Thursday, March 25, 2010

Midweek Lenten Series Sermon

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

Text: Isaiah 53:1
Theme: Who Has Believed Our Message?

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

The Holy Spirit reminds us, “We live by faith, not by sight.”1 The currently unobservable promises of God will one day be realized, while the tangible struggles that now press upon us will become like fleeting memories, phantoms which never caused a moment’s stress. This is our conviction. God will not fail to deliver.

But this conviction is hardly a widely-held consensus. Isaiah inquires “Who has believed our message?”2 The piercing question of the prophet continues to ring out through the ages. How commonly people turn a deaf ear. The message is easily naysayed. The need: A Saviour from sin, death, and hell. The provision: A victim hung on a cross, a sacrifice, a humble King, a Suffering Servant. Not very stunning by the world’s standards! Oh how the wisdom of God sounds like foolishness to men!

So the skeptic asks: Why doesn’t God do something more dramatic and undeniable if He wants more people to believe in Him? Why not something beyond questioning and of inescapable relevance to all? Well, He will when Christ comes again in glory. The Scripture says, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”3 Every knee, every tongue, great or small, wicked or faithful,
skeptic or disciple, no exceptions; all will recognize Christ for who He is.

Meanwhile, we live in this dimension of time and space and that requires faith. Not that God hasn’t provided enough incontrovertible evidence already! Christ was publicly crucified by the Roman authorities outside of the city of Jerusalem and laid to rest in a rock-hewn tomb. Three days later He rose and then walked the earth for forty more days before His ascension. This is the central event upon which Christianity is founded. What need is there for more evidence? But remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. As the rich man languished in hell Abraham responded to his request that his brothers be warned by saying, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”4 This is a categorical indictment on all humanity.

The issue is deeper. Faith does not finally rely on tangible evidence of God’s power. Such signs maybe an aide to faith-witnessing the healing of the sick, the subjugation of nature, and the raising of the dead. But acknowledging God’s power is not the same thing as believing He is gracious to you.

“Who has believed our message?” Faith can never be grounded on an assent to a collection of abstractions about God. It is proper and necessary to believe that God is holy, righteous, and eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and all-knowing; these are essential characteristics of His nature. He transcends time and space. He foresees the future. But a general concept of a deity is not yet saving faith. Of the three great ecumenical creeds of the Christian church- the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian- only the Athanasian contains a list of these intangible virtues of the Divinity. And the reason for listing these characteristics is to assert the equality of the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Father. Rather the creeds purposefully compile the essential historical facts about Jesus the Christ- in His humanity- and confess Him as Lord.

Here is where Christianity emerges from the generic mass of ideas and assertions about a ‘god-concept’ to stand uniquely upon the doctrine of the incarnation. We proclaim unapologetically that there is no God apart from the flesh and blood of Jesus the Christ. It is an ambitiously monumental claim! God makes Himself accessible in the man Jesus. He says “When a man believes in Me, he does not believe in Me only, but in the One who sent Me. When he looks at Me, he sees the One who sent Me.”5

Here is the critical and decisive thing: The mystery of the Christian teaching is that the Deity, who in His absolute holiness completely separates Himself from sin, nevertheless unites Himself to you, the sinner, in the person of the crucified Jesus- His Suffering Servant. The God who does this, though profoundly mysterious, is not anonymous or enigmatic. He reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have access to Him and saving knowledge of Him only through Jesus who came in human flesh. He is distributed to you through word and water, bread and wine. Luther says bluntly that apart from Christ people cannot distinguish between God and the devil.

Who has believed the message? What is the most common religion in Australia and much of the Western world? Most common not in terms of numbers associated with a particular denomination or religious group but of actual beliefs about the person, activity, and will of God? It is probably best described as a generic deism. The deist believes in the existence of a ‘supreme being’ and may even commit time and resources to religious causes. Yet how is this relationship characterized. Is it not this uneasy tension with a God to whom people concede existence and power but are reluctant to trust as gracious? In the civic religion that grows from a decaying Christianity God is granted some providence yet not even recognized as the Creator. We’re told time and chance have gotten us to where we are now? Is it not claimed that God’s advice is particularly obsolete in regards to ethical and morals issues? Is God not merely one resource among many for those seeking therapeutic healing, spiritual enlightenment, or meaningful resolution to life-shattering experiences- and always with the understanding that God’s input is optional?

“Who has believed our message?” Dear friends, how important it its return regularly to the words of the catechism about the Third Article! “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.”6 To confess the inability to believe on one’s own is to truly lay bare the ego and humble the will. The dead are always at the mercy of Him who gives life. God grants this gift in baptism. Acknowledgment that unbelief, including the inability to believe, is the most profound consequence of sin in this life is a true measure of contrition. It is this type penitential heart which the exercise of Lent seeks to mold.

“But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”7 The EVENT- a 1st century Judean man dying the pathetic death of a criminal- was God’s way of atoning for your sin. His unassuming act of vacating His own grave under His own power was no less subdued. He didn’t alert the religious elite to announce it in the temple or send notice to the Roman authorities to make a civil declaration. Instead He commissions a small band comprised mostly of fishermen to proclaim to the world that the crucified Christ is alive and His kingdom far surpasses all earthly dominions.

Isaiah is our companion and teacher this Lenten season. He 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. Your peace of mind doesn’t depend on the fickle whim of a faceless ‘supreme being.’ It is rooted in the actions and promises of Him who died upon the tree. He turns His face toward you on the cross. He carries you through the grave. This is our message and we have no other. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Midweek Lenten Series
2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 2 Corinthians 5:7
2 Isaiah 53:1 3 Philippians 2:10-11
4 Luke 16:31 5 John 12:44-45
6 Luther’s Small Catechism 7 same

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

Text: John 12:1-8
Theme: Service and Devotion

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

Jesus has spoken repeatedly of His impending arrest and crucifixion. There was no question that His time was nearing its end. Mary seems to sense this. As a touching and poignant act of love she wished to anoint Him with perfume that would generally be used at burial. Judas condemns her act as wasteful. The poor could have been helped, he said. But his motivations were far from pure. Judas was a thief. The sinner always finds a better use for someone else’s possessions. But Jesus does not reprimand him or reveal his transgression. Instead He commends Mary’s act of devotion. God will judge. God will bring all things to light whether good or evil. But it was not quite Judas’s time.

One of the early preachers of the church speaks of the folly of all who would follow in Judas’ footsteps. “They indeed defraud you of your money, but they strip themselves of the good will and help of God. And he that is stripped of that, though he clothe himself with the whole wealth of the world, is of all people most poor, just as he who is poorest of all, if he has God’s help, is the wealthiest of all.”1 But who in the world really believes this? How many would forego material luxury to acquire spiritual treasure? Are we any different than those who lived centuries ago? The more things change the more they stay the same.

There will never be a utopia on earth because people are utterly selfish and sinful.
One person is lacking food, while the next is starved for attention. One person is given physical support while the next remains bereft of emotional help. Perhaps the stomach is indulged while the soul withers. Or one individual is granted great personal freedom but becomes enslaved to his own lack of self-control. We selfishly confuse our wants with needs and people uncharitably make judgments about what is best for others. These complexities of human existence and sinfulness will always be with us. Christians are called to be bearers of mercy and hope. But we harbor no na├»ve ideals about the perfection of the human race. Pure sacrifice seeks no hope of having the favour returned. The Christian serves others because there is need, not because of reward. And we do it not to build people’s confidence in the goodness of the world but to point them to Christ.

What does the Bible say? “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”2 This power is the Word of God. Oh, what confidence has been lost in the word of God! How seldom we find it taken seriously. The bible is scarcely viewed as anything more than a dusty collection of stories of a by-gone age. Even amongst many Christians the biblical accounts are often marginalized as nothing more than harmless moralistic stories for children. Such attitudes betray the degree to which arrogance and unbelief so easily rule hearts and minds. Satan doesn’t need overly-cunning deceptions or temptations to outwit humans; he need only maintain enough cynicism, ignorance, or apathy to render God’s promises ineffective.

But the Word of God still commands its own audience and the Holy Spirit gathers His own followers. God works despite our foibles, faults, forgetfulness, and faithlessness.
Lent draws us right into the fray, and, angst, and paradox of remembering that we may forget. That is, of recalling Christ’s suffering that our sins may be forgotten; of claiming the reason for His crucifixion, that we might be identified with Him in the resurrection; of appreciating the past to make sense of the present and look toward the future. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”3 And the prophet says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”4

Dear friends, we believe that the doctrine of Christ crucified and risen has far-reaching consequences. Christ initiated a great reversal which presses on in the face of ridicule and doubt and is often unobserved. Sometimes we are privileged to witness great flashes of God’s power but more often than not the gospel does its work quietly and always in the midst of struggle and tension. By it the Holy Spirit converts hearts and transforms minds; yet our righteousness is by declaration and our holiness not our own, but Christ’s. And though this righteousness seems less tangible because it isn’t fully grasped by human senses, it is all the more certain because it rests on Christ’s work alone. He claims you as His child in baptism and no one can gainsay His testimony or overturn His claim. He declares to the penitent that his or her sins are forgiven and nothing can give greater freedom. He provides His own body and blood, and better nourishment for the soul cannot be found.

Even in the midst of decay the old is being made new. In the midst of dying the power of life gathers force. In the face of despair hope springs anew. The Christ hidden from our senses nevertheless lives in our souls. Human eyes search vainly in the darkness but the eyes of faith plainly behold the image of the cross. God is no less Creator now than He was in the beginning. Darkness fled when He commanded light to shine. Demons still flee whenever and wherever the Light of the World holds sway.

That which is broken can be repaired. Those who are estranged can be reconciled. All who have transgressed can be forgiven. The lost are sought and found. The enslaved are identified and freed. The weak are given strength, the ignorant wisdom, the sorrowful joy. Those whose appreciation for the beauty and elegance of creation has gone pass all memory are reintroduced to a remade Eden. The thankless are given a reason to praise. This is the work of the gospel even now. Mary’s act of devotion will always be remembered because Christ says it will.

Christ does all these things. Now in the piecemeal manner that suppresses our arrogance, subdues our selfishness, and increases our dependence on His mercy. Only in this manner is our faith now served. As the apostle says, “Not that I have already attained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”5 But then, on the Last Day, at the last trumpet, in dramatic and comprehensive fashion, when we see Him face to face and as He IS- then will the consequence of sin and evil of death be swallowed up by life. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday in Lent
21 March 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Chrysostom
2 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
3 Hebrews 13:8
4 Isaiah 43:18-19
5 Philippians 3:12