Thursday, March 17, 2011

Midweek Lenten Devotion, March 16, 2011

Text: Hebrews 9:22
Theme: Images and Reality

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The fish and not the cross was the main image of early Christianity. The torturous and bloody scene of a crucifixion was perhaps too fresh in the minds of early Christians. It was too stomach-turning, too repulsive. Nevertheless the image of the crucifixion soon identified followers of Jesus Christ with an act of God that was both insufferable and incomprehensible in the Roman world. It is today the most recognizable symbol of the Christian faith; though it might be argued that the full depth of its significance is waning.

In our Lenten journey we are focusing on images of the Passion. If “a picture paints a thousand words” how many words does a depiction of Christ’s crucifixion entail? Of course it’s not the number of words that concerns us but the meaning conveyed. Our Scripture for this evening is from Hebrews chapter nine, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”1 Blood is the currency of reconciliation. Sacramental Christianity is bloody Christianity. That is, the bloody sacrifice of Christ informs every teaching and practice of the church. Lutherans do not trivialize the resurrection by abandoning the horror of the crucifixion. The risen Christ bears the scars of the cross. And the resurrection itself does not consign the crucifixion to the historical past. Rather it elevates it as the eternal access to the Father’s love and blessings of the Holy Trinity.

Some images become vested with meaning based solely on our experience. Pictures of war evoke for soldiers memories of very personal experiences. Images of floods, and earthquakes, and tsunamis will be life-long traumas etched on the hearts and minds of many this year. Other images are God’s windows into the sacred acts of redemption. We don’t understand these naturally. We grasp these by faith. The Scriptures paint a picture of what Christ has accomplished and the Spirit enables us to “understand” it by faith. Oh, yes, we can gaze upon the pitiful sight of the crucifixion and be moved by compassion and sorrow quite naturally. Suffering and death trigger human sympathy- one of the tangible proofs that humans were made in the image of God. But to see there- in the foolishness of the cross- the very wisdom of God requires a supernatural intervention.

Why the need for the shedding of blood at all? Why not a painless dispute resolution process? Why not a mere verbal pardoning for all transgressions? Here we enter one of the deep mysteries of Christian teaching. God created us with flesh and blood, soul and spirit and it was necessary for the means of salvation to be commensurate with the nature and magnitude of humanity’s abandonment of God. Dear friends, the undertaking of reconciliation to God was no trivial matter. A man who was down on his luck was told by a Christian man to be thankful. "Thankful! What have I to be thankful for?" grumbled the sour-looking man to the Christian. "I can't even pay my debts." "In that case," prompted the Christain, "be thankful that you aren't one of your creditors."

People today are not so much concerned about guilt and judgment and forgiveness in life as they are about whether life has meaning, and purpose, and opportunity. They don’t see that these categories are inseparably related. Society tells us truth is relative and that there is little reason to be accountable for our false ideas or selfish motives. We are told we’re not answerable to a higher power; we are rather victims of the misconduct of others. Instead of repenting and seeking forgiveness we seek empowerment. Instead of pursuing reconciliation we pursue license to control.

But the crucifixion is not the image of self-empowerment or the icon for permission to do as we please. It is the defining picture of sacrifice and humility. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but yours be done.”2 The Father was willing to shed the blood of His Son that we might be spared. When the body and blood of Christ is taken upon your lips; when the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in your hearing; when the name of the Holy Trinity is spoken at baptism and to begin each Divine Service you can be certain that the fruits of Jesus’ shed blood are being communicated to you. This bloodied Saviour is your God and Lord. He is our Lenten journey. It’s a short pilgrimage and mere prelude to our Sabbath rest. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Midweek Lenten Service
16 March 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 9:22
2 Luke 22:42

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday In Lent A (2011)

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

Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Theme: Not A Chance Encounter

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The order of Jesus’ life is not happenstance. Christ goes immediately from His baptism to the wilderness where He is tempted by the devil. The rest of His ministry is now a journey to the cross. It is the journey that secures our salvation. This is the focus of Lent: The implication of being baptized into the cross-bearing Jesus. Your life is not happenstance either. If skepticism or trial has convinced you that it is, God has news for you; life-altering news. Christ calls you as His own.

If not urgently, at least convincingly Lent should draw us to a deeper reflection of our need for mercy. This is by no means a foregone conclusion. Self-determination to govern our own spiritual affairs is powerful. We prefer to keep the guilt at arm’s length, at a safe distance. Generalizations about sin and anonymous applications are things we can more easily cope with. If the problem of our sin remains nameless and unspecified it is easier to avoid the topic.

But the Holy Spirit permits no such disappearing acts on our part. The development of Lent over the centuries of Christianity has focused on addressing just such human tendencies. Lent is a call to face who we are, not just who we’d like to be or pretend to be. This involves the ultimate spiritual vulnerability. It is damaging to our pride and purges our image. Before God we are completely transparent but we seldom act accordingly.

Lent is a summons to transparency. Maybe this Lent God is calling you to face an infidelity, to admit and accept the blame. Maybe He is calling you to address the anger and resentment you harbor against family or friends. May He is drawing you to recognize the general worldliness that dominates your thinking. Maybe your neglect of the Sabbath Day and inattention to God’s means of grace- His word and sacraments- are paramount. Perhaps jealously and vain ambition are quenching the Spirit’s fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”1 in your life.

All of these transgressions have a common source. The Bible says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”2 And the confessions of our church explain it this way, “Recognition of original sin is a necessity, nor can we know the magnitude of the grace of Christ unless we acknowledge our faults. All the righteousness of man is mere hypocrisy before God unless we acknowledge that of itself the heart is lacking in love, fear, and trust in God.”3

But these pressing calls to recognition of sin and repentance are not ends in themselves. They are not part of some tortuous regime of self-deprecation for its own sake. They point us to Christ. They foster in us a craving for forgiveness. They create a hunger for true satisfaction. The hope is that the light of the gospel would shine all the more brilliantly, the peace of forgiveness penetrate all the more deeply, and the anticipation of our bodily resurrection be grasped all the more acutely.

Christ’s contest with Satan today is not only educational; it should give us great comfort. The devil could not derail the crucifixion. The sacrifice was made. Our sin was atoned for on the cross. His resurrection promises new and unconquerable life. We should never overlook the significance of Jesus quoting the Scriptures in response to Satan. The Son of God who is Himself the Word-become-flesh champions what the Holy Spirit has already proclaimed and the prophets recorded. We can do no better. We can do no other.

Yet presently the Holy Scriptures suffer from a loss of credibility. Few things more clearly characterize the decline of biblical faithfulness among modern religious scholars and laity alike than the desertion and denial of the doctrines of Satan and hell. What ever happened to hell? It’s not that popular. Perhaps understandably so! It’s not quite universally forsaken. Let us give the devout Muslins their due. They are usually bold to say that all who do not submit to Allah will perish. This conviction may stem from legalism but at least it bears witness to the seriousness with which many hold their faith. At least they believe in hell. It’s more than can be said for many Christians.

The proposition of hell is of course immediately and automatically adversarial. It demands an either/or, black or white, true or false distinction. To be with Christ involves comprehensive safety and bliss, to be separated complete despair and torment. There is no middle ground. There is no neutral territory.

Human nature inherently balks at such a teaching. We want options, degrees, and possibilities. Society rejects absolutes. That’s how our world and its interactions work. It is our custom and ethos. It defines our institutions. There is normally more than one way to get around, avoid, or by-pass something distasteful. But Christianity in its true form confesses reality from God’s perspective. Belief in the absolute judgment of God against unbelief is thoroughly destructive to all forms of humanistic philosophy.

The word of God is not merely a collection of moral guidelines or inspiring stories. It is not out-moded, or out-of-date because it addresses timeless issues. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit4, it is living and active5, it is the good news6, it is the cause of faith7, it stands forever8. God’s word informs us with the mind of Christ9.

It is the lone tool of the Holy Spirit. Through it the real presence of Christ is effected in the Lord’s Supper. Through it the baptized are converted from unbelief to faith, from idolatry to obedience. Through it the Holy Spirit works mysteriously but with unparalleled power. Why? Because it transforms people’s hearts and minds. It silences Satan. It is your defense against accusation. It is the source of peace for your conscience.

Both Christ’s time in the wilderness and the general tone of Lent remind us that Satan is around to tempt us and God Himself tests us for our own good. These things are not possibilities for Christians but certainties. God has sacred outcomes in mind. And we can never truly complain our testing is too severe. Consider the testing of Abraham. Could there be a more serve trial than to be asked- by God, no less- to sacrifice your only child? In this case Isaac was the very son of the promise. How could anyone face such a dilemma? Still, this was only a preview of the actual sacrifice of the true Son of the Promise, Jesus. He promises His Holy Spirit to aide you in all temptation. He has also given you a place and inheritance in His church.

The church is the body of Christ and the kingdom of God on earth. The Lord himself promises the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Yet the church’s life always remains hidden under the cross in this world. We struggle on confessing truth the world deems irrelevant or offensive. Saint Paul describes it forthrightly, “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body.”10 Let this be our noble purpose in Lent: Mortal frames giving the world a glimpse of the immortal God. This will not happen by happenstance. The Father will direct you by His word, through the Spirit, to His Son. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

First Sunday In Lent
13 March 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Galatians 5:22-23 2 Romans 5:12
3 AP II 104, 33 4 See Ephesians 6:17
5 See Hebrews 4:12 6 See Isaiah 52:7 7 See Romans 10:17
8 See 1 Peter 1:23 9 See 1 Corinthians 2:16 10 2 Corinthians 4:11