Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Second Sunday In Lent (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 8:31-33
Theme: Sifting the Truth

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The works of God are not immediately discernible to the naked eye. Luther once said, “Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins. Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.”1 In short, natural human reason normally gets the things of God backwards from what they really are. This truth is of central importance in the dialogue today between Jesus and Peter. It is also worth considering throughout our journey of Lent.

Today Jesus became deliberate about teaching His disciples that He would suffer and die. He was not at first well-received. Christ turned the idea of leadership on its head. He would not use power and position to acquire prosperity or boost His ego. He became the ultimate servant even to His enemies. Humanity often abuses positions of authority. As sinners we tend to serve our own motives through the power at our disposal. Lent shows us where we find forgiveness for seeking to rule over others. Calvary was Jesus’ earthly seat of power. Forgiveness is always the greatest power we have available to us.

At issue in our gospel account is recognition of God’s will even when it seems to run counter to human logic. This concern is not limited to the historical context of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is the struggle of every believer. How is God’s will interpreted? Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean every notion we have is an impulse of the Holy Spirit. To operate in this way is to completely misunderstand the purpose of the Bible. Faith does not free you from the Bible but binds you to it. The believer does not become a self-validating spiritual entity; not even when a sincere effort is made to claim the inclination is a compulsion of the Holy Spirit.

Now it is indisputable that people feel moved by God to do certain things and such individual assertions can never be proven either way. The point is: How can you know God’s will with absolute veracity? How can you know with absolute certainty the will of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Scriptures- and the Scriptures alone! You may have a ‘gut instinct’. And this may well prove true because it is influenced by past experience and the wisdom of others. You may believe God is telling you something because your mind and your conscience have been well-informed by long years of having learned the faith. Perhaps you have identified ‘signs’. But Satan too can give you signs. He can be very convincing.

Peter thought he understood the will of God. He thought he knew the plan. The plan included a meteoric rise in his own power and status. It meant liberation from Roman control and a glorious earthly Messianic age. It was surely not just a matter of opinion or misunderstanding when Peter reacted vehemently to the Lord’s prediction of His suffering and death.

Peter’s whole vision for the Messianic kingdom was turned upside down. He had witnessed this man feed the multitudes, heal the sick, walk on water, cast out demons, even raise the dead. Peter himself confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Surely this man intended to and was capable of bringing justice to Israel. Surely even the kingdom of Solomon would be surpassed with Jesus at the helm. But a crucifixion? Humiliation? A wretched criminal’s death? And no justice with the religious authorities?
Could this really be the plan? Jesus’ rebuke was sharp. He always addresses our sins with seriousness. Then He leads us into a greater trust of those intentions of God which we cannot fully understand.

Why does Jesus tell His followers to pray for the Holy Spirit? Not to become believers, which they already were. But that the Holy Spirit would strengthen their trust in His word and promise. It was a lesson to them that God would not withhold from them even the highest spiritual gift- the Holy Spirit Himself. How do we know that the Lord is constantly interceding for us? Jesus told Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”2

Dear friends, St. Paul reminds us today that the central premise of Christianity is directly opposite of the world’s “you get what you earn” philosophy. He writes, “If those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath…Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring.”3 Through baptism you are an heir. You have the consolation of divine fellowship. You have a different perspective than that of the world. Jesus said today, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”4

Because you are redeemed you are free to pursue an endless range of possibilities that interest you and tend to the glory of God and the well-being of your neighbour. This is a glorious freedom. Having been justified in Christ we are released from the burdens of a regime under which it is necessary to curry His favour lest our eternal salvation be in jeopardy. What you are not free to do is pursue those goals which bring you into direct contradiction with bearing the cross Jesus speaks of; nor would you want to. Then no strength of feeling, peace of conscience, or appeal to the Holy Spirit’s impulse will hold water.

The work and way of Christ will never appeal to human logic: Victory through humility and life gained through death. The same pattern is scripted for His followers. We gain life as we die to the world. We can now sacrifice our self-interests because we know a resurrection awaits. Regardless of what the world throws at us we have the promise of God’s word, “[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”5

Remember, Lent always carries with it a heighted awareness of our mortality. The purpose is not to curb our enthusiasm for life but to keep us from losing sight of the goal. We are travelers here. Let us be pilgrims not by concession but by conviction. The Holy Spirit leads us and the Shepherd carries us. 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 +

Second Sunday in Lent
4 March 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Heidelberg Disputation
2 Luke 22:31
3 Romans 4:14-16
4 Mark 8:36-37
5 Romans 4:25

Monday, March 5, 2012

Midweek Lent 2012

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

Text: Psalm 107:20
Theme: “Sent Forth His Word”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God does not easily command an audience these days. In many peoples’ minds there’s little to talk about. Apathy is not readily conquered. The task is formidable because the human heart is deeply duplicitous. But we dare not underestimate the penetrating power of His word forthrightly proclaimed. Fresh off the Ash Wednesday service we might consider how bold these ashes that constitute our mortal frames can become. Can the clay credibly say to the potter, “Why?” That is a question for Lent. Why did you allow this to happen to me? Why did you not intervene? Were you unwilling or unable? It is a question for Lent because it is a perennial question of sinners. Many seem confident that God is too inept or apathetic to answer? But who will have the last laugh.

Our Lenten series this year is about prayer. Specifically tonight we are focusing on prayers of thanksgiving. The Psalmist writes, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”1 It is fitting that we let the Scriptures be our guide here. What is the most instructive, the most influential; the most telling prayer of thanksgiving in all of Holy Scripture? Is it the Lord’s Prayer taught by the Saviour Himself? Is it Solomon’s glorious prayer for the dedication of the temple? The pages of Holy Writ are peppered with prayers beseeching God’s mercy and blessing His name. The term Hallelujah is a one word Hebrew prayer of praise. The entire book of Psalms is a litany of prayer. Or is it perhaps the prayer of the Pharisee at the temple? “God, I thank you that I am not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers- or even like this tax-collector.”2

That prayer of thanks may hit a little close to home. The famous actor Gregory Peck once was standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded Los Angeles restaurant. They had been waiting for awhile; the diners seemed to be taking their time eating, and new tables weren't opening up very quickly. They weren't even that close to the front of the line. Peck's friend became impatient, and he said to Gregory, "Why don't you tell the maƮtre d' who you are?" Gregory Peck responded with great wisdom. "If you have to tell them who you are, then you aren't."

Resist the temptation to point out your accomplishments to others. And curb your desire to be noticed and praised- and ‘thankful’ like the Pharisee. Others will take note sooner than you think without a word spoken by you. When your efforts for attention are successful and your craving fulfilled your accomplishments will nevertheless be cheapened in the eyes of others.

Above all, repent of trying to use your “moral capital” as leverage with the Almighty. Do you cry “Unfair!” to God on the basis of all the piety you’ve shown and the good things you’ve done. Shouldn’t God recognize your honest and generous approach to life? Has He somehow overlooked you accomplishments? Dear friends, He knows who you are. He knows what you have and haven’t done. The moment you seek acknowledgment for your good deeds before God is the moment all such efforts are ruined by self-righteousness. If you have to tell God who you are, then you aren’t!

But in Christ- you are! You are baptized. Your baptism was an act of God in which the Holy Spirit extended to you the grace of God and forgiveness of sins earned by Christ. The price of your salvation has been sacrificed. He has defeated death. All the host of heaven responds in endless petitions of thanksgiving. In baptism you are given His name and- you are! The message of Lent is that regardless of how far you have wandered from God it’s never too late. No matter how deeply you’ve fallen into sin, God’s love is deeper.

An orthopaedic surgeon was moving to a new office across town, and decided to carry the display skeleton in the front seat of his car. Concerned not to have the skeleton fall, he didn't pay enough attention to his driving and ran a stop sign, with a policeman looking on. The patrolman pulled up behind him, and as the traffic cop stepped to the driver's window the physician said, by way of explanation, "I'm a doctor and I'm taking him to my new office." The policeman replied, "I hate to tell you this, Doc, but I think you're too late."

When a person becomes dust and ash it’s too late. But as long as we have breath it’s not too late. You won’t learn to be thankful in prayer from a single sermon. That involves a life-long effort of the Holy Spirit to bring you to an understanding of exactly what Christ has done. Even people with no active faith may be thankful when some tragedy is averted, some illness cured, or some surprise brings them prosperity. But the motive is not yet the same as gratitude for God’s redeeming mercy. Gratefulness for pardon from eternal damnation is possible only for the repentant soul. This kind of thankfulness is worked by the Holy Spirit and is one of the fruits of faith. It is a gift from above. It is expressed in worship. Our Scripture says, “He sent forth His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love.”3

The Christian’s life is a litany of thanksgiving to God through Christ. The apostle says, “And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”4 What’s the best posture for prayer? Bowed heads? Or bended knees? Certainly prostrate hearts. What’s the best spirit for praying with gratitude? There is so much we could say. How about, “I’m all ears.” “Speak [Lord], for your servant is listening.”5

God will command an audience and many will be surprised to be part of it. Some thought it was too late for Jesus also. He had met His demise on Golgotha and would become a footnote in history. What’s the most important prayer in the Bible? How about Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”6 Can you pray better a prayer than the thief net to Him? “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”7 Christ will not fail you. His is an unassailable, unending love. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Midweek Lenten Service
29 February 2012- 28 March 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 107:1
2 Luke 18:11
3 Psalm 107:20-21
4 Colossians 3:15-17
5 1 Samuel 3:10
6 Luke 23:34
7 Luke 23:42