Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day (B) 2011

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

Text: John 1:14
Theme: God Receives Humanity

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Not everything has a history. When God brings newness He doesn’t necessary recast, rework, restore or recover existing things. The news of a child to be born in Bethlehem has a long history but on that first Christmas God in human form did not. At Christmas we celebrate an unprecedented event- an event without a history. And it is concealed in one of the most common of occurrences. We celebrate God crossing into the category of His creation, the Immortal One assuming a mortal frame. It happens in the familiar manner of human birth. God breaks new ground using the same means He instituted for His creation.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…full of grace and truth.”1 This is the truth we celebrate today. In what manner did He come to dwell among us and what does it mean? We are shielded from His majesty but allowed to behold His humility. He sleeps. He cries. He eats. He grows. Yet He possesses the divinity of the Father. He would sometimes hide Himself from the Jews, but He commanded demons. He rebuked Pharisees but embraced children. He slept on a fishing vessel but subdued the raging waves. He possesses all the qualities of the human nature and all the Deity of the Godhead.

This union was necessary to rescue those who were condemned to suffer the final consequences of their fallen humanity. All that is dark, and sinister, false and selfish in your life accumulates on the human side of the equation. That is, until Jesus in His body gives access to the payment for sins, we are doomed to perish under the weight of divine wrath. God provides no other way. Our repentance and remorse is to be directed nowhere else because there is no other means. Neither should we think God has something to prove- that He needs to provide something greater than a manger, a cross and empty tomb- something more dramatic and unmistakably heavenly before we turn to Him.

We need to mature out of the idea that if God regularly exercised His might in public displays of power there would be more regular and consistent believers. That view of conversion has a long and failed track record. Think of Noah’s flood, the Exodus and all of the miracles of Christ. People can be motivated by fear, even awe, but apart from the Holy Spirit revealing to the sinners Christ’s compassion that doesn’t translate into faith. Outward obedience can be maintained by constant threat, even promise of reward. But then the very definition of faith would also be altered. Trust would no longer be a gift of the Holy Spirit with the promise of Christ as its object. It would be an act of the will that has been over-powered by sensory evidence. Jesus said to Thomas after His resurrection that seeing is believing. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

The Saviour was born among us meekly, unpretentious and underprivileged. This was offensive even to well-meaning Jews who looked for a royal son of David to re-institute the glory of Solomon. But within His human frame God was dwelling among humanity. This was all to our advantage as one of the Church fathers has said, “By no means did He diminish His own nature by His condescension, but He raised us, who had always sat in disgrace and darkness, to unspeakable glory.”2 He is the reconciler of relationships, the anchor in stormy seas, and the only comfort in death.

We cannot turn back time. The truth of Christmas doesn’t live among us as a memory. The angels are not stage props that are stored away for another year. The Child of Bethlehem is not kept as an infant in perpetuity. Faith is not sustained by an annual remembrance of the nativity no matter how tightly the sentiment is held. Faith is nurtured as the words of Christ regularly reach our ears and His body and blood regularly reach our lips. When your heart sighs in repentance and is lifted by the sound of forgiveness you are breathing the air of your baptism. When you dine at His altar you ingest the food of immortality. In these seemingly common and mundane actions you interface with the uncommon King, the Saviour, the Resurrected One.

The truth that Christ is both God and man is a paradox that lies right at the heart of Christianity. It is the very mystery of Christmas. He hungered in the desert but He fed the masses. He descended into the pits of hell but He is the Dayspring from on high. He battled Satan one-on-one but He has countless legions of angels at His command. He is the Master of all powers and principalities but He stooped to wash His disciples’ feet. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”3 Yet He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”4 His greatest glory was to wear a crown of thorns and bear the scars of those nails even in His resurrected body. He sweat drops of blood at the Mount of Olives but He will wipe away every tear from our eyes in the heavenly Zion.

This paradox informs every aspect of Christian living. The common, ordinary and even tedious routines of life are honoured by the sacred countenance of God when they are done in service to His name. Our vocations as husbands, wives, parents, children, employers and employees, students and retirees are sanctified by His Spirit. We are consecrated, set apart, to serve others in a self-defeating world. Our struggling, decaying, ageing humanity lives- and lives joyously- in the knowledge that it has been clothed with the righteousness of Christ and will be restored to His immortality. In short, what we are is being superseded by what we are becoming in Him. Bethlehem is the beginning of the journey but the heavenly Jerusalem is the place of permanent residence. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”5 Not everything has a previous history but in Christ it has a permanent future.
Glory to God in the Highest! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:14
2 Chrysostom
3 Isaiah 53:3-4
4 Isaiah 9:6
5 John 1:4

Christmas Eve (B) 2011

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

Text: Luke 2:15
Theme: The Son is Made Known

Dear worshippers of the Infant King,

Jesus Christ was born into the context of struggle. We’re not thinking here of the fact “there was no room for them in the inn.”1 Though undoubtedly this was symbolic of the much greater picture. John tells us He came to His own but His own did not receive Him.2 There really was no room for this Christ in the world- at least not when people started to understand who He was. The long-established “powers that be” were not willing to give way. A child seems innocent enough. Even some secular-minded people may find nativity scenes to be harmless but Herod did not share that sentiment. The greater struggle continues.

The finite always tries to subdue the infinite. Temporary pleasures always seek to supersede promises that have timeless significance. The indulgence of our senses-what we can see, touch, feel, taste, experience (the things that tend to saturate modern holiday celebrations)- these always threaten to blind us to greater, more spiritual truths. Why do we exist? What lies beyond? How will these things come to pass? If we openly or ignorantly claim to be or act as if we are material beings only, then we deny the reality of the soul and we deny the Creator. This is a perennial temptation of sinners.

What really happened on that first Christmas? Are our efforts to embrace it too hollow? When customs become more important than the meaning they are meant to convey they become dangerous. What are our Christmas customs? God would have us to take the narrative of the gospel at face value without making it trivial. Few people would be so bold as to suggest the mind of God can be understood. Is the combined intellect and accumulated wisdom of humanity any more than rudimentary knowledge in God’s sight? Is our understanding of reality not just the tip of the iceberg? Do we not believe there are both wonders and dangers far beyond our ability to fathom or cope with?

In the event of the incarnation God comes to meet humanity at our level. Jesus comes in humility. He comes to meet head on those issues that are beyond our ability to resolve. If we’re not talking about God in human flesh, then we’re not talking about Christmas and we’re not talking about a Saviour. The Babe of Bethlehem was the Sacrifice of Calvary. Was that what we had in mind? A death and resurrection: The true gift of God’s presence among us? A baptismal inheritance?

Life knocks us around. Yet sometimes we think we can manage in the end. We might even think we are in control. We might wish He came to give a stamp of approval to all our pursuits, to validate our desires and to ease our consciences with a message of tolerance- and some make the celebration of His birth into this- but this is to celebrate a humanistic Christmas where Satan leads the Christ Child story captive for His own purposes. The devil too knows how to spread joy and merriment. He knows how to lure the heart. He knows people are always tempted to live for the moment. Christ comes to tackle the big problems for you- guilt for sin, Satan, death- so that our “little problems” of life can be borne with purpose and hope.

We have constructed in our memories an iconic scene of that first Bethlehem Christmas. We’d like the story to be packaged up with a neat, happy ending. Some hardship, but angels, shepherds- and parents and newborn live happily ever after. The Child of humble means becomes a great King. But behind the manger looms the shadow of the cross. The Christ must be sacrificed. He must die. That we can’t even pretend to understand. We can’t solve that riddle. We can’t consign it to fate or circumstance. We can only receive it on faith, believing something profound happens there and ultimate things are at stake. His death addresses the deepest crisis of reality- the crisis of separation from God for eternity- and this is far beyond our knowing. But it is not beyond our worship. It is not beyond our daily activity.

Your life- as one who bears the name of Christ- is a reflection of the incarnation. That is, it reflects the presence of sacrifice, truth , order, forgiveness, and love in world of selfish relationships, hard-heartedness and a climate of captivating falsehoods. It reflects the presence of the One who is the Prince of Peace. The greater struggle continues. But for those who find refuge with the ChristChild the outcome is not in doubt. Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”3

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”4

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Eve
24December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:8
2 See John 1:11
3 John 17:33
4 Luke 2:14

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent B (2011)

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

Text: Luke 1:32
Theme: Son of the Most High

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Each day of participation in life is a gift. The question is whether it is embraced as such. We should hold no expectations about life’s duration or quality because we have had no promises made to us. Unfortunately we make assumptions. But about what lies beyond we have on the highest authority. This truth and its consequences are our highest priority. Advent reminds us that God does not remain aloof; He comes. He comes to us in the midst of sorrow and prosperity. He comes to us in the vigor of life and in the shadow of death.

Today He comes with ancient information that has the power to make new. The announcement of the birth of a child is always momentous. Today we hear it from the lips of Gabriel to Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”1 This announcement, made privately to a woman of peasant status, exceeds all announcements that have been made in the history of the world. Yet it was scarcely known beyond the small circle of Nazareth. All that would change when this Son of Mary was put to death on a cross but then showed Himself alive on the third day. This life, HIS life, is announced to us again today.

Christ came to a human race largely oblivious to the dangers that are always immanent.
Human nature is unable to diagnose its own spiritual disorder. We cannot recognize the depth of our depravity using intuition. Nor can we by any natural wisdom come to understand the urgency of our need. The malady itself prevents self-analysis. Like a blind person who has never been told others can see, we are naturally blind to the full consequences of sin. Sin, left undiagnosed, unrecognized, or unaddressed is always terminal. It results in spiritual death.

If we disregard the Holy Spirit’s promptings to repent of our unrighteousness, thinking rather that we can do as we please without fear of judgment then Luther reminds us we should not “be comforted with much babbling about the forgiveness of sins and grace in Christ.”2 Defiance destroys faith in the promise. The unrepentant cling to nothing but a false hope; a salve of conscience that will eventually destroy the soul. The Scriptures pose the question this way in the Psalms, “Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account’?”3 It is foolish to put God to the test. In the end justice and judgment are rendered.

The meaning of the gospel is that Christ came to bear that judgment. In doing so He requires no contribution from us. Freely and unconditionally He loves us from the beginning, from eternity. Baptism takes us right to the heart of what it means that God is a God of grace. In this sacrament God brings spiritual life from the condition of deadness. Baptism is a creative act of the Holy Spirit in which the Word of God gives what is promised- faith, life, and the forgiveness of sins. It connects the baptized to the death and resurrection of Christ and gives then entrance into the kingdom of God and the holy Christian Church.

Matthew and Sara scheduled Mia’s baptism many months before she was born. (No offense Matthew but I think it was Sara and her commitment to getting things organized that came into play there.) It is a great testimony in an age in which little priority is given to the spiritual well-being of children. The Bible commends to us the trust of children holding it up as the model for all believers. Today Mia becomes part of the greater church by virtue of her gift of faith. She is now clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. This has been the understanding for 2000 years. She bears His name. The Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”4 This is truly Good News.

The age in which we live is very skeptical of the organized church. The church itself must shoulder much of the blame for forsaking the truth and pursuing misguided priorities. Much repentance and honest evaluation must take place. Yet these reasons should not serve as a convenient excuse for the individual. The nature of the church is perhaps misunderstood. The congregation of believers at any particular time and place is always a community of sinners. The integrity of the church isn’t constituted by the righteousness of its people. There are no perfect people. There are only forgiven people or people who will have no part of God’s forgiveness. The church’s integrity depends wholly on the presence and faithfulness of God and the means He employs. He we are gathered around His word. Here His sacraments are administered. Here forgiveness is proclaimed.

Christ alone is holy. Only the word of God is faultless. Only the Holy Spirit can consecrate our hearts and minds. Only the Son of God, Jesus, Immanuel, God-in-the-flesh possesses immortality as the very property of His existence in eternity with the Father. A church is always a spiritual hospital where the spiritually sick come for healing of soul and body. You should not be too put off knowing that the people around you are sinners. Of course they are. But God desires us not to be unrepentant sinners; people who defy God’s will but still want to claim His blessing. “Christian holiness…is found where the Holy Spirit gives people faith in Christ and sanctifies them[Acts 15:9], that is, he renews heart, soul, body, work, and conduct, inscribing the commandments of God not on tables of stone, but in hearts of flesh.”5

There is the story about the young children at a Catholic primary school who often forgot their sins when they went to confession with the parish priest. He suggested that teachers have the students make lists. The next week when one child came to confession, the priest could hear him unfolding a piece of paper. The youngster began reading the list, "I lied to my parents. I cheated on my exam. I fought with my brothers and..." There was a long pause. Then a small angry voice said, "Hey, this isn't my list!"

Dear friends, Christ’s list of sins isn’t His list. Yet it is so long it could never be numbered. He treats it as if He had committed every crime, every vice, and every treachery imaginable. He was our scapegoat. He is our substitute, our sacrifice- willingly and unconditionally. He took our punishment. This is the Good News of life for a dying world. At Bethlehem He joined the human race and in so doing He joined Himself to the sin of the human race. Now believers need not be separated from God. He suffered an agonizing death but rose again on the third day. He is the Resurrection and the Life.6

Every day we participate in the gift of life. This earthly life is only temporary. Death comes to all. But it does not have the final say. The children of God look forward to a new, transformed and abundant life. We await this even as we dwell in a crumbling world. Only in faith can we say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”7 Sara is not here to witness Mia’s baptism. But thanks be to God- there is life! Today the Lord gives. He gives Mia the promise of the forgiveness of sins and entrance into the holy Christian Church. Today love triumphs. Today Christ gives the victory no matter how long our earthly days. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
18 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 1:31-32
2 Luther “On the Councils and the Church”
3 Psalm 10:13
4 Acts 4:12
5 Luther, ibid
6 See John 11:25
7 Job 1:21

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent (B) 2011

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

Text: John1:19-28
Theme: A Transparent Witness

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

In the season of Advent the Spirit undertakes to stimulate our recognition of His intentions. It is no small task. The call to repentance is always in the present tense. We are always sinners. The need for forgiveness is always vital. Still, throughout history there have been periods of heightened awareness of the activity and presence of God. Often these were times of particular unfaithfulness and hard-heartedness amongst God’s people. God intends to shield us from the shipwreck of our faith. Advent sounds the note of promise that Christ has come on our behalf. The coming of Christ puts an end to all speculation about humanity’s future. He is the new Adam; the image of the eternal Father.

Advent is an opportunity to rediscover the dependability of God in Christ. Our lives are full of ‘ifs’, ‘maybes’, ‘could-have-beens’, and ‘possibilities’. We are liable to contingency every minute of every hour of every day. “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow,”1 warns the apostle James. We are vulnerable and that comes with serious liabilities. God however is not vulnerable to ‘ifs’ but operates with ‘whens’. He worries not about ‘maybes’ or ‘possibilities’. He is never ruled by regret. He need never justify His demands upon or promises to the sinful human race.

Today John the Baptist was asked to justify and explain his ministry. If he was not the Messiah by what authority was he preaching and baptizing? Though there were ulterior motives, the question from the Jewish authorities was a legitimate one. John answered forthrightly. He neither over-stepped his bounds, nor shied away from openly confessing His relationship to Christ. We are called also to give such witness in the world. As the pressure to openly or secretly deny Him grows our courage and faith will be challenged and tested. We have for a long time been able to witness the breakdown all around us. Sin is justified to excuse our indulgences and indiscretions. First cautiously, then boldly, then dogmatically. Soon the hypocrisy of claiming the name Christian is full-blown. We must face these realities honestly and with eyes wide-open.

Christians are not the cult of the historical Jesus; a group of followers merely inspired by Christ’s humanitarian efforts in the world. Those who follow Christ only as the finest practitioner of the Golden Rule- do unto others as you would have done unto you- might just as appropriately be adherents of Socrates, Confucius, Mother Theresa or any number of modern philanthropists. With such altruistic philosophy- understanding the burden of practicing it falls on others, not oneself- only the exceptionally hard-hearted could differ. We’re all quite happy for the next person to be generous and charitable. But we all like to think we fall into that category too. As soon as the teachings of Jesus are only for inspiration or guidance the crux of the matter has been lost.

The Jewish authorities wanted to know if John the Baptist was teaching truth. Jesus is not the truth because we’ve come to a consensus on the validity of His teachings. Jesus is the truth because there are no contenders for His bloody sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus is the truth because He is God-in-the-flesh. Jesus is the truth because he triumphed over the death and the grave. Jesus IS truth because His life defines the love and presence of God in and for the world. His is not the kind of truth to be debated or measured by human standards. (Though the historical facts of His birth, life, death, and resurrection are easy enough to assess. They are more than reliable by human standards.) It is the kind of truth that will draw a soul to faith, leave him mystified or trigger within him resentment and rejection. Jesus is the truth because the Holy Spirit bears witness to His Lordship. The Holy Spirit has no other purpose or goal than to give constant testimony to Jesus as this truth.

Christ’s life was not about seeking glory, reputation, leisure or pleasure. His was a life of total self-giving, a foregoing of personal establishment that He might establish a community of the redeemed within a condemned and narcissistic world. In the crucifixion we see the defining truth about God. In Christ you have the iron-clad guarantee of a righteousness that is not your own. That righteousness avails before the judgment throne to cover all your iniquity. It’s a gift you can never merit or earn. It is yours by grace.

Never discount as trivial what God has declared to be sacred. The blood of Christ has been shed. Hell is not a farce. Separation from God is not a joke. Eternity is not a dream. You have the pledge of the same body and blood shed on the cross offered to you on the altar. Through it the One who died for you unites you with Himself that you may have true life. Wisdom involves constantly re-orientating the purposes and activities of your baptismal life to reflect this transcendent reality. It involves offering a transparent witness. The Christian life is not an abstract concept but a grimy struggle. In Christ you are a new creation with new motives. The Spirit struggles within you against the flesh.

A relevant example is easily shone in the command to love ones’ neighbour. There is a difference between being driven by guilt and driven by obligation. The lines can be blurry because motives aren’t consistent between individuals. Obligation involves the duty or responsibility of one person to another. This could be on the basis of family, church, or community relationship. The Bible is full of mandates and exhortations of this sort. It is summarily called the love of neighbour. We seek to meet these obligations because we want to honour God and the well-being of others is our concern. Guilt, on the other hand, involves acting under compulsion and it has as its motivation fear. Fear of negative reaction. In other cases there may hope of reward; of receiving praise for our actions. But often fear underlies this too. We’re driven to act to avoid certain consequences. The use of guilt to manipulate others is common sinful behavior. It becomes so habitual that it’s often not recognized for what it is.

When St. Paul says, “Love must be sincere,”2 he is trying to foster the understanding that to love our neighbour properly we must believe we are loved unconditionally by God. And just as he says our giving should not be “under compulsion”3 so too the love of our neighbour. Dear friends, the word of the Holy Spirit never returns empty. He says today, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”4 And the baptized have this promise: “The One (Christ) who is in you is greater than the one (Satan) who is in the world.” 5

The witness of John the Baptist was transparent. He had no hidden agendas. No secret reservations. He would lose his head for the cause of Christ. But in the process he would receive the crown of life. John was bound to Christ and in being bound in this way he was freed from the condemnation of the world. Advent is the proclamation of the One who comes to bring deliverance. The prophet records it in the Messiah’s own words, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”6
“Come, Lord Jesus.”7 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday of Advent
11 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 James 4:14
2 Romans 12:9
3 2 Corinthians 9:7
4 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
5 1 John 4:4
6 Isaiah 61:1-2
7 Revelation 22:20

Monday, December 5, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent B (2011)

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

Text: Mark 1:4
Theme: The Value of Forgiveness

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is never emptied of His capacity to love. The same is not true for human beings. The devil always aims to systematically deconstruct human capability to receive, assimilate, and communicate God’s love and truth. Few things have suffered greater loss of value in this age than the forgiveness of sins. Not that its intrinsic value could ever be lost. Forgiveness is the divine pardon of the Almighty God expressed in the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son.

Yet the human grasp and appreciation of it is another matter. It is, perhaps, a sign of the times. We have witnessed- not unlike other times throughout history- a loss in the sacredness of marriage, a decline in belief in the sanctity of life, and a general deterioration in respect for the aged. A decreased reverence for God goes without saying. In our society unfaithfulness in marriage is commonplace, abortion and euthanasia are condoned even by Christian groups, and the young are indulged to almost the full extent of the resources available. What does this have to do with the forgiveness of sins?

On this Second Sunday of Advent we are confronted with the figure of John the Baptist. What did John preach? The Scripture says his aim was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”1 Here the Holy Spirit speaks; calling and gathering His church. The life of the Old Adam must be forsaken. The first paradise is not recoverable by any means we have at our disposal. Human society will never evolve into a Utopia. The temptation to find our ultimate purpose and meaning in earthly endeavors must be resisted at every level. Why is the forgiveness of sins undervalued? Why is God’s truth forsaken? Why do places of worship stand empty? Because so many believe that ultimate meaning and purpose must be achieved in this temporal sphere.

John the Baptist issues a timeless message. St. Peter emphasizes the point too, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”2 Until the Spirit brings a person to a recognition of his or her spiritual depravity- that is, an understanding of who they really are before God- Jesus is nothing more than an historical figure. That is, it’s simple enough to know the historical facts about the man Jesus; even knowing in detail the account of His suffering, death and resurrection. But Christ is not known as Saviour until the self is known as sinner.

Dear friends, the fact of Christ’s glorious return is always a word of law to the unbelieving. It is a word of warning that judgment against sin is coming and no one is exempt. For Christians it is a message of both law and gospel. Christ will judge all; but for believers the punishment has already been rendered at the crucifixion. The warning then, drives us anew to yearn for the Saviour’s forgiveness. The apostle encourages believers to practice self-control as evidence they are serious about Christ’s promise3.

Self-control is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s not highly cherished these days. It seems much easier to give in and give up. Yet to engage the struggle indicates an active faith. There was little boy with a bad temper, His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there.”

How do we deal with those wounds? The ones we inflict and the ones inflicted upon us? Addressing that issue is exactly what the life-long struggle of living the Christian faith is all about. Christ bears the nail wounds of anger and anarchy for all humanity. Only He holds the power and promise of a new creation. He died, driven to His demise by the necessity of reconciling sinners. Only a few nails were driven into the cross, but held there was the sacrifice that underpins the stability of all creation. In His resurrection we find that our wounds can be healed, that we can be freed from the past.

We are not imprisoned by the confusion and chaos of this world that desperately seeks to legitimize its own pursuits. What else can inspire and bolster your resolve to lend aid to those in need in your life- those trapped in cycles of darkness, addiction, selfishness, callousness, and despair- than the promise that the forgiveness of sins really does reconcile and restore? What else than the hope we have in Him who was crucified can motivate us to have genuine concern for others?

Some vegetables will yield better when they become stressed at a certain stage of development. It causes them to establish deeper and stronger roots. The same happens to the Christian. When we are deprived of selfish interests; when we begin to lose hope in our own ability to find meaning in life; then we reach deeper for the support of God. When such trial confronts us that we cry out from deep in the heart that life is not fair; then our autonomy is exposed for the myth that it is. The believer then establishes roots in the very bedrock of Christ’s compassion, love and truth. Only then can we begin to understand our purpose and bear fruit in His kingdom.

We cannot dictate the events of history. We don’t even live on our own. Christ lives. We live off His unmerited to mercy. And when this mortal life is ended we are either found in Christ or we are lost for eternity. Maybe there is nothing the modern spirit needs more than a liberal dose of humility. When Abraham was pleading with God to spare Sodom he expressed his unworthiness to do so by saying, “I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.”4 And yet God uses us- frail vessels that we are- to be salt and leaven in this world. What greater privilege is there than to be an agent of Christ? To be a herald of the One who comes in compassion?

God is never lacking in His capacity to forgive. At the resurrection of the dead that forgiveness will be the basis of a new and eternal relationship with Him. We have a preview of it even now. We are baptized citizens of His kingdom. We dine at His table on the body and blood of Him who gives life. We share the hope of St. Peter who says, “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends…make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.”5 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Advent
4 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 1:4
2 2 Peter 3:9
3 See 1 Thessalonians 5:7-8
4 Genesis 18:27
5 2 Peter 3:13-25

Monday, November 28, 2011

First Sunday of Advent B (2011)

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

Text: Mark 13:26
Theme: The Son of Man Coming

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

There is an Italian proverb that says, "Once the game is over, the King and the Pawn go back in the same box." And so it is with God’s kingdom. All of our worldly games- regardless of how high the stakes-will be reduced to nothing at the coming of the Redeemer. But His arrival will be no game. Today the Church Year begins anew. The coming of Advent reignites ancient hopes and age-old expectations. Does it register with us that each new day brings the possibility of the Messiah’s return? The earth will stop spinning. The sun will cease rising. The fevered commotion of human activity will be hushed. All humanity will hold its collective breath as it beholds the glorious appearance of Christ. Advent is time to refocus and renew. What does it mean to be God’s people? Why are we here and what is our purpose? Do we need to re-evaluate our priorities? Have we fallen into a rut or been lulled into apathy?

Christ’s message is not to be brushed off. When will the owner of the house come back? Evening? Midnight? When the rooster crows? Or at dawn? Will it be a convenient time? Will it suit our schedules? Will it meet our expectations? Will it be when the game just starts, the harvest is nearly finished, or holidays are upon us? Will it be when tragedy has struck, death has occurred or a marriage has been broken? Will it be when a baby has been born, a retirement has commenced, or a victory has been won? Will it be during the more mundane routines of life- working, cleaning, fixing, preparing? Yes, it will be all of these. And we will be no exception. Christ will not wait for us to fit Him into our schedules.

Christ will come to bring release to His people. Yet He poses this question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”1 One thing He will find regardless of when He comes is a world full of sinners. Too easily we think of sin merely in terms of moral infraction. When we transgress God’s commands we anger Him and invite His punishment. The Holy Spirit convicts our consciences and triggers guilt for those wrongs which we commit. When consciences become too seared or too defiant the call to repentance is no longer heeded. Then some degree of lawlessness and anarchy ensues.

But our sinfulness is a much bigger issue. God is not just the keeper of a moral standard. Sin is, in fact, a systemic and pathological problem. We seek to be our own little gods and control our own destiny. We seek our own well-being first at the expense of others. This has invasive and far-reaching consequences. We relegate God to a subservient, helping role. We define and circumscribe the permissible extent of His reach. His help in emergencies is sought, His advice for critical decisions is sometimes appreciated; but His interference in our self-serving agendas is not readily tolerated.

All this engages us in less-than-honest recognition of our sinful status and less-than complete repentance. We do well to follow the example of Isaiah today who says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”2 There is no pretense; no holding back in such a confession. We are never partly in need of God’s forgiveness. We are never less in need of God’s grace than the next person.

Our Lord never denies His mercy to the humble and yearning soul. Isaiah continues, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever.”3 Our sorrow over sin need never to end in despair. The cross is the guarantor of God’s favour. The Saviour who will come again in glory is the same Saviour who came in humility when He was born of the Virgin Mary. His coming was not happenstance. He took on our human nature so that He might redeem us from sin. His crucifixion was not an accidental tragedy. It was the purposeful and necessary means to atone for our offenses before God. The word of God says, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”4 He rose from the grave dealing death a fatal blow.

It is this message of the gospel that can alone bring hope, health, and life to a sin-struck world. The words of the Holy Spirit are life-giving words which daily assure baptized believers of the unconditional love of the Father in the person of the Son. The common language of the church is being lost. It’s no mystery why. The language of Scripture only becomes our own when we take it upon our lips, treasure it in our hearts, and meditate on it in our minds. Infants first learn their mother tongue not by study, but by hearing it every day. Foreign languages are those not heard very often. Our heavenly Father speaks to as His dear children. Those who don’t learn to recognize His voice as sheep do their shepherd will find themselves alone in a hostile and dangerous world. Those who are not nourished by His body and blood will suffer spiritual hunger.

Dear friends, the servants in today’s parable were commanded to attend to their allotted duties. Each has a particular task. Each has a specific calling. Our charge is faithfulness. God cares nothing for our worldly status or success. Such boastings on our deathbed are recorded as transgressions in the heavenly register. Think how free we are to pursue the aims of His kingdom! An ambitious young man once asked a very successful businessman to reveal the secret of his success. "Just jump at your opportunity," he answered. "But," asked the young man, "how can I tell when my opportunity is coming?" "You can't," replied the wise one. "Just keep jumping." You need never wait around for God to provide just the perfect conditions for your endeavors. Now, of course He often does do just that. But we don’t recognize it as such. So we approach each day confident that God has the present and the future in hand as He did the past. We can sacrifice all for the sake of His kingdom because we know the supreme sacrifice has been made for us. God grant that He would powerfully sustain us and gently prepare us for that day when we will be made new in His kingdom. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday of Advent
27 November 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 18:8
2 Isaiah 64:6
3 Isaiah 64:8-9
4 Hebrews 9:12

Monday, November 21, 2011

Last Sunday of the Church Year A (2011)

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

Text: Matthew 25:31
Theme: Not IF, but WHEN.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Not IF, but WHEN. The curtain will fall. The trumpet will sound. The world will be hushed. Yet the passing of time lulls us into apathy. It dampens our alertness and dulls our anticipation. Things we know well and even repeat frequently nevertheless may have little impact on our faith or actions. This is Satan’s way of undermining the credibility of the Almighty. The Second Coming of Christ is a central article of Christian belief. With the faithful throughout the ages we confess, “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”1 Not IF, but WHEN. No one knows if this Last Sunday in the Church Year, 2011, could be the very last Sunday in history.

Alarmists throughout the centuries have claimed to have identified the exact date of Christ’s return. Sects, cults, and even whole religious organizations have been founded upon such claims. The human propensity to crave secret or privileged information is powerful. It goes without saying that all hopes of this nature have failed. Such attempts are futile- driven by ignorance or arrogance. Yet the issue they raise is vital: Christ will appear; the world as we know it will not continue on indefinitely. All existence will be radically transformed. Not IF, but WHEN. The nature of this transformation hinges on the authority and work of Christ.

The words of Christ today give clear testimony about His Second Coming. The nature of events should be no surprise. Things will play out exactly as Christ says: 1) He will appear in glory attended by angels; 2) He will sit in judgment; 3) all people, living and dead, will be gathered before Him; 4) He will separate believers from unbelievers, the wicked from the godly; 5) He will bestow an eternal inheritance on the faithful; 6) He will condemn the wicked to everlasting punishment. The bulk of Jesus’ discourse on the topic consists of the evidence of faith in the lives of believers and conversely the lack of evidence for those who do not believe.

It is noteworthy that the faithful expressed genuine surprise when the King commended them for helping those in need; the hungry and thirsty, sick and imprisoned. The reason is the Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers in such a way that good deeds happen as a matter of course. The faithful were not keeping score. They were not practicing discretionary generosity. Their helping of others was not self-serving. The gospel motivates believers in their daily walk. The Holy Spirit sanctifies those whom He justifies.2

The wicked too express surprise. How could they have failed when they couldn’t even recall Jesus making a request of them? Selfishness ruled their thinking. Having given into their sin they were not serving their neighbour or loving God. Though the evidence made public at the Last Judgment emphasizes their deeds- they failed in all opportunities- it is infallibly proven that they possessed no faith or trust in the heart. God knows His sheep. Just as great as the sin of lawlessness and disobedience towards God is that sin which believes God can be ‘won over’ by certain actions or a change in lifestyle. Either our actions are motivated by gratitude for God’s unconditional love or they are a sin against the very necessity of Christ’s sacrifice. It is for lack of believing that Christ’s death was truly necessary to pay the price for our sins that we often need to repent. When the relationship with God is broken, love of neighbour can only be orchestrated or driven by guilt.

There was a proverb that was in common use for many centuries. It went like this: What is it to the Romans that the Greeks die? (Quid ad Romanos quod Graeci moriuntur?) It expressed that fact that people tend to be concerned only with themselves and their own problems. In the present climate people are asking “What is it to us if the Greek economy dies?” Is this any better? Are such concerns driven by sympathy or by fear of how we may be impacted? What are the motivations? When the remorseful Judas returned the 30 pieces of silver saying, “I have sinned…for I have betrayed innocent blood.”3 The callous chief priests and elders responded, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.”4 What is that to us? What is it to the Romans that the Greeks die?

But what matters to Christ matters to us. Christ gave His life that we might be freed from enslavement to the god of this world. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is not a private matter or personal affair. His sacrifice was not made on behalf an isolated or exclusive group of people. There is no thought in the New Testament of a private practice of religion.

We don’t always know the circumstances of another’s life and we certainly can’t know the intentions of their heart. Too often we are quick to criticize the actions and motives of others. The preacher John Wesley thought poorly of a man he considered to be stingy and hard-hearted. One day he criticized him openly when he gave a very small donation to a worthy charity. The man came to him privately and explained that for many weeks he had been living on parsnips and water. Before he had become a Christian he had run up many debts and now he was living very frugally in order to pay his creditors and show his integrity. He desperately wanted to be an honest Christian. Wesley apologized to the man and asked for forgiveness.

Such forgiveness the world cannot accept save for using it with self-serving motives.
Relentlessly the world takes aim at the foundations of the faith. Barrages of uncertainty constantly bombard us. The culture of the age is always at odds with the goals of Christ’s kingdom. It is driven by different motives and operates by different means. The attitude of Babel is always the attitude of secular society, let us “make a name for ourselves.”5 Privately, we are taught to exploit our individual right to indulgence and affluence as the proverb says, “Let us eat and drink…for tomorrow we die.”6

But there can be no Utopia on earth. The schemes of humanity are no threat to the Creator and Judge. What does the Scripture say? “The One enthroned in heaven laughs.”7 Jesus’ words today conclude with clarity and finality. “Then they (the wicked) will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”8 There is no neutrality in the afterlife. There is life with Christ in the majesty of the Father and presence of the Holy Spirit or there is existence fully separated from Him- unthinkable, unimaginable darkness and distress.

Christian hope is centered on the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all things. “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes!”9 declares Job. Soul and body are meant to be together for eternity. Christ makes this reality. Resurrected and purged from sin we will no longer suffer the effects of its decay. We will not be overcome by illness. We will not succumb to ageing. The Jesus who took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary will elevate our flesh to participate in His holiness. This will be a very physical reality.

Even now we are not people who cling to intangibles. God’s word performs what it promises. Hearts and minds are impacted when the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and renews weary souls. Our baptismal inheritance is not only a future gift, nor is it an immaterial and private possession. In our baptism we become part of the holy Christian Church. This has concrete expression in the local congregation where God’s people gather regularly around Word and sacrament and both cherish and admonish one another as the needs arises. In God’s house you eat this bread and drink this wine with the full assurance that His body and drink His blood are present there offering and delivering to you the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Together we look forward to that great last day and the coming of our Redeemer in full splendor. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Last Sunday of the Church Year
20 November 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 The Nicene Creed
2 See Ephesians 2:8-10
3 Matthew 27:4
4 ibid
5 Genesis 11:4
6 Isaiah 22:13
7 Psalm 2:4
8 Matthew 25:46
9 Job 19:27

Monday, November 14, 2011

Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 25:21
Theme: Sharing In The Master’s Joy

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is a living being. But He has ordained that in this fallen world we relate to Him by faith, not by sight. To facilitate this He has given us His word. The church exists wherever the Holy Spirit calls it into existence through the Word. Not just any word, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. The crucified, risen, and living Christ sustains and nurtures His baptized through His body and blood and the promise of forgiveness.

But this word of gospel and forgiveness is irrelevant to the person content managing his or her own status before God. Thus the first word God must speak to the sinner is His word of law, or conviction. This is not without its dangers. To misunderstand the purpose of the law comes very naturally to us. That is, to view God’s law as the means of recourse to His favour is logical to the human mind, heart, and will. It appears like the avenue to rectify things. It presents itself as the opportunity to do our part to regain God’s blessings. We make some effort, God recognizes it, and our status before Him is amended accordingly.

But this approach involves more than the fallacy of believing God is obligated to assign merit to our efforts. In this view the law becomes the means to salvation. It becomes the basis for a system of works-righteousness which supplants the entire purpose, work and merit of Christ. God’s law always, only, and FINALLY reveals to us our sin and condemns us to punishment for the same. It leaves us with no reason to hope we can salvage the situation. Then we are thrown on the mercy of God. True repentance has no other motivation. This situation is in effect until the whole old order of things passes away and Christ creates things anew.

Following on the heels of the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom comes the parable of the talents. Both are similar in tenor and tone. Both illustrate the grave dangers of being unprepared for Christ’s return in glory. Just as many were oblivious to the pending earthquake and tsunami in Japan great numbers will be oblivious to the return of Christ. People will be absorbed in their worldly pursuits- giving no thought to the immortality of the soul- and His glorious coming will be sprung upon them. Each day then, is a walk of faith.

The daily walk of faith is the issue in today’s parable. Christ said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”1 The parable speaks of large sums of money- perhaps more than the lifetime wages of an average worker. So there was a lot at stake. The stewards of the talents all seemed to understand that the master was coming back. Even the one who simply buried the money seemed to be in no doubt about the master’s return. And yet he was actually unprepared from the very day the master left. His relationship with the master was fundamentally flawed. He accuses the master of being a “hard man” thus casting the blame back on him. He was motivated by a fear that vitally misunderstood the type of man the master was. So, as a result he ventured nothing on the part of his master, not even putting the money on deposit to gain interest.

Daily actions are evidence of faith- or lack thereof. The faithful servants were rewarded with twice their original trust. The unfaithful servant not only had his share taken away; he was shut out of the kingdom. The warning is unmistakable. Dear friends, your faith is never a static reality. It’s not merely a state of mind or an intellectual position. Faith is not an ideology that can be debated, negotiated, or left optional. It’s not a clause in a contractual agreement that can be exercised when deemed necessary. Faith is the living and active trust in the promises of God in Christ. Integrity demands that our deeds match our claims and promises.
The great Christian orator Spurgeon once said, “A man's life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accept his practice and reject his preaching. “

Part of Christian wisdom and maturity is learning to trust that even in difficult times God will not forsake us. This confidence allows us to press on in the face of resistance knowing God does work good even from the most dire of circumstances. This truth gives us inertia for our Christian pilgrimage. Though we make a fresh start every time we are absolved of our sins in our daily living we build on past experience. Mechanical engineers tell us that it takes six times as much power to start a flywheel from a dead stop as it does to keep it going once in motion. In other words, it takes only one sixth as much effort to keep going once you are on the way as it does to stop a bit, and then start again. When tempted to slacken just because there is some resistance, remember the flywheel. Remember God does not fail you. You are not on a pleasure cruise through life you are in a battle. You have spiritual, mortal enemies. You have a high and holy calling. You are part of the royal priesthood.

You are His precious inheritance, His baptized child. His love for you is so profound it cannot even begin to be measured. His protection of you is so complete no power can mount a threat against the security He promises. The Psalmist proclaims, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way.”2 and the Redeemer Himself says, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.”3 And again the Holy Spirit says, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.”4

The faithful servants in the parable are entrusted with more responsibility. They are also invited to share in the joy of the master. His victory is theirs too; His achievement, their Sabbath Rest. Believers fully participate in Christ’s triumph over sin, death, and Satan through His crucifixion and resurrection- the eternal celebration, heaven, everlasting life. God grant that even now, by grace, through faith- through the humble means of water, word, bread and wine- we may have a foretaste of what’s to come. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
13 November 20111
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 9:23
2 Psalm 46:1-2
3 John 10:27-28
4 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Theme: Five Wise And Five Foolish

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The promises of God are never subject to human judgment. The believer clings to His mercy despite all evidence to the contrary. The skeptic debates whether such unconditional love is possible and whether it is relevant. In the pending return of Christ all uncertainties will be clarified, all judgment will be rendered and all things unfinished will be brought to resolution. His return is the topic of our gospel today illustrated in the parable of the ten virgins.

In what way did the five foolish ones lack wisdom? Was it merely a practical matter of short-sightedness? Was their mistake a simple matter of over-looking the possible need for more oil? No, this was only the evidence of their folly relevant to the occasion. It was a sure indication of a much bigger problem. They were not really prepared to meet the bridegroom- not on his terms, only theirs. Their foolishness consisted of the assumption they still had the right to enter the wedding banquet. Dear friends, the presumption that when Christ comes again people will be able to enter the kingdom on their own terms is what is at stake here. This is folly in the fullest sense. Can the human heart be absent from Christ- by will and self-determination- and still presume it can rush to greet the Saviour? Can trust be totally invested in the world’s agenda and then allegiance be instantly reversed when it is clear the jig is up? The wise virgins were not being uncharitable in declining the request of the foolish ones, only realistic. No one is saved by the faith of another.

Dear friends, the patience of God is often interpreted as a lack of interest. Perhaps you know of someone who has or you yourself have tested God in this way: transgressing His revealed will you nevertheless did not experience His immediate anger or judgment. Maybe it involved a situation of on-going dishonesty or unfaithfulness? And yet God seemed to overlook it. Maybe you were or are even beginning to doubt whether God really does judge our ungodliness. But have no illusions, God’s memory is never faulty. The hour to repent of your sins is always at hand? Many will be surprised when Christ returns in glory. How could these foolish virgins be treated more harshly than the “prostitutes and tax-collectors” Christ said were entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of the Pharisees?

There was a man, who by no doing of his own, was made, along with others, a signer to the account of a charitable endowment. The endowment was a very large sum of money and the directive was that it was to be used for works of charity and then at a specified time, the signers would divide the amount that remained for their own works of philanthropy. What none were told and what only the bank trustee knew was that if one of them failed to draw on the account for charitable purposes they would not receive their share at the designated time. This man, having neglected all requests and opportunities to aid others from the account, appeared at the appointed time and found that his name had been removed. The foolish virgins were denied entry not because of a simple error of judgment; they had no true interest in the bridegroom.

Any life lived detached from the Living God is vanity and decay regardless of how things appear outwardly. Scarcely do we reach maturity and the human heart becomes a cemetery. Dashed hopes, buried dreams, forgotten plans are interred there. In the vigor of life we may move forward thinking there is time and opportunity to recover the past, to mend what is broken and straighten what is crooked- but the limitations of mortality soon dictate otherwise. And here we begin to learn of our need for the refuge of God’s mercy. Only in the vastness of His grace is there a reservoir deep enough to receive and absorb our folly and our sinfulness. Do not try to bury your grievances, your hurts and pains in the far corners of your heart. That grave will not be big enough to hold the festerings and stirrings of unforgiven and unresolved sin. The body of Christ is the only morgue, the only place to inter sin where it is finally and fully put to death. Only His death terminates the punishment for your sin.

In the person of Jesus we see the face of God. In His sacrifice on the cross we see His heart. He ascends the hill of Calvary bloodied, beaten, broken, bearing the weight of the world’s sins. There He is sacrificed and this is called the very wisdom of God- the death of the Holy One. The Scripture says, “God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”1 Sealed in the chamber of death He breaks its stronghold- not with worldly pomp and circumstance-but with a tour de force through the domains of death and hell. He triumphs. Death is shattered. Eternal separation from God is broken.

We have fellowship with God through Christ, but not through the efforts of our spiritual determination but through the sacramental means God provides. The Scripture says you, “Have been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.”2 Baptism incorporates you into the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Every time forgiveness is declared to you the power and promise of your baptism is put into effect. Whenever forgiveness calms the anxious heart and puts the conscience at ease the Holy Spirit is present freeing the Christian to love his neighbour. In the person with whom the Spirit lives, the works of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control3 -follow as a matter of course. When the sun rises it shed its rays of light. When the Spirit converts and sanctifies, the good works of the believer are evident. Our good works cannot be staged or fabricated- God does not play such games.

Dear friends, can the mission of the church go forth unless this truth is unreservedly confessed: When Christ condemns no one can forgive; when Christ forgives, no one can condemn. The Scripture says, “What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open.”4 Our hope is not placed in some idea that God will recognize the best we have to offer and open the gates of heaven accordingly. Our salvation, our rescue, our redemption is accomplished solely through the sacrifice of the crucified One. He is present with us through word and water, bread and wine. And we receive this grace only by faith. This is foolishness to the world but to us it is the wisdom and power of God.5 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
6 November 20111
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 5:8
2 Colossians 2:12
3 See Galatians 5:22
4 Revelation 3:7
5 See 1Corinthians 1:18

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 21:43
Theme: Given to HIS People

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God does not neglect His people. God forged His covenant with the Israelites unilaterally. That is, He acted out of grace to rescue them from greater powers without securing any commitment or requiring any obligation on their part. It was that way from the beginning. The promise of the Messiah was planned for Adam and Eve before there is any evidence of their repentance. Thus we should not be surprised when God prefaces the giving of the Ten Commandments with a declaration of the gospel that identifies Him as their Saviour. “I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”1

That truth established God proceeds to outline the law for the well-being of His people. This moral code is the universal standard governing the activities of all peoples of all eras. In it the holiness of God is envisaged and the well-being of people is safeguarded. What Adam and Eve knew implicitly before their fall into sin the Israelites have spelled out for them explicitly through Moses. That law continues to define our status before God and humanity.

The most important function of God’s law is to convict the human heart of sin. It’s only in the clear condemnation of God for all sins of commission and omission that we can truly understand our status before Him. This is the hammer the Holy Spirit uses to break down hardened hearts and stubborn wills. The threat of God’s judgment always hangs over the unrepentant. He will call to account. His wrath cannot be evaded and no excuses will stand.

Today the parable of the unrighteous tenants serves as an unequivocal warning. The vineyard owner represents the Father and the Son He sent, Christ. “‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’”2 And so it was that Christ was rejected by His own people. The rejection of Jesus and His work is the mature expression of sinful humanity.
Apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit, original sin always progresses to such maturity. But why even the converted sometimes fall away is beyond our knowing. The mystery must stand. God plays no favourites. Christ died for all. He desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Yet not all are saved. The fault lies not with God but the hardened and sinful heart. How is one’s heart hardened? By willful, callous, and repeated resistance. God is not to be tested but revered. He is compassionate but He does not play games. He cannot be fooled.

Dear friends, everyone likes to be labeled by family, peers, or friends as a nice person or a ‘good Christian’. It can help to keep us accountable. The Scriptures clearly direct us to support and build up one another. But danger lurks too. It strokes the spiritual ego. It can create a false sense of security. Worldliness creeps in on us like morning fog. A little compromise here, a little concession there and soon our priorities have been rearranged completely. The exceptions become the rule. First-fruits become left-overs. None are exempt from such pressures and temptations. The praises of others becomes more important and less realistic than the judgment of God. But God’s assessments are not consultative. He confers with no one about our status before Him.

Our status before God is eternally changed by the work of Christ. He alone accomplishes reconciliation. A duck hunter was with a friend in the wide-open land of southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted. He realized the terrible truth; a brushfire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it. Rifling through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for--a book of matches. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They didn't have to wait long. They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near--and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt, untouched. The fire wasn’t hot enough to harm them. And the fire did not pass where they had already burned. The law is like a bushfire that you cannot escape. It consumes all in its path. But we stand in the burned-over place. We stand in the shadow of the cross. The fire of God’s wrath raged on Calvary and there it was quenched. Christ's death has disarmed it. Not a hair of the believer’s head will be singed by His consuming fire.

Believers are freed from the just punishment each and every sinner deserves. The Scripture says, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”3 And again, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.”4 United with Christ through baptism-incorporated into His very death and resurrection- we enjoy a peace with God that transcends all the darkness and doubt of the temporal sphere. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”5

Now each day you are not forced to struggle through life without hope or purpose. You are not constrained by the problems and issues swirling around in your own little world. You need not stumble along in your vocation wondering what the point is. You are Christ’s redeemed child. You are His baptized. You are called, justified and sanctified with the promise of glorification yet to come. You are servants in the vineyard already enjoying the fruits of Christ’s labor. You have the comfort of His strong but tender promises. You are offered the food of immortality- the very body and blood that secured your salvation. You live by faith, not by sight, interceding on behalf of the world but not given over to its agenda. Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory! Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
2 October, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Exodus 20:2
2 Matthew 21:37-38
3 Romans 5:9
4 Revelation 1:5
5 John 10:10

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 21:23
Theme: True Authority

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Scriptures always enrich our perspective on the nature and compassion of God. Though we become familiar with certain catch-phrases and always reiterate the main themes in an effort to emphasize, simplify or take short cuts- sometimes legitimately and sometimes not- the Word always drags us deeper and pulls us wider. It is a blessing to know that Christ exercised full divine authority. Our faith is undergirded by this assumption.

Today the authority of Jesus was questioned. But could it be any other way? While He was teaching in the temple courts the religious leaders approached Him, “By what authority are you doing these things…and who gave you this authority?”1 It was inevitable that He be asked this. There was a lot at stake. It wasn’t simply a matter of Jesus treading on their turf. The integrity of public proclamation of truth was at stake. Nothing has much changed. The question is still relevant: Who is this Jesus and what authority does He have?

Either He is the incarnate Son of God who alone absolves sinners with divine authority, or He is proved to be a fraud. If we give Him allegiance based on a perceived probability that it’s safer to cover our bases than not, then this is not faith, but hedging dressed up in religious clothing. The question is not one of risk verses benefit- better to invest some time and interest rather than risk the gates to heaven being closed- but of humble recognition of the ultimate authority.

If we are inclined to follow Christ because of His sage-ness, or cagey-ness or cleverness; or to follow because we are convinced of some benefit He may provide or value He may be to us- then the entire enterprise of faith is overthrown. We can’t believe in Christ based on how convinced we are that He is more clever or capable than all the other offers or possibilities out there.

Merely human hope is inevitably misplaced. For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong. Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten- pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. Yet the power of their misplaced belief was so strong the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right.

We rightly evaluate the philosophies and teachings of humanity, we even become adherents to certain ideals believing they promote the well-being of others or offer some benefits. But it’s different with God precisely because we believe in His unqualified authority. We are in no position to debate or assess whether God’s commands are reasonable, whether they’re beneficial, whether they’re ethical or utilitarian or humanitarian- we receive them gratefully and obey them faithfully. You cannot do away with the absoluteness of Christ and still claim to be a faithful follower of the truth. You cannot debate or negotiate its relative value. Yes, we can and must humbly confess our confusion of understanding it and our failure to follow it, but we cannot adopt the position of superiority. To question whether the sacrifice of Christ can benefit you is to undermine faith.

So we cannot preach Christianity by making His claims reasonable. It may seem logical to appeal to the human intellect in this way. It may seem sensible for those who are seeking and searching to say, “Look, Christ proposes this or that, see if that fits your philosophy. His teachings are moral or profound or compassionate or caring, etc.” That may be true enough but it is not the critical truth- only the attendant or necessary consequence.

Christ consciously and willingly, not unwittingly or helplessly endured the humiliation of death by crucifixion. He did this to restore sinners- great and small, arrogant and humble, philanthropic and selfish- to the Father in heaven. Either the Holy Spirit moves the soul to trust in the authority of the God-Man, the Saviour and Redeemer, or people are only drawn to a very temporal and human attachment to the wisdom of His ethics and so forth. Christ can never be understood to be of some temporary value only. But neither can your faith be treated as an insurance policy for the future that has no real connection or relevance to your everyday life. The first attempt errs in its belief that Christianity is primarily an aid to facilitate a smoother journey through this life. The second attempt errs in falsely believing that a token acknowledgment of God is all that is necessary to secure eternity. Yet the Lord says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, ‘Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”2 How often does our sorrow over sin plumb such depths?

The Holy Spirit does not fail to revive the repentant sinner. How do we know? Jesus said, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”3 Christ grants His authority to the church and the church delegates this authority to the pastor for its public ministry. The only authority the church has collectively is the authority of the Word. This is the only authority the pastor exercises, called the Office of the Keys. But it is THE authority to retain or forgive sins through the means God appoints.

Your baptism has credibility because it was administered under authority. Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing…”4 Your baptism isn’t validated by your will-power or your sentimentality. It isn’t invalidated by your lack of remembrance or your disappointment that it hasn’t been a greater inspiration in your spiritual life. Christ has authority over death. The Holy Spirit has authority over unbelief. These powers overcome all demonic forces.

Holy Communion is trustworthy because it is administered under authority. It is a divine mandate of Christ. It is His last will and testament. The promise is authoritative because it is Christ’s promise. Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body; this is My blood…for the forgiveness of sins.

Crist has authority; the full authority of the Father. He proved this during His earthly life. Of course-as in Aristotle’s day- the skeptic will never have enough evidence to be satisfied. Faith trusts in His promises on the basis of His authority over death and bestowal of the forgiveness of sins. He says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”5 That is the ultimate authority and our ultimate comfort. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
25 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 21:23
2 Matthew 7:21
3 Matthew 9:5-6
4 Matthew 28:18-19
5 Revelation 1:17-18

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 20:1-16
Theme: Extravagant Grace

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Only God is truly altruistic. We know this only in Christ. “Are you envious because I am generous?”1 That was the question posed by the vineyard owner to those laborers who cried foul. They complained when other workers received the same reward. They had worked longer and they expected more. The grievance surely seems logical. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour…and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”2 Yet they received the agreed upon amount. Such a scheme would not long withstand the rigors of a highly regulated fiscal society. But God’s kingdom is different. The grace of God in Christ is extravagant. He does not lack resources. We can’t measure His equity by human standards. We look to the cross and there we see the true measure of His generosity.

There are always those who want to get more out of God; more recognition for their work in the church, more praise for their charity, more assurance that God especially favours them. Christ addresses the same attitude among the hypocrites. “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full,”3 that is, they have acquired recognition from others for their efforts. But in the end they forfeit the favour of God. Judas is the apex of such defiance. He too wanted more out of Christ. The money bag wasn’t enough so later he received his thirty pieces of silver. He forfeited an immeasurably greater treasure.

There are always those who want to criticize the generosity of others. This is an expression of the sinful nature. We do the same to God. Why is God-we wonder- so much more generous to such and such a person than He is to us? Why does He seem to play favourites, sparing one from sickness or hardship while inflicting another with tragedy? It’s how these types of questions are handled that reveals the nature of faith or lack thereof.

Dear friends, the scope of our repentance is usually to narrow. Few who take the Bible seriously could argue that we need to repent of the sins of adultery or lying, theft or murder, idolatry or blasphemy. But at the core of sinfulness is mistrust of God and the way He handles things. The focus of our repentance should be our selfish desire that God would see things our way. Our remorse should be aimed at recognizing how we seek to use God as a benefactor or guarantor of our prosperity quite apart from the sacrifice of Christ and any real intent to reverence or obey Him. And we are so bold as to call this faith!

The Scripture says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”4 Everyplace where affluence generally prevails Christianity is in strife. But the love of mammon cannot bear all the guilt. Progressive secularization seeks to marginalize spiritual and biblical truth at every turn. Believers are tempted to retreat to a private practice of their faith. In this manner Satan makes great strides. Often even private faith is kept to oneself. Believers unwittingly think that Christianity merely provides a moral foundation and therefore they don’t teach their children the lessons of the faith. They look to their children’s physical well-being and material prosperity while neglecting their spiritual life. Perhaps parents don’t teach their children Christian truth because they doubt it themselves, or they worry about being labeled as hypocrites. The problem is quickly compounded.

Christian maturity involves both understanding and accepting the truth that God’s chastisements are actually blessings. The Bible says, “The Lord disciplines those He loves.”5 Not that anyone should ever be so bold or arrogant as to claim they can fully comprehend why God intervenes in a certain circumstance and appears to withdraw from another. But if we will not be disciplined by God and His truth, then what authority would we honour? And how would our selfish motives be kept in check? And if we do not believe than even when He reproves us God intends it for our well-being, then where is our faith? Trust in God only when things are going smoothly in life proves to be no faith at all.

Imagine how surprised those vineyard workers were who were hired at the eleventh hour but still received the full wage. They knew they hadn’t earned their reward. Such is the generosity of God. If we are not continually surprised by His generosity then we might want to evaluate our motivations and expectations. The auto maker Henry Ford was vacationing in Ireland when he was asked to contribute toward a new orphanage. Ford wrote a check for two thousand pounds, which made headlines in the local newspaper. But the paper inadvertently reported the gift as twenty thousand pounds. The director of the orphanage apologized to Ford. “I’ll phone the editor straight away and tell him to correct the mistake,” he said. “There’s no need for that,” Ford replied, and promptly wrote a check for the additional eighteen thousand pounds.

In a doxological flourish in the Book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul says this, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”6 If we really believed with Paul these words- that God, in Christ is able to do more than we can even imagine- would our perspective not be dramatically changed? Would we not worry and fret much less about trivial and temporal things?

Dear friends, Christ ends His discourse today by noting that the order of His kingdom is exactly the reverse of the ordering of the world. The first shall be last. The last shall be first. In the world people work to earn their reward. In God’s kingdom Christ is the price of the sacrifice and the reward itself. His grace can never be earned. He was crucified to cancel your debt. He rose to secure your life now and in eternity. He absolves you with His word of promise and nurtures you with His sacraments. The crumbs from His table- the very body and blood of Christ- are still richer fare than what the world will ever have on offer. Meager in the world’s eyes, it is the food of immortality. The Israelites were given manna for their journey7. We receive the Bread Of Heaven8.

The church may be marginalized. Believers may be ostracized. The baptized may be labeled as insignificant. And yet through the Holy Spirit God’s people are salt and light in the world. We are the world’s contact with sacred treasures. It doesn’t matter whether we are privileged to work from the first hour in His vineyard or whether we’re only brought in at the eleventh hour. The promise made to Abraham is made to every believer. God said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.”9 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
18 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 20:15
2 Matthew 20:12
3 Matthew 6:5
4 2 Timothy 6:10
5 Hebrews 12:5
6 Ephesians 3:20-21
7 See Exodus 16:15
8 See John 6:51
9 Genesis 15:1

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 18:21-22
Theme: Beyond Human Capacity

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Humans quickly reach their capacity to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally. The person who claims it does is speaking from arrogance or ignorance. “‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”1 Here we truly have the most challenging teaching in all of Holy Scripture. In effect Jesus is saying we are to forgive without limit. Christ’s words here, when viewed from the perspective of common sense, are nearly an absurdity. How is it possible to keep turning the other cheek? How can we, again, and again, and again, pardon those who offend us?

Under purely human power we can’t. The Holy Spirit must have His way. Without the Holy Spirit’s intervention you have absolutely no hope of forgiving your neighbour from the heart. The moment you are pleased with yourself for thinking you have done it successfully is the moment pride is your downfall. Oh, yes, you can take all the right steps, say all the right words, and carry through with all the correct motions but this won’t cleanse the bitterness or resentment from your heart. Forgiveness is a divine act within you.

St. Paul urges his fellow pastors “not to receive God’s grace in vain.”2 How frequently is the grace of God received in vain, that is, in an hollow and superficial way! How superficial is the trust of many in the forgiveness of sins- which is no real trust at all, but a convenient gesture only when it suits? Christ’s story of the unforgiving servant powerfully illustrates the point today. This servant received the pardon of his master in vain. Yes, his debt was cancelled. But he was not freed! He was still bound up in selfishness and unrepentance. That doesn’t mean that his urgent plea to his master wasn’t genuine. It means it wasn’t properly motivated. He desperately wanted to have his debt forgiven. But it was from a purely selfish motive. His account with his earthy master was reconciled but the one with His heavenly Master was not.

What prevents the grace of God being taken for granted? Only the belief that God will judge those who make a mockery of His blessings. Forgiveness is never a commodity we have the power to barter with at will. We have no jurisdiction over God’s offer of pardon. It is a solemn declaration of His favour. God forgives the repentant sinner in Christ and this then governs the dynamics of all our relationships.

This truth operates also at the level of society. Dear friends, think of how much hatred led up to 9-11, the tenth anniversary of which is recognized today. Think of how much unrepentance and unforgiveness has been harbored since! But God is not tethered by human inability. The New York Times reported that during the attacks of September 11, the communication between rescue workers and their commanding officers was not good. Instead of reaching the workers by radio to warn of the imminent collapse of the Trade Center Towers, a messenger had to be sent by foot across the terrible scene dodging flaming debris and falling bodies, to deliver the news in person. He arrived with the information less than one minute before the first tower fell.

Maybe sometimes your life feels a little like September 11th. It is completely out of control with the falling debris of debt, family dysfunction, work pressure, bad health, or all the above! Maybe you’re tied in knots with unresolved conflict or long-held grudges. But your communication with God is not in jeopardy. God didn’t merely send warnings from heaven. Christ came in human flesh, in the fullness of the Godhead. He came wearing our skin and breathing our air. He came confronting our fears and bearing our sin. He came not with a directive and a blueprint for forgiveness. He came as the very price of atonement that makes that forgiveness possible. He wasn’t the facilitator, coach or negotiator; but the scapegoat, the ransom and the sacrifice. He didn’t wrangle agreement or forgiveness from people; He forfeited His own glory for sinners. He was buried under the weight and rubble of human rebellion. But His resurrection gives a new lease on life.

God delivers His people. The Israelites were led on dry ground through the Red Sea out of Egypt. They were led on dry ground across the Jordan into the Promised Land. And He promises to lead the believer through the stormy waters of this life to the inheritance of heaven. Christianity is distinct from all religions or groups that preach about or promote the love of God and the obedience of His followers. Only Christianity teaches that the forgiveness of the sins, freedom from Satan, rescue from hell is accomplished by and secured in and through Jesus Christ. Only the gospel proclaims to us the truly Good News that the fate of humanity does not depend on human ability pacify God’s wrath or impress Him with its achievements.

That’s why we gather here in His name. Why else should people come here? Why do you come here? Is it family custom? Habit? Guilt? Self-interest? Opportunity? Social activity? There are certainly plenty of other things to do on a Sunday morning as many others have found. Consider that God gathers His people where He is present through His means of grace. Here the baptized come as the very consequence of who they are in Christ. We are not only named as His in baptism but we live in His kingdom baptismally. Baptism is both the well of forgiveness and the sacramental Jordan to which we return to drown our unforgiving hearts. In every act of repentance and absolution we are returned to the power and the promise of our baptism. Like a passport that gains one entry across borders, baptism is our access to Christ’s mercy and our heavenly inheritance. So too, your invitation to His holy Table is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

To the unbeliever, participating in these activities or granting forgiveness with no vested self-interest is nonsensical or foolish. The devil is cunning. He wants our thoughts on God and eternity to be appraised by the negative experiences of this life. Darkness, doubt, and despair; trouble and hardship cause even the most mature believer to question the treasures God promises to deliver. Yet faith works just the other way around: the promises of God’s sacred and holy things, knowledge of Christ’s completed crucifixion and resurrection should colour our perspective on this mortal life. We are as the morning mist3.

But let’s be honest, sometimes the tediousness of this life causes us to wonder how we could even spend life in eternity without getting tired or bored. What will drive us? What will motivate us to carry on? How can we envision a heaven in which we don’t become uninterested? Here our intellect has no answers. Faith looks forward in hope and trusts that we will be more than pleasantly surprised. For then, freed and forgiven we will exercise our full capacity to enjoy the unlimited compassion and companionship of the Holy Trinity. Then we will understand the price of forgiveness. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
11 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 18:21-22
2 2 Corinthians 6:1
3 See James 4:14

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 18:15-18
Theme: The Imperative of Forgiveness

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The church stands or falls on the teaching that sinners are justified by grace, through faith for Christ’s sake. Forgiveness is the evidence that this truth is effective among believers. Today Christ teaches about reconciliation among Christians. Believers are taught to forgive the personal sins committed against one another. When this fails the wider church is brought into the picture. The consequences of unrepentance were serious. The believer’s soul was understood to be in danger. Steadfast refusal to repent resulted in self-exclusion from participating in Christ’s own forgiveness. Therefore the church prevented the unrepentant individual from participating in the shared blessings of the community for his or her own good. There was no other way to keep from condoning immoral behavior. The first thought was for the spiritual well-being of the individual; the second for the integrity of the community.

This raises serious questions for the state of church discipline today. Centuries of decline have dramatically reduced the church’s vigor in addressing immorality and unrepentance within its communities. If the church is unwilling to call sinners to repentance who will? What then happens to the motivation for mission? If there are few, if any sins to be condemned, then what’s the motivation for proclaiming the gospel? If Satan is a paper tiger and hell just a mythical place what need is there for a Saviour? The purpose of the church then gets re-engineered as an agency for social justice. We see the effects of this in the world today. How far from Christ’s institution have we fallen?

The Christian community was instituted as an organized community. Any claim that early believers simply lived and worshipped in informal family groups and had no greater structure is dispelled by Jesus’ own words today. He says to “tell it to the church.”1 The issue was reconciliation between Christians. When a sin is unresolved there is a proper order to be followed. Christians aren’t allowed to take things into their own hands. Reconciliation among members of the body of Christ is too important. Accountability has always been essential for the protection of the community. Unresolved sin eats away at the conscience.

A man went to a doctor complaining of persistent pain but the doctor could find nothing physically wrong. The doctor said, "last week I had a fellow who was complaining of pains similar to yours & I couldn’t find anything wrong with him, either. But after talking a while, he told me that he was worried sick about a $5,000 debt he owed & couldn’t pay. Well, we talked about it & I was able to help him."

The man asked, "How did you help him?" "Oh, I told him that life was too short to worry about a piece of paper that said he owed $5,000. I suggested that he tear up the paper & throw it away, & stop worrying about the debt, & get on with his life. So he did. And now he feels great!" "Yes, I know," said the guy. "I’m the one he owes the $5,000 to." What does Paul say today, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”2

Dear friends, physical pain can be caused by emotional or spiritual stress. This commonly happens during times of grief. It also happens when unforgiven sin festers in our hearts and minds. About this David says in the Psalms, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”3 David knew what he was talking about. He labored over the sins of adultery and murder. But note how he goes on, “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord- and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”4

This promise is secure: God forgives the guilt of the repentant sinner. This forgiveness brings a new lease on life. It quiets the conscience and gives peace to the soul. It is a greater treasure than all the riches of the earth. And it doesn’t come to us cheaply. It was secured at the price of divine blood. The angel of death passed over the houses of those Israelites who had their doorframes marked with lamb’s blood. Forgiven sinners too are spared by the blood of the very Lamb of God. Don’t be too quick to take for granted this gift of forgiveness. If this forgiveness is rejected or despised the baptismal promise is also forfeited.

All of our hopes, our dreams, our pursuits; all of our successes and failures are nothing apart from the certainty of God’s acceptance of us through Christ. This is not something faith easily believes. No wonder Jesus commands His followers to pray for the Holy Spirit. No wonder the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily5. It is through those Scriptures that the Holy Spirit works. These are the truths we are charged with passing onto the next generation.

We are mindful today of the fact that the image of God as Father is foundational for the biblical understanding of divine-human relationships. Though secular society mostly denies the unique role of fatherhood the Scripture teaches that it was part of creation. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”6 By design God made non-interchangeable and irreducible distinctions between man and woman, father and mother. Proponents of same-sex marriage crassly deny not only physiological differences, but also the purposeful creation which is the very source. Men and women are not interchangeable not only insofar as biology is concerned. God purposefully created male and female to be complementary and unique.

By virtue of their vocation fathers are charged with the well-being of their children. The most critical part of this responsibility is the moral and spiritual example a father sets for his children. The most critical thing parents can do for their children on a regular basis is practice offering and receiving forgiveness; it’s the same critical dynamic of the Christian congregation. Only in this way can we, as children of God, draw life, hope, and every blessing from Christ who “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”7

Dear friends, when the Holy Spirit gathers you at this altar you are offered forgiveness in the form of divine food. His body was broken for you. His blood was shed for you. His atonement was not a dramatic way to garner admiration or respect. It was the only means to redeem life. Sin suffocates but forgiveness breathes fresh life. Death is humanly insurmountable. But Christ was mounted upon the cross and death was defeated. Satan could not vanquish Him. Hell could not withstand Him. And now the legions of darkness must suffer Him. Their defeat is final and eternal. Our life is immortal and incorruptible. Christ lives and He makes us participants of His unending life. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
4 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 18:17
2 Romans 13:8
3 Psalm 32:3-4
4 Psalm 32:5
5 See Acts 17:11
6 Genesis 1:27
7 1 John 2:2