Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ash Wednesday Sermon

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

Text: Isaiah 52:13
Theme: My Servant

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

The Father communicates the truth about His Son through the words of the Spirit. Through the prophet Isaiah the Holy Spirit pens and preaches the gospel with clarity unsurpassed by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The 52nd and 53rd chapters of Isaiah will serve as the basis for our midweek Lenten series this year. Isaiah writes as if he was an eye-witness to the crucifixion and commissioned to explain the event. He refers to the Messiah as God’s Servant; the One who suffers for us. This Suffering Servant takes up our infirmities, carries our sorrows, is pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, punished that we might have peace, and wounded that we might be healed. And with these powerful descriptions of Christ’s atoning work the prophet is just getting started.

Lent is the observance of Christ’s journey of reconciliation for the world. It is the season of repentance and renewal; of re-focusing our identity in the life of the Crucified One. It is Christ’s journey through the darkness; His pilgrimage across the humanly impassable span of spiritual wilderness. In doing so He restores believers from Adam’s race to the paradise of God. It is a long journey.

How can we measure the distance of separation from God caused by sin? Deep is the darkness in which the unrepentant sinner dwells! This darkness is measured not in shades of grey or length of shadows but in hearts void of compassion and minds empty of the light of truth. It is marked by blackened souls and godless deeds. Great is the distance, indeed, from which the sinner has wandered from the presence of God! It is measured not in kilometers or even light-years but in heights of ego or depths of evil desire. Lost in the abyss of idolatry the sinner recognizes only the geography of the kingdom of darkness.

How long is our journey of repentance? How far is our trek from recognition of sin to faith in the Saviour? It transcends time; it moves from infinity, to the present, to eternity. It transcends space; it moves from the dominion of unbelief, to the church on earth, to the kingdom of heaven. It is brought to fruition by the specific means God has ordained; we are born again at the baptismal font, nourished through the sacred meal, and look toward the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.

Repentance is a baptismal exercise. Confession of sin and receiving absolution involves nothing less then giving up the sinful self to be crucified and breathing the new life of the Spirit. Luther’s words are both instructive and prescriptive when he reminds us that baptism “indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”1 Here we have the journey of Lent and the destination of Easter all wrapped up in one.

Isaiah goes to great lengths to exhaust a repertoire of powerful words to paint a vivid portrait of the Lamb who was slain. He justifies, He bears iniquities, He makes intercession, He is numbered with transgressors. The powerful, saving work of God is taking place where people would least expect it: the crucifixion. The cross is that paradoxical event where God is at once most remote but never nearer. Where fate seems to have dealt its harshest blow purpose claims its greatest achievement. Where defeat appears certain God claims victory. Where foolishness looks to be on display the wisdom of God is publicly portrayed.

This is not an interesting collection of facts or an unusual and unfortunate set of events. It is the means by which we are reunited with God. Note the language of identity, inclusion, and incorporation found throughout the Scriptures. “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”2 “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”3 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”4 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”5

The truths of which he speaks are timeless. They are ancient words but they have fresh power. Through them the eternal Spirit works eternal redemption and offers an eternal inheritance to those previously alienated from God. Lent involves a marvelous juxtaposition between things ancient and things new. God does not change. But our heavenly Father, through the work of the Spirit continually molds us into the pattern of the Son. May the Spirit allow you to see during this Lenten journey how you are putty in God’s hands. But don’t believe for a moment that because Christ was the substitute who suffered for your sins you’ll simply be resting on your laurels.

Faith never goes unchallenged for very long. The benefit of the Lenten journey is summarized well by the man who cried out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”6 This is the reality of baptismal living and daily bearing the cross. Dear friends, the bible allows neither spiritual navel-gazing nor obsessive analysis of the quality or strength of one’s faith. The apathetic believer rests on a false sense of security, while the inward looking Christian constantly frets about whether his faith measures up. The apathetic Christian thinks he owns God’s favour as one owns money or possessions. But
you can own or disown God’s favour no more that you can truly own or disown a child or spouse. Faith involves receiving what God gives and responding with what is given. So, too, in all our relationships. Meanwhile, the incessantly inward-looking person risks making his or her salvation dependent on one’s own faith and not the work of Christ. The deception can be subtle.

The critical question is not whether you are true or reliable- specifically in regards to the constancy of your faith. The question is whether Christ is trustworthy. Accept the fact that you are frail, faulty, and full of weakness and sin. Remember you are dust and ashes. If you cannot sense this, nevertheless believe it whole-heartedly. But Christ’s promises are true and unalterable. He does not lie. He cannot deceive. He will not fail. He is always true to His nature. He was crucified. He is risen! Just as God formed Adam from the dust so too He makes you a new creation in Christ. Biblical faith is a matter of wayward sheep finding safety in the presence of the Shepherd. It is marked by the pursuit of an unbridled hope. It involves flight from the self-reliance and worldly wisdom to this utter ‘foolishness’ of the Suffering Servant crucified for our sins. In Him we can be certain that the necessities of Lent’s long day will be overtaken by Easter’s eternal dawn. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Ash Wednesday
17 February 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luther’s Small Catechism
2 2 Corinthians 5:19
3 Romans 6:3-4
4 John 15:5
5 2 Corinthians 5:17
6 Mark 9:24

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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

Text: Luke 9:28-36
Theme: Unfading Glory

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

The glory of Christ is most stunningly revealed on the cross. Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration. The three closest disciples of Jesus are privy to an unparalleled display of His majesty. On an unnamed mountain Jesus’ appearance becomes blindingly bright and Moses and Elijah also appear and converse with Him. The focus of their discussion is Jesus’ fulfillment of the work of salvation. The cross still lies ahead. The Father voices His approval of His Son making it clear to the disciples that only Christ can open way to heaven. The experience was so overwhelming the disciples first keep the news to themselves.

But this isn’t the normal way that God works. Baptismal living in this dimension is not a matter of perching on mountaintops but of negotiating the valleys. Peter wanted to remain on the mountain to behold the face of glory, but the Lord soon led Him through the valleys to a different hill called Calvary. History prepares the faithful. The Israelites too beheld the face of Moses while it glowed with God’ radiance. When Moses came from the presence of God he veiled his face so the people wouldn’t see the fading of God’s glory. He didn’t want their trust to become dulled by the appearance of God’s power ebbing away.

The old covenant was never intended to be the definitive revelation of God. Only Christ removes the veil of the law. Only He tears away the cloak of darkness. Only He is the unfading glory of God. Only the gospel continually re-creates and revives unwavering trust in the mercy of God. The provisions of the law were only a shadow and reflection, Christ is the essence and fulfillment.

Human nature is prone to desensitization. This is true both in regards to God’s blessings and also the reality of evil. For this reason we are continually called to repentance. Evil has many faces. Some are almost universally recognizable. Assault, bloodshed, rape, murder, abduction, abuse, addiction- these hardly need to be explained as expressions of wickedness. But it’s the less graphic faces of evil that are the most deceptive. The devil rejoices when evil is given the face of anonymity or neutrality. Evil as an unnamed, indefinite, non-threatening concept causes much less fear and concern than wickedness that can be identified by very specific characteristics.

On the scale of the average person’s measurement of evil false teaching usually receives low billing. This is so because it often appears so innocuous; sometimes having no clear or urgent consequences. The concern for purity of teaching is often dismissed by the ideology of experimentation and pragmatism. In this approach the lack of immediate and obvious harmful consequences of false teaching undermines the concern for purity. Does it matter if we teach Christ is the only way to heaven? Is acceptance of homosexuality really a problem? Can’t abortion be an acceptable option for those who want it? Is fidelity in marriage as important as God says it is? Will people stand for an unbending body of Christian truth? Don’t they rather desire their own opinions to be heard? Perhaps the words of Scripture need some tweaking!

These questions are often raised in the context of evangelism. The practical approach values results over precision and even truth. If the outcomes seem to be forthcoming than a few compromises along the way are deemed to be acceptable. Many Christians are drawn to this approach. Defense against it not only requires trust in the truthfulness of God’s word, but confidence in the accumulated wisdom of the ages.
A small leak in the dam may not put the town below in immediate danger but the signs are ominous. Jesus compares false teaching to yeast. A small amount leavens the whole lump. We heard the Holy Spirit say through the apostle earlier, “We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”1

On the mountain God made His intentions clear. We might wonder why only three were privileged to witness the transfiguration. Yet the Holy Spirit needs only one through which to record it in the Holy Scriptures. There is a lesson here that relates to the nature of faith. It can be maintained only through reliance on the external promise and never by interaction with sensual phenomena- even for the eye-witnesses of God’s activities throughout history. Millions watched the parting of the Red Sea yet a whole generation fell away from God in the wilderness. More was accomplished through the faith of the one man, Moses, than the throngs who were eye-witnesses to the miracles. After His resurrection Jesus appeared to more than 500 of the believers at one time. Still, many fell away! How much more was accomplished through the persistent preaching of the one man, St. Paul!

Faith can never be grounded on the observable and impressive activity of God no matter how miraculous. Faith is the activity of the Spirit; created through the preaching about Christ- His life, death, and resurrection. The gift of faith may be inspired or even dazzled by the experience of God’s power through healing, or the proximity of angels, or preservation from eminent danger, or any endless number of possibilities. But faith grows and is fortified by a steady diet of the word. It is tested, refined, and strengthened through the endurance of hardship, trial, and tribulation which drives one repeatedly to know and rely on God’s promises alone.

We might desire to have our faith boosted by an impressive epiphany of God’s power or an exciting revelation of the Holy Spirit. In so desiring we would be no different than the apostles whose same desire was voiced through Philip. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”2 But Christ knew that in the weakness of their humanity the experience would fade and they would soon struggle with doubt. What number and frequency of miraculous or impressive experiences of God is necessary to maintain one’s faith? It’s crucial to understand that we would never be completely satisfied; our trust would never be unwavering even if we saw a spectacular miracle every day. So what is Philip told by the Lord? “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.”3 Jesus doesn’t offer more miracles or merely direct the way to God; He is the location of God. And His word is truth. The full glory, majesty, and deity of the Godhead reside in Him, even though clothed in the humility of human flesh. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”4

Dear friends this is where a Christian dwells through Spirit-created faith in the Word: namely, in the body of Jesus. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ.”5 In baptism the Holy Spirit takes you from wandering among the walking dead and locates you in the living Jesus. The very same Jesus who was crucified under the subjection of the fallen and sinful world now safeguards for you an eternal future in His new creation. You have protection not because your faith perches you on a vulnerable mountaintop but because the Crucified One tucks you into His wounds. Cleansed and forgiven and already raised with Him in faith, His wounds remain your shelter. From these wounds you also partake of sacred food; not a fast-food snack for those on the go, but a participation in the eternal feast. Holy Communion is not take-away fare. It is dine- in only! Where the word is taught purely and the sacraments administered properly the Holy Spirit assures us of God’s gracious presence. This is a greater miracle than any passing glimpse of His power. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
14 February 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 2 Corinthians 4:2
2 John 14:8
3 John 14:9
4 Colossians 2:9 5 Colossians 2:9-10