Thursday, March 17, 2016

Midweek Lent 2016

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

Text: Luke 22:54-71
Theme: Truth On Trial

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Dear Followers to the Cross,

Tonight we continue our Lenten series called ‘Places of the Passion’. We are focusing on the events that happened in key places during the last week of Jesus’ life. Our venue tonight is the palace of the high priest. There Jesus was essentially on religious trial, so tonight we consider the nature and import of the accusations leveled against Him in His final hours. Though it was a miscarriage of justice driven by jealousy and fear, it was nevertheless part of the divine plan.

We live in an age when accusations alone can be as damaging as if they panned out to be true. Any person in the public eye is understandably fearful of accusations. Studies, show, not surprisingly, that a large percentage of lawsuits filed in Western nations are frivolous; that is, they are filed just to annoy or harass, they have no real merit. Here are a couple of stellar examples. A woman in Israel sued over a TV station’s weather forecast. They said it would be sunny, but it rained. The woman claimed she dressed lightly, only to get rained on and cause her to catch the flu, miss a week of work, and spend money on medications. The woman filed a lawsuit and won $1,000. A Romanian prisoner by the name of Pavel decided to sue the Romanian Orthodox Church. The reason? He’s been convicted of murder, serving his 20-year term and blames God for ‘failing to keep him away from the influence of the devil’.

The Lord Jesus Christ was no stranger to allegations. He was accused of everything from blasphemy to being in allegiance with Satan. These accusations eventually spelled Jesus’ final demise. The crux of the matter is relayed to us in this way by Matthew, “The high priest said to h im, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?’”1 Credit must be given to the high priest for asking the right theological question. Though Jesus was ultimately sentenced under Roman law for not giving allegiance to Caesar; He was condemned by the Jews for blasphemy.

Blasphemy involves the claim of equality with God. Though their motives were more than suspect, they had hit on the watershed issue. The Jews had already decided to condemn Jesus, so it mattered little how He responded. Yet it had to be recorded for history, that here, just before His crucifixion, Jesus confesses to be the Son of God. He did not mean He was a son of God in the sense of being a believer, a child of God. He did not mean He was a son of God because He too was a descendent of Adam who was created by God. Jesus meant this in the absolute and divine sense: He is “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God.”2

The whole scene as pictured was a contradiction. Caiaphas, the earthly high priest, stands accusing and condemning the heavenly High Priest. The earthly high priest is a disgrace to his office. The heavenly High Priest bears the disgrace of all humanity. The earthly high priest protects the interests of a chosen few; the heavenly High Priest protects the interests of countless souls. The earthly high priest intercedes to the detriment of his people; the heavenly High Priest makes intercession for the sins of all. The greatest paradox of all is seen in the fact that God the Father chooses to let His beloved Son be scorned and shamed. He does not intervene to prevent false accusations, all so that we could see the obedience and sacrifice of His Son rather than a manifestation of His glory.

Dear friends, Jesus was accused and condemned falsely because and ONLY BECAUSE we stand accused and condemned justly. The Scripture says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”3 Though our conscience strive to excuse us, let there be no doubt we are rightly accused of failing to properly love God and our neighbor as our self. All acquittals in the human realm combined cannot change the divine verdict.

But the verdict is one thing and the sentence another. You and I are justly accused, but Jesus Christ has been punished. Only His death was worthy to atone for others. Only the payment of His life cancelled our debt for eternity. We are all convicted felons who have been set free and had the slate washed clean. We live in Christ and through Christ and to Christ because Christ died and now lives for us. We now live baptismally in the power of His resurrection.

During Lent we focus on repentance. Repentance means our actions show fidelity to our beliefs. Accusation can be seen in a different light. When it comes to witnessing to what we believe to be the truth, accusation is not always a bad thing. Christians must be willing to be accused of guilt by association; association with the name of Christ. If you were accused of being a follower of Jesus Christ, what evidence could be gathered to convict you? Would family, friends and neighbors testify to your participation in worship and church-related activities? Does your everyday speech reveal your knowledge of the faith and your devotion to it? Would you swear under oath that you are a worshipper of the triune God? Would you endure being ostracized, ridiculed and persecuted for your faith? These are difficult but serious questions. An answer is always given one way or another.

Jesus said to the Father, “Your word is truth.”4 Christ is the embodiment of that truth. All the opinions, proposals, ideas, and convictions of people across the generations are only as enduring as the foundations on which they stand. All lies and falsehoods- even those deeply entrenched in the psyche of humanity- will eventually be shown for what they are. All false accusations and frivolous lawsuits will be condemned. But the word of the Lord endures forever. A particular crucifixion and resurrection is proof of that truth.

Do not be afraid to stand accused on account of His name, for you have a Defender who has already stood trial for you. He is your Advocate, your Redeemer; your Good Shepherd. He has set you free from the power of sin, Satan, and death itself. He ran the gauntlet- all the places of the passion- so that you might have a place in heaven. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Midweek Lenten Sermon #3
17 February- 16 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 26:63-65
2 The Nicene Creed
3 Romans 3:19
4 John 17:17

Fifth Sunday In Lent (C) 2016

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

Text: John 12:3
Theme: Covering The Smell Of Betrayal

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

It’s now the Saturday before Holy Week. Before the next Sabbath Jesus’ body will be locked in a tomb. There’s no time for respite in the coming days. Christ will be pressed to the limits of human capacity. Every hour spent in the company of companions is precious. Still, every moment is filled with intensity and purpose. The betrayal of Judas is unfolding. The denial of Peter is pending. The fleeing of the eleven lies ahead. Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away from Me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”1

Presently though, Jesus is with His friends from Bethany. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus have received Him into their homes. Their hearts are still grappling with astonishment and joy. Only a short time earlier Jesus had stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. Then He spoke the command and Lazarus came forth. It caused a great stir when Lazarus was raised from the dead. Many of the Jews who were present began to believe. It was becoming clearer, even before His resurrection, that Jesus was the Messiah. The rulers couldn’t confront Him in broad daylight for fear of the crowds. The Pharisees were thrown into panic. “What are we to do? This man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”2

Mary begins to anoint Jesus’ feet with valuable ointment. The aroma filled the house. It was a smell associated with luxury. It was a smell associated with death because it was used in burial. It was probably used on Lazarus to commence his four day sojourn in the grave. The women probably took it with them on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus. They never had the chance. The odor of dying accompanied the Lord, but never the odor of death because His body never saw decay. Death took Him but decomposition could not consume Him. But now, Mary anoints Him in preparation. She was commended for her devotion. How surreal it must have been for Lazarus to be there in Jesus presence! Did they yet understand that their Lord would soon be fixed to a cross?

Judas had other ideas. He cloaked them with words of charitableness. But he had wicked intentions. He was the keeper of the purse. He was planning to steal the money. His window for repentance was closing though Jesus gave him every opportunity. But repentance isn’t driven by opportunity. It’s driven by the Holy Spirit’s persistence in breaking through human pride. The devil is opportunistic and lawless. The Holy Spirit is orderly and scrupulous. Yet, the heart of Judas just became more callous and hardened. He insisted on having his own way.

That quality of Judas lives in each of us. In biblical language it has been called the “old Adam”. It is that inherent selfishness that precipitates greed, jealousy, self-pity, deceitfulness, unchasteness, disobedience, and finally, idolatry and unbelief. It’s not a condition we can choose to opt out of, make plans to avoid, or successfully deny. Our entanglement with specific sins is a result of our will to sin. That’s why repentance is always the order of the day.

Today Jesus is preparing for His death. We tend to avoid preparing for the things we are fearful of. Avoidance only makes the situation worse. When denial is no longer possible people may become overwhelmed and incapacitated. That’s why facing mortality can become a crisis point for some people. This is often dressed up with fine-sounding rationale and good intentions. Do we need the rooster to crow before we remember the danger of straying from God’s will? We never like to believe we are capable of evil worthy of condemnation. We never like to think we could willfully harm others. We never like to think our desires could spiral out of our control. Yet, our sinful nature conflicts constantly with our will to honour God. The struggle is never concluded in this life.

Only through the Holy Spirit can we prevail. Christ has won the victory. The forgiveness of sins is as solid as granite and as certain as the sunrise. Christ is our Rock. He is the Son of Righteousness. His promise of absolution is not bound by time and distance. When the pastor speaks His words of truth as His representative they are as definite as if Christ were standing before us. Remember what we learned from the catechism, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”3

With this certainty, our hopes can never be crushed. Christ will not fail us. We can say with the apostle Paul today, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”4 We are clothed with that righteousness in baptism. We are fed with it in Holy Communion.

Lent reminds us that Jesus welcomes sinners. The Father always receives back prodigal sons with open arms. He doesn’t need to investigate integrity. He knows what the humble heart looks like because He sees us from the inside. “The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”5 He kills the fattened calf. He opens the gate to the sheep pen. He takes us onto the ark of salvation. He crushes Satan under our feet. He clears the way back to the tree of life.

The same Christ who was crucified is coming again. His second advent will not be like the first. With irresistible force He will gather all before Him. There will be no negotiations; no second chances. Those who have sided with ungodliness will be eternally condemned. Believers will be received into everlasting peace and joy. His decrees will be final. The faithful will become heirs with Christ to the riches of his glorious kingdom.

Dear friends, the death of Jesus was fragrant incense to God. The smell of perfume filled the house of Lazarus today. It signaled preparation for His burial. It also covered the smell of wickedness in the heart of Judas. And so the Scripture says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”6 Thanks be to the Father, in the power of the Spirit that Jesus Christ, who is Perfect Love, has covered all of our transgressions. In Him, we are a pleasing aroma to God. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday in Lent
13 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 26:31
2 John 11:47-48
3 Luther’s Small Catechism
4 Philippians 3:8-9
5 Psalm 34:18
61 Peter 4:8