Sunday, November 13, 2016

Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
Theme: Paradise Restored

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Every single day we are beneficiaries of God’s goodness. But being beneficiaries doesn’t make us proper receivers. God causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous. God gives. Everyone benefits. But not all receive gratefully. Believers should receive in humility. Unbelievers are likely to receive presumptuously. We pray the Holy Spirit would engender in us true gratitude for our faith, life, and salvation, not only on this Lord’s Day, but at all times.

Today gospel promises flow from the prophet Isaiah as if he had seen Jesus with his own eyes. Centuries of separation are no barrier for the scribes of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah is privileged to see- through the eyes of faith- the beginning, middle and end. Everything revolves around the Messiah, the Christ. When He brings this fallen world to its proper end, then true life will begin.

The coming glory of that kingdom is Isaiah’s concern today. The restoration of Paradise will involve harmony that can be grasped now only by faith. Harmony, stability, and vitality are things we have some concept of. Our understanding of these blessings is shaped by experience. We learn to recognize distinctions that inform our assessment of whether something is positive or negative for our well-being. If we can no longer distinguish between love and hate, chaos and peace, good and evil, truth and falsehood, then not only have the Scriptures lost their influence in maturing our faith, but our consciences themselves have become seared. The unbeliever too can distinguish chaos from harmony insofar as the conscience still functions.

Christ makes it clear today that before His Second Coming turmoil in the world will reach unprecedented proportions. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”1 The cause, of course, will be less constraint of the consequences of sin. Ungodliness will become more prevalent. No one will be immune. And no one will be without guilt. Jesus’ words about His return are a sober reminder that we are sinners who should never take for granted God’s mercy. None us deserves His grace.

Dear friends, God promises that in the end all evil will be banished from His presence. It's not easy to grapple with the truth of the eternal punishment of evil. People who depart this life estranged from God will be forever separated from His goodness. Many people think the penalty is much too harsh. It’s an affront to our sensibilities. Devoted Christians too, struggle with the reality of hell. Couldn’t there be another way? Speculation is risky at the best of times. It is extremely dangerous when we make assumptions about matters that relate to eternal welfare. It’s no good arguing with the Almighty. What leverage do we have to define His justice?

In society today we are living under a veneer of ‘godliness’. St Paul warns against those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power.”2 The cultural elites present themselves as enlightened, humane, and defenders of the rights of the vulnerable. Meanwhile, greed, power, and control dominate the agenda. Public discourse is often carefully choreographed. The parameters of discussion are changing. Our society talks occasionally about ethics, but not about morality. We are being desensitized to evil but hyper-tuned to political correctness. We are over-exposed to sexuality; and ridiculed for modesty. We are zealous for rights but dismissive of responsibilities. We expect to be indulged, but are reluctant to be self-sacrificing. We want to be served rather than to serve. God is not revered as Creator or feared as Judge.

Dear friends, it’s no good having a distant, disconnected, and dis-embodied Jesus. A do-gooder Jesus relegated to the annals of history is no God at all. A God who is inaccessible is no God at all. A God who is impotent is no God at all. A God who is ignorant is no God at all. But we have a God who has come in human flesh. He has lived, died as our substitute, been raised from death and ascended to the place of power. We are baptized into His name. We are fed with His rich treasures.

We are not set free from sin, released from Satan’s accusations, and spared eternal condemnation simply by God’s general attitude of benevolence. Remember, the sun shines and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. A listless feeling of good will on God’s part does not save us. We are redeemed by the active and targeted intrusion of a holy God who came to sinful humanity. “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight.”3 Christ “entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”4 The love of God is not an extrapolation of the hope that more good exists in the universe than bad. Those who rely on the triumph of the inherent goodness which exists in humanity will have their hopes bitterly shattered. Humanity is rotten to the core. We see it in the news every day. We’ve seen it for far too long in the election coverage. And yet people still look to human strength and ingenuity for the ultimate security

But God didn’t intervene by engendering ideals of positivity, equality, and sensitivity. He reached down and planted a cross. He embedded an instrument of torture and hung His Son upon it. The Holy Spirit preaches this gospel into our hearts and there is no other. The Holy Spirit always seeks out struggling souls in the dark corners of humanity. He knows what ails us. He knows the shame, the guilt, the apathy, the regret. He knows the cycles abuse, despair, greed, and arrogance that scar our lives. He carries these burdens and promises to reconcile and restore us.

In Isaiah, He says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”5 The Lord will commence to illustrate the blessings of this new creation but it is notable that first He says the collective memory will be cleansed. The point is not insignificant. Any possibility of comparison, any longing or yearning for “what was or used to be” will be eliminated from the equation. Our joy will not relate to what was in the old creation, but what is in the new creation.

God will be so attuned to His people that His grace will anticipate their every desire. Isaiah writes, “Before they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will hear.”6 Even now we have such attentiveness from our Lord. As the Psalmist says, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”7 He knows us better than we know ourselves and yet He loves us unconditionally. We certainly look forward to the news heavens and the new earth. But we remember the Saviour is already with us. In Him, the end is just the beginning. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
13 November, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 21:10 2 2 Timothy 2:4-5 3 Colossians 1:22
4 Hebrews 9:12 5 Isaiah 65:17 6 Isaiah 65:24
7 Psalm 139:4

Monday, November 7, 2016

Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2016

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

Text: Luke 20:36
Theme: Children of the Resurrection

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. And it’s not only a joyous remembrance; it’s a participation in the life and power of the living Jesus. Christ is in our midst through His word and Spirit, and His body and blood. We gather as the baptized people of the heavenly Father and we are strengthened for life and witness in confused and chaotic world. And as we think about the faithful who have gone before us we remember that Jesus says today that He is the God of the living. He has ultimate authority because He has silenced death.

The authority of Jesus was routinely challenged during His earthly ministry. Today the Sadducees refer to a tradition of the Levites in which a man would marry the widow of a deceased brother in order to keep the family name alive. They do so, however, with the intent of trapping Jesus. The circumstances proposed are nearly impossible to imagine. It is theoretically possible that six brothers in the same family die in succession while seeking to extend the family name of the first brother; but it is basically absurd. Jesus doesn’t even address the particularities of the custom because they have the matter all wrong anyway. Earthly marriage is transcended in heaven by the believer’s union with God. All human relationships are perfected and superseded in eternity. Like the angels, we will be beyond the institution of earthly marriage. So, that question is mute. Jesus moves on to other matters.

The Sadducees didn’t believe in a physical resurrection (or in the existence of angels). This is the point Christ will focus on. Here is a remarkable statement from Jesus, “In the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”1 Even now, Jesus says, the faithful of the past generations are alive with God.

Believers do not become angels when they go to heaven. Human beings are not turned into angelic beings. For some time now the idea has been circulating that when so and so dies they float up to heaven, become an angel and watch over people on earth. There is no biblical basis for such sentimentality. Believers will be bodily resurrected on the Last Day and will experience heaven in a perfected physicality. This promise is the basis for our hope and joy.

Dear friends, our great challenge and privilege to live in this world in such a selfless manner that people will take notice. Satan, of course, will do everything he can to prevent it. People mistakenly think that Christians are not prone to temptation. But it's when the Holy Spirit is active in your hearts that the struggle is engaged. A tussle ensues; a spiritual battle. The believer is still vulnerable to sin, but the very thought of it is a burden to the conscience. The flesh vies with the Spirit. The believer is still beset by selfishness, greed, impatience, uncharitableness, and many other temptations. On the one hand, the believer desires to follow God’s will and so wants to actively resist anything that transgresses His commands. On the other hand, selfish desires spring forward and the will of God and the welfare of the neighbour are easily forgotten. Sometimes it seems to be a hopelessly confused situation. Truly we are saints and sinners at the same time.

Still, this is not a cause for fear, but a reason for hope. God knows our shortcomings. He knows exactly when we are vulnerable. The Scripture says, “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”2 In this life we will never be free from the temptation to disobey God and please ourselves. It often seems that transgressions go unnoticed by Him. But judgment is certain. Repentance is always in order. There is no perfection this side of heaven. Guilt is either borne by Jesus in His sacrificial work on the cross or it remains with the sinner who chooses to reject God’s divine mercy. The Holy Spirit always seeks out struggling souls in dark corners of humanity.

The world is becoming a dark place. In the West, we still have some semblance of what the Bible refers to as a “form of godliness”, but there’s no evidence that hearts and minds have been changed. St Paul warns against those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power.”3 We are now living under a veneer of ‘godliness’. The cultural elites present themselves as enlightened, humane, and defenders of the rights of the vulnerable. Meanwhile, greed, power, and control dominate the agenda. Public discourse is often carefully choreographed. The parameters of discussion are changing. Our society talks about ethics, but not morality. We are insensitive to evil but hyper-tuned to political correctness. We are zealous for rights but dismissive of responsibilities. We want to be served rather than to serve. God is not revered as Creator or feared as Judge.

In this gathering darkness (a darkness that glitters with artificial twinkle) the guiding light of Christ does not falter. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”4 We can have confidence that evil will not finally prevail. We know that the Bible and all the plans and purposes of God revealed there will fail us. In the midst of turmoil, we have the steady presence of the Spirit so even Jesus’ return will not panic us. Remember Paul’s advice today, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.”5

Dear friends, it’s no good having a distant, disconnected, and dis-embodied Jesus. Thankfully, that’s not what we have. He said to His disciples, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”6 The crucified Jesus is risen. We are His baptized. We dine at His table. We are being prepared for greater things to come. Heaven involves the experience of God’s blessing without the need for mediation. The future life will not be lacking a physical dimension any more than the present one is. Sin’s power is already broken, but in the future life all consequences of evil will be completely nonexistent. We will be enthralled with the majesty of the almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are children of the resurrection. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
6 November, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 20:37-38 2 1 Corinthians 10:13 3 2 Timothy 2:4-5
4 Hebrews 13:8 5 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 6 John 14:2-3

Monday, October 31, 2016

Reformation 2016

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

Text: John 8:32
Theme: Freedom In The Truth

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is not an aloof historian. His interest in human affairs is more than academic. He oversees human society to the end that the gospel of His Son has opportunity to be proclaimed to all nations. It necessitates His presence and intervention. Sometimes dramatic transformations result. On the 31st of October, 1517 an energetic Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted theses for discussion on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Historians have marked this as the beginning of an event called the Reformation. It initiated a massive upheaval within Christendom, the consequences of which still continue today.

Luther was not intentionally rebellious, nor did he have a sectarian spirit. One key difference between Luther and those who preceded him was his understanding of the authority of Scripture. Unlike others, who more or less followed the church’s line of interpretation and found their niche within it, Luther’s conscience became formed by, and completely subservient to, the Holy Scriptures. Truth was no longer determined by church tradition, or human reason, but by God’s Word alone. Focus on the Bible led to one of the Reformation’s rallying cries being “Scripture Alone!” (Sola Scriptura) On the foundation of Scripture church and society worked through a fundamental renovation.

Next year will mark 500 years since that history changing event. We live in different times, a changed culture, and a different age. Of course, that’s not a new reality for the church to deal with. Culture is constantly transmuting. Individuals, however, remain unchanged in their basic makeup. Every child conceived comes into existence under the domination of sin. All are turned in on themselves, separated from God, living in spiritual darkness. This truth is an unalterable cornerstone in the Christian worldview. Any capitulation on the reality of sin leads inevitably to a skewed understanding of the need for, and means of, salvation.

Luther was a brilliant preacher of the gospel because he had a profound understanding of sin. In the footsteps of Saint Paul he called believers to a sobering recognition of human need. Satan is no paper tiger and hell is no imaginary place. God’s grace in Christ is therefore not only earth-shattering, but it makes or breaks one’s destiny in eternity. Jesus says, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”1 True freedom involves being released from the eternal consequences of sin.

It’s this peace of heart and mind that Luther desperately sought. But until his “rediscovery” of the gospel, like so many others, he looked for it in the wrong places. God could not be appeased, except by the blood of Jesus. The Scriptures began to come clear to Luther. “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all”2 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”3 “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith…it is the gift of God-not by works…”4 Luther recognized that we are declared righteous by God’s work in Christ, through faith (Sola Fide). Salvation cannot be earned. It is by grace (Sola Gratia).

When Satan pressed his advantage severely, when Luther’s soul and conscience were under relentless attack, Luther said, “I am baptized.” He didn’t fall back on his own ingenuity, strength, or piety but on the redeeming act of Christ accomplished in his baptism. Luther knew that the death and resurrection of Jesus remained only a distant, historical fact until the Holy Spirit incorporated him into God’s covenantal promise through baptism. Without grace we don’t have a God of love but a God of judgment. So, grace was the context in which Luther understood his baptism. Baptism involves a divine rescue. In baptism God’s salvation is made accessible.

The availability of God’s grace is the perennial concern of the church. Today the cry to be relevant is being shouted at the church. Reactions have varied. Some bury their heads in the sand. Others survey the society to see what changes they’d like made and introduce them accordingly. Still others circle the wagons and try to isolate themselves from the prevailing culture. A quick canvassing of Christian bodies reveals an almost inconceivable diversity of practice and belief. Some Christians don’t believe God created the universe and so cannot confess the beginning of the creeds with integrity. Others don’t believe an omnipotent God will bring history to a close and judge the living and the dead, and so cannot confess the end of the creeds without damage to conscience. Still others doubt whether Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and so are estranged from the very heart and centre of the creeds. Issues like homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia further complicate the landscape. In all cases, biblical authority is compromised to one degree or another.

St. Jude addressed believers saying, “I found it very necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”5 The word of God is unalterable. The church must respond to the changing situation of society. But, thank God that His love for us in Christ does not change. The claim has been made that the culture today is similar to what it was in the First century when Christ was born in the world. People were living in the darkness of idolatry and unbelief. There are many similarities, to be sure. Yet, today, the church has the task of preaching the gospel not to world that hasn’t heard it (as was the case in the First century), but to one who has heard and has rejected it. Today’s world is aggressively deconstructing the Christian worldview.

Dear friends, when there is no confidence and no certainty, that sins have been remitted the sinner labours under the burden of guilt and doubt. Without absolute confidence that transgressions have been absolved the soul is never freed. That was the overarching concern of Luther. That is the concern of the Scriptures. That is the apostolic concern. That is the concern of Christ. It is the concern of the Holy Spirit. When sins are retained the door of heaven is locked. The surgical precision of the law is left to do its work. Only the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection can open the gates of heaven. The Scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”6

Jesus Christ came to shepherd the flock of God not exploit it. He came to free from the power of addiction. He came to release from the regret of failure. He came to liberate from the fear of death. He is light in our darkness. He is an island of truth in a sea of deceit. He is the unshakeable foundation in a world of instability. He is the Bridegroom full of compassion. He is the Husband armed with strength. He is peace in the midst of turmoil. His righteousness alone covers the sinner. His forgiveness is ours in the water of baptism, the words of absolution, and the body and blood of Holy Communion. And the life of cross bearing has proper meaning and purpose because grace raises everyone’s status in the eyes of God to the level of His Son.

Luther recovered the proper understanding of vocation. It was one of his most personal and bitter struggles. The devoted person who faithfully goes about his or her calling each day- regardless of how insignificant or mundane it may appear- is just as important of a servant of God as the pastor, the high government official, or the famous person. God loves the neighbour through the countless everyday acts of service and self-sacrifice.

We may be nearly 500 years removed from the Reformation. But God is no further removed from us. People naturally want to be spared from the adversities of life. But God doesn’t promise to remove us from life’s trials. He promises to be in our midst. He is with us in suffering. He carries us when we can no longer walk. He is our refuge and strength. Both time and eternity are in His hands. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Reformation (Observed)
30 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 8:31-32, 36 2 1 Timothy 2:5-6 3 John 1:29
4 Ephesians 2:8-9 5 Jude 1:3 6 Romans 3:23-24

Monday, October 24, 2016

Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Luke 18:13
Theme: Mercy For The Sinner

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God reads the heart. Those whose hearts are filled with evil intent should take careful notice of this truth. Those who are seeking God’s forgiveness should take great comfort. Christ has come for sinners. No one is beyond the pale of His mercy. No one is so far gone that Jesus cannot redeem them. The event of the cross accomplished an atonement so infinite human depravity can never exhaust it. Through the power of Jesus’s death and resurrection the believer’s sinfulness is exchanged for Christ’s righteousness. That is the implication of our baptism. We are His forgiven people.

Today the Holy Spirit intends to shatter a widely held stereotype about what it looks like to be right with God. Jesus’ target audience is clearly defined. “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else…”1 The Pharisees are clearly in Jesus’ sights. The listeners would have been familiar with the context. Daily sacrifices took place in the temple at 9am and 3pm. It was customary for people to come for corporate prayers at these times. Private prayers could be made at any time but were often made at these scheduled public times also. Faithful Jews were not remiss in their observance.

The contrast in the parable is stark and easily identified. Two men are at the temple praying. One is a Pharisee, the other is a tax collector. The Pharisee makes a public show of his piety. He’s there to proudly remind others of his status and standing. The tax collector humbly pours out his heart before God. He’s not looking for praise from men but mercy from God. Both are engaged in the same activity at the same time. Contrary to the social expectation of the day, it’s the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who goes home justified.

The critical issue lies right at the heart of Christ’s redeeming work. Trust in our own righteousness is the height of idolatry. We might think it’s easy to excuse ourselves of this transgression in our day and age. After all, we live in a culture of affluence, skepticism, and the exaltation of the scientific method. The idols of materialism, human philosophies, and technology must surely be the prime candidates. But let’s come at it from a different angle. Is the favour of God and admittance into His eternal kingdom an assumption that we make? Do we believe, that in spite of our faults, we’re passable in God’s sight? Belief in the inherent goodness of the human makeup is the foundation of self-righteousness. If we are basically good, what need is there for a Saviour? The Pharisee gave thanks to God but did not seek His mercy. He was putting his own worthiness on display, not God’s compassion.

The Holy Spirit has a difficult job under these circumstances. His task is not to rebuke the sinner for crass transgressions (like the theft or adultery the Pharisee mentions in his prayer), but for the underlying cause- the belief that God has no right to stand in judgment. Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”2 His judgment can be ignored but never avoided. Confidence that God has no right to stand in judgment is the basis of all human arrogance. All false and na├»ve hopes- held in ignorance or arrogance- will be shattered when He comes again “with glory to judge the living and the dead.”3

The tax collector is depicted in sharp contrast to the Pharisee. His plea is candid and heart-felt. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”4 He recognizes his need to be liberated from the consequence of his sin. He stands at a distance from other people, yet hoping that God is near. His hope is not in vain. The Scripture says, “The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saved the crushed in spirit.”5 And again, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.”6 Indeed, God is near to us in Christ, right in our midst. He is near in the words of absolution and His body and blood in Holy Communion. He was near to the tax collector and He is near to us.

Yet, there are many who do not want to hear this message of God’s presence. The call of society is to spin the message in a different way. The way we say things is important. But the manner in which we say things should never compromise the content of what we say. The truth cannot be sacrificed. There’s no place in the church’s corporate conversation for political spin. The following light-hearted example might be instructive: A certain man and his wife owned a poodle. They lived in a three-story home with a balcony on the third level overlooking a lake. The dog was especially precious to the wife. The wife went on a trip overseas. She called home on the first day and asked her husband, “How are things?” He said plainly, “The dog’s dead!” She was devastated. After collecting her thoughts, she asked, “Why do you do that? Why can’t you be more tactful?” He said, “Well, what do you want me to say? The dog died.” She replied, “Well, you can give it to me in stages. For example, you could have said, ‘The dog went out on the balcony.’ And then when I travel to London the next day and call, you could tell me, ‘Honey, the dog fell and had to be taken to the vet. In fact, he’s in the hospital and not doing well.’ And finally, when I call you from Rome, ‘Honey, brace yourself. Our dog died.’ I could handle that.” The husband paused and said, “Oh, I see.” Then she asked, “By the way, how’s my mother?” He said, “She’s on the balcony.”

The apostle says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”7 As Christians we are charged with knowing what we believe, not so we can pride ourselves on our learning, but so we can be faithful witnesses to those who doubt, those who live without the truth, and those who oppose it. There are no shortcuts here. The Holy Spirit molds, shapes, and refines us through the dynamics and tensions of bearing Christ’s name in the world. It’s always on-the-job-training.

Dear friends, there’s really no easy way to break the bad news that we’re sinners. We’re all in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. But that makes the truth of God’s love in Christ all the more treasured. Sin, Satan, and hell are conquered by Jesus’s saving work. We have purpose now and a bright future ahead. These are truly reasons to celebrate. God supplies everything the believer lacks, most importantly, power over death itself. Remember, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!

Who knows what pangs of conscience Jesus wants the hearer to envision that this tax collector was suffering? Was his career ruined? Was his family in crisis? Was his heart rent by some trauma? It makes no difference. It’s the same for us. The mercy of God would not be denied him. The demeanour of his heart was reflected in the posture of his prayer. He, and not the Pharisee, went home as the forgiven child of God. It’s the same forgiveness that opens the door of our eternal home. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost
23 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 18:9 2 John 16:8 3 The Nicene Creed
4 Luke 18:13 5 Psalm 34:18 6 Psalm 145:18
7 1 Peter 3:15-16 8 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Monday, October 17, 2016

Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 31:33
Theme: A New Covenant

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God takes the ‘long’ view of things; the eternal view. The panorama He sees doesn’t fade in the distance like ours; the horizons meet. He sees everything at once. We see what’s in the foreground and beyond that we go forward only in faith. Only in this way does the unreasonable and inaccessible become certain. God is already there, and that’s what we trust. It seemed impossible, but the Israelites were told they could look forward to the realization of God’s blessings. The exile in Babylon wouldn’t finish them off. God would recreate them as a community through their trials. God’s people possessed a worldview that was different from the nations around, one centered on the coming Messiah and His restoration of all things.

As Christianity in the West now struggles to articulate its worldview to an increasingly secular society it’s necessary to revisit foundational truths. We are facing a crisis of authority at the deepest spiritual level. Our society champions individual freedom at the expense of almost everything else. Divine authority is dismissed. But the will of God is not arbitrary. He does not impose restrictions or demand submission for the sheer delight of tormenting human souls. His intentions do not lack rhyme or reason. Our well-being is always in mind even when we can’t see it. The Holy Spirit always works to convict the heart of sin to the end that salvation in Christ will be cherished.

The purposefulness of God’s will underpins the framework of those specific institutions that serve our well-being. Marriage is a particular example under serious threat. Marriage is the building block of stable society. No one can dispute the havoc wreaked on society due to the degradation of marriage. Families splinter and break and the government struggles to provide resources to stabilize those most vulnerable. Marriage also exists so that sexual desire is exercised within healthy parameters. When these boundaries are disregarded heartbreak, heartache, and finally judgment will result. Human consensus can never determine what is an acceptable sexual relationship.

God knows what He’s doing. Our lack of understanding does not invalidate the clear revelation and will of God. It’s foolish to disregard God’s decree on the basis of our ignorance. It’s even more foolish when God’s wisdom coincides with the natural order of biology, as is the case with heterosexual marriage. We shouldn’t be surprised! God is the author of life in all its complexity. He knows how it works!

Even when we misconstrue or lack understanding, we cling to God’s word in faith. Consider St. Paul’s words to Timothy today, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”1 Jesus says, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”2 Without the foundation of God’s Word we are forever tossed to and fro by human opinion. This inevitably ends in grief.

Faith seeks understanding but doesn’t depend on it. It’s like little Johnny who was listening with rapt attention in Sunday School one week. The teacher was covering in some detail how God created everything, including Adam and Eve. Johnny was especially fascinated with the creation of Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. Later in the week his mother noticed he hadn’t finished his dinner. This was most unusual. She found him on the floor of his room clasping his ribcage. “What’s the matter?” asked his mother. “I feel terrible,” he said, “I think I’m having a wife!” You see, his lack of understanding did not destroy his trust in God’s word. As we mature through the experiences of life the effluence of the world tends to jade us. No wonder Jesus says, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child will never enter it.”3 Lord, grant us such faith!

The Israelites in Babylon also struggled to take God at His word. They especially struggled with the difference between true spiritual repentance and simple remorse. No one can be forced to repent. We can have our activities acutely curtailed. We can have severe punishment doled out to us. Fear of retribution may restrain us from repeating certain behaviors. We can be shamed publicly and privately. Still, these do not constitute repentance. Repentance is a divine action that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in the heart. We cannot even initiate the action. We only recognize that God is acting upon us. He is the potter; we are the clay.

When reprimanding their children parents usually look for evidence that their kids are contrite. Contrition is genuine sorrow over sin. But this still isn’t the full picture of repentance. Godly repentance, Spirit-wrought repentance entails this contrition, and a turning away from our sin and seeking forgiveness in Christ in true faith and hope. “It is impossible to keep the law without Christ; it is impossible to keep the law without the Holy Spirit…the law always accuses us, it always shows that God is wrathful. We cannot love God until we have grasped His mercy by faith. Only then does he become an object that can be loved.”4

God promised the Israelites saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel…I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people…for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”5 He was telling them to not give up, to not lose hope. The Messiah would come. Salvation would arrive. The parable of the persistent widow today also encourages us to never cease approaching God with our prayers and petitions. God wills to shower us with His good blessings.

The promise of the covenant points to Jesus. Christ is the initiator of the covenant. In Him it is fulfilled. The Scripture says, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”6 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”7 Only Jesus died and rose again for us and for our salvation. These truths are not relics of history; they are present reality. “The Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”8

The blessings of the covenant are dispensed to us now- in real time and space- not by some spiritual meditation of the past historical event of the last supper, but through Christ’s very presence in His body and blood in this sacrament. In this meal God Himself extends to us the forgiveness earned by Jesus’ crucifixion. Every appearance in God’s house, every participation in this gathering is a return to your baptism. In that sacred act God covenanted with you. We can’t grasp how this is possible pragmatically. But we can certainly understand the references to cleansing and renewal. The power of your baptism is accessed every time sin is confessed and God’s gracious pardon is received. The Spirit renews and reaffirms us in God’s covenant. Now His gifts are ours by faith, but on the Last Day we will possess them without mediation. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost
16 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Timothy 3:16 2 John 10:35 3 Luke 18:7
4 AP IV 5 Jeremiah 31:33-34 6 Hebrews 9:15
7 2 Corinthians 1:20 8 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Funeral of Gertrud Agnes Graue 12 October 2016

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

Text: John 14:3
Theme: Not Forgetting To Come Back

Dear friends, loved ones, and family of Gert, her children, and especially you, Elmor,

“I will come back and take you to be with Me,”1 this is the promise of Him who has traversed death and opened heaven, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. This He has done for Gert Graue. She is in His presence. Freed from all sin, released from all struggle, the profundity of her peace is beyond our knowing. God has not forgotten her. The Scripture says, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that He commanded, for a thousand generations.”2 Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love!

On more than one occasion the Scriptures credit God with remembering. God remembered Noah, his family and the animals on the ark. He resettled them in a world cleansed from unbelief. God remembered Abraham at the time Lot was spared while Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. God remembered Rachel when she was barren and she conceived and bore a son. He doesn't, of course, have amnesia. He doesn't suffer from poor recall. It's the Bible’s way to express that fact that when human hope is at its lowest, when people have all but forgotten what could have been, when the dream has been let go of, its then that God returns, if you will, to make good on His promise.

God's remembering is tied with rescue, restoration, and redemption. Gert may not have always remembered. In the end she may not have remembered the names, faces, and particular characteristics even of those dearest to her. But the integrity of her memory was not critical for her standing before God. To say that faith is destroyed by failing memory is to misunderstand the nature of the Holy Spirit's gift. God looks after His elect. The brain is not the only part of the body that has capacity for memory. The heart also stores it. God reads the heart.

Gathering to reflect on the death of a loved one is sobering business. It rightly draws our attention to critical truths. Human mortality is not an imaginary threat. Death reveals the ultimate vulnerability of the human condition. The Bible says when sin matures it leads to death. To ignore the consequences of sin is the greatest foolishness. Our false senses of security soon come to grief if the final implication of lacking the righteousness God requires is not resolved before we take our last breath. Then we are like children building sandcastles while ignorant of the rising tide. Children may pick up their gear and in turn be lifted by their parents to safety. The fun is over. The game is finished. No harm is done. But death allows no such childish indulgences. It is not make-believe. The quicksand of sin prevents our movement. We face the punishing surf unable to retreat. Mortality requires divine intervention. Christ rescues the believer from the horrifying prospect of eternal separation from God. Maturity demands sobriety. Sobriety is the only true foundation for joy.
And joy is the truth that prevails in our celebration today. Gert was God’s baptized child. To remember that Gert is baptized is to remember that God has made to her an irrevocable promise. The Bible says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”3

So what accompanies the believer across the threshold of death? What integral, essential part of us makes the transition? Not our accomplishments. Not our failures. Not our embarrassments or fears. Certainly not any material possessions we've accumulated. The only thing that does is the only thing that matters: Our identity in Christ. Baptism opens the door to heaven through which the believer passes at death and awaits the bodily resurrection. It all happens through His grace.

In the end every attempt to commend ourselves, to justify ourselves, to put forward even a lifetime of evidence; including our self-deprecations or false humilities is an offence to the irreproachable holiness of the Almighty. In the end it's all about Christ, or all of our efforts are an exercise in futility. It's not Christ in addition to us. It's Christ alone. We are saved by grace, through faith, by Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. There is no other Saviour. There is no other way. In Him death is defeated, Satan is silenced, the gates of hell are barred shut.

Gert was not enjoying life in the last days. It's not simply a vacuous platitude to say that God has His reasons for allowing the circumstances that attend each person when death draws near. In humility of faith we allow God to be God. Why did He allow Gert's health to fail? Why did she seem to have cruel burdens to bear in the end? We limit our speculation and we look to the cross. Jesus died and rose again that all who believe in Him might have life. We cling to the promise that says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."4

Gert’s journey of faith has ended. The most important evidence of faith is not the rare act of exceptional service, but the daily commitment to live in one’s vocation in a faithful and godly manner. To be a faithful wife and mother. To strive at loving God and neighbour, knowing that we fail, but believing that Christ succeeded. Gert persevered at these things following the voice of the Good Shepherd. Gert and Elmor’s wedding text was from John chapter 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”5 Gert no longer has to strain out competing voices from that of the true Shepherd. She is safely in His hands.

Of course, we still grieve. The primary venue for the grieving Christian is not the cemetery, but the church. The cemetery may contain the material remains of the deceased, it is a place of remembrance; but the church is the assembly of the faithful transcending time and space. It is here that God ‘remembers’ us. Elmor, go to the cemetery to honour Gert. But come to the church to thank God for the blessing that she was. Here is where sorrow transitions to acceptance, then to hope, then to gratitude. Here is where we have the continuity of God’s love across the generations. Gert Graue may not have been able to express her memory in the last days, but God has not forgotten her. Her last day has come. She is in His presence, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and all the hosts of heaven. In this we rejoice. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Gertrud Graue
12 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 14:3
2 Psalm 105:8
3 1 Peter 1:5
4 Revelation 21:4
5 John 11:27-28

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 29:4-7
Theme: Hope For The Exiles

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Complacency is a child of prosperity. When things come too easily we often cease to strive. We lose motivation. How do societies and individuals avoid becoming victims of their own affluence? History is littered with failures. Complacency is also a cause of spiritual decay. When the blessings of God are taken for granted it's a sign that faith is resting on its laurels. The jolt back to reality can be sobering. The stubborn will is not easily broken. Jeremiah addressed just such children of complacency today. Their world was about to be shattered.

God's advice to the exiles may seem strange at first. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Mary and have sons and daughters…”1In other words, “Make yourselves at home. You’re going to be there for a long time.” Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to accept the reality of their situation. It was God’s will that they be put through this crucible. It was necessary to refine and refocus them. Their understanding of what it meant to be God’s people was almost lost. Jeremiah was trying desperately to make sure that not all ties were severed.

The Israelites considered themselves to be victims. In reality, their association with idolatry was closer than their relationship with Yahweh, the true and living God. It's a critical lesson for the spiritually complacent. Dear friends, your association with sin is never just a matter of victimhood. Yes, you are a victim of the selfless transgressions of others. That is an inevitability no one can escape. People have, do, and will continue to sin against you. Yet, to be sinned against is not a cause for your condemnation. No one is ever just a victim. You are also a perpetrator. Your thoughts, your intentions, your schemes, plans and actions are not free from impurity. You, like me, are also the offender. Firstly, your offence is against God. Secondly, it is against your neighbour. The prodigal son made his confession saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”2Every sin is firstly a sin against the authority and integrity of God. Repentance involves an honest disassociation with every selfish pursuit that is contrary to the will of God.

When the reality of the exile hit home the Israelites were seized with fear? Causes of fear are different for everyone. Some of us fear loss of wealth or reputation. Others fear declining health. Some fear the future their children or grandchildren may face. Some fear loneliness or inadequacy. How many fear losing the true knowledge and mercy of God? How many fear God Himself? The most common fear is death. It's not easy to reassure even Christians that God has it in hand. The Holy Spirit must convince the heart. Like the two men who were unexpectedly marooned on small, remote island when their adventure tour went amiss. One man paced back and forth like he thought it was the last day of his life, while the other man relaxed and appeared unconcerned. The first man said to the second man, “Aren’t you afraid? We are soon going to die.” “No,” said the second man, “I made a $100,000.00 commitment to our church building fund. But it’s not in the will. My pastor will find me.”

But certainly the most universal human fear is mortality. Life is fragile. Death can strike suddenly. What happens then? What happens for the believer is Christ. 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.”3

God promised the Israelites, languishing in Babylon, they would be restored to their home in 70 years. How distant the promise must have seemed! In seventy years an entire generation would be lost…and then some! Those taken into Babylon in their youth were unlikely to ever return to their native land. Their culture and identity were at stake. Their lament is recorded in the Psalms, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”4 Yet, God had not forsaken His people. They were just experiencing mandatory interim separation from the only security they understood. But it would seem to them like it was a permanent reality. They needed to come out the other side as changed people.

So, they were told to make the best of their situation. We might wonder if any of them saw the fabled hanging gardens of Babylon during their exile there? It would have given them little comfort. Their God was in Zion. But He was not limited to that place. God had not moved; they had, though they didn’t understand it as their conscious choice. Still, they were His witnesses to a foreign people in a foreign land.

It's an important role God's people still play. The Christian church makes intercession also for the needs of the unbelieving world. It does this not only through the private prayers of members but also in its public worship. Paul instructed Timothy saying, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”5When we gather in this sacred assembly we are served by God to the end that our capacity to serve others might be nurtured. We’re here for the bigger picture or we’re here for the wrong reasons.

The idea that human society in this fallen world is a permanent establishment cannot be reconciled with the biblical promise of the coming destruction and restoration. Christianity is not finally concerned with just mitigating the great threats to human hope and happiness. There is no truce with the chaos and corruption wreaked by sin. There is no negotiation with the power of death. There is no compromise with the kingdom of Satan. We should hold no false assumptions about managing to eke out an existence in this fallen creation in perpetuity.

We are pilgrims. We are transients. We have no permanent home here. Foreigners now, we will be indigenous in the world to come. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”6 Mortality will be swallowed up by Life. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Jesus is not the means to an end. He is not the ticket to an afterlife of self-directed indulgence. He is the destination. He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

In the future we may feel much more exiled from our culture than we do now. It will challenge our faith and test our resolve. But we are never without hope. The promise is never distant from us. Christ has come to us in the flesh. He is Immanuel. We are His baptized. He went to the cross to tone for our sins. He rose from death to give us life. He welcomes us to His banquet of forgiveness. We are not complacent; we are content in His promises. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
9 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Jeremiah 29:5-6
2 Luke 15:21
3 Hebrews 2:14-15
4 Psalm 137:1-4
5 1 Timothy 2:1-2
6 2 Corinthians 5:1

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Luke 16:19-31
Theme: Now In View Of Then

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The angels came. The angels came at the death of a poor believer named Lazarus and the Scriptures says, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.”1 In other words, Lazarus went to heaven where Abraham, the father of believers, is. The fact that Jesus refers to Abraham as a representative of heaven is significant for the story Jesus tells. The story is an illustration of contrasts. Jesus tells of a rich man who indulges himself without measure, in the process, ignoring a poor beggar named Lazarus who is laid at the gate of his estate. The condition of Lazarus is pitiful. He longs for anything that falls from the rich man’s table, even scraps that the dogs eat. Evidently he is crippled in some way and his situation is so wretched that he cannot even prevent the dogs from licking his sores. Still, the rich man pays him no heed.

The crux of the matter is revealed when both men die. The rich man went to hell. Jesus says, “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’”2 Now we learn something we didn’t previously know. Apparently the rich man was Jewish, for he refers to Abraham as father. The clear implication is that the rich man considered himself to be a shoe-in for heaven because He was a descendant of Abraham. He was thought to be one of the chosen. But a great reversal has taken place. Lazarus (a Gentile), in heaven, is now in the position the rich man was on earth, and vice versa. Lazarus is now feasting extravagantly and the rich man is shut out. Heaven is often depicted as a luxurious banquet. Abraham is present at this banquet with all believers. Christ says in Matthew, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”3 And Jesus continues, “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”4

Lazarus represents the many Gentiles that would come from east and west to the banquet. The rich man represents a son of the kingdom (a person of Jewish bloodline) who nevertheless has been thrown out. He has lost his inheritance. His faith was not genuine. It was not manifested in works. He did not believe in the Messiah. In his confrontation with the Jews, John the Baptist said to them, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”5 Romans says the true children of Abraham are the children of faith.

Dear friends, the things the world values can give false impressions and create false assumptions about spiritual truths. The impression is easily given that the impressive people of the world, the rich, the powerful, the well-known, the famous, are somehow in better standing with God than the poor and weak, the downtrodden, the humble and insignificant. What is visible in externals is not necessarily a measure of the internal state of things. Sometimes just the opposite is true. The rich man was the epitome of the warning from, Timothy, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”6. Certainly Abraham’s reply to the rich man is frank, “Remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”7 The world is always pressing us to focus on the now. Get rich quick, get the goodie out of life, take advantage of everyone and everything because it is the only chance you will have. This is the philosophy of a self-indulged, unbelieving world. In the world’s eyes, there is nothing to look forward to in the later. Everything is focused on the now at the expense of the then.

Now we must be crystal clear about the cause of this man’s damnation. It wasn’t because he was rich. His heart was hardened to the point of unbelief. This hardening was evidenced by his consistent refusal to be generous with the blessings God had entrusted him with. His money itself was not a sin. His idolatry of it was. This idolatry cost him his eternal salvation. Put differently, his works, or lack thereof, showed that his faith was dead. True faith always shows itself in works. However, works, because they can be orchestrated, that is, faked, are not an infallible measure of true faith. Genuine faith is seen by God alone. If we are concerned our own faith is lacking that is normally a good sign. Nevertheless, we should, like the disciples, ask the Lord to increase our faith and drive out unbelief.

The story reaches its conclusion when the rich man thinks of someone other than himself. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, lest they meet with the same fate. Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”8 Moses and the Prophets is a designation of the Old Testament Scriptures. Essentially Abraham was saying, “They have the Bible, that is sufficient.” The rich man presses the issue one more time. “’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to them, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”9

Surely the shock of someone rising from the dead would drive one to repentance. Here Jesus refers to His own resurrection. Perhaps such shock may drive a person to repentance, but not someone who has already hardened his heart against the truth of Scripture. This verse is a prophecy that was soon to be fulfilled. Even some who saw Jesus rise from the dead did not believe. Faith in Christ is not a matter of intellectual concession. That is, it is not a matter of conceding because there is no other rational way to explain the facts: a man who was dead is now alive. Faith is a matter of humbly trusting that the One who rose, died to give you new life. It is trusting that sin has been defeated, personally for you, in you, by the Holy Spirit’s power. It is finding strength every day in a God who loves you so unconditionally and with such certainty that not even nails driven into His flesh could prevent Him from reconciling us to the heavenly Father. He has atoned for our sins and covered our transgressions.

Abraham’s words are important for us also who were not present for a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”10 We have Moses and the Prophets and the Gospels and the epistles too. Christ is crucified. Christ is risen. We do hear Him when His forgiveness is proclaimed. When do taste Him when we receive His body and blood. We do feel Him when the baptismal water is poured. Exactly in these sacred things, we do see Him with the eyes of faith. We have Him here and now. And we will have the fullness of a new creation later. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
18 September, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 16:22
2 Luke 16:23-24
3 Matthew 8:11
4 Matthew 8:12
5 Matthew 3:9
6 1 Timothy 6:9-10
7 Luke 16:25
8 Luke 16:29
9 Luke 16:30
10 Hebrews 11:1

Monday, September 19, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 8:19
Theme: Grief’s Obsolescence

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Second chances are a divine prerogative. We are not entitled to them. First chances, of course are also a gift from above- the sheer benevolence of the Creator. But, because our starting point is sentience; the capacity to perceive things, self-awareness, the ability to reason, we'll assume our existence as a given. But, now, what rights and privileges do we have? After all, we live in an age that’s gone mad about rights and privileges, but is not so keen on responsibility. What rights do we really have in relation to God? Is God obligated to grant us second chances?

Jeremiah was desperately praying that would be the case for his people. Yet he knew the pending judgment was irreversible and that’s why today we find him in abject grief. He turns to God, whom he calls His Comforter1. He says, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."2 Here the prophet's words have a proverbial ring to them. Proverbial sayings impart time-tested wisdom using particular idiom. "Beggars can't be choosers." "There's no such thing as a free lunch" "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." "Two wrongs don't make a right." In other words...If you're asking for a favour accept what you're given. There's always a hidden cost. Be careful when criticizing others so you're not shown to be a hypocrite. When someone wrongs you it’s not wise to respond in kind. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. In short: Our hopes have been dashed. The window of opportunity has closed. Our resources have been exhausted and our allies have failed us.

Jeremiah vividly articulates his grief. His words are a direct lament for the circumstances of his people. They will not be spared. They had been forewarned. The punishment should one as a shock to no one. God spoke clearly, "Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.”3 The crux of their sin was a matter of the heart. The Lutheran Confessions concur when they say that God's law "requires other things placed far above reason, namely, truly to fear God, truly to love God, truly to call upon God, truly to be convinced that God hears us, and to expect the aid of God in death and in all afflictions; finally, it requires obedience to God..."4 But it's precisely these truly spiritual things that humans have no power of their own to do or even to desire.

The crisis of the divine-human relationship is always a question of the gospel. God is always more benevolent than we can comprehend. We can grasp a measure of charity, get the gist of self-sacrifice, wrap our minds around generosity, but the self-giving of God in Christ is always beyond our intellect. It is a matter for faith. That's also why baptism is at the risk of moralizing tendencies. Baptism is a vehicle for grace. It’s a vehicle for the heavenly inheritance. It’s not a moral response to the law of God.

So, grace is both the clearest teaching of the Scripture and it is also the most profound of all mysteries, at least in the context of relational implications. Indeed, the Holy Trinity is a mystery, the incarnation is a mystery, the sacramental Union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is a mystery. But grace is that particular divine reality- that attends all the saving acts of God- that conveys to the believer the very life of Christ. Christ’s declaration of pardon is not dependent in any way on your piety or your efforts to please God- it is pure grace.

God is not duplicitous when He speaks to us. He does not say one thing and mean another. He does not project one image but have a different intention at heart. The Holy Spirit has a fixed and focused agenda. He lights no other path than the one to Christ. He shows us no other Saviour than the one hung upon a cross. He clothes us with no other garment than the perfect righteousness of Christ. In all these things glory reflects to the Father through the Son. And within the believer, the desire to follow God happens as a matter of course. It is the fruit of faith.

But for the Israelites, this was not happening. Dear friends, if someone doesn't want to live according to the implications of the gospel then they simply don't understand the transforming grace that it entails. We naturally understand the law and there are three possible motives to live according to it. The first two are conceived in the same womb. We may want to live according to the law either to receive praise or avoid punishment. The unregenerate are no different than Christians in this respect. But if we desire to follow God’s law because we believe His will is best for us, then the gospel is truly bearing fruit in us. If we have no desire to forgive others, then we don't actually believe that the forgiveness of sins is the central truth in the coming of Jesus Christ. Then we don't actually believe the gospel. We have forfeited grace. Paul chided the Galatians saying, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”5

It was exactly because of this failure that Jeremiah was grieved. We should never downplay the profound and far-reaching nature of grief. Grief usually involves an irreducible complexity. The pain of deprivation is rarely singular. It involves multi-faceted dimensions that affect the mind and the heart. A sudden loss may bring a profound sense of injustice and feeling of despair. To not grieve is to not truly love. Profound grief may make you feel like you are free-falling into a vortex of darkness. But believers are never dashed upon the rocks of despair because Christ is the safety net upon which the believer lands. Grief can derail us for a time, but it can never triumph over the believers. Why? Because Christ raises the dead and that's the final authority. The risen Christ makes grief obsolete.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. Still, Jeremiah looks to God for comfort. Thanks be to God that these proverbial words are now rendered obsolete. Jeremiah asks, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?”6 The question was answered once and for all when Jesus came in human flesh, lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended. His immortality renders grief obsolete. Death has no power over His chosen ones. We don’t need second chances in the worldly sense. We have Christ. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
18 September, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Jeremiah 8:18
2 Jeremiah 9:20
3 Jeremiah 9:13-14
5 Galatians 3:3
6 Jeremiah 8:19

Monday, September 12, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 4:22
Theme: A Refuge For ‘Fools’

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is a refuge for fools. Not the kind of fools who despise Him and go their own way, but those who are foolish in the wisdom of the world. Unbelief is without future hope; it clings only to the here and now. But in the final measure, when all is revealed, when the curtain of history is dropped, when the dead are raised, when this entire dimension is destroyed, on that great and glorious Day, those who were ‘foolish’ enough to cling to that one truth- that God is merciful in Christ- will be proven to possess the one thing needful. God is faithful. We can bank on that.

God is faithful and that faithfulness is founded on His character. The implications are not theoretical. God is not an object of observation or curiosity. God is sovereign. He exists autonomously. We know this intuitively but it is an unwieldy truth. We cannot manage God or domesticate Him. His well-being depends on no one and nothing. We cannot negotiate His will. God wills to rectify the crisis of sin. Understanding what this involves is critical.

God wills to intervene to punish sin. It’s not a matter of if, but of when and in what manner. The first judgment was the most severe. When Adam and Eve turned away from God the punishment was death. Many subsequent judgments followed; the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, enslavement in Egypt, and exile to Babylon. It's this last threat that Jeremiah is warning about today. Foreign idols were being worshipped in the land of Israel and this idolatry would lead them into captivity in a foreign land.

Jeremiah illustrates the situation with the descriptive used of the primeval chaos. “I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty.”1Before God put His new creation in order it was formless and empty. It was not yet orientated towards its purpose. Matter existed, but without goal or meaning. This was now the state of affairs with God's people. Estranged from God, the Israelites were just a mass of humanity with no purpose or hope. They were separated from their Creator. “My people are fools; they do not know Me…they are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”2

Jeremiah had an unenviable task. He was God’s mouthpiece to a community that wasn’t in the mood to listen. Decades of wrangling with religious rulers and mistreatment by political leaders awaited him. He was only human and he was filled with angst, with frustration, and with doubt. But countless adversaries would not break his resolve. He had the one and only ally he needed. The companionship of God counteracts all the enmity of the world. Even if we stand opposed by 10,000 foes we need not fear; Christ stands at our side.

Dear friends, often we expect less from God when we should seek more from Him. This is evidence of timid faith. We look for temporary fixes to problems that need eternal solutions. We settle for cosmetic alterations when terminal spiritual illness needs to be addressed. We content ourselves with material wealth when only a heavenly inheritance will sustain us. We are happy to be noted as passing acquaintances of the Messiah when being sons and daughters of the kingdom is all that really matters. We want a band aide for a superficial wound when cardiac arrest is the real emergency. God is not too small for our problems.

Think of what Paul says today, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.”3 This candid creed is the confession of every believer. Only sinners need a Saviour. Only the sick need a physician. Only the dead need to be raised to life. His love is not only a compassionate love, it is soul-reviving and life-sustaining. This Good News frees us, feeds us, and continually underpins our hope and joy.

Baptismal water has washed over your soul. The curse of sin has been broken through Jesus' death and resurrection. In baptism you have been made a participant in that power. We already have eternal life. The Scripture says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 4 Today Jeremiah warns of the punishment for being estranged from God. But Christ has reconciled us to the heavenly Father. All the punishments for all the crimes ever committed; the imprisonments, the tortures, the executions; all the justice they were intended to render on behalf of victims, all these are but a shadow, a mist, and a faint image of what Christ endured when He atoned for the transgressions of the world through His crucifixion. Divine justice is an amazing paradoxical truth. The Saviour is sacrificed while the sinner is spared.

And this dark truth is the cause of the greatest joy. It is the joy of reunion as described in Luke today. After finding the lost sheep “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way 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

Dear friends, there is no disaster that can befall you and no evil that can overtake you that these words of promise and truth cannot overcome. Your presence in the kingdom causes the angels to rejoice. Think of that! Angels wait with eager anticipation for sinners to turn towards their Saviour. Do not think lightly of these heavenly beings. They are endowed by God with elegance, purity, and grace. They are His servants and our most sacred companions. The Scripture says, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him." 5 And again, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” 6 They are emissaries of truth and power. They worship with us and attend our celebration of the sacred meal.

Jeremiah desires that his people will be gathered back into the same fellowship of the faithful. The wisdom of the world had captivated them and the holy things of God now seemed foolish to them. May they Holy Spirit equip us to withstand the same temptation! Paul calls himself a fool for Christ7. Jeremiah was one too. We’re in good company. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
11 September, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Jeremiah 4:23
2 Jeremiah 4:22
3 1 Timothy 1:15
4 Luke 15:5-7
5 Psalm 34:7
6 Hebrews 1:14
7 See 1 Corinthians 4:10

Monday, August 29, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 2:4
Theme: Prophetic Proclamation

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Adversities in life often come without warning. Jeremiah couldn’t make that claim today though. He was forewarned. Forewarned is forearmed. God sends Jeremiah straight into the fray. Whether the people listen or cover their ears he will proclaim the word of the Lord. What is undeniable is that He is preaching God’s truth into a culture that had become very intolerant of following God’s will. The Lord doesn’t mince words with them. “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”1 And there you have the sum and substance of human sinfulness in a nutshell. Our selfish desires lead us away from God in pursuit of our own source of provision, satisfaction, and security. Satan is not short of mirages and illusions.

The religious authorities are specifically brought under indictment. “The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know Me; the leaders rebelled against Me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.”2. The religious leaders were no better than the people. Their hearts were dulled. Their minds were elsewhere. They would have to bear their share of the blame. Still, no individual can pass their sins off to someone else. We’re all called to account to God for our transgressions. An Adam blaming Eve, or Eve blaming Satan scenario won’t be any more successful now than it was then.

But the Israelites had also gone astray as a community. They had lost their true focus. When the church loses track of its mission and purpose it flounders. It starts to focus its energy and resources on auxiliary things; things not essential to the proclamation of the gospel. It becomes vulnerable to the pressures of the world and is tempted to modify its creeds and confessions. It’s not always easy to recognize the moment when the pitch of battle has peaked. Is Christianity at a tipping in our day? Is it in decline for the foreseeable future? Will culture’s clash with biblical truth rise to a fevered pitch or will it simmer along just occasionally boiling over? Will most Christians just capitulate and fall in line with the expectations of the secular world? Will God purify and even revitalize His church in our age?

Institutions don’t normally fall over in an instant. They are too complex, involve too many people, and have too much stability in their history. But cracks appear and then widen. Pillars of strength become unsteady. Rome didn’t collapse in a moment. For many long centuries the termites of mistrust, of greed, of dishonesty, of callousness, of rebellion, were undermining the foundations. Systems within the greater organism began to fail. As in the human body, the vital organs of society are all connected.

The status of marriage is a case-in-point currently. It may well be in an advanced stage of failure. Earlier we heard these words, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”3 We could hardly say with any credibility that serious consideration is given to these words by the majority of the populace. The deconstruction of the biblical view of marriage has been going on for some decades now. Are we now nearing the point of collapse? The point where most children will be born into a situation where the parents have no obligation to one another? The point where sexual relations are so casual, self-centred, and unregulated that the most vulnerable will be at even greater risk than they are now?

Marriage is not a private matter. Its establishment has profound implications for the society as a whole. The well-being of community cannot be served by licensing individuals to please themselves at the expense of others. We cannot have freedom to do whatever we want and then naively expect to be protected from the vagaries of others who are also doing as they please. Yet our culture continues to ramp up the propagation of this lie. We strain out gnats while swallowing camels.

Christians have a different kind of freedom. We are free to serve others without fear of missing out. Freed from the punishment of sin we can carry the burdens of others. The apostle says, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”4 We live in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are declared holy by faith through His blood. We live in the shadow of the cross but by the light of the Spirit. Were the world against us we would still not be alone. “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”5

People forget about God. The Israelites had forgotten God’s mighty acts of deliverance. But God doesn’t forget people. The Scripture says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.”6 The Good Shepherd pursues the lost sheep. The heavenly Father is always calling. The Holy Spirit is always seeking. God takes the initiative. He pursues us with a passionate love. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”7

Dear friends, many people will spend most of their lives looking for something they will never find. The restless heart will only cease its agitation when it comes to rest in the sanctuary for which it was created. We were made to dwell in the presence of God. Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”8 The thirsty soul will only have its desire quenched when it drinks from the living water. In Him we have true peace, true contentment. These blessings dramatically reshape your identity and your purpose in life.

When you walk out that door on Monday to go to your job, or school, or whatever activity that brings you into contact with people, you go as an agent of the Most High God. You’re not a secret agent or a double agent. You’re not armed with anything other than God’s truth. Your mission is not clandestine but it would be considered by some to be subversive. Your objective is to influence people’s world view. You do it, not through coercion or rhetoric, but through example and through sacrifice. Christ calls us to be salt and light. Jesus’ teaching about humility today flies in the face of the attitude of our culture. People seek praise and recognition at the expense of others. Christ calls believers to suffer on behalf of others.

Jeremiah’s lifelong task of clearly, consistently, and unashamedly delivering the word of Yahweh- both the message of warning and the good tidings of redemption- had only just begun. But he knew the outcome did not depend on him. Jeremiah was a predecessor of the prophet of Galilee. At the coming of Jesus every true prophet of the first covenant was vindicated. Christ would deliver His people from the greater exile of sin and death.

Dear friends, we are baptized into the name, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Living God. We dine at His table. We bear His name. We receive His inheritance. The prophetic words of Jeremiah continue to point us to the promised Saviour. Adversities may still surprise us in life but they won’t be anything that Christ can’t handle. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
28 August, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Jeremiah 2:13
2 Jeremiah 2:8
3 Hebrews 13:4
4 Romans 6:22
5 Psalm 68:5
6 Isaiah 49:15-16
7 John 4:4
8 John 14:23

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Theme: “Before You Were Born”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is never lacking foresight; He never leaves things unfinished. He brought you into existence at conception, but He knew you before that. You are not here by chance or some “accident”. It’s not coincidental that you live in this time and place. God is the author of life and He deems it to be sacred- you to be holy. The Scripture says, “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”2And it also says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”2 Remember, the gospel tune that He sings into your heart is a melody that only matures during your baptismal journey.

These truths must have been hard for Jeremiah to grasp when God called him into his service. Jeremiah’s ministry was in the time of the divided kingdom. Jeremiah was a prophet in the south, the land of Judah. The glory days of David and Solomon were long past. The exile into Babylon was imminent. The Northern Kingdom had already been taken into captivity by the powerful Assyrians. God’s people were soon to become a nation of refugees.

Jeremiah was a conflicted prophet. Often despondent, he struggled with the formidable task before him. How could he bring the wayward people back to true knowledge of and obedience to the Lord? Jeremiah also authored the Book of Lamentations- a poignant composition of grief at the downfall of the nation. He was also known as the weeping prophet. His immediate response to God’s calling was to claim inadequacy. His resistance was similar to what Moses offered: He wasn’t an eloquent speaker. The Lord responds to calm Jeremiah’s fear. “Then the Lord reached out His hand and said to me, ‘Now, I have put My words in your mouth.’”3The task is daunting but God will not leave Him in the lurch.

Idolatry had penetrated the religious practices of the nation and had caused widespread apostasy among the people. Under King Josiah a reformation was initiated that included badly needed repairs to the temple in Jerusalem. During the course of these repairs a copy of the five Books of Moses- Genesis through Deuteronomy- was discovered under some debris that had accumulated over many years of pagan worship. The Bible rediscovered, the celebration of the Passover was reinstituted exactly as described in the Scriptures. Still, it was not enough to purge the people of their wickedness and God’s threat of judgment was executed a few decades later. Jeremiah lives to see the sacking of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews.

You might wonder why the call of Jeremiah, an ancient prophet of God, is of interest to us today? What relevance does it have for us? Jeremiah was an instrument of the Holy Spirit and the truths spoken by him are timeless. The insights shared through him about human nature, about sin and grace, idolatry, repentance, despair, hope and restoration are applicable to us. God dwells in timelessness and we are not one unit of time or distance further away from God than Jeremiah was. How powerful are the words the Almighty begins with today, Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart!”4

Like us, Jeremiah needed that reassurance. The faithful were few. The greatest “archeological” discovery of Jeremiah’s time was finding the Temple copy of the Bible. Imagine that, the Holy Scriptures were all but lost! And how easily we take it as a given that the word of God will always be available to us. How easily we take for granted too that we will enjoy stability in society. Jeremiah reminds us of the importance of taking a long-term view. We might want to turn back the clock or try to fix everything at once. But we cannot dictate the parameters to God. He can see right across the horizon but we only see a short distance. We don’t know what prosperities or adversities tomorrow holds.

But Jeremiah also inspires us to seize the day. The people of his era kept putting off returning to the Lord. The time to repent is never tomorrow, it is always today. Nothing is riskier than to assume our contrition can wait another day. A day becomes a week; a week becomes a month, a month becomes a year, and a year becomes a lifetime. Our unplanned transgressions, our habitual failings, and our most sinister sins must be confessed to the Almighty. Anything short of full disclosure is foolish. Do we not believe the Scripture that says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight? Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”5

And do we not believe His promise of pardon? God wishes to communicate it clearly to you through this office. It’s my highest privilege to declare to you that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And to say as I did earlier, “May He comfort you with His holy absolution, and strengthen you with His Sacrament, that your joy may be full.”6 He doesn’t keep you on a string. He doesn’t lead you on dangling the carrot before your eyes. He invites you right up to His holy table to dine with Him on this heavenly meal.

We never plan to walk humbly before God in the future, it’s always a present task. The present time is also the time to cherish God’s favour. Today is the day of grace. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Today we rejoice that we are His baptized, redeemed, and justified people. Today we give thanks that Jesus endured the cross so our sins may be forgiven. Today we celebrate His resurrection from the dead. Today we are grateful for parents, children, spouses, and the fellowship of believers gathered here. Today we are appreciative even of the challenges- the adversities, the hardships, the failures- because we trust that through these the Holy Spirit is refining our faith and bolstering our capacity to face the challenges of the future.

Jeremiah faced a long and arduous journey in the ministry. The mission of the Christian church always faces such prospects. We take the road less traveled. But our confidence is in the destination. We have a magnificent description of it today, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”7 With this to look forward to our journey can only be filled with hope and joy. What God knew from the beginning He will not forget at the finish. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
21 August, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Isaiah 5:4
2 Psalm 139:16
3 Jeremiah 1:9
4 Jeremiah 1:5
5 Hebrews 4:13
6 LH p7
7 Hebrews 12:22-24

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
Theme: The Love Song of the Vineyard

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God sings to His beloved. It is a song of grief, a song of purity, a song of hope. Though the composition is really the entire narrative of Scripture- creation, through Fall, to redemption- the stanza we have before us today is a particular expression from God to His people in practical and “organic” terms. Through Isaiah He compares His people, the church to a vineyard. Jesus used the same symbolism.

God, of course, is the vinedresser, the owner of the vineyard. The vineyard established is of the highest possible quality. No expense is spared. No stone is left unturned. The planning is thorough. The execution is complete. It is expected the yield of fruit will be commensurate with the excellence of its character. Instead, the vineyard fails. Instead of quality fruit it yields wild, rogue grapes, defying all the investment of the vinedresser. The people have parted from Him, gone their own sinful ways. The rhetorical question that follows is pointed and sharp. “What more was there to do for My vineyard, that I have not done in it?”1

Is it possible God was to blame? Is He inattentive or inept? Do you think God is incapable of commanding the clouds to withhold their riches? Is He unable to alter the rotation of the earth or the revolutions of the planet? Is God not able to intervene in wars, prevent floods, restrict famines, disasters, droughts, and plagues; and alter the affairs of nations? Is God just the aloof watchmaker who set the world ticking but now stands back to observe? If such skepticism dominates our thoughts then the confession that we believe in “One God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,”2 is empty rhetoric. Then the words of Hebrews last week, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command,”3 betray a disconnect between what we say with our lips and what we believe in our hearts.

God firmly convicts the people of their sins and calls them back to Himself. He does the same for us, reminding us not to get ahead of ourselves, reminding us we have received grace when we deserve nothing but judgment. What more could God do for us than He has done in Christ? He meets our every need of body and soul in the present time and in the life to come. He levied the burden of guilt for sin onto the back of His own Son. Christ bore this shame and guilt not only as true God but in the fullness of His human nature. The infant of Bethlehem was the sacrifice of Calvary. The prophet of Nazareth wore the crown of humility. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”4
There is a direct correlation between genuine trust in God and the bearing of fruit that follows. The Scripture says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”5 Christ says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”6 You cannot be nearer to God than through these means which He has ordained. We are attached to Him- grafted in- through water and word, bread and wine. The fruits of the Spirit flow from these realities. Every time we partake of the sacrament we are proclaiming through our words and our actions, through the bending of our knees and the bowing of our hearts that our crucified Lord was sacrificed for our sins. The cross is our confession and will be so until Christ comes again in glory.

We cannot be empowered to bear good fruit by legalistic prodding, by guilt-tripping, or by pietistic shaming. Threats and demands, regardless of how subtle they are may get ‘results’, but they won’t properly motivate anyone to respond to Christ’s love. Why, then, you may ask, do we see it happen so commonly? Because it’s a temptation that can only be resisted under the power of the Holy Spirit. You see, the law is always our fallback position. It is instinctual to us. It just makes sense to us. If we push, coax, and bribe we may get some results. It is how the world operates.

Things are different with God. If the Holy Spirit is not working in you, you can bear no good fruit at all. There are no qualifying conditions that can change this fact. Anything not done in faith is a sin in God’s eyes regardless of how helpful it is to others. We are righteous and holy by faith in Christ, through His death and resurrection. In and of ourselves we remain poor, helpless sinners. This truth is exactly why Christians are often so misunderstood by the world. We don’t measure power and prestige as the world does. Consider what Luther says, “If you judge the church by reason and outward appearance, you will err, for then you will see people who are sinful, persecuted, and hunted down. But if you look at this, that they are baptized, believe on Christ, bear out their faith with godly fruits, carry their cross with patience and in hope, that is a true picture, for these are the true colours by which the church can be discerned.”7

Dear friends, there is not one single grape on the true Christian vine that is not a valuable part of the harvest for God’s kingdom. There is not one gesture of kindness done in faith, not one sacrifice made to help the neighbour, not one prayer uttered on behalf of the health and well-being of others that is insignificant in the eyes of the Saviour. Grapes do not develop as individual fruits. They grow in bunches. The church consists of a great cloud of witnesses. Some we know from the pages of Scripture. Others we know from the time we have spent with them in this life. Imagine what a grand gathering heaven is! All the redeemed of God unhindered by the consequences of sin, embraced by His blessings for eternity! God sanctifies this place by His presence here while at the very same time filling all of heaven with His majesty.
The gospel is God’s divine song of love. He sings it to us. He woos us, comforts us, and consoles us. Zephaniah strikes a similar tune, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”8 It is the melody that fills our hearts from cradle to grave; from baptism to resurrection. Attached to Christ, the Vine, death no longer has any power over us. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
14 August, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Isaiah 5:4
2 The Nicene Creed
3 Hebrews 11:3
4 Isaiah 53:5
5 Ephesians 2:8-10
6 John 15:5
7 Luther’s House Postils
8 Zephaniah 3:17

Monday, August 15, 2016

Christian Burial of Sue Kruschel (August 12, 2016)

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen.

Text: John 11:23
Theme: Death Defeated!

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Sue; Jamie, Amanda, Shannon, and especially you; Robert,

The Holy Spirit addresses us today with candor. He speaks the words of Christ, and only those words matter. The purpose of a Christian funeral is not to artificially coddle the emotions of those who grieve. Nor is the aim to embellish the life and qualities of the deceased. We are realists, and with good reason. Nothing is more bittersweet than taking leave of a Christian. Grief can be punishing. Sue’s journey in this life has ended. But Sue is freed. Mortality no longer constrains her. She has been crowned with life. Thanks be to God! Joy not only tempers grief but finally triumphs over it.

The manner in which the biblical witness addresses topics of the greatest magnitude speaks to its integrity. The Holy Scriptures make a significant number of references to the practice of grieving. For the leaders of God’s people official periods of mourning often lasted for thirty or forty days. The fuller process took much longer. Nothing has changed about human nature. Coping properly with mortality requires greater capacities than human beings possess.

Dear friends, there is no human, present, practical cure for the problem of sin. The pathology of sin leads to physical and mental decline, and finally, death. Even more seriously, when left unaddressed it results in spiritual separation from God. Nothing could be more unimaginably horrific than separation from God’s goodness for eternity. The experience of death is the most vivid illustration of human vulnerability. We have no words, no actions, no magic with which to combat it. We have no weapons in our arsenal.

What’s important is knowing the One who does. God, you see, does finally give people what their hearts desire. If they desire that He have no part in their life and they carry that desire to their deathbed, then He grants their wish. The Scriptures are very clear on this. To remove Christ’s warning about taking our last breath while in a state of rejection of God’s love is to falsify the core message of Christianity. Christ redeems sinners. Apart from Him there is no salvation. The are no alternative paths, no detours, no shortcuts, no scenic by-ways, the road goes straight through His cross and empty tomb. Our piety won’t get us there. Our good works or good intentions won’t either.

Sue understood these things. Like Martha in our gospel, she knew Christ had the power of immortality. Sue had a full and active life. She was a busy wife and mother of three. She set about the task of these vocations with energy and warmth. She became one of the most knowledgeable people in the Lutheran parish during her many years working as secretary under many different pastors. In that capacity she was privy to the successes and failures, joys and sorrows of others in a way that most never see. She learned from that experience.

Life takes many turns and has not a few blind corners. Goals we plan on achieving are not always reached. Outcomes we haven’t prepared for sometimes catch us by surprise. Along the way, sorrows and joys, regrets, separations, and reunions are part of the journey. Sue experienced her share of all of these. The full extent of her hurts and her triumphs is known only to God. But only one goal finally matters in the end. Only one race needs to be finished. Only one line needs to be crossed. Only one tape needs to be broken. Sue’s confirmation verse was this: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”1

In the end then, Christians are not overcome by grief when a fellow believer dies. Faith looks forward to reunion. Temporariness and decay give way to permanence and perfection. In heaven there are no grudges; there are no regrets. There are no broken relationships. There are no addictions, no temptations, no occasions for shame or guilt. In heaven there is no claim to superiority and no sense of being inferior. There will be no violence, no fear, no disease, no frailty, no struggle.

And heaven is not some static place of boredom, drudgery, or semi-consciousness. It’s not a place of mandatory participation in the celestial choir even for those who have never liked to sing. But it is not a place we construct according to our own fancy either. It’s not a self-directed mecca of indulgence. Dear friends, to be in the unmediated presence of the Holy Trinity will command our attention with complete euphoria. Sue enjoys this already. God has prepared greater joys than we can even begin to imagine. We will not be occupied with trivial things.

Sue Kruschel was a baptized child of God. The purpose of her baptism has now come to fruition. She knew the promise of the gospel. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”2
She was one of His own, a lamb in the flock of the Good Shepherd. The Scripture says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”3

Death has been defeated. How do we know this? How can we be sure it’s true? You won’t find the answer in your intuition. You won’t locate it in myth or legend. You won’t find it in biomedical research or science. And we can’t take any comfort in the fuzzy and unfounded idea that everyone automatically “ends up in a better place”. You can only know because one Man walked out of His grave on the third day after His death. The women went to the tomb on Easter morning and He was not there. Later He appeared to more than 500 followers at one time. Jesus says, “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.”4

Robert, anguish of heart cannot be alleviated by trite slogans. There are no quick fixes. Like recovery from severe trauma, the whole of our being must suffer the process of healing. Sue cannot be replaced. She will not be. Every child of God is a unique creation. Grief can cast a long, dark shadow. But the Holy Spirit will steadily pull back that shadow like the lifting of a dark shroud as the light of more powerful forces penetrates the blackness. Deep frowns can be turned to gentle smiles, tears of sorrow to episodes of joy as we reflect on the magnitude of the blessing that was that person, that spouse, that mother, that child- God’s gift to us, on loan for a short while. In this transition the darkness of past despair begins to fade and the light of future reunion begins to command our eager anticipation.

Grief cannot prevail because death could not hold Christ in the tomb. There will be a resurrection. Were His promises untrue this entire existence would have already collapsed long ago. There will be a complete restoration of every Christian in the image of Christ. Sue will be part of it. Thanks be to God!

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Susanna Mary Kruschel
12 August, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 10:23
2 John 3:16
3 Romans 10:9
4 John 11:25-26