Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (C) 2016

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

Text: Luke 4:30
Theme: Christ’s Forbearance

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Attempted homicide! It’s not the way we expect most gospel accounts to end. Sometimes the biblical narrative takes surprising twists. How quickly admiration can turn to rage! The hometown lynch mob was after Jesus. They sought to silence Him by casting Him down the cliff. Perhaps stoning was also on the agenda? But His time had not yet come so He passed through their midst and went on His way. And so we are privy to one episode in this divine saga, this Messianic struggle to renovate humanity. The nexus of refusal and persuasion, of offence and grace, of apprehension and peace is a preview of things to come. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”1

But the Redeemer is not so easily deterred. His focus is more resolute than all the apathy and chaos of the human race. He will not be derailed from His destiny at the cross. But the suffering, agony, and sacrificial death of Jesus cannot be appreciated for what it is until the need becomes apparent. A personal encounter of opposing beliefs is required. Sinful humans face a holy God. The encounter is not personal until, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the abstraction is removed.

Think of church in the synagogue today. The Sabbath quickly turned sour. Apparently the people of Nazareth were expecting commendation from Jesus. Instead they received rebuke. He made it personal. All people are under the wrath of God. God’s wrath is just. That is, it is justified and justifiable. No one can cry foul for being punished for their sins. No one can say they do not deserve the threat of eternal damnation. But the prospect, when taken seriously, is more than we can bear. The condemnation appears too harsh. “Since our nature is corrupted by sin and is worthy and deserving of God’s wrath and damnation, God owes us neither His Word, nor his Spirit, nor his grace.”2 In short, God owes us nothing. Yet our expectations are often huge. We often expect God’s leniency.

God is not lenient. He is forgiving. God is not indulgent. He is absolving. Never do the Scriptures give us the impression that He lowers His standards or bends His own rules when He sees how thoroughly we fail to remain obedient to Him. Ignorance is no excuse before Him. Wicked intentions elicit harsh condemnation. A holy God does not tolerate sinful humans. But the concept is too abstract when disconnected from the person of Christ.

Guilt and shame are words that relate to our sinfulness. Carefully defining the meaning of words is important. Guilt is a more abstract concept than shame. If I am accused of guilt, or guilt is attributed to me, it may have little effect on me if I don’t believe the allegation is valid. My heart may become hardened even more. But if I am ashamed that means my heart has been reached. The first stage of repentance is happening. Of course, if I feel guilty than I am also experiencing remorse and the words are used synonymously. The words are not as important as the realities they describe. God’s words actually create their own reality.

In Christ, the holiness of God takes on tangible dimensions; and so does forgiveness. What was an abstract idea, a holy God who doesn’t tolerate sinners- but a God easily thought of as distant and aloof- now becomes very concrete as the life of Jesus is portrayed before our very eyes. The Bible says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”2 St. John gives this witness of the incarnation, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it”4

You see, God does not abandon His creation. He does not stand aloof from it. He redeems it through Jesus. He dies for it, covering the price for our transgressions. He rises again that He might guarantee us incorruptible life. These truths are measures of His love. Jeremiah reminds us that the heavenly Father knew him before his conception and set him apart. It’s no different for you. That’s the mystery of His love.

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is the superlative biblical chapter on love. In the triumvirate of faith, hope, and love, the supremacy of love is singled out by the apostle. When love prevails all things are possible. Offences are forgotten, hatred is dissolved, long-held grudges are even laid to rest. When love triumphs fractured relationships are restored, bitter rivals become companions, despair is transformed to hope. If this were not so and if it were not possible then the entire substance of biblical truth would be found to be hollow. But it was the grave that was found to be empty not the promises of the crucified Lord who greeted His followers alive with scars in His flesh to steady their incredulous faith.

Love has prevailed. The evidence often appears dark and distant; a shadow of hope, a glimmer of optimism. We yearn to be fully embraced by its power. The devil still has his little day in the sun. The power of sin is broken, but like a mighty river whose source has dried up, its consequences keep flowing through the channels human lives. If the headwaters of the Mississippi River were suspended it would still take more than three months for the last drop of water to reach the end. A person walking at a leisurely pace could walk across the Australian continent in that time. Sin remains a scourge, the effects of which we cannot avoid in this mortal life.

Yet, love prevails. Love prevailed for the people of Nazareth that day. They just couldn’t see the cross in the distance. They couldn’t yet understand that they, too, needed this Saviour. They may have been looking for a hometown hero they could brag about but not one who would supply their greatest need. We’re no different until the Holy Spirit transforms our perspective. It’s something He has to keep doing again, and again, and again. Baptism is underpinned by the promise that love has conquered. Baptismal water washes the punishment for sin from all the tributaries and rivulets of our lives. Holy Communion send, peace, and forgiveness coursing through our veins.

Love triumphs every time a repentant soul cherishes God’s decree of absolution. Love triumphs every time those who are wise in the ways of the world are made weak by the foolishness of the cross. Love triumphs every time those who feel weak in their inner spiritual life are made strong by the truth of Christ’s life lived on our behalf. Love triumphs every time a believer closes his eyes in death and opens those eyelids in eternity. Many times attempts were made to end the Messiah’s life. He patiently and humbly endured them all until the appointed time. Then what seemed to be the end was only the beginning. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
31 January, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 13:34
2 Formula of Concord XI
3 Hebrews 1:3
4 1 John 1:1-2
5 See Isaiah 53:3