Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: mark 6:14-29
Theme: Living and Dying in Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Father loves the world indirectly. No, He is not aloof. Certainly when He sends rain for the growing crop His benevolence is unmediated. Yet when it comes to the salvation of souls, He loves the world through His Son. And through Him He loves it more unambiguously and passionately than at creation. Jesus, the new Adam and sacrificial Lamb is the direct presence of the Father in the world. The shepherds came to Bethlehem, the disciples fled from Calvary- and while humanity was in conflict and consternation- Christ embraced the world in divine compassion. The Holy Spirit communicates the crucified and risen Jesus to us through word and sacrament. His is a love that is always sacrificial, always self-giving.

Today St. Mark relates to us the story of the martyrdom of John the Baptist. John the Baptist lived and died in Christ. Through John, the truth of the ages was, and continues to be expressed to the world. He said of Christ, “He must become greater; I must become less.”1 And so it happened dramatically as he was beheaded for His dedication. John stands both as a towering witness calling us always to repentance and pointing us to Christ; and as a reminder that truth will always be opposed in the world- sometimes violently.

Despite being separated by 2000 years of history the condition of the human heart is fundamentally no different than in John’s time. Times change. Human nature doesn’t. What does John’s message have to say to us today? Though his brave and staunch cry for morality brought resistance from many quarters and even his own demise, it was a deeper message that ignited such conflict, fervor, and excitement among the children of men. It was essentially the claim that the wait was over and the search for God was ended. The idols of Rome were obsolete. The legalism of the Jews was overthrown. It was the assertion that the purpose and hope of humanity had been revealed in this one man.

And what has changed today? Materialism rules the consumer. Skepticism rules the scholar. Cronyism rules the politician. And Satan still rules the unbeliever. All are called to repent not merely of some indulgent or selfish indiscretion or even of habitual apathy and lovelessness, but of the fatal mistrust of any and every attempt of God to draw you near to Himself in Christ. Sin is not a matter of a stain on your shirt but the darkness of your soul. We are all whitewashed tombs until the Spirit brings new life.

John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”2 In Christ the baptized are cleansed, named, restored, and secured. All this is so because He paid the price for our salvation. The Scripture says, “In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”3 Here we see the particularity of the Father’s love. He restores each unique believer, His own creation, through the exclusive triumph of Christ. The gospel is a many-faceted jewel but it is composed of a singular, unadulterated essence. It shines and glitters from every angle reflecting and refracting the rays of God’s grace. Yet, like a diamond it is a pure element to which all other rivals pale in comparison. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father and Son of Mary is alone the way and the truth and the life. Outside of Him there is no salvation.

Dear friends, one of the great mysteries of Christianity is how God can love each individual with such passion and if each was an only child. Only in faith can we grasp such a promise. Only the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts with confidence. Yes, you know God loves you because He provides for your bodily needs. But far more importantly, you believe God loves you because of the death and resurrection of His Son. We are all little mirrors reflecting that love.

The Scriptures call us to be pure in love. Love serves. It is directed outward- towards the well-being of another; or it is not true love. Love that has self-interest is a sham. It is a matter of manipulation or playing games. At best such “attempts” at love are borne of ignorance, at worst, selfishness. The one who seeks recognition for acts of charity or love has committed a great sin, for it is a sin glossed with religious pretense. There was never self-interest in the mercy Jesus showed to others. Our daily struggle is to imitate His love as we persevere in a world of darkness and doubt.

The Good News is new each time we hear it. The familiarity we have with the work of Christ’s sacrificial love should make it no less remarkable to us. Like food to the hungry stomach or rest to the weary body the gospel is comfort to the sinful soul. Just as food for the hungry stomach or sleep for the weary body is no less satisfying from one week to the next or one year to another, so absolution is never less comforting to the truly penitent. Those who seek God’s love are never left wanting. He supplies our needs. He calms our fears. He quiets our anxieties. He relieves our consciences and gives peace to our hearts. At death He receives our souls and guards our bodies until the resurrection of all flesh. He sweeps away the scars and traumas of life as effortlessly as the wind carries away a fallen leaf.

John the Baptist lived and died in Christ. The manner of his death seemed both brutal and arbitrary. There was no trial. No due process of law. No opportunity for appeal. Herod was grieved. Others rejoiced. Yet the Lamb of God whom he loved and proclaimed called him the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When Christians die their worldly accomplishments may be praised at their deaths but they count for nothing in the divine ledger. Frivolous human pursuits are shown for what they are and God favours the faithful with a glory that far outstrips anything the world has to offer. We are already citizens of heaven. We have already in this bread and wine a foretaste of the feast to come. We have in His promise of grace a preview of the joy of heaven. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
15 July 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 2:30
2 Mark 1:4
3 Ephesians 1:7

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (B) 2012

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

Text: Mark 5:28
Theme: Hope and Life

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

She still had hope. He clung to a desperate prayer. She was intimately familiar with her grief caused by 18 years of suffering- a personal ongoing saga. He faced the loss of His daughter- painful, heart-wrenching, a suffering external to his own person. Both looked to Christ- Jairus, the synagogue ruler, and the woman who bled- neither were disappointed. Where there is life there is hope. And in the case of Jesus, even where there is death He calls forth life.

Miracles are not just proofs of Christ’s divinity; they are consequences of His presence. That is, they were not just carefully chosen displays of omnipotence as much as they were organically consistent expressions of God’s existence in human flesh. That is not to say that in the person of Jesus the Godhead isn’t still veiled. Never was Jesus’ majesty and glory fully unleashed- mortals simply couldn’t bear it. Even the transfiguration was only a shadowy preview. Still, Christ always exuded restorative power. His compassion could not be contained. Everywhere He went the reversal of the fall was in progress. Even during His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus restored the ear of Malchus that had been severed by Peter in the initial melee.

Today Jesus addresses sickness and death. We tend to think we are only victims of sickness and disease. But in fact, sickness is part of the tangled pathology of sin. We are beset by sickness and death because we are sinners, not simply by chance. Though we rejoice in the knowledge God gives to mankind to address the vast range of physical and psychological dangers that confront us, as Christians we can never be duped into believing we will achieve the ultimate cure for the human condition.

Otherwise we would be in denial of the potency of original sin. Here we can only take God at His word. People will always be drawn more naturally to humanistic philosophy than they will biblical revelation. Yet sin is a chasm we have no means to bridge, power we have no strength to defeat, and a sickness for which we have no cure. Every effort to ignore or downplay the seriousness of our conundrum as sinners undermines what we should really be doing- repenting! You and I are sinners and that is something we must keep confessing until the Second Coming of our Lord makes it no longer true. Sin is the sickness of humanity. But Christ has the resources of divinity.

Today the suffering woman was restored just by touching Jesus’ garment. Jesus knew that power, healing strength, restorative energy, had gone out from Him. It was not spent on a curiosity seeker or skeptic. Nor is it possible to snatch something from the Almighty that He is not willing to give. We are told, “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”1

When her secrecy was shattered she came trembling to confess and revealed her plight. Christ allowed this for the advantage of the crowd not because of His own ignorance. His response was life-changing, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”2 The situation with Jairus’s daughter was even more stunning. The young girl had died. The commotion and wailing precipitated by death had already commenced. It was no barrier to Christ’s compassion and power. Nothing is insurmountable for Him who creates, redeems, and restores.

Now, what is the consequence of this peace and freedom that He grants? It is not something we are entitled to abuse. It is a privilege we exercise. The Scripture warns about those “who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord.”3 Forgiveness, that holy and precious gift, remains just that- a gift. It is never a tool we can manipulate.

Less than four months after his inauguration in 1881, James Garfield, the 20th President of the United States was shot twice at a Washington railroad depot. One grazed Garfield's arm; the other lodged in his abdomen. A leading Washington doctor came and inserted a metal probe into the wound, turning it slowly, searching for the bullet. The probe became stuck between the shattered fragments of Garfield's eleventh rib, and was removed only with a great deal of difficulty, causing great pain. Then Bliss inserted his finger into the wound, widening the hole in another unsuccessful probe.

Leading doctors of the age flocked to Washington to aid in his recovery, sixteen in all. Most probed the wound with their fingers or dirty instruments. Though the president complained of numbness in the legs and feet, which implied the bullet was lodged near the spinal cord, most thought it was resting in the abdomen. Garfield's condition only got worse. The doctors reopened the wound and enlarged it hoping to find the bullet. They were unsuccessful.

By the time Garfield died on September 19, his doctors had turned a three-inch-deep, harmless wound into a twenty-inch-long contaminated gash stretching from his ribs to his groin. The famous inventor, Alexander Graham Bell even invented a metal-detecting instrument to try and find the bullet. This was later found to be unsuccessful because of the metal bed frame the president was lying on.

If we keep probing our spiritual wounds sin festers and the wounds will not heal. And yet why do we return again, and again, and again? Is it not because we more easily gravitate to that which we are familiar with? We dwell in the past because that is where we are comfortable. Sin chains us to the hurts and pains, the decay caused by that which remains unforgiven. We keep probing the opening in hopes we will find justice, revenge, or validation. Perhaps we try to play the martyr in secret hope of being recognized. But only Christ can give us release. Forgiveness can and does heal fractured relationships because Christ has reconciled us to the Father. No human relationship can be broken beyond repair because the sacrifice for humanity’s affront to God is complete. The crucifixion is the unalterable expression of divine love and grace that cannot be surpassed. The risen, living, and ruling Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal testament to this truth.

Dear friends, God knows our sufferings. His concern for our suffering is not a matter of abstract knowledge. Jesus Christ embraced the fullness of our human condition, experiencing everything we endure, yet remained without sin. He knows the dark places we’ve been. He has been to the edge of the abyss and beyond. He will not abandon you in your sickness, uncertainty, or despair. He reminds you that the trouble of this life is short. He focuses you on the promises to come- the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

The healing of the woman who bled and the raising of Jairus’s daughter were previews of what is come; examples of the body being healed in view of the soul. But here where the Spirit is at work the soul is healed in view of the body. In holy baptism the mortal wound of sin is absorbed into the life of Him who was mortally wounded for us. In baptism your decaying soul is regenerated by the same life-giving Spirit who attended Jesus’ own resurrection. He gives you too His own body and blood as a participation in the covenant of life that He instituted.

Where there is life there is hope. Where Christ is even death, the final sickness, has no power to do us any harm. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
1 July 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 5:27
2 Mark 5:34
3 Jude 4