Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Christian Burial of Beryl Bullock

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

Text: John 11:26
Theme: Death Overcome

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Beryl, and especially you Ann, Brian, and Gaynor;

In the end it all happens so quickly and with such finality. In the blink of an eye mortality is realized. A lifetime of struggles and joys, challenges and accomplishments, apologies and restorations suddenly comes to an end. When Beryl was baptized as an infant in Morook no one had any idea where life would take her. Who would she marry? Would her life be full of prosperity or adversity? Would she be blessed with good health or fight illness? Our view into the future is dim and murky at best. But God knew the hardships and joys she would experience, and, more importantly, her final destination. Beryl is a peace. She is at rest. Thanks be to God!

But we struggle on. Nothing should cause us greater humility than to face our mortality. We cannot challenge it. We cannot negotiate with it. We cannot charm it. We cannot circumvent it. We can do nothing at all. Death is no small problem because it doesn’t simply mean that a human life has ceased to exist or that one’s 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.”1

If God does not have the power over death then the strength of our love and the intensity of our hate; our victories and our failures; our joys and our sorrows only have temporary significance. And many have resigned themselves to accept this very condition. Therefore the world teaches us to live it up now because this is all there is. One comedian put it crassly when he said, “When I die I hope people at my funeral say, ‘That man still owed me a lot of money.’” Though tongue-in-cheek it contains an important element of truth. Why not live while you can at the expense of others! If death has the last word then the future is dark and hope is lost. If death prevails then we are no different than animals. Separation from God will be final.

In times of need it can be comforting to construct an image of God that soothes our hurts and answers our doubts. But the real question is whether or not what we wish about God is actually true or is just wishful thinking, a stereotype, or a misrepresentation? If so, then it’s nothing but a grand deception. Constructing foundations on shifting sand eventually comes to ruin.

There’s only one foundation on which to build. Jesus Christ was crucified for sinners. He bore our guilt. He bore our shame. He exchanged His glory for your depravity. And there on the cross He was abandoned by the Father so that we might not be left as orphans. When many were turning away from Christ because He was an offense to their sensibilities He asked His disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”2 To which Peter replied, “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.”3

Beryl, like believers of every time and age, was saved only by grace. You and I will be no exception either. The gates of heaven cannot be opened by our moral integrity, our generous acts of kindness, our intellectual acuity, or our good intentions. Our politeness, civility, or large-heartedness dos not qualify us. The fortress remains impenetrable except by grace. We are all beggars before the Almighty. And only beggars are received into His kingdom. May the Holy Spirit gently but firmly teach us what this means.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”4. This truth alone allows joy to overshadow our sorrow. The casket contains Beryl’s bodily remains. These will be resurrected and reunited with her soul on the Last Day. The resurrection is the bedrock of Christian truth. It is our reason for hope. We could never hope to contest the powers of death. But Christ could. He has; He did! God does not fail us in the crucial moment. On that morning, the day after the Sabbath, at dawn, the women went to the grave and the body of Jesus Christ was not in the tomb. His corpse did not meet with decay. After His resurrection more than 500 people at once saw Him alive. He ate with His disciples on different occasions before His ascension.

In one sense we can say that everybody is special in his or her own particular way. We are all unique and Beryl was no exception. She was a special wife to John, a distinctive mother to her children, an irreplaceable grandmother to her grandchildren. She had her passions and interests; bowing, cooking, music. Beryl is also a unique member of the kingdom of God. Yet, in the end, we all have an essential similarity. In the end we’re all reduced to a complete dependence, a need for divine intervention; no exceptions. And that’s what makes the compassion of God so exceptional. It’s His estimation of us that matters. He does not love because we are lovable; He’s not drawn to us. Rather, in the sheer purity of His mercy He makes us objects of His love. Yet not in some distant way; but through His Son in flesh and blood. He loves so deeply and completely that He left the realms of heaven and assumed our human flesh. He did so to suffer, die, and rise again.

Beryl is no more in need of our prayers. She has been freed from the bondage and decay of sin. Easter morning showed life had triumphed. Love had conquered. Death’s grip had been broken. Beryl now understands what Easter means. Not a glimpse. Not a preview. Not a trial; but a complete participation in immortality is what awaits those who believe. The faithful are not guests or visitors in heaven, but residents. It all happens in an instant. The Holy Scripture says, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”5 Death has been defeated. May God grant you comfort and strength as you embrace this truth. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Beryl Dulcie Bullock
17 February 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 6:23
2 John 6:67
3 John 6:68-69
4 John 11:25
5 1 Corinthians 15:51-53

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Harvest Thanksgiving (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Luke 17:16
Theme: Giving Thanks

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

In the beginning there were no weeds. There were no droughts. There were no crop failures. There were no famines. While we might not be strangers to crop failures and droughts, we’re certainly not familiar with starvation. But parts of the world are. Starvation is a direct and ugly consequence of sin. We must be nourished-and in a timely manner- or we perish. Food security is understandably a high priority for developed nations, but ingratitude is the consequential danger. Harvest Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to reflect upon the blessings we have from God in Christ. The Scripture says, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”1

Harvest Thanksgiving is an observance that has ancient roots. Two of the three major festivals of the Israelites related directly to agriculture. God commands the Israelites through Moses saying, “Take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you…then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name…and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.”2 The created order reflects God’s goodness in this way. In David’s Psalms creation is often personified in praise of the Creator. He says today, “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”3

Harvest thanksgiving, therefore, involves a return to the foundations. Adam was made from the dust of the earth. That same earth would sustain him by the sweat of his brow. In a world in which a greater and greater percentage of the world’s population is becoming ignorant of how food is produced our recognition of God’s blessing in this regard is more important than ever. Survival TV shows have been popular in recent years but how may could really manage if they had to fend for themselves? Are we as self-sufficient as we think we are?

Gratitude for our daily provisions is one of the most basic responses of faith. Ingratitude is no trivial transgression. Today’s account of the lepers is a pertinent illustration. One out of ten isn’t a particularly good statistic for an attainable objective. Yet that was the case with ten lepers cured by the Physician of bodies and Healer of souls. Only one was reawakened in faith. Only one returned to give thanks. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet. It’s noteworthy that he was a Samaritan. Christ never missed an opportunity to warn the Jews that their ancestry was no free ticket to heaven. Conversely, the Gentiles were given access to the kingdom by grace through faith.

The teachings of Jesus are replete with agricultural analogies. He makes a petition for daily bread a central part of the Lord’s Prayer. Luther explains how this relates to thankfulness in the Fourth Petition. “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Why? Lest we become callous and presumptuous!

Greed is one of the most prevalent expressions of sin. What is the limit of material prosperity? Would it ever be enough? Even if we had the whole world under our control we could never experience, understand, or enjoy what it had to offer. It would be far beyond our capacity. If we tried to indulge everything available we would not be happy. Instead we would become riddled with anxiety, lose a sense of purpose, and lament all that we had missed out on. The Scriptures tutor us to be content.

Gratitude is a movement of the heart. For the believer it should also become a priority of the mind and an exercise of the will. That is, we should become habitual paragons of thankfulness. Gratefulness is a particularly becoming fruit of the Spirit. Despite all claims or protests to the contrary, it doesn’t come naturally. The appearance of gratefulness can be self-serving. Hypocrisy often communicates with politeness. The Pharisees were whitewashed tombs, and many people honoured Jesus with their lips while their hearts were far from Him.

But hypocrisy doesn’t exclude exploitation. Sinners don’t necessarily avoid God; they just seek to manage Him. People sought to make Jesus their breadwinner by force. It seemed to be a prudent public policy. If He was willing and able to feed more than 5000 from meager means what other qualifications did He need? How the nation would flourish under His miraculous power! Instead, God mediates our daily bread. He blesses us with the ability to work. And for this we are thankful. Through the vocations God provides we are truly able to serve our neighbour. In our serving we are truly salt and light.

The leper threw himself at Jesus’ feet in heartfelt gratitude. Let us follow his example and cast ourselves upon the mercy of Christ. From Him we receive forgiveness, life and salvation. He has given us His identity in baptism. He has sent to us the Holy Spirit for comfort and counsel. He continues to empower and nourish us with His truth in the bread and wine of His heavenly meal. The fruit of the vine carries the blood of the cross; the bread grown from the soil holds His sacrificed body. The former sustain the life of the body, the latter the life of body and soul.

Adam and Eve could eat fruit from every tree but one. That tree brought death. So, too, we now receive life from only the one tree, the tree on which was hung the Saviour of the world. The Tree of Life was relocated from the Garden of Eden to Calvary. The Bible says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”4 Christ is the firstborn from the dead, the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”5 He ascended to the throne of the Father victorious over the grave. We share in His victory. Our resurrection awaits us. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon…Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”6 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever.”7

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Hebrews 12:28
2 Deuteronomy 26:2, 4
3 Psalm 65:13
4 1 Peter 2:24
5 1 Corinthians 15:20
6 Revelation 22:16
7 Psalm 107:1
Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
Harvest Thanksgiving
16 February 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt