Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Sunday After Christmas A 2010

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

Text: Matthew 2:15
Theme: To Egypt and Back

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The jubilation of the first Christmas quickly fades. The angels ascend to heaven. The shepherds return to their flocks. Daily life goes on. Soon the Magi have come and gone also. A new reality sets in. How rapidly the plan of salvation appears to be on a knife’s edge! The infant Saviour is almost immediately under threat. The worldly powers seek His life. It’s a very precarious situation into which the Messiah has come.

Surely God allows such uncertainty to test our faith. You see, He desires that we seek Him not in His power, but in His humility. His glory will always remain veiled to us in this life. What role would there be for the Holy Spirit should God always reveal Himself in splendor and power; exercising observable control over His enemies and visibly thwarting every opposition to His will? What need would there be for the Word of grace if God simply acted by force at all times?

Our text tells us that Joseph is directed to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. It seems to be an unlikely turn of events. How can this infant born to humble parents be perceived as such a threat? But Herod won’t take any chances. The visit of the Magi concerns him greatly. Protecting His rule and dynasty is his first priority. He doesn’t intend to let a so-called Jewish Messiah stand in his way.

The infant Saviour now has refugee status. Sometimes God provides refuge in the least likely places. But God’s people had found safety in Egypt in the past. Joseph brought Jacob’s entire family there after his brothers had sold him into slavery. It was there that Israel grew into a great nation. Egypt then became the symbol of bondage and oppression. God’s deliverance of His people through Moses stands as the primary redemption paradigm of the Old Testament. It was a preview of the final deliverance from the powers of death and hell. Now the long-awaited descendant of Jacob returns. “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”1

Dear friends, all these events remind us that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were not as carefree and lighthearted as is often depicted in nativity celebrations. Those first years were filled with difficulty, struggle, and even danger. Though the sweetness and innocence associated with the manger may provide a nice reprieve from our stressful lives it’s the hard reality of struggle that better equips us for the Christian life. One of the Church Fathers says it this way, “You, yourself need not be troubled if you are suffering countless dangers. Do not expect to be celebrated or crowned promptly for your troubles. Instead you may keep in mind the long-suffering example of the mother of the Child, bearing all things nobly, knowing that such a fugitive life is consistent with the ordering of spiritual things.”2

Consider carefully what is said here. Spiritual things are ordered in such a way that believers often experience trial in this life. Faith receives the promise of God’s truth and then immediately engages all that oppose it. Remember that all the temptations with which you may struggle- greed, laziness, apathy, selfishness, sexual immorality, vanity, falsehood- are not independent vices. They are all expressions of the self’s desire to be in control, to be self-governing, to wrest any authority from God. Dealing with sin is not simply a matter dealing with our particular weaknesses. It involves an all-out war against the powerful forces that have corrupted the heart and mind. Sin is not like a superficial wound, but an aggressive and terminal cancer. When we understand this we can see what a marvelous thing it is that God Himself, Jesus our Immanuel, destroys sin’s power in His body. Christmas was required for this to be possible. Christ overcomes sin’s wickedness at the highest level- the spiritual level- by disarming Satan and paying the penalty for humanity’s guilt.

The believer is then free. Justified by grace, through faith, the believer is no longer held in bondage to Satan’s will or sin’s power. But this freedom is often misunderstood because it is evidenced not in a carefree or untroubled life, but in struggle. From the moment of baptism the believer is led in this struggle by the Holy Spirit. The world cannot understand it and even the Christian can become perplexed and distressed by it. Since we believe, why doesn’t God just remove all of our troubles and temptations? He didn’t do this for Mary and Joseph so we can hardly expect that He will do it for us. Why, because then we would stop believing that it really all depends on the grace of Christ, and start thinking it’s all a matter of our own faith.

So what’s the reality of life under the cross? It’s exactly the life of the Holy Family from the beginning. It’s both an individual, personal struggle; and a corporate one involving our life in the body of Christ, the church. The Holy Spirit struggles against our sinful nature and our sinful nature struggles against the Spirit. And precisely in so far as the Spirit gains the upper hand in the life of a believer; precisely in that measure does the world oppose the Spirit’s work. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.”3 The devil cannot leave well enough alone.

The world will always be filled with the temperament of Herod. People will always harm others to protect their own interests. Herod’s decree to have the infant boys of Bethlehem killed stands as the epitome of ruthless violence against the innocent. The same evil continues today multiplied many times in the practice of abortion. Claiming it as a legal right doesn’t change the fact that a human life is being terminated. Does the worth of a human life change depending on how another values it? Certainly human life is de-valued when people abuse the power they have over others. But God’s own estimation of His creation cannot be altered by our veneration or destruction of it.

Dear friends, we easily take for granted how blessed we are to have the advantage of history. For us the uncertainty and vulnerability associated with the ChristChild’s early years have been removed. The infant Saviour who was vulnerable to earthly powers has now conquered all powers of spiritual evil. The manger stood in the shadow of the cross pointing to His future crucifixion. But the dark shadow of the cross was dispersed by the brilliant light of Easter morning. He who was born of the Virgin purifies His people. He who was hounded by Herod has bound His mentor, Satan. He who bore the unjust wrath of rulers, rules His own with grace and forgiveness. Our Immanuel, who had to abandon His home at a tender age, dwells among us as our mighty fortress. May His presence govern your lives this Christmastide and always. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Christmas
26 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 2:15
2 Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew
3 John 1:10

The Nativity of our Lord Christmas Day 2010

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

Text: John 1:14
Theme: “Dwelling Among Us”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

No wonder the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest!”1 God is as good as His word. In popular expression it means that someone can be trusted. It means we can count on them to carry out what they’ve said. With God we can be even more certain. The Good News of prophecy has become the final word of personhood. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”2 Jesus Christ, an infant in a manger embodies the fullness of the Godhead.

The beginning of John’s gospel is laden with the imagery of salvation. All the superlative themes are addressed: Light and darkness, sin and grace, life and death. John intends nothing less than to address the deepest of mysteries; to explain to the world the resolution to the quandary of the universe. The answers lie in the Word-made-flesh. Though symbolic in their meaning and comprehensive in their reach, these terms through which existence is characterized speak to concrete realities. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, pure divine spirit, assuming human flesh in the manhood of Jesus of Nazareth; this is not an epic myth. God administers His rule through the crucified and risen Christ. This is the bedrock of our faith. John is a witness to these things.

God chooses to restore His creation in this manner. It’s not our place to query why. Why in this manner? We can never penetrate the mind of God beyond what He reveals to us in Scripture. Apart from the Scripture we can know nothing of God’s saving grace at all. This is because of the darkness of sin. Jon describes the situation this way, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”3 Dear friends, Christmas means that our lives are no longer dominated by the futility of temporal things. We are no longer trapped in the emptiness of our fleeting mortality. It’s a message the world desperately needs to hear.

People are searching for something to live for. They despair of any reason to exist. They find nothing worthwhile to put their hand to. Yes, they carry on from day to day but without purpose. How many seriously grapple with the question of what motivates them each day? How many are trapped in the drudgery of just making ends meet? So they chase riches and pleasures. They become absorbed in the hedonism and consumerism this world has to offer. Often times this ends in addiction, depression, and despair. Yes, the unbeliever can be quite proud and satisfied with himself. He can be full of self-confidence. He can value the ethical aspects of Christianity and even participate in its public celebrations. But the unbeliever knows not who he is, because he knows not or believes not what will become of him.
But don’t think for a moment that such indulgence cannot be pursued under the guise of respectability. Christians are not immune. Yes, it’s often the so-called ‘responsible’ people who are the most self-indulged. Our hearts are naturally drawn to these temptations. We dare not ever paint a picture of those with ungodly appetites that excludes ourselves. Christmas is never about polishing our own halos. If we use it as an opportunity to reassure ourselves that we’re doing the right things to stay in God’s favour in spite of our unrepentance, then we’re not truly here to worship Him, but to pacify our consciences. Christ comes for sinners. Period!
He wipes the slate clean. He gives us a new identity. The Scripture says, “To those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”4 Jesus says, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”5

If this truth cannot motivate you, inspire you, and energize you, even as it crushes you, humbles you, and chastens you, then your trust is not in the Offspring of Abraham and your hope is not in the Son of David. Then the Saviour born in Bethlehem is not really for you a Redeemer. He may be an object of intrigue or admiration. He may be feared as a Sovereign and Judge. He may even be acknowledged in time of crisis. But if He is not finally your sole hope and trust; then He is not your God. This Jesus, who entered through the Virgin’s womb, sojourned in a manger, hung from a cross; this living, breathing, flesh and blood man-He is the God who halts death and rescues from every foe. The Holy Spirit points you to this Bearer of Immortality with greater illumination than the brilliance by which the star led the Magi to the Child. Christian joy begins and ends here. It looks for nothing further.

Now that is not to say that you must conjure up an artificial joy and pretend to be filled with the Spirit’s inspiration. The joy of a Christian is often a quiet peace of mind and a spirit of contentment. These blessings come to rule the life of a Christian, which in all outward respects seems very ordinary. But it is in fact the picture of a pilgrim traversing a hostile land. This yoke of morality is heavy. This burden of sin’s corruption is draining. Daily spiritual sustenance is required to face it. God provides it through His word and sacraments and within Christ’s body, the church. Christ has made His dwelling among us. Here He dwells in bread and wine giving us His flesh and blood. He packs this sacrament with the promise of forgiveness and strength for the soul.

Dear friends, Christmas celebrations are still largely tolerated and even participated in by the wider society. But beyond this, attitudes are changing. When the world challenges us with the question of why we serve the God we do, when it ridicules such a ‘waste of time’, where do we turn? We remember that we are baptized! When our health collapses, our plans fail, and our livelihoods teeter on the brink-even over Christmas- we need not wonder whether our faith is strong enough. We remember Him who went from weakness to strength- for us. We remember that we are baptized into His name. When death itself is at the door we have confidence that it cannot win the final victory because Christ has mastered it. He is as good as His Word. The Child of Bethlehem is the King of the heavenly Jerusalem. He has made His dwelling among us and He shall reign forever and ever! Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:4
2 John 1:14
3 John 1:5
4 John 1:12
5 John 4:24

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve 2010

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

Text: Luke 2:7
Theme: An Unassuming Entrance

Dear Gatherers at our Lord’s nativity,

The nativity is a rather unremarkable domestic scene. Granted the circumstances were more strained than normal. Still, the Almighty chose a very unassuming entrance into the world. “She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”1But God doesn’t concern Himself with human perception. He takes no thought for how people may appraise His actions. Imagine if God held focus group meetings to determine how people might perceive His proposals; or if He hired consultants to gauge public acceptance of His work? Will people come on board with His plans? Will they approve of His ways? Yes, how easy it is to want to limit God to our framework. It makes Him much more manageable.

But to pretend to ‘manage’ God is a fallacy. It’s like children only playing games. Playing cops and robbers is all harmless and relaxed until real danger appears. Then the amusement of little ones comes to a stop. Next to God we’re never more than children regardless of how mature our egos become. We soon get off track if we try to domesticate God. That’s one of the dangers of the nostalgia of the nativity.

You see, God is truly an unwieldy character. He stirs our thoughts and nudges our hearts. Bland clichés about His love and misrepresentations of His tolerance cannot cover up His sobering presence. Yes, there He lays, a small, vulnerable infant, born into the world like all others. Yet He is someone to be reckoned with. More to the point: He does the reckoning. Our lives adjust accordingly.

The individual and collective memory of even the Christmas narrative is fading in Western society. Yes, many still know the contours, the basic content; but in the details we often stumble. Angels, shepherds and good news; a mother and child and a manger. But what does it mean and what real impact does it have? We must be honest in assessing whether nativity plays are a sign of the vigorous present and future faith of Christians, or a waning relic of the faithfulness of past generations. That is, is Christmas Eve participation a mark of the church’s current and future vitality or a symbol of sentimentalism for by-gone days? We need not reflect long to recognize the answer.

Some would say it’s an unnecessary analysis that dampens the spirit of the season. Yet it’s an honest one that the Holy Spirit uses to call us to repentance, humility, and faithfulness. How shallow do celebrations of Christ’s birth become if we have long since ceased believing there are truly any sinners left to save? What need for a Redeemer if there is nothing to be rescued from? Do we come to the Christ Child as sinners seeking forgiveness, or merely as admirers who would otherwise remain aloof? Our peace only comes in knowing that this Messiah reconciles us to the heavenly Father.

The angelic beings proclaim a message pregnant with peace. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace...”2 It was a peace achieved through struggle. A peace achieved through sacrifice. A peace achieved through death. It is a peace gifted to those who have not earned it. It is the peace of blood shed and atonement completed. It was blood shed as a result of voluntary determination and obedience- the first drop more crucial than the last. During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said that he could get any number of men who were "willing to shed their last drop of blood." The problem, said Lincoln, was that he found it difficult to get anyone willing to shed that first drop!

For Christ, a humble and fragile birth would eventually end in a humiliating and devastating death. But at the resurrection the vulnerability of the manger is done away with.
We’re fond of saying-especially preachers- that peace and hope are found at the manger and certainly at the cross. It’s a manner of speaking. The destitute come to the manger for endowment. The addicted come for freedom. The guilty come for absolution. The wayward come for guidance. The despairing come for hope. The downtrodden come for acceptance. The sinner comes for forgiveness. Everyone comes out of different variations of the same reason. But as a pious manner of speaking it only goes so far. We’re talking here of historical events.

Your access to God isn’t limited to the historical remembrance of Bethlehem, regardless of how vivid or beloved. Neither is your responsibility in His kingdom met by this annual observance. Jesus always has admirers-and it’s easy to adore the Christ child in the manger when it is fashionable- but He summons followers. Admirers schedule for the occasional feast but followers seek per diem sustenance. Faith lives or dies by its daily bread. Christ meets His baptized children each day. He quiets them with His word. He feeds them with His sacrament. He cradles them with His love.

The humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth show that God is not concerned with appealing to public opinion. This is true in all that He does. The Holy Spirit gathers to Christ a people for Himself. God doesn’t wait for our approval. He forges ahead with His work. He still intercedes with the Father so that our prayers and needs have access to His ears. This beloved Son, who had no place prepared for His birth, prepares for His people a place for their eternal dwelling. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord.”3 Hallelujah! Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Nativity of Our Lord- Christmas Eve
24 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 2:7 2 Luke 2:14 3 Luke 2:11

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent- A 2010

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

Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Theme: God and Man

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God speaks and things happen. When appropriate He uses human agency to accomplish His work. At other times He completely circumvents the general laws by which He governs the universe. We call such things miracles. The coming of Jesus involves the vivid intersection of these truths. Divinity and humanity come together in the person of Jesus. That is what happened at Christmas. As God and Man He redeems humanity from sin, death, and Satan’s power. That is the final implication of Christmas.

Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Matthew states the divine miracle quite matter-of-factly. Of course we soon find out that the truth of that claim was not widely believed or accepted. It would be no different today. Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world comes to live among us born of a virgin? There’s little room for fence-sitting here. One can quietly overlook the difficulty; especially for the sake of not upsetting the apple cart during the time of Christmas celebrations. We might give a polite, self-assured wink at the sentiment; but the mind knows it’s up against something here. Faith receives what the intellect cannot fathom.

Our gospel says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel’- which means ‘God with us.’”1 Some miracles happen so frequently they are not recognized as such. The conception and birth of a child-though explained by the natural processes of life- show the magnificence of God’s glory. What “natural process” could ever explain the unique personality and characteristics of every human being? What scientific biological theory could ever account for the reality of the human soul? What precise technological advance will ever delineate the intangible and unrestrained human spirit? Here we come up against the mystery of what it means that humans were created in the image of God. The essence of what this is, is beyond the ability of humans to duplicate or manipulate.

The Church Father Athanasius describes the incarnation of God’s Son with these words, “He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.”2 God makes Himself unmistakably known in the person of Jesus.

But now the questions arise, “Why? “And to what end?” Dear friends, it doesn’t matter if we were separated from the birth of Christ by 2 minutes, 2 days, or 2,000 years, the dilemma is the same: what relevance does it have for me? What relevance, of course, aside from the participation in a public holiday and traditional family and religious celebrations. The real consequence of Advent is not found in the innocent social impact or risk-free optional activities. God has broken into our world. He has made an assault on our long-established and deeply entrenched modes of operation and ways of thinking. He has come to destroy so that He can re-create. He comes not as a curious visitor, but as an unparalleled King. He comes to overturn the established order.

Athanasius continues in this manner, “Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men.”3 In other words, only with a true human body could Christ break the power of sin for our benefit. Yes, He could have stayed at a distance and with a word destroyed the whole fallen creation- He is under no obligation to us- but we would all have been lost. Instead, His death and resurrection bring new life to those needing rescue from sin.

Here is where we are encompassed into the story. We are sinners. All are sinners. O yes, I know the thoughts you’ve had. I have them too. You think that you’re not like that other person; that real sinner. You believe the fallacy that accidents and tragedy only happen to someone else. Your erroneously think that only other people’s sins get them into trouble. You’re not like those people. You go to church. But you are! You are that person too! You are entangled in the web of fallen humanity and you cannot un-entangle yourself. You can remain neither intentionally nor fortuitously beyond the pale of this corrupted existence. Sin permeates everything to the core. Yes, you can and should strive under the power of the Holy Spirit to live according to God’s will. That is your promise of repentance each week. Sin no longer dominates the life of the believer. But wreak hardship and havoc, and accrue guilt it does, every hour of every day.

That means that as a baptized child of God you still stand ever in need of His forgiveness. As a saint living in a state of grace, you nevertheless constantly require Christ’s absolution. Depleted of your energy by the world you need the nourishment of His body and blood again and again. Again, it doesn’t matter if we are separated from the birth of Christ by 2 minutes, 2 years, or 2,000 years, the questions are essentially the same. But so are the consequences. Time is finally irrelevant to the work of Jesus Christ. It’s not so much that He suspends it; He continually violates its limitations. Christ is Immanuel- God with us! Not back then, over there, or sometime, perhaps? God with us here and now. He is not diminished by the passing years or made feeble by the expanse of space.

God is with us. He is among His people. The church holds forth with this message at Advent, Christmas, and always. It never changes. It never becomes irrelevant. It is never impotent. For it is the message about Immanuel described by the apostle today as, “the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”4 To Him be all glory in this blessed season! Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
19 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 1:22-23
2 Athanasius, On the Incarnation
3 Same
4 Romans 1:2-4

Monday, December 13, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent- A 2010

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

Text: Matthew 11:2-11
Theme: The Example of John

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is patient with us in our frailty. And we should think here firstly not of frailty of mind or body, but of spirit. Jesus Christ was born into human flesh so that our flesh, our sinful nature, would not totally overcome and destroy any hope that our souls could live. Jesus, who was spirit, assumed a body and lives in that body, so that we with mortal bodies might be gifted with His immortality. Advent and Christmas are about these truths.

Our Advent gospel today relates to us the situation of John the Baptist- the voice of the one who calls to repentance. We find Him in prison. His end was near. Have you ever considered why Jesus didn’t rescue John from being beheaded by Herod? This Messiah who calmed the sea, healed the sick, passed through the crowd and even raised the dead, how simple of a thing to free John the Baptist from prison. His own cousin was unjustly cut down by the arrogant and ruthless ruler. Jesus could have prevented it. After all, He raised His good friend Lazarus. But it was not part of the divine plan.

The situation with John was different. His case was a preview of martyrdom. His was a unique place in the history of Christianity. He did not have to wait as long as some for his heavenly reward. He was zealous and passionate, but there was no thought for personal safety or worldly indulgences. John had no interest in the satisfactions and glories associated with the common pursuits of humanity. He didn’t seek to leave an inheritance to his descendants, bolster his standing in the community, or while away his days occupied in hobbies. His single endeavor was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. In this regard he was uncompromising.

John the Baptist could have relented in relation to calling Herod to repentance. He could have thought to save his own skin first and justified it as an opportunity to go on with his ministry. But he wouldn’t “keep his options open” for selfish reasons. In this regard He is an example of true sacrifice and an encouragement to us. The sinner in us tends to want to negotiate for our own self gain. Consider the incident with Caesar Augustus. After his victory over Antony at Actium, Caesar came back to Rome in triumph. Among the huge crowd who greeted him was a man who had a bird that he had taught to say, "Hail, Caesar victorious!" Caesar was impressed and bought the bird for a large sum. Then someone got Caesar aside and whispered to him that the man had another bird that was just as talented. The man was summoned and Caesar asked for a demonstration of what the other bird could do. The man declined, but Caesar insisted. When the bird was produced it said, "Hail, Antony victorious!"

God will not be impressed with our efforts to hedge our spiritual bets. We cannot deceive Him. He reads the heart. The penitent soul knows this and that is why the church added the words of Psalm 51 to the liturgy, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”1 We continue to entreat the Lord to do what we can never and could never do for ourselves: purify our hearts. He does not fail us. He freely and fully forgives our sins. Christ didn’t suffer humiliation, shame, and death because you were able to rectify your own sins. He didn’t conquer death and rise from the grave because there was another way for you to gain eternal life. Your baptism stands as a testimony to God’s initiative to rescue you from certain calamity. Satan is restrained and hell barred in your life because He did these things for you.

Despite his fortitude, John the Baptist was still prone to the temptations and struggles of the sinful nature. Prison was tough. John had no direct contact with Jesus and so had to rely on second-hand reports. John perhaps wondered why Jesus wasn’t more heavy- handed in judgment. So he sent his own disciples to enquire of Jesus’ activities. “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’”2

Perhaps, you feel like God has left you in the lurch; in your own dark prison like John. Perhaps the hope Advent and the expectation of Christmas is more of a burden for you than a time of peace and celebration. Your Saviour knows just the right time. Remember our epistle today, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”3 Do you think it is only coincidence that this passage is appointed for the Third Sunday of Advent? Whether farmers here are waiting patiently or not we’ll let God be the judge. The bigger picture of course involves the kingdom of Christ and His spiritual harvest. It is an ongoing harvest that will one day come to a dramatic finish.

In the Lord’s Prayer we petition God for His kingdom to come. And though we may typically pass right over the meaning because of our familiarity with it, it’s likely that when most people reflect on it they think of the time Christ will return to end the world. Advent bids us to be prepared for this coming event. But if we’re not careful here we can draw the wrong conclusions about how God works now. You see, we don’t sort of wait in limbo- scurrying about with our affairs while glancing suspiciously out of the corner of one eye for signs God might be preparing to visit.

Consider how Luther teaches about this petition in the catechism. “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”4 It’s sort of a different way to think of the coming of God’s kingdom. Normally we’d think of Jesus’ glorious return with angels and the end times events that will precede it. Indeed, that is how it will be. But God’s kingdom also comes in the here and now. It comes whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit creates and nurtures faith in the human heart. It comes whenever the words of absolution cheer your soul. It comes whenever you receive his sacred body and holy blood. For the individual believer these things are far more important than when Christ will come again. May the God of strength fill you with the single-mindedness of John and the hope and expectation of Advent. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday of Advent
12 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 LHS, p.13
2 Matthew 11:4
3 James 5:7-8
4 Luther’s Small Catechism

Address to Catechumens, Dec 12, 2010

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

Text: Hebrews 13:5
Theme: God Will Never Leave You

Dear candidates for confirmation; Ben, Joel, Shannon, and Levi,

The marvelous thing about Christianity is that even when we fail, God forgives; even when we mess up, God gets it right. He makes things right through Jesus. And he does it for eternity. That’s what the Bible calls grace. Your whole Christian life is about living in and understanding this grace.

It is unlikely that any of you remember your baptism because you were all baptized as infants. It’s unlikely that any of you remember being born either. You were also born as infants. But not remembering being born doesn’t change who you are. You have a birth certificate, it has your name on it and it tells you who you belong to. It says who your parents are. You didn’t decide to be born. God gave you parents and He gave you to them.

As an infant you didn’t decide to be baptized either. God gave you new life when the Holy Spirit gave you the gift of faith and made you part of the family of the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But you did decide- or at least agree in some sense- to prepare to make a public confession of your faith on this day. You came each week to study the Bible and the catechism to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word and faith. In other words, your presence here shows that you think it is important to identify yourself with the Christian faith. It’s nothing to take lightly. You are soon to make a promise; a public promise to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the teachings of the Bible as you have learned them through Luther’s Small Catechism.

Now maybe the time has been, or will come when you are struggling at school, with friends, or at home. Maybe others have ridiculed you for your faith- these challenges won’t go away as you get older. You may wonder about the purpose or meaning of your life and how things will all work out. But you have a God that can do more than you could ever imagine. And God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”1 Christ died for your sins.

Today is only one day in your Christian journey. It’s an important day, but only one day. And if I, or the church has given you or your family the impression that everything is now done and dusted, that we’ve crossed all the i’s and dotted all the t’s, if you see this a hoop you’ve now successfully jumped through, then I have failed you. This is just one step along the way. It’s not a coincidence that Christianity was first called “The Way.” The way is Jesus every day of every week of every year.

When you make your promise today you will be invited to take greater responsibility and have greater privileges in the life of the church. It begins today with receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion. I encourage you to be in God’s house to receive it regularly, seriously, and cheerfully. I encourage you to live joyfully the life of faith the Holy Spirit has given you. And may God bless you from this day forward as you journey with Him to the time and place you will meet the Saviour face to face. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday of Advent
Confirmation Sunday
12 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 13:5

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent-A 2010

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

Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Theme: John’s Timeless Message

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

It doesn’t matter what the time or circumstance- promising harvest, difficult conditions, or uncertain outcomes- Advent comes. Advent comes and John the Baptist announces it. John appears as an eccentric and rugged figure. His diet and dress are unusual. Might we not still have a few locusts left to share with him! He was an undaunted and unwieldy character. And would he be viewed today as anything but a radical or misfit? The powers of the time soon had him beheaded. But he preached with power, and he preached the truth. People came to him. How seldom today do people rush to the preaching of biblical truth! The modern secular mind has little use for such obsolete piety. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit draws and faith is kindled. The Word wiggles its way into confused hearts and navigates into skeptical minds. Seeds are planted and some take root.

John the Baptist comes announcing important news. It’s not the news of the day or even the news of the century. It is the news that will define human history. More than that, it is the news of the activity of God which determines eternity. He preaches a baptism of repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”1 John comes to shake us out of our spiritual slumbers. He comes to challenge our self-righteousness, to engage us in assessing our outlook on life.

John comes with pointed and unequivocal words. He comes to convict. The preaching of the law can happen overtly, as when we are called into account for our sins: You shall not give false testimony; you shall not steal; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not covet, etc. Even wayward thoughts and intentions condemn us. Our unrighteousness is exposed, if not openly before others, certainly in our conscience before God. It’s no secret the Holy Spirit intends to use God’s law to drive us to repentance. Ultimately He wants people to see that apart from Christ they are idolaters. That’s exactly what John the Baptist was doing today.

But the preaching of the law can also happen with subtlety. It can even mask itself as a “positive” motivation towards piety. This happens easily and frequently when were are given the impression that if only we strive harder to act as Christians, then we will be more certain of God’s love. If our obedience increases, then we can be sure of God’s forgiveness. It’s even a common misunderstanding that the essence of Christianity is the message that Jesus shows us how to live a more morally upright life. The Bible says, “Love your neighbour as yourself,”2 and Jesus inspires us to do that. Yes, indeed, but not one person has, or ever will. Whenever we get the sense that we’re not living up to the standards and expectations that God would like, that is the work of the law, not the gospel. And alone it leads to a spiritual dead end. “The mere preaching of the law without Christ either produces presumptuous people, who believe that they can fulfill the law by external works, or drives man utterly to despair.”3

But what the law is powerless to accomplish in us the gospel graciously bestows. We need have no uncertainty about whether we can achieve or maintain God’s favour. Christ went to the cross, voluntarily, willingly; with great determination and under great duress. There He was sacrificed for the sins of the world. The child of Bethlehem could not remain in the manger as an object of adoration. He did not remain secluded in Nazareth as the hopes of the ages failed. Those who admired Him in the manger had yet to look upon the horrifying spectacle of the cross. The forgiveness He offers is complete, free, and unconditional.

The work of the gospel is never relegated to the past event of Jesus’ death on the cross. Anytime we are given the impression that God’s work is done and now it’s up to us to finish what God has started, then we’re being misled. You are baptized not into the Jesus who once walked the earth but now is gone; or the Jesus who you only hope will come; you are baptized into the crucified and living Saviour. He is the Advent Redeemer coming to you in forgiveness proclaimed into your ears and sacred food and drink placed on your lips. He comes and meets you in your darkness. He greets you in your loneliness. He cheers you in your sorrow. He comforts you in your uncertainty. And He works to dislodge the faulty foundations upon which your life is built. The strengthening and deepening of your faith involves a greater understanding of your dependence on God’s mercy.

Advent teaches us to not get ahead of ourselves; to not put our own plans, or even accomplishments before those of God. During the 1978 fireman's strike in England, the British army took over emergency firefighting. On January 14 they were called out by an elderly lady in South London to retrieve her cat. They arrived with impressive haste, very cleverly and carefully rescued the cat, and started to drive away. But the lady was so grateful she invited the squad of heroes in for tea. Driving off later with fond farewells and warm waving of arms, they ran over the cat and killed it. Self-satisfaction can be a powerful and dangerous distraction. Let us not be so absorbed in congratulating ourselves for our piety or our worldly accomplishments that we destroy not only our own humility, but the very work of God we are to be about. But let us have courage, confidence, and hope that our “labour in the Lord is not in vain.”4

Advent is not only about the coming of Jesus in glory, but Jesus as the “Coming One.” He breaches time and space to redeem fallen creation. He gives us immediate access to His grace and forgiveness. In Advent we are reminded that God will finish what He begins. From cradle to grave, from faith’s creation to its completion at death, God is the author and finisher5. We confess as Luther did, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ , my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”6
“May the God hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”7 Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Advent
5 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 3:2
2 Matthew 19:19
3 Tappert, SD 559, 9
4 1 Corinthians 15:58
5 See Hebrews 12:2
6 Luther’s Small Catechism
7 Romans 15:13

Monday, November 29, 2010

First Sunday of Advent- A (2010)

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

Text: Matthew 24:36-44
Theme: The Coming Redeemer

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Advent is the season of anticipation. For this new Church Year Saint Matthew’s account of the Good News in Christ is the primary source of our gospel selections. “Keep watch,” says the evangelist, “because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”1Advent is not the beginning, per se, but the expectation of the completion. Advent looks forward to the fulfillment of promises. It reminds us that God constantly comes to us. Christian life involves the anticipation that the nature of His coming will one day dramatically transform our existence. This requires patience, perseverance and trust.

Imagine the expectation there would have been when God was about to create the universe! Only initially there was nothing and no one in existence to enjoy it. But then what joy there was anticipating the new creation in Christ. Advent points us forward to the experience of that new creation. Meanwhile, we are warned today not to fall into spiritual lethargy. This existence won’t go on indefinitely. The ancient record is called on for testimony. Judgment has come swiftly before.

The time of Noah was characterized by blatant ungodliness and immorality. There was no fear, reverence, or love of God. And there was only hatred, jealousy and fear in human relationships. Moses describes the situation this way, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”2 We know the consequences were dramatic. Suddenly the cesspool of unrighteous humanity was swept away by the flood.

But it wasn’t without warning. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Only he had no converts. People assumed Noah was crazy and God was jesting. We should be careful not to make assumptions when it comes to the motives of others, especially God’s motives. There is the story of a visitor to the zoo who noticed one of the keepers sobbing quietly in a corner and on inquiry was told that an elephant had died. "Fond of him, was he?" the visitor asked. "It's not that," came the reply, "He's the one who has to dig the grave."

Modifying the image of God to suit our own tastes is one of humanity’s more accomplished pursuits. We like to fit God into our mold. We like to hold Him captive to our definitions of prosperity and have Him toe the line to meet our expectations and values. We like to have Him condone and accept our sins. We make Him into a paper tiger and in this way disarm any threats. Of course this is foolish and dangerous thinking. Never assume. Take God at His word. Repent, because He will judge sin.

But Christ comes to bring salvation to His elect. Whatever it is that you long for relief from- grief, temptation, pain, loneliness, bitterness; the resolution is found in Him. And that is what we desperately want to do for people. We want to reassure them that their struggles will soon be over. We want to comfort them, console them and be the bearer of good news. But we must take heed lest the good news we bear is nothing more than wishful, empty thinking. Human emotion, no matter how intense, is no substitute for divine truth. Life is messy and we cannot by-pass the struggle. Healing and relief come in Christ’s time and way.

Police stopped a teen-age girl in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after complaints that a car had been seen going around her neighbourhood in reverse for some time. The girl told police that her parents had let her use the car, but she had put too much mileage on it. "I was just trying to unwind some of it," she said. Wishful but naïve thinking. We can’t simply ‘undo’ the past experiences of life. We can’t unwind the mileage racked up from years of traveling down the road of selfishness, dishonesty, or unbelief. Our travels through life cause us to accumulate scars.

But the coming of Christ changes things. He doesn’t rewind us so that the past is erased. Your life is written in history. But He does absorb all the damage; the intentional damage, the incidental damage, the collateral damage of sin. He absorbs the damage caused by your evil intentions, your ignorance, and the damage that comes about because you were a victim. He gathers it, compresses it, and destroys it by living and dying through the consequences. That’s how salvation was accomplished. That’s what His sacrifice means. He suffered the punishment of sin, death, and hell so that all believers might be spared. This is the Good News of Advent.

The Good News prophesied in ancient times, recorded by the evangelists in sacred Scripture; the Good News conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary; the Good News of the incarnate Son of God born in Bethlehem, crucified on Calvary, and raised from the dead- this Good News, Jesus Christ in the flesh, is the only news that is truly good, sacred and holy. It is not merely news that peaks your curiosity like secular tabloids. It is the life-giving, life-changing gospel of the forgiveness of sins in the person of Jesus, Immanuel. He comes to sinners lost in darkness and unbelief and there He brings light and life. He does this through the Scriptures proclaimed, through baptism, through Holy Communion.

Now why does God choose this method and these means? Water and words? But not just any words. Spirit-activated words, words from the mouth of the Son and the heart of the Father. It is His gracious way of affirming that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was accomplished for every person in every time and every place. Forgiveness and faith change the advent of Christ from judgment to acquittal and acceptance. That is what happens in baptism.

The sacrament of baptism is not only a reminder to parents and sponsors of their solemn responsibility of nurturing Poppy’s faith (whose baptism we just celebrated). It is a message to parents that something; Someone bigger and more powerful is the primary player in the child’s life. Baptism involves a sort of surrender of authority. Christ alone will do for Poppy what no parent, godparent, or anyone else can do. Only the Holy Spirit can gift a person with faith. Now, that in no way diminishes the tremendous charge parents, family and even the whole church has. God works through means. Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”3 But, thankfully, final outcomes rest with God.

In this life Advent is a continual reality. Jesus Christ is ALWAYS the Coming One. In His coming He is not aloof or inattentive. But presently He is disguised, hidden in word, water, bread and wine. His methods are disguised even in hardship and trial. He blesses us with our own special “thorns in the flesh.” Through these we come to understand that His grace alone is sufficient. In this life, glory is a future expectation, while grace is a present blessing. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

First Sunday of Advent
28 November 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 24:42
2 Genesis 6:5
3 1 Corinthians 3:6

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last Sunday of the Church Year- C

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

Text: Luke 19:11-27
Theme: The Return of Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God doesn’t leave loose ends. He allows for no unfinished business. On this last Sunday in the Church Year we are reminded that Christ will “come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”1 The inauguration of Christ’s kingdom is initially interpreted by His followers as a defeat. Our gospel account begins by telling us that because Jesus is near Jerusalem “people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”2 In other words, they thought that the dramatic revelation of God’s glory was upon them. But Jesus commences the establishment of His dominion through suffering, scorn, ridicule, injustice, crucifixion, and death. Considering the shocking contrast with their expectations it’s easy to see their misunderstanding. But we shouldn’t think it’s merely a problem of human miscalculation. God grants the eyes of faith to perceive divine mysteries only in His time. The mind of God is not transparent.

Today’s parable ends with the horrifying reality of God’s judgment. It’s not something that can simply be overlooked. The judgment of sin and unbelief is a trenchant and comprehensive teaching of Scripture. All attempts to downplay the final execution of God’s wrath, which is nothing less than eternity in hell, are misguided. Appeals to the doctrine of God’s love don’t allow us to brush aside His justice. The consequences of a compromised doctrine of sin are far-reaching. Humans seek to be the arbiters of conflict and the sole determiners of truth and value. Personal accountability before God becomes a nonentity. Soon guilt and repentance are nothing more than psychological or therapeutic concepts. Finally, the very reason for Christ’s sacrifice, death and resurrection are eliminated. Repeated biblical warnings about people being unprepared for Christ’s return should suffice to convict us of our sin and the need for His grace. Still, the Holy Spirit must direct us.

The difficulty raised in speaking of the return of Christ is the implication that He has been gone. This is a natural, human way of thinking. People go on trips and journeys and then they return. Meanwhile, life goes on in their absence often with little or no influence from them. There may be preparation for their return accompanied by new expectations. But in the meantime circumstances and even fundamental realities change, often beyond the person’s control.

Things are a different with Christ. Nothing changes without His approval. We do not have an absentee Saviour. And is the Holy Spirit is not an agent that only acts in Christ’s stead. Remember Jesus said to His disciples before His ascension, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”3 Fleshing out what this means is pivotal for life in this “one, holy Christian and Apostolic church”4 in which we reside. We are not the body of Christ that exists without access to His body. To operate as such is to over-spiritualize the Bible’s teaching on the church and limit the parameters of God’s presence. The prophet said, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”5

Yes, God with us, in adversity and prosperity, in sorrow and in joy. God with us, forgiving, renewing, restoring, reclaiming. God with us through the humble means of word and sacrament. The sacraments are testimonies against the teaching- explicit or implicit- of the ‘real absence’ of Christ. Elvis may have left the building but Christ has not left His people.
You are His baptized child. Baptism incorporates you into the life of the Holy Trinity, not by your decision or confession, but by His willingness to receive you as His child; His willingness to be identified with you. And once He identifies with you He doesn’t forsake you. As true God and true man he addresses our every need. Consider what the Lutheran confessions say, “He has instituted His Holy Supper for the certain assurance and confirmation of this, so that He will be with us, and dwell, work, and be effective in us also according to that nature from which He has flesh and blood.”6

So how do these truths relate to today’s parable? We are subjects of the King, but we are not to live as if the King is absent. His return is not a matter of an absentee landlord returning to be brought up to speed on His business. His coming in glory is a matter of the final consummation of His kingdom. We live now as members of His kingdom entrusted with His gifts. Faithfulness is the key teaching here. Note that none of the servants claim to have gained more money on their own. “Sir, your mina has earned ten more, etc.”7 It’s not talent, ability or accomplishment that is the focus, but the integrity and trustworthiness of those entrusted with the riches of others. There will always be differences in outcomes. It’s no use fretting over the gifts and talents others seem to have which exceed your own. It is easy to be jealous of the blessings of others. But such comparisons are not helpful.

The man who simply hid his gift was driven by fear. He did not trust the nobleman or understand what was being asked of him. He didn’t understand himself as a subject of the king so he did not participate in the activity of the kingdom. His was a different loyalty. His heart was in a different place. His motivation was to protect himself. He feared the nobleman but did not trust him. For Him the king did not return in grace and glory but for retribution.

But for the saints, we poor sinners who labor under the cross, it will be pure joy. We will see with our eyes what we can only now see by faith. Remember the saga of the trapped miners in Chile. They were held captive in the bowels of the earth. How joyous was their freedom! There is more than one lesson in their rescue and transition back to the daylight. The Chilean miners’ eyes had to re-adjust to the light of the sun. This is a good analogy for the limitations of this existence. The darkness of sin prevents us from looking upon the brilliance of God. Even to see God as He has veiled Himself in His incarnate Son requires the Holy Spirit’s provision of spiritual vision. To see Christ in His glory will be something altogether more than anything human beings have ever experienced.

Dear friends, the Bible says, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him[Christ], and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”8 He died for your sins and He is risen. He lives eternally. At the precipice of death, the Lord, our righteousness, swallows up all fears, darkness, and doubt; He swallows up hell’s power. Then the hidden baptismal life is instantly transformed to resurrected glory. God doesn’t leave loose ends. He allows for no unfinished business. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Last Sunday of the Church Year
21 November 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Nicene Creed
2 Luke 19:11
3 Matthew 28:20
4 Nicene Creed
5 Matthew 1:23
6 SD VIII, 79
7 Luke 19:16
8 Colossians 1:19-20

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost C

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

Text: Luke 18:1-8
Theme: God’s Justice

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Christian life is a marathon not a sprint. God deals with us accordingly. The temptation to lose heart, to give up- to concede in the mind and will that God will not intervene- is always lurking about. The perceived inaction of God is easily misconstrued. People start to doubt the certainty of God’s help and search for other measures of security. Even the disciples were prone to this. Today He told them the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge.

The widow’s determination is commended. But the contrast between God and this judge is the main point. Jesus wants us to see the comparison. It is necessary that He constantly brings things into perspective. As sinful humans we are incessantly plagued with self-focused and narrow-minded vision. Even an unscrupulous person in authority may respond to the requests of someone they are not naturally inclined to assist. No doubt this unrighteous judge had no vested interest in helping the widow. He was frustrated and irritated by her. Yet he reasoned it was better to get her off his back than keep hearing her cries for justice. How much more inclined to us is our merciful God than this judge was to the widow!

Jesus says, “And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”1 What a tremendous promise we have here from God. God acts. And when its time He acts quickly. We only waste time and energy if we fret and worry about when that time will be. It can be a vicious and never-ending cycle. When will the locusts come and how bad will they be? What will happen to the grain prices? When will so and so apologise so our relationship can be reconciled? How will the government accomplish anything worthwhile? Does God not see? Can He not hear?

The Bible bids us to persist in our prayers and wait for God’s will to be carried out in His time. Our energies and resources are to be directed elsewhere. The prophet Isaiah says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, not His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”2 Can we admit that we often try to coerce God into coming into line with our agendas? Dare we act in arrogance or selfishness? Dare we dismiss our sins as insignificant, remain unrepentant and yet demand justice and fairness from God?

How often are our complaints due to ignorance His word? Here is what Paul says to Timothy, “From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”3 From infancy! How little regard there is for this truth today. The Bible is treated like an obsolete resource that parents can refer their children to when and if they show interest at some point, rather than the very word of God. Still, where the Word is proclaimed, the Spirit works when and where He pleases. Repentance is initiated. Faith is created and the church is called into existence and enlarged.

When God begins something He promises the means to nourish and complete it. The great importance of infant baptism should be noted here. Baptism is a promise of grace and an actual means by which the Holy Spirit imparts forgiveness in Christ. There is no limit of age. An infant can hear the voice of God, just as it can hear-even before birth- the voice of its father or mother. Who are we to limit the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, mind, and will of another? God’s work is often hidden to the naked eye, but in faith we trust His activity is taking place.

Trusting that God is both Creator and Redeemer gives us a very different perspective on reality. Our hope doesn’t rest in humanity, but in the hands of Him who was cradled in a manger and had His arms stretched out on a cross. Jesus forgives our sins. He reconciles us to the Father by giving His own life. He resolves the crises of mankind. He finally subdues all forces of evil. He banishes all falsehood, Satan, and hell. He declares sinners to be righteous. Our hope doesn’t lie in scientific solutions. Our reconciliation isn’t in human ingenuity or our justice in perfect government. Christ is Saviour and Lord.

That doesn’t mean the Bible ever calls on us to be naïve or gullible optimists. We don’t throw caution to the wind. Salvation is not a given. It is a gift. Knowledge of who we are and what we are capable of –that is, our capacity for evil- drives our need for God. To know yourself is to know you need forgiveness. This reality never changes while you draw life and breath. We are baptized and so live in repentance. In Christ we are secure but never resting on our laurels. We can be content but never lax. St. Peter says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.”4 Our eternal well-being is hardly a trivial or light-hearted matter. But this never excludes joy, hope, and peace. The Holy Spirit lifts the heaviest loads off the most burdened consciences. He shines the light of Christ into the darkest of hearts.

These same truths are what we mirror to those outside the communion of saints. Our mission to the world should be marked with urgency, but not panic. We have a positive outlook, but not baseless giddiness; skepticism of human ability but confidence in divine truths. These truths teach us to sacrifice for the sake of the disadvantaged, especially spiritually, take risks for the unenlightened, and generally love our neighbour.

Outcomes are left to God. But we have the joy of knowing the church is always growing because the number of those in heaven is never decreased. God prevails for His saints, in their midst and on their behalf. He does bring justice. None will finally oppose Him. Widows will be given a fair trial. The downtrodden will be lifted up. Those without a voice will be heard. Those in bondage will be set free. The crucified, risen and living Christ sees to these things. We look forward to the unhindered enjoyment of His victory as Jeremiah says today, “The time is coming…I will put My law in their minds and write it on their heart…no longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest.”5 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
17 October 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 18:7-8
2 Isaiah 59:1-2
3 2 Timothy 3:15
4 1 Peter 5:8
5 Jeremiah 31:31, 33-34

Monday, October 11, 2010

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost C

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

Text: Luke 17:17
Theme: All Were Cleansed

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The one leper who returned was a Samaritan. This was significant. Jesus’ reference to him as a ‘foreigner’ allows us to infer that the other nine were Jewish. Why had they not returned to thank Jesus? Was this not another example in the long history of the people of Judah and Jerusalem rejecting the prophets sent to them? Was it a preview of the coming renunciation of Him at His suffering and crucifixion? The consequences of such rejection are no different today. Christ says, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven.”1

Jesus’ habit of holding up Samaritans as good spiritual examples was insulting to the Jews. It probably seemed insensitive and unnecessary to many. But this served to make Jesus’ teaching all the more effective. The Jews could be called to repentance at the same time Gentiles were assured they too could be included in the kingdom. There is no ancestry, bloodline, class or status that either assures or prevents membership in the kingdom. The law condemns all. Grace opens heaven’s gates without prejudice.

All ten lepers were cleansed, but were all saved? They were healed in body, but were they restored in soul? Only God can judge. Part of spiritual wisdom is having the humility to “get the log out of our own eye”2, and the maturity to endorse God’s forgiveness to others. This is not easy. We live in community with other believers. Like us, they are sinners. Jesus explained that important petition in the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”3 Can we condemn those whom Christ has forgiven? Can we enslave those whom Christ has freed? Can we snub those whom Christ has welcomed? Is our sense of justice and satisfaction more holy than God’s? Are our standards more rigorous than His? Can our need for revenge take higher priority than His declaration of absolution?

We are told today that the leper who retuned was made well by his faith4. Only he had the appropriate response to Jesus; humility, worship, thanksgiving. These are marks of the Holy Spirit’s activity. Faith is always a ‘receiver’ of God’s gifts. Faith is never a negotiating strategy. No one is owed anything from God because they have faith in Him. Faith itself is a gift from Him. And remember, our trust in God is not predicated on what benefits we think He can offer us- even if these are eternal blessings. Least of all can we bargain with God hoping to gain certain advantages after vowing specific acts of charity or obedience. We believe in God because His promises are true and Christ is truth. Everything is sorted out on that basis.

When things are going smoothly in life it’s easy to accept these propositions. When we’re healthy, happy and prosperous, free from crisis or trauma we readily tolerate the favour of God. When there is no opposition to our Christian belief or no conflict raised by living the same we might be quick to think God is rewarding our piety. Or we may wrongly assume life is naturally meant to be trouble-free and that our sanctification is facilitated effortlessly.

But, in fact, the reality is otherwise. Life is plagued with misery and we are often surprised with hardship or sorrow. God allows or even sends to us difficulties and sorrows? There is no way to gloss-over or excuse this truth. How then, can this be a basis for faith? How can we judge or measure God’s intentions? It’s unhelpful and dangerous to speculate beyond what the Scriptures reveal to us.

Evil often seems to come as a random succession of disparate events. An accident occurs, a job is lost, a crime is committed, a sickness is diagnosed- all in close proximity. Yet Satan always works to unite these in purpose and goal. He tries to wear us down. What the secular world may call a string of bad luck is in fact, a highly coordinated effort. But God is at work here too. The question is in what way? The specifics are beyond our perception. We can’t know the hidden mind of God. But the purpose is not in doubt. God persistently seeks to crucify our sinful nature, curb our self-centredness, conform us to Christ, and cultivate genuine thankfulness. Someone once said, “In adversity we usually want God to do a removing job when He wants to do an improving job. To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the storm.”

Our focus is so often misplaced. We fret and worry about so many things. Is my faith strong enough? Am I good enough for God? Will my health ever be restored? Will my relationships ever be mended? Will I get through this grief? How do I measure up in the eyes of others? These are not unimportant concerns. But they are not resolved by any abilities that we have or can acquire. Remember the mustard seed. If what Christ has done isn’t true than none of that matters anyway. If Christ’s death was not an atonement for sins than all other concerns are trivial by comparison. The apostle Paul says it clearly, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”5

The question is not so much “What can God do for me?” But “Can you not see what God has already done!” His blessings are not haphazardly dispensed in some random or un-unified way. God is not reactive. He is neither like a primed emergency services authority poised to respond to the next disaster, nor like a harried Father scrambling to find ways to help His wayward or endangered children. He who creates and He who redeems and He who blesses and restores does so according to His unchanging nature revealed in Christ.

God doesn’t trail human history. He designs, authorizes, and executes it. Even Satan’s powers are in subjection. As such, existence flows from and returns to the source He designates. The love of God is on display on the cross. There exposed publicly for the world to witness is the deep and mysterious compassion of the Almighty. There His power is hidden in weakness and His authority is veiled in helplessness. There the heavenly and just wrath is absorbed by the sacrifice of the Messiah’s own blood. There Satan meets his doom. There the Son of God dies for the children of men. There life prevails; for lepers, thankful or ungrateful- for us.

And God is pleased through seemingly ordinary means to promise extraordinary things.
Your baptism isn’t a past or temporary event, but a present reality. It not only ties you into the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but makes you a participant in the eternal kingdom. Holy Communion is more a participation in a future feast than it is in a perishable meal whose vitality soon expires. The words of Scripture, the words of the Spirit, are not provisional human words, but the voice of God. These are all previews of things to come. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
10 October 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 10:32-33
2 See Matthew 7:5
3 Matthew 6:14-15
4 See Luke 17:19
5 1 Corinthians 15:17

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

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

Text: Luke 17:6
Theme: Small Faith, Big God

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Spirit and faith always exist in a cause and effect relationship. Human nature recognizes that to be exposed to God’s workings makes one vulnerable. The person whose mind and heart are ruled by sin will respond to God with fight or flight measures. In “fight mode” people either assert their self-righteousness or independence from God or both. In “flight mode” people seek to retreat from God’s presence and remain aloof from any contact. Only when the Holy Spirit, through repentance and faith, cloaks us with Christ’s own righteousness can we fruitfully suffer God’s exertion.

Faith trusts God’s motives but cannot alter them. Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request for an increase in faith initially seems odd. He doesn’t give them any commitments. He doesn’t even commend their request. First comes the mustard seed analogy. This tiny seed has the potential to grow into a mighty plant. The apostles, though they don’t know it yet, already have enough faith to do great things for the kingdom. But these things aren’t as visible and measurable as they’d like. Preaching and teaching the gospel, forgiving sins, seeking the lost, and healing hurting souls are often not recognized as very impressive in the world’s eyes. In fact, the world often despises these things as a waste of time and energy.

Second is the story of the servant who comes in from plowing or tending the sheep. Even when the servant has spent the day laboring in the fields he may still be required to prepare the meal. It was a lesson of humility for the disciples. Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty,’”1 The apostles were not to understand their vocation as a means of raising their status among others. Christians, likewise, are on the wrong track if they are motivated towards self-sacrifice and generosity by the hope of recognition. Christianity as a means to self-glorification is nothing more than a legalistic philosophy- and a bankrupt one at that!

So what is the place of faith? The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once said, “We clever humans prefer to treat faith as if it were something finite, as if it were something for the betterment and enjoyment of temporal life. It is supposed to bring us meaning and fulfillment and happiness and direction. This kind of religion is nothing but a deception.”2 Faith is not a tool to acquire earthly happiness. And our trust in God is not predicated on what benefits we think He can offer us- even if these are eternal blessings. We believe in God because His promises are true and Christ is truth. Everything is sorted out on that basis.

One of the great challenges in interpreting Holy Scripture is to distinguish between analogy and literal meaning. Here careful attention to Jesus’ teaching is the key. Often Christ speaks in parables as He did with the analogy of the mustard seed today. However, we cannot extend such symbolism too far. The Bible is not a compendium of spiritual analogies. It is the account of God’s activity of salvation in Jesus Christ. As such it is historical and literal. Christ was truly born, lived, suffered, died, rose, ascended, and will return- as the creeds summarize. Sin is not an analogy for bad luck, mistaken choices, or innocent victimhood. Sin is the tangible and humanly un-rectifiable consequence of separation from God. No one is exempt from the guilt of sin. The condemnation it imposes is real and will be eternally observable.

But the grace and forgiveness offered through Christ is no less real, no less literal. When the Bible says “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them,”3 it is not using mere symbolism. Jesus is not simply a model for better human behavior. He is not an allegorical or mythical heroic figure. Christ truly restores us to fellowship with God through His blood. When the word of absolution is spoken, we are truly freed and forgiven, washed clean.

Christianity stands on these incarnational and redemptive promises. We are declared righteous and holy because of Christ’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. We attain this justification only by grace and through faith. But the Christian lives no leisurely existence. The Holy Spirit daily renews, restores and leads us forward towards the reception of our baptismal inheritance. Sin and Satan rage against us with deception, temptation, and falsehood but when Christ comes again these will be completely vanquished. Believers will be resurrected and perfected in body and soul for eternity. Apart from these things, the church has very little to say.

Divine truth both confounds and transcends human wisdom. How privileged we are to have Christ condescend to us, not in imagery, but in reality. Holy Communion is an actual participation in the blessings of Christ’s salvation. It is not merely a representation of Jesus’ last meal with His disciples. To be sure the description of a Christ as the sacrificial Lamb is to be understood as a representation of all the animals slain on Jewish altars. In Christ, these sacrifices become obsolete. But when Jesus commands His disciples to drink of His blood any possibility of symbolism is ended. The Jews were told to participate in the Passover meal by eating the lamb, so the transition to eating Jesus’ body in Holy Communion was fairly straightforward. But the consumption of blood was strictly prohibited. Life was in the blood. Now Jesus tells them also to drink of His blood. This was a radical reversal. Those Christian churches who would drain Holy Communion of its blessing and power by not offering Christ’s body and blood- but only a memorial of bread and wine-cannot solve the paradox of the command to drink blood by calling it symbolism. Why would Christ tell His disciples to do something only symbolically that was always forbidden in actuality?

Dear friends, no Christian can use either the concern or the excuse that their faith is too meager. The mustard seed example applies to all. You are God’s child and you serve Him through loving your neighbour. Success does not depend on the fortitude of our faith but on the strength of our God. Lesser faith does not get you a lesser God. Neither does stronger faith earn you a stronger God. All depends on His grace and promises fulfilled in Christ. Paul reminds us today, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”4 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”5 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
3 October 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 17:10
2 Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations
3 2 Corinthians 5:19
4 2 Timothy 1:9-10
5 Hebrews 12:2

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

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

Text: Luke 16:29
Theme: On Good Authority

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is gripping and challenging. In His preaching Christ had a profound way of tackling the human condition. He allowed no escape from considering the full consequences of our beliefs and behaviors. The story involves a decadent and faithless glutton and a miserable, but trusting beggar. Both die. Lazarus goes to heaven while the glutton finds himself in hell. A conversation ensues through which Jesus teaches about the kingdom.

The conclusion here is inescapable. Jesus warns of the punishment of hell for those who persistently and willfully show disregard for the well-being of others. Such hard-heartedness is a sign of unbelief. For the Pharisees who were known as ‘lovers of money’ Jesus’ warning especially relates to their hypocritical and uncharitable practices and their idolatry of financial gain. Conversely, the beggar, Lazarus, receives eternal riches. The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Reflection on mortality is not easily procrastinated indefinitely. Every person will die. Then what will happen? The anxiety that might be caused by the deliberation of such weighty issues is a chief reason for avoiding or skimming lightly over the subject. But assurance of what happens to us beyond this life is what every human longs for at the deepest level. Amid ceaseless participation in life’s mundane activities such sacred concerns are always poised to suspend our existence. Christ has the answers.

Other unmistakable conclusions about biblical teaching are clear. Firstly, there is no interchange between heaven and hell. Eternity is sealed when one arrives at either location. There are no second chances, no opportunities or possibilities of leaving hell. In the same way, residents in heaven will not have to worry about losing their place.

Secondly, the evidence for salvation is already sufficient. No extraordinary measures are necessary. When the rich man pleads with Abraham about warning his brothers Abraham directs him to Moses and the Prophets; that is, the Holy Scriptures- the word of God. God has already said all that needs to be said about the matter. The rich man thought that if Lazarus was allowed to come back to warn his brothers they would repent. But Abraham’s answer implies that the witnesses they already have- all the words and promises of the Bible- are just as reliable, in fact, more so, than a personal experience. His answer suggests the man’s brothers might have been initially astounded, but still remained hard-hearted and unrepentant.

The rich man then presses his point about the influence of someone coming from the dead. “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’”1 Abraham responds with a re-enforcing reflection. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead?”2 Here the listener is intentionally invited to contemplate Jesus’ own ministry. The reference is to His resurrection. Even after He is risen from the dead many would not believe. How many throughout history witnessed God’s miracles publicly or privately; from Noah’s flood, through the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea, right up through Jesus’ feeding the five thousand, rising from the dead and Pentecost- and still did not believe.

The Holy Spirit’s power in the word of God is the Almighty’s chosen and regular way of bringing sinners to repentance and faith. Though the Holy Spirit could use other more ‘spectacular’ or private measures as He sees fit, nowhere are we promised that these are superior, more effective, or even to be expected. The Lutheran Confessions teach “We should not and cannot always judge from feeling about the presence, work, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as to how and when they are experienced in the heart…we should be certain about and agree with the promise that God’s Word preached and heard is truly an office and work of the Holy Spirit. He is certainly effective and works in our hearts by them.”3

Dear friends, Christianity involves a journey. You cannot reach salvation apart from it. You cannot take shortcuts. From the moment of baptism we exist in overlapping dimensions. The old age is marked by darkness, decay, and death. The new is marked by light, renewal, and life. This old aeon is apprehended by all our senses. The new is grasped only by faith. But the one is as real as the other. Yet only the new will endure. The Spirit says it this way in Corinthians, “For the world in its present form is passing away.”4 And this way in Hebrews, “For here we do not have and enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”5 And Christ says it like this, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”6

But we must travel through the old even though we have already been initiated into the new. We cannot opt out of bearing the cross for now and opt back in later at a time of our choosing. We are always in the fray. We are in constant need of renewal, restoration, and guidance. That is why we are here. Are you so righteous that you can go on indefinitely without forgiveness? Is your soul so Spartan you can carry on at length without sacred food? Is your learning so profound you have no need of God’s wisdom? Left to ourselves we quickly stray from the path. But the destination is never in doubt. Jesus Christ is “the way and the truth and the life,”7 and He has prepared an eternal inheritance for believers in heaven.

The rich man did not value the greater heavenly treasures. He did not believe and therefore showed no generosity. He could not see beyond his earthy riches. From 1945-1985 a woman by the name of Eunice Pike worked with the Mazatec natives in south-western Mexico. During this time she discovered some interesting things about these beautiful people. For instance, the people seldom wish someone well. Not only that, they are hesitant to teach one another or to share the gospel with each other. If asked, "Who taught you to bake bread?" the village baker answers, "I just know," meaning he has acquired the knowledge without anyone's help. Eunice says this odd behavior stems from their concept of "limited good." They believe there is only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach another means you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child means you have to love the first child less. To wish someone well--"Have a good day"--means you have just given away some of your own happiness, which cannot be reacquired.

Imagine living with the horrible conviction that there is ‘limited good’! How privileged we are to be benefactors of the Living God who gives without measure. Jesus Christ gave His own invaluable life that we might have limitless sacred and eternal treasures. He suffered, died, rose, and ascended to give us access to the unlimited ‘good’ of the triune God. Cherish the freedom you have to be generous with your finite earthly resources knowing that heavenly riches are yours beyond measure. There is no attempt at generosity that could ever be matched by the shedding of Christ’s blood.

A man by the name of Henderson once said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Let us be bold to plant trees for the well-being of others. For we not only look forward to the eternal luxury of the new Eden, but we are forever sustained by Him who is the very tree of life- Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
26 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 16:30
2 Luke 16:31
3 SD II, 56
4 1 Corinthians 7:31
5 Hebrews 13:14
6 Luke 21:33
7 John 14:6

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost C

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

Text: Luke 16:1-11
Theme: Christ and Adversity

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jesus’ words today are arguably some of the most puzzling in the Bible. He speaks of a manager who was heavily indebted to his employer. Unable to repay he doctors the accounts of some of the rich man’s debtors. Though the action resulted in a loss of income for the owner, he still commends his manager for being shrewd. Jesus does not condone dishonesty. He does, however, counsel people to be wise about how the unbelieving world handles its affairs and wants us to understand the full implications. Jesus said to His apostles, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”1

The way we handle our daily affairs is an indicator of our integrity. The same holds for our spiritual life. Integrity is not measured by the amount of assets or degree of responsibility we have, but by faithfulness to our charge, great or small. Jesus says today, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”2

The age and circumstances in which we live in no way nullify the application of Jesus’ words. Satan is happy to work with the opportunities of the times. Prosperity and adversity both have their unique ways of testing our faith. In the midst of prosperity people are tempted to doubt the need for God’s grace. In the midst of adversity we are tempted to question its existence. That God sometimes allows us to prosper is easily assumed to be something due us. That God, at other times, allows us to suffer strikes us as uncharitable and harsh. The danger of prosperity is self-reliance and self-righteousness. The danger of adversity is suspicion and doubt. Either way, God is marginalized as unnecessary, inept, or unreliable. Everything that marginalizes the need for Christ, whether overt or subtle should be recognized as a call to repentance.

It is clear by the way Christ interacted with people that He never trivialized their adversity, nor did He seek to simply transcend it. Our Lord was not unfamiliar with the challenges of this mortal existence. His solidarity with humanity was not artificial. Temptation, testing, grief, anguish, affliction, and misery marked His earthly journey. The fact of His divinity in no way limited or dulled His experience of mortality. Our salvation was accomplished not by lightning bolts cast down from heaven, but by the fleshly body of the man Jesus Christ. In His sinless-ness, He never remained aloof from poor miserable sinners.

This great truth of the incarnation has on-going and far-reaching significance. The presence of Jesus Christ in our lives isn’t limited to memories of a Bethlehem manger, a Calvary cross, and an empty tomb. Christ is in the details of our lives; in adversity and prosperity. Baptism brings us into union with Him. The Holy Spirit guides and consoles us with His promises. Holy Communion gives us a taste of His forgiveness. Christ concerns Himself with our smallest fears and our largest traumas. He constantly intercedes for our well-being. And in so doing He constantly nudges us closer to Him. He desires that we become more dependent that we might cling all the more tightly to His blessings.

Dear friends, this is where our human view usually diverges from His divine perspective. We always want prosperity- physical, emotional, spiritual- but God often sends adversity. To rejoice in the suffering that God allows strikes at the heart of living Christianly, of bearing the cross. To have our lives conformed to God’s truth when there is no opposition is not yet the essence of the imitation of Christ. Our sinful nature-its desires, pursuits and falsehoods- struggles against the Holy Spirit’s work. Truth always meets with opposition. We’d like to have that tension resolved, but God uses it to hone our faith.

In an effort to resolve just this problem the church is tempted to tailor the Biblical message in such a way that unpleasant experiences are explained without reference to God’s will in Christ. Christianity can become primarily an ethical pursuit or a motivation for social activism. Again, God is marginalized as the One who is either uninterested or uncharitable and so things are taken into human hands.

But the church should never defined by the influences which seek to corrupt it or the circumstances which attend it. If, when boiled down, stripped of all of its accessories, undressed of all its cosmetic elements, Christianity means anything, it must mean this: God reconciles the ungodly to Himself through Christ. It must mean that the entry into eternal security, divine presence and everlasting bliss is not accessed by human striving, great or small; not by purity of heart, clarity of mind, or earnestness of deed. The unapproachable Godhead is not approached by the feeble human being. Mortals have merited no avenue to Him who alone is immortal and incorruptible. Christ freely gives what can never be forcefully seized.

If the gospel means anything important it means God acts. He sacrifices His own son and reckons believers righteous on His account. It means God forgives. He clears the slate casting sins away as far as the east is from the west. It means God restores. He mends broken hearts and re-assembles shattered lives. It means God gives. He graciously bestows every blessing of body and soul. It means adversity has a purpose; a godly purpose, a holy purpose.

The Scriptures are filled with examples of people drowning in adversity. They don’t strike us at first as being premier examples of prosperous and trouble-free saints. But they are real people, people with issues, struggles, and failures, people like you and me. They are people thrown into the fray, but with whom God perseveres and promises deliverance. Christianity is not a hobby. Jeremiah is our case-in-point today.

Do our prayers lack the integrity and tenacity of a Jeremiah who poured out His heart to the Lord in fervent plea? “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her king no longer there?”3 In our prayers do we seek apathetically to patronize a God we actually believe is remote and uninterested? Or do we seek to rouse to action the deliverer of Zion, the rock of salvation, the One who turns back evil and raises the dead! Is our worship a ritual shell of a deceased or dying body of faith? Or do we trust in the Living God- the immortal one who clothed Himself with our mortality; the giver of life who subjected Himself to death; the invisible Deity robed with human flesh?

Adversity is not a sign of God’s apathy, but the means by which He pulls us nearer. May He grant you the eyes of faith to see the blessings that come in such disguises. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
19 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 10:16
2 Luke 16:10-11
3 Jeremiah 8:19

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost C

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

Text: Luke 15:1-10
Theme: A Seeking Saviour

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is a seeker. He is THE seeker. And only He searches out of pure motives. All creatures seek out of some need or desire. Humans especially search for safety, or indulgence or fulfillment. We also search for meaning. God alone seeks as an expression of His unbounded love. He seeks not that He may find a reward, but that the lost might live. He seeks not to unearth something undiscovered or find purpose- nothing exists that God isn’t privy to. And His life isn’t lacking meaning. God seeks because He would not suffer one of His children to remain estranged from Him.

Today’s gospel contains two parables of Jesus that illustrate His nature as the one who seeks us. The shepherd goes hunting for his one lost sheep and the woman searches diligently for her one lost coin. Of course the need for God to seek arises from the fact of something being lost. It’s the dread reality of this situation- our situation- that Christ wishes us to understand. As the Scripture says, “The light shines in the darkness.”1

The true consequence of being lost is helplessness. Jesus means to bring to mind not a temporary situation which will be rectified with a little guidance. We might easily associate being lost with the inconvenience of being without a GPS. Or a situation in which we face a major decision and we need advice to decide which way to go. We might equate confusion or ignorance with being lost. Something more serious is meant here.

To be lost in spiritual darkness is to be personally incapacitated and completely at the mercy of external aid. Original sin is the Bible’s teaching on this condition. Spiritual ‘lost-ness’ is defined not only by the inability to find one’s way (to God), but the lack of desire to even do so. Until the law brings people to a recognition of what it means they are lost, they are content to remain so. Of course the unbelieving or self-righteous person would never consider himself or herself to be lost. Perhaps the parables reach their limit at this point. Could a sheep or a coin willfully desire to be separated from its owner?

We should put out of our mind the possibility that the one lost sheep might serendipitously wander back into the fold. The sheep is nowhere in sight. The shepherd must go searching for it. The imminent threat of predators and the elements would soon put its life in grave danger. The sound of bleating might just as easily reach the ears of wolves as the ears of the shepherd. The lost sheep will not find the shepherd and the lost coin will not find its owner. And the human being, regardless of age, status, knowledge, ability, or determination, can never ‘find’ God. Apart from Christ we would remain lost. Apart from the Holy Spirit we would remain adrift. Apart from the word we would remain astray. Apart from baptism we would still be estranged. This is not a disputable opinion but absolute fact.

This truth cannot be grasped too well. The more we believe it the greater is the comfort of the gospel. The author George Orwell describes a wasp that "was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him." The wasp and people without Christ have much in common. Severed from their souls, but greedy and unaware, people continue to consume life's sweetness. Only when it's time to fly away will they gasp their dreadful condition.

The context in which Jesus is teaching today is noteworthy. The Pharisees are grumbling because Jesus was welcoming ‘sinners’. This was particularly offensive to them because they considered themselves to the moral and upright members of the community and yet Jesus was commending the tax-collectors and sinners. Yet they were repentant and the Pharisees were not. To be people of reputable social standing in no way exempts us from being in the category of ‘sinners.’ The grace of God isn’t shown in our piety but in our humility.

It is significant that both the shepherd and the woman who finds her coin call together their friends and neighbours to rejoice. In ancient times celebration always had a community dimension. In fact it was always understood to be a collective activity. It’s an image of the nature of the church. How underappreciated is the privilege of being part of the fellowship of Christ’s body! Both your identity and purpose are incomplete apart from the collective members of Christ’s body. This is true in an absolute sense.

Strictly speaking there are no independent, autonomous or private members of the body of Christ. The rugged individualism of modern Western society undermines the biblical teaching of the church. It is a charade and deception to think a person can be a true believer in Christ and remain detached from the communion of saints. An immediate consequence of the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith is incorporation into the mystical body of Christ. The relationship is maintained by a participation in the common gifts of word and sacrament. To be sure outward associations involve the particular preferences of individuals, that is, belonging to this or that congregation and/or denomination in a particular place. But each believer is part of the body and the body can only function properly with all its members.

Consider what the Bible says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”2 We are baptized into one family and together partake of one sacred meal. And here is the implication, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.”3 God not only seeks for us, when He finds us He positions us uniquely within His ordered kingdom.

Why does God seek? Is it not His greatest glory to show compassion to the helpless, grace to the undeserving, mercy to the lost? The words of Paul today can help us. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.”4 The great apostle speaks of what he is, not what he was. He still remains a sinner. Yet he is forgiven. He is also a saint.

And so it is with you, you are sinner and saint. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: You have been baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven. Though your sinful nature fights until the day you take your last breath, you have been redeemed. Christ has won the victory. He has paid the price. Through His death and resurrection He has called you out of darkness, defended you from Satan, rescued you from hell, and spared you from eternal punishment. Recall what Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”5

+ in nomine Jesu +

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
12 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:5
2 1 Corinthians 12:13
3 1 Corinthians 12:26
4 1 Timothy 1:15
5 Luke 19:9-10