Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +
Text: Luke 10:9
Theme: The Kingdom of God has Come Near

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Welcome! Welcome to the place where the kingdom of God has come near. The Holy Spirit gathers the faithful into the presence of Christ. The setting is unique. It is unmatched by anything the world has on offer. Here you participate in the holy things of God which define and sustain the mysterious reality of the body of Christ. Here you have a preview of things to come. God dwells already now in the midst of His people.

This profound truth is not something to take lightly. That we have these blessings is not the result of coincidence or happenstance. It is due only to Jesus’ sacrifice and determination to redeem a humanity separated from Him. Today Jesus prepares the towns and villages to which He will go by sending out missionaries in advance. Their task was to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. He sent them out with the directive, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves!”1 It was a daunting task that recognized the powerful opposition of an ungodly world.
The same truths must be recognized and assessed by the church today. It seems increasingly necessary to assert with clarity the nature and consequences of evil. In broadest terms anything and everything that is opposed to the good and gracious will of God is evil. Evil is not measured by differences in human opinion. Of course secular teaching would define evil more in terms of anything that causes harm or distress to others, limits personal choice and freedoms and generally impedes the quest for equality and prosperity in the world. But the objective reality is that evil entails everything that offends God’s holiness and alienates people from Him.
The problem of sin is not solved by human ingenuity. Underpinning the optimism for a humanity that can advance is the belief that people have the natural ability to desire, understand, and chose what is right. The philosophy of humanism puts confidence in an individual’s ability to “make the right choice.” But this is exactly the root of the problem. Because of the nature of original sin people are unable to even desire what’s right. Actually striving to do what’s right is another matter altogether. The desire to do God’s will- which always relates to the benefit of the neighbour- is a work of the Holy Spirit.

The real crises people face are profoundly spiritual. God’s law bring this to light. Nothing weighs heavier on the heart than unresolved sin. You know the sins that burden your conscience and the failures that haunt your memories. What can you do about the guilt that bothers you? You cannot excuse it. You cannot avoid it or go on like it is of no consequence. You cannot simply erase your sin. Least of all should you try to justify it.

So what do people do? Some stay away from the church because they feel guilty. Others avoid all things sacred and holy because they’ve attained no measurable results from such associations. God’s promises are brushed off as irrelevant; His forgiveness as unnecessary. People begin to believe they have matured past the need for such things. Religion is demoted to the realm of harmless activity for Sunday School children and a last resort for the elderly. Everyone else has serious living to do- so they think.

But “serious” living begins at God’s initiative. Starting first at baptism it continues with the ever-deepening practice of repentance and forgiveness that defines our life under the cross as God’s holy people. Today Chloe begins the life that really matters, the life of a child claimed and blessed by God. Baptism is not a decision she makes but something she suffers: The grace of God receiving her into His kingdom. Though she can only remain in it through faith, this too is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Luther clarifies, “We carry the child to the font with the purpose and hope that he may believe, and we pray that God would give him faith; but it is not on the strength of that purpose, that hope, or that expected creation of faith in the child that we baptize the child, but simply because God has commanded it.”2 It all depends on God’s word and promise. He is serious in His declaration, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”3

The Church then remains the believer’s spiritual home, inn, and hospital through the entire journey of this life. Our time here always centres on those things which draw us near to God and enable us to be in His presence. Christians come labouring under the great weight of their sin and they unload a mighty millstone unto the shoulders of God. It is a weight that is transferred straight to the cross. Here Christ lifts the burden of sin from your soul and in so doing brings near the kingdom of God. In His declaration of forgiveness reconciliation takes place. The gap between sinful humans and a holy God is bridged. Jesus Christ opens the way to heaven through His death and resurrection. Assured of God’s acceptance in Christ our lives take on completely different meaning.

Christ, our suffering, but victorious Servant frees us to serve others. This then becomes the basis of your reconciliation with others. It is important to note that even those in today’s account that rejected the message still experienced the nearness of the kingdom. People can turn away from it, push it away or slowly drift away. God captures no heart by force. Rather, He draws with His profound and mysterious love.

Dear friends, you might be as close as some people have ever come to the kingdom of God. Don’t misinterpret that by flattering yourself. You’re just as fallen as anyone else. But in Christ you are also redeemed and you carry in your life and on your lips His Word and hope. Your witness to the truth might be the only one they ever hear or see. Without even saying a word, people who know you will know by your actions whether or not you are focused on building your own kingdom or the kingdom of God.

When those early missionaries came back they were filled with excitement. As bearers of God’s Word they witnessed the powers of sin and Satan being overthrown and people restored. Jesus even said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”4 Think of this incredible power that was granted to them: In Christ’s name even demons submitted. And yet so they don’t lose focus Jesus makes this remarkable statement “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”5

More significant than these impressive displays of miraculous power was their assurance of eternal security. Perhaps too Jesus was preparing them for the time after the apostles when miracles would fade in frequency and importance. The greatest ongoing miracle is always the Holy Spirit’s work of creating and sustaining spiritual life through the Gospel.

The kingdom of God is not an idealistic, but remote and inaccessible dreamland. It is not merely spoken of theoretically or described as a mysterious, remote locality. It is not something that exists only in the mind of God. The kingdom of God involves the presence of God breaking into our world through the person and activity of Jesus Christ. It denotes the advancement of the saving work of the gospel, the dispensing of forgiveness, and the manifestation of the Spirit. It is largely hidden to unbelieving eyes to be sure. Though the miracles that accompanied it early on were undeniable even by the harshest critics. It is an expression of the salvation Christ secured in the past , the blessings of word and sacrament we receive now, and the promise of what’s to come. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
4 July, 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 10:3 2 Large Catechism, 106
3 Matthew 28:19 4 Luke 10:18 5 Luke 10:20

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

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

Text: Luke 9:57-62
Theme: Identity With Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Reputations are indicators of how we are viewed by others. What associations do people make when they see you and speak of you to others? If others were called upon to describe your commitments and allegiances, what would they name? Do people identify you by worldly tags? Or do they first recognize you by your association with Christ? The Bible reminds us, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”1 The Holy Spirit empowers us to live accordingly.

Jesus speaks today of the urgency of following Him. Discipleship is a serious commitment. Human activities, even when they relate to family or career, cannot have a higher priority in life than faithfulness to the triune God. The struggle of living according to His truth is the struggle of having all of our temporal activities conformed to our identity as God’s people and not the other way around.

Christianity is not a hobby. The living of your Christian life is not an occasional, optional, or auxiliary pursuit. What things do you invest your time and resources in on a daily and weekly basis that matter the most in the end? God is always calling us to an evaluation of our priorities. That is part and parcel with daily repentance for sin and bearing the cross. At times He calls you to a more radical re-prioritization and restructuring of your life. This can rarely happen without discomfort or even pain. Christ says this about the way the Father tends His vineyard, the Church, “He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”2 The pruning off of our sinful and selfish ways is a painful, but necessary part of the maintenance our well-being and our training for usefulness in God’s kingdom.

The influence of selfishness in our culture is chronically underestimated. When our selfish desires go unchallenged they become expressed in all kinds of practices that become habitual. And when others concede to our ego-centric natures because of the need to be liked or out of fear or exasperation we may get the idea that carrying on in such a manner is perfectly acceptable. Our consciences become dulled. We become desensitized to the warped reality of “living in our own little world.”

How often do trivial and meaningless things dominate people’s lives? Recreation too has now become so endemic in our culture that most people can’t imagine their lives being structured in any other way. We might consider not just the hours frittered away watching TV or engaging in an endless range of spectator entertainments, but also of the time devoted to things which serve no useful or godly purpose. These realities hardly do justice to the biblical urgency to understand the times. The Bible says, “Be very careful, then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.”3

Jesus illustrated this emphatically as He went on His way teaching about the kingdom. “He said to another man, ‘Follow Me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’”4 The words of Jesus are demanding. They show a clear break with Jewish tradition which held that the burying of a family member took precedence over religious duties. Without showing disrespect to the deceased Jesus nevertheless gives clear priority to the mission of the gospel. The spiritually dead, unbelievers, can be left to attend to their own burials.

At the moment of death an individual’s eternal future is sealed. No change can be made. Nothing can be done. There is no existence between heaven and hell, no purgatory, no temporary place of waiting. Jesus emphatically stresses the importance of tending to the spiritual state of the living. The time for repentance cannot be squandered. For others there is still hope. That hope is anchored to the One who was lifted up on a cross on Calvary.

Christianity proclaims and defends the unique biblical teaching that God revealed Himself definitively in the person of the crucified Jesus. Jesus is not merely God’s messenger, His prophet, or His designated agent to facilitate His mission. Jesus Christ is of the same divinity of the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Scripture says, “In Him the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.”5 Jesus is the enfleshed Word of God, the Gospel incarnate. Only His death and resurrection open the gates to heaven. He is the sacrifice for sins. He is the Mediator; He is our Advocate before the Father. Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”6

Dear friends, the realm of unbelief is a vast expanse of chaos, confusion, and darkness. People wander to and fro not even knowing they are lost. But the Holy Spirit, with this one beaming light of truth- the gospel of the forgiveness of sins- pierces that darkness wherever the Word holds forth. And then the Spirit gathers lost, wandering, and injured sheep into His fold, the Church. Within this community ruled by the truth of His Word He heals the souls of the injured and feeds hearts hungry for His mercy. He separates truth from falsehood, good from evil, and faith from unbelief. When you eat and drink the bread and wine consecrated by His word you receive the sacramental body and blood of Jesus Christ. In that body and blood the believer receives forgiveness, life, and salvation, while the unbeliever invites judgment.

In this continual dynamic of the working of His word the Spirit calls unbelievers to faith, sinners to repentance, and the repentant to rest. And because we have spiritual rest we are strengthened to give our lives in sacrifice for others. Christians should not be as concerned about rights and entitlements as they are about privileges and responsibilities; gifts and stewardship. If we’re always focused on whether we’re getting our fair cut in life it is unlikely we are striving to love our neighbour as ourselves. You belong to Christ and nothing He possesses can be lost. Your life can be spent on others because you have an eternal inheritance.

A person’s reputation in life is very important. But it’s only God’s approval that really matters. We have the Father’s approval because of the sacrifice of the Son. All human influences are reduced to nothing. Who is going to stand with you before the throne of judgment and advocate on your behalf. Will it be any of those people your received accolades and praise from in this life? Will it be your spouse or children? Your boss or your employees? Do you think any mortal holds any persuasive influence over the Almighty? St. Paul said, “Am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”7

Yet the poor and downtrodden will testify to the faith of Christians- precisely because believers act as Christ to those in need. The Bible says that at the judgment “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”8 He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”9 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
27 June 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Galatians 3:27 2 John 15:2
3 Ephesians 5:15-16 4 Luke 9:59-60
5 Colossians 2:9 6 Matthew 7:13-14
7 Galatians 1:10 8 Mathew 25:40 9 Matthew 25:34