Sunday, February 28, 2010

Second Sunday in Lent

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

Text: Luke 13:32-33
Theme: Bearing the Burden for All

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

The gospel message always faces opposition. Today Jesus is warned that Herod was seeking His life. But His ministry could not be halted by human threats. Plans to take His life were organized by both the secular and religious powers. Herod would not stand for the claim of a higher ruler in the land and the Sanhedrin would not suffer a challenge to their religious authority. But Jesus did not die before His time. It was in accordance with the purpose and foreknowledge of God. His prophetic ministry was the culmination of thousands of years of tireless work by messengers ordained to speak God’s truth. In Jesus the old covenant was fulfilled and the new initiated.

But the outcome of centuries of faithful proclamation was hardly something to boast about- a least not a far as numbers are concerned. This is evidenced by Jesus’ grief over the hard-heartedness of His people. Their rejection of God’s word and mistreatment of His messengers is more than a minor disappointment needing to be remedied. It is an affront to the very essence of God’s nature. How great the love- that Christ was still willing to die for those who despised His grace! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”1

Lent is a time for honest realism. The human heart is wayward and the will undisciplined. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”2 There is something very hollow and suspect about the glib manner in which Christianity sometimes espouses a shallow optimism about human ability in spiritual things. When we undervalue the reality of sin we under-appreciate the necessity of truth. Truth can be very inconvenient when it comes to matters of self-reflection and disagreement. But truth is the only basis for freedom and real unity. Making the truth more pliable may satisfy wanton egos and diverse interests, but integrity is established only by truth that does not change.

Sinners are not brought to repentance through a mutable law. That is, true contrition- sorrow for sins- is not reached by a mutually acceptable compromise with God over which sins we decide we’ll take the blame for and which faults we think He should overlook. Neither are consciences consoled through a negotiable gospel. A promise of forgiveness with even a few strings attached is no absolution at all. No human is an arbiter of the truth. And falsehood is commonly masked by the kind way in which it is peddled. The devil too can be quite congenial. He can be quite friendly and agreeable when it serves his purposes. The Scripture alone determines truth. The word of God adjudicates all matters of doctrine and life.

The public and private preaching and teaching of Christian truth must be done with clarity and integrity. Life and death, heaven and hell are at stake. People are not comforted by a heartless repetition of pious statements. And more sincerity with the same amount of shallowness doesn’t improve things much. Sincerity can draw people equally to truth or falsehood just as insincerity can turn them away from both. How many are turned away from Christian truth by a cold and insincere witness! How many embrace falsehood because of the warmth and sincerity of those who proffer it!

The establishment of the covenant with Abraham described today is a remarkable event. This covenant is a model showing how God has always related to His people and intends to continue to do so. In reference to Genesis 15 we note three important aspects about the manner in which God covenants with His people. The covenant is predicated on God’s sovereign, but purposeful and compassionate will. God shows the childless Abram the stars of the sky and says, “So shall your offspring be.”3 Secondly, the covenant is received by faith. “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”4 Finally, the covenant is executed by God as He brings His promises to fulfillment. He relies on no human assistance. God did not consult with any human authority or seek advice from any possessor of knowledge when He undertook to redeem the world. Nor does He solicit our opinions regarding what might be best for our spiritual welfare. He acts on our behalf.

Covenants were not simply made or agreed upon, they were cut. The rending of the animals in two was a graphic and powerful image of the seriousness in which God held His promises. It served as a warning that to violate the covenant was to risk the fate which the animals symbolized: A complete severing from God. It was for people’s continual disregard for God’s covenant that Jesus laments today.

Covenants are also collective by design. Properly understanding this is important in an age of personal and spiritual individualism. Our spiritual existence is corporate by intention. We are not baptized to be lone-rangers. We are not called to be mavericks. We are incomplete, unfinished, and unfulfilled apart from the rest of the body of Christ. Baptism is into a local congregation of believers which itself is but one part of the greater church. You are baptized into the one holy, Christian and apostolic church.

Your life within that church, your baptismal relationship with the Father, through the Son, initiated and sustained by the Spirit is marked by community. The divine service is a communal activity. God speaks to the many- or few- gathered as one. The Lord’s Supper involves a participation and a fellowship by the many in the one sacred meal of God. Agreement in the teachings of the faith is a prerequisite for communing. At the same time the act of partaking of Holy Communion is a public expression of unity with those with whom we commune. Like closeness in marriage it requires a commitment beforehand but also deepens the devotion through the activity itself.

Despite its warts, flaws and foibles; its divisions and disagreements, the church exists as one body in Christ. Yet this is always hidden from human eyes and fully known to God alone. We cannot look into the hearts of others. We can only assess the truth of the confession to which they adhere. In its frailty the church is just a reflection of its individual parts- us sinners. But in its glory is a reflection of the image of Christ with whose righteousness, holiness, and perfection it is clothed. His compassion does not fail.
He handles all opposition to His truth. He has annulled5 the ‘covenant’ with death and by His resurrection grants believers incorruptible life. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday in Lent
28 February 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Romans 5:8
2 Luke 13:34
3 Genesis 15:5
4 Genesis 15:6
5 See Isaiah 28:18