Monday, February 27, 2012

First Sunday in Lent (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 1:13
Theme: Passing the Test

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Calvary is the holy of holies through which believers pass with Jesus right through the grave to immortal life. Today is the First Sunday in Lent. Lent is a 40 day period (excluding Sundays) in which Christians have historically observed a time of special devotion in preparation for the events of Holy Week. This time of devotion often included fasting, prayers, vigils, and charity. “Giving up” something for Lent is still a valuable way to exercise discipline and self-denial. We do this remembering Christ sacrificed everything for our salvation. In today’s gospel after His baptism Jesus is led immediately into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. As our Saviour, fully human and fully divine, He resisted Satan, thus fulfilling the law for us and proving Himself worthy to atone for our sins.

It is no coincidence that Jesus is tempted immediately after his baptism. It indicates a pattern we should have our eyes wide-open to. Whenever and wherever the promises of God are confirmed the devil is immediately on the attack. As soon as the word of God is planted in the heart he seeks to snatch it away. If he cannot snatch it way he tries to ensure that it does not bear fruit. These truths are illustrated in the parable of the sower. In short, the person who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit is tempted more intensely by Satan and not less.

Repentance and self-denial usually receive special emphasis at this time. The entire significance of Easter is lost if the consequences of our sin are not taken to heart. No matter how many times we are told we are sinners and fall short of the glory of God it never becomes less important for these truths to drive us anew to the mercy of Christ. Of course working through Lent as a hollow ritual accomplishes nothing and serves to facilitate greater hypocrisy within us. Before God all guises and coverings are stripped away. He sees us as we are and what He sees is not pretty.

The world of course, can make self-indulgence seem dazzlingly beautiful. The Scriptures constantly warn against its temptations. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”1 Lent directs us away from our selfish ambitions to Christ’s agenda. Consider what the Scriptures say about Moses, “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value then the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.”2

Lent therefore is a season for assessing our habits. The good ones we want to have sustained and strengthened. The bad ones we want address and abandon. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds because of the very nature of habitual behavior. It changes brain pathways and body chemistry. Habits evoke strong cravings and emotive feelings. They often give a sense of comfort and security. They can become so controlling they cause ‘involuntary’ reactions. Consider the case of the passenger who tapped the taxi cab driver on the shoulder to ask him something. The driver screamed, lost control of the car, nearly hit a bus, went up on the sidewalk and stopped inches from a department store window. For a second everything went quiet in the cab, then the driver said, "Look mister, don't ever do that again. You scared me half to death!" The passenger apologized and said he didn't realize a little tap could scare him so much. After a moment the driver replied, "You're right. I'm sorry. Really, it's not your fault. Today is my first day as a cab driver. I've been driving a hearse for 25 years."

Indeed, the force of habit is not easily overcome. Thankfully, God has no bad habits.
God Himself is habitually gracious. He is perennially merciful. He is perpetually benevolent. He is unfailingly forgiving. He desires not death for the sinner, but life. Yet He never reacts involuntarily or mindlessly. With full knowledge of all things He works for the good of His people. If you wish to harbor reservations about His love then you must question the event of the crucifixion. There can be no assessment of God’s love apart from the sacrifice of Jesus. No speculation about whether God is sometimes generically good or selectively kind; no conjecture about whether a loving God would allow bad things to happen to supposedly good people. All guesswork and opinions are halted at the cross. The crucifixion is decisive. If we do not see there God’s true compassion and intent then we are forced to call it a sham or dismiss it as insignificant.

God made a promise to Adam and Eve that He ratified in a covenant with Noah. So He sent the rainbow after the flood. He re-affirmed it with Abraham and gave him a palpable preview of the fulfillment when he asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Through the establishment of David’s kingdom He confirmed His intention to institute the reign of the Messiah. Through repeated rejection, betrayal, and apostasy of His chosen people He remained steadfast in His sacred oath. And when in the fullness of time His Son came He did not waver in carrying out the Father’s will. Christ recovered the immortality Adam lost. He sanctified more powerful water than that of Noah’s flood. He released from torment those consciences burdened in the manner of Abraham. His dominion surpasses that of David because it is built on eternal foundations.

There is no question as to whether Jesus ‘passed’ the test. He withstood every assault of Satan making Himself a worthy sacrifice for sins. He has risen from the grave and rules eternally in heaven. These truths are not simply interesting but irrelevant facts. Everything He accomplished was with our eternal redemption in view. Salvation history reaches its fulfillment in Christ with the aim of our inclusion. The Holy Spirit illuminates the sacred events of the past in such a way as to incorporate us into Christ’s dominion. In this way the Holy Spirit grants faith. For example today St. Peter makes this connection between the saving water of Noah’s flood and the sacrament of baptism, “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”3

Dear friends, the hill of Calvary was only conquered once. Yet we participate in the victory forever. The crucifixion and resurrection are not just footnotes in history. We just access their blessings in a different way. When we go to Holy Communion we go to the cross. More exactly when we are led by the Spirit to the altar like Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness the fruit of the cross comes to us. We find ourselves not in the desert but dining at the heavenly banquet. May this Lent, with its attendant reflection and self-denial, be a feast of truly biblical proportions! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday in Lent
26 February 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 John 2:15-17
2 Hebrews 11:26-27
3 1 Peter 3:21

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012

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

Text: Genesis 3:19
Theme: Ashes to Ashes

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Each of us is a complex collection of ashes destined to be riven from our immortal souls. But God intends to reconstitute us in the image of His Son who is the resurrection and the life. These truths comprise the full gist of the gospel. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” most of you have probably heard these words spoken more than once as you witnessed the coffin of someone you knew being lowered into the ground. After the fall into sin God issues to Adam this stinging declaration of his mortality, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”1 This is no trivial bit of information. It is the rendering of divine judgment.

Truly we are never more than one step from the grave. Without dismissing the truth of statistical averages we should recognize that age or health can give us a false sense of security. Probability may be on your side if you are young and healthy. But the curse of sin and its unpredictability is never on your side. Remember Christ’s response to those who queried about the victims killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Jesus offered no speculations. He said, “Do you think that they were more guilty than all the others…I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”2 Here we have the imperative of Lent; the ongoing urgency of Christian life. Forgiveness is never something we can do without.

When we stand at the graveside we view finality. Unable to comprehend or fully accept it we often react in a number of ways: anger, fear, denial, regret, sorrow, despair, even relief. Does that mean we should have a macabre pre-occupation with death? Should we be so concerned about the time or manner of our death that it causes anxiety or muddles our thinking? No, but we can have a more informed perspective on the present when we understand the end of the matter.

Human beings (in their faithless activities) are known for endlessly trying to delay or avoid the inevitable. Some are putting their corpses into the deep freeze in hopes that medicine will advance enough to cure their diseases so they can be resuscitated at a later date. According to recent information whole body cryogenic preservation costs about $150,000. Or for just 90 grand you can chose the neuropreservation option- but this involves the daunting reality of having your head severed from your body.

Others believe (as many have in centuries past) that the body is really of no concern at all. To them the soul is all that matters and once the soul is freed they will be released from all aspects of what we know as this physical existence. This can lead to an abuse of the body and an undervaluing of it as part of God’s creation. Still others believe in an endless cycle of reincarnation. Others somehow remain steadfastly in denial that what lies beyond the grave should concern them. Is it apathy because they believe nothing can be done about it anyway? Is it arrogance because they believe they have earned entrance to a better life beyond? Is it that they are simply dominated by the pursuits and indulgences of this life? Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”3 Are these not challenging words even for Christians? How are we faring?

At any rate the fundamental error is the idea that this life- essentially as we experience it- can be recovered or restored by some means that we have or hope to have at our disposal in the future. It is a denial of the invincible power of sin over our mortal frames. Our bodies march inevitably towards decay and death not because this is the ‘natural order or cycle” of things, but because humanity was severed from the life-giving Creator. Death is not nature’s way of propagating the next generation to take the place of the previous one. It is a verdict against evil gone chaotic.

But it is not the will of God to endlessly perpetuate this fallen existence. The truth of what Christ has accomplished is that sin is not invincible. Christ came to address just this crisis. Death does not have the final say. The Holy One was sacrificed on the altar of divine wrath so that believers might be spared the inevitable torment that would otherwise commence at death. The bible names this abysmal darkness- hell.

These are heavy things to consider. But it is the beginning of the season for reflecting on such weighty matters. God grant that the Holy Spirit would deepen our faith through such reflections during our Lenten journey this year. We will come 46 steps (the total number of days in Lent) closer to reaching our own mortality. But let us pray we are drawn closer to the Immortal One whose grip is eternal. Let us divest ourselves of the encumbrances that enmesh us in secular, trivial, and self-indulgent pursuits. Let us embrace our identity as the baptized children of God. Let us be buoyed by the wisdom of His word and feast on the body and blood of the Word become flesh. In these things we already participate in the power that overcomes the grave.

Christ has been crucified- for you and your salvation. His body did not succumb to decay. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ was sealed in an earthy grave so that we might be freed from that threat. The angel asked the women on Easter morning, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!”4 There are no cemeteries in heaven; no funerals, no pain of watching gravity pull that first handful of soil onto the descending coffin.

After a particularly inspiring worship service, a church member greeted the pastor. "Reverend, that was a wonderful sermon. You should have it published." The pastor replied, "Actually, I'm planning to have all my sermons published posthumously." "Great!" enthused the church member. "The sooner the better!" “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”…the sooner the better? Dare we believe it? Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Ash Wednesday
22 February 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Genesis 3:19
2 Luke 13:4-5
3 Matthew 6:19
4 Luke 24:5-6