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