Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy (Holy) Thursday 2011

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

Text: John 13:31
Theme: Glorified In Blood

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Not every moment of history is of equal consequence. That certain events in the earthy life of God’s Son are of much greater import than others does not trivialize the events of our lives. It should serve to put them into perspective. When Judas departed the Upper Room in which Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.”1 It’s a hallowed and weighty statement. What are we to make of it? How can glory be added to God? God exists in self-sustaining majesty. It is far beyond us to understand how glory could be given to the heavenly Father.

Here Christ speaks of His pending crucifixion. The sacrifice of the Son brings glory to the Father because through it human beings have access to the divine blessings. God is glorified in those things which allow rascals to participate in His magnificence. Yes God is glorified when scoundrels are led on the narrow way to life. The Scripture says, “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.”2 God is glorified when we poor sinners are rescued from disobedience, ignorance, and death and are gifted with light, servanthood, and life.

Only Jesus fully understood the tension in the Upper Room. Judas would soon betray Him; Peter deny Him, and the others forsake Him. Now was the prelude to the events of His passion. God chose this point in time- and these people- to be written into the history of the sacrifice of the Messiah. Most interesting theatrical dramas have villains and heroes. The struggle between good and evil captivates something deep in our psyche. It’s a tussle human beings inherently know they are part of. The contest between good and evil has consequences.

How do we understand what was going on here with Christ and His disciples, Satan and Judas. It’s a war not of physical struggle or brute force but of words and wills. It’s a contest of truth and falsehood, of deception and honesty. The greatest battle was not a physical feat, per se, but a triumph of sacrifice over selfishness, of compassion over coldness, of fidelity over rebelliousness.

How great is that love that patiently endures humiliation, shame, and derision without cause! How great is the love that bears the divine wrath and tastes bitter death! How great is that love which passionately desires to be with its beloved for all eternity. Christ’s love is a love that stoops to wash our feet. It is a love that suffers the loss of its own dignity to raise sinners to nobility. His love is the only unfailing, unconditional love. He tells His disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”3 He expects them to do this not by their own strength, seeking their own praises, or boosting their own pride. He prepares them for what the Holy Spirit will do through them as they distribute Christ’s love throughout the world.

The last Passover the disciples celebrated with Jesus was also the first Holy Communion. It serves for us a as a continual fountain of grace. The baptized who gather at the altar gather to have their faith nourished by the deepest mystery offered to human beings in this dimension. The magnitude of what is offered demands integrity of intention. It’s nothing ever to take for granted. If you scarcely give a passing thought to your participation in Holy Communion than hear the words of the Holy Spirit. They are written to jolt your conscience out of apathy or arrogance. “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”4 Unrepentant souls are condemned in their callous reception.

But the test is not self-worthiness, but faith. Otherwise none could rightly partake. If you feel too unworthy to partake then that’s exactly when you should come. The contrite soul is ripe for forgiveness. The weak in faith and frail in heart come to be strengthened, fortified and comforted. If you leave feeling a burden has been lifted, then rejoice that God has allowed you such a privilege? But if you leave with misgiving and worry still lingering in your heart do not doubt that His promise to you is still valid. The Sacrament may change your disposition and outlook in the midst of struggle, but it does not promise to change your personality, it does not promise to dissolve all of your struggles.

Yet what the heart cannot always comprehend or appreciate the Spirit guarantees. The unworthiness that still troubles you is nevertheless pardoned by God. Christ said to the paralytic “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”5 He said to the woman subject to bleeding, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”6 He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you...Go now and leave your life of sin.”7 All were repentant. All sought His mercy. None were turned back. He sent them away freed from guilt; free to live in grace.

He sends the humble soul from His altar nourished with the food of immortality. He sends you with identity and purpose. You go from the sacred presence of God to the mundane and often profane atmosphere of the world. You are armed with the weapons of righteousness to do battle with falsehood. You are an agent of peace in a world of conflict. You are an ordered being in a climate of chaos. Maundy Thursday invites us to see with clarity how God orders our lives.

Our Scripture says that when Judas left the Upper Room it was night.8 He had fallen into darkness. The others remained with Jesus, the Light of the World. And so let us also remain with Him. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Maundy Thursday
21 April, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 13:31 2 Romans 5:10
3 John 13:34 4 1 Corinthians 11:27-28
5 Matthew 9:2 6 Luke 8:48
7 John 8:11 8 See John 13:30

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Palm Sunday (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 21:9
Theme: Hosanna!

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Not every celebration is planned. God sometimes startles us with blessings that demand immediate expression of joy. The conception of a child, a cancer-free diagnosis, the acquisition of a job, rescue from an accident or pending disaster are but a few examples. Our sinful human nature is so potent at nurturing skepticism we are often surprised by His mercies great and small. Though such things tend to provide a boost to our faith, God desires that our trust be anchored more deeply in His promises. Our faith should not rely on a quota of personal satisfactions but the bare- and often masked- certainty of His Word.

Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem was not exactly a planned celebration. But hopes ran high and people joined the gathering crowd to welcome Jesus as a deliverer and ruler. Perhaps this would be the moment for Israel to regain independence and glory. It was actually a minor expectation compared to what Christ actually did accomplish. The climax of the Christian Church Year begins today. Shouts of jubilation on Palm Sunday crescendo to cries of “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. It was an intense and bewildering week for Jesus’ disciples that ended with His resurrection.

All the hype of Palm Sunday was dashed by Good Friday. Pilate posed the question, “What is truth?”1 Others ridiculed Him saying, “Come down from the cross and save Yourself!”2 Jesus responded with, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”3 and, “My kingdom is not of this world.”4 But the suspicion goes on. Falsehood, skepticism, and doubt about Christian truth increasingly saturate public discourse and educational institutions. It wears on the believer. It slowly erodes the underpinnings of our belief. Sometimes we hardly notice it. The frog is not boiled instantly. The water is slowly heated and the frog adjusts.

But before the frog attempts to leap to safety it is too close to death. It is paralyzed. Faith is more commonly lost through a gradual slipping away than it is by a dramatic turn of events. Through neglect and apathy faith loses it vigor and becomes vulnerable to attack. Faith is never partial. Saving faith is always a complete faith. But faith can be strong or weak and everything in between. A defenseless faith may limp along for a while- until the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Throughout much of western society the image of God has transitioned from that of a father, with whom we have a relationship and to whom we are accountable, to that of an ageing and frail grandfather about whom people only reminisce and with whom there is little association. God is to be neither feared nor revered as Judge or Redeemer but only passingly referenced an obsolete concept.

Many believers have responded by retreating into a confidential sheltering of their faith. Yet the self-deception of being a ‘private’ Christian is a nearly always an infallible sign of danger and decay. It’s not, of course, that this withdrawal is usually planned or perpetrated with evil intent. Rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work is not usually as crass as we assume it to be. Overt blasphemy is not an activity even determined skeptics often care to engage in. Denial of God’s truth is more often manifest as a capitulation to indulgences that appeal to our selfish desires or a tacit failure to speak or act against evil or falsehood. Often rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work is clearly a triumph of human self-governance over God’s will. We want our way, God’s approval not excepted. Other things take priority in life, and little by little, God is squeezed out. Repentance for giving in to this temptation should be a regular part of our confession.

Into this milieu of complexity and spiritual struggle the cry of Palm Sunday goes up, “Hosanna, Lord save!” Lord, save us from rampant materialism in this age. Lord, save us from the skepticism and doubt that tears away the anchor of our souls. Lord, save us from denying your truth because of shame or fear. Lord, save us from addiction, depression and loss of hope. Lord, save us from loss of compassion for the unborn, the elderly, and the most vulnerable of society. Lord, save us from idolatry of persons and things.

Lord, grant depth to our devotion. Give stability to witness. Lord, increase our passion for your truth. Lord you were crowned with thorns that we might be crowned with eternal life. Make us worthy heirs of your sacred treasures. In all these petitions Christ does not fail us. He is the incarnate love of God. He rode a donkey, not a stallion; wore a crown of thorns not a crown of gold. He did not shrink back from bearing your sins and mine to the cross. He dealt death its fatal blow. He opened the gates of heaven to all repentant sinners who take refuge in Him.

The parents of a five-year-old daughter girl named Lindsay overheard her telling her little friend about Jesus. The children were sitting on the front steps of the house, and the parents tiptoed up to the window to see and hear better. Lindsay told her friend that Jesus had forgiven her sins and if she believed in Him she would go to heaven. The little girl was convinced, and said a prayer of thanks to God. When she was done praying, she looked up at Lindsay and asked, "Will my mother be in heaven too?" Lindsay thought for a moment and replied, "Yeah, if she believes in Jesus. But if you don't want her there, don't tell her about Him!"

Still, such possessiveness exists. St. Matthew says, “When the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked Him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, ‘from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”5 Yes, out of the mouths of babes!

Christ is still the Lord of the church. Let us not be ashamed to follow a crucified Saviour. Let us not be embarrassed to worship the Servant King. The Lord of compassion welcomes those who are humble in heart. He raises us above strictly worldly concerns. You are not baptized into a kingdom of this world. You do not partake at this altar of cultural or earthly food. You need not wait to be surprised by God’s blessings. Always, the living Christ is with you.

Fittingly, the resurrection soon became the most important expression of joy in the early church. Once recovered from their stupor and enlightened by the Holy Spirit those early believers made Sunday the new Sabbath. They understood creation had been remade and restored. On the seventh day of creation God rested. But on the first day of the week, the eighth day, the dawn of the new era, He redeemed that lost creation. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! “6 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Palm Sunday
17 April, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 18:38 2 Mark 15:30
3 Luke 23:34 4 John 18:36
5 Matthew 21:15-16 6 Matthew 21:9

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Midweek Lenten Sermon 13 April 2011

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

Text: 1 John 1:7
Theme: Cleansed With Blood

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Forgiveness is not easy. Oh yes, if we decide there is little at stake for us, then forgiveness is easy. If we’re not really hurt or damaged or inflicted with personal pain the duty to forgive someone can be a comfortable process. But in these cases forgiveness isn’t nearly so essential or restorative. The presupposition of seeking and granting forgiveness is the fact that a wrong has been committed and recognized and restoration is needed. Something has caused separation and reconciliation is required. Fear has been induced and trust needs to be regained. Then the work begins.

Tonight’s image is about blood and the source of forgiveness. Blood is the divine currency of our redemption. It speaks to the supremacy of forgiveness. Do we casually assume that it is easy for God to forgive? Do we think that because He is God it is a trivial and simple matter? Dear friends, procuring divine forgiveness was an excruciatingly arduous task. How exactly that is is unknowable to us. But this we do know: Jesus Christ hung upon the cross and cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”1 “[God] did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.”2 “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”3

Many question the need for such a strong emphasis on forgiveness. Did the people of biblical times have a pre-occupation with sin? Did they worry too much about spiritual matters? To others the historical chasm seems too great to overcome. Time and distance are thought to be barriers too large to get past. Jesus was then. We are now. Creation is past. Creatures are present. The ancients were darkened. We are enlightened. Such thinking governs the contemporary, scientific, and rational collective intellect. The prehistoric past is dismissed as the age of superstition. The present lauded as the age of reason. They had fear and fantasy. We have self-reliance and evidence.

That’s a fine illusion until you stand at the threshold of death. Call then upon your science, your humanism, and philosophy. Barter your good deeds and your selfless intentions with the consuming darkness. Convince yourself that sin and forgiveness don’t matter. Suddenly the bedrock of human certainty and accomplishment crumbles away like a child’s sand castle washed over by a gentle wave. All the components of our exalted system of human genius are pulled apart like tiny particles of sand absorbed into a vast ocean of uncertainty. Who can speak about the powers of death except Him who has conquered it? In the lower left of this painting the risen Christ is treading on death and Satan. No one else could do it. In this victory the believer participates by faith.

The gospel is always contemporary. It puts us in contact with the living Christ. Time and distance are not barriers to the Holy Spirit. If Christ lives and He is immortal than of what concern is time and space? His promise is as effective for you now as it was for the saints in the past. In this picture the artist stands under the shower of Christ’s blood. It is a unique and powerful image. The Scripture says, “This is the one who came by water and blood- Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”4 He came that you might be cleansed from your deepest, darkest deeds.

There was a pastor named Timothy Brown who never got along well with his congregation. But they all turned out for his very last service and hope of reconciliation was in the air. In his last sermon, he quoted from John 14, "In my Father's house are many rooms…I go there to prepare a place for you." That ended the sermon and the service. It seemed to be a gracious conclusion to His ministry, an olive branch. It was not until several days later that the congregation learned that Pastor Brown had left to be the pastor at the state penitentiary. "In my Father's house are many rooms…I go to prepare a place for you."

Forgiveness is not easy. Our sinful natures always want reconciliation on their own terms just as a selfish faith wants to have the blessings of the inheritance without having a living relationship with God. This, of course, is really no faith at all. You can’t simply show up at the reading of the will. You can’t you have the blessings of marriage without having a spouse. You can’t appreciate parenthood without having a child. You can’t be snatched from the gates of hell without being transported to God’s presence in heaven.

Childish ideas about eternity must go. Jesus is not the chief tour guide of a celestial entertainment mecca. He is not there to provide the fulfillment of every indulgent request- such ideas won’t even cross our minds then. He Himself and the entire company of heaven are the all-sufficient activity of the next life. We will be more than contentedly occupied just to be in the presence of the Holy Trinity. Christ IS the enjoyment of eternal life!

We must believe that now by faith. Take Him at His word. The blood of the cross accomplished the cleansing of your soul. The guilt of your sins was buried at your baptism. Return there in humility and trust. The Holy Spirit will greet you. Bend not just your knee but your heart at His altar. There He will feed you with His own divine life. Yes, your body still needs to pass through the portal of death. But your soul goes unhindered to Him who is the resurrection and the life. Amen.

1 Psalm 22:1
2 Romans 8:32
3 1 John 1:7
4 1 John 5:6

+ in nomine Jesu +

Midweek Lenten Service 13 April 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt