Monday, February 15, 2016

First Sunday In Lent (C) 2016

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

Text: Luke 4:12
Theme: The Battle-Hardened Saviour

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Every year for a six week period of time the Christian Church gives emphasis to a decidedly counter-cultural event. The emphasis is called the season of Lent. In Lent believers especially focus on repentance, humility, self-denial and sacrifice. The word Lent actually means springtime, but spiritual renewal and cleansing is the point. What could be more out of touch with a culture that stresses self-indulgence, satisfaction, greed, arrogance and unmitigated pursuit of all of one’s desires! Christmas and even Easter are marketer’s dreams, but Lent is a very tough sell. It is difficult to take Lenten themes and twist them to acquire the consumer dollar. Hats off to IGA for using the term Lent in advertising their fish sales. Lent must be a reality check in a culture largely defined by what sells.

In regards to the chronology of Christ’s life, the Lenten season commences with the temptation in the wilderness. St. Luke tells us that after His baptism, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil.”1 Each temptation involved an enticement intended to derail the divine plan of redemption. As He begins His public ministry the fate of the world hinges on Jesus’ every move. The location of the final temptation is in Jerusalem. It was a preview of even greater temptations to come, but also the place of fulfillment.

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness involves a dialogue with Satan. It is a war of words that cut to the heart. The ONLY words Jesus speaks are quotations of Scripture. Though Jesus could speak on His own authority, He speaks on the authority of the Father by the inspiration of the Spirit. He quotes from sections of Deuteronomy regarding the disobedience of the Israelites in their own desert wanderings and temptations. Satan too, resorts to quoting Scripture, but only subversively. Satan challenges the Sonship of Christ, not acknowledging Him to be God’s Son, but casting doubt on whether He is.

Christ does not waver. Hebrews describes the importance His steadfastness this way, “We do not have a high priest that who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.”2 Anything less than His perfect obedience would have shipwrecked our salvation. The Bible says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”3 This He did not do.

We should be clear in understanding exactly what sin the devil was trying to get Christ to commit and the nature of sin in general. Satan offered Christ all the kingdoms of the world if only He would worship him. Had Christ succumbed it would have been in direct violation of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”4 But were the kingdoms of the world even Satan’s to give? Certainly not in the absolute sense. Yet we must not overlook His power. The devil has a certain qualified authority. He is referred to in the Bible as the prince of this world. He is not to be trifled with. Satan offered Christ an easier way to restore humanity. If Jesus would bow the knee, Satan would (ostensibly) relinquish his control. His suffering and crucifixion could be averted. Jesus could become the prince of His people with less struggle. All of the devil’s efforts tempted Jesus to reach for glory NOW at the expense of the future.

Sin always involves such false promises and deceptions. Some benefit is always guaranteed or at least proposed. But there can be no true benefit from any desire, thought, word or deed that is against the will of God. If we would only trust that engaging in sin is never beneficial to us. Of course that is the key to the deception. Satan enquired of Eve, “Did God really say?”5 Every doubt that all of God’s parameters for our lives are always for our well-being is always a sin. From this doubt none of us exempt. From the guilt of sin none of us is excused. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand.”6 Recognition of sin is a tough sell because it is diametrically opposed to the disposition of our human nature.

During Lent we focus on the disposition of God towards us. Faith is that medium by which a person is confident that he sees things from God’s perspective. Faith is trust that things are as God says they are. Christ responded to Satan with “It is written.”7 This is the only sure and infallible foundation for us. We must spend our entire lives learning to say, “It is written.” It is written, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”8 But it is also written, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”9 “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”10 “In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”11 “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”12

Only the power of God’s Word can bring down rulers from their thrones, give strength to weak, rest to the weary, comfort to the sorrowful, hope to the depressed, justice to the downtrodden, release to the oppressed, joy to those who are sad, assurance to those who doubt, and most of all faith to unbelievers. It is written, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That 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.”13

Eternal death is locked away the moment the Holy Spirit kindles spiritual life. Baptism is the means Christ has appointed for this. The church baptized because it is the command of Christ. We trust that the Holy Spirit grants faith through the gospel. We rejoice that forgiveness is not limited by anyone’s age, or knowledge; is not dependent upon the strength of their will or their piety. The pledge of your baptism is that sin cannot win the victory. The Holy Spirit does battle for you and within you. As we face the challenge of our sins, we also size up the volume of God’s love. There was no relief for Christ until the cross. There is no relief for us except for the cross.

Christ lived for us and the vocation of all Christians is to live for others. Christ sacrificed His life. He only asks that we sacrifice our resources so that others may know of His ultimate sacrifice for them. Yet these are not easy challenges. God charges us to best meet the needs of His kingdom. But we remember too, that nothing is really ours to give. All that we have and own and are is a trust from His gracious hand. The totality of our being is given by Him and is to be received back by Him. That is the Biblical perspective for the Christian life. It is written, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”14 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday In Lent
14 February, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 4:1-2 9 John1:29
2 Hebrews 4:15 10 1 Peter 2:24
3 James 2:10 11 1 Peter 1:3
4 Deuteronomy 5:7 12 Matthew 26:28
5 Genesis 3:1 13 Romans 10:8-9
6 Psalm 130:3 14 Ephesians 5:25
7 Luke 4:4
8 Romans 3:23

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016

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

Text: Matthew 6:21
Theme: The Renovated Heart

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”1 So says Jeremiah! “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,”2so says our Lord. That upon which the heart dwells, that with which it steadfastly resides to the end, that in which it finds its final hope and joy- that is one’s god. There are numberless idols to suit numberless passions but there is one God of passion. He seeks the devotion of the heart to the exclusion of all others. He is the God of our Lenten journey- the Crucified One.

Our midweek series for this Season of Lent is called ‘Places of the Passion”. Each week we will consider the events that took place at key locations in the passion narrative. These are road markers on the journey to the cross. Lent is an ancient tradition. Countless Christians over the centuries have benefitted from the focused reminder that it offers. The decisive events of the Christian faith, of world history, and of eternal destiny are the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everyone must come to terms with the truth that He represents. His message is universal. His place is central.

Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent. The vivid image of ashes is confronting; a palpable reminder of our mortality. Our time here is fleeting and it’s fraught with many struggles. As we consider the places of the passion we’ll be looking at our place in relation to God and others. Sin has the power to rob people of their identity. When lives become fractured beyond the limits of normal functioning people become displaced within families and society. At a deeper level they become estranged from God. People may float along as if they have been cut adrift on the open ocean. People are searching for a sense of belonging. In Lent the Holy Spirit points us to the ‘place’ where God meets us: the flesh and blood of His Son, Jesus.

So, above all, Lent is a season for listening. God’s truth has power. When God’s word is proclaimed the Holy Spirit has a way of making sure people hear what they need to hear. It’s not necessarily what they want to hear. They may be wanting to justify themselves but hear condemnation. They may be wanting to hear castigation- proof they are no good and without hope, subjects for self-pity-instead they hear words of liberation. The self-righteous always want to hear more law because they believe they are exempt from condemnation (because of their piety.) They get satisfaction from having other people (the real sinners) called to account. For them the gospel is superfluous; perhaps amusing, but irrelevant. The absolved penitent always wants to hear more gospel. They are filled with joy from the overwhelming freedom Christ’s mercy gives. The unremorseful sinner always needs to hear more law. The repentant sinner always needs the comfort of the gospel. Lent certainly involves a call to repentance but fore mostly, accentuates the profound love of God in Christ.

A worthy goal of Lenten reflection is to bring these truths into sharper focus. Clarity is important. God does not wish to be misunderstood. The best of intentions can have disastrous results when misconstrued. Consider these classified ads actually listed in the newspaper: “For sale: dog, eats anything and is fond of children.” “For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.” “Lost: small poodle. Reward: neutered like one of the family.”

The Scriptures do not misrepresent God when they tell us He judges sin but longs to shower sinners with His grace. Jesus says today, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen.”3There is a very practical danger here. A danger that this text could be misunderstood and thus reinforce the particularly Western phenomenon of religious individualism. That which is almost second-nature to us was completely foreign to First Century believers. We have been immersed, for some time now, in a cultural climate that encourages the privatization of faith. Our Lord was not advocating private practice of the faith to the exclusion of public worship. Jesus was condemning ostentatious displays of piety. Do we seek praise from others or to be faithful to God?

We all have our personal battles. We have weaknesses, propensities, and addictions. We struggle with the world’s opinions, our own limitations, and Satan’s temptations. But they should never, ever be isolated struggles. Isolation is a triumph for the devil. He easily outwits the solitary soul. We are privileged to be part of a mystical fellowship, the “one holy, Christian and apostolic church.” It is spiritual but it is also very concrete. Living within the body of Christ can be a real challenge. But it also has many rewards. All believers are responsible to one another. Mutual support and sensitivity are offered in Christ’s name.

What does this mean for those moments of stress? Anxiety over pending results of medical tests; pressure to perform at work, angst over strained relationships between spouses, children, and parents, just the struggle to make ends meet? What does it mean for those despairing of deeper meaning in life? It means hope in the midst of darkness. It means permanence in the midst of change. It anchors us to truth in a world of deceit. It means companionship in an often lonely world.

Dear friends, world history is a chronicle of structures, achievements, and whole civilizations that flourished, were destroyed and then were rebuilt. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in days. It was rebuilt in greater grandeur. The Twin Towers were destroyed in hours. The Freedom Tower has risen in their place. Dynasties have been destroyed over decades and even centuries. New ones advance to supersede them. The whole scheme and scaffolding of this world is decaying under the weight of sin. But all of God’s good creation will be reconstituted in Christ.

He wore your crown of thorns. He was pierced by your nails. He embraced the harrowing horrors of hell that you may be spared from its fury. He was on the spot every place necessary for your salvation. He first offered His body and blood for you in the Upper Room. He sweat drops of blood for you in the Garden of Gethsemane. He endured the slander of the High Priest and the defeatist skepticism of Pontius Pilate for you. He ascended the Hill of the Skull for you. He is risen! He stands as your intercessor, your High Priest, your Redeemer before the throne of grace.

The baptismal water that washed over you was vested with the Spirit’s promise and His power. Death lasts for a moment; the resurrection for eternity. The very structure of your body and all that constitutes it will be destroyed. Nothing can prevent it. But your ashes will rise to experience immortality. The heart is always under renovation. But it already possesses the promise of complete restoration. This promise is no pious wish. It was decreed by Christ. He is the firstborn from the dead. He has sovereignty over your ashes. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Ash Wednesday
10 February, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Jeremiah 17:9
2 Matthew 6:21
3 Matthew 6:6