Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eighth Sunday After Epiphany A (2011)

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

Text: Matthew 6:25-34
Theme: The Creator and Creation

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is not aloof. But the perception that He is a Creator more or less detached from His creation leads to false conclusions. People reason that He is either impotent or lacking compassion. Such assumptions are being made in Christchurch at the present time. Of course God is neither and that is the struggle of faith. People often make the assumption that life should basically be going well most of the time. This is a false expectation. The perspective is all backwards. On what basis should we just assume that life should be running smoothly? Does God owe this to us? Is He indebted to us? Why would we not be astounded when anything good happens at all? Sin makes beggars of us all. His mercy cannot be appreciated until this truth is recognized. Christ is the Saviour of sinners only.

Jesus’ words today acknowledge the frailty of human nature. We are continually beset by weakness and doubt. We wonder if God notices or cares. The Shepherd says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”1

Here we have some of the most reassuring words in the Bible. When we lose perspective this is our clarity. Even the birds of the air do not exist by some random combination of events. God cares for His creation. God’s care for His avian creatures gives us confidence that He will not reject us. The perspective He wants us to see is that our physical wants are a minor thing compared to our spiritual needs. Jesus continues by saying, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”2 Remember, no one can serve two masters. Is it too much to ask that we forsake the indulgences of this world knowing that heavenly treasures await us? Are these words of Christ treated with little more than a wink and a nod?

Dear friends, Jesus’ life was the payment for your debt of sin. What was required was that your own life be forfeited. The law of God’s righteousness demands satisfaction. Why, because His holiness has been violated. You and I are an affront to Him. By nature we are unworthy of His compassion. Yet there is nothing we could ever do to appease His wrath. There is no means by which we can absolve ourselves. All laws, rules, prescriptions, and attempts are a dead end. But Christ reconciles with the Father.

The Scriptures teach the universal atonement. Christ did not die just for the elect, or for some group or remnant. He didn’t die only for believers or even those who will finally be saved: Christ died for all. It’s no use trying to decipher whether you might be an exception. No sinner is beyond the pale of redemption. And it’s no good searching your own heart trying to figure out whether you deem these things to be true for you, whether it’s relevant to you or a concern to you. Neither can you ascertain from any human resource, philosophical quest or signs of nature whether God is smiling on you. Martin Luther calls us back to the only source when He says, “If you want to obtain grace, then see to it that you hear the Word or God attentively or meditate on it diligently. The Word, I say, and only the Word, is the vehicle of God’s grace.”3

So take God at His word: You are a condemned sinner. But He speaks to the penitent: Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If you do not find release here, you will not find it elsewhere. Or if you think you have found it somewhere else it will prove to be fleeting, hollow or deceptive. If the Holy Trinity cannot make good on His word who can be trusted? If the Creator who gives life and breath, the Son who gives grace and love, the Spirit who gives faith and every gift cannot be trusted then where can we turn? When you are at your wits end- at your last hour- He will not fail you.

Maybe you have heard the legend of the Cherokee Indian youths' rite of passage? His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own. The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blows the grass and earth, and shakes his stump, but he must sit stoically, never removing the blindfold. It is the only way he can become a man! Finally, after a horrific night the sun appears and he removes his blindfold. It is then that he discovers his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

And so David says in the Psalms, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.”4 Christ’s baptized children are of much greater concern to Him than the birds or flowers. It was not even for angels that Christ died, but for humans. Your baptism plunged you into His death. His resurrection brings you new life. You need not worry that you were not a witness of Christ’s death or resurrection; that you were not there, or that you were unable to be with Him. You only need to rejoice that at your baptism Christ was there, He came to you. There were witnesses. At your baptism the Holy Spirit opened the well of forgiveness to you. From this well forgiveness continually flows.

So strong is God’s love in Christ that today Isaiah compares it to the love a mother has for her nursing child. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”5 No, God is not aloof. He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. The birds maybe part of His beautiful creation, but you were made in His image. In Christ, God undertakes to restore that image. May God grant it according to His will. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Eighth Sunday After Epiphany
27 February 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 5:25-26 2 Matthew 6:33
3 Luther’s Works 27, 249 4 Psalm 139:7-10
5 Isaiah 49:15-16