Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Joel 2:12-17
Theme: Divine Summons

Dear fellow travelers to the cross,

Christ did not die for fictitious sinners. Ash Wednesday is a call to honesty. Your Redeemer in flesh and blood is God and man for real people needing real help. So if we’re here to simulate an outward show of piety or to touch up the public face of our moral image, then we’ve come only to rehearse a hypocritical and meaningless ritual. God already knows who we are. Lent is a time for transparency of the heart.

The prophet summons people to a sacred fast. Joel’s decree is so urgent the clergy must suspend their regular duties and bride and groom must delay their wedding plans. “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning…return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”1 This is Lent. This is a holy God embracing a frail and damaged humanity.

The theme for our Lenten series this year is “A Wounded Saviour for a Wounded People.” In the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at how Christ was wounded by betrayal, apathy, denial, mockery, and abandonment during His passion. Isaiah chides the stubborn-hearted saying, “Why do you persist in your rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart is afflicted. From the sole of your foot to top of your head there is no soundness- only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.”2 This is a sickness unto death.

Ashes are unmistakable symbols of mortality. If you are certain of nothing else in this chaotic and often confusing world of human ideals and aspirations, you can be certain of this: You are dying. In spite of the efforts of cosmetologists to cover it up and some scientist’s hopes to arrest it; you will not stop the process of dying. The disease of sin is terminal. It is not natural; it is the consequence of judgment. What further evidence do we need to drive our repentance? The Holy Spirit intends to drive us into the arms of Christ. In His grip there is life.

Lent is a time for duplicity to meet its mortality. Our secret double-lives often go far beyond the shallow hypocrisy of being respectable citizens by day and self-indulged scoundrels at night. The public life of honourable, professional virtue often coexists with the hidden life of addiction and self-destructive behavior. We know who we are. The prophet issues the categorical call to be freed from the double life. He promises hope and healing not on a whim but on the premise of the blood of the cross. Dear friends, the miracle of His grace means that He receives us not as the people we pretend to be- pious enough to save face publicly- but as the people we really are. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”3

There are no exceptions and no exclusions. No one is too fragile for Christ’s gentleness. No one too scarred for His restorative power. There is no one so far from the church that His arm cannot reach him. There is no one in such darkness that His light cannot find him. No one is so hardened that Christ cannot soften him. God has His time, His ways; His means.

But patience isn’t a particularly common virtue among us. We always want a quick fix; an easy solution. And we’re taught to believe that this can not only magically happen but that we even deserve it. It’s like the man from the back woods of Tennessee who went to the big city and found himself for the first time standing outside of an elevator. He watched as an old, haggard woman hobbled on, and the doors closed. A few minutes later the doors opened and a young, attractive woman marched smartly off. The father quickly yelled to his youngest son, "Billy, go get mother."

There are no quick fixes for real sinners. To expect instant cures shows we do not understand the complexity and depth of the problem. But our Physician of bodies and Curator of souls is equal to the need. He didn’t come to only own our sin, He assumed our humanity. Christ is not a personal or family counselor; He is the head of the family. He took to Himself our flesh and blood as the Second Adam so that our reconciliation to the Father would be achieved by one who stood in solidarity with sinners. Therefore His love is not incidental it is resident. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”4

And here He abides through His word and sacraments. The baptismal river that first drowned your sinful nature still flows. The cleansing water of the font still washes away your transgressions. It forgives. It heals. It restores. It does so by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Christian lives between the font and the altar. The Psalmist writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”5 In a secular, mundane and evil world the holy God dines joyfully with His people.

Who sets the table at your house? Perhaps no one sets the table at all because your family, or your children or grandchildren seldom or rarely have meals together. Life in the family of believers is different. Christ sets the table for us. For food He offers Himself. He is life-giving bread. Immortality flows through the blood of His veins. He is the host and He is the meal.

Dear friends, the Scripture says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”6 Rest assured on this Ash Wednesday that hope is not deferred. Yes, life involves the accumulation of scars. We are a wounded people. But our wounded Saviour is more than up to the task. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”7The time of ashes is temporary. The resurrected life is eternal. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Joel 2:12-13
2 Isaiah 1:5-6
3 Matthew 9:12-13
4 John 1:14
5 Psalm 23:5
6 Proverbs 13:12
7 Isaiah 53:5

Ash Wednesday
5 March 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Monday, March 3, 2014

Transfiguration Of Our Lord (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 17
Theme: The Living Body

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God may lead us on a mountaintop visit, but He resides with us in the valleys. We may be inspired by high-octane encounters, but our faith is sustained by the more mundane manner of His promise and presence. We are conditioned to expect that supernatural things should leave us gob-smacked, yet the Holy Spirit works miraculously through the word of truth in a most unassuming way. Should we not marvel that in spite of the chaos that presses in God continues to keep some degree of order in the universe!

Today we celebrate that unique event in the earthly life of Jesus called the transfiguration. In a momentary display of glory Christ’s majesty is disclosed to Peter, James, and John. An affirmation of His Sonship by the heavenly Father, it paralleled His baptism in the Jordan River. Present with Jesus are Moses and Elijah. Representing the breadth and depth of the old covenant Jesus summons them to rehearse the coming fulfillment of the plan of salvation. The critical juncture- the cross- is looming.

The church as a living organism is witnessed as Jesus is seen by these three disciples speaking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain. Peter, taken by the magnitude of the experience, wants to stay and savor the moment of splendour. In his desire he exemplifies the logical human longing to know God by experience. Such yearning is never satisfied by miracles, it is only cured by faith. Though they see a glimpse of His majesty as He emanates with light, Jesus’ path to glory will run through the cross. Life is secured through the humility of His sacrifice. We know God, only in Christ, and only through the humble means of word and sacrament.

Dear friends, without the Word there is no certainty. Our hope and salvation reside here and nowhere else. All other certainties we have only possess temporary significance. Yes, we have confidence in the predictability of the laws of nature (which God Himself maintains). We understand the temperature at which water freezes, the gestation period of ewes, the hardness of steel, and the capacity of silicon chips. With high degrees of certainty we traverse the skies, predict the tides, and poison the flies. The accumulated wisdom of experience allows humans to build skyscrapers, rocketships, and supercomputers. Yet not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will and every hair on your head is numbered. The Scripture says of Christ, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”1

Without the certainty of the word there is no confidence in forgiveness, and finally, no assurance of salvation. We are left to our own devices. We might relish that thought- to be left to our own devices- it seems to be an opportunity, an expression of independence. But soon we stumble in the darkness. Apart from God’s decree we would have to make do with the relative standards of the world. Who makes the rules? Who determines right and wrong? Who is justified and who is condemned and on what basis? How would we know if we were hell-bound sinners or heaven-bound saints? Your conscience can give you a sense of wrong-doing, but the authority to sentence belongs to God. The laws of society can call you out in guilt and shame, yet it is the Holy Spirit using them to convict your heart. Remorse over getting caught in some public indiscretion is not the same as contrition over offending a holy God. We’re not simply civic meddlers, we are hard-core transgressors. We need redeeming.

Apart from the clear declaration of the gospel- the Good News that Jesus Christ has come to make intercession- God would remain an enigma, and ultimately a fear-invoking judge. But the Spirit speaks through the words of Scripture. Saint Peter says today, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”2 You might ask, “What does this have to do with me?” Everything in every way. God speaks grace and He brings to pass what He promises. “The greatest possible comfort comes from this doctrine that the highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness.” 3 The promise of your baptism- made by the crucified and risen Christ to you- is a fortress of security amidst the instabilities of life.

Christ never loses concentration. He is single-minded in His compassion. He seeks for you as for a lost sheep. He searches for you as for a lost coin. He hunts for you as for a hidden treasure. He embraces you like a prodigal son. You are the target of His love and the object of His mercy. He didn’t go to the cross merely to attract attention or gain sympathy. He went to square off with death, hell, and Satan. Once they tried to throw Him over a cliff, but today He stands upon the mountain. Once they tried to stone Him, but He became the cornerstone of the eternal kingdom. They taunted Him to come down from the cross, but He hung there and brought down the kingdom of devil.

And yet to the naked eye the meaning of these things is hidden. God wishes to be trusted in this way. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”4If God continually revealed Himself in power and majesty there would be no place for faith. Many would welcome the ‘clarity’ that would bring. But that is not the nature of divine love. God is not the master of Marionettes, but the God who convicts sinners and woos them. His love is not a legalistic system of litigation and mitigation, but a monolith of sheer grace. The crucifixion was not a tragedy salvaged by the selfless act of an opportunistic martyr, but the willful sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world.

The Mount of Transfiguration was a prelude to the Hill of Calvary. It was also a glimpse into the “one holy Christian and apostolic church.”5 Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Adam and Eve, the saints across the centuries; they’re all part of the living entity called the church which spans time and space. Jesus was not on the mountain consulting the dead. He was conferring with members of the church triumphant. We also gather with them in worship as we commune with “angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.”5 Here we participate already now in eternal realities. May God grant us a rich measure of His Spirit as we still contest temporal obstacles during our journey of faith. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Colossians 1:17
2 2 Peter 1:20-21
3 AP IV, 310 Tappert
4 John 20:29
5 LH, page 16

Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 March 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt