Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2015

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

Text: Mark 7:24-37
Theme: Deafness, Dumbness and Demons

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The goodness of God is extravagant. But humans are deficient in every capacity to receive what He desires to lavish on us. Therefore, God Himself must prepare us to be receptacles of His love. God’s favour does not rest upon us because we are lovable. Rather, the meticulous mercy of God in Christ makes us His cherished people. He tunes us in to the frequency of His grace.

Today Christ dealt with deafness, dumbness, and demons. He freed a little girl from Satan’s tyranny and restored to a man his hearing and speech. Both were miracles giving evidence that He was the Messiah. They were freed from sin’s grip on their physical frames. But something more enduring is going on here. This is not just a passing encounter with a traveling physician. When ears are opened and hearts are circumcised the kingdom of God comes. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Remember Luther’s simple but penetrating explanation of that petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”1

Dear friends, it is only through continual contact with God’s Word that His kingdom keeps coming to us. This is a great challenge in an age when regard for the efficiency of truth is in serious decline. There is a growing disconnect between people’s perception of their spirituality, their morality and their actual confession of truth. They are coasting along with momentum- the moral and spiritual capital of previous generations. But they are driving with their foot on the clutch, and momentum can only carry you so far. Gravity and friction exert their influence. When you disengage the engine from the driveshaft there is no longer any power transferred to turn the wheels. Christ is the engine. The word of God is the power. A Christian cannot keep coasting through life with the transmission in neutral. We cannot disconnect from biblical truth, from the source of our strength- which is Christ as He is present to us in word and sacrament- and expect to still be safely traveling the narrow road.

Your house may have a Bible, your child may have a catechism, your family may have a church, but does that mean these things are powering your life? Are you coasting along with your foot on the clutch? More are those who wander from the faith gradually, over time, than those who go abruptly off the rails. The wax builds up in their ears. Spiritual sight degenerates and no remedy is sought. Satan gets his foot in the door and is soon trying to run the house. The seriousness of sin is soft-soaped. The desire for forgiveness wanes. Repentance becomes merely a religious exercise of hollow piety or just a fading memory.

But God’s baptized and forgiven people receive the assurance and understanding of faith. God has united Himself to us. In baptism God gives. The sacrament of baptism is God’s mechanism by which we become receptive of divine benevolence. The gospel is the unequivocal message that God has spared no effort or expense to qualify us to live with Him forever. The Bible says He, “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”2 And again, “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”3 And again, “Now [God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”4

Jesus Christ descended from the celestial community to our earthly community that we might be freed from earthly bondage and joined with the heavenly communion. Your sins are forgiven. You are restored to the Father’s favor, through the Son’s love. When you hear the pastor say, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you are receiving the declaration of pardon from Calvary. When you are given His body and blood, you are receiving the life of Him who is the Living One, whom you will be in heaven with forevermore.

Dear friends, the Gospel is the story of divine compassion and it is inexplicable in the world’s eyes. Maybe in terms of human empathy we can say we have been where some others have been. But Christ went where others could never go. Only He was qualified. Think of what the Son of God endured. The piercing nails, the stinging crown, the agonizing pain, the suffocating air, the parched throat, the mocking crowds, the absent followers, the silent Father, and yet the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”5 That is compassion beyond understanding. His is not a sentimental sympathy but a sacrificial self-denial. Christ became the very substitute for sinners. He destroys in Himself the cause of corruption in us. He does not merely direct us because we are drifting; He resurrects us because we are ruined. He does not merely pity us because we are pathetic; He sanctifies us because we are sinners. His compassion is displayed in His condescension.

On this Father’s Day we could hardly site a more appropriate biblical image than the story of the Father who receives back his wayward child. The forgiving heavenly Father graciously welcomes back all the prodigal sons. Christ dealt with deafness, dumbness, and demons. He healed the ailing, the injured, and the anemic. He forgave Pharisees, priests and peasants. He humbled the arrogant, enlightened the ignorant, and calmed the belligerent. He gives eyes to the heart and ears to the soul. Today the Gentile woman was satisfied with crumbs. She was rewarded for her faith. Her soul was fed and that feeding was directly tied to her daughter being freed from Satan’s power.

The compassion of God, then, involves actual substance. How marvelous that when we are called upon to show compassion to others, to those who are suffering and hurting and those seeking fulfillment through other means; how marvelous that we can offer something and someone not fleeting or temporary, but the eternal word of God and the incarnate Jesus Christ! This substance fortifies us with a strength of incomparable greatness in this life; something not temporal, but eternal.

We should perhaps not then be surprised that when St. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ,” he includes hunger. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine…“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”6 Deafness and demons are no threat. May God give us the spiritual hearing and sight to perceive these truths! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
6 September, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luther’s Small Catechism
2 Colossians 1:12
3 2 Corinthians 5:19
4 Colossians 1:22
5 Luke 23:34
6 Romans 8:35-39

Christian Burial of Margaret Nickolai 3 September 2015

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

Text: John 14:2
Theme: Now Occupied

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Margaret; Lisa, John, and especially you, Eric,

When the body of a believer on earth falls silent, the angelic spirits in heaven commence their celebrations. With song and chant and rejoicing a believer is received into the heavenly realms with revelry beyond comprehension. The place prepared for Margaret is now occupied. Death is a transition from life to life. It is a transition from a decaying, corrupted, weakening life; to a restored, perfected, and strengthened life. Death is a transition from doubt to certainty, from fear to security, from hope to attainment, from the temporary to the eternal. These truths are so because Jesus Christ was not given to speculation or philosophy or mere theoretical propositions. He is “the resurrection and the Life.”1 He has faced death and overcome it. He has now done this for Margaret Nickolai. Margaret has transitioned from a fragile life here, to a glorified life there.

In her last years Margaret suffered from a serious decline in her mental and physical faculties. It was a situation that contrasted with the vibrancy of most of her days. She had lived a full life. She courageously and patiently made the transition from city life to life on a Mallee farm. Though challenged in many ways she learned to be content. She adjusted to her new circumstances cheerfully. Margaret’s contentment was evidence of her faith. St. Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”2 And so too Margaret. The only true contentment in this life and the life to come is to rest securely in the care of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd; the Light of the world; the Living Water; the resurrection and the Life!

How desperately the world needs such contentment! The curse of living in this fallen world; the reality of lives ruled by sin; the struggle of hearts and minds absorbed in selfish pre-occupation is that one can never be truly content. The claim of contentment apart from faith in Christ is nothing but a mirage and illusion. Of course, there is always a worldly sort of contentment- enjoyment in accomplishments and participation in the things we love.

But this life is just a short dash. There are bigger issues that we must face. How will we stand at the judgment and still be content? People can be defiant or in denial or ignorant, but that in no way changes the outcome. When sin is left unaddressed and unresolved there can be no contentment and Margaret wanted people to know that. As we celebrate her life and recognize her death, we also reflect on our own mortality. No one can atone for their own sins. Only in Christ is there forgiveness that opens the gates of heaven. Thanks be to God that His Son has granted immortality to mere mortals! Christ is crucified and He is living and the Scripture says He “Abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”3 Immortality is eternal life.

The death of a Christian always involves the fulfillment of God’s promises. Margaret was called through the gospel. She was baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In baptism she received the forgiveness of her sins, the Holy Spirit, and the promised inheritance of eternal life. She gave public testimony to her faith through the Rite of Confirmation and was a faithful hearer of the Word in God’s house. She regularly received Holy Communion, being blessed with the very body and blood of Him in whose presence she now resides. Her faithfulness was evidenced in her devotion as a wife, mother, grandmother, and Christian friend. Always hospitable she welcomed people cheerfully.

Margaret was never a person who wanted a big deal made over her. She was humble in heart and spirit. But to God every soul that is saved is a big deal. If Jesus said, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,”4 imagine how much joy there is when that repentant sinner actually reaches heaven! The salvation of souls is such a big deal that the Son of God assumed our human nature, fulfilled the Law to perfection, conquered the power and temptations of Satan, bore the burden of our transgressions, and endured the suffering of the cross to cover the debt of our sin. It is such a big deal that He died so we could live eternally.

Dear friends, eternal life is a big deal. It is beyond compare. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”5 He says, “In My Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.”6Today we may mourn the loss of a beloved sister, relative and friend; but we celebrate life. Not only is Margaret’s battle with frailty done; her battle with sin and death itself is over. She has received her crown. She participates in Christ’s victory. The Bible’s words of acclamation ring out, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”6 Margaret’s earthly life is over, but her eternal life has just begun! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Margaret Catherine Nickolai
3 September 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 11:25
2 Philippians 4:11
3 2 Timothy 1:10
4 Luke 15:7
5 John 11:25-26
6 John 14:2
7 1 Corinthians 15:54-55