Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday 2015

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: John 19:19
Theme: Glory of the Nazarene

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The glory of God is revealed on a cruel instrument of death. The depth of the Father’s mercy is exposed in the agony of the Son. “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”1 The glory of the Nazarene was His willing sacrifice for sinners. His crown of thorns makes possible your crown of life. The impenetrable mysteries of Good Friday will always be beyond our comprehension but the central truth is inescapable: His death secures our salvation.

Here are the facts: Christ was betrayed by Judas. He was arrested in the Garden called Gethsemane. He was questioned by the high priest. He was denied by Peter. He was sent to Herod. He was tried, condemned, and sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. He was led to a rubbish heap outside Jerusalem named Golgotha. He was nailed to a cross. Roman soldiers kept watch under the authority of a centurion. He cried out in angst from the cross. He died and His death was verified by one of the soldiers. With Pilate’s permission His body was taken down and placed in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea. Soldiers guarded His tomb. There are many others details which are not unimportant. Those are the historical facts.

Here is the meaning: “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him [Christ], and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”2 “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”3Your sentence of condemnation has been suspended. Your liability has been exempted. Your debt has been paid. Your guilt has been removed. Satan cannot convict you. Sin cannot shackle you. Death itself cannot be victorious over you. You are reconciled to the heavenly Father. Your baptismal inheritance has been secured. The gate to heaven is open. Christ’s life was forfeit. Your life is freed. You are liberated.

And what is it you are freed from? What are you freed for? Firstly, you are free from the curse of mortality. The fear of death is Satan’s tool. The fear of facing mortality is indelibly ingrained on the heart and mind of every member of the human race. It can be held at arms-length during the vibrant times of life, it can be numbed by unforeseen traumas or deliberate abuses, it can be denied through avid pursuit of philosophical propositions, but the fear of death will always surface at some point in some way. It is part of the curse of the Fall. “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”4 We all participate in that legacy of Adam. Just as Eve was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh5 so we are bone of Adam’s bone and the flesh of Eve’s womb.

Christ, too, participates in this reality. But He recovers what was lost and re-establishes what was destroyed. The Scripture says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”6 Christ has re-opened the way to Paradise. We are on pilgrimage to take up residence there.

The Tree of Life has been transplanted from the Garden of Eden to the hill of Calvary. The fruit of that tree gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are not distant or disconnected truths. The Spirit speaks life to you. The Holy Spirit conceives believers in the womb of the church. His promises are as unalterable as they are powerful. Here, where Christ serves you through His undershepherd and apostolic word, you are offered perfect peace, sacred food, and Sabbath rest. You will find these gifts nowhere else. He embraces you when you feel deserted. He cheers you when your heart is weighted with sorrow. He carries you when you cannot stand.

Dear friends, all the evidence of how God deals with people is amassed at the cross. If you are looking for evidence that sin- disobedience to God’s will- is punishable by a fate worse than death, you have found it on the cross. Eternal separation from God is the definitive measure of His justice. And if you are looking for good news that defies all human achievement and imagination you have also found it on the cross. God designated the formation of Adam and Eve as very good at the end of creation. Imagine with what superlatives He designates the sacrifice of the Son of God and Son of Man in which he inaugurates the new creation! In view of the intent perhaps Good Friday should be called “Great” Friday, “Stupendous” Friday or even “Unprecedented, Unrepeatable, and Incomparable.” Friday?

The early church designated that first Sunday after Good Friday the 8th day, the eternal day. They understood that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the beginning of the final era. God’s original intention for humanity finally comes to fruition in Jesus. The glory of the Nazarene is a glory that never fades. St. John saw, in the timelessness of heaven, “A Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.”7 Yes, the very same Saviour who stands among His people now and forevermore. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 John 19:19
2 Colossians 1:19-20
3 Mark 10:45
4 Genesis 2:17
5 See Genesis 2:23
6 Hebrews 2:14-15
7 Revelation 5:6

Good Friday
3 April 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Maundy Thursday 2015

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: John 13:1
Theme: The End and Beginning of Love

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The love of Christ is never deficient. Heavy in heart, tired in body and burdened in spirit, Jesus gathered His fledgling band of disciples to entrust them with the most sacred gift the church possesses. On the eve of His sacrificial death He instituted the sacrament of life. He celebrated with them the final Passover meal. No longer would they wait for God’s redemption. It had arrived. They would be the first to partake of this blessed meal that the church enjoys to the end of time.

Why did God choose bread and wine? Bread was essential to maintain life. Wine helped to make life palatable. Bread was critical for survival, wine was useful for celebration. After disembarking from the ark Noah planted a vineyard. Unfortunately he also overindulged. All things- godly things, that is- in moderation. Bread and wine were always at the heart of the Passover meal. Manna bread was supplied by God for the Israelites during their journey in the wilderness. It was provisional food until they reached the Promised Land. Now the true spiritual food was given by Jesus.

“What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”1 The Lord’s Supper is a perpetual, life-sustaining, soul-nurturing gift to the church. It establishes the consciences of the faithful in the certainty that Christ is among us. At His ascension Christ entered fully into the sacramental life of the church. When we avail ourselves of this sacred blessing we are participating in the life of the triune God through the only Man who is God.

This participation is only possible because Christ removes the offence of sin for the believer. Evil and unbelief cannot coexist peacefully in the presence of the Holy One. Some people believe they can avoid facing the guilt of sin. But that is only a temporary situation. All will be present at the Last Judgment. Attendance is compulsory. There will be no apologies. To believe otherwise is to live in a dangerous deception. Yet there are many who still believe they are masters of their own destiny. God alone can break through such idolatry. Only the Holy Spirit can correct the falsehoods of the spirit of the age.

Has the food of the church gotten stale? Is the heavenly banquet out of date? Are so many souls so gorged with the delicacies of the world that there is no appetite for the meal of immortality? Have spiritual taste buds become dulled? These questions have obvious, but not simple answers. Fewer people are at the dinner table because they don’t see the value of being part of the family at all. Often the reason given is there are more important things to do.

What makes God’s truth, His promises and His presence relevant and important? The cry for relevance must be framed in a way that reveals selfish ulterior motives. Invalid assumptions must be deconstructed. Prerequisites and preconditions that censure God must be named for what they are- idolatry. The will of God is always relevant. It is not, however, pliable. It is not subject to human consensus and manipulation. Holy Week brings us face to face with these questions.

The timid conscience sometimes shies away from approaching the altar. The devil would have us to believe that some measure of holiness is necessary first. His temptations are sinister. Repentant souls should rush to the rail like lovers rushing to embrace after a long absence apart. To be sure, the self-righteous and unrepentant will only bring judgment on themselves and should refrain. So too, those who do not hold the public teaching of the church where the sacrament is offered. A false motive is not hidden from the Lord and neither can a hardened heart be concealed from the Spirit.

But Holy Communion is the best antidote for a struggling faith. Baptism washes sins away. Communion poisons them. The pure blood of Christ is a potent remedy to sin’s ailment. His body is the food of immortality. The Israelites gained access to the presence of God through the sacrificial blood. Not even the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies without the blood of atonement. But now the baptized receive the blood of Christ Himself. His blood justifies us before God and empowers us to love one another. The Christian community is a forgiven fellowship. Its members do not seek honour for themselves but the well-being of others. Christ modeled that in the Upper Room.

The disciples were not sure how they would face tomorrow. What did Jesus say to them? “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.”2. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”3 How will you face tomorrow? You will have the sacrament today. How will you handle the regrets of the past? You will receive the comfort of the present. How will the failures of yesterday be resolved? They will be relieved by the gifts of the present day. How will doubts about the future be laid to rest? They will be shouldered by Him who possesses eternity. You have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. You now receive Him as immortal food. The mountaintop is not reached without treading through the valleys. Christ has done that for us. He has passed through the valley of the shadow of death.4 He is our Light at the end of the tunnel. He lives! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Luther’s Small Catechism
2 John 16:12-13
3John 14:18
4 See Psalm 23:4

Maundy Thursday
2 April 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday (B) 2015

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

Text: Mark 11:10
Theme: The Coming Kingdom

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The approach of God never goes unnoticed. Today He is met with heightened anticipation. Hosanna means “Lord, save!” It is a prayer of hope and an acclamation of truth. It is the mantra of Palm Sunday. Already by Jesus time it was an ancient utterance. It is a phrase weighted with such significance that the church chose to incorporate it into the song which accompanies our approach to the altar for Holy Communion, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”1

Today begins the holiest week of the year for Christians. Our Redeemer will be lifted upon a cross. He will succumb to death. His followers will teeter on the precipice of despair. But Easter will resurrect their shattered hopes. The decisiveness of the events before us can hardly be overstated. Without Good Friday the wrath of God remains unappeased. Without the resurrection the power of death remains unbroken. Without a living Saviour who bears the marks of sacrifice we would be only dying souls with no future beyond this present life.

But our God comes. Lacking the pomp and circumstance of a royal visitation the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was the antithesis of worldly ceremony, outward similarities excepted. Cheering crowds welcomed Him. Palms were waved. Garments were strewn. Expectations were raised. Yet His retinue was hardly regal. His devotees included a core group of fisherman, a tax collector, a religious zealot, and a traitor. The donkey upon which He rode previewed the cross upon which He would be hung. A donkey was a beast of burden not a royal steed. Jerusalem was the venue for divine sacrifice. Pilate was soon to have a volatile situation on his hands.

The approach of God never goes unnoticed. His word exacts response. The arrogant mock it. The apathetic ignore it. The baptized cherish it. Christ came not with swords but with words. He came not to coerce but to convince. He came not to be served but to serve. He came not with ideas but with truth. His own followers harbored false aspirations about His kingdom.
Their deceived ambitions were quickly dashed. Their Messiah was arrested, sentenced to death, and hung on a cross like a common criminal. Their misplaced ideas are not unique. Do we too hold misinformed expectations about ultimate things? Sin is like an aggressive cancer that continually attacks our faith. We can never be comfortable with sin; never make peace with it.

The world forthrightly challenges our reason for joining this palm-wielding crowd; and along with it our repentance, our hope, our devotion, our anticipation. It seems to many people to be hopelessly out-of-step with the world’s agenda. Our world remains full of bloodshed and strife, violence and dissension. Ideological clashes within society are fomenting unrest. Traditional values are being turned upside-down. Belief in universal truth continues to decline. A general increase in affluence has brought opportunity for indulgence but not more meaning to life. Relationships are fractured, children are left vulnerable; families are often in disarray. Lives remain broken. We seem to have more opportunities available to us than ever before but less stability. It would seem to be a big leap to believe that all of these crises can be brought to justice and healing, wholeness and resolution by this one man who was hung upon a cross. It seems out-of-sync to raise our voices and say, “Hosanna! Blessed in He who comes in the name of the Lord…hosanna in the highest!”2

But the approach of God always elicits response. The response of faith must part ways with the response of unbelief. The mission field is at our doorstep. People are looking for answers. They are seeking help. Society is witnessing a resurgence of interest in mediators. Palm-readers, fortune-tellers, channeling mediums, wiccan priestesses; all enjoy renewed attention from those looking for contact with the supernatural. We can only help if we are wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Dabbling in the demonic is not an innocuous activity. It opens people to spiritual attack. It desensitizes people to the power of evil. Satan is masterful at giving the outward appearance that everything is being held together while inwardly there is chaos and pain. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being nicely decorated tombs but on the inside full of death.

But we have the Lord of life! Born in Bethlehem, protected in Egypt, raised in Nazareth, crucified in Jerusalem, ascended from Bethany, and enthroned in the heavenly Jerusalem this Saviour also dwells in the heart of every believer regardless of time or place.
“He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures.”3 These words ground the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ in the context of history. The foundations of Christian truth are not based on unverifiable claims of cult leaders or the untenable ideals of humanistic philosophers. Christian teaching is based on plain, historical fact; truth which transformed the world. The historical circumstances themselves do not command peoples’ devotion. Christians are not materialists. That is, we believe there is more to reality than meets the eye; more than we can measure with our senses or comprehend with our intellect. Yet through these events -which crescendo to a climax with the cross and resurrection- the Holy Spirit incorporates believers into the life of God.

It seems remarkable that the crowds who welcomed Jesus with shouts of hosanna on Palm Sunday could so quickly be shouting “Crucify Him!”4 by Good Friday. Exactly which people were involved we don’t know. Clearly there was widespread and acute disillusionment. Many were misguided in their expectations of the Messiah. People are fickle by nature. They are easily turned away from defending the truth and we are no different. We may even boldly stand up with Peter and say to the Lord, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown you.”5 It was easy to do when Peter believed Christ would squash all worldly resistance with His power. When suffering was involved it was another matter altogether. Are we willing to conform our lives to the ways of honesty and integrity in the face of pressure in society, at work, in school, and even within the family? Are we willing to defend the name of Christ and the teachings of the Christian faith when ridiculed or challenged?

Dear friends, the only unassailable source of strength for you is found in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His sacrificial death was the darkest tragedy ever witnessed, but also the power of salvation. The crucifixion is the basis on which the Holy Spirit converts unbelieving hearts. The crucifixion is the reason baptismal water is effective. The crucifixion is the source of the forgiveness offered in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. The crucifixion is the power by which our sinful desires are put to death and our lives are sanctified. The Spirit says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”6

The Messiah comes for you. You are not saved because you know or are related to someone who believes. You are not nourished by watching someone else eat. Your God comes to you. He is with you in the presence of the Spirit. He is for you in the promise of forgiveness. He is in you in the power of the sacrament. In Christ the kingdom of God has come. You are a citizen of that kingdom. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Palm Sunday
29 March, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 LH, p. 16, from the sanctus
2 Mark 11:9-10
3 Nicene Creed
4 Mark 15:14
5Matthew 26:35
6Romans 6:6