Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Isaiah 53:2
Theme: No Beauty or Majesty

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The persona of Jesus was not, in and of itself, alluring. Depictions of His physical detail are lacking. The prophet says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”1 His words are emphatically verified by the crucifixion. There is nothing appealing, nothing that would incite even a spark of curiosity about the crucifixion. It is in all aspects gruesome and stomach-turning, revolting! In His flayed body is concentrated all the darkest evil and the most heinous transgression. The cross is omega point2 of the fallen creation, the cesspool into which run all the sewers of sin.

It is also the instrument of salvation. The cross is the lightning rod, the flashpoint where holiness clashes with evil, truth contests with falsehood, and the will of Satan confronts the purposes of the Son of God. The spectacle of the cross is the most utterly incomprehensible event of all history. There God Himself is slain, not reluctantly after severe resistance but with wilful determination. He gives His life. And the Father in heaven receives His own Son’s sacrifice as the sufficient payment for the sins of the world.

On Good Friday we recognize the paradoxical pinnacle of all history. All things are subject to Christ. But to behold the crucifixion and make that claim appears to be utter nonsense. Only faith would venture such a claim. Only faith can. No place is left for human reason, for logic, or for a synthesis of rationale to make it all acceptable. The Spirit must transcend all such attempts even as the wisdom of God transcends all human initiative and intellect.

It was all necessary to address the very real crisis of sin. As incurable sinners we require an immeasurable Saviour. The guilt of sin is not fictitious. We often exert great effort in making excuses when we are better served to repent. Caught in some lie, some exaggeration, or some indiscretion, often our first reaction is to rationalize the motive. At least we hope to diminish the shock or severity in other peoples’ eyes. We sinners can’t seem to help ourselves. Worse yet we even boldly defend what we know to be unrighteous in God’s sight. In short, we usurp God’s authority in hopes of being spared by our initiative while we risk being summarily chastised. We do all these things because we believe we have a better grasp on what’s best for our well-being than God does. Sin is always defiance of God’s better judgment. It’s what sent Christ to the cross.

The Holy Scripture says that Jesus was “crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”3 Now the point is not only that Christ experienced death for the whole of humanity, as in some sweeping generic way. But He tasted death for every sinner, for you and for me. He was your substitute and mine, in person. He endured the pangs of hell that we were condemned to suffer. Christ’s atoning work becomes fully relevant precisely in this way. His empathy and compassion are peculiar, intimate, and personal. He embraces us as if we were the only child of the only Son. He is not a generic, anonymous Redeemer.

A great Lutheran theologian of the past describes the grace of Christ in this way, “This is the love of God: rather than banish men eternally from heaven, He removed Himself from heaven, clothed Himself with flesh, became a Creature of a creature, enclosed Himself in the womb of the virgin, was wrapped in rags, laid in hay, and housed in a barn. Nor does His love stop at this point…fastened [Him] with nails to the cross…this love compelled Him to die, to die for adversaries and enemies.”4 Venerated at birth, His death was infamous. Yet none of it was for His glory. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”5

From the cross His blessings are outpoured. Freedom, healing, enlightenment, and sustenance, all are blessings accomplished by the cross. We are freed from enslavement to our self-serving agendas. We are healed from the pathological sickness of sin. We are illumined with the knowledge of all of God’s works and His ways. Our hunger for food that does not leave us feeling hollow is satisfied with the true manna from heaven. It is the manna of immortality-His own body and blood.

The plan of God could not be thwarted. Satan stood at the foot of the cross and He shouted, “Come down!”6 Having already deceived Judas and tempted Peter it was nothing for him to facilitate mockery among the bystanders at Golgotha. One last furious effort had to be made. But it was all in vain. The moment could not be reversed. Jesus breathed His last. The creation itself rendered appropriate acknowledgment. The sun was blackened. “The earth shook and the rocks split.”7 And the devil’s hopes were shattered. A slain Lamb would make for a disempowered Satan. An empty tomb would soon confirm it. On that third day profound ugliness would be turned to serene beauty.

Dear friends, you may not feel your life is characterized by beauty. Perhaps it bears the ugly marks of foolishness, frailty, and failure. Perhaps you still hunger, walk about in darkness, and battle with illnesses of body and soul. You are not alone. Christ died for lives under such duress. Yet in the shadow of the cross; in the silhouette of the Saviour, you are beautiful. Baptized, freed, and forgiven, you are illuminated by His glory. Sin and death were attracted to Him. Holiness and life now cover you. Whether you have ever considered it or not, you are beautiful in His sight because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Isaiah 53:2
2 Note: The omega point is a term coined to describe the belief by some that the universe is progressing to a maximum level of complexity and consciousness. I use it here simply to express the idea that the maximum concentration of sins, accumulated from the whole human race, centres on Christ on the cross
3 Hebrews 2:9
4 Quenstendt
5 Romans 5:8
6 See Matthew 27:40
7 Matthew 27:51

Good Friday
18 April 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Maundy Thursday 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Exodus 12:7
Theme: Blood Armor

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Blood is the currency of divine favour. It gives access to the holy presence of God. That is the ancient and unequivocal decree of the Almighty. Defining the cultic ritual for Aaron, the high priest, God gave the directive to Moses, “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.”1 All such actions pointed to the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ’s blood on the cross.

We are far too removed from the historical reality to appreciate the freedom we have from ritual sacrifice. The practicalities alone were confronting, even nauseating. Yet some of the visceral impact is undoubtedly lost. It would have been difficult to not have been struck by the significance of so much blood being spilled. Even in practiced routine the gravity of some things always excels that of others. And it must be that way. Open-heart surgery is never as trivial as tonsillectomy. Giving birth is never as inconsequential as cosmetic surgery. Receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion is never as frivolous as having a few biscuits with your cup of tea. This sacrament sustains your spiritual life.

The most significant activities must always be prioritized in life. Some people are drawn to dangerous or high pressure jobs- the military, emergency services, law, medicine- because the consequence of those activities is often far-reaching. They are adrenaline-inducing careers. Spiritual truths too can be prioritized. The work of angels is minor compared to the ministry of Christ. Recognition of our sins is fundamentally more important than our grasp of ceremonial laws. The biblical teaching on charity is not as critical as the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion. Justification by grace is more essential than a nuanced explanation of the Tenth Commandment. Still, one should not be played off against the other, for all cohere in the person and work of Jesus and serve His kingdom and people. The Bible’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper is not an ancillary doctrine, it is central to the life of His people.

The meal Jesus’ shared with His disciples that night became popularly known as the ‘Last Supper’. It was immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci’s painting. But far more importantly it was the first offering of the Sacrament of the Altar. Luther instructs us competently asking, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”2
The purpose is always to convey to us the forgiveness of sins. Blood has a pivotal place in this regard.

Firstly, Christ’s blood was sacrificial, that is, it was the means by which we are reconciled to the Father. It signifies the payment. Apart from this ransom price we sinners remain lost and condemned. Without this sacrifice penitent sinners would have nowhere to turn. The New Testament clearly identifies with this truth. “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”3 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”4 “You were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”5

Secondly, Christ’s blood is also sacramental, that is, God’s promised presence is constituted through it. Blood carries life and it denotes the presence of Christ among His people. Why did Lutherans hold so tenaciously to the Bible’s teaching about the presence of Christ in Holy Communion? Why wasn’t it sufficient to agree that He was present in some spiritual way only in the hearts and minds of believers? What’s lost if the meal is a solemn remembrance, an occasion of historical reflection only? Does this not honour Him?

What’s lost is the assurance that Christ is truly present bodily in this meal. It betrays an incomplete understanding of His divine nature. If Christ’s presence is limited to a local presence in heaven then His promise, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”6 dramatically loses its significance. What’s finally lost is the certainty of the forgiveness of sins, the chief blessing in this sacrament. If Christ is distant then absolution is aloof, a pious theory without point of contact for the sinner. The Holy Spirit does not work where Christ is not present in His word.

But, dear friends, the love of Christ is not abstract. He who stoops to wash the feet of sinners communicates to us boundless mercy in His body broken and blood out-poured. The authenticity of God’s being among us is not determined by our faith or our skepticism, but by His decision. It is a sobering thought to remember that the potency of the Sacrament does not depend on our faith. An unbelieving person still receives Christ’s body and blood, but only to his or her judgment. Christ is never honoured when sinners are not receptive of His gifts.

Like entering the Holy of Holies we can only appear in God’s presence on the merits of another- namely Christ- lest we incur judgment for sins. The rule in time is the rule for eternity. Jesus said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”7 The Lord’s Supper is also the closest point of contact with the saints that have gone before us. Communion is the communal meal of the kingdom.

Dear friends, Christ’s gifts of tender mercy are at the same time His bulwark of defence. Each time you take His body and blood upon your lips for the forgiveness of sins you are being clothed with the armor of God. Satan will launch his fiery darts. But our blood-forged armor nullifies them. This contest must rage throughout our time on earth. But finally, when you are at the precipice of mortality, waiting to cross the threshold to participate in the heavenly banquet, the blood which marks your spiritual ‘house’ will give you safe passage to that promised land. Death will not be victorious over you for the Blood of the Lamb has rendered death powerless. It is this same blood, sourced from the cross that fortifies you in body and soul on your journey to His eternal presence. It is the blood of the living Saviour. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Leviticus 16:15-16
2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 1 John 1:7
4 Ephesians 2:13
5 1 Peter 1:18-19
6 Matthew 28:20
7 Matthew 26:29

Maundy Thursday
17 April 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 21:9
Theme: Hosanna

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Palm Sunday is probably the pinnacle of Jesus’ popularity. Many thought dreams of a restored Jewish nation were about to come to fruition. Many believed Israel would be freed from Roman oppression. All hopes rested with the prophet and miracle worker of Nazareth. But riding into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Lord!”1Jesus journeys to His death. It was a scene that required interpretation. Christ’s means of entry is completely antithetical to human logic. The creator of the universe and redeemer of humanity rides on a lowly beast of burden to the place of His crowning. Staged in the present it would be viewed as a parody. The world cannot conceive of kingdoms built by such self-effacement. In an instant Jesus could have requested that the Father put at His disposal legions of angels. They would quickly overmatch the might of kings and armies. But this war had to be won in a different way. It wasn’t a matter of brute force or military strategy.

For Christ’s followers, even His disciples, it seems as though everything is quickly coming unglued. Cheers will turn to jeers and high expectations to gloom and despair. But from the divine perspective everything is just coming together. The kingdom of God is established through sacrifice. Sinners would have to be saved by mercy, not by decree. The reason is wrapped up in the mystery of divine love. Justice had to be met. Grace had to prevail. Only in Christ was this possible.

Dear friends, Christ came so that the humble may be exalted and the exalted would be humbled2. This great theme of reversal is central to Jesus’ work and the meaning of the gospel. We struggle to grasp it in two significant ways. Firstly in recognizing the blessings we have from God because we like to consider ourselves as self-made people. Secondly, we struggle because we tend to see God’s love and forgiveness in abstract terms. It’s a nice theory-we think- but seldom meets our requirements of tangibility.

The first struggle is more a matter of pride, skepticism and unbelief. It is the bane of sinners. We doubt that God is active in the affairs of the world that provide our daily bread. We give credit to medicine or doctors for recovery or rescue when God should be acknowledged first. We honour science for technological breakthroughs while forgetting the wisdom of God is the source. In these “First Article” matters of provision and providence it is often only gratitude that separates Christians from unbelievers. Faith is required for true gratitude but not for benefitting from God’s kindness.

The second struggle is of a different nature. How can the forgiveness of sins be understood in concrete terms? How can divine pardon be tangible? The biblical doctrine of the atonement often seems aloof and abstract, distant from people’s lives. Our brokenness, hardship, and sorrow seem to contradict the promise of God’s presence and restoration. How can this humble Saviour striding into Jerusalem have any relevance for people now? By what means is this achieved?

The law would appear to have an answer for us. It offers us measurable outcomes.
You can curb, control, and conform the external activities of people by use of threats and force. Often it is necessary to do so for the well-being of others. The law operates precisely with such motivation. Outward obedience can be demanded and achieved in this way. The law of God is good and holy. It demands love. Yet humans cannot meet the demand. The problem is not with the law but with us.

Jesus made no demands when He rode into Jerusalem. He instituted no new law. Rather, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death.”3 His sacrifice gives power to the prophet’s predictions, the Spirit’s words, and the sacrament’s tender. In the gospel we learn that the resolution to our struggles is no longer ours to worry about, it is Christ’s. Faith lives from this truth. Jesus said, “The time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”4St. Paul greets the Romans saying, “We received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”5

Faith is a magnificent, superlative gift. It frees us from the burden of courting divine favour. It releases us from all of our efforts at bargaining or negotiating- promising obedience or devotion in exchange for healing or intervention to alleviate pain or distress. It liberates us from the eternal punishment of the law. The obedience of faith freely and spontaneously flows. God Himself initiates, strengthens, and sustains it.

He does it through His word at any age, in any condition. Baptism is the starting point.
Lila knew water was being splashed on her head. It was an outward symbol, but the Holy Spirit promises that inwardly He grants new life, faith and forgiveness. Lila need not be able to articulate her faith in order for it to be valid. Faith at its deepest level is sheer trust. It is the conduit for God’s mercy. It takes Him at His word. Our faith is fundamentally no different than the faith of those who are newly baptized. The Holy Spirit gives complete faith bridging the chasm of hell and traversing through the gates of heaven.

The importance of baptism never wanes. In fact each time we confess our sins and receive absolution we return to the font where our faith was first engendered. Trial tests our faith. Forgiveness strengthens it. In a world where people are plagued with crises of identity or purpose baptism gifts us with the identity of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
He promises never to leave or forsake us. In the same way Christ is present in this holy meal bestowing on believers grace, forgiveness and peace. In His divinity and humanity He communicates to us the power and promise of immortality.

Palm Sunday is the turning point. Cheers of hosanna turn to cries of “Crucify Him!” It all happened in less than a week. It’s a vivid depiction of the instability, frailty, and incredulity of humanity. Yet we can hardly judge those contemporaries of Jesus that week. We would have fared no better. Only the Spirit could soften hearts of stone and remove the scales of spiritual blindness. The incomprehensibleness of this sacred sacrifice was too much for human minds and hearts. It demolished human reason and logic in one fatal blow. Even in the light of Easter’s glow the Spirit must continually pierce the darkness. And this He does not fail to do. The One who was crucified lives. Death has no power over Him.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”6
+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Matthew 21:9
2 Matthew 23:12
3 Philippians 2:8
4 John 4:23
5 Romans 1:5
6 Matthew 21:9

Palm Sunday
13 April 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt