sin. It’s not a subject to be avoided because it relates directly to our spiritual wellbeing.

Our sins, our failures, our regrets- the burdens carried deep in the heart about missed opportunities to reconcile relationships because we were too arrogant, too afraid, or too stubborn- what do we do with them on the deathbed? How can they be resolved? This is no theoretical concern. Deep wounds and lasting scars haunt many lives. The Scriptures warn us not to leave things too late, for our own sake and those we love. Most importantly, though, it’s never too soon to pour out our hearts to God. We cannot soften the heart or break the will of someone else. But our merciful Lord hears every plea of the humble soul. We commit things to Him. Only He can unlock doors that no human power can breach.

You see, no one can go from here to there under their own merit or power. Margareta was well-versed in the Scriptures. She knew that. Her faith wasn’t shallow or hollow or showy. She walked the walk and talked the talk. She knew life was a gift. The Scripture says, “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son of God has life; He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”3 And again, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.”4

Heaven is not the stuff of fairy tales. It is a dimension far above ours where God’s presence in unmediated. How can we conceive of it, really? This existence called eternity? The Scriptures promise it is not some sort of platonic state of suspended animation. We won’t be indeterminate, free-floating apparitions. We will be resurrected. Bodily! Job exclaims, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes- I, and not another.”5 All of the restrictions of the sinful condition will be eradicated. No effects of decay! No inklings of apathy! No trace of anxiety! The difficulty in describing it is evidenced by the fact that the absence of evil is often the biblical focus, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”6 There will be light and joy and peace, and an indescribable exuberance of life.

It is healthy, at least every Sunday, when we celebrate the physical resurrection of Christ to think about these promises. It is part of the exercise of our baptisms. Margareta was baptized into the saving work of Jesus- His death, resurrection, and ascension- and now the baptismal covenant He made with her is fulfilled. The Good Shepherd has carried her through her earthly journey right to the end. A bodily resurrection still awaits. The apostle writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”7 The apostle cuts right to the heart of the matter. Without the resurrection we have nothing substantial to believe in. But remember, there are no more ‘ifs’ for Margareta. Christ has made them disappear like dew in the noonday sun.

And, dear friends, when the big ‘ifs’ of life are resolved we are truly freed to live in joyful service to others. Margareta pursued her passions with exactly this freedom and confidence. Music was one of her great loves. She was more familiar with the genius of Bach or Handel than most people are with music in general. She wasn’t just an admirer though. Margareta was an accomplished musician. When she played the organ in the Divine Service she understood she was leading God’s people in celebration of His love. When she directed the choir, she was helping to bring to life the promises of the gospel through song.

During her last years Margareta endured a time of feebleness that was uncharacteristic of the vibrant and active life she enjoyed most of her days. You’d never find her wasting time doing trivial things. She was as practical and industrious as she was spiritual. Even in her convalescence she was exercising her faith. She was eager to hear God’s Word and receive Holy Communion. She was diligent in prayer. She showed concern for God’s people in need. As difficult as her time of immobility was, it was an opportunity to reflect deeply on God’s mercy and grow closer to Cliff. She cherished every day as a gift.

Margareta was happy, too, when she was nurturing a garden or the next generation. How many trees did she plant? How many flowers did she grow? How many gardens did she nurture? Margareta not only had two green thumbs but all her other fingers as well! And how many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren did she nurture? Well, we can put a number to those of her own bloodline. But what about all the others? We might gather all the available flowers in Loxton and it would still hardly be a sufficient tribute to this woman who cherished her garden so immensely. But she would have been content also with one, solitary specimen, a rose or something else fitting, as a reminder of the singular, indispensable, death-defying love of her Saviour. He alone possesses immortality. As the Scripture says, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field…the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”8 All other supports collapse under the weight of mortality or abandon us in the hour of need.

Grief is among the trickiest and most vexing of all human traumas. Joy mixes with sorrow, loss is tempered by hope when we reflect on the death of a faithful Christian. The death of loved ones reaches us at the deepest levels of the human psyche. Nothing compares to the stinging sense of loss that occurs. No one can resolve someone else’s grief. Navigating it healthily requires divine assistance. The Holy Spirit does not fail to give it. Cliff, your beloved is out of sight, but she’ll never be out of heart or out of mind. She is filled with inexpressible joy and that knowledge will buoy the weight of your grief.

Margareta’s confirmation verse was, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”9 That has now come to pass. No more ifs. Thanks be to God. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Margareta Anne Hampel
22 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 11:21 2 John 11:25-26
3 1 John 5:11-12 4 Romans 5:8-9
5 Job 19:26-27 6 Revelation 21:4
71 Corinthians 15:14 8 Isaiah 40:6-8

Midweek Lent #1 2018

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

Text: John 18:40
Theme: A Surprise Ending?

Dear followers to the cross,

Do you like to skip to the end? Some people are in the habit of turning straight to the conclusion of a novel to find out how it ends. A basic understanding of the storyline is usually needed to make the exercise worthwhile. There’s little use or satisfaction in knowing the conclusion if you don’t know anything about the characters and events leading up to it. Some stories have such a surprise ending that it makes following the entire narrative essential. What about the passion of Jesus, the Christ?

Pilate was the secular authority in charge, but he didn’t know how this was going to end. Pontius Pilate had dealt with the Jews before. Did he have any reason to believe this Passover would be different? Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from this world.”1 Imagine the skepticism going through his mind? Another dreamer? Another failed revolutionary? A Saviour? Why would one think so?

Did the passion of Christ have a surprise ending? Any Christian (or unbeliever for that matter) with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Scriptures already knows the finale involves the death and resurrection of the main character. It’s a pretty dramatic curtain call! Did the contemporaries of Jesus expect it? Was the betrayal, suffering, sentencing, and execution of Jesus of Nazareth something that should have caught them by surprise? Well, if they were familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah or the Psalms, one would think not.

Yet, there is more involved here than an intellectual grasp of events and circumstances. Descending from the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus told Peter, James, and John not to tell anyone what they had seen “until the Son of Man is risen from the dead. So, they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.”2 So, we can say that they were kept from properly understanding it until the resurrection. Not until then did the Holy Spirit pull the blinders off their eyes. And not until Pentecost did they really see clearly with the eyes of faith.

We can hardly fault them. We know the entire story, yet clarity of faith- which is such an exceedingly precious gift- is still so easily clouded with doubt, skepticism, and apathy. Such, dear friends, is the power of sin. Satan is forever seeking to turn our gaze from the cross, to countless other distractions. Faith must remain anchored to a certainty that is always external to ourselves. God is unfailing. No one else, nothing else is. Our God is not of human making. Pilate poses the question, “What is truth?”3 We have nothing to do with such cynical philosophizing. Jesus provides the answer. Truth is not whatever we’d like to make of it. A God made in our own image is not a God, but an idol. Christianity is not about constructing your own definitions of morality, security, and beliefs about the here and now, and the hereafter and pinning God’s name to them. You may have noticed that it is increasingly popular to reinterpret or sideline what the Bible says in the interest of appealing or succumbing to the prevailing culture. You can misrepresent God’s word to make it say pretty much anything all.

But the truth is still true even if nobody believes it. Lies are still lies even if everybody believes them. Lent does not involve a mental exercise in which try to make a big chronological leap into the ancient past and attempt to identify with the topic under discussion. And this is not what Jesus was teaching when He said in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, “Do this in remembrance of Me.4 The historical details of the passion of Jesus are critical information, to be sure. Yet, we don’t receive the benefits of His redeeming work by trying to go back to the cross and reconstruct the circumstances. The crucified and risen Lord comes to us. Repentant hearts are always greeted by Him. He meets His baptized with compassion and forgiveness.

Still, in Lent we desire even more fervently both clarity of faith and certainty of conviction. Sin wages a war of attrition and we need to be renewed. Included in every prayer to be cleansed with the forgiveness earned at the cross is the plea of Thomas, “Show me Your hands and Your side.”5 He does exactly that when He offers us His body and blood in the sacrament. He does exactly that when the promise of absolution is publicly proclaimed. He does exactly that when our hearts are set at ease by His comforting words of compassion.

It doesn’t mean our faith doesn’t lose perspective anymore. We tend to see things with a very narrow focus according to what is troubling us at the moment. So, we might ask… Where is the gentle Jesus when we need Him? Where is the strong deliverer? Where is the patient pastor? Where is the seeking shepherd? Yet He knows when we need discipline as opposed to coddling. He knows when we need comfort instead of condemnation. He’s not a Saviour we can sculpt according to our own whims. He’s a Shepherd who tends to us according to our actual needs. The Suffering Servant is the Risen Saviour, is the Ascended Lord, is the Reigning King. The events of redemption cannot be parceled into stand-alone segments. The love of God is not subject to compartmentalization. Neither is our Saviour. Your Redeemer hung upon a cross and rose from death. Those events alone qualify Him to meet your every need.

On Palm Sunday jubilant crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with high expectation. It seems surprising then, that our Passion Reading ends with the release of Barabbas, a criminal. Things were about to get very interesting. Perhaps you’ve wondered whether your own life will have a surprise ending? Well, hopefully your life will have many pleasant surprises in the future, but there are likely to be some difficult ones too. God knows and will be present with you through all circumstances. But we know the final chapter involves resurrection to eternal life in the heavenly realms. Knowing the ending doesn’t make the journey to that point less relevant, but more exciting. Does your vocation still matter? Do your relationships still matter? Do the daily opportunities you have to walk with people in the brokenness of their lives still matter? Very much in every way! We are not in doubt about the truth like Pilate was. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life6. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end7.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Midweek #3 in series Lent 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 18:36
2 Mark 9:9-10
3 John 18:38
4 Matthew 22:19
5 See John 20:25
6 See John 14:6
7 See Revelation 22:13