Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ash Wednesday (February 14, 2018)

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

Text: 2 Corinthians 6:2
Theme: Now Is The Time

Dear followers to the cross,

“Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.”1 It’s never too soon to confess your sins. It’s never premature to receive God’s forgiveness. Mortality sharpens our focus. The deliberate sobriety of lent assists us in these things. Ashes are a stark reminder of our limitations and the tenuous nature of life. A corpse has no sentience. Sentience is the ability to perceive, to feel, to be self-aware. It speaks to the capacity of the senses to be conscious of their surroundings. For most people, dying doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process. Senility, a decline mostly in cognitive function, is one stage of the journey towards lack of sentience. Death means the endpoint has been reached.

Today is Ash Wednesday. The Scripture is clear, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.”2 And Job confesses, “I am reduced to dust and ashes.”3 What is the ash that the human body is composed of? Those who know the Periodic Table know it’s more than 99% of these few elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. There are trace elements of five others and that’s it! (Don’t panic, the ashes you’ll soon be marked with are made from Palm leaves!) But what is life itself made of? And what is the composition of the soul? The technical advances of science will never discover it. Humans were made in the image of God.

Lent is typically characterized as the sinner’s struggle for obedience. It’s often seen as a renewed effort to resist temptation and follow God’s way of holiness. The whole idea of sacrificing something is meant to help the believer identify more closely with the humility of Jesus and serve as a regime of discipline. There’s nothing wrong with this until it becomes and exercise in false piety.

Let’s be clear about the ability of the human will to follow God, pursue any measure of righteousness, or even desire that which is godly. Before the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion, the human will has no such ability whatsoever. Any desire or pursuit of godliness is simply not on the agenda. Outwardly, people might do some good, generous, and useful things (and these are to be encouraged). But in a state of unbelief, these are still sins before God. After the Holy Spirit converts, the human will then cooperates in seeking the will of God. Believers have desires (these being gifts of God themselves) which now align with God’s good and gracious will.

Well, and good. But believers immediately recognize that the old feelings, the cravings, the selfish desires, don’t automatically disappear. In fact, they can seem more intense. The sinful nature still has life and Satan is very experienced. That’s why lent should begin with candid recognition of our frailty. If you don’t think you’re vulnerable, fragile, or frail; if you believe you’re out of the reach of disaster, danger, or threat; if accusation, admonishment, and condemnation are of no concern to you, then you’re clinging to a dangerous sense of false security. And whether the reason is ignorance, naivety, or denial, it’s not how things really are. We can hedge ourselves with comprehensive measures of security; we can build a bank account, buy insurance of every sort, drive safely, eat healthily, exercise regularly, but life can be ended or radically changed in a moment.

Still, the Lenten journey is not meant to be one of drudgery or monotony. It’s not a journey of shame, and doubt, and despair. But it is healthy if it is a candid one. One in which the door under the stairs is opened enough to glimpse the skeletons in the closet. After all, what’s the use in just going through the motions and putting on appearances. Lent is not a time to showcase our piety at the expense of others. The Pharisees would likely have seized on the season of Lent as an opportunity to publicize their righteousness. But the self-righteous aren’t looking for a cross, they’re looking for a throne. They want a crown. They don’t need a Saviour.

Candid recognition of frailty, does not lead to despair, however. If you feel like you have no defence or protection; if you believe you’re alone and without support; if you’re unduly anxious or paranoid that everyone is out to get you, then maybe you haven’t taken to heart the promises of the Saviour. The Scriptures make no small issue of the fact that the love of God is not some generic platitude that vaguely pertains to the human race. You are not an anonymous figure among the masses. The God who created you went to great pains to redeem you. Jesus preached to the masses; but He healed individuals. The Scripture says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”4

Dear friends, if Jesus had not worn the crown of thorns, none of us could wear the crown of life. If He had not hung from the cross, we could not stand in God’s presence. If He had not been smothered by evil, we could not breathe God’s truth. If He had not endured the darkness, we would not enjoy the kingdom of light. But He did all these things. He rose from death. He ascended on high. He intercedes for the saints.

The Holy Trinity is the only reliable person in your life. Not because others don’t wish to support you. You may be blessed with those who are quite devoted and perseverant. But they are not immortal. They are not omnipotent. Only Christ has the capacity to carry sinners over the threshold of death. Only Jesus is completely unfaltering, completely reliable. As the Psalmist says, “Though my father and mother forsake me. The Lord will receive me.”5

Dear friends, you are no more holy if you give up something for lent, and no less holy if you don’t. It can be a time for spiritual renewal if properly used. But believe this: You are His baptized and you are holy because Jesus Christ was handed over for crucifixion as a substitute for you. He bled. He was tortured. He was forsaken by the heavenly Father. All so a blessed exchange could take place. You receive His righteousness. He bears your transgressions. You are one of His saints. In Lent, all lost ground can be made up. It doesn’t matter how you started. All that matters is that you finish. “Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.”6 Christ brings you to the finish. In His hands, ashes become the material of immortality. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Ash Wednesday
14 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Corinthians 6:2
2 Genesis 3:19
3 Job 30:19
4 Isaiah 49:15
5 Psalm 47:10
6 2 Corinthians 6:2

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (2018)

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

Text: Mark 9:2
Theme: What Kind Of Glory?

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

It was a mountaintop experience like no other. The inner circle of Jesus’ disciples witnessed a gripping and terrifying sight when they saw Jesus’ appearance completely transformed before them. He was beaming with light. The experience became even more surreal when the ancient figures of Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. The drama escalated further when the Father spoke. It happened in this way, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’"1 Not surprisingly, the disciples were terrified. But they knew something important was happening. And the message was unmistakable: Jesus is the one; follow Him.

Dear friends, this event was unique in the earthly ministry of Jesus. These privileged disciples got to see it. But why not everyone? Why were the crowds not allowed to see Jesus with His divinity unveiled? They saw plenty of miracles. Jesus did not want people to get the wrong idea about His work and His kingdom. He was not an earthly breadwinner. Nor did He come to make a show of His majesty. Yet, the transfigured Jesus is the Lord our human nature is naturally drawn to; the Jesus bursting with glory, the Saviour emanating divine light. People crave hard evidence of God’s presence, His power, His majesty. Many say they won’t believe until they see it. But Jesus is a humble Saviour. His love is not flashy, it is sturdy.

Life is lived mostly in the valleys. We have mountaintop experiences, to be sure. Many are healthy celebrations of life’s joys and achievements. Yet some people try to extend them artificially by indulging excessively in behaviour that becomes harmful. Others are thrill-seeking, adrenaline junkies who would rather live life on the edge than live it at all. Still others prefer to escape to worlds of their own creation (and many of these worlds today are cyber worlds) where they can avoid the struggles of the daily grind. We’re all drawn to these in various degrees, often as coping mechanisms.

Christ journeys with us in the brokenness of our lives. The route to heaven does not follow a beacon to a mountaintop. It winds through the shadows of a cross. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Immortal Son of God did not say, “Come up to Me.” He came down to us. He says, “I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”2 It wouldn’t matter if there was a ladder to heaven that had 10 rungs or ten million. We’d have no hope of climbing it. Our sinfulness prevents us from taking a single step into the presence of God.
We are no further from God than people of previous generations, but we’re no closer either. Society is going through tremendous change, but the nature of people does not change. It’s a patently false assumption to claim that people born today are naturally any more righteous, godly, or even civil than those born in the past. Yes, collectively we may be benefitting from the accomplishments of those before us and learning from their mistakes (in addition to suffering for their failings). That’s always been the case to some extent. But societal affluence does not equal individual godliness. Collective knowledge does not equate to personal holiness.

What will the world be like when those who are born today are in the prime of their lives? (What will the world be like when little Charlie might be having a family of her own?) No one can say, of course. But it’s important to learn from the past, and also recognise the trends of the present. Current indications are that 25 years from now Christianity will be greatly diminished in this country. We’ve already been witnessing the decline for decades. If the younger generations continue to fall so quickly away from the faith many churches and parishes simply won’t exist.

It’s no use being pessimistic or adopting a defeatist attitude though. And the church isn’t in the business of self-preservation, per se. The church is God’s people gathered around His gifts of word and sacrament. We are entrusted with sacred treasures. The gospel, the good news of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation acquired by Christ and gifted to sinful humans is the greatest treasure that has ever and will ever exist. We are stewards of these treasures. Through these means the Holy Spirit raises people from spiritual death. It happens in initially in baptism. Through the same word of truth, we are fortified in Holy Communion.

The Bible says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”3 That means when the Heavenly Father looks at us He sees Christ. Now, that is an astounding reality! And why is that important? If Christ, and His work of salvation were not in the foreground, we would all be like disappearing images in the rear-view mirror. Again, God’s word says, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”4

Do you see what the Scripture says here? Jesus made a public spectacle of all ungodly authorities, gaining the victory over them by the cross. Jesus, hanging derelict, clinging to His last breath, receiving the insults and mockery of everyone who passed by, this Messiah was conquering evil in the process. Nothing would seem to be farther from the truth! It looked, by all human assessments, that He was going down in defeat. Few believed their Saviour would ever be heard from again.

Dear friends, God doesn’t secure victories the way humans do. In His most important battles, He doesn’t fight fire with fire; He fights fire with love. The heavenly Father (in justice) says, “I demand perfection.” Jesus says, “I have rendered it.” The Father says, “I demand atonement for the sins of sinners.” Jesus says, “I have given it.” Satan says, “Sinners don’t deserve God’s favour.” But Jesus says, “I do.” And so, the supreme power of God is displayed in sacrifice.

The transfiguration brings us to the end of the Epiphany season. The pilgrimage of lent lies ahead. It’s a microcosm of our life’s journey, just as Jesus’ passion was of His earthly sojourn. We don’t know what experiences we’ll still have in this life. But believer’s can be assured the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit travels with us. The destination is not in doubt. You, too, will be transfigured. It is hard to imagine. And we have no way to wrap our minds around it save for the Holy Spirit teaching us the divine promises. The apostle says Christ will, “…transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”5

Yes, it sounds like the stuff of sci-fi movies. But it’s much more real than that. Imagine what a cinematic spectacle could be made of Elijah’s ascent to heaven in a whirlwind, or Jesus’ metamorphosis on the mountain! The cinematographer seeks to create some emotional connection with the viewer. But we have a God who makes us the subjects, not the observers. The are no aloof or independent spectators in God’s kingdom. We will be resurrected from death. We will be raised in glory. In heaven we won’t need to worry about the peaks and valleys of life. We won’t crave a mountaintop experience. We’ll be in the inner sanctum of God’s holiness. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Transfiguration of our Lord
11 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 9:7 2 John 14:2-3
3 Galatians 3:27 4 Colossians 2:13-15
5 Philippians 3:21

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Harvest Thanksgiving (B) 2018

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

Text: Matthew 6:31-33
Theme: All Is Provided

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

We are still dependent on the miracle of the seed. It is the botanical equivalent of the physiological miracle of conception. Despite all our great knowledge and technical advances in agriculture and the sciences surrounding it, we depend on a more fundamental and mysterious power. Life is not self-generating or self-sustaining. Life is in God. From the awesome complexity of the human body to the simplicity of the smallest cell; life is sustained by the deeper mystery of the divine presence. Life is in God and life belongs to God. “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills,”1, says the Lord.

Dear friends, the God who creates is not different from the God who redeems. The God who provides is not different from the God who saves. And the God who is present with us now-who sent us His Son, gives us His Spirit, and sustains us by His promises- is not different from the One we will meet on the other side of death. Heaven, and hell, life and death, time and eternity are all present and tangible realities to Him. So, any disconnect that we now have is a result of our sinful limitations and not of His grace.

Harvest Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the organic and practical nature of God’s love. In affluent societies we run the risk of ingratitude for the most basic things. Luther expresses proper gratitude in his explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”2

All that we have, even when we’ve worked hard for it and ‘earned it’ is still a blessing from God. We are not owners. We are stewards. We should be warned that when develop a sense of entitlement God may at any moment seek to curb it. He knows fully well the difference between what we want and what we need, something we struggle with our entire lives. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not.”3 He knows that all material blessings can be used for good or for ill and that we are no closer to Him if we have them and no further if we don’t. Efforts to keep up with the Joneses are signs of greed and discontent.

Luther continues, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”4 God is motivated by His own goodness, not by His assessment of our merit. If we received things based on merit, we would rightly be denied even the smallest measure of His grace. When we believe this, faith motivates our response accordingly. And what good is it to fret over material blessings if the mercy of God is of no value to us? Jesus covered this ground when He said today, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”5

First things first! Creature comforts may provide a certain level of contentment for the body, but the soul in want can never be at peace. It is commonly said that when people are starving or desperate they will not listen to the gospel. Undoubtedly, when the stomach is screaming out few other messages can get through. The mission of the church is always holistic. The body must be fed along with the soul. But the former cannot render unnecessary the latter. Many well-fed people are starving to death spiritually. We are not fictitious sinners and we don’t have a fictitious Saviour. His forgiveness is essential food. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”6

For the past weeks we’ve been speaking about what it means to follow God. Following is an activity of faith. It is marked by humility. It is renewed through repentance. And today we are reminded it is characterised by thankfulness. Gratitude is a movement of the heart. But it should also be a discipline of the will. We should cultivate the habit of being thankful even in times of trial. We can do that, not artificially, but in certainty that God uses our trials to draw us closer to Himself. We might not be able to see the forest for the trees, but God weaves us, warts and all, into the beautiful tapestry which is His church.

The engine room of our thankfulness is found right here in the Divine Service. God gives, and we receive. We then offer back to God what He has first given us; our time, treasures, and talents, over very existence. Sunday sets the rhythm of our week and each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection miracle. St. Paul shows in the Fifteenth Chapter of First Corinthians how our earthy, tangible existence is part of a deep mystery that will unveiled in the resurrection of the dead. “But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.”7

Harvest Thanksgiving helps to keep us grounded. Even in this marginal farming area God continues to provide. Even if we were bereft of every material comfort, the knowledge of eternity is enough to fill our hearts with joy. Still, God wishes to be generous. Dear friends, you will never outpace God’s generosity. You will not surpass His compassion. You will not match His patience. Now, for sure, it may seem to us like God is being stingy at times. We may struggle, but we are never forsaken. The Christ who endured the torment of the cross for you desires that you share in the victory of His resurrection. You are His baptized.

Imagine what magnificent variety adorned the Garden of Eden! “God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’”8 And still, after all these generations since the Fall, our merciful Lord continues to provide us with rich abundance. He provides our daily bread and gives us spiritual food to sustain our souls. The sacred meal of Holy Communion is both a benefit of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and a participation in a future reality. Received in faith, it is already an experience of the time in which faith will be obsolete. The restored Paradise, heaven, will make our harvest thanksgiving celebrations seem pretty paltry. Still, foretastes are a cause for joy. We still depend on the miracle of the seed. The seed of God’s word is planted among us and in us. It will bear a harvest. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Harvest Thanksgiving
4 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 50:10 2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 See Psalm 23:1 4 Luther’s Small Catechism
5 Matthew 6:31-33 6 Matthew 4:4
7 1 Corinthians 15:35-39 8 Genesis 1:29

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2018

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

Text: Mark 1:24
Theme: The Holy One

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

From the very start the ministry of Jesus was one of confrontation. It was confrontational not because He set about insulting people or being insensitive. Jesus never charged thoughtlessly into situations bulldozing over people’s feelings or convictions. It was necessarily adversarial because as the Holy One of God He was on a collision course with sin, its source, and its consequences. The Son of God didn’t come to live among us for curiosity’s sake or for celebrity status. He came to redeem the world from evil and restore people to God’s kingdom.

What is the source of sin? Sin is not God’s creation. Sin entered the world through the rebellion of Satan and the disobedience of Adam and Eve. The consequences have been felt ever since. But we can’t claim simply to be victims; we are participants. We are perpetrators of idolatry because we naturally construct our own agendas. There are not innocent bystanders when it comes to this tangled web of sin. No one is exempt from the call to repentance.

The demons become very agitated with Christ. “Have you come to destroy us?”1, they ask. They fear Him. And rightly so! Remember, demons are fallen angels, once servants of God, who followed their leader Lucifer in rebellion against the Almighty. They know beyond doubt that this Child of Bethlehem has come to abolish their rule of darkness. They know that their, nearly all-encompassing and unchallenged power over human hearts, is soon to be broken. The Bible says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”2 And Jesus will say at the final judgment, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”3

Christ came to redeem people; not angels. Only He can separate the sin from the sinner. It is somewhat counter-intuitive to claim that a newborn infant could be tainted with sin. Every birth illustrates the miracle of life and the magnificence of God’s creative power. Nonetheless, all people are born sinful. In fact, the infection of sin begins at the time of conception. The Scripture says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”4 And Jesus says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.”5 The poison of original sin means we are all born naturally self-centred, and without true fear, love and trust in God. If God didn’t break into our spheres of personal domination we would remain oblivious to both our need and His love.

But God is not remiss or remote. He sends to us His Son, His Spirit, and His word. In baptism He promises His Holy Spirit to wash away sins and grant faith. Counter-intuitive also is the truth that infants can have faith. It is not magical, but it is miraculous. It is a gift that enables a person to take God at His word. Faith can be strong or weak, but it is always complete. There are no half-measures when it comes to possessing salvation. Even the shakiest thread of faith connected to the mercy of God in Christ is a saving faith. Of course, we should always seek the Spirit’s help in strengthening our faith, it’s part of maturing spiritually.

We’ve been speaking the last couple of weeks about the nature of following God. What does it mean? What does it look like? Last week the Ninevites believed God’s threat of judgment, they were led to repentance, and they showed their obedience in sackcloth and humility. Jonah followed God, too, but less readily than the Ninevites. Again, following is an activity of faith. The person who trusts God wants to do His will. Our sinful nature, however, is always seeking to regain control. So, following the will of God always involves the struggle against temptation. It always involves the need for forgiveness and the desire to be more intimate with God. The struggle is the sign of active faith. If we refuse to recognize temptation for what it is, then we are likely in denial about our repentance.

Yet, we can still be in the heart of struggle and have peace of mind. We are declared righteous and holy in the Father’s sight, cleansed through the blood of the Son. But the moment we step off the highway of grace, we step right into the muck. We are freed from sin’s dominion and its eternal threats. And, As St. Paul notes today, we are free to serve our neighbour. But we’re never rid of our propensity towards idolatry. If it seems to you as though there is a contradiction in these claims, then you’re catching on to the paradoxes of being God’s redeemed people who still reside in this fallen world. Mortality is not a light burden. Christ promises us a resurrection. Both are true. Mortality will be superseded. But the resurrection will be the beginning of an everlasting reality.

Do you want your faith to be fortified, nurtured, and revitalized? Come to the sacrament. The Lord invites you to dine at His table and receive sacred food. He gives to you His body and blood. That body carried the weight of your sins. That blood was shed for your forgiveness. Jesus is the mana from heaven that never perishes. Do you want your trust to be broadened, deepened, and galvanized? Feast on His word. Hear it. Read it. Sing it. Pray it. Meditate upon it. The Holy Spirit is always in attendance whenever and wherever the word of God has airing.

Dear friends, Jesus was crucified and raised for you. He is the way into God’s holy presence. Lest we think the journey to the cross was just a formality, that it was an unnecessary spectacle intending to cast the light of humility onto Jesus falsely, we remember that He said, “Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.”6, and a short time later from the cross, “May God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”7 The crucifixion of Jesus was no mockery or fa├žade. He endured great physical pain and immeasurable spiritual torment in His sacrifice for us and for our salvation. Without the cross the profound nature of God’s love would be denied to us. Offence against God’s holiness could be rectified in no other way.

The identity of Jesus as the Holy One of God may seem too high and lofty for us to relate to. And it is true that God’s holiness does mean He is set apart from sinners. And yet, dear friends, this Jesus loves us so profoundly that He was willing to immerse Himself into our fallen world, carry the burden of our muck and filth, shoulder the punishment for our lies and transgressions, and cover us with His won righteousness. The Scripture says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”8 The evil spirits fear Him. He is the Holy One of God. But those who have God’s Spirit revere Him. His holiness accomplishes our salvation. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
28 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 1:24 2 1 John 3:8
3 Matthew 25:41 4 Psalm 51:5
5 John 3:6 6 Mark 14:36
7 Mark 15:34 8 2 Corinthians 5:21

Monday, January 22, 2018

Third Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2018

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

Text: Jonah 3:5
Theme: The Ninevites Converted

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The word of God changed a city of 120,000 people. It was called Nineveh. From the king right down to the last peasant they heeded the warning and wisdom of God. But God didn’t reach them by thundering from heaven. He sent Jonah. Now if we don’t believe such an amazing event occurred or is still possible, then the Holy Spirit calls us to step back and reflect on what our Christian convictions are really founded on. God’s grace isn’t artificial; it is incarnated in the person of His Son. Divine truth is effectual.

It’s an understatement to say that initially Jonah was the reluctant prophet. When God said, “Go this way,” he ran in the opposite direction. He was so hard-headed, God had to have him thrown into the sea and swallowed by a giant fish. Obedience followed, but then also regret and resentment. His bold preaching of repentance met with such great success Jonah questioned the worthiness of the recipients. He reasoned that God was being too gracious to the Ninevite heathens. The character of Jonah is candidly set forth in just a few chapters and it in we see illustrated the human tendency to question God’s judgment.

Dear friends, the word of God is not simply information. It carries divine power. Of course, there’s nothing humans like to do more than spin the news. From flat out falsification, to subtle, subliminal misrepresentation, sinners like to communicate the news with their chosen bias. There are two commandments that specifically address this propensity: The Second Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”1, and of course, the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.”2 Such sins originate from the attitude of the heart. Driving such actions is doubt whether God will speak on our behalf.

Many Christians in the modern era become disillusioned with God simply because they think He isn’t hearing them; that He doesn’t answer their prayers. It’s not a complaint we should trivialize. But what does the Bible say, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”3 God does answer prayers, but not according to our demands. We cannot manipulate Him.

We said last week that it’s not necessary to keep pace with every movement and transition of the Divine Service. Public worship is a corporate activity, so the liturgy must “keep moving” for the sake of all present. Still, the Holy Spirit is working on people individually, not just collectively. So again, when the question is asked, for instance, “Do you confess that you have sinned, and do you repent of your sins?”4 It will be a very worthwhile use of time to present to God just one issue that particularly troubles your conscience or weighs heavily on your heart. The thought can be followed through right to the conclusion of service. The rest of the exchanges can take place between God and His people, while you continue to meditate about God’s wisdom and grace for you regarding that particular matter.

The Holy Spirit works through the word of God. The gospel is not simply a presentation of the news. Yes, it is a communication of facts: Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life of obedience, died an excruciating death, rose triumphantly from the grave, and ascended to the Father’s hand of power, all to atone for the sins of humanity and restore life and light to a dark and dying world. But, as the Scripture says, the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”5 It says, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…”6

It changes things. The power of Jesus’ death and resurrection is an eradicating and vivifying power. The apostle says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”7 Through this power the Holy Spirit puts to death the potency of sin within us and revives us in the grace of God. He does this in baptism. He does it in Holy Communion. The gospel draws us out of servitude to the temporal and opens to us the horizon of the eternal. It frees us from obsession with material and trivial things so that we can focus on spiritual and permanent things. Recall the apostle’s wisdom today, “…those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”8

God’ word changes us from people who flee to people who follow. Jesus called twelve close disciples. Except for Judas they became the apostles. They had special prominence. But he had many other significant followers during His earthly ministry. And then there were the crowds. Today Jesus says to all, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”9 What does it mean to follow God? In the context of Jonah’s situation today we might ask what it mean that the Ninevites repented?

Firstly, and most importantly, the text says they believed God10 and that faith was evidenced by humility. The relationship between trust and following is directly proportional. But it is not formulaic. Humans are complex creatures. Faith is never absolute. We are sinners. We are plagued with doubts and temptations from within and without. But the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, is absolutely reliable. The blessings of our faith- peace of mind, reconciliation with God, cheerfulness about our eternal destiny- these are never at risk (even though we doubt)- because they are gifts of our merciful God. He does not lie. He cannot be overcome. Satan is no threat to Him. Hell is no worry.

What does it mean to follow? It means we are not spectators but participants in life; yet in ways that purposefully align with the wisdom of God. It means the way in which we assess things, make decisions, and carry them out is guided by our beliefs about God’s judgment and His mercy. It means we learn to distinguish between the sacred and the profane. Knowing on one hand the Scripture that says, “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”11 On the other hand, we cannot whitewash evil. “Do not love the world or anything in the world…for everything in the world- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father, but from the world.”12 For example, sexual desire, when directed properly towards one’s spouse is a gift from God. But, lust cannot be sanctified. Lust must be repented of, repudiated, and forgiven.

Following God doesn’t necessarily mean leaving our vocations or locations. Christ is present among us. The joys and struggles of being God’s people and witnessing to His love happen in our everyday routines. The power of the crucified and risen Christ inhabits our hearts, our homes, our places of work and play. Jonah was one believer in a city of 120,000 people. Soon God changed everything. Even after the miracle of mass conversion Jonah still wasn’t completely happy. But His relationship with God had come a long way. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will be sufficiently resolute but divinely gentle with us in our own struggles too. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday After Epiphany
21 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Exodus 20:7 2 Exodus 20:16
3 James 4:2-3 4 Lutheran Hymnal, p.6
5 Romans 1:16 6 Hebrews 4:12
7 Galatians 2:20 8 1 Corinthians 7:31
9 Mark 1:15 10 See Jonah 3:5
11 1 Timothy 4:4-5 12 1 John 2:15-16

Funeral for Murray Wedding (January 18, 2018)

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

Text: John 14:3
Theme: ‘A Place To Call Home’

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Murray, Helen, Merilyn, and especially you, Phyllis,

Murray Wedding is home. It took a little patience in the end. But he is now at peace. He now enjoys the reward of faith and the crown of everlasting life. The coffin contains his earthly remains, but his soul is in the presence of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Scripture read earlier was one of Murray’s favourites, “Do not be afraid…for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”1 Indeed, that promise has now been fulfilled.

Murray Wedding loved music. He taught himself to play the organ and was happy to play in God’s house. He also loved to sing. His love for music was deeply connected with his faith. Music expresses the deepest sentiments of the human heart and soul. Profound truths are often better expressed in music than in words. The Bible is filled with examples, and none more important than the descriptions of being in God’s presence in heaven. Imagine how great and glorious that celestial choir is! It is populated with saints and angels.

St John had a glimpse into heaven and this is how he described it, “They sang a new song, saying, "… you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard around the throne… the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"2 Such profound realities should appropriately occupy our thoughts as we reflect in Murray’s transition to eternal life.

Dear friends, the death of every believer is an important opportunity to reflect on our own brevity and frailty. What lessons about mortality do the Scriptures teach us? No one can cheat death, and no one can fool God. Yet, the selfish, sinful human heart is easily led astray. There is an insidious teaching the devil has long been inoculating the hearts and souls of modern people with. It has made great inroads into Christianity too. The falsehood is known as universalism. Put simply, it is the idea that all paths lead to the same place in the afterlife. It’s expressed in statements like “Everybody is going to a better place.” Underpinning this very alluring idea is the belief that all people are basically good, in and of themselves. Therefore, we can be confident that nearly everybody is moving on to a better life. If that were really so, would the Lord Jesus Christ have warned so clearly and constantly about the perils of hell? After all, what need is there for a Saviour if there is nothing to be saved from?

Dear friends, eternal separation from God is not an idle threat. No one plays God the fool. Heaven cannot be gained by hook or by crook. We are not judges of our own worthiness. At the threshold of mortality there are no words of defence or assertion that will suffice. Therefore, the Redeemer says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life”3 Murray was a hearer of the word. He cherished the gospel. He knew he was justified only by grace. He knew there was no way he could merit God’s unconditional love. Believers are righteous because Jesus has shed His own blood. As the Bible says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”4 Christ died and rose again for every human being.

Murray understood the rigours of Mallee farm life. The early years didn’t afford many luxuries, and everyone was required to pull their weight. Cooperation was essential, and a real community spirit was evidenced; something that is significantly diminished in todays’ society. The challenges and rewards of farm life were often stark: Feast or famine. Murray was adaptable and was able to adjust as circumstances demanded. When he was still fit, Murray was rarely absent from the Lord’s house or the Lord’s Table. He cherished the forgiveness of sins offered in Holy Communion. He was no Sunday-only or casual Christian. His faith informed everything he did.

Murray’ earthly journey has now ended. He is home in the eternal place prepared for him. He led a full, active, and faithful life. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. In his later years, we had a number of conversations about one of Murray’s favourite books called The Big Fisherman. It illustrated the life of Simon Peter and his transition from that of a fisherman to an apostle. Murray appreciated how it depicted Christ as the great seeker of souls. It impressed upon him that we often overestimate our own abilities in life and that it usually takes times of testing for us to recognize that God is actually in control. More than once, Murray humbly admitted to me that he thought he was handling life quite adequately on his own until some adversity reminded him to rely on God’s grace.

Dear friends, the believer need not fear death, because at death the promise of baptism is realised. The Holy Spirit says through the apostle, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”5 Murray now has newness of life beyond our comprehension. Grief is still very real. Phyllis, Helen, Merilyn, as you grieve, recognize the gift that Murray was- a gift that will never be replaced- but look forward to a reunion with such joy and vibrancy that it utterly exceeds anything we can experience in this life. In the blessed name of Jesus, Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Murray Desmond Wedding
18 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Deuteronomy 31:6 2 Revelation 5:9-13
3 John 5:24 4 Romans 3:22-24
5 Romans 6:3-4

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Second Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2018

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

Text: John 1:51
Theme: Heaven Open

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ In nomine Jesu +

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

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