Monday, October 16, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 32:14
Theme: God’s Forbearance

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is patient. He is patient with His people. The reason why is important. God is patient, not because He is tolerant (according to our popular usage of the term), or apathetic, or ignorant. God is patient because He is merciful. Therefore, when Peter says that God, “Is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”1 he is not thereby saying that God is hesitant, indecisive, or wavering about sin and its consequences for sinners. His forbearance relates directly to the sending of Christ and His incurring the punishment for our sins. All history moves towards and flows from that event.

It is surely one of the great ironies of the entire biblical narrative that while Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the will of God the people down below turned to idolatry. They abandoned the God who had delivered them. Aaron bowed to their pressure and became complicit with their demands. He forged a golden calf. The golden calf is still the historical reference for any and every form of idolatry. However, as knowledge of the Scriptures wanes in our day, the ancient truths will need to be taught again to a new generation.

Now God’s forbearance is put to the test. The ungratefulness, unrighteousness, and unbelief of the people seemed to know no limits. God had once started over with Noah and his family when He destroyed the world with a flood. He didn’t do it on a whim. The wickedness of humanity had become intolerable. Now history was repeating itself. God told Moses He had similar intentions at this point in time. “Let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”2 God could build a nation through Moses, just as He had done with Noah and Abraham.

But Moses pleads with God to remember His promise, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to who you swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring…”3 The intercession of Moses was powerful. The people were still punished, but God’s condemnation was tempered. Dear friends, we celebrate the forbearance of God, but we don’t take liberties with it. From the perspective of the redeeming work of Christ- His death and resurrection- the forbearance of God is infinite. But repentance is always contemporaneous. Never do we arrogantly test the patience of God.

At the time of Moses, the Israelite community was unique. They were governed directly by God through the prophetic office, held, in this case by Moses. Later, they would elect a king(Saul), like other nations. But, in so far as they we God’s people, they were a community held together by their convictions. They were a covenant people. Their most important meals together involved a participation in the blessings of a God who shed other blood so that their blood could be spared. Does that sound familiar? Our most important meal together is a participation in God Himself, who give Himself to us through His Son in Holy Communion. If you’re wanting to meet with God, this is the place.

So, the essence of Christianity is also realized in community. Christ redeems sinners through His blood. This puts them into community with the triune God. The Holy Spirit gathers people into the family of believers through baptism and the word. This puts them into community with one another. The Christian community gathers to worship around word and sacrament. Forgiven, comforted and instructed by Christ, the Head, believers live their lives in faithful service to one another and as living sacrifices in the world.

Community is characterized by dynamic, tangible and reciprocal relationships. To say in any real sense that we have fellowship with God, that we are in community with Him, is to understand a living relationship. A mental image of an independent deity is not community. A theoretical conceptualization of a transcendent God is not community. Fellowship with God is constituted by the concrete actions of the Son’s incarnation and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. In other words, God establishes fellowship, or community with us, by removing the barriers that prevent us from having a relationship with Him.

Those barriers are the result of a pathological condition of far-reaching extent the Bible summarizes with words such as sin and transgression. The short of it is: We are not born with a desire to have a relationship with God. We are not born with the ability or inclination to want to understand or accept His will. Nor does such desire develop naturally within us. We have our own plans and agendas. We don’t instinctively understand that we are on the path to failure. The only community we desire is that of like-minded people or those we can control. God doesn’t fit the bill. We can’t understand through human reason that apart from fellowship with God, we are condemned to a community of discord, strife and eternal death.

Christian communities are unlike any other. They are not based on societal status, professional vocation or academic interest. The Christian community is characterized by willingness to be reconciled. We know the difficulties of mending hurt feelings, restoring broken trusts, rebuilding damaged relationships. These can only be accomplished through genuine humility, steadfast patience and a generous measure of forgiveness. And they cannot be accomplished by us, but solely by trust in the grace and mercy of Christ.

Your sins are forgiven. You are restored to the Father’s favour, through the Son’s love. When you hear the pastor say, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you are receiving the declaration of pardon secured on Calvary. When you are given His body and blood, you are receiving the life of Him who is the Living One, whom you will be in heaven with forevermore. The forgiving Father graciously welcomes back all the prodigal sons.

It’s no wonder the apostle could say today, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”4 And David writes, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”5 Moses still had a long road ahead of him. The Jordan wasn’t ready to be crossed. God would bear with the people, but there were lessons to be learned. Still, the passion of God includes at its core His willingness to go the distance to redeem sinners. In His time God opened the way to the Promised Land and the people crossed over on dry ground6. It was a preview of Jesus’ work of opening the way to the promised land of heaven. He safely carries us across. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
15 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Peter 3:8 2 Exodus 32:10
3 Exodus 32:13 4 Philippians 4:6-7
5 Psalm 145:8 6 See Joshua 3:17

Monday, October 9, 2017

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 21:38
Theme: The True Heir

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The world is unsettled. The media generally reports the upheavals of society selectively. There is an agenda at work. A certain picture is painted that is intended to colour things according to particular convictions. But the pervasiveness of sin is not taken into account. Do we really think that all the unrest in the world, all the violence, all the hatred, all the premeditated bloodshed, all the anger, all the malcontent, all the tension and frustration, the fear and the uncertainty; do we really think that’s just caused by differences of opinion, by people not seeing eye to eye on otherwise inconsequential matters? Yet the Almighty God says, “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.”1 Of this truth, we can be certain. On it our confidence rests.

Worldviews are currently clashing. Different convictions about core realities are being vented in concrete ways. What is the purpose of life? What gives it meaning? What is the basis for authority? Is there objective and knowable truth? How did I get here and where am I going? Is there divine love, or is love just a composite of the best virtues humans can muster? Did God create men for a purpose or are we just here by random chance? These and other questions are swirling in a vortex of tension that is stretching the fabric of our shared society.

But we are not unique. Humanity has been here before. Today Jesus tells the parable of the unscrupulous tenants. It wasn’t meant to resolve a parochial matter. Universal spiritual truths were at stake. Who did these tenants think they were? Had they become over-protective and over-possessive employees? Were they greedy opportunists? Were they arrogant squatters? Perhaps all descriptions hit the mark, but they were more. They had made themselves owners and lords, judge and jury. They committed murder and brazenly tried to take the inheritance by force. They became a law unto themselves. Jesus was sending a clear message to the religious rulers that they were only stewards of the kingdom. They were not the owners. They did not have the authority to administer the inheritance. They would meet with justice.

The Scriptures confront us with the sobering question also, “Who do you think you are?” It has nothing to do with discovering our ancestry and everything to do with true humility. When we think there is no greater power than combined human ingenuity, when we become entrenched in the belief that we are masters of our own destiny, when we are convinced that we are accountable to no one and nothing but our own sense of justice, then it’s time to consider the question, “Who do we think we are?” The Bible says, “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”2

God knows, of course, how unruly and selfish our natural intentions are and that’s why He has decreed His will for the well-being of human society. The Ten Commandments are not a quirky or eclectic set of religious rules. It’s no coincidence that biblical morality resonates so closely with natural law. As such, they speak not only to believers, but to all humanity. They reflect God’s passion for the sanctity of life. They are the standard for a stable society.

Sometimes things have to become more broken before God can make it clear to us the only way they can be restored. God does not finally accomplish His will through force, but through “weakness”, through gentleness. As the Scripture says, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.”3 No one could have been farther from understanding the gentle grace of God than St. Paul. But Jesus changed that dramatically. So today, as St. Paul reflects on his family history and the privileges and opportunities he had because of it, he quickly puts it into a proper perspective, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”4

You see, it’s only in, and through Christ that all things are finally reconciled- resolved. Can there be a rage that burns with such intensity that the tranquility of Christ cannot quench it? Can there be evil that is so sinister that the holiness of Christ cannot triumph over the depravity? Can there be an ugliness so pervasive that the beauty of Christ cannot transform it to magnificent virtue? Can there be a person so lost in the labyrinth of Satan that the Good Shepherd cannot recover him? Can there be a heart so stained with sin that the blood of Christ cannot purify it to the brightness of the driven snow? Can there be a soul so fragile that the gentleness of Christ cannot nurse it back to strength? Can there be a darkness so impenetrable that the light of Christ cannot pierce it? Death could not prevent the Easter morning sun from revealing that the tomb was empty. The resurrection of Jesus proved God’s power over all the consequences of sin and evil.

Dear friends, don’t be fooled by the look of innocence that attends an infant baptism. The devil is seething. There is a spiritual battle taking place. Satan is a foe too great for us, but He is powerless against the Son of God. Christ makes a claim on a person, who, left to his or her own natural tendencies, would remain blind to the love and truth of God. Baptism is about a promise so serious that it required a crucifixion. The Scripture says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”5

Newness of life is what God gives to us each time our sins are forgiven. Renewal of hope is what he grants to us every time we hear His promises. Revival of faith is what He bestows on us each time we receive His body and blood in Holy Communion. The question, “Who do you think you are?” must also be understood from the perspective of Christ’s work for you. In the eyes of God, you are His precious child. You have been written into His will. You are sealed with His blood. You are freed to be His servant. You are a treasured member of His family. You are an heir to His everlasting kingdom.

The Scripture says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”6 Jesus Christ is the unassailable foundation. He is the cornerstone. An earthquake cannot shake Him. A flood cannot sweep Him away. A wind cannot topple Him over. It is impossible to load Him up with more weight than He can bear. All the controversy and chaos of human history past or present does not rattle Him. Christ is the true heir to the Father’s kingdom and we are co-heirs with Him in the richness of heavenly blessings. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
8 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 75:3 2 Romans 3:19
3 Zechariah 9:9 4 Philippians 3:7-9
5 Romans 6:3-4 6 Hebrews 12:28

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 17:7
Theme: The Lord Is Present

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Agitation is often symptomatic of underlying fear. The Israelites were unsettled in the wilderness and complained of thirst. The deeper issue was their doubt about God’s provision; about His very presence. They queried, “Is the Lord among us or not?”1 Moses must have gotten tired of managing complaints. It was a long and trying time in the desert. The people were not exactly models of godly behavior. Yet, God’s patience did not waver. These were His people. He would chastise them, but He would not abandon them. He stood with them at Meribah.

It was a large mass of people in the wilderness so movement required significant coordination. What becomes evident as the time in the wilderness drags on is that the people are failing the test of faithfulness. They had witnessed the mighty power of the Lord and yet they were still full of discontent. Granted, it was a difficult transition. Yet, the rewards were great. The Promised Land awaited them, but most did not reach it. Meanwhile, God gives them water to sustain them, just as He had given them mana and quail.

The episode of acquiring water from the rock becomes a defining one in Moses’s own life. It was due to this incident particularly that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land himself.2 Apparently Moses was initially commanded to speak to the rock to obtain the water. His action of striking it with the staff, though effective through the Lord’s power, was nevertheless a sign of disrespect. Nevertheless, he was a forgiven child of God and Jesus meets him on the mount of Transfiguration.

Many, however, lost faith completely in the desert. What were their defining sins? St. Paul mentions idolatry and sexual immorality specifically, and then says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”3 The Scriptures are clear about sins of sexual immorality including homosexuality. All the doubt that’s been created in people’s minds recently stems from the human desire to be unrestrained, not from any new evidence that sexual promiscuity of every sort is acceptable in society or a right handed down by God. But we note too, that in the general context of our sinfulness, sexual sins are often lumped together with all manner of ungodliness. The apostle says, for example, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”4

Paul is talking about the condition and attitude of unrepentance, not about sinning out of weakness or ignorance. If I pursue unrestricted greed then I’m no better than an idolater or a homosexual offender. Different complications may arise from different sins, but all are reprehensible to God. He then says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”5 There is no sin that the sacrifice of Christ hasn’t atoned for. No one is beyond the reach of His grace.

It’s important to be clear when we share the love of God with others. The deception comes if we think we are being loving apart from being truthful. There is no contradiction between truth and love. If I am convinced that someone’s soul is in danger, I cannot love them by confirming them in their unbelief. I cannot love them by promoting their falsehood. It doesn’t mean, of course, that you act in arrogance or self-righteousness yourself. If someone is in doubt, if they are frail, if they are struggling under the burden of guilt, I certainly cannot love them by harshly presenting them truth that I’m convinced they are obligated to believe. The Holy Spirit must do the work.

Perhaps Moses would have liked to have another chance at bringing water from the rock. We can’t change our history. We can’t rewrite the past. We can’t go back in time. We can’t undo the sins we have committed. So, what does the Spirit want us to do? Celebrate our sins? Ignore them? Deny them? Justify them. They are celebrated all too often when people reflect on the unsavory things they did in their youth with fondness. They are ignored all too often when people just leave them unaddressed. They are denied all too often when people go to great lengths to disassociate with reality. They are justified all too often when people find reasons to excuse their hurtful behavior. The Spirit calls us to confess them, seek forgiveness, and receive divine pardon.

Where are you going to for help? To whom are you looking for strength? How can peace of mind and stillness of conscience be obtained? It’s telling that for some time now many of the books found at Christian book stores are spiritual self-help guides. But you can’t find divine pardon by looking to human sources. There was only one who was worthy to be hung from a cross. He sacrificed His own life, shedding His blood so that we could have the certainty of divine favour. That certainty is not a “conjured up” religious state of mind. It’s not a blind hope invested in a mythical tale. The Son of God was crucified under Pontus Pilate, He died, He was buried, and on the third day He rose from the grave. He did that for you and for your salvation.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that peace with God is easily grasped by the human heart or cherished by the human will. Just look at the struggles the Israelites had! The heart is treacherous. But the Scriptures tell us that even when the conscience is still fragile, still stirred up, still full of anxiety, the pardon is just as valid and certain as if God himself smashed down the wall of our prison and set us free. He grants you this freedom in your baptism. He renews it through Holy Communion. Peace of mind is one gift of forgiveness but it is not the requirement for its validity. The certainty of forgiveness is a serious matter that is authenticated by Christ’s work and promise alone. Refusal to acknowledge the validity of forgiveness calls into question the sacrifice of Jesus, the shedding of His blood, His self-giving to cover the debt of sin. The death and resurrection of Christ weren’t for show. God reconciles us to Himself to us through Christ putting our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west6, “I, even I am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”7

Meribah is an historic name. The connotations aren’t very positive in the biblical context. The name denotes the quarreling that characterized the people’s actions. Yet, the situation provided still another opportunity for the people to witness God’s faithfulness. He had already delivered them from the mighty power of Pharaoh. Would He not be able to provide for them in the wilderness? At Meribah the people asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”8 The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” and the name Fountain of Living Waters expresses that truth. Jesus is the living water. He quenches every thirst of the desert traveler. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”9 He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”10

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Exodus 17:7 2 Exodus 20:11-13
3 1 Corinthians 10:11 4 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
5 1 Corinthians 6:11 6 See Psalm 103:12
7 Isaiah 43:25 8 Exodus 17:7
9 John 6:35 10 Matthew 28:20

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 20:14
Theme: A Gift, Not A Wage

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Assumption is the mother of all blunders. When our assumptions hold things may go smoothly. But when our assumptions fail the consequences can be disastrous. We might assume other drivers will stop at a red light, but it’s the better part of wisdom to wait for verification. More generally, we may assume we are sailing along in life basically under our own steam, setting our own boundaries, and reaping the benefits of our own investments and ingenuity. Suddenly we are made aware of some vulnerability; even our mortality. We become more conscious of the brokenness of our lives and our world. We may even cry “Unfair!” God demolishes our assumptions more quickly and completely than anyone. Then, God has an opportunity to speak truth into our lives. He does so with unapologetic honesty and compassionate generosity. God never acts inconsistently with His own nature.

It’s the essential nature of God that Jesus wishes to illustrate in today’s gospel reading. Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard. It begins in a straightforward manner and relates to circumstances everyone understood. During the grape harvest those needing seasonal work would go to the marketplace in hopes of being hired as day laborers. The average wage was one denarius for a full day’s work. In the illustration workers are hired throughout the day right up to the last hour.

The twist comes when the day ends and it’s time to get paid. “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.”1 Now, it’s not hard to predict what the response might be. Certainly, the practice wouldn’t hold up under any modern fair work legislation. “They began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”2

The response of the vineyard owner is telling, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius...are you envious because I am generous?”3 Herein lies the trouble for sinful human beings. We have certain expectations of God. We’d like His actions to benefit us in preference to others, or at least not slight us. But we cannot dictate the parameters of fairness to which God must comply. If we could put stipulations on the expression of God’s grace, draw up boundaries and enforce them, cry foul when the lines were crossed, it wouldn’t be grace. Then we would be the ones making the definitions.

You see, the owner wasn’t actually paying those who were hired last a wage, he was giving them a gift. Why did he do it? He was generous. Wages are a debt that is owed. What wages are due us? Would we really like to receive what we deserve? We might think so if we are making self-righteous comparisons to others. But when the mirror of God’s holiness is held before us it’s an entirely different matter. If we look in that mirror- the one that peers with transparency right into our hearts- and see a beautiful image of ourselves, then we’ve turned a blind-eye to our own sinfulness. We don’t really want what we deserve. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”4
These core truths, realities about sin and grace, judgment and forgiveness, what that means for us in the here and now and eternally, are under great dispute in our age. You don’t have to be a genius to recognize that the influence of Christianity is in precipitous decline in our society. Apathy about Christian truth and Christian presence is turning to antagonism and antagonism is moving towards hostility in some circumstances. We might be just at the beginning of a time of purging- the sorting of those who have associations with Christianity in name only. Persecution has always proven to be a reliable sieve.

The reasons are ancient even though they find new expressions. People have other gods they prefer to worship. Technically, everyone has either the true God or idols, even those who claim to be atheists. Luther reminds us that, “A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need... That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is…really your God. ”5 The Scriptures tell us that from conception we are separated from the true God and only He can mend the relationship. The saving work of Christ accomplishes that task. The Bible says, “Now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”6

The gospel is the incomparably good news of God’s grace in Christ. Baptism is one specific means by which God gifts us with that grace. If baptism depended on us it wouldn’t be the work of God. In baptism, the Holy Spirit works repentance and grants the forgiveness of sins. We might understandably query how an infant can come to repentance. It’s a logical question to which the Bible gives a mystical answer. God gifts the child with repentance. The gift of repentance goes hand in hand with the gift of faith. Just as with the gospel in general, baptism is a means by which God’s word works in people’s hearts and minds. The fact is, even the most mature Christian adults cannot repent on their own; it’s an act of spiritual crucifixion and resurrection by the Holy Spirit. The same blessing is continually received in Holy Communion.

Truly, the parable today also teaches us to be content with the place we have in God’s vineyard. In our vocations, each of us makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good. God rewards our efforts even if it’s not in the way we’d like. But in the big picture the main message is about a particular kind of generosity- divine grace. If God were not gracious far beyond human imagination we either wouldn’t exist at all, or we’d be separated from Him eternally- that’s called hell. The specificities of God’s grace are revealed in the incarnation of Jesus, His humble life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. In terms of the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus is actually the one who bore “the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”7 In fact, He shouldered all the burden of our sins and endured the fiery crucible of the cross. So, the grace of God and all His blessings to us are cross-shaped.

God doesn’t leave things to chance and He’s never burned by false assumptions. Our salvation is not in doubt because it is in His hands. The grace of God is completely unmanageable by humans. We can’t control it. You can’t secure the love of God in a vault, you can’t lock it up in a prison- the entire universe cannot contain it. You certainly can’t keep it sealed in a crypt. Death put Christ in a tomb but it could not hold Him. Nails were driven into His hands and feet; a spear was thrust into His side, He breathed His last and gave up His spirit, but it was all in sacrifice for us. It wasn’t the end. It was the inauguration of His eternal kingdom. He is the owner of the vineyard. We’re privileged to benefit from His grace. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
24 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 20:9-10 2 Matthew 20:11-12
3 Matthew 20:13, 15 4 Romans 6:23
5 Martin Luther, Large Catechism 6 Colossians 1:22-23
7 Matthew 20:11-12

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Funeral for Clyde Manuel (18 September 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ In nomine Jesu +

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

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

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ In nomine Jesu +

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 12:14
Theme: Sealed With Blood

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ In nomine Jesu +

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

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