Thursday, March 14, 2013

Christian Burial of Marjorie Schmidtke

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

Text: John 14:3
Theme: “To Be with Me”

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Marj Schmidtke, and especially you, Malcolm,

Marj has ceased to be in need of our prayers. But we can benefit from her memory. It is our privilege to do so particularly to the extent that her life helps us to reflect on the mercy of God in Christ. And there is no lack of opportunity. God has blessed Marj greatly and she has been a blessing to others.

The consideration of death is always an opportunity to assess our own transience and perspective on life. We prefer to see things through our self-advantaged eyes due to greed, or fear, or selfishness, or denial. Yet God presents us as we are. Everything is laid bare before Him. Nothing is concealed; nothing so complex that He can’t comprehend it clearly. He sees that we are mortal and at His mercy- one and all. Victims or perpetrators, the wounded, or the offenders, the oppressed or the oppressors, the broken, or the destroyers, the lost or the deceivers, we are all mortal, frail human frames collapsing under the weight of sin.

Life doesn’t always go as planned. God uses the formative events of life to shape us. It is through these that we are used to render the best service to His kingdom. Marj understood what it meant to be thrown into the crucible. Their daughter Helen’s death was a defining tragedy for everyone in the immediate family. Marj again became a mother- and this under stressful circumstances. She rose to the occasion even while recognizing she was vulnerable. Her concern for the spiritual well-being of others, especially her family, was palpable. And to the extent it was palpable it was genuine. She was never given to pretense.

Never assuming God’s mercy was an entitlement, she was characteristically humble in faith. Her confidence rested in what was finished in Christ and not in what she still had to do. She knew salvation was by grace. That doesn’t mean she didn’t have her questions or niggling doubts. Faith is tested and refined by challenges. Marj knew she was a sinner in need of His love. She would want us to know the same.

Marj had as many reasons as the average person to give up on the real purpose of life- to concede to the lure of self-preservation. But God had high and holy purposes for her even though outwardly her life may have appeared as unremarkable as the next. The world is blind to that which only the eyes of faith can see. The apostle Paul describes it in this way, “We do not loose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”1

This passage was especially relevant to Marj in her later years. Her hearing was failing. Her sight was almost gone. Her physical frame was taxed to its limit. But inwardly- her spiritual strength was gaining fortitude and vibrancy. Her spiritual maturity proceeded inversely to her physical decline.

At what point does life become too much? The ice becomes too thin. The edge of the precipice crumbles away. The strength to fight on is exhausted. Our human capacities are maxed out and give out. This can happen physically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically. Finally it happens comprehensively. It can cause tremendous fear and trepidation.

But the believer is not alone. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,”2 says the Good Shepherd. And again, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth…He will testify about Me.”3 And yet again, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”4 And so it was with Marj. Christ tended her faith with His word and Spirit, body and blood, absolution and promise. Christ was crucified to redeem sinners, of which Marj was one.

Perhaps we who are left to grieve feel more like the orphans. Yet this too will pass. God condescends to us with such compassion that His gentleness and patience will bear with our frailty. There must be sorrow mixed with joy. We are not one-dimensional stoics. The patriarchs, prophets, saints and martyrs grieved. Jesus Himself wept.

But where Christ reigns sorrow has no residency. The separation is brief, a blip of time on the scale of eternity. This solace is not a baseless platitude, but the irrevocable promise of the resurrected Christ. Satan defeated, sin atoned for, hell rendered powerless, the believer even now beings to participate in a joy- not even perhaps perceptible at first (and always contested by the darkness of the world)- but nevertheless a joy that will swell into a euphoria beyond our imagination. This is the privilege and anticipation of the baptized. That which is labeled heaven is nothing less than the unhindered experience of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- uninterrupted.

The only one who has the authority to do so said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…In My Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.”5 Christ has prepared that place for Marj Schmidtke and it has been filled. Earlier we heard these words, “Though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold…may be proved genuine…for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”16

Marj has received the goal of her faith. The promise of her baptism has come to fruition. She has been set free. All that she failed to do and failed to be is forgiven. All that she was in faith is rewarded. She is at peace. She is not burdened with pain or anxiety or regret. She rests in the presence of Him who took her place outside the earthly Jerusalem so that she might have her place inside the heavenly Zion. She awaits the resurrection of all flesh. Glory to God in the highest! Amen

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Marjory Schmidtke
14 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Corinthians 4:16-17
2 John 14:27
3 John 15:27
4 John 14:18
5 John 14:1-2
6 1 Peter 1:6-7, 9

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Lent (C) 2013

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

Text: Luke 15:20
Theme: The Father’s Compassion

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”1 Today that word comes to us with exceptional beauty. We could hardly find a parable more representative of the storyline of salvation and instructive of the heart of God than this one. The tenderness, compassion and faithfulness of God are all illustrated in this father of two sons. So too are the profound consequences of sin. The younger son becomes a self-styled narcissist that must fall to the brink of despair. The older son is the dutiful child that still begrudges the mercy of the Father shown to the younger. “It’s not fair!” is his cry.

No one really wants to believe that he or she is the prodigal- unless through false humility they hope to receive the benefit of some sympathy. No one wants to believe they could be so reckless, disobedient, and immoral. But this text is not asking us to compare. We are called to recognize we that are no less sinners than the prodigal. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to this conviction. No one deserves an audience with God. No one deserves to be welcomed into His kingdom. God alone is privy to the reckless waste and disobedience in our lives.

The prodigal son did return. How does one come to this point? The scaffolding of our self-constructed kingdoms must collapse. In modern parlance we call it hitting rock-bottom. Otherwise we cannot enter or remain in His kingdom. It will happen at death anyway. This truth-personal for every individual- runs parallel to the decay of the world. The apostle says that we should “use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”2 The skeleton of the cosmos is fracturing under the weight of sin’s burden.

We do well to remember during this season of Lent that the exercise of repentance is a personal and a corporate one. Together as the body of Christ we live in the world but we are not of the world. We shouldn’t be too hasty in making the assumption that this reality can be maintained unchallenged. Can we have anything meaningful to say to the world if all we are doing is presenting a religious-sounding version of what the world already believes? Should the church be re-imaging herself to be more in-step with the culture? Or should she be constantly refining and reforming herself to be more reflective of the Word? Are we brash or na├»ve enough to say that people don’t need salvation from sin in the way they once did?

What do we fear? Ridicule? Political correctness? Irrelevancy? Probably all these and more. Yet, the more we mimic the world the more irrelevant we become. The issues that people are grappling with demand an informed Christian perspective: Climate change, sexuality, life after death, purpose for the present, proper respect for authority, sanctity of life- abortion, euthanasia, suicide- etc., and etc.

How is this challenge being met? Like the world, do we believe this life is an end in itself? Are we really closet Epicureans believing we should eat, drink, and be merry? Do we believe sexuality is a personal freedom meant for pleasure? Are we really closet amoralists not concerned about divine value judgments? Do we believe nearly everyone is “going to a better place” when they die? Are we really closet universalists denying the existence of hell? Do we believe life can be ended by democratic pragmatism? Are we really closet adherents of social Darwinism? Do we believe we are essentially laws unto ourselves? Are we really closet anarchists wanting to be kings and queens of our own castles?

Or are we not really often acting in secrecy at all? Just sometimes carefully, sometimes sheepishly as we capitulate to the persuasive influences of culture! Dear friends, the lie of Satan is that you’ll always be better off without God than with Him. But God is not a begrudging miser. Jesus says “The pagans run after all these things (necessities of life), and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”3 We are not prevented from enjoying life. We appreciate it all the more because we are not given over to futility. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”4 The prodigal son did not see at first that he possessed more blessings with His father than apart from him.

The prodigal son returns without expecting to be reinstated to his place in the family. God does not look at repentance as our good work. It is a work of the Spirit. To repent with the intention of demanding recognition from God shows there has been no true change of heart. We can make no claims on Christ’s mercy. Even those returning to the church have no ‘rights’ to claim. If it were any other way grace would not be grace.

The grace of God is not reactionary it is proactive. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”5 It was beneath the dignity of a mature Jewish man to run. But what is beneath the dignity of God? God does not wait to announce to us His promise. Christ humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. God’s love is not contingent upon our initiative. Baptism promises life to the spiritually dead. This life is ours to celebrate in life-long obedience to His will.

What does the father say to the skeptical older brother? “We had to celebrate…because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”6 Should we not celebrate when the dead live! When those in spiritual death and darkness are revived by the light of Christ! Ah, “But it’s Lent!” you say. And hallelujahs are restricted. Is not the ox pulled out of the ditch on the Sabbath7? Do the guests fast when the bridegroom is still with them8? Is there not more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents9? The bruised reed is not broken and the smoldering wick is not snuffed out10.

When the gospel is preached, when the Spirit enters the darkness- the dead will live. These things we celebrate. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”11
Where Christ is the darkness cannot long linger. The prophet says that in Christ’s presence “sorrow and sighing will flee away.”12 Why? Because “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”13 He was crucified for us and raised from the dead. This is our joy in the face of struggle. God abides with us in our pilgrimage.

When the manna ceased could the Israelites still rejoice? They were now receiving sustenance from the promised inheritance. God had sustained them for 40 years with the bread from heaven. Then it ended. They must have felt grief mixed with joy. But it was yet another preview of the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died…I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”14

We have the true manna- Christ’s very body and blood- in the sacrament. He promises He will not withdraw it until we join Him in the heavenly banquet. For his reconciled son the father killed the proverbial fattened calf. For us He has done so much more. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday in Lent
10 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 10:19 2 1 Corinthians 7:31
3 Matthew 6:32 4 1 Timothy 6:4 5 Luke 15:20
6 Luke 15:32 7 See Luke 14:5 8 See Luke 5:34
9 See Luke 15:7 10 See Isaiah 42:3 11John 1:4
12 Isaiah 35:10 13 2 Corinthians 5:21 14 John 6:48-51