Friday, May 10, 2013

Christian Burial for Joyce Braun

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

Text: John 14:6
Theme: Truth and Life

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Joyce, and especially you, Dean,

Joyce is now privy to the mysteries of God in Christ. She is home. She is embraced in His mercy. We lack the capacity to raise enough alleluias to sufficiently thank God for the unconditional love that has carried Joyce through prosperity and adversity in her earthly journey to her final destination. Her struggles have ended. Joyce Braun has been clothed with incorruptible life.

So another failure of Satan has been recorded. Still, he remains undaunted. And that leaves us no room for apathy. Satan’s most successful strategy is the “God-illusion”. It is the deception that God is an automatically accessible commodity. It is the falsehood that God works according to our terms and our conditions. God is nothing more than a do-as-you-please; I’ll overlook all of your transgressions, kindly grandfather figure. And so we go on our merry way constructing our own kingdoms all the while thinking we have God in our back pocket. We forget the words of the Master who warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven…I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.’”1

Then when we recognize that need for change Satan tells us it’s too late. We’re too involved in our schedules now. We’re too committed! Too many people are depending on us. There’s too much pride and accomplishment at risk to make a change of direction now. But the Scripture says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”2 God knows the requirements of this bodily life and He will not forsake us. We should never leave to our deathbed what should be addressed today.

The question then becomes: Can we face sin for what it is? More than the sum total of all the evil perpetrated throughout history- this is clear enough. It is the power which condemns us before the Almighty and to which we can give no answer. The question is one of our own sinfulness, our own mortality. Every sinner is silenced in the heavenly throne room.

But there is One who has authority to speak. He speaks from a cross, soaked in blood, crushed under the enormous weight of the world’s sins. He said, “It is finished!”3 This is the One who speaks on our behalf: The immortal Son of the Father, the Lamb of God, the Crucified, the Servant King. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”4 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness.”5 “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”6 “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”7

Who will gainsay what the Almighty has decreed! His is not a religious opinion; an ethical suggestion to be considered or disregarded. He offers no theory to be debated. He utters truth- infallible, incontestable, incorruptible. He speaks to you in the person of His Son who strides atop the hierarchies of evil that are determined to destroy the kingdom of God. Before His face earth and sky flee away and yet nursing children are gathered into His arms like precious lambs. Christ has spoken on Joyce’s behalf. He has named her as His own. And for this she was grateful.

No one can say that Joyce didn’t make industrious use of the physical strength and mental abilities God gave her. She engaged life to the full. She did it with gusto and she did it with joy. Farming, baking, gardening, show entries and countless family meals- Joyce was pleased to serve and be a blessing to others. She understood and cherished her vocation and her place in God’s kingdom. Joyce was never found killing time; she was killing dinner! Just ask Peg.

Underpinning it all was her steadfast Christian devotion. Her commitment to God’s truth in Christ was no secret. God’s house- this place in particular- was her spiritual home. And it was so not just for sentimental or social reasons but because here she drew on the source of divine strength. Here she received forgiveness through the promise of His word. Here she was nourished by His sacred body and blood. Here she knew she was at the threshold- the entrance to God’s dwelling in eternity. Here she found security and peace that passes all understanding.

If you are seeking security; if you are looking for peace of mind; if you want assurance that you are freed from the penetrating judgment of God; search no further than the One who was willing to bleed for you. He has borne your transgressions so that you might own His holiness. The sinner stands or falls on the righteousness of Christ. Joyce stands in His righteousness.

Joyce has done her hard yards. But as we shed tears of sorrow and tears of joy our task is not finished. We only truly grieve when we lose something- someone- irreplaceable. And this makes the task of grieving irreducible. You can attempt to reduce the poignancy of grief by grasping for hollow substitutes. You can medicate it, deny it or withdraw into isolation. But you cannot escape from facing a true loss. Grief will demand its pound of flesh. This is true even when you know in your mind that the deceased was a believer and is at peace. Grief is guttural. It is a scream of angst against God.

Yet God knows something more. He embraces our fragility with compassion. The Holy Spirit enters the darkness of grief and there He kindles a light. That light is sourced from the eternal flame- Jesus Christ- the Light of the World. Christ shoulders our loss and buoys us with hope. He directs us for comfort to those promises which seal us with His ownership and inheritance.

It may seem a small thing that Joyce was baptized. Yet nothing could be more central to life in Christ. The faith once given in baptism- that faith so precious and then just beginning to bloom- is now perfected. It has yielded a harvest far more than a hundredfold. Indeed, for Joyce, faith is now unnecessary altogether. Her faith has no more tasks. No more challenges. No more doubts. Joyce exists in the presence of the triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the saints and angels- and dare we speculate- surrounded with flowers and fragrances that far exceed even those she was involved with during her earthly life. Joyce lives. She still awaits the bodily resurrection, yes, but she is already at the destination. She has been given the crown of life. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Joyce Braun
9 May 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 7:21-23
2 Matthew 6:33
3 John 19:30
4 John 10:7
5 John 8:12
6 John 11:25
7 Revelation 1:17

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sixth Sunday of Easter (C) 2013

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

Text: John 14:27
Theme: Saints in a Secular World

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The peace of Christ is our stability in a transient world. It is our strength in times of turmoil. It is our comfort at the gate of death. We have the opportunity in this setting today to reflect on the blessings of God in the past and His promises for us in the future. The prophet reminds us, “The earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But My salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.”1

It can be difficult to gauge the passing of time and grasp a sense of history. Most of the history here at the historical village spans only a century or so. Consider a brief glimpse of the bigger scope. When Joseph (sold by his brothers into slavery) became an official in the Egyptian court he saw pyramids that had already been standing for 1,000 years. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well they met at a watering spot that had been named as such for nearly 2,000 years. When modern pilgrims travel to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem they stand at the foundation of Solomon’s Temple built 3000 years before.

Times change; sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. We must beware of the fallacy that new ideas, new inventions, and new innovations are necessarily betters one. So-called progression can in reality be digression. We might seek to measure change and its affects by a number of different parameters? Do people today live in more comfort than people did 100 or 1,000 years ago? Most would say yes? Do they have more happiness? Now that’s a different question. What about spiritual well-being? Certainty? Purpose? Meaning in life? How would we stack up? Is there less misery in the world?

Regardless of the pace, degree, or direction of the changing world human nature does not change. It is essentially no different than it was at the beginning. This is a basic teaching of Christianity. It may well be that in the future artificial intelligence (and we might wonder if a sort of ‘artificial intelligence’ has already replaced godly wisdom or at least common sense) may change life so dramatically to the extent that humans will become bizarre combinations of synthetic and natural ‘parts’. Yet human nature will remain un-phased in its selfishness. The curse of inherited sin cannot be modified or reformed by the individual or collective genius of humanity.

Therefore as we reflect on the past and what the future may hold the first order of business is always humility. We gather as sinners one and all. Yet is it never sufficient to just wear the collective label as if it were enough to be associated anonymously with a sinful people. Your transgressions, your guilt, cannot be passed off on another. Repentance is intimately personal. Each individual is accountable before the Almighty. The decline of private confession and absolution has undoubtedly been a detriment to our churches for many decades. It makes it easier to hide under a generic umbrella and thus discount the serious depravity of sin. The cancer my neighbour has is never as momentous as my own. Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”2

Nostalgia for the past always runs the risk of attributing a glory to it that did not really exist. Forgetting the past can be just as problematic. Times Square in New York City was recently refurbished with a 1950’s theme; a venue at the cutting edge dressed in old clothes- but fondly remembered. Change is often difficult to digest. When the railroads were first introduced to the U.S., some folks feared that they'd be the downfall of the nation! Here's an excerpt from a letter to then President Jackson dated January 31, 1829: “As you may know, Mr. President, 'railroad' carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by 'engines' which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.” Signed, Martin Van Buren Governor of New York

A traditional proverb says, “Some people will change when they see the light. Others change only when they feel the heat.” The saying is applicable to the Scripture’s teaching on how the word of God works. Those who only change when they “feel the heat” are amended by force. They are constrained by the threat of judgment. Authentic change happens when the Holy Spirit enlightens the soul with faith. Believers “see the light” when the Holy Spirit calls them out of spiritual darkness. This change re-orientates a person’s perspective and priorities. The baptismal life involves living as changed people in Christ. Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”3 His peace has substance because He accomplished the sacrifice that reconciled us to the heavenly Father. He was crucified in humility but rose from the dead in victory.

We have the privilege of modeling this divine peace for a world that is harassed and harried. God’s love spans not only all of human history but eternity. We have been put in this place, in this time, to emulate His love. It doesn’t transpire by happenstance and it certainly doesn’t occur naturally. The mind of Christ cannot be bred into people. It must be formed supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. Dynasties can be impressive and bring stability to many generations but they cannot guarantee the tradition of the faith. The faith must be taught anew to each generation.

Dear friends, it is easy to become preoccupied by both the mundaneness and crises of life. It is therefore beneficial to reflect on the bigger picture, including the future. Life often marches on without us giving it much thought. There is stability in regularity. And this is important also for our liturgical life together. Yet in the very midst of this orderliness God lifts our hopes beyond the limitations of this existence. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”4 That word renews us with forgiveness and life. His body and blood nourishes us with sacred food.

We are mortals called to immortality. We are pilgrims in a transient and changing world but our hope is established in eternity. This certainty is grounded only in Christ. The Scripture says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things …that you were redeemed from the empty way of life…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect…Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”5 Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live.”6

We are people with a history. We are people with a future. We are God’s people in Christ. We are a people with His peace. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”7
+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixth Sunday of Easter
5 May 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Isaiah 51:6
2 John 14:27
3 ibid
4 Isaiah 40:8
5 1 Peter 1:18-19, 21
6 John 14:19
7 John 14:27