Tuesday, May 8, 2012

LWSA Convention

Lutheran Women of South Australia
Forty Sixth Convention, May 3rd, 2012
St. Peter’s Lutheran, Loxton

Afternoon Devotion

Text: John 13:12-17

Love has form and it has focus. Christianity is incarnational in its essence. In the person of Jesus the infinite God became contained in human flesh and blood. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9) Christ is not a motionless idol to be venerated but the vivacious exemplar of servitude.

Socrates said, “Know thyself.” The narcissist says, “Love thyself.” Such self-absorption is the bane of our times. It is fatal and self-defeating. The beloved no longer requires a lover, but only a mirror for self-reflection. Christ is THE LOVER, the selfless, sacrificial servant par excellence. He reflects only the will of the Father.

No one can remain in their own spiritual nativity. Faith either forges forward in fits and starts, struggling, pressing on, clawing forward; or it atrophies, withers, and dies. In Christ faith finds its focus and the power to love.

To the one who believes, love is already flooding like water over the dam into the parched low-lying areas of our neighbour’s lives. To the one who doesn’t, no amount of pushing will move the tide of love upstream. In its chemical composition water is one-third oxygen. But it has no airspace. It cannot be compressed. So too the law cannot force the hand of love. But heat will turn water into steam and then it will quickly fill the empty space. So too, the believer, when warmed by the Spirit’s glow moves to fill the cold and empty world around.

How do we love as Christ loved? Consider His own words. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)

The Holy Spirit will lead us to Christ. And there let us remain until the shadows lengthen and the sun sets on this mortal life. Let us remain in Christ not in motionless apathy, or fear of venture, but in dynamic self-giving; learning and believing that the more we are surrendered for our neighbour, the greater our glory in Christ. Let us love with the forfeiture of the bottomless compassion of the Saviour. When His crucified body was pierced there issued from His side a flow of water and blood; and thus every Christian font was filled and every communion chalice supplied. The well of His mercy will not run dry. We will be lifted by the rising Jordan, the baptismal flood that will buoy us in the ark of the church that anchors in the glassy sea of the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B) 2012

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

Text: John 15:2
Theme: Fruitful in the Vine

Dear friends of the Risen Lord,

God is the great ‘reversalist’. This truth reveals the fact that sinful humans always get things back to front. We consider our own skin. Then, if we’re not too self-absorbed, we look at how everything else might fit in. This is so in private and public life. Public worship is not firstly an expression of our love for God, but His love for us. In worship God gives, we receive. The Scripture says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”1 Yet, we’d like to have ‘the goods’ and then negotiate how God might be connected.

Herein lies one of Satan’s great deceptions: the promise of heavenly treasures apart heaven’s Benefactor. The object of your faith is not heaven, or eternal life. The object of your faith is Christ. Eternal life is the final goal and consequence. The distinction is important. Heaven cannot be acquired as an independent possession. Jesus is not a broker or an agent negotiating for you some type of spiritual portfolio. There is no inheritance without a family. We will be bodily resurrected and glorified in Christ. Believers are not welfare recipients. They are cherished members of the family. The older brother of the prodigal son complained to his father saying, “You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends,”2 To which the father replied, “My son…you are always with, and everything I have is yours.”3

A living connection with Him is Jesus’ emphasis in John 15 today. Using the botanical particulars of the grapevine He teaches about the kingdom. He compares Himself to the vine and the Father to the vinedresser. The analogy is straightforward. “He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit.”4If there is no fruit there is no life. The dead wood must be cut out for the sake of the health of the vine. The detached branch will never bear fruit on its own. There must be new life; new growth. We are fruitless apart from Christ, spiritually barren apart from the Holy Spirit. The Redeemer sums it up directly and succinctly, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”5

But these things are only partly open to our observation. We cannot infallibly judge the spiritual pulse of another. God alone is the coroner. The patient is covered with flesh so the physician cannot always perceive the integrity of the skeleton. But the X-Ray shows which bones are broken. The sinner is clothed in facades and pretenses so the observer cannot always witness the integrity of the spirit. But the Word reveals fractures of the soul. The Holy Spirit’s instrument is the law which readily diagnoses the malady. The integrity of the heart is always found wanting- the pathology of a spiritual heart failure. Immediate and comprehensive action is required.

Again, “He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”6 Here Jesus uses pruning as an analogy for spiritual purification of the believer. The life of faith does not grow free of the pollutants of all kinds of impurities. The heavenly Father chastises those whom He loves. He tests and refines. Our integrity is put to the test. Will we suffer the pruning of our wild growth? Will we forsake our inclinations to idolatry, the veneration of our material wealth, the indulgences of or our carnal appetites, the pursuit of our selfish ambitions? Will our lives be characterized by the repentance and humility that adjusts to God’s will for us, or by stubborn adherence to our own agendas?

Pruning reinvigorates the vine. Cleansing revitalizes the soul. Jesus continues, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”7 The word of Christ is the means by which the believer is justified and sanctified. The Word cleanses. It pardons. It frees. It forgives. It extends the power of the Forgiver and kindles new life in the forgiven. It is not a hollow word but a substantive word. It is not a static word but a per formative word. It is not ceremonial, but creative. God’s word has the authority of Christ- the Word-become-flesh. The Holy Spirit always attends it.

Finally, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”8 He says abide. Remain with Him. At least six times He mentions it. Hold to the constancy of your conviction. Let it be unmoved by the glitter of worldly charm. Let be unyielding in the face of change and decay. Let it be resolute at the hour of death. Through all the activities of our “remaining” the sanctified life is played out.

Our life of faith takes shape as we love our neighbour. To claim to love God without loving others is merely a spiritual abstraction. Christ’s body was hung on the cross. The crucifixion involved no abstraction but a bodily sacrifice on behalf of others. On the cross we see Christ bleeding, broken, yet housing the power of incorruptible life. Abused and forsaken He models faithfulness and truth. From the 6th hour darkness fell, the earth trembled, the rocks split, death was put on notice, Satan held his breath. Would everything be gained? Would his rebellion acquire an insurmountable power? Or would all be lost? The answer was clear on Easter morning. Love had triumphed over evil.

We share in that victory not as possessors of an inanimate gift but as envoys to the loveless corners of the world. In what manner is our neighbour to be loved? In sincerity and in truth! Christian love is controlled but not casual; not forced, but flowing; not contrived, but transparent; sincere, not superficial; even in urgency- calm. Christian love appears natural because it is motivated by the supernatural. The Vine does not fail to bear fruit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”9

Dear friends, the teaching of the gospel is new wine. It cannot be housed in old wineskins. The gospel is not a philosophy of human invention, but the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, divinely authoritative acquittal of repentant sinners for the sake of God’s glory in Christ. As the world vainly seeks a new look styled by its misplaced trust of science and collective human cleverness the believer knows we must be fitted with a more sacred wardrobe.

Spiritual nakedness can only be covered with heavenly apparel. We cover ourselves with fig leaves but the Father outfits us with baptismal garments10. On our own merits we’re not fit to approach the lowest ranking angel. On the basis of Christ’s merits we become beneficiaries of such a mystifying salvation angels long to be privy to its details11. Already now we participate in the inheritance. We have at every Divine Service an invitation to His banquet- His own body and blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. To His disciples on that Thursday of Holy Week Jesus said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”12 God grant that soon the vintage would be complete so that we might recline in His presence! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday of Easter
6 May 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 John 4:10
2 Luke 15:29
3 Luke 15:31
4 John 15:2 5 John 15:5 6 John 15:2
7 John 15:3 8 John 15:5 9 Galatians 5:22-23
10 See Galatians 3:27 11 See 1Peter 1:12 12 Matthew 26:29