Monday, July 16, 2018

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: Mark 6:27
Theme: Martyred For Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

John the Baptist was martyred for his faith. Martyrdom is a dramatic conclusion to faithful confession. Modern Western Christians can hardly relate. Self-preservation is a powerful drive that supersedes nearly all other motivations. Yet there are loyal Christians in various places around the world today that face the possibility of forfeiting their lives for their beliefs nearly every day. God grant that their example be a source of strength for us who often waver in defending even the most basic points of Christian truth. May the Holy Spirit teach us to value the crown of life beyond all earthly treasure.

The early Christians, too, faced daunting opposition for their faith. In times of persecution and oppression there are always fewer nominal adherents to any faith. Christ is not nearly so appealing when life-changing or life-risking sacrifice is imminent. There are few defenders of the faith that stand out as prominently as John the Baptist. John lost his physical head in service to Christ, who was his spiritual head. John was a transition figure. The long wait for the Messiah was over. John received the duty and privilege to announce Him. John’s ministry marked the end of the old covenant and prepared people for the new.

In the person of Jesus, the Messiah had come, and the cosmic war was re-engaged with great fervor. The devil, of course, is a motivator behind the persecution of Christians. Satan delighted to have John the Baptist beheaded. But such brazen activity is rarely his most successful tactic. The cultivation of a false sense of security is often far more effective. Why force the issue by revealing who the true believers are through such violent means? Yes, more hypocrites will be uncovered. But this may serve to strengthen the faithful. Why not encourage the illusion as the Scripture says, “They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”1

Sin is a serious matter and it gives us no peace. The apostles were sent by Jesus into a very dark spiritual world. In large swaths of Western Christianity that darkness is again growing. The light of the gospel is being blanketed with shadows. The unchangeable truth is being subjected to the evolutionary forces of secular thought. People search frantically for meaning but deny the source. It is as the Scripture says regarding those “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”2 Some of the most detestable sins are justified by the most pious-sounding motives. Is the evil of late-term abortion any less barbaric than the ancient pagan practice of ritual sacrifice? We dare not be self-righteous in our judgments. We are all- great and small alike- indebted to the mercy of Christ who is compassionate beyond measure. To live in humble appreciation of this is the struggle of faith.

Faith is that gift of the Holy Spirit which enables a person to trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is not an inanimate or static possession, but a relationship dynamic characterised by the activity of constantly receiving the life of God through His word and sacraments. It involves confidence in His promises and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This reality is constituted at baptism. Our epistle says, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.”3

At its heart, faith is worship; for to trust wholly in Christ’s forgiveness is the highest degree of worship. This faith, then, expresses itself also in the activity of worship. Faith desires to be blessed by God. In the Divine Service the soul is a recipient of God’s gifts. Never take lightly your time in His house. Though a thousand other concerns press upon you, not one will endure longer than the fleeting days you have in this life. In the world you become involved in temporary concerns but here you participate in eternal things. There you may try to gorge on the tastiest morsels the world has to offer but only at the communion rail do you have a foretaste of the feast to come.

Dear friends, Christianity is not a matter of convenience. If that were so Christ would be our lackey, not our Lord. Convenience is sometimes a fleeting concession of God, but often a powerful tool of Satan. If you have undertaken an internal debate to determine which things might take priority over your worship life, whether occasionally or absolutely- perhaps out-of-town visitors, work, sleep, sport, recreation- then the battle has already been lost. The devil has His foot in the door and is seeking to run the household.

But we have a different Master. He is the one who saves us and serves us. Jesus Christ became the payment that was demanded to cover the debt of your sin. That debt was not a voluntary obligation, but a non-negotiable, binding and unalterable burden. His life was forfeited that the souls of believers might be spared. The gospel is the GOOD NEWS that the Son of God was the all-sufficient substitute for the guilt of the world. The gospel is not about the commendable effort of Jesus to show us the moral high ground in the face of opposition. It is not a reward for those who seek Him with all their hearts. It is not a balm to soothe the consciences of the self-righteous.

Christ is the sacrificial Lamb. He is the scapegoat. He is the victim whose blood was poured out. He was clothed with your sin. You wear His righteousness. This is what John came to preach. Repent and turn to Him who is water for those who thirst, food for those who hunger, light for those in darkness, freedom for those enslaved, health for the sick, strength for the weak, joy for the sorrowful, truth for the deceived, and immortality for mere mortals. Only He was crucified for your sins and raised to life that you might live.
The circumstances surrounding John’s beheading were so off-putting as to almost cause one to question the propriety of how God maintains the dignity of those who serve Him. King Herod, a drunken monarch, consumed by lust makes a foolish and regrettable pledge. His pride prevents justice from taking place. And so, without preparation, or ceremony, protest or pardon the great prophet’s life comes to an end. It seemed an unfair conclusion for a bold and dedicated servant. Yet could there have been a more fitting way for the ‘forerunner of the Messiah,’ this ‘greatest of men born of women,’ this ‘office-bearer of Elijah,’ this ‘voice of one crying in the desert,’ to be martyred than to foreshadow the ignoble death of the Lord Himself!

And how astounding that Christ could say of him, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”4 Yes, this is how highly He regards the least of those who have faith in Him. Rejoice that you are counted among the least for in heaven God gives you a place among the great. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
15 July 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Jeremiah 8:11
2 2 Timothy 3:5
3 Ephesians 1:13-14
4 Matthew 11:11

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Theme: Sufficient Grace

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is gracious. If it were not so the Scriptures would be liable of perjury. Yet, people often find the evidence for God’s mercy lacking. Evil and its associated consequences-pain, suffering, separation, sorrow, envy, greed, cold-heartedness- all are undeniably prevalent in our lives and our communities. But, you see, the consequences of sin serve an important purpose in our lives. Hence, the words of the Saviour, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”1 Those were the words of the Lord Jesus to St. Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, the greatest persecutor of Christianity who become its staunchest defender. They were made in response to Paul’s plea that his thorn in the flesh be removed. So painful was this thorn that Paul refers to it as “a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”2 Still, Paul recognized it as a necessary evil to facilitate his humility.

Paul was permitted to witness, exceptional, celestial, otherworldly, divine things. Few others were similarly privileged, though there are a number of notable examples. St. John records his heavenly observations in the Book of Revelation. Others too, had extraordinary experiences including Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Elijah and Elisha had long and amazing ministries. Peter, James, and John were privy to Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, just to name a few. The Holy Spirit has caused these to be recorded in the Holy Scriptures for our benefit. After all, the unhindered experience of God’s presence- a familiarity no longer tainted by sin- is what we look forward to in eternity.

St. Paul says he “was caught up to paradise”3 and he is absolutely bursting with desire to communicate these holy mysteries. Yet, what does he then say, “I will refrain, so no one will think more of me than what is warranted by what I do or say.”4 No, he will not go on incessantly. He will let people judge for themselves. Some already thought he was a fanatic. He would let the Holy Spirit see to the rest. Paul was mimicking the ministry of the prophets and Christ Himself. Jesus was a prophet without honour in His hometown, as we heard in the gospel account. Self-assertion does not does not easily garner genuine respect. Self-promotion might get you noticed but it doesn’t mean people will be inclined to trust your judgment. When it comes to giving witness to divine truth no amount embellishment or cosmetic enhancement will prove durable. No sophisticated elucidations will win the heart. The promises of God stand or fall on their own merits.

Paul prayed three times to the Lord that his affliction might be removed. Yet the Lord did not comply, sending instead His attending grace that His power might be made known in weakness. Here, then is the blueprint for how we understand this vexing matter of sin’s consequences in our lives. The Lutheran confessions offer this clarification, “Troubles are not always punishments or signs of wrath. Indeed, terrified consciences should be taught that there are more important purposes for afflictions, so they do not think God is rejecting them when they see nothing but God’s punishment and anger in troubles. The other more important purposes are to be considered, that is, that God is doing His strange work so that He may be able to do His own work…troubles are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are God’s works, intended for our benefit, and that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness...”5

This so-called strange work of God is His word of censure which is intended to drive stubborn and selfish hearts to repentance. God’s holy law must condemn us before His gospel can truly comfort us. If these two intentions of God are not rightly distinguished, then we’re constantly at risk of being trapped in a hopeless cycle of trying to earn something that can only be received as a gift. Satan is forever seeking to twist the application of the law- God’s good and gracious will- and turn it into legalism. Vulnerable consciences become immediately burdened, while arrogant souls become quickly emboldened, when the law is no longer understood as revealing God’s wholesome parameters for our lives, but rather as threshold mortals must meet to gain His favour. We all fall short of His glory.

Dear friends, we can never outmaneuver the Holy Spirit in any efforts to justify our failure to keep the law. We can’t even outwit the devil, no matter how cunning or practiced we are. His experience far exceeds anything we can relate to. A man had serious legal issue he needed expert counsel on. He rang a renowned lawyer. Knowing the lawyer would charge exorbitant fees he began by saying, “Can I just ask you two questions?’ The lawyer responded, “Of course. What’s the second question?” The man was both intimidated, knowing that he had no hope of matching the lawyer’s shrewdness, but also pleased, knowing he had asked the right person for advice.

The perfection God’s holiness demands was exacted from Christ. He freely credits it to us. Therefore, the power, the presence, and the purpose of the cross governs our worldview and the meaning of life. No wonder the apostle said to the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”6 Christ has made the sacrifice and we share in His victory over sin, death, and Satan’s power. Hell’s fury has been nullified. These truths have real consequences for our lives.

The gospel does not free us to live independently from God’s will- and His presence among us through word and sacrament. The gospel makes us more reliant on Christ; not as a matter of coercion but as a matter of desire. Just as small children are reliant on their parents and feel secure in their presence, believers desire the blessings and governance of God. The gospel frees us from the bondage of sin- not that we are no longer sinners, but we need neither fear condemnation, nor do we have the stress of appeasement. We cannot conciliate the just anger of God against sin. Striving to do so betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the work of Christ and God’s disposition towards us. The gospel frees us to follow His will without fear of condemnation. The apostle writes, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”7

Life will never be free from afflictions. Yes, it might run along quite smoothly during certain stretches. Other times we will find ourselves stumbling. And, more often than we’d like, we might need to be carried because we have no capacity to go forward on our own. God never forsakes us. No burden is too heavy. No concern is too trivial. We live in a world polluted by sin, and our own sinful natures are drawn to such pollution like steel to a magnet. But the Spirit bathes us in baptismal water, pardons us with the words of absolution, and feeds us with the body and blood of the only-begotten Son of God. He lifts our vision from the myopathy of the here and now, allowing us to see beyond the temporal to the unshakeable, eternal kingdom He has prepared for us.

It is not always easy- even for faithful Christians- to maintain an eternal perspective. Consider what St. Paul sys in Colossians 3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”8 Christ died and rose again. He did it for you and your salvation. You are baptized into this death and resurrection. You are forgiven. You are freed. His grace is sufficient for you. In the moment of need, His grace is sufficient. In the time of trial, His grace is sufficient. At the hour of death, His grace is sufficient. One day, like Paul, we will experience “inexpressible things.”9 May the almighty Father, through the presence of His Son and in the affection of His Spirit sustain us through this earthly pilgrimage until we reach that heavenly goal. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
8 July 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Corinthians 12:9 2 2 Corinthians 12:7
3 2 Corinthians 12:4 4 2 Corinthians 12:6
5 AP VIIIB 6 1 Corinthians 2:2
7 Galatians 5:13 8 Colossians 3:1-4
92 Corinthians 12:4

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: The Power of Peace
Theme: Mark 4:39

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Exceptional circumstances can alter routine priorities. Occasionally something stops us in our tracks and demands that we stand up and take notice. Occasions like this this may even cause us to reflect on our core convictions. God may be intervening before we even recognize it causing us to see things from a new perspective. He seeks always to lead us from the darkness of our own fabricated worlds to the light of His kingdom, from the fiction of a self-constructed existence to the reality of His truth and presence. As the Bible says, “in Your light we see light.”1

Today the disciples experienced just such an arresting encounter. They were sailing across the Sea of Galilee when a furious squall came up. The situation was dangerous and desperate. Jesus was accused of apathy at the critical hour. When the storm arose, He was resting and appeared to the disciples to be unaware and unconcerned. They were frantic. He was calm. Perhaps you’ve had the same complaint against God at one time or another? Perhaps in your time of need all you received was silence? You might be angry or resentful that God stood aloof from the situation. The accusation of apathy against God brings one right to the critical juncture. Faith must see what the eyes cannot. So, we pray that the Holy Spirit would always grant us such faith.

All concerns that Jesus was apathetic were soon dispelled. “He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”2 Understandably, the disciples were stunned. They were in awe. Who was this man in the boat with them? How could He have such power? Earlier in the rite of baptism we said together in Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God, the Father almighty maker of heaven and earth.” It’s a confession of ultimate and unqualified power. Nothing is beyond God’s ability to subdue, create, or resolve. The universe endures through His power

But the universe- and humanity in particular- also endures through His love. The disciples would spend the rest of their lives learning what it meant that He was bringing a much more profound peace than calming a stormy sea. The gospel is still their message to the world. All the stability we can acquire in this earthly life still means nothing if sin and death triumph at the end. If the tempest of sin is not subdued by the Prince of Peace we can have no peace of heart or mind. God is not aloof. The apostle says, “‘In the time of My favour I heard you, in the day of salvation I helped you.’” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.”3 The soul will remain restless until it rests in God.

Dear friends, this restlessness is evidenced in society as a whole also. The proclamation of the word of God in our culture is increasingly being received like water off a duck’s back. It doesn’t sink in. Maybe too many layers of bias have formed a nearly impenetrable barrier? There is growing consensus that our culture is becoming more like that of 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born into the world. But we’re not yet like the first century in at least two important ways: Firstly, the society in the first century was not generally antagonist towards religion. In fact, religious practice and custom were very prevalent in society, though they primarily involved the appeasement of pagan idols.

Secondly, the gospel was a new and unknown teaching then. Never before had the claim of God coming to earth to sacrifice Himself for the well-being of mortals been made. Jewish prophecy was not unknown, but the understanding that this would be the nature of the Messiah’s work was not widespread. Conversely, the gospel is not yet a new teaching for our culture. The collective memory of society still retains a basic caricature of what it deems Christianity to represent. This is a great obstacle. It means that the challenge at the cutting edge of the mission of the church is to first deconstruct stereotypes that have become entrenched in the psyche of the populace. In the end we trust that the Holy Spirit has His ways and is limited neither in power nor in compassion. St. Paul was the greatest persecutor of Christianity and he became its greatest defender.

The world is in desperate need of true peace but often seeks it in the wrong places. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”4 He gives a peace no one else can. It is a gift to us, but it was not free. Divine peace does not come without a cost. It came at an inestimable price in human terms. The scripture says that Christ reconciled us to God “by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”5 That same blood is offered at His altar. God’s Son was hung upon a cross. He sacrificed His life that we might be forgiven. He rose victoriously from the grave so that all believers might share in His life.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the unmatched events in the history of the world that should cause people to stop and take notice. He does more than just tweak one’s perspective. He changes priorities and transforms one’s entire worldview. Left to our own devices we are like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Self-centredness caused the older son to completely loose perspective. He was much more concerned with what was fair than what was merciful. But, he had actually missed out on none of the Father’s blessings. “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”6 God is not so limited in His resources that He must ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul. His grace is not so rare that it needs to be hoarded. His peace is not in short supply.

Today we were privileged to witness the baptism of Elsie Hoffmann. Babies aren’t baptized because some sort of superstitious magic is at play. Nor are they baptized as a sentimental way to publicly recognise their innocence. Infants are baptized because they are people. They are sinners that need to have the gospel offered to them too. They are precious souls in God’s sight. Who are we to doubt whether the Architect of the universe, the One who created this infant in the womb her mother, can speak peace into the heart of this child? To doubt that God can gift someone with spiritual life in this way is to doubt the power of God to grant life at all.

Only one kind of peace finally matters in the end. It’s not the peace brokered by world leaders, though such peace is something the church rightly prays for. It’s not the peace of being spared pain and contention in our relationships, though such certainly aligns with God’s will. It’s not the peace of mind that comes with good health, prosperity, and the knowledge of a secure future, though, again, these are great blessings from God’s hand. Yet, only one peace spans the threshold between the temporal and the eternal, only one bridges the dimension between earth and heaven, only one peace can make all the anxieties, fears, and hostilities of this life vanish in an instant. The heart that trusts it has been reconciled to God is the heart that has true peace.

He speaks “Shalom, peace!” into our hearts. He stills our agitated souls. He calms our troubled minds. And He promises a future peace we can now only grasp by faith. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
24 June 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 36:9 2 Mark 4:39
3 2 Corinthians 6:2 4 John 14:27
5 Colossians 1:20 6 Luke 15:31-32

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: The Miracle of the Seed
Theme: Mark 4:26-32

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Change is a condition of mortality. The progress of decay notes the pathology of sin. Sin robs us of permanence and stability, while holding out an elusive promise- the illusion of independence. Life is always in a state of flux. Outcomes are always pending. The marking of a goal completed is quickly replaced by the pursuit of yet another. The future is always somewhat uncertain; therefore, the present can be uneasy. Whether it involves relationships, education or careers, it seems as if, in this life, we are always striving but never quite arriving at where we want to be. Yes, we do mark milestones; births, graduations, weddings, retirements, but then life still goes on. Such is the reality of our existence, until death. There is no permanence. The only permanent reality to this earthly life is change. We often embrace this change because we are always seeking something better. We have the hope of something more permanently good.

The failure of this endeavor in the ultimate sense- this unrealized hope- is intended by God to drive people to look elsewhere. Jesus Christ is the end of change. Christ came to reclaim His creation. He brings permanence. He is permanence. He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.”1 Nothing else will endure. Nothing else ultimately matters. When Jesus sent out the Twelve apostles He said, “Proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’”2 Only that kingdom is unchanging. He also sent out the 72 missionaries saying to them, “Go!”3 Go and call people to repentance. Go announce God’s judgment against sin. Go with the message of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ. Go and bring the message of light and life to a dark and dying world.

Today’s parables teach about the mystery of God’s kingdom using the common realities of sprouting seeds and growing plants. The current relevance to us is obvious. Jesus is talking about the seed of God’s word and the growth of faith. The kingdom of heaven grows only through the preaching of Christ and Him crucified. This is the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to convert the human heart. No additions, deletions, embellishments or augmentations. Christ crucified. Period!

Faith is a gift engendered through Word and water and Spirit and sustained through Word and bread and wine. In this way Jesus Christ is present with His people to forgive and redeem and restore. Satan is subdued, sin is vanquished, angels rejoice, the saints are at rest. All depends upon the grace of God. Truth is the foundation of His grace and forgiveness is its expression. By the grace of Christ, the church lives, without it, she dies.

Grace has been the currency of the Christian Church since its inception and even before. Adam and Eve were promised a Saviour. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Moses’ was led by Christ in the wilderness. David reigned on a throne gifted to him in the stead of the coming Messiah. The New Testament church is built upon the teaching of the apostles and prophets who tirelessly made known the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We are part of the continuous succession of the generations of believers. Our purpose corporately and individually, regardless of our vocation, is to go, plant the seed of God’s word and live the life of faith.

Where seed is not sown, no plants will spring up. Where plants are not tended, no harvest will be gathered. The mission of the Church always involves the planting of the seed of the Word of God and tending to the life that springs up. This mission is not some auxiliary function of the church. It is not a mere pious option towards which financial resources may be directed. Planting and cultivating are what the church is about or it is not the church of Christ.

And still all depends upon the grace of God. This is clear in the parables today. God’s grace works through us, yet still retains its character as His power and gift alone. St. Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”4

Satan always opposes these spiritual ‘agricultural’ endeavors. Dear friends, if you give Satan an inch he will take a mile. We are the children of God, His baptized, so the devil targets us. The Bible says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”5 We are not enslaved to this world and yet we are constantly tempted to indulge ourselves at the expense of the kingdom. One of the sins of our culture is not the availability of wealth, but the misuse of it. The devil aims for the weak points in our faith. But the Lord Jesus says, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”6

All depends on the grace of God. The fields before us are ripe for harvest. In our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our own nation, across the ocean, even within our own families’ countless souls are without the forgiveness of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. Yet, God’s word gives us this encouragement, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of faith.”7 We have the promise of God’s power. We have the promise of reward enjoyed by all the saints. We don’t always see the seed sprout or even the harvest, but we leave that to God. When the seventy-two returned, Jesus said to them, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”8 On Good Friday Christ wrote them down with the blood of death. On Easter morning He closed the book with His triumph of life. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
17 June 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 13:31 2 Matthew 10:7
3 Luke 10:3 4 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
5 Galatians 6:7-8 6 Matthew 6:31-33
7 Galatians 6:9-10 8 Luke 10:20

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Christian Burial of Ron Auricht 12 June 2018

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

Text: John 14:6
Theme: Vibrant Life

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Ron, and especially you, Ruth, Joyleen, Rosalie, and Valerie, his daughters;

The place prepared for Ron Auricht- in heaven- is now occupied. He has been released from all care and anxiety of our fallen existence. He enjoys vibrant and abundant life. He has received his inheritance, one that can never perish, spoil, or fade. Thanks be to God that He has called His servant home! Ron is in the glorious presence of almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saints and angels. It is our privilege to meditate on this truth.

Reflection on the death of a Christian brings into close proximity two realities that are otherwise so dissimilar they would never be faced at the same time. The pain of separation or loss. Death separates us from loved ones, so this is unavoidable. And the joy of knowing that person has been crowned with everlasting life. Death is the gateway to a vibrant and glorious existence. So, sorrow and joy are juxta positioned in a very unique way. But it is a biblical way.

The Holy Scriptures are full of accounts of how believers down through the ages dealt with dying; their customs, their practices, their struggles, their hopes. The Israelites grieved for Moses for 30 days1. When Jesus arrived at the deathbed of Jairus’s daughter professional mourners were already on the scene2. King David’s grief for Absalom was so incapacitating that He had to be rebuked by his high officials3. Customs and practices changed over time. But the fundamental belief did not change. The core conviction remained unaltered. The same hope endured and does to this day. The same God who grants life here in time promises to resurrect His people to eternal life. It’s not a simple formality that Christians confess (as we will in few moments) belief “in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”4.

Of course, the need to cope with the trauma of death at all means the cause must be recognized. That cause is sin. Sin eventually brings decay and death to the body. If left unresolved it also brings death to the soul. Death is one of the consequences of punishment for rebellion against God. Many in our day deny there could be any such cause for concern, but the Bible speaks comprehensively about this truth. Mortality is something all people understand intuitively. But that doesn’t mean we’re keen to tackle it, just as sin is something we know intimately but are not capable of mastering. It is far too powerful and dangerous. Ron Auricht knew horses too. That was the way of farm life in his early years. But the things we know aren’t necessarily the things we can control. Fortunately, us mortals are not left to solve what only divine power manage.

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s grace; the very substance of divine love. Everything stands or falls on the truth of Jesus’ sacrificial work for sinners- our salvation by grace, through faith. If grace in Christ is a fantasy, then existence itself comes unhinged. If divine love is a fallacy, then ultimate meaning is shattered. If God’s promises are hollow, then hope is finally lost. If the resurrection of Christ was only pious legend, then eternal death prevails. But, dear friends, Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead. The grave could not hold Him. Death could not bind Him. Hell could not subdue Him. Satan could not silence Him. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”5

When he was a young man Ron was inspired to become a missionary. But the expectation for the eldest son in those days was to stay and work the land. Ron accepted this reality. He was faithful in his vocation working the Mallee soil to provide for his family and beyond. Still, the interest in spreading God’s word remained with him right into his later years. Of course, not becoming a missionary didn’t mean that Ron wasn’t actively witnessing to his Christian faith. Ron and Glenda were not casual Christians. They were deeply involved in all the activities of the congregation, committed to supporting it, and faithful in their attendance in God’s house.

Ron’s talents and treasures were employed to the same end. He held most every position in the church at one time or another. Ron loved music. He was gifted with a powerful voice. He didn’t sing simply for personal satisfaction. Moments ago, we sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ in tribute to the 40-some years Ron taught Sunday School. The words are just as true today as they were the first time he sang it with the young ones in his class. And that’s exactly the point. The love of God is unchanging. As we heard earlier, He has given His baptised an inheritance “that can never perish, spoil or fade.”6

Anyone who knew Ron well at all knew that his Christian faith wasn’t a private matter. He had a deep concern for the spiritual well-being of others. The love of the crucified and risen Saviour is offered to all people and Ron earnestly prayed that all would embrace it. Only the divine promise can give true peace to the soul. Reconciliation, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, liberation from shame, release from regret are achieved only through God’s bestowal of the merits of Christ to us frail humans. In Christ the roughest edges are made smooth, the deepest pains are relieved, the harshest offences are resolved. Anger gives way to peace. Fear is replaced by serenity. Sorrow transitions to joy. It seems impossible- given the experiences of life that jade us- that these things could really come true. But that is the reality of Christ’s redeeming power.

Dear friends, and especially you, Ron’s family, the scars of grief are not so shallow that they can be healed by a few cosmetic clichés. The complexity of grief is not easily simplified. Humans are complicated creatures. There aren’t any shortcuts. Yet the strength needed to manage it properly is never in doubt for Christians. The separation is only temporary. Christ spent only three days in the grave. If we cling only to memories of the deceased then that relationship is frozen in time, locked in the past. For believers, grieving is forward-looking. Our time on this earth is but a passing moment compared with eternity.

Ron is now in the timelessness of God’s presence. Ron received his wish in the end- a blessed wish- to close his eyes in sleep and open them effortlessly to behold the face of God. And so, the words of the apostle have come true for him that say, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”7 Except that Ron does see Him now and He will never be lost from his sight. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Ronald Victor Auricht
12 June 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Deuteronomy 34:8 2 See Matthew 9:23
3 See 2 Samuel 18:33, 19:5-7 4 The Apostles’ Creed
5 John 11:25-26 6 1 Peter 1:4
71 Peter 1:8-9

Third Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: Mark 3:20-27
Theme: The Intervening God.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Sanity is not a gift to be taken lightly. Cherish it. Apparently, some members of Jesus’ own family thought He was going crazy. Indeed, claims to the be the Messiah are always going to be provocative! Jesus was attracting huge crowds and His family was becoming concerned. So, they planned an intervention. Marks tells us, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”1 The religious authorities suggested He was possessed by Satan. Evidence was growing that He was more than just a religious zealot. A volatile situation was brewing. But performing an intervention on Jesus, even by those who thought they knew Him best, would be no easy feat. Perhaps you’ve asked yourself at one time or another “Am I the only one in this situation who isn’t crazy?” “Or, am I the only one that is?” Imagine, then, how Jesus felt! Only He had perfect knowledge of the truth.

The accusation that Jesus was an agent of the devil certainly raises the level of tension. Just imagine how differently the scene might be perceived today. Modern skeptics doubt or flatly deny the existence of Satan. They deem him to be a relic of the ancient or medieval past; a fabrication of religious superstition. They swiftly dismiss him along with his dominion called hell. It’s embarrassing for many, or at least, unfashionable, to engage in public discussion that recognizes his existence.

But it’s no use wringing our hands over such unbelief. The Holy Spirit must teach the truth about demonic spirits to unbelieving souls. Trying to offer tangible proofs will not be convincing. It’s worth considering, though, that as our society becomes more overtly secular, more people are trying to fill the emptiness in their lives through various ‘spiritual practices’. These range from palm reading to channeling of angels, fortune-telling to attempts at contacting the dead. Current trends say we should expect to see a growing interest in occult-related practices right across the board. In the expanding emptiness and uncertainty there will be many opportunities to convey the presence of the Messiah who is Immanuel- God with us.

Today Jesus makes it clear that denouncing the Spirit’s work is a serious matter. He could hardly say it more plainly, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”2 It’s an understatement to say that this declaration is confronting. It’s like punch in the gut to all who think they might malign the work the Spirit with impunity. So, why does Jesus use words with such decisiveness and finality? The stakes are high because the consequences are ultimate. The Holy Spirit is the agent by which the human heart is convicted of sin and comforted with forgiveness. To allege that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan is a contradictory claim. Why would a servant of the devil be driving out demons? Jesus rebukes them forthrightly, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”3 Then He says, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry of his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.”4

Christ was referring to Himself. Jesus carried off Satan’s possessions. That is, He redeemed sinners from the influence of the devil according to the apostolic description, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”5 The weapon of Satan’s defeat was the cross. Jesus did not conquer the devil in a physical confrontation. (Though his defeat has physical implications for believers) The victory was gained through Jesus’ perfect obedience and willing sacrifice. He did it for us and for our salvation. He was crucified. He rose. He lives.

Satan has been conquered. Jesus is restoring the fallen creation. Jesus did exactly what no one else could do. He bound Satan, the strongman, and plundered his house. The father of lies could not outwit the keeper of truth. The ancient dragon could not out-duel the immortal Son. The betrayer could not seduce the faithful one. Remember the time in the wilderness. “The tempter came to Him and said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”6 But Jesus did not yield. The devil could not push Jesus off the road to the cross. He could not lead Him on a wrong turn or blockade the road. At the crucial moment, when Jesus hung there with the fate of the world in the balance Satan made one last attempt, saying through his agents, “Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”7 But all the devil’s attempts were in vain.

Still, Satan will ply his trade until the Second Coming of Christ. Many are willingly or unwittingly his followers. The Scripture says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”8 All are called on to renounce Satan’s works, something we first do in baptism. The same verse finishes saying, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”9 Jesus has done that by atoning for our guilt. He has done that by absorbing the wrath of the heavenly Father against sin.

Dear friends, you have God’s forgiveness in Christ freely and fully, here and now. You don’t have to wait until the day of judgment to find out if God will grant it to you. And this forgiveness is not limited by Satan’s accusations of “This person is not deserving look at all the terrible things he has done!” You need not worry about having some partial or conditional forgiveness. It’s a delight of the devil to limit the comfort of forgiveness and the peace of mind it brings. But Christ has come to destroy the devil’s works. You are God’s baptized child and Satan has no authority to challenge your claim in Christ’s inheritance. He has no authority to question why you are welcomed to dine at the Master’s table.

Our account began today with the family of Jesus attempting an intervention. They had no real hope, of course. Christ was actually the One doing the intervening. The Son of God was now present among the children of men. He was breaking into people’s dark and wayward lives with light and truth. He was halting illness. He was repairing brokenness. He was renewing what was decaying, reconditioning what was declining, reviving what was dying. He was restoring hope. He will continue to do these things. They are previews of eternity. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday After Pentecost
10 June 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 3:21 2 Mark 3:28-29
3 Mark 3:23-25 4 Mark 3:27
5 Colossians 1:13-4 6 Matthew 4:3
7 Matthew 27:42 8, 9 1 John 3:8

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Second Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: 1 Samuel 3:1
Theme: The Precious Word

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The word of God is precious. It’s worth cannot be calculated in human terms. The Psalmist writes, “The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold.”1 How valuable is God’s word? We might get closest to the mark by simply asking the question, “What price can be put on eternal life?” It is only through the Scriptures that we know of Him who is the Word-become-flesh Redeemer. Only through Jesus, the keeper of the true word do we have eternal life. He has robbed death of its power and Satan of his fury through His own death and resurrection. St. John gives us this description of the Saviour from his heavenly vision, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God.”2

Dear friends, through His word, Jesus THE WORD interacts with all people of every time and place. Today Samuel responded to the Lord’s call saying, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”3 It’s an appropriate attitude for every believer. The Scripture says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”4 Through the hearing of God’s word the Holy Spirit opens hearts and minds to receive the truth. For many it happens initially in baptism. Yet, receiving God’s word is hardly a one-off necessity. The word is to our spiritual life as food is to the stomach and as air is to the lungs. Without the word faith will wither and die.

The story of Samuel is remarkable from the start. Hannah, his mother, dedicated him to the Lord out of grateful appreciation that He answered her prayer to have a child. As soon as he was weaned she took him to the temple where he became an apprentice of Eli, the priest. Today’s account describes Samuel’s ‘baptism of fire’. The Lord entrusted Samuel with a serious message. The very next day, young Samuel would become the bearer of God’s word to the mature Eli. It was a word that Eli did not want to hear. It was a word of judgment for the sins of his sons who were wicked priests. Eli had done nothing to restrain them. The Lord’s word soon came pass and Samuel grew to be a prominent prophet of the Lord.

It wasn’t uncommon that the first word a prophet had to carry was a word of judgment. Only God’s law can convict the conscience and bring people to a proper recognition of sin. Without such conviction need for the gospel, desire for God’s forgiveness will not happen. Humans are too adept at justifying themselves. Proficiency at justifying one’s self is always at the top of the agenda for individuals who seek to live independently from God’s truth and will. Together, such individuals seek to establish the same approach in society. Believers should not be surprised.

The secular world will always have an agenda. Its agenda will always be driven by the desire for self-promotion and self-indulgence. It entails the quest for power, money, popularity, prosperity, and security. Pursuit of the agenda involves practices of dishonesty and inequality. The agenda is based on human measures of value and worth. The requirements which allow this agenda to be pursued do, in some measure, overlap with the will of God. A degree of order and stability is needed in society and God tasks government with this responsibility. God wants a peaceful and orderly society. He also wants one in which not only the truth of the gospel can be freely accessed, but also the fundamental parameters of His will are respected. Moral foundations and the well-being of the vulnerable are at stake here.

The world’s agenda is relentless and always pushes forward (or, in the sense of humanity’s well-being, backward) until checked by God’s judgment or revised by the gospel’s transformative power. The church can have no misgivings about her task. Perhaps the church has become naïve or apathetic because society in the past generations has been generally amenable to both Christian teaching, and, more significantly for the civil realm, respectful of the divinely created order. The blessings of the past should be recognized. But the values of society in the past do not necessarily predict the future. Past assumptions about morals, values, and the purpose of life may no longer hold for the average person. In human terms, we are likely to begin feeling lonelier in society. Christians must honestly assess where they’ve been led astray by worldliness and repent.

Samuel became one of the most significant prophets in the history of Israel. So revered was his integrity that the Lord once said to Jeremiah, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would no go out to this people.”5 Samuel faithfully declared God’s word throughout his ministry. We are thankful that God still provides ministers to publicly communicate His truth. But, dear friends, every Christian has the privilege and responsibility of giving witness to the love of God in Christ. St. Peter encourages us saying, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their salander.”6

You see, the Christian who speaks the truth, speaks with the greatest authority. This is so because the believer speaks in the name of Christ. We should always stand in awe of and never underestimate that power. It is not our power, but Christ’s power. It does not cultivate arrogance within us but humility. Those who wield the greatest power are also in need of exercising the greatest humility. In proportion to one’s influence must be the diligence in avoiding the abuse of that power. Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”7 Rulers are not necessarily greater sinners than common people when they fall, they’re likely to affect more people though. Christians are frail vessels carrying great promises and authority. We are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Dear friends, the word of God is precious. It carries promise, hope, and life. It is Christ’s word and the Spirit’s instrument. It is never hollow. It is never false. It is never outdated. It is never impotent. At the time of Samuel, the word of the Lord was rare. Scarcity of God’s word could happen again sooner than we think. Oh yes, there are lots of copies (though plenty of translating still needs to be done) in print and in electronic storage systems. More copies of the Bible exist than at any point in history. But having something archived is not the same as possessing it as living truth that shapes and forms one’s life. God’s word is not an historical relic. It is living and active.

When we have God’s word we have the Holy Spirit at work. The Spirit has no other agenda than to connect people with Christ. He was hung upon the cross to pay price for your sins. He rose again on the third day to open the gates of heaven for you. The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ- which we have in the promise of absolution, the water of baptism and the body and blood of Holy Communion- means we have the blessings of the Holy Trinity. What a privilege it is to say with Samuel, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”8 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday After Pentecost
3 June 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 19:9-10 2 Revelation 19:13
3 1 Samuel 3:10 4 Romans 10:15
5 Jeremiah 15:1 6 1 Peter 3:15-16
7 Mark 10:42-43 8 1 Samuel 3:10