Saturday, March 30, 2013

Good Friday 2013

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

Text: John 19:18
Theme: Crucified For Sinners

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”1 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”2 “He died for all.”3 His act of sacrifice was not a pious analogy or religious parable. It was not a historically limited illustration of human attempts to represent God’s goodness. It was the once-for-all, sufficient means of reconciling humanity to God.

Yet there are few things more unpalatable to the mindset of the current generation than the claim that there is an exclusive way for something to be accomplished. At every turn we are indoctrinated with the idea that all things are relative. Nothing is set in concrete. Nothing is universally true. Is there not more than one way to skin a fox? Values are said to depend on the perspective of the observer. Even history is open for reinterpretation according to the preferences of the spectator.

What spiritual truths can really interest the modern cynic? Perhaps a grand synthesis in which philosophies, ancient and modern, are rolled into one pluralistic system of myth and fable to suit the spiritual proclivities of those who are adverse to all things dogmatic? Many want the freedom to dabble with no consequences; the option to indulge with no responsibilities. Others prefer the skeptical disdain that the pursuit of any standard of truth is even worthwhile at all. All that matters is the value you place on your ambitions today. Tomorrow is another story. Society should tolerate and even institutionalize such ideals. We are in the process of learning where such subjective philosophies lead.

“Carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull. Here they crucified Him.”4 The foundation of Christianity must stand on the bedrock of Christ’s atonement otherwise it crumbles away on sinking sand. It all boils down to this point: When the gold is purified from the dross, the wheat separated from the chaff, when contenders for glory prove to be pretenders, when all possibilities are sieved through the matrix of divine truth, there stands alone this one act sufficient to atone for sinners.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this chief doctrine of Christianity is undervalued. It can only be cherished by sinners. There is no place for Christ where other idols reign. There can be no more appropriate occasion to entreat the Holy Spirit to purge us of all transgressions that seek to supplant His rule in our lives. Repentance is not simply a remedial exercise that insures we keep to some measure of religious formality. Repentance involves a collision of our stubborn wills with God’s truth about the consequences of our sin. The prospect hell and eternal condemnation is not something we should care to manage on our own.

Christ came into the world to witness to the truth.5 Through the activity of the church the Holy Spirit bears the word into the world. What authority does the church have? It has the Office of the Keys. It has only the authority of the Word. But this is more than sufficient for the task. It converts the unenlightened through baptismal rebirth. It draws those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness”6 to the holy table where they are fed. The crucifixion supplies the word with an infinite source of grace. The resurrection with the power to sustain life.

The word of God is not information. It is power to convict wills and transform hearts. The law of God is not a legislative treatise to be debated in regards to its usefulness in jurisprudence. It is the condemning declaration of a holy God that weighs sinners in the balance and finds them wanting.7 The gospel of Christ is not an ethical platform to be assessed for its possibilities in promoting public prosperity. It is the declaration of righteousness that bestows on the sinner faith, forgiveness and freedom.

Yet the word doesn’t work through osmosis. It is proclaimed into the world. Did Nineveh repent until Jonah was sent with a message of judgment8? Did Nebuchadnezzar honour the God of the Hebrews before He gave Daniel the wisdom to interpret his dream9? Did Naaman wash in the Jordan and enjoy relief from his leprosy until Elisha’s messenger prevailed on him10? Did the disciples believe the women who returned from the tomb11? But respond they did when acted upon by God’s powerful word.

Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.”12 Now so near that the darkness that descended while He was on the cross was palpable. Now so near that the trembling earth would have caused on-lookers to lose their physical and spiritual balance. Now so near that the Messiah’s own mother would need an earthly surrogate. Now so near that the Jews were left dumbfounded when the barrier to the Holy of Holies was slashed open. Now so near that Jesus said, “It is finished.”9 In this event humanity is redeemed. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Good Friday
29 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 5:8 2 Romans 4:25 3 2 Corinthians 5:15
4 John 19:17-18 5 See John 18:37 6 Matthew 5:6
7 See Daniel 5:27 8 See Jonah 3:3-10 9 See Daniel 2:46-47
10 See 2 kings 5:13-15 11 See Luke 24:11 12 Matthew 4:17
13 John 19:30

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday 2013

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

Text: John 13:8
Theme: “Unless I Wash You…”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

After sundown Jesus and His disciples began to celebrate the Passover. Laden with history, saturated with memory, they commemorated the faithfulness of Yahweh to His people. It was exemplified by their deliverance from bondage and inheritance of the Promised Land. A people always living on the precipice of death He never failed to revive His remnant.

Yet this Passover was more than a repetition of the past. Christ’s hour had come. The Messiah would be glorified. But His glory would be achieved through sacrifice. There would be death. These events were imminent and it was time to initiate the new covenant with His followers. Pilate washed his hands. But Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. Humans look to justify themselves, while God’s Son stoops to the task. Forgiveness is not obtained by wielding force, but by receiving His divine endowment. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me,”1 He said.

The Last Supper might be aptly named in the context of Jesus’ immanent departure but it is a misnomer as it applies to the on-going life of the church. For in this regard it is not the last but the first. This initial dispensation of the sacrament from the hands of Jesus to the lips of the disciples was the inauguration of a feast that continues to be administered across the span of time and space in the church until His return in glory.

We participate in the life of God sacramentally. That is, we have fellowship with God through those tangible, audible, visible means that He has ordained as avenues for us. You cannot dictate the way in which God will relate to you. You cannot construct your own personalized manner of having access to God. Any efforts to do so result in a false sense of security. They will end in the hollow realization that God does not promise to be present except in the manner of His choosing. The repentant sinner does not presume upon God but learns to receive what He offers.

We have the word. His word accomplishes all things. It is the sword of the Spirit. We cannot journey back to the cross. We don’t need too. The benefits are brought forward to us.
Holy Communion is the staple diet of the baptized. It is filled with God’s promises. It lacks none of His blessings. The blood of Christ communicates to us the life of God. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”2

He is the Giver; you are a receiver. He is the Provider; you are the benefactor. He is the Lover; you are the beloved. In Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit the direction of grace is always one way. Mercy flows from Him to us. There is no equilibrium, no mutual benefit; no reciprocity. The lost sheep do not find the Shepherd. Condemned sinners do not clear their own charges. The dead are not revived under their own power. Christ’s is a one-sided intervention. His is a unilateral mediation; the Holy One on behalf of the transgressor. Never is our own contribution critical or even helpful.

But His initiative does invoke a response. And it never fails to do so lest faith be shown to be nominal only. Faith is active in love. And what form does the response of faith take? The possibilities are infinite, but they are all necessarily directed to God through our neighbour. Your generosity, your compassion, your giving of your time and money, your willingness to sacrifice your ambitions- none of which the Almighty stands in need of directly- are all expressions of faith that benefit fellow sinners. The Christian cannot exist in isolated devotion or self-absorption. Like divine love our passion is always extending away from ourselves towards others. Faith returns to God via the detour through our neighbour.

As it does so it embodies the characteristics of Him who conceived it. At the top of the list tonight is humility. Jesus modeled it for His disciples. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”3 What does it mean to wash the feet of others? Humility reframes our perspective. The Scriptures paint an image of ourselves we could never identify on our own.

Winston Churchill was once asked if it thrilled him to know that every time he made a speech, the room was packed to overflowing. "It's quite flattering," replied Sir Winston. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big." Did you hear about the pastor who claimed he had written a wonderful sermon about humility? He was waiting for a large attendance before he preached it. Servanthood cannot be motivated by the desire for recognition. To head out in the wrong direction is to end at the wrong destination.

Love turned back towards itself is eventually revealed as idolatry. “Love one another,”4 He said on the eve of His crucifixion. Faith active in love knows no direct path to God. It detours constantly to where the neighbour dwells; a thousand ghettos in a dark and desperate land. The neighbour dwells in bitterness, resentment, and anger; in temptation, frailty, and pain; in grief, separation, and despair; in aggression, selfishness, and apathy. Here love enters, stoops to wash the soiled foot, and points to the Saviour. Hope enters the world of death with the message of life. The task that lay before the apostles is the privilege we still participate in. And our “labour in the Lord in not in vain.”5 because the crucified One lives and He is Lord of the Church.

Participation in the very same sacred meal Jesus shared with His disciples connects us with the communion of the faithful and the mystery of His death-destroying sacrifice. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”6 It is only in confessing His death in the very manner of how we live life that world can find life that does not end. “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”7 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Maundy Thursday
28 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 13:8
2 1 Corinthians 10:16
3 John 13:14-15
4 John 13:34
5 1 Corinthians 15:58
6 1 Corinthians 11:26
7 Luther’s Small Catechism

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Funeral For Roberta Miller

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

Text: John 10:27
Theme: “No One Can Snatch Them Out of My Hand.”

Dear Friends of Robi,

God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. That truth may at first seem to provide little comfort, but it’s an important reminder of our limitations. We must let God be God. There’s no way to manage Him. There is no point in taking issue with His decrees. The Saviour has called Robi to Himself. That He has done so is an act of divine mercy. The Good Shepherd calls His sheep. The place prepared for her is now occupied. Her stresses in life have now ended.

Life rushes along and it’s easy to forget that we are never more than one step from eternity. But it’s a step we can’t manage on our own. Robi understood that she was a sinner. She was struggling to believe that by grace she was also a saint. During visits she pulled her Luther’s Small Catechism off the shelf and said, “I’ve been saying my prayers, pastor; every night.” Then she would often say something to the effect that she hoped she was good enough to ‘make the cut’. It was a great opportunity to talk about the true meaning of the gospel.

We are not saints by nature. We do not become saints by any good deeds, obedience, pure living, or charity. We cannot do anything in part or in whole to make ourselves righteous before God. But righteous we are through faith in what Christ has done for us. In Him we are forgiven, cleared of our guilt.

You see, that’s how God looks at the forgiven sinner. He looks through the cross. And when He looks through the cross He sees His Son and He is pleased. Christ suffered a tortuous crucifixion – the single most sacrificial act in the history of humanity and the only one that could free us from our sins- and then rose victorious from the grave. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”1

The world is still full of skeptics, it always will be. Christ doesn’t fit into their box. But He didn’t fit into the tomb either. Who are we, as mortals facing the inevitable power of death, to question Him who shattered death’s hold? Who are we, as creatures of the shadows, to interrogate Him who is the eternal source of light? Yes, the complaints will always remain: God is too apathetic, or inattentive, or impotent- and even the strongest believers have their doubts- but what alternative can we offer? Will we charge recklessly, stumbling headlong into the world of unbelief and anxiety? Will we rush into the darkness unarmed and unprotected?

At a time when many of His followers had begun to turn back because His teaching were too much to accept, Jesus asked the His twelve disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do You…Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”2 He is the Prince of Peace. The meaning of the gospel is that God has made an unconditional promise in Christ.

That promise is first made in baptism. Roberta was baptized as an infant and from that moment she was a child of eternal inheritance. She was received into fellowship with the Holy Trinity and in communion with the holy Christian church. Her faith was nurtured further when she was confirmed. That doesn’t mean she was suddenly perfect or immune to the temptations of sin. But it does mean that God promised not to forsake her.

She knew her frailties. She knew her days were numbered. Few, if any, ever knew the true extent of her struggles. She made friends and was a blessing to others. But she kept her personal affairs mostly to herself. But God knew. He knew how physically fragile she was. He tended to her with gentleness and compassion.

Robi is now freed from all pain and sorrow. She is released from the constraints of sin. She awaits the resurrection on the Last Day. Robi was one of Christ’s lambs. He said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.”3 She is in His hands. Thanks be to God!

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Funeral of Roberta Sue Miller
22 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 11:25
2 John 6:67-69
3 John 10:28

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday (C) 2013

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

Text: Luke 19:38
Theme: Ill-Fated or Divinely Directed

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. That first Palm Sunday was the start of Passover, the week in which Jesus was arrested, tried, sentenced, and crucified. Christ’s entry into Jerusalem began with great fanfare and expectation. The crowds welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”1 By Friday things got ugly. They were more than disappointed with His mission. They let themselves be ruled by mob mentality. But, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs.”2

Serious consideration of who Jesus Christ is, what He did and what it means has been steadily declining in our culture of apathy and relativism. There isn’t much of an appetite for a plan of divine intervention. To some skeptics the crucifixion of Jesus was not divinely-directed but rather ill-fated. The ministry of the healer of Nazareth came to a tragic end and His mission had to be resuscitated later by His followers. This view relegates Jesus Christ to the annals of history affording subsequent generations only the opportunity to ponder His accomplishments. Of course this is not the perspective of faith. And it exercises little restraint in criticizing the Almighty. The most foolish are often the most bold.

But we should be reticent in making excuses for ourselves. How easily we too can be led astray when things aren’t going our way; when God doesn’t fit into our box? We are tempted to join the crowds and condemn Christ (though often secretly and with great piety) for failing to meet our needs. This can quickly lead to a loss of perspective. Prosperous independence from Him is an illusion. It is Satan’s deception. The devil would have it that we always underestimate the gravity of sin.

Can you stand up under the scrutiny of the Almighty? Can you endure His gaze? Can you give account for your transgressions? Will you put yourself up against the heroes of the faith who still required forgiveness? Moses was not allowed to cross into the promised land3. David was not allowed to build the temple4. St. Paul was kept humble by a thorn in the flesh5. Are we more virtuous? Dare we harbor secret thoughts that our own righteousness is sufficient?

Sin is not just a therapeutic problem. It is an existential crisis. The dimensions and consequences of sin are beyond our comprehension, let alone our control. Yes, the struggle against temptation and sin’s fruit- self-centeredness- is daily, hourly, even ‘minutely’. Such wrestling characterizes the Christian life. The Holy Spirit leads us in this tussle. Willful sin does not reign unchecked in the believer. The believer, resists, regrets, repents and seeks forgiveness for each failure. This way of the Christian life never ceases because the guilt of sin is not ‘manageable’. We can never be satisfied that we’ve ‘gotten on top of it’. We never reach perfection in this life. Nor can we concede to ignorance and apathy.

Christ came to resolve the very real, relevant, and eternal consequences of sin. The antipathy of indifference, His passion was the defining revelation of the heart of God. His sacrifice was a deliberate and unconditional substitution on our behalf. This is the ultimate Good News. Though the Gospel is pure in its simplicity- Christ died for sins and makes us beneficiaries by grace- it cannot be grasped by any natural aptitude or faculties that we possess. The apostle says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 6 This remains true today. The Holy Spirit gathers His church. He does it through the authoritative application of the forgiveness of sins.

When you receive the declaration “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, you are absolved before God in heaven because of the death and resurrection of Christ. We can say with confidence that the sins of Jessica Anne have been forgiven and she has been welcomed into the kingdom of God. Our basis for confessing this is not some religious sentimentality but the clear words of Holy Scripture. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”7 His death is the source of our forgiveness. “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”8

Pray for Jessica, all the newly baptized, and all who have recently been converted to the truth. Apathy, indifference and false security seek to gain the upper hand in the heart and mind. Satan wants nothing more than for us to think that after baptism or confirmation everything is ‘done and dusted’ and we can just sit back and relax. In this way he seeks to slowly suffocate the life of the faithful. Tomorrow marks the Annunciation of our Lord. The angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. His incarnation continues to be the event that sanctifies the life in every womb even as through His word He conceives spiritual life.

Dear friends, Christ died for all. It matters not who you are or what you have done. Pharisees, prostitutes, tax-collectors; murderers, idolaters, adulterers; deceivers, offenders, slanderers are forgiven, one and all. Washed clean in baptismal waters, purified by the blood of the Lamb, clothed with the righteous garments of Christ, cherished by the Bridegroom, tended by the Shepherd, fed with sacrificial fare, we are His treasured possession. Such is the all-sufficiency of His grace! Such is the magnitude of His sacrifice! It is not measurable, not decipherable, not comprehensible. It far excels our grandest imaginations of altruism or compassion.

Then it propels us into the fray with the strength to shed light in our little corner of the world. We live, work, and brush shoulders with people who are full of anxiety and doubt. According to one study, the average person's anxiety is focused 40% on things that will never happen, 30% on things about the past that can't be changed, 12% on things relating to criticism by others, mostly untrue, 10% on health concerns, which gets worse with stress, and 8% on real problems that will be faced. So the average person needlessly wastes a lot of energy that could be used addressing the eight percent.

Though Christians are not immune to worry we see things from a different perspective. We have different allegiances and different motivations. The Lord gave this reminder to Isaiah that applies to us also, “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear.”9 GK Chesterton reminds us that “Those who marry the spirit of the age will find themselves widows in the next.”

But believers will not be found widows. In Christ there is always hope. In Christ there is calmness. In Christ there is peace. Today the Prince of Peace rode into Jerusalem with humility. Palm branches were waved in excitement but then abandoned in disappointment. There will be no such reversal for those before the throne in heaven who hold palm branches in their hands.10 We look forward to the time we will join them and raise our hosannas. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Palm Sunday
24 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See John 12:13; Luke 19:38
2 Psalm 2:4
3 See Deuteronomy 34:4
4 See 2 Samuel 7:13
5 See 2 Corinthians 12:7
6 1 Corinthians 1:18
7 Romans 6:3
8 Galatians 3:27
9 Isaiah 8:12-13
10 See Revelation 7:9