Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday 2016

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

Text: John 19:17
Theme: Carrying His Own Cross

Dear followers to the cross,

The nails were driven, the cross was lifted, and His followers held their breath. Humanity was perched on the precipice of a dark abyss. But even in a state of shock one must exhale before breathing in again. The magnitude of the event at the time could have only been recognized by a select few. This scene, after all, had played out many times before. Crucifixion was a Roman tradition. But Jesus was no ordinary condemned criminal. Pilate was uneasy. His own wife had put him on edge. Herod, always one for theatrics, was probably hoping for some dramatic spectacle. The onlookers were ambivalent, agitated; full of scorn and doubt. His followers were dumbfounded; the closest ones were stunned and on the edge of despair. A large crowd followed Him up the incline of the hill called the Skull but only John and the Marys stayed near the cross.

Naked, bleeding, and broken the Son of God was driven through with nails securing him to that Roman instrument of torture known as a crucifix. The cross was lifted and the ensuing hours were gut-wrenching. The soldiers were familiar with the routine; so far, nothing was too much different. Jesus wasn’t even important enough to get His own show. Two criminals shared the macabre place of prominence. Sometimes crucifixions took many days. That suited the Roman ideal of public spectacles just fine. Today it was all over in a few hours. Jesus cried out to the Father from the cross. Around 3:00PM He breathed His last. It was finished. The sacrifice was completed. The earth shook. The sun had already gone black. The centurion suddenly took notice and made confession, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”1 Was, still is, and always shall be!

The crucifixion was not a tragedy of exploitation but a triumph of determination. Jesus did not cave in to humanly unimaginable pressure and thus compromise our salvation. He drank the cup of divine wrath destined to be poured out on the human race. He drank it down to the dregs. The deepest mystery of God’s intention is contained here. He gives up His holy, beloved Son that He might keep us sinners as His treasured possessions. The blessed exchange works out completely in our favour; our sins for His righteousness. He receives our punishment. We are freed to live in His forgiveness.

The darkness that descended on the land while Jesus hung from the cross was more than symbolic. The creation itself convulsed. The Scriptures themselves were in jeopardy of being falsified. What if God’s plan of salvation came to a tragic end? The enormity of that failure would dwarf all others. Humans would be left to their own resources. In complete spiritual darkness there is no light; no compass pointing the way. Think of the implications for a society where God is absent. Humans fumble around for answers and solutions which evade them because they desire to be blind. Rantings and ravings about bigotry and intolerance; confusing immorality with inequality; equivocating compassion for others with love of self; substituting recklessness for responsibility-such realities often characterize the public discourse in society. These problems are inevitable when human intellect is made the measure of all things.

When the highest authority to appeal to is human consensus, conflict will be the result. A black hole of understanding the very reason for existence begins to pull in all those artificial sources of light that twinkle in our self-constructed worlds. We may have more creature comforts than any period in history but we have no firmer grasp on our purpose or our future than any previous age did. Our technologies which facilitate social interaction are blessings which are easily used for evil too. They are windows into the human psyche. Technology is no substitute for significance. It does not fill the emptiness of the soul.

We’re well on our way to making idols of self-determination and skepticism. There’s nothing more foolish than believing that all propositions and opinions are equally valid. Black and white, sweet and sour, good and evil are not interchangeable. Apathy, uncertainty, and instability will be the inevitable consequences in our culture. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but truth is the lifeblood of conviction. Even the most skilled driver must have directions to reach the destination. Truth locates the destination in Jesus and nowhere else.

The cross topples all towers of human arrogance. It demolishes all fortresses of human pride. It does so through humility, not through coercion. People are not the measure of all things. Christians know we have a more reliable authority. The Scripture says, “He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”2 The Almighty is not threatened. His grace will not be thwarted. The most hardened sinner finds forgiveness in Him. Calvary opens the door to Paradise.

Dear friends, we cannot go to the cross. A pilgrimage to Jerusalem (as meaningful as it might be) will not bring us any closer to the accomplishment that took place there. The benefits of the crucifixion come to us. God breaches time and space with His word. The Holy Spirit extends to us the blessings of His once-for-all sacrifice. The resurrection gives Jesus’ death on the cross unlimited relevance. It never becomes a relic of the past. It always remains the source of forgiveness. The baptized are freed from sin’s grip because the light of the resurrection floods over Satan’s dark dominion. Yes, we are still in the fray. We are not yet glorified. We battle. We struggle. We straggle. Sin’s influence doesn’t vanish as if it could be dispelled by waving a magic wand. But our God is the God of battlers, strugglers, and stragglers.

So, lent ends the way it began. The owner of your ashes is coming back to claim them. The infant of Bethlehem- the One sacrificed in Jerusalem- He is coming again in glory. He promises to clothe your flesh and blood with immortality. Our annual Lenten pilgrimage is nearly over but the Emmaus road lies ahead. The crucified Jesus continues to meet us here as the living Lord. We can breathe freely. We can breathe peacefully the pure air of Christ’s presence. In His most holy name, Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Good Friday
25 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 16:39
2 Psalm 2:4

Maundy Thursday 2016

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

Text: Exodus 13:12
Theme: “The Blood Will Be A Sign”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The entire witness of Holy Scripture could be understood to be the last will and testament Jesus. Yet, it was necessary on this night of betrayal for the Lord to bless His disciples (and through them the church throughout the ages) with a particular sacred treasure. It was more than just a way to remember His sacrifice. It was a means to participate in His life. “Take, eat; this is my body…drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant.”1
Holy Communion- a sacrament for sinners- extends to believers the fruits of His crucifixion and the power of His resurrection.

How many lambs were needed to provide the blood to mark the doorframes of Israelite homes so that the avenging angel would pass over? How many beasts were slaughtered across the centuries to provide the blood for the altar of atonement! And now here we have the one, sufficient sacrifice; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.2 “The blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin.”3 He is present for us in the breaking of this bread.

The Spirit offers us treasure beyond calculation. If you’re trying to market gold there is little need to extol its qualities; they are self-evident. Only the purity and price are points of contention. If you’re trying to sell automobiles however, you have a different challenge on your hands. Quality and reliability differ greatly. You might not get what you think you’ve paid for. Buyer beware!

The Lord’s Supper is like pure gold. Properly administered Holy Communion NEVER varies in its quality or effectiveness because the word of God is never subject to corruption. It is vital and powerful every time it is spoken. The Holy Spirit does not age or become frail. The enthroned Lord Jesus does not suffer loss of strength. We are dealing with realities here that have divine potency. We always get what He has paid for.

If I must coerce the poor, hungry man to partake of a free and healthy meal before he is willing to eat the game is already lost. I will not stimulate his appetite by putting more of the same in front of him and pressing him further. Either he’s not really hungry, or he’s deceived, or he’s too proud. His appetite is governed by His motive. Peter was initially too proud to have his feet washed by Jesus. His motive was wrong. If I must convince the bride-to-be to show up for her own wedding I won’t be successful by chiding her about the loveable qualities of the groom. Her apprehension must be alleviated by genuine trust that her groom will be faithful to her.

To be clear, we do need prodding in our life of Christian obedience, but faith is never a consequence of coercion. Discipline is necessary for good habits and the old sinful nature always needs rebuke and correction. But the correct motive belongs to faith alone. The person with godly motive needs encouragement, strength and support for their faith. But they don’t need a dressing down. Vulnerable faith can be destroyed in this way. Of Jesus the Bible says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”4 In other words, for faith, the benefit is “self-evident.” The motive proceeds accordingly. Faith advances in this certainty. God is faithful in Christ. He is true to His word.

Luther was keen to remind us of the challenge we face and the benefits of this gift. “The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attack the old man, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield hand and foot and become indifferent or impatient. For such times, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.”5

Oh how much could be said about indifference or impatience! They are often clear indicators of impenitence. Large portions of the church today are a veritable society of indifference. And on this sacred occasion, we too, are called on to repent of our apathy. Yet, the zeal of the Saviour cannot be quenched. Satan can’t wear Him out. Luther says again, “Here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and the Spirit with all His gifts, protections, defence, and power against death and the devil and all evils.”6

The blood is a sign. But not in the way we often conjecture about signs today; seeking phenomena that seem to verify our conjecture. It is the emblem of God’s sacrificial love. But it is more than a reminder of Jesus’ sacrificial death. It is more than a spiritual symbol to focus your faith. It is the very means the Almighty God uses to bring you into contact with His Son. Through it you enter into the holy of holies. Because of it the angel of death passes you by.7

The disciples left the Upper Room knowing the critical hour was at hand. Yet, not until after the resurrection and ascension would they understand what it all meant. Jesus washed their feet but what was important was the cleansing of the soul. Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”8 We have been washed by Him in baptism and through this meal we share in His life. No one’s part in Him is greater or lesser than that of another. There is absolute parity when it comes to the value of this treasure. None claims priority over the other.

You may have fame and fortune, recognition and accomplishment heaped on you during your life. You may be blessed with good health, a stable family, and a great career. You may receive a generous inheritance. These are all gifts from the hand and heart of the Almighty. Yet none of these compares with the only antidote for mortality.

Conversely, your life might be marked by a long history of tragedy, failure, and victimhood. Perhaps you have struggled to really find your place and purpose in life. Maybe you’ve perpetrated more than your fair share of ungodliness? Most peoples’ lives are a blend of prosperity and adversity. We are saints and sinners. Even a person who has endured disastrous circumstances is a beneficiary of God’s kindness. He is too magnanimous to withhold it. But He is also too wise to withhold adversity from us, knowing that if we don’t endure it we’re prone to unreasonable expectations and unrighteousness.

Dear friends, the bleeding Jesus is the same Lord who still has blood coursing through His veins. Holy Communion is always a preview of the heavenly banquet. Our host at this table also desires to host us at the celestial celebration. The Scripture says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”9 You are invited, come! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Maundy Thursday
24 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 26:26, 28
2 See John 1:29
3 1 John 1:7
4 Matthew 12:20
5 Large Catechism
6Large Catechism
7 See Exodus 12:13
8 John 13:8
9 Revelation 19:9

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday (C) 2016

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

Text: Luke 19:38
Theme: Blessed Is The King

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Was it a parody or a paradigm? Here He comes- the King of the universe- riding on a lowly beast of burden, processing to His pending death. He enters to acclamations of hosanna that will soon be superseded by cries of “Crucify Him!” Palm Sunday has arrived and it indicates that we are now near the pointy end of the Church Year; the ‘business’ end. Holy Week has begun and supporters and skeptics alike will witness the consummation of the Messiah’s kingdom. It’s a regal show but not of human construction. The Divine Majesty has His own parameters of accomplishment. The royal palace for His Son will be a cross planted on top of a rubbish heap. There salvation will be on display for the whole world to see. The truth of it all will be revolting to human wisdom and deemed pathetic by human arrogance. “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”1

The Mount of Olives was the particular point to precipitate the procession. In joyous celebration Jesus would transverse the place of His pending betrayal. But for now, cheering crowds with high hopes typified the hour. He was their deliverer. The yoke of Roman oppression was soon to be thrown off- at least that’s what many hoped. They welcomed Him heartily, yearning to be freed by this Son of David. Could it be that in Him the dynasty would be restored?

And so, He comes. And in the complexity of cheerfulness and confusion among the people He presses on with His consistent effort to shoulder the weight of sin. The burden is getting heavy. Yet, He comes. He comes to save a world infected by sin; a human race with a terminal disease. But He doesn’t come in an anonymous, aloof manner. He comes for you. He comes to you. He comes to be present with you. He comes to live in you. And for Him to live in us sin must be cast down from its seat of power. He does not share the throne.

He knows your addictions. He knows your habits which flirt with addiction. He knows your tendencies which approximate habits. He knows your mindsets which influence your tendencies. He knows the context that shapes your mindset. He knows your temptations. He knows your sins of weakness, your sins of ignorance, your sins of callousness, your sins of consciousness. But His knowing them doesn’t justify them or you. Our sinful nature can never be vindicated. It must be put to death by the power of His crucifixion.

Confess your sins to Him openly. Pour out your hearts. Nothing can surprise Him. Nothing will cause Him to withdraw His grace. He will not prove to be unreliable. His mercy is steadfast and rock solid. He does not change. He will not be moved from His promise to rescue us from every evil of body and soul. We have His oath. The baptismal promise is His and He will not renege. The Holy Spirit never turns away a repentant soul.

Don’t fret that you continue to struggle and find yourself failing again and again. Humans will never be fully transparent or consistent. The duplicity of sin warps our entire being. Nothing can be said so clearly that it cannot be misconstrued. No gesture can be performed so carefully that it cannot be misunderstood. Even our own motives are often hopelessly conflicted. But God is not burdened with such frailties. He speaks with clarity. He decrees with consistency. He acts with transparency. He never tires or gives up. Encourage others who struggle in a similar manner and may be on the verge of losing hope. With Christ hope is never lost.

The Palm Sunday cries of “Hosanna”, or “Save us!” would be answered. The appeals, supplications, and laments of sinners and saints across the ages will crescendo to a breaking point in the ears of this Messiah whose voice fell silent on the cross. Cain said, “My punishment is more than I can bear.”2 Isaiah said, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon [Christ]”3 Moses said, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”4 The Spirit says, “Christ…entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”5 The Psalmist says, “Deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”6 The apostle says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”7The Scripture says, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”8

You are among His chosen. You are one of His elect. He puts a ring on your finger and a crown on your head. He hides us away; safely tucked into His wounds until the storms of life have passed. The cherubim who blocked entry to the Garden are turned into escorts that usher us back to Paradise. The flaming arrows of Satan are extinguished. The Son has risen and casts His light over the land of the shadow of death. “Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”9

He feeds us with immortal food from the regrown tree of life. Appearances can be deceiving. In the Supper we have these small portions that are hardly sufficient to sustain us even an hour in regards to our bodily needs. But in regards to our spiritual requirements- our cup runneth over! The power in this meal is not found in its quantity but its quality. It’s not a matter of portion size but potency. Truly contained in these forms of bread and wine are the body and the blood of the Redeemer. Through these means the Holy Spirit offers and executes the forgiveness of sins.

Today we join our voices with the crowds who said, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”10 These acclamations of praise should sound familiar. We heard them at the announcement of His birth. They also form the content of heavenly language where the saints are depicted waving palm branches and saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb…Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”11 His coming was no parody; it was the paradigm of salvation. He is true to His word. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Palm Sunday
20 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 1:18
2 Genesis 4:13
3 Isaiah 53:3
4 Exodus 33:15
5 Hebrews 9:24
6 Psalm 79:9
7 Romans 4:25
8 2 Corinthians 1:20
9 Philippians 2:6-8
10 Luke 19:38
11 Revelation 7:10, 12