Thursday, November 21, 2013

Christian Burial of Clyde Gray (21 November 2103)

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

Text: 1Corinthians 15:19
Theme: True Hope

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Clyde; Julie, Robyn, Andrew, and especially you, Janette,

Death is the ultimate test. I’m speaking now not about Clyde. His soul has already crossed that dimension into the presence of the Living God. I’m speaking about us who are left to reflect upon this matter. If divine promises do not prevail as our refuge now, when will they ever be relevant? If the word of God does not calm our fears, whose words will? Human sentiments have their place. And it is an important place. But they are of limited value. Our confidence and comfort rests with much greater authority. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”1 And so we believe that Clyde lives even though he has died. This truth alone allows joy to overshadow our sorrow.

We can, therefore, gather not in despair or resignation, but in reflection and even celebration. Yes, we must come to terms with our loss, grief can bind us; but Clyde has been released. As Christians we are privileged to acknowledge the peace and vitality he now enjoys. The casket contains his bodily remains. These will be resurrected and reunited with his soul on the Last Day. The resurrection is the bedrock of Christian truth. It is our reason for hope. Yet only the Holy Spirit can hearten us in this hope.

What is the nature of true hope? The apostle Paul says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”2 Hope is not a best-of-luck, shot-in-the-dark, cross your fingers and throw up a desperate prayer game of chance. Hope is not playing the odds or entering the lottery. Biblical hope is the patient but eager expectation of a promise to be fulfilled. Hope is a cousin to faith.

Now to be sure faith makes us vulnerable in one sense because it exposes us to the interests of God. In other words, our priorities are forfeited in preference to His. We trust He knows us best. We trust He is merciful. Hope is the expectation that our trust will not be betrayed. In another sense faith is the greatest certainty. It entails recognition of the clear evidence that we are frail, fraught with faults and foibles; and finally, that we are finite beings. We are mortal and our most passionate longing to transcend our limitations cannot change that fact. The search for the fountain of youth has always been in vain. Faith places us in the hands and at the mercy of the One who is almighty, immortal, and merciful.

Death is no small dilemma because it doesn’t simply mean that a human life has ceased to exist or that the spirit has magically passed into some mystical place. Death is part of the guilt and punishment for sin. The Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death.”3And if that crisis isn’t resolved by the time of physical death then it continues into eternal death. We quickly see the magnitude of the problem. The criticalness of the place and work of Christ soon becomes clear. The gospel becomes paramount: “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”4

As we reflect on God’s blessings to Clyde in time and now in eternity we righty give thanks that all of his favourite earthly endeavors have not been forgotten, but excelled.
Clyde enjoyed the contest of sport. Now his race of faith has ended and he shares in the victory. He crafted his own home brew and liked sharing it with others. He now participates in fellowship with the whole company of heaven. He enjoyed vegetable and flower gardening. He now resides in the new Garden of Eden.

Clyde was a gentleman in every sense of the term. He was a gentle man, caring and supportive. He was never brash or domineering. And he was a gentleman- courteous and well-mannered. He was polite and genteel. He nurtured these qualities and they served him well. As a faithful husband and devoted father Clyde was a great blessing to all who knew him. The more one knew him the more he was valued. An unassuming man he never wanted a fuss made over him.

But extolling the virtues of the deceased can serve only one beneficial purpose: To encourage imitation of such qualities among us who still struggle through this Christian walk of life. The moment recognition of such virtues is taken to mean that some merit has been earned before God then a dangerous deception has been distributed. Clyde would have never wanted that. Christ has done it all. Only He was pierced with nails. Only He wore the crown of thorns. His life alone was a worthy substitute for others. Clyde was a sinner, like all of us. But he was forgiven. He was made worthy to enter into the presence of God by the Lamb whose blood covered his sins. He was saved by grace, and through faith freed from his sentence of condemnation. Baptized and redeemed he was God’s cherished child.

Clyde was a late-comer to this congregation and the Lutheran fold, but not to the faith. His presence was a quiet but stabilizing leaven for the body of believers in this place. It was our loss that we did not know him longer. Here he received the reassurance of the forgiveness of his sins. In latter days, as his strength declined, he received communion at the hospital services and finally in his private room. Clyde no longer suffers from pain or weakness. He has been vested with immortality.

Janette, no human is the master of grief. No counselor, no expert, no widow or widower, no parent who has lost a child, no soldier who has endured the war can claim that they are the doctor with the cure. We cannot because death graphically reveals humanity’s utter helplessness in the final measure. Grief is the most visceral trauma of humanity. Jesus Himself stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and he wept. He, the Lord of Life, who was presently to raise Lazarus from the dead! He wept over the power of sin to separate, to destroy, to open the abyss of loneliness and doubt.

But His power to unite and restore is greater still. Easter morning showed life had triumphed. Love had conquered. Death’s grip had been broken. Every moment of heaven is a participation in the resurrection. Clyde enjoys that now. He is at peace. Thanks be to God that in Christ our hope is never in vain! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Clyde John Gray
21 November 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Christian Burial of Colin Kruger (18 November 2013)

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

Text: Matthew 6:33
Theme: First Things First

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Colin; Marilyn, Adrian, Debbie, and especially you, Sylvia,

King David says in his 139th Psalm, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”1 Colin has flown home. Guided not by homing pigeons but lifted on the wings of angels. Powerful and mighty how swiftly do they bear the departed soul into the presence of God! Colin is now held fast at God’s right hand. What remains before us is a shell; an earthy frame that will be resurrected on that great and glorious day. Thanks be to God that Colin’s race of faith has ended. He is at rest. He is in peace.

We gather now with mingled tears; tears of sorrow, tears of thanksgiving, tears of emptiness, and tears of hope. Draping the casket is a lifetime of memories. Transparent to the eye but vivid to the heart memories help to carry us through our grief. But regardless of how cherished they are memories cannot sustain our courage. There are no shortcuts in grieving. The heart, and mind, and will must come to terms with the most traumatic of human experiences. We can grieve with others but we cannot grieve for them. The dark path of grief is traversed only with the light of truth.

To reflect upon the death of another is to reflect on our own mortality. No one will sidestep the grave’s portal. Denial or apathy will accomplish nothing in the end. The hard reality is that physical death is the result of sin. Everyone must succumb to its power of decay. Everyone must face the power of sin’s condemnation. If reflection on death does not humble us and cause us to desire God’s mercy then we haven’t truly understood the gravity of what confronts us. What are a few fleeting years on this earth compared with eternity?

Time heals wounds and presses us ahead into the future. And it is not a future bereft of hope. Christians look to the future as a time of restoration and reunion. Without Christ that is not possible. Here the core Christian truth crushes all alternatives and allows no competitors. Without Christ’s resurrection- which was the validation of His sacrificial death for sinners- a funeral can be nothing more than a tribute to the person who once lived- but a hollow and haunting realization the end has come.

Without Christ hope is but an illusion. We know intuitively that death is final. As humans we don’t have the power to rise above this. We can only flee in denial, wallow in resentment, bathe in self-pity, or retreat to fantasy. We can live on in bitterness or depression. But the Holy Spirit proclaims to us a cross and the One who was nailed to it. He died as a common criminal and had He stayed dead that would be the end of the matter. But on Easter morning the grave was empty. Death had lost its sting. The power of sin had been broken.

Colin knew his sins were forgiven. He knew how they were forgiven. He knew why they were forgiven. He understood that he could never cover the debt of his own transgressions; that he could never merit God’s favour even by his best efforts or intentions. Colin, like all the saints before him, passed through the gates of heavenly solely on the merits of the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. Grace is not our achievement or an obligation that is owed to us. Grace is a gift secured only by the sacrifice of the One who was holy. It is the fruit of a cross.

The proverbial ripe old age applies to Colin. He was blessed beyond many of his peers. He was a blessing to many. Only a week on from Remembrance Day it is appropriate that we pause to remember what Colin yearned to forget. And he has now forgotten. The trauma of war has vanished like a mist from his mind. Colin did two tours of duty in New Guinea in the Second World War. The men who fought alongside him and under his command know of his courage and valor. The rest of us can only express humble gratitude for the freedom they helped to secure.

Colin knew that the mercy of God meant that his life in this world could be lived in service to others. A faithful husband, a loving father, a trusted friend and loyal servant of his country and servant of his church Colin sought the welfare of others. He knew that life was full of temptation and opportunity that could shipwreck his faith. His confirmation verse was, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”2 Colin was no stranger to God’s house. He was a faithful and active member of this congregation. Here he gathered with God’s people where he cherished God’s pardon, was strengthened by His promises, and refreshed by His sacred meal. And when he became too frail to attend he gladly received Christ’s body and blood and the assurance of God’s unlimited compassion in his home.

The journey of faith ends at death. Colin no longer believes. He doesn’t need to. His baptism has been fully realized. He has received His promised inheritance. “In My Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you,”3 says the Redeemer. Colin has received what has long been prepared. He is no longer in need of our prayers. He now enjoys vibrancy beyond our imagination. Colin lives because Christ lives. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”4 “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.”5

Sylvia, 68 years of marriage cannot be forgotten, or lamented, or in any way reduced in importance in the days ahead. But you need not despair. The Saviour we know in faith he now knows face to face. Released from His frailty Colin now breathes easily. He waits for you to join him in the final chapter. But he is not alone. He is in the company of the triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and all the host of heaven. Like the pigeons he once so carefully trained Colin is safely at home and he will travel no more through this veil of tears. He has received the crown of life. Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Colin Kruger
18 November 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 139:9-10
2 Matthew 6:33
3 John 14:2
4 John 11:25
5 Revelation 1:17

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2013

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

Text: Luke 21:10-18
Theme: The End: Destruction but Deliverance

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Spirit has a theatre of war. It’s not in some obscure mystical dimension. It’s not remote from the interface of our daily lives. He engages the struggle in your heart, in your will, in your soul. His weapon is the Word of God. His foe is Satanic. His goal is to cheat death. His authority was conferred through the conquest of a cross and open tomb. He vests water, word, bread and wine with the power to forgive. He seeks glory only for the One who redeems. His campaign must continue until the One who was slain returns in majesty.

So here we are in our little sector of the spiritual battlefield. Here we are in our unassuming corner of the world. But did you know this is ground zero? Or did you think you were residing in a ceasefire zone? Did you think that struggle became obsolete when you were baptized? When you were confirmed? Have you misunderstood the peace you have because of Christ’s sacrificial death for your sins to mean that Satan now has other things to do?

The Scripture says, “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other.”1 Each Lord’s Day you return to the power and promise of your baptism in repentance not because evil desires and deeds have ceased in your life but precisely because temptation still rages. You kneel at the altar to receive the true body and blood of Christ not as a casual gesture to remind yourself the struggle has ended, but precisely because you need strength, peace, and pardon to go back into the fray.

Christ describes the fray today in apocalyptic terms. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events.”2 We might say the events of the end times are not for the faint of heart. I’m not sure where that leaves me! We need not discuss very long about how Jesus’ words have proven true again and again. The world will remain in turmoil. Don’t waste anytime speculating when the exact end will come or try to measure its signs. The end times began with Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Each day is one closer.

And each day brings the possibility that the followers of Christ will be put to the test. Persecution similar to that in the early Church exists in parts of the world today. Even where it is not overt subtle pressure is brought to bear. The warnings and promises of Christ are always relevant. Jesus says to His disciples, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you…You will be betrayed…and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of Me.”3 But then in the same breath, “But not a hair of your head will perish.”4 How can both be true?

Christianity involves grappling with this apparent contradiction. Satan wants you to think God’s protection of you is a hollow and deceptive promise. Our sinful nature too powerfully testifies to us that this physical, earthly life is all that matters. We cling to it with tenacity. If God isn’t overseeing your material prosperity then how can you trust God loves you? Doubt niggles us. Certainly it’s not worth risking life and limb to defend His truth- we wonder. Satan need not shout this at you; he need only whisper it in your ear.

Without being irreverent we must learn to defend against the masked impression that Christ- though well-meaning and compassionate- was the greatest fraud to ever live. Really it can be put in be no other way. If Jesus is not the very Son of God then is He not the greatest of all deceivers? The logic is parallel to St. Paul’s reasoning about the resurrection. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.”5If He is not the author of life and defeater of death then must He not be deceptive or delusional?

This is one of the great battlegrounds for the skeptic. It is accordingly the Holy Spirit’s theater of war. For the person who reflects as they stand aloof the question is “How can a supposedly gracious God let bad things happen to people?” In this case- other people. How could God let people die in the typhoon in the Philippines or in any so-called natural disaster? In short, how can death, destruction, and tragedy be reconciled with the claim that God is love? But for the person who suffers the pain of hardship themselves the question often becomes, “How could God let this happen- to me?”

Now the rubber really meets the road. So how do we witness? Here we quickly meet the limits of human competence. You can never reason a person who has been struck with tragedy- whether death, pain, or betrayal- into believing that God is nevertheless attentive and well-meaning. The Spirit must speak. It must speak nail-pierced, blood-drenched words. It must pierce the deepest darkness with a ray of divine light. That doesn’t make your witness unimportant. Your witness is to show others love, compassion, and sympathy; to show patience and be hospitable. But these are shown always as an expression of holding uncompromisingly to the truth.

Remember unchanging truth must be passed to each generation. We do well to consider this as we reflect on Christ’s imminent return. Such passing on is the Bible’s definition of tradition. The gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sins and for sinners is taught to new souls as “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”6 is lived and confessed by those who have gone before.

We’re not talking about just keeping the next generation from “going off the rails.” We’re speaking of forming mature believers who cherish how their life fits into the divine agenda in its totality rather than those who seek to fit a little bit of the divine into their own agenda with minimal loyalty. Is it a matter of prosperity or priority? Do we lack the resources or the resolve? Honest reflection quickly reveals the answer.

Dear friends, Christianity is not a game of chance. We are not playing the odds. It’s not a matter of hedging our bets reasoning “In case the Bible does prove to be true,” it’s safer to be on God’s side. The Almighty quickly sees through any so-called faith born out of carnal fear and self-preservation. Christ is the curator of souls. Only He holds the future. His promises are too good to be true- in human terms. But we cannot fathom what it means that death has been undone. The Scriptures take great pains to convey these truths like Isaiah says today, “They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.”7

Each Lord’s Day- like St. John8- you are in the Spirit because the Spirit is in Christ’s Bride, the Church. This is His theatre of war, here and now. But rejoice and do not fear “because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”9 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
17 November 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Galatians 5:17
2 Luke 21:10-11
3 Luke 21:12, 16-17
4 Luke 21:18
5 1 Corinthians 15:14-15
6 Jude 3
7 1 Corinthians 15:14-15
8 See Revelation 1:10
7 1 John 4:4