Monday, May 25, 2015

Day of Pentecost (B) 2015

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

Text: John 16:15
Theme: Distributing the Inheritance

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God speaks. He is a God who communicates. He communicates through word and deed, with clarity and with power. The writer of Hebrews begins his letter saying, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, who He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.”1 Today, on Pentecost, the truth of God’s communication to us also takes centre stage. Pentecost is one of the high festivals of the church year. On this day the church celebrates the promise of the Son to send the Spirit from the Father.

The end goal of the Holy Spirit is always the same. The Holy Spirit always seeks to lead the unbeliever to Christ. And the Holy Spirit always seeks to lead the believer back to Christ again, and again for forgiveness and sanctification. Jesus gives us some insight to the Holy Spirit’s work in today’s gospel. He uses the law like a surgical tool. “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the price of this world now stands condemned.”2

Christ says the Holy Spirit will convict the word in regard to sin, because of their unbelief. Repentance and conversion are miracles of the Holy Spirit. Every degree of unrepentance is always a manifestation of unbelief, a rejection of the grace of God, a repudiation of Jesus’ work. The Holy Spirit offers no comfort for those who are content in their sinning or defiant in their unrighteousness. Such persons despise the forgiveness offered by Christ and shun His sacrificial work on the cross. When hardened in a state of unbelief, a human being is powerless to trust in Christ. For this reason, we declare with Luther, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”3

This is a remarkable statement because it confesses our complete ineptitude in spiritual things. It casts us wholly on the mercy of Christ; it makes us completely vulnerable to His promise. And that’s exactly where we need to be, because what feels risky to us (complete reliance on God) is actually the safest situation we can be in. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. Not until they were empowered by Him could they begin their witness to the world. Not surprisingly, that witness began with the miraculous ability to communicate the gospel in many languages.

Through human agency, Christ leavens the fallen world with His great reversal and restoration. The Biblical history of redemption is replete with facets of this reversal. The living Christ is the reversal of the Old Adam of death. Christ’s reign of righteousness is a reversal of Satan’s reign of evil, as He says, “The prince of this world now stands condemned.”4 The fallen era of the old covenant finds reversal in the new covenant marked by the Spirit. The pillar of the gospel’s singular confession dwarfs the Tower of Babel’s streams of confusion. Pentecost is a reversal of Babel. God gathers in forgiveness, what, in judgment, He was forced to scatter. From the plain of Shinar, an idolatrous humanity was scattered over the face of the earth. From the city of Jerusalem, a new community was gathered from an idolatrous world. At Babel, one language was divided into many tongues to confuse the message among many people and separate them. On Pentecost, the one message was spoken in many tongues to unite and gather many people. All Christians are agents of this reversal.

Our agency and our witnessing is not a matter of orchestrating something inconsistent with our baptismal life, but living faithfully in the promise of forgiveness. The Scripture says, “The fruit of Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”5 To keep in step with the Spirit means to live by the realities of the cross. The Holy Spirit will not lead us through the struggles of life by taking us through detours or enticing us to find strength or rest or answers from man-made sources; the Holy Spirit always takes us straight to the cross. He reminds us of the Saviour who died there for our sins and gives us strength and life and salvation.

The Holy Spirit distributes the blessings of the Father and the inheritance of the Son. Jesus says, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”5 Think how great the endowment is that you have from God! Your dark, dirty, stained, and corrupted soul is cleansed, covered, renewed, and restored. You are clothed with a baptismal robe. You are fed with sacred food. You are tenderly embraced in divine love. You are protected with such spiritual armor that Satan cannot penetrate it. On the surface of it your life may appear pretty mundane, but you are in many respects an undercover agent bearing witness to the truths of the Spirit and the grace of the Son in both the small gestures of kindness and large sacrifices of time and resource you make.

God speaks. But His words are never idle or impotent. His words are life. The same Spirit who participated in the original creation will facilitate the new and final one. We’ll let Ezekiel have the final say, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 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.”7Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Day of Pentecost
24 May, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 1:1-2
2 John 16:8-11
3 Explanation to the Third Article
4 John 16:11
5 Galatians 5:22-25
6 John 16:14-16
7 Ezekiel 37:12-14

Ella Neumann Funeral (19 May 2015)

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

Text: John 11:25-26
Theme: Resurrected Life

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Ella Neumann,

God has answered Ella’s prayer. It was her firm desire to make a swift exit from this mortal life. That request was granted. Her sudden death leaves those who knew and loved her in shock but we cannot begrudge her the reward she now enjoys. Her toils have ended. Her struggles are over. The crown of life is hers. She fully participates in Christ’s triumphant victory. She is home.

The reality that Christ has achieved for her is the focus of our reflection. The fact of Ella’s baptism some 86 years ago is not an insignificant historical detail. Time is immaterial to the effectiveness of God’s work. In her baptism Ella was embraced in the Father’s love and promised an inheritance in the kingdom. That inheritance she now enjoys. She looked forward; longing to be released from the limitations of her declining life.

A number of years ago I greeted Ella warmly after church and asked how she was. I took notice of her response because I had never heard it before. She said, “I’ll pass with a push!” ‘Pass with a push’ is apparently a colloquial expression that means you’re getting by but a little assistance would be mighty helpful. The phrase became an ongoing source of friendly jibing between the two of us. It’s also descriptive of the reality we often face. Sometimes we need more than just a little help along the way, especially as we stand at the threshold of heaven.

Ella witnessed many changes during her lifetime, but the most fundamental things do not change. Life is still precarious. Sin must still be resolved. Following the two world wars of the last century those who thought the collective goodness of humanity would prevail on society became disillusioned. The conviction that the human race could progress to a level of morality, altruism, and civility that protected the well-being and freedom of all was shattered by the horrors of human destruction on a mass scale. Nothing has happened in recent times to convince us that things will change anytime soon. The Holy Scriptures tell us they never will. Advances in technology, medicine, or social affluence should never be confused with fundamental progress in human nature. People today are not born more honourable, noble, or upright, they are only born into different circumstances with different opportunities.

Individually though, the conviction that people are basically good by nature is still widely held. It is the driving force behind every effort to find oneness, wholeness, heath or healing by looking within. Every attempt to put oneself right with God by accessing inner goodness is a spiritually fatal endeavor. Christ says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”1 Death and decay were not part of the original equation. They are the result of sin. Sin is an all-permeating reality from which no one is exempt. There is no moral or spiritual hygiene that prevents us from coming into contact with it. All are held to account. All are guilty. All are in need of grace.

Ella understood the consequences of being a sinner. She knew she was saved by grace, through faith in her Saviour. She confessed that truth and she lived it. Her confirmation verse was “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”2 She knew the cross had reconciled her to God. She was happy to be associated with His ‘foolishness’.

Ella’s middle- Marie- is a derivation of one of the most famous names in history. Mary was the mother of our Lord and a different Mary, a close friend of Jesus, is relevant to our gospel today. Mary was the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened attentively to His words. Ella was a keen disciple of God’s word but she also saw to the education of the young in the faith. She had no children of her own but she was a faithful teacher for many children of the church. She regularly taught Saturday School and then Sunday School. She was active in handing on the faith to the next generation. Ella was never pretentious. What you saw is what you got. She called a spade a spade. She wasted little time with cover-ups or appearances. She was never short on humour and was long on integrity. She knew what it meant to work hard and get by with little. But she knew that salvation depended on Christ and that He would not fail her.

A woman in charge of the laundry services for a large company was the last one on staff after everyone else had left for a month’s break. She loaded all the uniforms into industrial washers, set them going, left, and never returned. The clothes were thoroughly cleaned, but because they were never dried or removed, when they were discovered a month later, they were moldy and ruined. They couldn’t be worn. A surgeon in a remote village was performing a protracted operation on patient in critical condition. While pausing to sanitize his hands the surgeon had a sudden stroke. Before another doctor arrived the patient died because the surgery was still incomplete. Both were tragic in their own way.

Dear friends, the sacrificial death of Christ for us was not the same sort of tragedy. Christ does not begin anything He does not finish. He does not launder our souls in His blood and then forget to clothe us with His immortality. He does not remove our sin with surgical precision and then fail to sew us up and heal us. God’s word says “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”3 His crucifixion atoned for our sins. His resurrection attains for us everlasting life. His Spirit attends us always.

Let us be clear about what the Scriptures say and rejoice in them. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.””4 He says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”5 He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”6

Ella’s soul resides in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saints and angels. She awaits the resurrection of the body as we all do. As the beautiful hymn says Ella has fallen asleep in Jesus’ wounds. She has opened her eyes to the glorious brightness of eternity. The cares and the dangers of this mortal life no longer concern her. Sin cannot reach her. Satan cannot scare her. Death cannot touch her. She is with her Shepherd, her Saviour; her King. She need not worry if she’ll pass with a push for she enjoys vitality, the measure of which we can only envisage in faith. But, like Ella, we will not be disappointed when we see Him face to face. Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Ella Marie Neumann
19 May 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 15:19
2 1 Corinthians 1:18
3 Philippians 1:6
4 1 Corinthians 15:17, 20
5 John 5:24
6 John 11:25