Monday, August 9, 2010

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

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

Text: Luke 12:32
Theme: Confidence in the King and His Kingdom

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Faith is not a stagnant gift. It bears the assaults of Satan, the incursions of self, and the condemnations of society. It is like a warrior constantly honed in battle. Of course it does this not by its own strength but by transferring all these burdens directly to the one who authors it. Through the testing of our faith Christ draws us closer to Himself.

Today the Book of Hebrews defines faith with confidence and simplicity. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”1 But…what if? What if we’re not always sure of what we hope for and not always certain of those unseen things of God? What if we doubt, and struggle, and wonder, and worry? What if we sometimes question whether we even have much faith at all? What if your finances are in shambles, your relationships in crisis, your career in doubt, your integrity in question, even your hope for a better future hanging by a thread? Is such a definition of faith then not only shallow, but even condescending? What if you don’t even feel like a person of faith?

If any of these things are true for you, then take heart! You’re in good company and not much different than many of the great saints throughout the ages. The challenges and changes of life test us but the One on whom our faith rests does not change and He will not fail us. Take heart, your Redeemer says to you today, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”2 What He gives is not reserved only for the hereafter. Already now, forgiveness grants you access to the kingdom.

And now we see that faith has a definite focal point. Christian faith is bound up with the promise of forgiveness. It is not an independent possession by which we assess the existence and qualities of God. It is not a general feeling of spirituality. Christian faith cannot be equated with a religious conviction that there is more to the universe than its physical elements. Christian faith is fortified by any number of important historical and metaphysical realities but it has as its indispensible core the crucified and risen Jesus sacrificed to forgive sins.

The universal atonement-a Good Friday crucifixion and Easter resurrection- is the act that redeems me, the particular sinner. In the Holy Spirit’s gift of trust that objective event of salvation encompasses a particular believer. The general becomes specific and the universal becomes individual. That Christ is called Saviour only makes sense in relation to people named sinners. The Scriptures reveal our status before God to be calamitous. Here is where the real struggles of faith begin.

When it comes to confessing our sins before God not all are on equal footing. Internally, we are acutely aware of this. Easy to confess are those sins for which we feel little guilt, and/or those which we think require little forgiveness. These sins cause us little shame and so we are comfortable confessing them even publicly. We may even develop a false sense of piety for doing such a “bold and noble thing”. We may have also become so desensitized by the accepted views of society as to not even consider them real sins. The danger here is to think the whole matter is insignificant rather than a precious opportunity for sacred absolution. Of course it goes without saying that if we don’t think something is a sin then we won’t be inclined to name and confess it as such at all. Here self-righteousness and willful rejection of God’s word become grave perils.

Much harder to confess are those sins for which we feel true shame and remorse. These are the ones we seek to conceal from others, deny before God and even hide from ourselves. We easily concede to God the authority to judge others for sins that displease us. But to accept Him as the judge not only of our most reprehensible transgressions but also of those sins we consider petty is another matter. So it’s in the daunting realism of confronting our most threatening iniquities that actual forgiveness becomes cherished, despised or abandoned. To cherish forgiveness requires genuine repentance and humility. To abandon it denotes denial and fear. In this struggle we are never more than apprentices. But Christ has vanquished and in Him we have victory.

Forgiveness is not abstract. It penetrates people’s lives in very definite and tangible ways. Hypothetical forgiveness is nothing more than vacant vocabulary. But as vessels that carry Christ’s forgiveness we bear the injustices of others with patience and model Christ’s love. He speaks of this in general terms again today. He reminds us to be spiritually alert and responsible. The passing of time lulls us into lethargy about Christ’s return. It could just as well be tomorrow as a hundred or thousand years from now. Our concern is not the exact hour or day He comes back, but the promise that He will return without notice. Integrity calls us to the cultivation of faithfulness at all times and in all circumstances and contexts. Christ is the Master of the household who will return.

Now note what He promises to do for those who wait faithfully for Him? “I tell you the truth, He will dress Himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.”3 Here Jesus surprises His hearers with a reversal of roles. Instead of the servants tending to the needs of the master, he will wait on them. This unexpected statement speaks to the meaning of the gospel. Christ comes to give, not to demand. He won’t come to re-establish an earthly rule of law, but inaugurate a heavenly kingdom of grace.

Dear friends, remember the heavenly Father has been pleased to give. The cross is the instrument of divine giving. The body of Jesus broken and His blood spilled is the final testament of God’s love. We look for nothing further. We can expect nothing more. Through the crucifixion death is swallowed up and the dominion of Satan is brought into subjection. The Scripture 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?”4 And again, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”5

We are immersed into this mystery of redemption. Human souls of every era, age and maturity are granted faith when and where it pleases the Holy Spirit. The Spirit incorporates the believer into the body of Christ. That is the effect of baptism. It is that baptismal reality that forms the identity of those who are gathered into God’s house. The Scripture says, “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.”6

Perhaps the struggles of faith are not always what we think. It’s not our burden to resolve the dilemmas only God can handle, but our privilege to frolic in the divine forgiveness He grants. We can neither cherish it too possessively nor distribute it too lavishly. It is the mercy of the King and the glory of His kingdom. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
8 August 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 11:1
2 Luke 12:32
3 Luke 12:37
4 Romans 8:31-32
5 Isaiah 53:5
5 Romans 6:3-4