Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday

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

Text: John 19:10-11
Theme: The Greater Power

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

Something unrepeatable happens on Calvary. It is a singular even of unparalleled consequence. Humanly it is inconceivable and immeasurable. It is inconceivable not in the sense that we would be appalled that this righteous man would be sentenced to die, but in the sense that God would undertake to redeem the world in this way. Human beings do not- they cannot- naturally think in this way. According to human wisdom the cross is the pinnacle of irony, tragedy, and failure. It is pure nonsense.

All others miracles aside, at His death Jesus appears to succumb to weakness. How could His passivity accomplish redemption! History records the role of human powers. Pilate was accustomed to an unchallenged use of his authority. “Don’t you realize I have the power either to free you or crucify you?”1 He could not fully understand what Jesus meant when He responded, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”2 Yet he sensed that it was something to be reckoned with and it caused him fear. “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free.”3

Many deaths have happened and will happen, but only this death, His death, is the sacrifice for sins. The countless sacrifices carefully numbered by the priests generation after generation now reach their obsolescence. It was the goal for which they were destined. The significance does not escape the writer to the Hebrews. “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.”4

But old habits die hard. We always prefer to do things our way- in all things- spiritual pursuits included. People sometimes try to seek comfort in the death of Christ while still rejecting its full implications. They doubt it is at the centre of existence to the extent that it gives meaning to absolutely everything. This doubt can be dressed up in all kinds of sophistication. The universe seems much too large and complex to be finally explained and governed by the crucifixion of a First Century Jewish man. In harboring this doubt modern people share the proclivities of the ancient Greeks who believed matter was eternal and the soul was trapped in the body waiting for release. Contemporary thinking resonates with such skepticism: Time passes, old events become obsolete, new ideas are embraced, things change, meaning is elusive. But original false teachings are only re-introduced with new images and there is nothing new under the sun. Human wisdom always doubts God would limit Himself to such historical circumstances.

But God did chose to define reality and meaning within such parameters. These events are historical. Their meaning is not the putty for religious theory. Christ died because you are a sinner. No other reason is finally relevant to you. Christ bore your punishment on the cross. Everything else you know is secondary to that. The law leaves you no escape. But the gospel offers you full pardon. You partake of His body and blood as a concrete expression of these truths. To trust that Christ did this out of unconditional love for you is to see God- and approach life- in a different light.

There was a sculptor who invested painstaking time and effort crafting a life-sized statue of Christ. It was considered by even the strongest critics to be a masterpiece. When it was unveiled people came and admired it from every angle and perspective. They praised the detail and skill that it displayed. But they approached it only as a work of art. The artist, however, had a different intention. He said, “If you want to see it rightly, it’s best to kneel.” This is the spiritual posture of the baptismal life.

God sees us through the challenges we encounter. Pain, doubt, fear, sickness, disappointment, confusion, apathy, and the list is endless. But on this Good Friday what takes centre stage is the resolution of our mortality. Only Christ has this power. The questions faced at the threshold of death are quickly sifted. Trivial matters immediately become irrelevant. Weightier matters come to the fore: relationships yet unreconciled, dreams still unfulfilled, hopes never realized- these things occupy the heart and mind when death draws near. But one concern dominates them all: On what basis will God be faced? What confidence do I have in His acceptance? When your own conscience threatens to desert you where will you turn?

When you are dying you want the assurance of someone who’s been there. Finally no half-way measures will do; no equivocation. There are no negotiations, no other options; the believer will pass this way. There is no other gateway, no other portal, no other entrance. When the believer reclines in death the soul completes its journey in the footsteps of Christ and there reposes until the glorification of the body. The approximations, and the guesswork, and the na├»ve speculations about what it really means to die can only be resolved in Him who has the power over death. For those without faith consideration of death may quickly become not only a time of intense doubt, but of frantic disillusionment and despair.

For the believer too it comes with its challenges and temptations. The Old Adam fights within us to the end. Yet we face the throne as saints declared righteous by grace. We can stand before Him illuminated in Easter glow. We need not fear what He has conquered. Christ teaches us how to die. We cannot by-pass death, but Jesus has the greater power. Equal to the Father; one with the Spirit; superior to angels; a Redeemer of mortals, Jesus the Christ died once for all. In that one death He died as if suffering innumerable deaths and immeasurable pain. Sin cannot rule Him. Satan cannot judge Him. Hell cannot contain Him. Death cannot hold Him.

Dear friends, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was unpreventable and is unrepeatable. It makes possible for us an unchanging eternity. This one event of death effects the resurrection of the many. Our participation in the death of Christ is not the same as our participation in His resurrection. When our sins are put to death in His body we are spared the pain, torment, and condemnation which He endured. But in the resurrection we will fully experience in our glorified bodies the vibrancy of His life. In death He bears the sentence. In life we enjoy the victory. His sacrifice is the commentary on all existence- for from it all who are consecrated by Him and for Him receive immortal life. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +
April 2 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 19:10
2 John 19:11
3 John 19:12
4 Hebrews 10:11-12

Maundy Thursday

'For You'

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:24

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The blood of Jesus was shed for you. That’s what the Scripture says. Our focus on this Maundy Thursday is the foundational realities that underpin this truth. Holy Communion was never considered to be a supplemental sacrament appended to the otherwise standard worship of the Christian church. From the beginning it was the sacred but regular meal that nourished the faithful. In this gift we have a convergence of mysteries. Christ is present in a unique way with the power of forgiveness. Holy Communion is a participation in the mystery of the incarnation.

The “for you” nature of Holy Communion is rooted in the fact of Jesus’ presence. Appreciating the importance of this is challenging in an age of skepticism about anything not scientifically verifiable. Christian teaching must be careful not to capitulate to a theology of the absence of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a substitute for the human nature of Jesus. The ascension is sometimes misunderstood as a loss of the presence of Christ; almost as if at His ascension Jesus went back to being a spirit being only- a sort of “dis-incarnation.” The Holy Spirit is not a replacement for the bodily presence of Christ. The Holy Spirit unites the church in the blessings and benefits of His bodily presence. The Holy Spirit does no other work than this. If the Spirit is not leading a person to a deeper affirmation of the truth of Jesus’ body given for them then it’s not the Holy Spirit that’s doing the leading.

The ascension of Jesus into heaven doesn’t mean He confines Himself to that dimension or is no longer present here on earth. At His ascension Jesus was fully exalted and enthroned at the Father’s right hand. The sacrifice completed, death overcome, He began His rule as true God and true man for eternity. The ascension was truly a gain, not a loss. He is present bodily with His church on earth wherever and whenever He desires it. He has ordained that He will be present in the sacrament of Holy Communion in that way.

Here we not only “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,”1 as Paul says, but also receive the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ. Hidden under these elements of bread and wine Jesus comes to you with the forgiveness of sins. We commune always in the pale of the cross but in the light of the resurrection. When we commune we make ourselves vulnerable to the purifying work of the cross. Grace can only be received in repentance. To approach the throne in unbelief invites only judgment.

Therefore the unrepentant sinner seeks anonymity. If not ruled by self-righteousness his thoughts easily turn to excuse and avoidance. Perhaps the tangled mass of sinful humanity can become an advantage after all? Maybe in the menagerie of sorting out the judgment we can just be lost in the shuffle? Maybe our deeds won’t be revealed and the evil intentions of our hearts remain undiscovered? Of course Scripture says otherwise. “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”2

The heart knows that God sees. And the piercing eyes of God do not allow the smallest sin to escape unnoticed. False piety is also an offense to Him. Try to claim that you’re not worth His effort and see how quickly your intended humility is shown to be arrogance. Precisely in your ‘noble’ desire to be of no trouble to Him you end up discounting His sacrifice. We might do this not by any intentional slander or rejection of His suffering and crucifixion but by questioning whether we were worth the effort. In doing so we rob Christ of the fullness of His glory. You are trouble to Him, everyone is. That is precisely the point.

But you have never committed a sin He has not seen before. You cannot shock Him. You will not surprise Him. Even if you did something so original and evil that it has never happened in the history of the world, still God can see the potential for such wickedness conceived in the original fall. There is no actual sin that is more pernicious than the total corruption of human nature which is its source. Christ was crucified not only for the actual sins of men but for the very possibilities which complete rebellion against God- idolatry- leads to.

No soul is expendable to God. God does not follow a utilitarian ethic. He will not overlook the one for the good of the many. He is not constrained to make decisions which would throw humans into a quandary. He is not forced to choose the well-being of one above the other. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”3 Christ did this for the world and He did it for you.

Christ suffered for you. Luther says, “Of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you?”4 The sacrificial nature of Jesus is shown with clarity during His last meal with His disciples before His arrest. There He was, nearing His last hour, facing all the forces of darkness and what does Jesus do? He performs the task of a servant. He washes their feet. He models the humility that the disciples would need to imitate in their apostolic ministry. It was important symbolically, but it wasn’t merely an object lesson. Christians don’t just occasionally swallow their pride to perform lowly tasks on behalf of others; servanthood is the Christian way of life in all circumstances. Christians walk the path of humility not as a matter of personality or individual choice but as evidence they are bearing the cross and being conformed to Christ.

Dear friends, our Lord holds nothing back as He offers Himself for the forgiveness of your sins. In the Upper Room He blessed His followers before His death. In this place where He meets you He offers the same blessings. The Bible says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”5 The cross was raised for you. For you the nails were hammered. His blood was shed for you. For you His body was broken. The stone was rolled for you. For you death was conquered. For you He bore the insults, the humility, the curses and the shame. For you He lives and intercedes before the Father. For you baptismal water is poured. For you the Spirit is given. For you He will return. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Maundy Thursday
April 1 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Corinthians 11:26
2 Hebrews 4:13
3 Romans 4:25
4 “A Meditation On Christ’s Passion”
5 Romans 8:31-32

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

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

Text: Luke 19:38
Theme: “In the Name of the Lord”

Dear baptized in the Lord Jesus,

As Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week people greet Him with hope and praise. They adorn His route with palm branches and lay down their garments indicating their high view of what He has done and might further do. The first Palm Sunday was about expectations- and they were high. The prophet from Nazareth had already changed the lives of many. He impressed people with His authoritative teaching and His miracles. Now maybe something could happen on a grander scale. Would He overturn the political and social institutions? Would he usher in a new era? The people were abuzz wondering about the possibilities.

It was a stark contrast to the mood five days later. There He hung dying tragically on a cross. What kind of hope could be realized in the pending death of this man? More than 2000 years later the debate still rages about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Was it all in vain or did it really change the world? The Bible calls us to clear witness of what these events means and warns us about engaging in the sophistry of the world. When rebuked by the Pharisees for letting His followers publicly worship Him as God Jesus replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”1 The church’s cry must be unequivocal: Christ is crucified for sins!

The way an issue is “spun” is often critical for its public acceptance. For example, supporters of abortion are careful to say little or nothing about the victim or the procedure itself, focusing only on the alleged rights of the mother. Advocates know that if people saw the process of late-term abortion, many would be horrified. Even if people understood the emotional and spiritual trauma involved the matter would be much more strongly opposed: Out of sight out of mind. Christians recognize life as sacred. From conception to grave it is pure gift. Made in His image each person is endowed by Him with a soul. Sin throws the orientation, understanding, and appreciation of this God-given life into chaos and darkness. Like Cain wandering in exile2 we find no permanent resting place until we rest in God alone.

But human reason fights desperately against arriving at this destination. We’d rather construct a refuge of our own. People may be open to the idea of God facilitating their understanding of happiness, security and well-being; but to risk leaving all things to the wisdom of God is another matter. The bottom line is we don’t readily trust God to look after our well-being and we don’t naturally believe that the most important thing we need from Him is salvation. Like the first Palm Sunday worshippers were soon to discover, Jesus comes to address what we need not necessarily what we’d prefer. To clarify and come to terms with this is the unending work of the church.

Remember how Jesus taught His disciples to pray? “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”3 Here is the heart of the matter. Yet this forgiveness often seems to people to be so irrelevant, so peripheral, even perhaps, so unnecessary. This type of thinking underpins the modern drive to change the church into primarily a social and therapeutic community. People don’t see the point in making a big issue about the forgiveness of sins. This is how the devil would have it. He desires to make the forgiveness of sins appear so mundane, uninteresting, and ineffective so as to almost be a waste of time. But without it we are crippled to one degree or another and finally we would be lost

Dear friends, we are all sinners. Believe that the greatest human need is always to be reconciled to the Father. This happens only through His Son. The Holy Spirit draws you here for that very purpose. The minister stands in the stead of Christ and declares in the name of the triune God that the sins of the repentant are forgiven. This assurance of absolution is valid before God in heaven. Your lapses into lust or selfishness or greed; your worry and doubt about your image among peers; your tactless indiscretions and mishandling of truth; your intentional unkindness and ingratitude towards co-workers, family, and friends; your cold-hearted lack of concern for those in need; the transgressions of your dark past and the failings of the present; these are washed away by the blood of the Lamb.

The gift of your baptism is the divine pledge that the punishment for your sins was laid upon Jesus at the cross. It involves entrance into new life because those who die with Him live with Him through the power of His resurrection. You bear that new life even in the midst of this world of decay. The struggle of baptismal living, of bearing the cross, is the struggle of confessing with your very life that which seems to contradict the evidence at hand. You may scarcely feel like you’re able to forgive yourself, let alone be reconciled to your spouse or others. But Christ bears this burden. What we desperately want to grasp with tangible reliability the Holy Spirit makes all the more certain through divine promise. The Spirit spares you from your own unstable assessment of whether the forgiveness offered to you is really true and piles all the accountability on Christ.

Then it is our privilege to make forgiveness tangible to others. Despite our intense feelings of hurt and anger we are called to accept those who seek to be reconciled to us in true repentance. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”4 Not surprisingly the apostles responded by saying to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”5 Remember, the forgiveness you extend to others is a small reflection of divine absolution. Most crucially, in this aspect: The giving and receiving of grace. Forgiveness doesn’t settle all matters of fairness, justice, or who is in the right; in fact, it often overlooks these.

If you’ve become accustomed to thinking that forgiveness in your relationships is contingent upon first sorting out who is in the wrong, then you’ve completely misunderstood the gospel. You are operating under a human standard of justice that is necessary for the functioning of society but is not the basis upon which Christians imitate the reconciliation of Christ. We typically want others brought to justice, but do we understand what justice means for us spiritually! It would mean certain and unequivocal condemnation. Before God- our sins exposed and exposed as sinners- we are guilty, unholy, powerless, and spiritually naked. But divine love settled the matter of justice at the cross. Believers are freed from the sentence of condemnation. The gates to hell are slammed shut and locked. Christ has the only key.

What those first Palm Sunday worshippers wanted was a man who would overturn the institutions of society what they got was a Redeemer who overthrew much greater and sinister powers. They sought someone who would give them temporal provision and freedom from political tyranny, they received a Saviour that provided spiritual sustenance and freedom from the consequences of sin and death. But they didn’t understand this at the time. We might ask whether we understand it any better today. Christ doesn’t take you out of the world but He ultimately liberates you from its fallenness. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”6 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Palm/Passion Sunday
28 March 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 19:40
2 See Genesis 4:12
3 Luke 11:4
4 Luke 17:3-4
5 Luke 17:5
6 Luke 19:38