Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (C) 2013

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

Text: Luke 4:29
Theme: Ready For Harvest?

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Spirit has only one device for harvesting: The Word of God. Wielding it today in the power of the Spirit Jesus found that the Nazarenes were a difficult spiritual harvest. They were familiar with Jesus, the son of Joseph, the carpenter. Doubtless this coloured their opinion of Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures. In the end they rise up in anger, drive Him out of town, and even try to push Him over a cliff.

Up to that point Jesus had been well received. So what changes? The residents of Nazareth quickly realized Jesus wasn’t just an eloquent speaker who had a gift for making the Scriptures come alive. They were the target of His declarations. In short, Jesus got personal. His condemnations were no longer generic. And it didn’t go over well.

It’s easy to receive God’s word of judgment when we believe it is intended for somebody else. We even relish in the thought of other people getting their just deserts. “Wow, the preacher really laid into so and so about such and such. Good for him, those sinners deserve to learn a thing or two!” But the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow for generic application of God’s Word. We don’t have the authority to distance ourselves from its relevance.

It’s all well and good to say that, but that’s exactly what our sinful natures seek to do. It is second-nature to us, a reflex of self-defense. Only the Holy Spirit can teach us otherwise. We like to think of ourselves as above, or at least outside of the law. Like the Nazarenes we balk at being labeled as transgressors. But don’t believe for a second, dear friends, that when the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”1 that it doesn’t include you. Don’t think for a moment that when Christ says, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near,”2 that you are exempt.

But by the same token never think that the grace of God may not be meant for you. The human heart and will are so easily twisted into thinking the gospel- the Good News of salvation- is conditional, their power to doubt and question must be annihilated. That’s why your initial access to God is through drowning. Death before life! Death to the Old Adam, the idolatrous will. You cannot will Him into receiving you. No one can exert their will on God. We must first be acted upon. In the waters of baptism the sinful self is drown- put to death in Christ’s own crucifixion and buried with Him. Then from those spiritual ashes He raises new life. Christianity does not involve any type of reincarnation in the sense of multiple lives in multiple bodies; it involves renewal, restoration, and even resurrection. The Scripture says, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”3

Even in this new life we struggle on. Our new life continues to become stained with sin and Christ continues to wash us clean. Our new life continues to accumulate scars but Christ continues to heal. Our new life continues to be vulnerable to captivation by dark forces but Christ continues to release us. All this involves the daily living of our baptism; light beamed into our darkness, hope lifting us out of despair. In a sense the demand on us is greater because we are no longer custodians of our own ambitions but of the kingdom’s treasures. And this the secular world does not appreciate. But in another sense we have the ultimate freedom. We finally have nothing to fear, not even death itself.

And because we have nothing to fear we can really live- to really live means to love. Our reading from 1 Corinthians extols the virtues of love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”4 Now love is not something separated from faith but is the expression of it. Love is a fruit. Love is simply faith in action. But is it surely not simple. It is the grand, sophisticated manifestation of Christ’s power and presence shining through believers in countless humble and joyful ways. It can be as easy as a friendly smile or as involved sacrificing all of one’s dreams to care for another. But it is always, in some way, even when it is not recognized as such, an expression of our belief that God has first loved us in Christ. Otherwise it is not Christian love at all but an attempt either to polish our egos or hedge our fears.

Today as we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving we are reminded that in spite of all of our toil or ingenuity the providence of God must still provide us with our daily bread. Farming, like the ordained ministry, is truly a vocation of faith. We are wholly dependent on Him. In the same way the spiritual harvest is dependent on His word. But we have the assurance He will not fail. Isaiah says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”5

The word never returns empty even when we cannot appreciate what has been achieved. We might even be insensitive to the word’s work on us. We may feel unmoved or indifferent but God promises we will not be unaffected. The sacrament of Holy Communion is a great example today. Christ chose the fruit of the vine to be the carrier of the fruit of His passion. The wine of the vineyard bears the blood that was sacrificed. It’s more than an informed choice. It’s a nexus of the fruit of creation with the sacrifice of redemption.

Just as Jesus wined the water of Cana lifting it beyond the ordinary, so He consecrates the wine of the vineyard investing it with the sacred. Surely there is no better way to celebrate God’s bounty at Harvest Thanksgiving than to receive the nourishment that also benefits us for the life to come. Our spiritual life is not sustained by the yield of orchards and paddocks but by the fruit of His veins. The Garden of Eden is re-entered through this sacrament opened by His death and resurrection.

Today the residents of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff. It was a preview of the rejection He would face at His trial and crucifixion. But in the end it was Satan who was thrown down when Christ was lifted up on the cross. The royal Seed of Abraham was buried in the soil of Golgotha and in His death provided the power for new life to spring. The tomb of Jesus was no crypt, only the seedbed for the firstfruits6 of the resurrection. In that resurrection we have our part. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
(Harvest Thanksgiving)
3 February 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 3:22
2 Matthew 4:17
3 Romans 6:11
4 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 7
5 Isaiah 55:10-11
6 See 1 Corinthians 15:20

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