Monday, December 31, 2012

First Sunday After Christmas (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 2:49
Theme: From the Manger to the Temple

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Spirit always nurtures the faith He conceives. And though it involves mystery, He doesn’t do it magically because it never happens independently from the truth about Christ. That is, our faith is never nourished autonomously, never through our own ingenuity, never without His means. As our appointed readings transition us from the manger to the temple let us be mindful that our faith only matures as it follows Christ, never when it settles in the place of our choosing.

The evangelist Luke moves us quickly from the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem to the family residence in Nazareth. Aside from the family’s flight to Egypt, and their evasion of King Herod and his murderous plan as recorded in Matthew, we know virtually nothing about the childhood of Jesus. Our lone insight is the material of today’s gospel. At age twelve Jesus accompanied his parents to the annual Passover Feast in Jerusalem. One of the three great celebrations on the Jewish liturgical calendar it was expected that faithful Jews within reasonable distance would make the journey. The family of Jesus was no exception.

The Passover celebration reminded the Jews of God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt. In the final plague God sent the angel of death to strike down the firstborn of both men and beasts. Only those were spared who had the lamb’s blood over the doorframes of their houses. To be held in perpetual remembrance the Passover’s meaning was meticulously taught to each new generation. It was a central part of the identity of God’s people. This history was the background for John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”1

Joseph and Mary are now served notice about the future of their maturing son. “Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?”2 Remember that Mary had been pondering all these things in her heart.3 Still, the Bible says, “They did not understand what He was saying to them.”4 Even Jesus’ parents needed time to begin to really appreciate the destiny of their son. We have the hindsight of history and do we fare better? Is the temptation to make Christmas mainly about us not stronger than ever? Christmas doesn’t eliminate the need for repentance but lends to it hope and purpose.

Will you leave go of those things that are not really gifts, but idols? Do you see that you are not really owners of all your possessions but stewards- including your time and talents? You are custodians of God’s blessings meant not for abuse but for the well-being of your neighbour. Do you realize our most entrancing idols are often not physical objects but ambitions of the will? Whether it involves pride, or image, or control the sinful nature seeks to unseat God from His rightful place. Our picture of sin often involves obvious transgressions- immorality of all sorts, dishonesty, theft, slander, violence- yet these are the symptoms. The source is our insistence of having our own way. Perhaps more of our repentance should be aimed at our attitudes as opposed to the obvious offences?

So do not underestimate the stubbornness of your own will. Our agendas, spiritual and otherwise, become quite intractable- but we don’t see it. Believe that it is something you don’t have the power to correct on your own. It requires the Holy Spirit. It requires the superhuman power of God’s Word. Egotism is recognized only in the mirror of the law. Whenever our sins become trivial in our own eyes we can be certain they are very major to God. The more trifling our view of sin the more compromised our spiritual condition. Pride is not a sporadic problem that is easily brushed aside. It is endemic in human nature and has pathological symptoms.

But just when you think your repentance is good enough- you’ve wrestled with anguish of conscience. You find out that absolution isn’t at all contingent or proportional. Now we must be clear, the stubborn and ungrateful heart forfeits God’s grace. For the unrepentant there is only one message: turn from your sin because you are under God’s condemnation. The door to heaven is locked. Grace is a gift that cannot be acquired on our own terms.

But the conscience that trembles with fear over sins great or small never fails to find mercy at the throne of grace. The person who fears he can never be good enough; she can never impress God; the person who despairs of his or her own spiritual merits- this person can be assured the grace of God is meant for them. The forgiveness of Jesus Christ is freely offered with no strings attached. You are declared righteous completely independently from your input. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of the Emmanuel. There is no power of darkness that can finally prevail over you.

And these truths have consequences. St. Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.”5
What a privilege it is to know we need not be enslaved to the agendas and mindsets of the world. We have confidence that in His time and in His way God looks after our every need. He cradles us in the infancy of our physical and spiritual lives and He carries us through the grave.

Today the boy Jesus has gone from the manger to the temple. He is already questioning the scholars. Yet is He any closer to being the image prophesied and so clearly referenced at Christmas: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?”6
Jesus would go to the temple again. He would overturn the tables of the money-changers. He would rebuke those who turned it into an opportunity for profit, for self-interest. Yet when He offered up His own life for the forgiveness of sins the holy of holies was not in the temple but at the cross.

Dear friends, as His body was rent in death the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The door to heaven was now open. The Israelites consumed the Passover lamb. It was their communion with God and assurance of His blessing. Marked by the blood of the Lamb we also consume it as our source of life. We receive spiritual and immortal food. By this means the Holy Spirit nurtures our faith. By this same means He leads us to eternity.

One of the dangers of Christmas is that Jesus becomes not an object of worship but of magnetic charm. This is both the power and liability of cuteness in infancy. But faith must mature with the maturing Christ. The miracle of Christmas would come to fruition only after Jesus was no longer cradled by the wood of the manger but fastened to the wood of the cross. His mission was not to perpetuate a ‘cult of infancy adoration’, but to resolve the very mature crises of life and death. He came to face the power sin and hell head-on. His resurrection gives the title ‘Immanuel’ new meaning. Glory to God in the highest! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Christmas
30 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:29
2 Luke 2:49
3 See Luke 2:19
4 Luke 2:50
5 Colossians 3:12-14
6 Isaiah 9:6

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Day (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 2:7
Theme: A Breach Birth

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is not abstract in His power or being. Christmas is evidence of this fact. Everything has a context. Nothing exists in a vacuum. The love of God can only be understood in the humanity of Jesus. A small Judean town was the backdrop for the most significant birth announcement in the history of the world. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”1 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”2

Jesus’ birth was a breach. It was a breach of unprecedented magnitude. Through the womb of a humble virgin the architect of the universe breached the barrier between a holy God and sinful humanity. He traversed the boundary of the created sphere not with His omniscience but in human flesh and blood. He came not on a mission of reconnaissance but to set up tenancy. He came not to visit but to dwell. He came not to inspect His creation but to reclaim it, redeem it, and restore it. He came to hang from a cross.

Human logic deems it to be inconceivable. It doesn’t seem possible. How can this one man be the Redeemer of the world? How can your eternal future be secured by the birth, death, and resurrection of one human being! Yes, there is a long succession of miracles: A virgin birth, healing the blind, lame, deaf and mute, calming the seas, walking on their surface, commanding demons; capped by His own bodily resurrection from the dead. Still, the Holy Spirit must teach us that the one Man, this infant of Bethlehem died for me and my salvation. Only faith can enter here. In baptism faith is conceived in the human heart in a manner parallel to Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb. The Holy Spirit is the father of such mysteries.

It can be debated whether our modern celebrations of Christmas are a help or a hindrance to our spiritual well-being. Easily lost is the confronting truth that Christ came because we are sinners- and that to such an extent that we merit condemnation to hell. We are called to honest reflection. What dominates our Christmas agenda? Is it mainly about family, taking time out, or indulging? Are we more likely to counting our blessings or just pause from the mundaneness of our daily regime?

The devil doesn’t take holidays. When we get up in the morning Satan tempts us to prioritize the day based on selfishness. Who or what do we fear? What challenges do we face? What tensions do we hope to avoid? Are we driven by pride? Or greed? Or guilt? Do we turn the things we’d like to have into the things we believe we need or deserve? What is the end purpose of our day? Our week? Our year? Does the birth of the Prince of Peace change that? Does the imminence of His return in glory ever prick our conscience or even cross our minds?

The nativity story should be gripping because it speaks to that which makes us essentially human. The soft touch of a newborn’s skin, the vulnerability of its tiny frame evokes the fiercest desire in the human instinct to safeguard that which is precious and fragile. A parent’s love for a newborn is surely one of the purest that exists among humans. And such is the appeal for a holy child born in a cattle stall. The circumstances of Christ’s birth are worse than ordinary, they are nearly tragic, unbecoming of a future King. Yet the ChristChild is no victim of His circumstances. Rather, the context is determined by the Divine will. So profound is the love of God that He deemed it necessary to condescend to us in such humility. Only in this way could our trust in Him be grounded in absolute confidence that He can truly relate to our condition.

He continues to dwell in and with humanity- the Creator with the created, the Immortal one with mortals. He comes, the bearer of light into darkness; the bringer of hope where there is doubt; the conveyer of peace where there is conflict. The tiny voice who cried as the animals rustled near His bed would one day call out as legions of darkness gathered near His cross. The bleat of God’s Lamb fell silent at the cross. The infant tears in a manger would swell to maturity as He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Yet His own tomb could not hold Him.

Christmas should always serve to recalibrate our perspective. We claw our way through life scraping together the world’s goods. We piece together some semblance of reputation and image. We tear and mend, and re-tear and re-mend our relationships. We steadfastly avoid ridicule, hurt and pain. We cloak our true motives with fashionable external activities. Our selfish and sinful sides are happy to receive Christmas as a distraction or opportunity for indulgence. Through it all we are prone to missing the truth that Christ didn’t come as a spiritual tonic or a therapist: He came to commiserate in His sacred role of substitution as only He could. He came to suffer.

Seldom is the nativity account seen as a call to understand suffering. That’s typically reserved for Lent. And yet the incarnation of God’s Son should both humble us and hearten us in our trials. Consider Luther’s words, “Think of it…the King of all creation in heaven and on earth, and of all creatures in them, lies there is such wretchedness…Why do I want to be so high and mighty that I never want to suffer anything? If the King of glory suffers as He does, for my sake, who do I think I am?” 3 Christ’s entrance into our human flesh is an entrance into our suffering.

The birth of Christ had context. Your life has a context. This is so spiritually and vocationally. You have and/or are a husband, wife, child, student, employer or employee. You have a sphere of influence among family and friends. You are a baptized child of God who learns at the Teacher’s feet and dines at the Master’s Table. You do these things in real time, among real people, in concrete settings. The truth of Christmas sanctifies even the most mundane activities we engage in.

Perhaps we’re so busy at this time of year trying to survive we don’t know what it means to thrive. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”4 Life in Christ is free, full, abundant, and bountiful. He is no miser. He is no Christmas Scrooge. So lavish and extravagant is the love the ChristChild embodies that the apostle exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!”5

The birth of Jesus Christ was a breach of Satan’s rule, sin’s power, hell’s terror and death’s supremacy. Today we celebrate; not alone, not only with families, but with all the faithful, living and departed, and the whole host of angelic beings. “Glory to God in the highest”6 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:11
2 Luke 2:14
3 House Postils
4 John 10:10
5 1 John 3:1
6 Luke 2:14

Christmas Eve (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 2:13
Theme: A Great Company

Dear Worshippers at the Manger,

Christmas is an event that marks an expansion of God’s love. The waiting for God is over. The form and substance of divine love is revealed in the person and work of Jesus- Emmanuel, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, Saviour, King of kings and Lord of lords. Born in the quiet Judean town of Bethlehem, crucified in the bustling city of Jerusalem His coming is nevertheless Good News for the entire world. The human nature of Jesus made evident at the manger is the same nature the risen Christ rules with in eternity. Christmas demonstrates the Son of God’s true solidarity with humanity.

There is point, plan, and purpose in the Father’s sending of His Son. He is sent to sinners. He came not as a reward for our godliness but as a ransom price of our wickedness. He came not for novelty or spectacle but from compulsion and compassion. He could not bear to see us perishing in our self-absorption. He came in humility and sacrifice precisely for souls characterized by those four descriptives of the apostle in Romans chapter 1: senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless1. We are those souls. He came as light into our darkness.

One of the things that makes the Christmas story so engaging is the characters; peasant parents, simple shepherds, entrancing angels. Many people would secretly love to have personal encounters with angels. Sometimes the fascination is almost palpable. But the Christmas narrative is grounded in historical realism with communal implications. The cattle trough veils a reality that far exceeds our personal spheres of interest. Do you think any angel that approaches you could bear a more important message than Gabriel did that night? Can you ask for better news than that of a Saviour born to bear sins? Let us never reduce the witness of Scripture below the personal experience we desire. Our confidence rests not in the fluctuating appraisals of our feelings but in God’s truth that stands written. Our moods are governed by time and context; God’s Word endures for eternity.

God’s entrance into the world through Bethlehem is a universal event. The Holy Spirit extends the invitation to Jew and Gentile alike. All preferences defined by status and right are transcended by the gospel. Baptism is instituted for all. The Scripture says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared”2 to every man, woman, and child, the aged and the unborn, the privileged and the vulnerable. Like the “great company of the heavenly host”3 on that first Christmas Eve God seeks to bring many lambs into His fold. Our mindset at Christmas should be reflected accordingly. At Christmas do we seek to enlarge our company of friends? Or do we pull the circle tighter to include only family and those closest to us?

The mandate of Christmas often comes across in formula-like style: Dote like Mary, worship like wisemen, sing like angels, go and tell like shepherds. It’s persuasive in its simplicity. If only we’re mindful of replicating all these actions then God is glorified and there is peace on earth- or at least for our consciences. If only each year we can come to a closer representation then our Christian obedience will be validated and the Good News will be spread far and wide! Beware, dear friends, of making the fleeting sentimentality of Christmas the measure of your Christian life. It might be a little like gauging your marriage by that first passionate kiss or assessing your health by the one visit to the doctor you had some time back.

The import of Christmas is not that we remember but that we are remembered. Christ came for the long haul. He leapt into the fray. He is present in our suffering as well in our joy. He attends us while agitated and when at peace. When we are alone He either marshals a great company of companions or He alone remains our trusted confidant as befits the circumstance. He cheers us when all earthly means fail. He maintains hope long after we’ve given up. He prefigures life when death draws near. The ChristChild, a small, fragile infant is the embodiment of God’s expansive and invincible love. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Nativity of Our Lord- Christmas Eve
24 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See Romans 1:31
2 Titus 2:11
3 Luke 2:13

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fourth Sunday Of Advent (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 1:41
Theme: A New Temple

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The mercy of God is constant and His ways cannot be manipulated by humans. Always wanting to tinker, the sinful human ego will still make no progress trying to influence the methods of the Almighty. Christian maturity involves learning to appreciate that God’s ways are not only best; they are truly liberating. Advent points us to the final emancipation from sin, Satan, death, and hell. Christmas reminds us of the humble beginnings that will one day give way to dramatic conclusions.

For a span of nine months, at the dawn of a new age, the most holy place was not in the Jerusalem temple, not in the synagogue, not in the palace of the high priest, not in any sacred shrine; it was in the womb of a humble virgin named Mary. This is the unassuming beginning of the revelation of God-in-the-flesh. What higher honour could be bestowed on any human being than to be the mother of the Son of God? In His infinite wisdom the Almighty chose a humble woman from a small Judean town to bring the Messiah into the world.

Startled by the visit of the angel Gabriel Mary was understandably full of fear and perplexity. How overwhelming it must have been. To what degree did she understand what it meant? Mary now becomes a symbol of the church and her faith a model for all who would enter therein. Every human soul enters the church only through repentance and faith. The Scripture says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”1

The conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary sanctifies every life in every womb in every age. Life is sacred because God the Father has created it to be so and God the Son has come to redeem it. Despite the cry for rights and freedoms in modern democracy or the discoveries of modern medicine God still has jurisdiction over human life. It is arrogant and dangerous to usurp His authority. It invites His wrath. It is therefore the solemn privilege of the Christian church to make prayerful intersession on behalf of every mother or couple contemplating an abortion. It is the duty of the faithful to tenderly support all who are traumatized by regret. Far from being a taboo subject during this sacred time it is very appropriately an implication of His incarnation. Christmas is about hope for those who are most vulnerable. Who are more vulnerable than the unborn, the aged or the incapacitated? God Himself will come to their aid. He leaves no one destitute.

Dear friends, as the words of the prophets come to fulfillment and the old covenant is absorbed by the new we see a shift in the presence and activity of God. In the time of the patriarchs the revelations of God were ad hoc- when and where He pleased. When Jacob was at Bethel he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. He said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”2 At the burning bush God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”3

But then God took up residence. The people crossed into the promised land. God said, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit…to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name- there you are to bring everything I command you.”4 God could be found in the tabernacle, then in the temple in the holy of holies. When Isaiah saw the angels circling the throne of God the Scripture says, “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook.”5 Isaiah’s vision had crossed the threshold into the holy of holies.

But the threshold of the temple is now no longer traversed by the high priest bearing blood. The infant of Bethlehem and prophet of Nazareth says to His Father, “‘Here I am, I have come to do Your will’…and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”6 His humiliation effects our exaltation. What does it mean for us?

It means all the humanly-invented means of acquiring God’s favour are laid to rest. The approaches we devise to cross the threshold into the divine are obsolete. Our piety, our knowledge, our generosity, even our pleading or tears cannot penetrate the divine presence. Our best negotiations have no effect. But gone too is the burden. Gone is the fear. Gone are the hopelessness, doubt and despair. Gone is the terror of the sinner cowering before the righteous judgment of God. God is not aloof or inaccessible. He has come to us. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us! “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.”7

Jesus now says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”8 He is the only access into God’s eternal kingdom. The Redeemer says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; He has crossed over from death to life.”9 The portal to heaven is now precisely as narrow as Jesus’ body. And for the contrite sinner that means it extends far beyond our vision of the horizon.

When God speaks His word of grace the hinges creak as the door to heaven opens wide. When Christ forgives we are drawn right past the threshold into the eternal love of the Trinity. When the Holy Spirit comforts we are calmed not by the voice of One who thunders from a distance but by the close presence of Him who cradles us with compassion.

Moses was told to take off His sandals. We need only to undress our egos. The wisemen bore precious treasures. We need only leave our transgressions. The shepherds were honoured above emperors. The baptized are honoured above the high and mighty of the world.
When you are called to the remembrance of your baptism you are transported again under the protection of His Name. When you kneel here at the railing you are kneeling at the gate of heaven. When you receive His body and blood in, with, and under that bread and wine Christ promises to dwell with you- the Holy One with the sinner. The shepherds left not with presents but with faith. And faith cannot keep silent.

Today we join with Mary in rejoicing that she was the provisional temple of the Son of God. Crucified, risen, ascended, and enthroned, when He comes again it will be neither to the manger, nor the temple, nor to establish one. He will come to resurrect the faithful to a scene and celebration that far excels anything we will experience this Christmas, or ever. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
23 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 3:36
2 Genesis 28:17
3 Exodus 3:5
4 Deuteronomy 12:8-11
5 Isaiah 6:4
6 Hebrews 10:9-10
7 Luke 2:10-11
8 John 10:7
9 John 5:24

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday Of Advent (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 3:10-14
Theme: Advent Opportunities

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God never squanders opportunities. He never relies on guesswork. Everything He does is always purposeful in Christ. Today John the Baptist continues his preaching of repentance. His message is urgent. “The ax is already at the root of the trees”1preparing to cut them down. The crowds are stirred up. They begin to query him. What does his preaching mean? How does one prepare for the coming Christ? He answers their questions to very practical effect. Faith shows itself in deeds.

Here John shows great skill in His ability to convey God’s truth. He is an expert surgeon. He sharpens the knife- the double-edged sword of God’s word- and begins to make curative incisions. Each individual’s sin has particular tendencies. This often relates to the opportunities that lay before us. He warns the tax-collectors to not take advantage of their position by over-charging even though it was something they could get away with legally. He warns the soldiers not to use their power to coerce citizens. He is most severe with the Pharisees who were abusing their spiritual influence. All were myopic and required the mirror of God’s law to see their faults.

The implications for us are transparent. In our vocations each of us has unique opportunities. Those opportunities can be selfishly used to gain some advantage over others. Those opportunities can be ignored. Or they can be used to seek the well-being of the neighbour. Repentance has tangible manifestations. It has concrete expressions. Because the heart has been acted upon daily attitudes and activities are transformed. We are not Platonists, aspiring to idealistic values but showing no evidence in our lives.

This is a reflection of the life-giving presence of Christ among us. The birth of Jesus Christ wasn’t a virtual reality. It isn’t a cleverly devised legend now accompanied by impressive computer-generated images. It’s not archived in some dusty Bible or electronic depository and retrieved each year to give our Christmas celebrations some focus. He stood among us in flesh and blood- God incarnate! He healed the sick, calmed the waves, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. We have an unbroken succession of witnesses to His name. His sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection finally alters reality. Death’s power has a use-by date. Death will become obsolete! The resurrection awaits us. That is the hope of advent.

We can now live as reflections of that truth. But as John warns that doesn’t give us license to exploit others or expect God will cater to our every whim. Christianity doesn’t make our lives more comfortable. It gives them ultimate purpose. So we must learn to identify and contest the modern tendency to think that people of faith receive special accommodation from God. It’s a misunderstanding to believe Christians should receive some kind of ‘exemption’ from trials.

Many like to think that their difficulties are exceptional. Here Satan plants a very arrogant lie in our hearts. We think we are worthy of special notice, special attention, special sympathy because our plight is somehow more severe than that of others. God should attend to us first! But do you think you are the first person ever to struggle? Is Job your peer? Have you broken new ground?

Dear friends, many people can sympathize with our struggles. Others have been through the hard knocks of life too. Showing compassion is something Christians should learn to excel at. A fewer number can empathize because they have faced something similar. They can relate. But only one-only Christ- can fully understand the depth and range of human hardship, temptation and sorrow. Only Christ, the infant of Bethlehem, the scapegoat on Calvary, and the victor over death’s power was an irrefutably obedient human being. We possess Adam’s nature in its fallen state. Christ is the New Adam who restores human nature to its original excellence.

So to say that Christ knows you- especially your flaws, and failings- is something much more than claiming He possesses complete information about you. Even a comprehensive accounting of all the events of your life is not what we mean. Christ lived for you. He endured the best Satan could throw at Him. He suffered the harrowing pains of separation from God the Father- a profound anguish that no believer will ever experience. No one can ‘prove’ that to you by any means that are acceptable to human logic. The Holy Spirit teaches it by faith. He says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”2 And again, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”3

Christ understands your mortality. He understands all the vulnerabilities of your humanity because you were baptized into His death and resurrection. You inherited your sinful nature from Adam but you are gifted with true righteousness from Christ. Baptismal water is more powerful than Adam’s blood. Jesus promises you a much different inheritance.

One of the great mysteries of Christianity is this: Christ was resolved to leave heaven to live with sinners. This was previewed in the circumstances of His birth. How many nobles and high officials were at the manger? The wisemen came later to the house. The heavenly hosts announced the Messiah’s birth but the shepherds were hardly ambassadors of society’s elite. No representative from the temple was present. No high priest. No Pharisee or Sadducee.

Christ dwells only with sinners who understand themselves as such. He left the company of angelic beings to associate with sinful mortals. We can scarcely appreciate what a profound miracle that is. If you are seeking miracles look no further than the stable. Look no further than the cross. If you want to participate in this greatest of mysteries then come to Holy Communion. The infant cradled in Bethlehem has been crowned King in the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet even now He dwells with you through His word and Spirit.

The apostle Paul comforts the faithful with these familiar words today, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”4 What does it mean to have your heart and mind guarded by the peace of God? Is it not the assurance that though the world would hurl all its fury at you, you nevertheless stand in the righteousness of Christ- still holy and blameless! His promises are not new. The prophet said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”5 He misses no opportunity. Rejoice all you who languish in darkness, Immanuel has come to you. Come, Lord Jesus, Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday of Advent
16 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 3:9
2 Hebrews 12:4
3 1 Corinthians 10:13
4 Philippians 4:7
5 Zephaniah 3:17

Monday, December 10, 2012

Second Sunday of Advent (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 3:1-6
Theme: Advent Perspectives

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Perspectives matter. Your point-of-reference is often vital information. It makes a big difference whether you witnessed the car wreck from the street corner or you were in the car that crashed. Spiritual perspectives are important too. Sometimes it’s good to ponder the grand questions. Is God in heaven or is heaven in God? Did Christ come from heaven or does heaven accompany Him? Is the Spirit among us or does He dwell within us? The answer is not always either/or, but a matter of perspective.

Advent intends to focus our perspective. What is our status before God? What things do we value? How do we prioritize our lives? John the Baptist is a key figure of advent. A cousin of Jesus He was chosen to be the herald of a new era. Sent not to the temple but to the wilderness His prophetic ministry was a call to remembrance for the Jews who held in their collective consciousness the desert wanderings of the exodus. It was also an embodiment of the Christian’s call to bear the cross in a world that is often akin to a spiritual desert. John was gifted with an eternal perspective.

John’s mission had been foretold long before. We heard Malachi give the abrupt decree earlier, “See, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple…But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire.”1
A universal message, the Holy Spirit intends that every human being face head-on the coming day of reckoning. Neither the cleverest, nor the most proud, nor the most elusive will be able to escape that cosmic event.

No wonder repentance is a key theme of advent. From that perspective what could be more immediately relevant than one’s status before God? What value could be placed on acquiring the righteousness of Christ? Are believers who are counted as being righteous for Christ’s sake also made righteous by His dwelling within us? Is there not some sense in which God’s perspective is not yet our reality? Yes, this is wrapped up in the mystery of Christ’s presence and work. The Christian is truly reconciled, forgiven, righteous, sinless, holy, and saintly in God’s eyes. God promises to assess us through the cross. Yet on this side of the resurrection we are still utterly sinful, corrupt, and immoral in and of ourselves. This is the paradox of our existence. A paradox which we learn to cherish but one which also drives us to our knees.

Our righteous status before God is not just imaginary because we are still sinners. The believer is crucified with Christ in baptism. The Holy Spirit orchestrates a very real conversion; granting faith where there was unbelief and humility where there was only selfishness. The Bible says, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.”2 Here the apostle speaks not of theoretical possibilities but of accomplished facts. Our rescue is a reality founded on Christ’s sacrificial work.

As Luke notes in his description of the ministry of John the Baptist, this reality of salvation has very tangible, transformative effects on believers’ lives. The Holy Spirit germinates faith and it immediately begins to grow. It happens through the divine power of the Word. Remember Paul’s petition today. He says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”3 The apostle prays the Philippians’ love may abound in knowledge and depth of insight. He wants them to mature in their Christianity.

Our faith expands and deepens as we face temptations, challenges, doubts, and fears, and turn again and again to His promises. Our faith grows in the soil of adversity. This applies to our repentance too. Sorrow for sins is not only a guttural reaction to being ‘caught out’, shamed, or convicted; it involves a maturing realization that despite our best efforts we are in desperate need of God’s grace at all times. We never grow out of the need to repent. We rather grow into it as our faith matures. We see that the way of the cross is the only road to God. We learn that Christian wisdom is not cherished by the world except where it provides some temporal benefit.

Perspectives matter. Our view from inside the church is different than someone on the outside. We may be content with our knowledge and living of the faith but how does it come across to those on the outside? Do we appear to them as apathetic or unknowledgeable? Can we reason through complex issues from a Christian viewpoint? Can we articulate clearly? Just because we know the fundamentals doesn’t mean we should stop learning. Like learning the piano we can’t play the tune unless we learn the notes and we certainly can’t improvise or compose.

Of course, some have the gift of being able to play by ear. They don’t read the notes at all. There is an analogy here too. We learn the faith by imitation. Others witness to us and we follow their lead. St. Paul said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice.”4 And again, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”5 Some are better at following than others. But if you can’t read the notes it will do you no good to have a score of music put before you that you have never heard.

Perspectives matter. Standing on the moon gives a different perspective of earth. Only a few have witnessed it. Hanging from the cross Christ had a unique perspective of the world. His perspective was unique because He hung there as a sinless man surveying an utterly sinful humanity. He hung there as the Son of God on behalf of the children of God and unbelievers too. He was suspended between earth and heaven to make a new and living way into the presence of the Father. His is the way of dynamic and unconditional love. We participate in His love every time we receive His body and blood. Soon we will bow our hearts before the infant in the manager. As well we should. But let us rejoice in the divine perspective: He points us forward to the mature Christ reigning in eternity. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Advent
9 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Malachi 3:1-2
2 Colossians 1:13
3 Philippians 1:9-10
4 Philippians 4:9
5 1 Corinthians 11:1

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Sunday of Advent (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 21:25-28
Theme: Storm before the Calm

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Relief is on the way. And though we do not know exactly when it will arrive Advent reminds us to be watchful. Advent intends to foster in the believer a healthy sense of the expectation of the return of Christ. Today is the First Sunday of Advent. It is the beginning of the Church Year. Advent means ‘coming’. During this short season we continue to focus on the promised return of Christ who comes to judge and redeem.

Advent is a season for preparation. An excellent time to do a spiritual inventory, it calls us to repentance and humility. Caught between the pull of worldly indulgences and the tug of God’s word advent brings the full gravity of Christ’s incarnation to bear. He who came in the humility of human flesh will return in glory to fully abolish all the consequences of sin in our lives. Think of the implications: All the influences of sin will be resolved. No sickness, no penalty, no pain, no death. There will be no more worry, no more anxiety, no more fear.

All these troubles we must live with in the here and now because of the fractured relationship between God and humanity. A fault line that runs right back to the Garden of Eden, it opens up over the very pit of hell when sin reaches its maturity. Of course as opportunists we’d like to claim we are only victims of Adam’s fall or society’s unfairness. But we have our own guilt to bear. The law condemns us unconditionally, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”1 Advent is always a call to repentance. We will face the judge. Remember how our Scripture today describes the distress of the end, “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”2

Advent is also a reminder of how easily we take for granted God’s mercies every day. We tend to treat Him as an optional Deity: credit Him when we are happy, blame Him when we are not. Question Him when we are hurting. But do you think that in the most challenging trials of your life God is not present? Do you think He is otherwise occupied or indifferent? That is exactly what Satan would like you to think. How could God allow it? Or, how could He not? We can’t have it both ways. Can we fail to credit God for good and yet still blame Him for hardship? Can we complain when we are hurting and not thank Him when we are blessed? Job rebuked his wife saying, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”3

Doubters will sit back and say they have no use for God in their lives. Faith is too restrictive or too irrational. They have seen too much suffering. They have witnessed too much hypocrisy on the part of His supposed followers. They may be hot with anger or numb with heartache. They’ll take their chances- they say. Advent announces the odds are not in their favour. God’s judgment is not a mathematical probability. It’s not like forecasting the weather. But even if such a mindset is granted the downside risk is immeasurable. Who will risk meeting the Almighty face to face in bold defiance? Who will challenge His authority to judge?

Yet we should not write-off conversations with the naysayers as being of no use to us. Theirs is the kind of skepticism, (and even resentment), that can help with clarification. In the end we either stand on the premise that God in Christ is peerless, or we are involved in the saddest kind of deception, intentional or not. Either He is to be revered or worshipped or we are found to be idolaters. Either this Christ has come, did die for sins, and was seen after His resurrection, or we have a remarkable record of false witnesses to account for. Either our faith will grow in humility and respect expressed in genuine concern for others, or we are just glossing our words and actions with pious overtones in order to appear more sympathetic or sanctimonious than others.

Yes, there are still vexing questions. Why does God work as He does? We are not privy to the details. One person is healed while another is taken. One family experiences tragedy while another lives carefree. One person suffers loss while another prospers. All this makes God appear unpredictable, almost fickle. How can He avoid the verdict of favoritism! Logic cannot answer these mysteries and only faith can endure them. Sometimes God loves the individual at what appears to be the expense of the greater community. Other times the individual seems to suffer on behalf of the common good.

Dear friends, we have confidence at the coming of the Lord because our ransom price has already been paid. The events of Christ’s life are not the stuff of fictional legend. He was lifted up on the cross; His blood shed for you and for me. He rose from the grave to guarantee our resurrections. He gives you the constant blessing of His body and blood. He reminds you that you are His baptized child.

Your baptism is worth more than all the financial security the world has to offer. It is the means by which the reconciliation accomplished by Jesus’ death becomes personally applicable to you. The advent Messiah enters your life at baptism and from that point on accompanies your journey with Him. Never merely a reference point in the past your baptism is like a well that continues to flow with the water of forgiveness. Every Sunday the power of the font is applied to you when your sinful nature is drown in the confession of sins and you are given a new lease on life in the promise of absolution.

His life we share together as we await His coming in glory. The Holy Spirit unites our hearts and teaches us compassion for those who still live in darkness. Note the personal and tender, but also passionate words of St. Paul to the believers, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you…May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.”4
Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday of Advent
2 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 3:23
2 Luke 21:26
3 Job 2:10
4 1 Thessalonians 3:9, 12-13

Monday, November 26, 2012

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B) 2012

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

Text: John 5:26-27
Theme: Authority to Raise the Dead

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The conquering of death is the definitive sign of Christ’s authority to judge. He received this authority from His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. On this Last Sunday of the Church Year our focus turns to Christ’s final judgment, the end of the world, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life. Christ comes to be our glorious and gracious King. At Christ’s Second Coming all of our hopes reach their fruition and believers receive their heavenly reward.

The end of the world has always been a topic of fascination for certain people. Not only does it lend itself to intrigue and speculation, it also has the capability of stirring unrest, even panic. Some think they are so skilled at reading the signs of the times or deciphering secret messages that they confidently predict the end of the world to the very day. Many well-meaning believers and even entire religious groups have been misled by such claims. These scenarios are nothing new.

The Lord’s teaching on the matter is clear and unequivocal: God alone knows the day when Christ will return. He has determined it. Believers should not be given to conjecture or burdened with speculation. We should not get caught up in unnecessary hype or spin. Yet there is great danger in being apathetic about Christ’s return. We are easily lulled into a sense of indefiniteness about the world’s existence. We experience change. We encounter joys and sorrows. We traverse through phases of prosperity and adversity. We see one generation give way to the next and we may falsely believe the cycle will endlessly continue. Moreover, if there is no sense of the immanence of Christ’s return we may be more likely to downplay the seriousness of sin. We become comfortable with our imperfections and simply “learn to live with them.” A sense of spiritual urgency can turn to lethargy.

Dear friends, if we are to take preparation for Christ’s return seriously we cannot overlook the fact that people often care very little about the forgiveness of sins. We cannot expect secular society to be interested but we must be aware how this attitude rubs off on us too. St. Paul warns, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God- I say this to your shame."”1 Genuine repentance and unwavering humility are hardly strong points of many who consider themselves to be Christians today. Perhaps we’re not good at addressing the negative feeling or shame that comes with true confession of sins. Often pride is just too great a mountain to climb.

Jeremiah strikes at the heart of the matter when he poses the question this way, “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”2 To this end we are taught to pray regularly- and especially in view of Christ’s pending return- for the Holy Spirit’s attention to our well-being. When the Scriptures are utilized He promises to be present; especially when absolution is declared and the sacraments are administered.

Of paramount significance in today’s gospel is the power of Jesus to raise the dead. “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it…for as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.”3 The resurrection of the dead is central to Christian teaching. So indispensable is this truth that all of Christian dogma falls down like a house of cards without it. The cardinal doctrine of the faith- that the sinner is justified by grace, through faith for Christ’s sake- becomes irrelevant when not validated by the resurrection. Any temporal benefits of Christ’s incarnation and passion would be relegated to the lessons of history. Jesus Christ would then truly be nothing more than a sage, moralist, or revolutionary of a by-gone era.

St. Paul makes the case as emphatically as it can be made in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…you are still in your sins…but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”4 This is not a trivial religious claim. It is not a pious crutch for those desperately clinging to a fool’s hope. Christ was publicly sacrificed for the sins of the world on Calvary. On the third day He appeared to His followers in His resurrected body. He will glory the bodies of the faithful and free them from sin. John refers to this in his address today, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.”5

Even as every Lord’s Day is a gathering of the baptized, so too the Last Day will be a gathering of all God’s people across the ages of time. Adam and Eve, the patriarchs, the apostles, prophets, and martyrs; men, women, and children of all ages, nations, and periods of history including those who still draw breath upon the earth- a countless host- will be assembled before Him. And the wicked too, a great throng allied with Satan and his angels will be summoned from their graves to bow before the Almighty. Then the judgment will commence and eternal separation between the righteous and the wicked will occur.

Though the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world will be an astounding spectacle, for believers it should come with no surprises. God has been preparing His people all along. There is a long history of deliverance all foreshadowing the final deliverance from death, sin, and hell. So there should be no shock revelations. But Satan will remain subtle to the end.

A New York City businessman once decided to avoid a service charge by replacing the fluorescent light in the office himself. After he had smuggled a new light into his office and put it in place, he decided to get rid of the old tube by throwing it in the garbage bin near his subway stop. That night he got on the subway holding the seven-foot light vertically, with one end resting on the floor of the subway car. As the train became more crowded other passengers took hold of the tube, assuming it was a stanchion. By the time the man reached his stop, he simply removed his hand and exited the car, leaving the other passengers gripping the burnt out fluorescent tube!

Yes, many will be surprised on that Last Day. They will find out they have been holding onto the hollow and dark promises of the world. They will find out the light of their false hopes and dreams has gone out. Their supports will crumble away. But believers will find their journey through the darkness of this existence has ended. The radiant light of the Son of God will shine upon us. Freed from our sins, endless joy and peace will characterize our fellowship with Him. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Last Sunday of the Church Year
25 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 15:33-34
2 Lamentations 3:39-40
3 John 5:21, 26
4 1 Corinthians 15:13, 14, 17, 20
5 Revelation 1:5
6 Matthew 6:26-27
7 Lutheran Hymnal #213, stanza 5
8 Isaiah 54:10

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 13:5-8
Theme: Upheaval to the End

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

People generally hate instability. It may seem obvious to say it. We all know how uneasy we feel when unexpected change has a negative impact on our life. But there is more to peoples’ dislike of uncertainty than convenience, selfishness, or self-preservation. Human beings were created for an orderly existence. We have an innate need for permanence. God is the source of everything that endures. A consequence of sin is the severing of humanity from God as the source of stability and life. This is true not only in a general sense but personally for us in every expression of rebellion against God in our lives. Quite simply, we suffer uncertainty and decay because we have been cut adrift from the God who preserves all things. The repentant person grieves this fact.

During His earthly sojourn Christ was seen as a destabilizer. He Himself said, “I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…”1 Yet this is a necessary consequence of His work in destroying the power of sin and the rule of Satan. Christ is in the process of reordering things. The major events towards that end have already occurred. In today’s gospel account Jesus begins teaching His disciples about the end times. There will be violence, turmoil, chaos and upheaval up to the very moment Christ returns. Though we pray and strive for peace and stability we can expect no Utopia on this earth. In addition there will continue to be earthquakes, famines and various catastrophes. These things are all symptoms, external evidence, of the struggle of His reordering. Through the eyes of faith we see- and in our hearts we believe- that Christ is instituting His kingdom.

The primary warning Jesus sounds for His disciples today has to do with deception. He is not speaking of the general dishonesty by which people seek to take advantage of one another. He does not have in mind the type of fraud by which people hope to gain riches. He refers specifically to those who make particular claims about being prophets, saviours, and messiahs. The unique role of Jesus Christ will continue to be contested. His indispensable identity as the One who is the “way and the truth and the life”2 will be challenged. More generally, all kinds of false teachings will be proffered both for personal gain and recognition and also out of ignorance and naivety. And some of the most subtle of falsehoods are tendered with the best of intentions.

No wonder we receive this encouragement today, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”3. Falsehood is often masked in a friendly face. In this way Satan is more effective in his temptations. Our Christian journey involves continual perseverance in the truth of God’s word even when it is unpopular in the world. As the ethics of secular society regarding sexuality and sanctity of life become more godless Christians will increasingly find themselves in the (sometimes unfamiliar) minority. Solidarity with one another is important.

The writer to the Hebrews continues, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”4 Already in the New Testament era some people were forsaking public worship. It was indicative of the waxing and waning of peoples’ devotion that characterizes the church right up to the present day. Many churches in the West currently suffer decline. Maybe this involves a purge necessary for her well-being. We are not made Christians by the labels we give to ourselves. Not everything is true to label. But God’s knowledge is infallible. He reads to heart.

The temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed in 70AD dealing a crushing blow to the identity of the Jewish nation. But the real temple to be concerned with was Jesus’ body. Overcome by death it was ‘rebuilt’ on the third day. Believers now identify with this temple-His body- participating baptismally through His death and resurrection. Now ascended and enthroned He will come again to finish His work. The Scripture describes it this way, “Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”5 You see, death is the mature expression of a creation unhitched from its Creator. And that’s exactly what Christ came to rectify. Once sin was atoned for Satan has no basis for accusation and death has only fleeting power.

Dear friends, living our faith does not come naturally. We might say we’re leaving certain things to God, but then scurry around frantically setting contingency plans in motion. Fret and worry gets the better of us. And what does the Shepherd say, “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? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”6 When we are at wits end, when the battle field of life is dark and grey, in the distance we see the faint glow of Easter morning and hear the chorus of angels. The hymn-writer says it beautifully, “And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph-song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.”7

Christianity is not primarily a moral paradigm. It is the reinstitution of a right relationship between God and sinners through Christ. Our morality follows from the righteous status Christ has bestowed on us by grace. Jesus was put to death on the cross for your sins and mine. He rose on Easter morning triumphing over death. Baptism gives you a permanent identity in His kingdom. The Holy Spirit not only seals you in this baptism, He enlightens you by the truth and sanctifies you in the word day to day- even every hour. He gives you access to the pardon and forgiveness offered in Holy Communion. These gifts accomplish true stability and permanence.

How much more upheaval will you see in your lifetime? Will you witness drastic changes? Will you suffer difficult tragedies? Who knows? But we do know the crucifixion shattered the power of sin. We do know that the decaying and declining reality we experience is not the pattern for the life to come. We do know the words of the Almighty will be fulfilled when He says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”8 God grant it for Christ’s sake, Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
18 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 10:35
2 John 14:6
3 Hebrews 10:23
4 Hebrews 10:24-25
5 1 Corinthians 15:24-27
6 Matthew 6:26-27
7 Lutheran Hymnal #213, stanza 5
8 Isaiah 54:10

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jan Manuel Funeral

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

Text: John 14:2-3
Theme: A Place…In His House

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Jan; Nicolle, Deb, Kerri; and especially you, John,

Here we are at a time we never thought could come so soon. But we are naïve to speculate about things which are the jurisdiction of the Almighty alone. Today we are witnesses to the power of death but He bids us to believe what we cannot yet see. Jan Manuel has been freed from the tyranny of death. She has been released from the cruelty of decay. She participates in the victory over sin. Love has conquered. Christ has triumphed. The resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of truth. Jan has crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. She has entered the heavenly Jerusalem. She has gone to the Father. She has come home. She is at rest.

It is no overstatement to call death a tyranny. It seeks total domination. The journey to life is hazardous. Sometimes death creeps in gradually, hardly noticeable; barely perceptible. For others death descends darkly and swiftly overcoming its victim. For Jan there wasn’t even time to come to terms with the shock of a terminal diagnosis. Her farewells to loved ones and friends were limited by the severity of her decline. No one should carry guilt for having missed the opportunity to give her a personal good-bye.

The suddenness with which she was afflicted is a warning to us all. Life is fragile. There are no guarantees. Each day is a gift. Ageing, decline, and decay; tragedy, disease and calamity are not the natural risks of human existence, they are the consequence of sin’s power. The world in which we live is not idyllic; it is fallen. It is not in jest that the Bible warns so many times and in so many ways to flee from the temptations and unbelief of the world and humbly repent before the Almighty God. We can be saved by His grace alone. There are no alternatives.

Following her initial diagnosis Jan was too shaken to attend church that Sunday. Human capacity has its limits. But God has His resources. He turns tragedy into opportunity. He sends aid to the afflicted. Ten year-old granddaughter Brailey came to her bedside with a printed copy of the sermon. Proficiently pushing through the big words she read to Jan the message of the day. It was no small example of how to order one’s priorities when facing mortality. God has something to say about death. No human opinions really matter.

The words of the most eloquent orator, the most experienced counselor, or the closest of friends cannot give comfort to the one who grieves bitterly at the time of tragic loss. Human speech, though well-intended and sincere- is hollow in the face of such anguish. But we are not here to politely tolerate the clichés of mere mortals. We are here to be comforted and carried by the voice of the Holy Spirit and the decrees of the Son of God. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”1 He said, “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.”2 Only He was nailed to a cross and breached the vault of death. Easter sunrise revealed the Son of God had risen.

Now either we stake our confidence on these truths or we are just playing games, going through religious rituals and formalities. The Scripture says, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angles nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, neither anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”3

Jan knew His love and she expressed it to others. Jan was a wife to one, a mother to three (and their spouses), a grandmother to eight, and a beloved friend to too many to name. She fulfilled all these vocations and many more in life and in death remains honoured by those she served. She served graciously, eloquently, patiently, sacrificially, and always humbly- forever putting others first. She loved her family unconditionally. She was gracious to all. Even more significantly, Jan was baptized as God’s child. She was found regularly in His house. She lived her faith.

It was a faith she held in common with many here today. With Christians throughout the centuries we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Jan’s body, attacked and decimated by the evil of cancer and the power of sin, will nevertheless be resurrected – perfected in glory. Job makes the bold profession, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes.”4 St Paul says it with equal conviction stating that the Lord Jesus Christ, “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”5

Grief is inevitable for those who live on. Yet Scripture reminds us that believers do not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”6 The Christ, in whose unveiled presence Jan now resides, is the same Lord who meets us in this place. John, here, at the altar, you will celebrate with the most certainty Jan’s life and anticipate your reunion with her. Your memories of her will always be cherished. You will visit her grave and there you will reminisce, reflect, and grieve. But here at this altar you will remember her not just as she was; you will participate in a preview of what she now enjoys. In heaven there will be no need for memories for life will be complete and perfect in a timeless existence of joy that does not end.

Too soon departed, Jan would nevertheless not have us weep long at her grave. The coffin contains only her shell, Jan lives immortally. The love, acceptance, peace, and joy she now experiences we can only imagine. Jesus said on the way to the cross, “Do not weep for Me.”7 Now from the throne, He has wiped the tears from Jan’s eyes. God grant that our tears of sorrow would be mixed with tears of joy trusting that all that we have lost has been more than compensated for in what Jan has gained. In the name of Christ whose mercy is inexhaustible, Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Janice Lorraine Manuel
12 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 11:25
2 Revelation 1:17-18
3 Romans 8:38-39
4 Job 19:25-26
5 Philippians 3:21
6 1 Thessalonians 4:13
7 Luke 23:28

Monday, November 12, 2012

Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 12:42
Theme: Two Sacred Mites

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God has His eye on those in need. They never escape His notice. Widows and orphans are special cases. They give the most despondent souls reason to hope. About this widow we know nothing at all. What as her history? Was she stricken with grief? Was she overcome with desperation? Had she endured many years of poverty and hardship? We know nothing of her particulars but we know a great deal about the general status of widows in ancient times. There was no government welfare. Widows depended up male relatives for their livelihood. When that support was not available their situation could become dire. The bible makes many references to the care of widows by believers.

So what was the crux of the issue in today’s gospel account? It was not the quantity of her gift, it was the quality. Her two small coins were nothing in and of themselves but what they represented was an enormous treasury of trust. Possessing nothing she gave everything and in so doing she cast herself completely on the mercy of God. Vulnerable to the world as a result of her circumstance she made it clear she wished to be vulnerable to God as an expression of her faith. Having nothing to offer God faith receives the righteousness of Christ.

If we read this account of the widow’s offering only as an example of comparative generosity we miss the point almost entirely. The wealthy were giving far more but needed not to rely on God’s grace. Proud of their earthly riches they were missing out on heavenly treasures. But this widow entrusted her whole livelihood to God. Materially poor, she was spiritually rich.

Now here is where the rub is: Our sinful nature will not allow us to entrust our livelihood to someone we do not fully trust. And so we turn to other sources of security. Sin, by definition, means the sinner doesn’t fully believe he or she is in God’s good graces. We doubt God’s intentions or His capabilities. God becomes an enemy, or at best is kept at a distance. In fact we can’t even believe God is trustworthy on our own. The Holy Spirit must break our hardened hearts. He points us to the cross. And there we see that the equality with and independence from God that we seek by nature is an illusion and a dead end. Yet we doubt the integrity of His forgiveness because it leaves us indebted to His mercy.

Forgiveness always involves unequal partners. By its very definition it involves a willingness and capacity to forgive on the one side and a desire for forgiveness on the other. At the heart and centre is the reality of an undeserved favour. God’s forgiveness towards us in Christ is not conditioned by our value, worth or efforts. We have no right to it. We can make no claims on it. Christ’s forgiveness is not even predicated on our repentance. It is by grace. It is available to all. “[Christ] died for all.”1 Repentant souls will never fail to find it. The beauty of forgiveness is that it gives all repentant souls equal standing in God’s sight.

Forgiveness is by grace. It sets us free. But do not abuse it for something it is not. Do not trivialize it. Repent honestly. Rejoice confidently. And resist sin steadfastly. Forgiveness does not equal tolerance. Love does not mean tolerance. God forgives the repentant sinner; he does not tolerate the sin. God absolves the person who repents; He doesn’t give him permission to go on sinning. When forgiveness is equated with tolerance and love is equated with license then the church becomes an enabling institution in the worst sense of the term.

We may hear much about being forgiven in God’s sight for our sins, and as well we should. If we do not hear about forgiveness the gospel is not being proclaimed. But we may not hear as much about forgiving those who sin against us. Though we find this imperative is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”2 how often do we take this to heart? How easy it is to hold grudges! How easy it is to want satisfaction or revenge on those who have wronged us! But to withhold forgiveness from those who seek it is not a right we possess. Even when we are painfully hurt we do not have authority to deny pardon to others. In fact, it is a sacred privilege to grant to others freedom of conscience by assuring them they are forgiven.

The forgiveness of God is not pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking. Jesus Christ assumed our humanity so that we could have the favour of the Deity. He was crucified in the flesh. He rose in the power of the Holy Spirit. His forgiveness is offered to you in the concrete means of bread and wine. The body and blood of Christ imparts to believers pardon, peace, and strength. At His altar you have exactly what He promises to give- the food of immortality.

The baptized are consequently no longer ruled by fear. We have had the threat of condemnation removed by the blood of Christ. The baptized have citizenship in His kingdom. In baptism we go from being vulnerable to the accusations of Satan and chaos of the world to the protection and stability gained for us by the cross. This is a communal reality shared by the fellowship of believers. We do not live an abstract faith. We live in real time and space interacting with real people in our lives. We share joys and sorrows. We have a purpose in God’s kingdom; vocations in which we embody the love of Christ to the world.

We may wonder if we are cut out for the task or if it really makes a difference. But think of this widow. And never underestimate what God can do. God sometimes uses the most unlikely people for the most important tasks. Moses never thought he could lead the Israelites out of Egypt. And today we heard of another widow. Ruth was the daughter-in-law of an important biblical widow named Naomi. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David and David was an ancestor of Christ.

Dear friends, the church- the bride- will never be left widowed. She will never be abandoned. She will never be forsaken. The only-begotten Son has sacrificed everything for her well-being. He lives to give her life. Widows were examples of vulnerability. As such they were illustrative of all sinners. At the mercy of those who had the means and willingness to show compassion they were dependant on benefactors. And so too, we who are lost apart from the mercy of God in Christ Jesus can be confident we are never overlooked or forsaken. The Bible says, “He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself…He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”3

Our livelihoods are in God’s hands. And that’s exactly where we want them to be. He never fails to come to the aide of those who are vulnerable. He seeks those who are lost. He comes for sinners and He welcomes them into His eternal kingdom. May the Holy Spirit clothe our hearts with those sacred wedding garments that transform His church from spiritual widow to cherished bride. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
11 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Corinthians 5:15
2 Matthew 6:12
3 Hebrews 9:26-28

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 10:42-45
Theme: Humility In Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

We seldom value the same things God does. Humility is today’s example. We may appreciate humility in someone else but is it something we value for ourselves? Christian maturity involves coming to an ever better understanding that what God cherishes is often scorned by the world. He treasures humility and servanthood. The world esteems recognition and power. Christ stands these values on their heads. His throne was a cross. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”1

Today James and John were hardly examples of humility. They had aspirations of glory. Their objectives were not in line with the Saviour’s. But we must not be too critical.
They were being true to themselves. Are we any different? But to be true to one’s self in contradiction to God’s will is simply to become an illustration of all manner and expression of the power of our inborn sinfulness. It begins at conception.

It certainly runs counter to human reason to suggest that an infant requires the forgiveness of sins. Newborns are often held up as the closest thing possible to pure innocence. But to deny the need for forgiveness is to misunderstand the radical nature of sin. Original sin involves such a deep corruption of the human being that every natural inclination and propensity of the heart, mind, and will is expressed in self-centred independence from God. The Bible speaks of a spiritual deadness before the Word and Holy Spirit act. Luther’s words are well-considered when he says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”2 “I believe that I cannot…believe [on my own].” That is the crux of the matter and denotes well the helplessness of every human soul.

We chronically underestimate our dependence on the mercy of God. We think we just need aide when we really need rescue. We think we just need a push when we really need to be carried. We think we just need equipping when we really need defending. We think we just need some tolerance when we really need forgiveness. We think we just need renovation when we really need resurrection. And if we can’t fathom our need because our life has to this point been relatively painless and carefree, we will certainly come to an understanding when we face our mortality.

Today Jesus speaks of undergoing a baptism of fire. He did so to make immortality available to us. To be baptized with fire is to be immersed in the crucible of trial. Our Scripture says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”3 Jesus explicitly states the reason for His coming. He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom. All the other implications of Jesus’ coming- His ethics, His morality, His example, His miracles and displays of divinity, His modesty, His humility, His influence on the hearts and minds of people from that time right up to the present day- are given lasting meaning only because of His sacrifice for the sins of the world. Without His death and resurrection, without His sacrifice, everything else would just become confined to the history books. Our God is not a deceased hero; He is the eternal source of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

His salvation is first offered to us not in a baptism of fire but a baptism of water and the Spirit. Sacramental baptism involves a cleansing from sin and purging of the soul. The inner reality affects the outward expressions of life. Of course we cannot infallibly discern if the two always match. Only God can. The well-known phrase says “It’s the thought that counts.” And that has a kernel of truth in it. If a person’s intentions are honourable but they are prevented following through with their plans their integrity still remains intact.

When we assess peoples’ actions we must learn to be discerning so that we don’t cause undue offense. Like the pastor who received for his family a pie from a woman who was a terrible cook. After tasting the pie, they simply threw the rest in the garbage, unable to eat it. The next Sunday, the woman asked the preacher, "How did you like my pie?" The pastor responded, "A pie like that does not last long around our house!"

The phrase also contains an element of truth in a more important spiritual way. Our Christian walk, our bearing of our crosses, our keeping in step with the Spirit can only be God-pleasing when our motivations are in tune with His will. We don’t seek God’s help merely so He can guide our outward actions. We pray that He will change our thoughts, our intentions, and our motivations. We pray that we are changed from the inside out. To change the heart and will is a far greater thing than to restrict or promote external action. The latter will follow from the former.

Dear friends, we have the confidence that every time pardon is offered to us; every time we are drawn back to and through our baptism; every time we receive the forgiveness offered in the body and blood of Christ; God is wiping the slate of the conscience clean. We can’t necessary notice because our hearts are battered and bruised and struggling with guilt and pain. And yet precisely because it is independent from any input from us it is all the more certain. It involves the invincible and irrefutable declaration of God. A decree made indisputable by the blood of the Lamb. Our salvation depends entirely upon the initiative of God in Christ. We are justified- we are declared righteous- we are set right with Him- only by grace through faith.

This truth is so precious it has no peers. But it has many challengers. Many are the distractions and diversions which would draw our focus away from the promises of God in Christ. How easily our attention is averted. How many have been drawn away from the church in the last decades! When Luther's puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes; he (Martin Luther) said, 'Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. He has no other thought, wish or hope."

The devil has many tools in his arsenal. He attacks with precision. He doesn’t own a shotgun. His strikes are much more exact. He knows when to aim for the heart. He knows when to aim for the mind. He knows when to aim for the will. But he cannot penetrate the armor with which the heavenly Father protects the baptized. The promise of your baptism is the promise of pure grace. And this grace is never lacking. The allurements of the world will always be persuasive. But in Christ we learn to look past these temporary challenges even when they are severe. And in doing so we also learn true humility. We learn to take refuge in Him who “humbled Himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”4 In Him we have life! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
21October 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 10:45
2 The Third Article Explanation, LSC
3 Hebrews 5:7
4 Philippians 2:8

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 10:9
Theme: The Faithful Bridegroom

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God’s thinking isn’t limited to human categories- though of course, He created them. God often presents the truths of the kingdom in humble antithesis to the accepted wisdom of humanity. Christ is the very epitome- God-in-the flesh- image of this truth. In Christ we learn to think differently from the world. Today Jesus said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child he will never enter it.”1 Heaven and hell are hardly childish things. Yet here Christ warns against the skepticism and suspicion of trying to look behind the truth He is proclaiming. Like children, we are to receive Him as He appears in simple faith.

This is no small request. The experiences of life can make us cynical. The words of the creed roll off our lips “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”2 but where are our hearts and wills? What impact does the lordship of Christ have? What does our Scripture say, “In putting everything under Him, God left nothing that is not subject to Him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to Him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”3

We don’t observe that the world is subject to Christ. This is a matter of faith. That makes navigating the godlessness of the world a challenge. People like to be their own judges.
No one wants to be held accountable. We have an incurable addiction for alibis. Who will be answerable to God? Jesus was asked about the legality of divorce. Divorce was a problem in Jesus’ day. It always has been. The law of Moses permitted divorce in certain circumstances. But this was a concession to peoples’ sinfulness and hardheartedness. Christ reminded them that from the beginning it was not so. “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”4

Human relationships fail. People fail. We are driven by self-interest. We are overcome with hopelessness. We are filled with bitterness, anxiety, and resentment. We become enmeshed in complicated relationships beyond our control. Yet sin must always be confessed. Never excused or condoned. If the church moves away from the biblical understanding of marriage it forfeits its calling to be the purveyor of God’s will for the foundation of society. To accept promiscuity in relationships in general and unfaithfulness in marriage in particular is to redefine the God-given pattern for the well-being of humanity.

We can fail at the game- for this we can be forgiven. But we can’t change the rules. Once the criteria are changed we have no certainty that God will bless our pursuits. We may get overcome in the contest of being faithful in our relationships; we may be too weak for temptations- for this there is absolution for the repentant soul. But we cannot give up the truth of what God has ordained for us. Then we deny Him and drive away the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t promise to bless our experimental forays into self-determined attractions according to where our indulgent tastes are leading us at the time. If the definition of marriage is changed the game is changed. If we no longer recognize as sin what God defines as sin then we are simply making our own rules. What could be more uncertain or dangerous?

The Bible uses the analogy of marriage to compare the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ is the perfectly faithful bridegroom. He loves His bride (the church) unconditionally. For her He died. He lives to serve her. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. This remains the foundation of Christian hope and joy. It is a breath of fresh gospel air in a world suffocating under the weight of legalistic religious pursuits. Striving, reaching, fretting, brooding, struggling, wrestling, they seek to acquire some measure of peace of mind about the well-being of their souls. Meanwhile, there stands for us a cross and empty tomb. We are washed with sacred water and fed with the Saviour’s body and blood. At the cross our searching ends.

People can never have certainty based on any or all efforts to please God that He has accepted them. Any such claims are an illusion, a deception. Yes, you want to know. That is human. But apart from Christ and His Spirit it is also carnal, sinful. You cannot manufacture your own certainty. Not with knowledge, piety, or feeling. Least of all can you have faith in your own faith. But you can have faith in this: You are baptized and that means you are claimed by the One whose name you have been given. You are in the guardianship and fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God knows our deepest trauma and our most agonizing grief. Yet Christ is not just a sympathizer or even an empathizer; He is a justifier. His declaration of pardon is the balm for all our woes. He gives meaning to our suffering and offers hope in our despair. He can do this because He is in the midst of our suffering. He doesn’t cheer us on from a distant place. He is present in our sorrows and our joys.

God reaches down. He stoops. He condescends. He initiates, orchestrates and consummates the reconciliation between Himself and humanity. He leaves nothing unattended, nothing undone. Born in humility; died in infamy; raised in glory, He rules eternally. He honoured shepherds at His birth; kept company with criminals at His death and is worshipped by angels in His glory. What did our Scripture say, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”5

These truths are not merely information. Christ is not a hero of a bygone era to be sentimentally admired. His act of reconciliation and on-going intercession alter our status with God and other people. He constitutes a kingdom. We are part of a family, children of the heavenly Father, the collective bride to the Bridegroom. The church is unparalleled in any organization of society. It may bear many outward similarities to other associations. It may engage in similar activities to some extent. But there the similarities end. You are part of the “one, holy, Christian and apostolic church”6 instituted by the Almighty Himself. You participate in the sacred treasures of word and sacrament. Your fellowship involves immense privileges and great responsibilities.

The Bible constantly exhorts Christians to encourage one another. Sometimes this involves rebuke. Other times compassion. But it always involves speaking the truth in love. To do this beneficially we must get to know and build trust with one another. Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, "Brother, the grass grows on your path."

Dear friends, there is no grass that grows under Christ’s feet. He is constant in His love for us. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
7 October 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 10:15
2 The Apostles’ Creed
3 Hebrews 2:8-9
4 Mark 10:9
5 Hebrews 1:3
6 The Nicene Creed

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 9:42-48
Theme: Better With Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Things are seldom as they appear. There is more to most things than meets the eye. Lack of transparency is a weakness of sinners. How often are true motives and actions disguised in order to give another impression? With God appearances can be deceiving too. He may appear weak, apathetic, and distant. He seems even to let the devil have His way and the arrogant of the world make a parody of Him. A crucifixion seems to be a paltry way to institute universal governance. Yet this is the way of Christ because of His compassion for sinners.

Today Jesus pulls no punches when addressing the problem of sin. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell.” 1 We won’t concern ourselves with the nature of the hyperbole Jesus is using. The message is clear enough: Sin is the most pressing menace anyone faces. It must be addressed at any cost. Because sin is so powerful the cure is radical. We cannot manage sin. Sin must be destroyed. This only happens when it is confessed, shunned, and left in the hands of Christ.

The rhythm of the Christian life should be such that we are always addressing this reality. Remember how Luther expresses it when describing baptismal living, “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”2 Otherwise what happens? We become acclimated to our sinfulness. We become accepting. As soon as we become accepting in the sense of not identifying sin for the danger it is we pull the rug right out from under repentance. We assimilate our sinful habits into an accepted version of ourselves and then repentance becomes necessary only for those things which fall outside of our new image. That is, we fallaciously shift the parameters of what should be classified as sin.

Examples are easy to name. Do we believe our gossip is socially acceptable? Is our dishonestly in personal or business affairs publically tolerated? Is our silence when the truth needs to be spoken deafening? Do the vulnerable- the unborn, the aged, and the outcast- suffer because of our quietism? Do we spend greater effort and resource tending to our own kingdoms than we do God’s kingdom? Is the spiritual well-being of others of little interest to us? Do these things become so second nature that we no longer identify them and seek forgiveness for them?

This happens all the more easily in an environment in which belief in absolutes has been nearly abandoned. If everything is relative than the shifting of parameters according to a whole array of subjective tastes is inevitable. Ironically, those who cry for tolerance soon become intolerant of any concrete position. A pragmatic consensus is upheld as the ideal as long as it serves certain ideological agendas. Truth and accountability are pushed aside as less important.

But pragmatism is never the answer to temptation and sin. We manage temptation by shunning it, resisting it, fleeing from it. We never manage it by thinking we have a handle on it. Dear friends, forgiveness can only be truly appreciated when sin is fully unmasked. Do you wish to receive absolution only for your petty lapses- the ones you may already be convinced hardly worry God anyway? Would you give God such a small task? Would you try to maintain your public piety in this way? Christ is not merely the absolver of minor infringements; He pardons the darkest transgressions of the penitent soul. He remits the sins of the transgressor who knows he or she deserves nothing but judgment and hell.

Remember the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet with perfume. She was set in contrast to the Pharisees who thought they had no sins to forgive. Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”3 The most sincere fruit of faith is the gratitude shown for the pardoning of sins. The mercy of God does not demand formal but hollow expressions of gratitude. It creates true movement of the heart. Such love can never be manufactured, not with the greatest attention to external detail. It is always a divine work of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray- as we are bid to do by the Redeemer Himself- that He grants us His Holy Spirit to this end.

Sin can only be destroyed because of Christ’s sacrificial death. He took our sins to the cross, but the two, Christ and sin, will not co-exist together in eternity. The power of sin was crucified with Christ. Atonement was accomplished in that act on our behalf. There will be a separation, an unbridgeable rift in eternity. The sinner must recreated, reconstituted, resurrected. We will never be glossed over inclusive of our sins. We will be freed! This is the final implication of your baptism. Because you are united with Christ you will not be exposed to sin’s corrupting and condemning power.

So even now we live in defiance of the dying and decaying pattern of the world and we walk in step with the Spirit. In so doing we are doing nothing less than previewing the future. “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye thrown into hell.”4 Better? Does Jesus not know what He is saying here? Infinitely better! Eternally better! Quantitatively better! Qualitatively better! Indescribably better! Better because all pain, suffering, sorrow, and adversity are euthanized. They are given a proper death in the Son to the glory of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The future of the world is not indeterminate. Christians are forward-looking in the widest sense. And we plan accordingly. We are not bound to the demise of this place of temporary residence. Human activity in all its fervor and frailty will cease. “The earth will wear out like a garment.”5 Christ will come in glory. These truths are not irrelevant they are part and parcel of our hope in Christ. The Scripture says of believers of old, “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth…they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.”6

Things are not as they now appear. Christ waits patiently but His rule is not in doubt. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
30 September 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 9:43
2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 John 7:47
4 Mark 10:47
5 Isaiah 51:6
6 Hebrews 11:13-16

Monday, September 24, 2012

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (B) 2012- Meribah 85th

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

Text: Mark 9:37
Theme: Welcomed In Christ’s Name

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Faith never exists in a vacuum. Neither do sinners. We are not sovereign, self-determined souls. We exist only in context. We are contingent. Today we reflect on the history and context of God’s saints at Meribah. Certainly in the bigger context Christians have very meager spiritual beginnings.

Today we find the disciples acting very unsaintly. They had aspirations. They were competitive. They had egos. They wanted to make names for themselves. They were human. How far could they ride the coat-tails of Jesus? Perhaps they were counting their chickens before they were hatched? Regardless, we find them at this point to be poor examples to future generations. The problem would be corrected in due time.

It is human nature- and a particularly sinful expression of it at that- to presume. Presumption is an indicator of our spiritual attitude. We make plans; we take liberties regarding things we have no ability to control. Operating on false assumptions is very dangerous. God owes us nothing; a truth we must be continually convicted of lest repentance become only a hollow ritual.

Three women arrived at the gate of heaven at the same time. St. Peter came but he had some pressing business and asked them to please wait. He was gone for a long time. Finally, when he came back, he asked one of the women if she had minded waiting.
“No”, she said, “I’ve looked forward to this for so long. I didn’t mind at all.””
St. Peter then said, “Well, I have one question in order for you to enter heaven. How do you spell God?” She said, “G-O-D.” St. Peter said, “Go right on in.”

He went and got one of the other women, told her to come on inside, “Did you mind waiting?” She said, “Oh, no. I have been a Christian for fifty years, and I’ll spend eternity here. I didn’t mind at all.” So St. Peter said, “Just one more thing. How do you spell God?”
She said, “G-O-D.” St. Peter said that was good and sent her into heaven.

He went back out and invited the third woman in and asked her if she had minded waiting. “Yes, I did,” she said. “I’ve had to stand in line all my life; at the supermarket, when I went to school, when I registered my children for school, when I went to the movies- everywhere. And I resent having to wait in line for heaven! St. Peter said, “Well, that’s all right for you to feel that way. It won’t be held against you. There is just one more question, how do you spell Czechoslovakia?” God’s grace is sufficient for the day. We should never presume He owes us anything tomorrow.

Any celebration of the past should give us inspiration for the future. We are custodians of a glorious truth that is unintelligible to the unbelieving world. How can the Lutheran distinctive of salvation by grace through faith impact a typically secular person today? How is His truth made relevant? Synchronously with the proclamation of that truth the Holy Spirit works to give ears of faith to those who were otherwise deaf to its miraculous tone. This mystery of God’s initiative is never disclosed this side of heaven. Many are saved before they ever understand that they are saved because repentance transcends the faculties of the intellect. It seizes also the heart and the will.

The challenge is quite simple in a way: To faithfully and tirelessly articulate the unchanging Gospel to a constantly changing world. Manna never lasted more than a day1 -except on the Sabbath. In a sense that is true of the gospel. It has to be gifted to us afresh every new day of our sin. On the eternal Sabbath it will endure to immortality. But we are not yet free from the corruption of sin.

Still, we are free from the condemnation of the law. The God who has guided history is nevertheless with us in the present. We are post-resurrection, post- ascension Christians. At His ascension Jesus Christ did not relinquish His humanity and neither did He abandon us in His divinity. How else could we receive the sacred gift of His body and blood?

Today we reflect on the blessings of history. What of the history of God’s people? Every history involving humans has a checkered past. In Meribah’s case it’s right in the name. In the wilderness by the rock of Horeb God provided life-giving water to His people through Moses’ staff. But He named it Meribah because there the people argued. Meribah means ‘quarreling’2. Could it be more appropriate for Lutherans, really, who believe they are always sinners but at the same time saints by God’s grace!

This place is the house of God. Here He gathers His own and forgives sins that are unknown to anyone else. Here He meets with His people by name. A man who was conducting a survey knocked on a front door. A little boy opened the door and stared at him. The man asked the boy how many people lived in the house. The boy replied, "Well, there’s Jimmy & Mary & Sophie & Bobby..." The man impatiently interrupted the boy, "Just give me the numbers." The boy replied, "There are no numbers in this house, they are all names to me!"

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”3 The Shepherd says today, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me.”4 There is no anonymity, no ambiguity, no obscurity and no secrecy involved in the intimate fellowship believers have with the Father through His Son. You are not a number in God’s household. You are baptismally named. You are nominated for salvation. You are sealed personally by the blood of the Lamb.

The Scripture tells us “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”5
From font to grave, from baptism to death, from new birth to immortality, across centuries, across continents, across barriers of language, geography and culture – they are still called Christians. Named Christians because they are born not of natural descent or of human decision but of water and the Spirit. From the ancient martyrs to the medieval mystics to the renaissance reformers to modern disciples they are called Christian.

And here too, at Fountain of Living Waters Evangelical Lutheran Church, Meribah, South Australia they have been called Christians for 95 years. Christians who are still called- each lamb by name. Christians whose confession of truth rests on apostolic foundations; is informed by the creed of Nicaea; is inspired by the boldness of Luther; is challenged by the opposition of the world- but is still a living confession of the Holy Spirit.

Many worry about the future of the church. We must be careful to keep things in perspective. People have challenges. God has worries. He has committed Himself to the rescue of fallen humanity. It’s an incomprehensible task. Yet we are part of the narrative. The trajectory of the scheme of redemption is not one-dimensional. It is not limited to a tiny area called Palestine. Christianity is validated by its historicity by not confined by it. Christ is not hampered by the dimensions of time and space. The order of redemption flows through every font, every lectern, every pulpit, every altar where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to His institution.

What will the next 100 years bring? Yes, even believers continually conceive of all kinds of worries for themselves. Perhaps we believe that if we are bogged down in worries we are excused from other obligations in the kingdom. Perhaps we become too comfortable constructing and deconstructing our own dramas. But these things are best left to unbelievers.
We have enough legitimate things on our agendas.

We have sins. These we learn to name as our own so that they can become Christ’s and we can be freed from them. We have temptations. These we learn to identify so that we can pray with integrity for deliverance. We have frailties. These we learn are the consequence of mortality and foster in us a greater yearning to be released from this bondage to decay. We have fears. These are most powerful of all. We learn from fear that we are powerless without the all-embracing compassion of Him who has triumphed over Satan, hell, and death itself.

Satan would like us to have many worries. Most of them never come to pass. As we celebrate today we are mindful of what we do have. Christians have the lessons of the past, the blessings of the present and the promise of the future. We have Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We have a living Saviour still bearing the marks of sacrifice. We have participation in a fellowship that crosses the dimensions of time and space. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Meribah’s 85th Anniversary of the Building
23 September 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Exodus 16:20
2 See Exodus 17:6-7
3 John 10:3
4 Mark 9:37
5 Acts 11:26