Monday, October 17, 2016

Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

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

Text: Jeremiah 31:33
Theme: A New Covenant

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God takes the ‘long’ view of things; the eternal view. The panorama He sees doesn’t fade in the distance like ours; the horizons meet. He sees everything at once. We see what’s in the foreground and beyond that we go forward only in faith. Only in this way does the unreasonable and inaccessible become certain. God is already there, and that’s what we trust. It seemed impossible, but the Israelites were told they could look forward to the realization of God’s blessings. The exile in Babylon wouldn’t finish them off. God would recreate them as a community through their trials. God’s people possessed a worldview that was different from the nations around, one centered on the coming Messiah and His restoration of all things.

As Christianity in the West now struggles to articulate its worldview to an increasingly secular society it’s necessary to revisit foundational truths. We are facing a crisis of authority at the deepest spiritual level. Our society champions individual freedom at the expense of almost everything else. Divine authority is dismissed. But the will of God is not arbitrary. He does not impose restrictions or demand submission for the sheer delight of tormenting human souls. His intentions do not lack rhyme or reason. Our well-being is always in mind even when we can’t see it. The Holy Spirit always works to convict the heart of sin to the end that salvation in Christ will be cherished.

The purposefulness of God’s will underpins the framework of those specific institutions that serve our well-being. Marriage is a particular example under serious threat. Marriage is the building block of stable society. No one can dispute the havoc wreaked on society due to the degradation of marriage. Families splinter and break and the government struggles to provide resources to stabilize those most vulnerable. Marriage also exists so that sexual desire is exercised within healthy parameters. When these boundaries are disregarded heartbreak, heartache, and finally judgment will result. Human consensus can never determine what is an acceptable sexual relationship.

God knows what He’s doing. Our lack of understanding does not invalidate the clear revelation and will of God. It’s foolish to disregard God’s decree on the basis of our ignorance. It’s even more foolish when God’s wisdom coincides with the natural order of biology, as is the case with heterosexual marriage. We shouldn’t be surprised! God is the author of life in all its complexity. He knows how it works!

Even when we misconstrue or lack understanding, we cling to God’s word in faith. Consider St. Paul’s words to Timothy today, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”1 Jesus says, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”2 Without the foundation of God’s Word we are forever tossed to and fro by human opinion. This inevitably ends in grief.

Faith seeks understanding but doesn’t depend on it. It’s like little Johnny who was listening with rapt attention in Sunday School one week. The teacher was covering in some detail how God created everything, including Adam and Eve. Johnny was especially fascinated with the creation of Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. Later in the week his mother noticed he hadn’t finished his dinner. This was most unusual. She found him on the floor of his room clasping his ribcage. “What’s the matter?” asked his mother. “I feel terrible,” he said, “I think I’m having a wife!” You see, his lack of understanding did not destroy his trust in God’s word. As we mature through the experiences of life the effluence of the world tends to jade us. No wonder Jesus says, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child will never enter it.”3 Lord, grant us such faith!

The Israelites in Babylon also struggled to take God at His word. They especially struggled with the difference between true spiritual repentance and simple remorse. No one can be forced to repent. We can have our activities acutely curtailed. We can have severe punishment doled out to us. Fear of retribution may restrain us from repeating certain behaviors. We can be shamed publicly and privately. Still, these do not constitute repentance. Repentance is a divine action that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in the heart. We cannot even initiate the action. We only recognize that God is acting upon us. He is the potter; we are the clay.

When reprimanding their children parents usually look for evidence that their kids are contrite. Contrition is genuine sorrow over sin. But this still isn’t the full picture of repentance. Godly repentance, Spirit-wrought repentance entails this contrition, and a turning away from our sin and seeking forgiveness in Christ in true faith and hope. “It is impossible to keep the law without Christ; it is impossible to keep the law without the Holy Spirit…the law always accuses us, it always shows that God is wrathful. We cannot love God until we have grasped His mercy by faith. Only then does he become an object that can be loved.”4

God promised the Israelites saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel…I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people…for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”5 He was telling them to not give up, to not lose hope. The Messiah would come. Salvation would arrive. The parable of the persistent widow today also encourages us to never cease approaching God with our prayers and petitions. God wills to shower us with His good blessings.

The promise of the covenant points to Jesus. Christ is the initiator of the covenant. In Him it is fulfilled. The Scripture says, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”6 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”7 Only Jesus died and rose again for us and for our salvation. These truths are not relics of history; they are present reality. “The Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”8

The blessings of the covenant are dispensed to us now- in real time and space- not by some spiritual meditation of the past historical event of the last supper, but through Christ’s very presence in His body and blood in this sacrament. In this meal God Himself extends to us the forgiveness earned by Jesus’ crucifixion. Every appearance in God’s house, every participation in this gathering is a return to your baptism. In that sacred act God covenanted with you. We can’t grasp how this is possible pragmatically. But we can certainly understand the references to cleansing and renewal. The power of your baptism is accessed every time sin is confessed and God’s gracious pardon is received. The Spirit renews and reaffirms us in God’s covenant. Now His gifts are ours by faith, but on the Last Day we will possess them without mediation. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost
16 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Timothy 3:16 2 John 10:35 3 Luke 18:7
4 AP IV 5 Jeremiah 31:33-34 6 Hebrews 9:15
7 2 Corinthians 1:20 8 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Funeral of Gertrud Agnes Graue 12 October 2016

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

Text: John 14:3
Theme: Not Forgetting To Come Back

Dear friends, loved ones, and family of Gert, her children, and especially you, Elmor,

“I will come back and take you to be with Me,”1 this is the promise of Him who has traversed death and opened heaven, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. This He has done for Gert Graue. She is in His presence. Freed from all sin, released from all struggle, the profundity of her peace is beyond our knowing. God has not forgotten her. The Scripture says, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that He commanded, for a thousand generations.”2 Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love!

On more than one occasion the Scriptures credit God with remembering. God remembered Noah, his family and the animals on the ark. He resettled them in a world cleansed from unbelief. God remembered Abraham at the time Lot was spared while Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. God remembered Rachel when she was barren and she conceived and bore a son. He doesn't, of course, have amnesia. He doesn't suffer from poor recall. It's the Bible’s way to express that fact that when human hope is at its lowest, when people have all but forgotten what could have been, when the dream has been let go of, its then that God returns, if you will, to make good on His promise.

God's remembering is tied with rescue, restoration, and redemption. Gert may not have always remembered. In the end she may not have remembered the names, faces, and particular characteristics even of those dearest to her. But the integrity of her memory was not critical for her standing before God. To say that faith is destroyed by failing memory is to misunderstand the nature of the Holy Spirit's gift. God looks after His elect. The brain is not the only part of the body that has capacity for memory. The heart also stores it. God reads the heart.

Gathering to reflect on the death of a loved one is sobering business. It rightly draws our attention to critical truths. Human mortality is not an imaginary threat. Death reveals the ultimate vulnerability of the human condition. The Bible says when sin matures it leads to death. To ignore the consequences of sin is the greatest foolishness. Our false senses of security soon come to grief if the final implication of lacking the righteousness God requires is not resolved before we take our last breath. Then we are like children building sandcastles while ignorant of the rising tide. Children may pick up their gear and in turn be lifted by their parents to safety. The fun is over. The game is finished. No harm is done. But death allows no such childish indulgences. It is not make-believe. The quicksand of sin prevents our movement. We face the punishing surf unable to retreat. Mortality requires divine intervention. Christ rescues the believer from the horrifying prospect of eternal separation from God. Maturity demands sobriety. Sobriety is the only true foundation for joy.
And joy is the truth that prevails in our celebration today. Gert was God’s baptized child. To remember that Gert is baptized is to remember that God has made to her an irrevocable promise. The Bible says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”3

So what accompanies the believer across the threshold of death? What integral, essential part of us makes the transition? Not our accomplishments. Not our failures. Not our embarrassments or fears. Certainly not any material possessions we've accumulated. The only thing that does is the only thing that matters: Our identity in Christ. Baptism opens the door to heaven through which the believer passes at death and awaits the bodily resurrection. It all happens through His grace.

In the end every attempt to commend ourselves, to justify ourselves, to put forward even a lifetime of evidence; including our self-deprecations or false humilities is an offence to the irreproachable holiness of the Almighty. In the end it's all about Christ, or all of our efforts are an exercise in futility. It's not Christ in addition to us. It's Christ alone. We are saved by grace, through faith, by Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. There is no other Saviour. There is no other way. In Him death is defeated, Satan is silenced, the gates of hell are barred shut.

Gert was not enjoying life in the last days. It's not simply a vacuous platitude to say that God has His reasons for allowing the circumstances that attend each person when death draws near. In humility of faith we allow God to be God. Why did He allow Gert's health to fail? Why did she seem to have cruel burdens to bear in the end? We limit our speculation and we look to the cross. Jesus died and rose again that all who believe in Him might have life. We cling to the promise that says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."4

Gert’s journey of faith has ended. The most important evidence of faith is not the rare act of exceptional service, but the daily commitment to live in one’s vocation in a faithful and godly manner. To be a faithful wife and mother. To strive at loving God and neighbour, knowing that we fail, but believing that Christ succeeded. Gert persevered at these things following the voice of the Good Shepherd. Gert and Elmor’s wedding text was from John chapter 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”5 Gert no longer has to strain out competing voices from that of the true Shepherd. She is safely in His hands.

Of course, we still grieve. The primary venue for the grieving Christian is not the cemetery, but the church. The cemetery may contain the material remains of the deceased, it is a place of remembrance; but the church is the assembly of the faithful transcending time and space. It is here that God ‘remembers’ us. Elmor, go to the cemetery to honour Gert. But come to the church to thank God for the blessing that she was. Here is where sorrow transitions to acceptance, then to hope, then to gratitude. Here is where we have the continuity of God’s love across the generations. Gert Graue may not have been able to express her memory in the last days, but God has not forgotten her. Her last day has come. She is in His presence, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and all the hosts of heaven. In this we rejoice. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Gertrud Graue
12 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 14:3
2 Psalm 105:8
3 1 Peter 1:5
4 Revelation 21:4
5 John 11:27-28