Friday, April 11, 2014

Christian Burial of Audrey Adeline Hansen

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

Text: 1 Peter 1:3
Theme: Living Hope

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Audrey; and especially you Elaine,

The words of God are never trivial. God only speaks when His actions require explanation. And He always speaks for the sole purpose of redeeming sinners. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.”1 But at the empty tomb He said nothing at all. He summoned no one to witness the moment of His exit from the grave. For we do not go to call Him forth from the tomb. He comes to summon us. And His words are powerful. He has welcomed Audrey with those words found in St. Matthew, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”2 If you doubt that this is so you must be prepared to contest the truth of the resurrection itself.

Audrey Hansen was ready to be with her Lord. It was a desire she expressed repeatedly in her last months. The cumulative burden of life’s challenges became more than she could bear. She experienced many joys and had her share of sorrows. She knew the number of days God had ordained for her was drawing to a close. She was ready to receive the promised rest. She was ready to be released from the weight of human frailty. She was ready to be crowned with eternal life. She was ready to be fully embraced by the immeasurable compassion of the Saviour. Her expectations have not been disappointed. The angels in heaven rejoice once again. Thanks be to God!

Death can become welcome when living on becomes too much of a burden. But we shouldn’t be misled, as if death was just the easy way out. Society’s sanitization of death has its drawbacks. It gives us a false frame of reference. It gives the impression we can carry on almost indefinitely with no thought for the eternal future. Desperate to indulge in all the world has to offer our culture is steeped in a worldview that avoids grappling with the horror of death, preferring even the illusion of youthful immortality to that of mature sobriety. Our culture can hardly resonate with Audrey’s confirmation verse, “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”3 The world says death is natural and even Christians become conditioned to see it from that perspective.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Death is the devastating consequence of sin. Death is ugly, crippling, and final. It rips away all human powers crushing them like the proverbial ant on the foot path. It is the ultimate bodily penalty for disobedience. It is the final punishment for failure to measure up to divine decree. There are simply no ways to circumvent facing this impending reality. Denial, avoidance, and despair are merely downward spirals which incapacitate. We have no basis to contest God’s judgment. We are called unequivocally to repent.

The Holy Spirit intends to help us reset our priorities with honesty and humility. The Psalmist addresses things forthrightly saying, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.”4 And the Lord does not fail us when we call upon Him. His grace is definitively proven through a cross and empty tomb. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”5 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”6

What happens quite quickly in the end was, of course, planned by God from the beginning. The Scripture says that believers are chosen in Christ since before the foundation of the world. The point of reference for us is baptism. In that act of grace believers are made inheritors of all divine blessings in Christ. The Scripture says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope thorough the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you.”7

Ours is a living hope precisely because Christ is living. His life is the source of life. It is immortal, incorruptible and invincible. Hope is not playing the odds or entering the lottery. Biblical hope is the patient but eager expectation of a promise to be fulfilled. Christ has destroyed the last enemy- death itself. He will come again in glory. The Spirit gathers us here today not to despair, but to be buoyed by that hope. We grieve, yes. We celebrate too. We reflect and give thanks that all promises in Christ come to fruition. Audrey now understands that more fully than we can imagine.

For the majority of her life Audrey was blessed with good health. It enabled her to meet the demands and rigors of life on the Mallee farm near Wunkar. She was content with her roles as wife, mother, and nana and great nana in her later years. Ivan’s early death meant an extended time of independence in her retirement decades. Of course, she never retired from those things that defined her. She was devoted to her family, her gardening, and her church.

Audrey was a sinner, like all of us. But she was forgiven. She was made worthy to enter into the presence of God by the Lamb whose blood covered her sins. She was saved by grace, and through faith freed from the sentence of condemnation. Baptized and redeemed she was God’s cherished child. She regularly received strength from His body and blood at this altar and was lifted by the promises of the Spirit.

Elaine, no one can be your surrogate in the journey of grief. The experience is unique, never duplicated. But you do not walk alone. When you are too frail, Christ Himself will carry your. Easter has come early for Audrey. Good Friday is past. Suffering has ended. Death has been conquered. Satan has been denied. Peace is now hers. It is not simply the peace of escaping from a taxing or tiring situation. It is the vital peace, lively and dynamic, that results from being freed from all of sin’s consequences and for all of eternity. God has spoken. Not for Audrey’s benefit, but for ours. For Audrey is sufficiently occupied by the sounds of angelic symphonies and the sight of the triune God Himself. Christ has promised it. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of
11 April 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 25:34
2 1 Corinthians 15:19
3 1 Timothy 4:8
4 Psalm 116:3-6
5 Romans 5:8
6 Romans 4:25
7 1 Peter 1:3-4

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fifth Sunday In Lent (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: John 11:11
Theme: In View Of The Resurrection

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The disciples were confused about Lazarus. Was he sleeping off a severe sickness? Was he in a coma from which he would recover? So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”1 Sleep is a biblical euphemism for death. It coincides with the Christian faith in so far as the soul of a believer doesn’t die like the body. But we most certainly do die physically. Christ did not rush to the aid of the dying Lazarus. He planned not to heal him per se, but to raise him. It pointed to Christ’s own triumph over the grave. The disciples were still in the dark. They thought the hour for martyrdom had arrived. But with God nothing is impossible.

Death is sin when matured. The body decays and we succumb. But the first signs of sin are more subtle. Perhaps the easiest way to describe the Bible’s teaching on original sin to parents of a newborn is to describe it as the tendency to selfishness. The word of God says, “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”2That is the situation into which we are all born. Self-centeredness, as it matures, seeks to perfect the art of making wants into needs. It involves making what are often trivial indulgences or at least nonessential comforts into life or death entitlements. In short, the sinful nature left unchecked quickly and aggressively commandeers ones agenda and perspective on life. Idols are made and vigorously defended.

The world, of course, doesn’t frown too intensely on selfishness. We could even say it is promoted as a means of happiness. If we give people what they want it will keep them happy. But selfishness, you see, is often the “lose thread” that unravels the whole garment.
More coarse sins like dishonesty in business, gossip in social circles, and unfaithfulness in marriage have their motivation in selfish desires. “Politically correct” and legally sanctioned sins like abortion and homosexuality are also concessions to the demands of the individual. The smallest “white lie”, though, incurs no less of God’s wrath and has the same motivation.

We don’t want God bringing unequivocal resolve to our affairs of moral discretion or threatening definitive punishments for our unsavory endeavors. We like to choose our own morality. And we like to be comfortable with the penalty for transgressing those parameters. We like to call the shots and only bring God into the picture to affirm what we have already concluded. As we learned in our midweek Lenten series, sin veritably screams out, “God, leave me alone! Don’t interfere or intervene without my permission.”

The implications for the church’s mission are significant. Without a robust understanding of original sin and its consequences the preaching of the gospel will be anemic. People will not be called to repentance if the tenor of the message leaves room to doubt that there is anything to repent of. What need is there for grace if nothing critical is at stake. The message of God’s mercy will even become patronizing. The preaching of God’s love (in and of itself always godly and beneficial) becomes patronizing when mature believers are given the impression their deeper questions or struggles of faith are being dismissed or glossed over with the mantra of God’s love. Patronizing involves offensive condescension, a deliberate attitude of childish trivializing.

And what a paradox! For the very heart of the gospel is the truth that God, in Christ, condescended to rescue us from the stranglehold of sin. He lowered Himself to be clothed in human flesh, bear our sin, and pay the price of our guilt. Good Friday looms. It is the definitive expression of Christ’s humility to the point of death. Yet in the profundity of that darkness a glimmer of light was burning. It was foreshadowed in Lazarus just as it had been in centuries the past.

The prophet Ezekiel was shown a valley floor strewn with countless bones. It was a mass of deceased and decayed humanity. It was a scene of desolation and despair. But then came God’s death-defying decree- bone, sinew, and flesh come together, and then the breath of life! It’s a stunning image. A mighty throng is stood upon their feet. “Then you, My people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you and you will live.”3 And just as it was foreshadowed so it happened. The resurrection of Jesus Christ stands at the core of Christian truth. It vindicates His crucifixion and previews our own bodily resurrection from the dead.

Your baptism involves you in His resurrection. Hear the holy Scripture, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”4 Living baptismally means living in gratitude of the spiritual resurrection we already possess. It also means living in view of our physical resurrection on the Last Day.

Dear friends, our gathering in this place is an expression of the life we possess together and the hope that we share. God impacts our lives through His word and sacraments. He impacts our lives through other people, especially relative to their vocations. It is His life that we share. You are the hands, the feet, and the heart of Christ to someone in need. You are beacons of light in a dark world and ambassadors of hope to those who are broken. Our task of truth-bearing faces growing resistance.

Christian foundations are crumbling across the West. The vital center of Christianity is shifting to Africa. We cannot prescribe the Spirit’s work. The miracle of faith is not ours to gift to another. The Holy Spirit must do that. But we cannot act as if Christianity was one truth among other options. Christian truth that becomes optional eventually becomes irrelevant and scorned. Decades of decline are proving this fact. We tend to forget that we are tenants. We are stewards, not landlords. Christ is the head of His church.
Christ intends to knit us together in such a way that we don’t easily come unraveled. The body of Christ is a marvelous fabric woven into a tapestry of forgiven sinners. People are its threads. Truth is its strength. Love is its colour. Together we rest solidly on the truth on which the church stands or falls: Justification by grace through faith. Christ gave His life sacrificially for our sins and offers unqualified forgiveness to all who repent and believe. There is no other foundation.

Any loss of footing is directly proportional to our departure from His word. Structures built to withstand earthquakes must be engineered much more tightly than regular buildings. Inca structures in Peru were standing long before and long after Spanish buildings in the area were flattened by seismic activity. The pyramids of Egypt were built to last. The church is built to withstand the very gates of hell. We negotiate the temporal challenges in view of the eternal. God never promises us temporary healing, or easy solutions- physical, emotional or psychological. The degrees and details- the extent to which such healings or solutions are granted- serve His purposes and glory. But our eternal restoration is not in doubt. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”5

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 John 11:14
2 Romans 8:6
3 Ezekiel 37:13-14
4 Romans 6:3-4
5 John 11:25

Fifth Sunday in Lent
6 April 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt