Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday 2015

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Psalm 51:1
Theme: Divine Pardon

Dear fellow travelers to the cross,

Lent looks forward. In Lent you can look forward to the reconstitution of your ashes; that is, your decaying physical frame and its complement, your soul. You can view the future because Christ has reconciled the past. He has covenanted with you. And He is true to His word. Return to the Lord. The imperative of the prophet is clear. But it is no legalistic demand. It is the summons for the weary sinner to be embraced by a merciful God. The Father runs to the Prodigal while he is still a long way off.

The theme for this 2015 Lenten season involves a look at some of the Psalms of repentance. Candid, vivid, and profound they penetrate the heart of the human condition. They are always suitable, never obsolete. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out all my transgressions…Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight…Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”1David pleads that the Lord would hide His face from the sins of the king. It was an urgent supplication asking God to look away, turn aside, and cover His eyes lest the divine gaze of judgment be more than he could bear.

Every time Lent comes around the devil has a problem on His hands. People are drawn nearer to God. Reconciliation is proclaimed. He also has an opportunity. Self-righteousness can be cemented. Our dark thoughts and past sins, our secret offences and hidden faults are an open book before God. We can encase them in denial, conceal them in silence, and bury them in regret; but they still exist, lingering, lurking in the shadows of our heart until the opportune time. Then they grab our conscience by the throat, suffocating our vain and foolish idea that they will just die a natural death. Dear friends, the guilt of sin never dies a natural death. It must be taken to the grave by the Crucified One. Guilt must die a “divine death” otherwise it lives on.

Time heals all wounds but it doesn’t forgive sins. Christ forgives sins. Do not take your unconfessed sin to the grave. Christ went to the grave so that you wouldn’t have to. God sees. He knows. He pardons. He heals. The prophet says, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.”2 The Scripture says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.”3 He is gracious and merciful. He desires that ours be a steady diet of grace and not the artificial sweeteners of the world. That’s really what fasting is all about.

The church throughout the ages has recognized the value of a focused piety and honest solemnity during the season of Lent. A plain reading of the text indicates that Jesus didn’t consider fasting to be optional. When, not if, is His directive. In a culture in which affluence has a long-standing tenure the mindset of intentional deprivation is largely a foreign concept. Our society associates meaning with indulgence. But there is more to life than the material comforts we have come to cherish. The Bible says, “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”4 Consider a mini fast before receiving Holy Communion, it may give you a new perspective. More importantly, consider the value of deliberate self-denial as a beneficial spiritual discipline. Christ sacrificed everything for you.

What is the nature of the Lenten journey and the entire baptismal life for that matter?
The Holy Spirit is not teaching us to be navel-gazers. Faith is not a venture of introspection. If you look into your own heart you will find darkness, enmity, jealousy, selfishness, callousness, the need to be like; the desire to control. When you look at the heart of God you find pure compassion, unmatched love, unrestrained mercy. Christ hung from the cross in self-giving sacrifice. The heart of God was rent at the cross. There our mortality was rescued from the jaws of death and the gates of hell. His resurrection opened the gates of heaven.

Where do we find a gracious God? We can’t go back to meet Him at the cross. He comes forward to meet us here. He claims us in the waters of baptism. He dines with us at the altar. He wore a crown of thorns that you might wear the crown of life. The conveyance of information is only the incidental purpose of Scripture. Its purpose is to kill in order to bring life; condemn in order to free; suffocate in order to revive. Scripture brings us into contact with the God who acts. The Word of God is living and active. The Spirit is dynamic. Like enzymes facilitating the processes that transform from one state into the next, the Word of God brings light where there is darkness, hope where there is despair and life where there is death.

Dear friends, you, individually, are a particular collection of ashes. Your baptismal identity with God is more specific than the most powerful forensic tools we possess. He has a place for you beyond the scope of this existence. You are a living stone in His temple. And you, collectively, are the body of Christ. You are defenders of His truth and agents of His mercy. Just as from the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!”5 and He made all things new. So too, every time the declaration reaches you that your sins are forgiven the promise holds in heaven itself. You have a new lease, a new hope, a new horizon. Lent looks forward- to your future. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Psalm 51:1, 4, 9
2 Isaiah 30:18
3 2 Corinthians 5:18
4 1 Timothy 6:7
5 John 19:30
6 Proverbs 13:12
7 Isaiah 53:5

Ash Wednesday
18 February 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Harvest Thanksgiving (B) 2015

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

Text: Matthew 6:33
Theme: “These Things Given…As Well.”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Harvest Thanksgiving is more than an agriculturally-themed Christian observance. It signifies our origins; our roots. Adam was told that he would return to the soil. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”1 Christ promises to reconstitute those particles of believer’s dust and place them in the new and nobler Garden of Eden. Not only crops, but core truths are in our frame of view today.

Human relationship with the soil is more than casual; it is incarnational. That is, the flesh and blood of Adam was formed from the dust of the earth. It is also a reminder of our mortality. Our physical constitution has no life of its own apart from the life-giving power of God. Without the animating power of the Almighty all matter would be inert, dead. Often times we don’t feel like being thankful. We can put on appearances before others but the heart tells a different story. All ingratitude has its source in the frailty of the spiritual life. When sin rules the heart there can be no true thankfulness, only spiritual decay and death. Only the Holy Spirit can overcome this barrier. Thankfulness is not a child of sin but of repentance and faith.

Today Jesus begs the question, “What distinguishes us from the pagans?” What separates us from those who have no belief in God and invest their time only in pursuing the pleasures of this life or managing its adversities? Is it only a token allegiance to God? Is it a Sunday-only practice of the faith? Is it a different moral compass or ideological perspective? Do we seek to clothe our true desires with a veneer of Christianity? Are our expressions of gratitude hollow?

“Do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”2 What things cause you the most anxiety? Is it the prospect of a failed harvest? Still today famines occur when there are crop failures. Is it the constant stress of making ends meet? The day to day struggle for survival or the race to get ahead consumes many. Is your anxiety caused primarily by unresolved conflict or traumatic events that remain unaddressed? Left unchecked, worry can take on a life of its own. God feeds the birds of the air. He clothes the lilies of the fields. “Are you not much more valuable than they?3 asks Christ.

Valuable you are indeed! And why so? Not because of some inherent quality. Not because you have done so much more than others to be worthy of God’s attention. Not because of your name or status or position or piety. Only because of Christ! The miracle that He created and has preserved you is matched only by the miracle that He was willing to redeem you. He died and rose for you. Do you seek a greater miracle?

Did the miracles Jesus performed cause people to believe in Him? Or did those who believed in Him see the miracles for what they were? We’d be hard-pressed to deny, on the basis of the biblical evidence, that both were not the case. Though the Holy Spirit often worked trust purely through the words of Christ alone – and without a doubt faith is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit- Jesus also said, “At least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”4 Still, it should not escape our notice that there were many who saw Christ’s miracles but in the end did not believe. They stood at the foot of the cross and demanded that He come down.

Do we believe in God because He provides a good harvest and meets all our needs? Do believe because Jesus fed the 5000, healed the sick or calmed the storm? Do we search for other evidence? The cross is the evidence, but the message of the cross is called “foolishness.”5 The resurrection is the evidence, but even that has been rationalized by those who wish to do so. The test of faith comes when adversity strikes; especially when adversity lingers. Can the same God who is so lavishly good also test us with hardship?

God is not a projection of the mystery and complexity of the material world. The eternity of matter has no place in Christian teaching. God created. God is other than His creation. He is not matter; He is spirit. Yet, in Christ God embraces His creation. He assumes to Himself complete human nature. He unites with created beings. Though Adam and Eve were to rule over creation by subduing it, they were also designed to serve it. It was a preview of Christ’s work. His rule is characterized by service. Creation is God’s gift to humanity, but He remains the owner and we the stewards.

God uses you to care for His creation in many and various ways, fore mostly through your care of other created beings; people, to be precise. The vocations you hold determine who you are most valuable to. There are few surprises here. Spouses serve one another practicing self-sacrifice that lifts up the other. Parents serve their children by providing and protecting, teaching and chastising. Children obey their parents and honour them as gifts from God. Employers serve their employees by providing work and in turn should receive their respect. The strong should bear with the weak, the cheerful with those experiencing sorrow, those with conviction with those who doubt.

Dear friends, the fruit of the soil is not attained without the labour that is required. The ability to work is itself a gift from God. Solomon said, “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him.”6

While our bellies savor the fruits of the earth our souls relish food more directly from heaven. Holy Communion is called by St. Paul the Eucharist7, the Greek word for thanksgiving. In this meal the fruit of the vine is elevated to the highest status; the grain of the paddock invested with the most holy of tasks. Bread and wine are carriers of Christ Himself. He is the second Adam whose body was broken and blood was spilled so that we may be spared through His sacrifice. More than spared; that we have life and we have it abundantly.

Not all harvests work out as planned. Some promising starts fail; other questionable prospects surprise. The harvests of the Spirit are no different. Some of the baptized fall away and are forever lost. Others are saved in the eleventh hour. We are still sowing and reaping from one season to the next. The final harvest is yet to come. Then all of our Harvest Thanksgivings will come at once. All of our Christmases, Easters, and Pentecosts will fuse into the stupefying and spellbinding experience of uninhibited interaction with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the new paradise that will excel Eden. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Transfiguration of our Lord
Harvest Thanksgiving
15 February, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt