Monday, January 3, 2011

Second Sunday After Christmas A 2011

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

Text: John 1:1-18
Theme: Word, Life, Light

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Life and light are found only in Christ. Seek it not in the powers and possibilities of mortals or in the glitzes and glamours of the world. You will not find it elsewhere. Few people have difficulties attributing generic power to God. It’s simply part of a well-understood definition of divinity. Though there are significant limitations. Fewer people all the time-even Christians- believe that God created the universe. This lack of faith is in direct conflict with the claims of John’s gospel, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”1 When God’s power has implications for us personally- well, it’s a more complicated and vexing picture yet. We don’t easily concede to God the capabilities that are due Him; especially when our own capacities are compromised.

Acknowledging our inability to be objective is key. Some time ago, zoo officials in Kirby, England, had to pay visitors for articles stolen by monkeys. But what puzzled them was the favourite item the animals snatched: Eyeglasses. An investigation revealed the reason. The monkeys grabbed the glasses when visitors leaned over to read a small sign on the wall of the cage. The sign said: "Beware! These monkeys steal spectacles."

We “see” the conundrum. The means for warning people and protecting them ended up being part of the problem. In a light-hearted way it illustrates the spiritual dilemma of sin. We walk right into danger because we do not have the spiritual eyesight to travel safely. We can sense the danger because sin manifests its effects all around us. We can read the warnings of God’s law. We can hear His voice demanding that we avoid transgression. But we soon find we’ve already lost the capacity to fulfill His will. We don’t become sinners once we commit that first act of sin. We sin because we are already sinners- from conception. The distinction is important. It means that the solution is beyond our ability.

Furthermore, we learn that sin is so deep and deadly, we can’t even grasp the problem. So we take Scripture at its word. We take it as a matter of faith that sin merits each and every person eternal damnation. After all, how readily can we believe that the average human, the good citizen, the well-meaning neighbour would still be lost eternally apart from the grace of Christ? How reasonable is it to think that even the most pious among people are still bound for the judgment of hell apart from Jesus’ redemption? The answer is: We can’t! We can’t accept this on our own. It violates our sense of fairness and justice. We much more readily believe that God will credit us for our efforts at goodness and receive us into His kingdom on their account- at least in part.

So we begin to embark on a journey of relying on our own self-righteousness to maintain God’s favour. We look inside of ourselves, to our own strength for help. But now- you see- our glasses have been taken by the monkeys. What we thought would help (like reading the sign in the monkey cage) makes things even worse. We become blinded by our own good works and we have justified it as being part of God’s will. The results are devastating. And the expressions of how it happens are endless. Each can pursue a particular way of trying to impress God, of heading steadily and surely in His direction. But it’s all a lot of groping in the darkness.

Now comes the incarnation of Christ at Christmas. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”2The Gospel ends our “groping for God in the dark” the moment the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts with this truth. And the Holy Spirit promises to bring us into contact with this truth only through the word of forgiveness. That word of forgiveness comes into contact with us when the repentant are absolved of their sins; when that word is washed over them in baptismal water; and as that word is ingested in the body and blood of Christ received in Holy Communion. These are God’s means of grace.

In short, if you do not have this forgiveness; you do not have spiritual life. If you do not have spiritual life you are in the darkness. But your past sins can condemn you no more because the Babe of Bethlehem became the Crucified One of Calvary. Our epistle says it like this, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”3 And again God’s word says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”4 He died on the cross and rose again for our salvation.

You are baptized. You are promised an inheritance. You have been received into the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are redeemed as a son. You are a child of God. This reality is nothing to take for granted. You are a mortal being but you bear the truth of the Immortal One. You have weaknesses, troubles, fears and doubts. Like everyone your life is littered with disappointments, tarnished with failures, and hindered by uncertainties. You are a vessel of clay that nevertheless carries the holy and imperishable things of the Almighty. When you suffer for the truth you are living your Christian identity. When you carry the burdens of others; whether they are physical burdens, emotional burdens, or spiritual burdens you are living the identity God intends for you. As the apostle says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”5

It won’t be glamorous. It won’t be a means of self-promotion or a way to move up the social ladder. But far more important things are accomplished. The spiritual well-being of those in need is given credibility by your interest in them. Those things the world dismisses as unhelpful and unimportant- sacrifice for others, willingness to be humbled, burdened, and shunned; willingness to be wronged- are the very Christ-like things which characterize our faith. Something as simple as the willingness to listen to the cares of others is a powerful opportunity for the word of grace.

Dear friends, you are temples of the Holy Spirit. Through the word the Holy Spirit conceived in the Virgin Mary the body of Jesus, the Christ. Through her the Son of God came to dwell with humanity. Through this same word the Holy Spirit conceives faith in your heart. Through you His truth shines as light in a dark world. Thanks be to God for the magnificence of this mysterious gift. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday After Christmas
2 January 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:3
2 John 1:4
3 Ephesians 1:7-8
4 Galatians 4:4-5
5 Galatians 6:2

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Eve 2010

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

Text: Matthew 25:34
Theme: Timely Gifted

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is timely. This is so even when we cannot understand it. He is judicious in His condemnations. He is equally timely in the bestowal of His grace. At the end of another calendar year our thoughts turn to the future even as we reflect on the past. Of course, as Christians our view of time isn’t like that of the world. We don’t live life as an end in itself, but as a means towards a greater end. The Church Year began already weeks ago in Advent and it doesn’t mark the end of prosperity or adversity, or the beginning of success or misfortune in a material or secular sense; but the occasion for again recognizing the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ and His future blessings.

Our gospel reading for this occasion makes it clear that God acts in His own time. Contrary to prevalent interpretations which minimize God’s judgment against sin, He will suffer not ungodliness in His presence. The chaff is separated from the wheat, the sheep from the goats. None will stand before Him without the adjudication of Christ. Our sins and us as sinners will not be an exception. So the year ends as it began; with a clear summons to repentance, humility and faith. The Christian lives always in this life traveling between the font and the altar. He or she moves from contrition, through forgiveness to faith; from law to gospel until all need for these means becomes obsolete in the life to come.

Mortal beings apart from redemption in Christ travel towards destruction. His saints, however, are being daily prepared for eternity. The challenge often comes in recognizing the difference between the two. Outwardly, the life of a Christian can appear quite ordinary. But the Scripture assures us it is something extraordinary, something remarkable, something even peculiar because it involves the sacred things of God. The remarkable thing is that our sanctification flows quite automatically as a fruit of faith. That doesn’t mean we’re puppets. It means we engage in loving our neighbour because that’s who Christians are and what they do. Remember the response of the righteous in our Scripture, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?”1 It’s like they’re puzzled, caught by surprise. They weren’t tracking their good deeds they were simply seeking to live according to the truth- though the Bible never portrays this as a trouble-free thing. The Christian bears the cross daily.

As we flip the calendar to a new year we contemplate what might lie ahead. What might be the big stories in the world for 2011? What will make headlines in the local news? What will feature prominently in your own family or personal life? There was a young man who wanted to be a star journalist but he lived in a small town so there wasn’t much opportunity. One day the dam upstream broke and the town was flooded. So he got in a rowboat and headed out to look for a story. He found a lady sitting on her rooftop. He tied up the boat and told her what he was after. Surely the flood would give opportunity for a big story. They both watched for a while as various items floated by. Several times she said, "Now there's a story." But the would-be star journalist replied, "No, that's not a story." Finally a hat floated by and then did a 180 degree turn, went upstream a ways and did another 180 degree turn, came back downstream, and kept going back and forth systematically. Amazed, the man said with excitement, "Now there's a story." "Oh no,” the woman replied, quite self-assuredly, “That’s not a story. That's my husband Milton. He said that he was going to mow the lawn come hell or high water!"

So, come hell, or high water, God will lead us through 2011. What will be the big news? Will the water levels reach as high as they did in 1974? If they do perhaps there will be a few husbands in the same situation we just heard about. Prepare your lawnmowers! Will the locusts finally leave the area? Will the growing season be similar to the last one? What about the spiritual landscape? Will faithfulness to God’s truth continue to decline across the nation and the region? Will others hear of His redemption for the first time? Will He use us to reach them?

Christ calms our anxiety and bids us to take one day at a time saying, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”2 Some possibilities we prepare for and we are wise to do so. We have the privilege and responsibility of being stewards of His creation. Other things will happen as a corrective from God. The Scripture bids us to make the best use of the time.

Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”3 Words cannot sufficiently express the eternity of God because our minds cannot readily understand the concept. But what’s important is that we know everything flows to and from the Holy Trinity through the person of Jesus. Though it matters not to Him what year it is in our earthy reckoning, He is concerned with every moment in our lives. There is no adversity too big for Him to tackle. There is no anxiety so small that He is not concerned with it. He dispenses to us in progressive moments of time an eternity of divine love. He secures our future. At baptism you cross the dimensions of time and enter into eternal reality. This is so because you are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Your life is now lived in Him.

Christ is our Immanuel. He dwells with us. He is present in the sacrament of Holy Communion giving us His body broken and His blood shed. He is present in the forgiveness announced by His ordained servants, and administered from the font. He is present whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit works through the word to create and strengthen faith and forgive sins. This forgiveness frees us to serve others without concern that God will provide for our own needs.

Dear friends, regardless of what 2011 brings, what stories it will be composed of, the big story is the one that has already been and continues to be: God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. Bethlehem was the starting point. Jerusalem was the place of sacrifice. And His second advent will bring believers into the full experience of His glory. Christ lives and will rule for eternity. For those who believe, the judgment has already been rendered at Calvary. Because He is risen we look eagerly forward to the fulfillment of Scripture: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”4 Then we will hear those glorious words of our gospel, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”5 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

New Year’s Eve
31 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 25:37
2 Matthew 6:34
3 Revelation 22:13
4 Revelation 21:3-4
5 Matthew 25:34