Sunday, December 31, 2017

First Sunday After Christmas (B) 2017

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

Text: Luke 2:29
Theme: “Released In Peace

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The certainty of God’s love is never in doubt. It cannot, however, be verified by human measurements. Often it may seem that God has turned away or is inept. Only the eyes of faith see Him during times of adversity. Even Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem can appear pretty unimpressive in spite of the sentimental applause it garners. But remember, Jesus’ identity is underpinned by countless miracles, and finally resurrection from death. Christ brings the great reversal of the spiral into sin and death. His presence brings light, and joy, and peace.

Today the Christmas story progresses. Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews. They took the baby Jesus to the temple according to the custom. He was received there by Simeon and Anna. They had long awaited the fulfillment of the promise. The world has now come to expect the advent of the next big thing; a ground-breaking technology or a life-changing innovation. New medical breakthroughs, new fashions, new entertainments, and on and on it goes. But the next big thing has already arrived and nothing bigger will ever come. Simeon and Anna understood this. Faithful servants, they were blessed to see Jesus, the Suffering Servant.

From the Spirit-inspired lips of Simeon we have a liturgical song of praise that has long held a prominent place in the church’s liturgy. The “Song of Simeon”, or, in the Latin, the “Nunc Dimittis”, is the believer’s response to having received the same divine blessings that Simeon and Anna enjoyed. Sung, after communion in the Divine Service, it expresses thanksgiving for having received Holy Communion, which carries the fulfilled promise of the coming Jesus. The emphasis is on peace. “LORD, NOW let your servant depart in peace according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation…”1

As in baptism and absolution, we receive the fulness of God’s love in Christ. You see, Christ is not present with us in a piecemeal fashion. We don’t get little bits of Jesus here and there, sometimes getting forgiveness, other times getting hope, and still other times strength. Yes, as mortals, we can only receive in finite measure. We have limited capacities. But God is not limited and it’s a great encouragement for us to understand that. The entire Christ, God and man, with all His gifts and all His blessings, the infant of Bethlehem and the Creator of the universe, the One who died and the One who lives is present with us according to His promise.

Now, to be sure, He attends to us according to our needs and our capacity to receive. Otherwise we would be overwhelmed by His majesty. To one He gives hope, to another, strength against temptation. The person racked by doubt seeks fortification of his faith. The person burdened with regret seeks relief from her guilt. Those living in fear need the certainty of divine protection. The living Christ grants all these according to the need. And, God always speaks to us according to our eternal need. This is so because God is always true to Himself. God does not see myopically, think short-sightedly, or fail to consider all the necessary parameters. He suffers no ignorance so there are no variables He needs to consider. He knows all things, and most relevantly, He knows we are sinners.

Because we are sinners He must speak to us His word of rebuke as well as His word of grace. The smug, idolatrous heart has no desire for a Saviour. Therefore, the law of God speaks not only to our reason, our intellects and wills; it speaks to our hearts. It’s an important concept. Consider how the Lutheran Confessions correct the common falsehood that we can be saved by our good efforts. “Here the scholastics, having followed the philosophers, teach only a righteousness of reason, namely, civil works, and fabricate besides that without the Holy Ghost reason can love God above all things. For, as long as the human mind is at ease, and does not feel the wrath or judgment of God, it can imagine that it wishes to love God, that it wishes to do good for God's sake. [But it is sheer hypocrisy.]”2

You see, the word of the law cannot woo the heart, it cannot transform it, because the law does not forgive, it does not show grace It cannot. No one can know the favour of God through the strength of the law. No one can be assured, therefore, of God’s acceptance of them based on their obedience. Trying harder or giving more effort, striving to be more pious or’s like trying to steer the Titanic away from other icebergs when it is already sinking.

Remember, the purpose of the law is to drive us to repentance but never to despair. The Scriptures are full of examples. Two will suffice. “The LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground”3 “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." “Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.”4 Cain’s mark was a warning to others and it helped to protect him.

Or consider the case of David, the adulterer. Nathan said to David, the self-righteous King, “You are the man!”5 And through these words the Holy Spirit did not commend him; the Spirit convicted him. Yet, it was not to drive him to despair. Soon the word of absolution came, “You shall not die.”6 So we see with what precision the Holy Spirit works, like a master surgeon. It is the same way with us. He seeks to purge us of our hypocrisy, idolatry, and unbelief, but always with the purpose of restoring us.

The law is not the final word of God. Of course, if in arrogance and unbelief, people reject the work of the Holy Spirit, they will be left under the condemnation of the law. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. But the Scripture says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”7 And today, “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law…”8 When the nails were being driven into the cross there was an echo ringing through the halls of hell. Satan knew he was finished. The plan of salvation could not be derailed. The light of Easter was waiting to burst through.

Christmas is the fulfillment of centuries of expectation. In a manger the immortal God took to His possession a fragile human body. In so doing, He made possible the redemption our bodies condemned to die. The body of Jesus was never relinquished. He possesses it now in eternal majesty. It is the same body conceived in Mary’s womb, crucified under Pontius Pilate, laid in a tomb, and raised in glory. His bodily resurrection is a preview of our resurrection from the grave. The great day of the resurrection will be our full experience of Christmas. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Christmas
31 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 LH, p.20 2 Book of Concord
3 Genesis 4:9-10 4 Genesis 4:12-15
5 2 Samuel 12:7 6 2 Samuel 12:13
7 Romans 8:1-2 8 Galatians 4:4-5
9 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Nativity of our Lord- Christmas Day 2017

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

Text: John 1:4
Theme: The Word of Life

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“Do not be afraid,” said the angel to the shepherds. It’s common to fear the unknown. People resist change because they fear things they have never experienced. “Better the devil you know,” says the common proverb. Even in a world in which we are trained to relish the newest, and the latest, and the greatest, the wisdom of experience teaches us to be wary. There are dangers. The Bible says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”1 Often the biggest changes bring both good and bad. Remember what fears there were when television was invented. Many said it was tool of the devil. Well, they were right. But it’s also been a very helpful technology- a gift from God. The same goes for the internet. Or, think of medical science and its benefits to humanity. But it also makes evils such as abortion and euthanasia much easier to carry out.

And, what about God Himself? What changed when Christ was born? Christmas is a mystery that is right at the heart of the Christian belief. In a manger God exists in the frame of an infant. That’s a lot to take in, like musing on the Trinity or trying to wrap your mind around eternity. Christianity is a monotheistic faith. There is one God, but He exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is the creator of time and He dwells outside of it. Heaven won’t be measured by the passing of time.

Now, here in the lap of Mary is the Lord of heaven and earth! Our nativity gospel says it this way, “The Word became flesh, and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”2 And Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”3

Christmas brought new life into a world of death. Each of us needs that new life breathed into us. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”4 Christ is the new Adam. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”5 “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”6 The implication is that apart from Him there is death. Spiritually, all people are conceived dead and separated from God. There’s no life or goodness within us.

The Lutheran confessions say it like this, the “Scripture denies to the intellect, heart, and will of man every capacity, aptitude, skill, and ability to think anything good or right in spiritual matters, to understand them, to begin them, to will them, to undertake them, to do them, to accomplish or to cooperate in them as of himself.”7 It’s a damning assessment.

Now it may at first seem deflating to learn that we are completely spiritually inept, completely at the mercy of God. It certainly is a blow to the ego which always claims some goodness within our natural selves. But once we understand what Christ has done it is the most liberating thing in the world. We are freed from the intolerable burden of being “good enough” for God. It’s a deception of the devil to believe the way to godliness is to be just a little nicer than the next person. Much of the false philosophy of the Christmas season revolves around the assumption that during the “festive season” we are capable of being a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more thoughtful than we are during the rest of the year. Firstly, what does this say about our behavior during the rest of the year? Secondly, the assumption is patently false. Prodding an unwilling participant to be more righteous only makes them a hypocrite. “If we all just try a little harder the holiday season will be more pleasant for everyone,” is NOT the Christmas gospel. Jesus came to forgive sins, not to indulge our inadequacies.

How important is the incarnation? You cannot be saved apart from the flesh of the Son of God. You cannot be rescued from the peril of hell without the bodily sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His physical resurrection from the dead. Your relationship with the heavenly Father, established by His promise to you in baptism, maintained by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is only possible because the Word became flesh. It is truly a divine activity. Therefore, the church, the worshipping assembly, is more akin to a craftsmen’s workshop or a hospital than a social club. We’re not here for polite social interaction, but as holy subjects of a mysterious, merciful, and magnificent God. We are, as saints and sinners simultaneously, welcomed right into the holy of holies.

In the conception in the womb of Mary, in the person of the baby Jesus, God and man are united. Here we have the basis and the parallel for the mystery of Christ’s presence in Holy Communion. A sacramental union takes place in which the bread and wine are united with the body and blood of Christ. The substances of bread and wine remain after the consecration, but Christ is then truly present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. This is truly one of the great mysteries made possible by Jesus’ incarnation. Christmas is most tangible to Christians year-round in Holy Communion. In the Supper, Immanuel, God-with-us meets us and we partake of His divine blessings.

This Child was born for you. He lived for you. He died for you. He rose from death so that you might share in His life. There is absolutely nothing aloof about this Saviour born in Bethlehem. In a shelter for domesticated animals He becomes fully immersed in human vainglory and misery. The humble circumstances of His birth were an indicator of the excruciating manner of His death. At the manger the cross was already in view. He was born with a purpose. Satan tried with all his might to derail the plan. But his schemes were defeated. He rose again from the grave.

The mystery of God in human flesh, the mystery in the manger, the mystery about which the angels sang, the mystery of this Messiah who is, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,”8 is not a mystery to be feared. At least, not in the common use of the word. Holy, reverential fear is, of course, very appropriate. The Creator of the universe came to redeem the human race.

There may be many things that cause you fear or anxiety. Perhaps it’s hard, even to prioritize them. Christmas may even be a disappointment; an occasion of unrealized hope in regard to a fractured relationship or a long-held burden. Our Immanuel does not overlook these struggles. The angel’s message is for us, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”9Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Thessalonians 5:21 2 John 1:14 3 Hebrews 1:3
4 Genesis 2:7 5 2 Corinthians 5:17 6 John 1:4
7 FC SD 522:12 8Isaiah 9:6 9 Luke 2:10-11

The Nativity of our Lord- Christmas Eve 2017

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

Text: Luke 2:10
Theme: A Saviour

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christmas marks the beginning of God’s solidarity with humanity in the person of Jesus. It’s a relationship that has no ending. That’s the real reason for joy at Christmas. Angels, shepherds, a young mother, a stable, a humble birth comprise the circumstances of Jesus’ entrance into the world. The birth of Jesus Christ is timeless, unalterable history in a different way than other events of the past. The coming of the Son of God in human flesh was a breach of the dimensions of time and space. All history leads to and flows from the redemptive activities of Jesus Christ. The destiny of all things depends on Him. Yes, that’s a lot of responsibility to pin on a newborn, but it was the Father’s will to save the world in this way.

History cannot be changed. It can be re-written, reinterpreted, deconstructed, misrepresented. History can be praised, critiqued, exaggerated, or denied. None of these activities change the reality, of course, but they may change what people think or believe. Under contention today is the significance of Jesus’ coming and the meaning of what He did. From a historical perspective, Christianity today is in precipitous decline in the West. The reasons are many and complex. Some of the damage is self-inflicted. The Royal Commission highlights just one example. Many believers themselves don’t take the faith seriously. Efforts are being made in some circles to make Christianity more lighthearted in hopes of making it more appealing. The results are not very promising.

Despite all our modern advancements, technologies, and conveniences the world is not a very safe or happy place. We ignore the resilience of evil in our world to our own peril. Efforts to legitimize what God condemns only create false facades of security. We’re not free to define morality. We’re not authorized to define truth. Belief that we can do so is evidence of bondage, of spiritual darkness. If we are happy with our harmful behaviours, if we are content with our lies and deceptions, if we are not bothered by our sins of commission and omission, then a word of rebuke is the first gift we need this Christmas. And yes, repentance is a gift. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of our unrighteousness. Jesus did not come to give us a license to sin. He came to free us from the divine wrath so that we can truly serve others.

For some people Christmas is the most difficult time of the year. For some it is associated with grief. For others with brokenness. Still others, loneliness. Unfortunately, for many it’s just an excuse for reckless indulgence. Perhaps you feel like your life is not noteworthy, much like His humble birth. Maybe you feel like there’s no place for you in the world, in your community, or even your family…that’s there’s no room in the inn? The heavenly Father doesn’t make light of your struggles. He created you and He sent His Son to redeem you. The good news the angel announced is for you. A Savior is born this day.

History cannot be changed, but the future can be. God can change your life as quickly as He calmed the stormy sea. More often, it’s an extended process of renewing and reviving, molding and shaping. The Holy Spirit changes what people think or believe and the means He uses is the word of God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he as crossed over from death to life.”1 The same Messiah who was born in a stable was nailed to a cross and rose again from the grave.

If God housed us only in a manger that would be enough. But He is a mighty fortress.
Just as Mary cradled her infant Son and attended to Him while nestled in a manger, so the strong, but gentle hands of God, the hands of Christ, cradle us and protect us in our vulnerabilities. We can choose to live in our darknesses and falsehoods, but that involves closing our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to the love and truth of God in Christ. There is no darkness so invincible that the light of the nativity cannot penetrate it. A light that has its source in a divine nature, a light that burst right through the crypt of death. From A to Z the ChristChild in the manger achieves everything necessary for our wellbeing in this life and in the life to come. Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”2 This story begins in a stable, it continues in paradise. May the humble, historical Christ surround you with His love this Christmas and always. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Eve
24 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 5:24 2 Revelation 22:13

Fourth Sunday of Advent (B) 2017

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

Text: Luke 1:28
Theme: “The Lord Is With You”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

When the angel Gabriel makes an appearance it’s a clear sign that something is brewing. The wheels were set in motion. The routine lives of some ordinary Jews were about to be radically altered. The Jewish nation was about to witness the fulfillment of the prophets’ words. The entire world was about have the divine plan of redemption disclosed to it. For the Jew, the covenant with Abraham was crescendoing to a beautiful climax. As the Spirit said, “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever."1 For the Gentile, it was a preview of the future blessings extended to the entire human race. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”2

Was Mary happy when she first heard the news? We can’t pretend to understand the sense of perplexity mixed with hope that Mary must have felt when it was announced to her that she would be the mother of God. Joseph probably felt like he was the last to know. The angel told him in a dream, “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins."3 Wow! How could either one really come to terms with it? Like any normal couple, Mary and Joseph had probably talked about their future plans together. How radically that now changed!

Christmas is always advertised as a time for cheerfulness. But, fleeting, superficial indulgence is not the intent of this Christ Child. People are desperate for happiness. They will take all kinds of shortcuts and risks to find it. They will endanger the present. They will compromise the future. That’s not new news, of course. It is the perennial proclivity of the populous. “They” doesn’t mean anonymous or generic people. It means us. The Spirit never directs preachers to construct paper tigers. Nor is the word of God for academic amusement. Tools that bar the gates of hell and prize open the gates of heaven are not play things for children.

The Scriptures speak to us with all of our warts and failures. God doesn’t address us as ideal subjects able to attain perfection. He knows us too well. He knows the darkness doesn’t vanish from our lives just because it is Christmas. We fall into predictable cycles that sink us deeper into ourselves and pull us further away from God. Selfishness can lead to overindulgence. Overly indulgence can lead to addiction. Addiction can shatter relationships. We are all addicted to sin which is expressed in our desire to preference ourselves above others. If, in our vocations, we are pulling away from those we are called to serve, then we are also pulling away from God. We sin against God when we sin against others. We serve God when we serve others.

We when realise, that our greatest need is met, then we no longer have happiness, we have joy. We no longer just have satisfaction in the moment (God doesn’t begrudge this to us), we have complete contentment regarding eternity. We see things through a different lens, from a different perspective. In retrospect we realize angels have attended to us. We see how God has kept things in motion even when we have slammed on the brakes. We see how God has cushioned our fall when we have dived headlong into disaster. We are still tired of sin, but we have a quiet confidence that it cannot defeat us.

It doesn’t mean at all that we won’t have struggles, hardships, and frustrations. Christmas is not a magical tonic. It doesn’t mean we will be immune to doubt, depression, or disappointment. But it does mean that we learn to not overvalue fleeting things or undervalue spiritual things. “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole and yet forfeits his soul?” Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear? But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”4

The name Jesus means Saviour. God doesn’t forsake the humanity He created. He doesn’t abandon those who turned against His will. Neither does He try to rectify the situation from a distance. Rather, He takes upon Himself our human nature. He unites with His fallen creation. “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”5 This one man, Jesus Christ, and Him alone among men, is also the almighty God. He is power, wisdom, glory and strength. He is righteousness, holiness, and majesty. He is humility, gentleness, and compassion. The Christ Child in the manger is the victim of the cross and the conqueror of death. The Scripture says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”6

The annunciation is not merely historic information. It is an important witness to God’s valuing of life from the time of conception. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, a miracle. Still today, every conception is a miracle that requires the power of God. Christmas is a time to reflect on how God cherishes those who are most vulnerable, most fragile, most at risk. Jesus was born into humble circumstances. That was no coincidence. He was sheltered only in a stable. But that’s just what human eyes see. The Most High God cradled Him with divine protection. When we feel most at risk and vulnerable, when our faith is tried and test, the Holy Spirit draws us deeper into the love of the heavenly Father.

After Gabriel explained to Mary in her perplexity that nothing was impossible with God her response was filled with trust. “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’” Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’”7 We can do no better this Christmas than to say with Mary, “Let the will of God be done.” He is not a tyrant. He is not aloof. Immanuel means God with us. He is with us as Saviour. He is with us as Servant. He is with us as Shepherd. He is with us this Christmas and for all eternity. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
24 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 1:54-55 2 Isaiah 9:2
3 Matthew 1:21 4 Matthew 6:31, 33
5 Colossians 2:9 6 Hebrews 2:14
7 Luke 1:38 8 See Isaiah 55:11
9 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Monday, December 18, 2017

Third Sunday Of Advent (B) 2017

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

Text: John 1:8
Theme: The True Light

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Advent means coming. The Son of God is coming. But that doesn’t mean He is absent or on temporary leave. The coming Christ IS already here. He is here hidden in humble means. He is now veiled to the eye blinded by sin. When He comes again in glory the believer and unbeliever alike will “see Him as He is.”1 But He is here already. He meets you at the altar. In bread and wine, He makes Himself present for you though His body and blood. There, at the altar, the advent Christ meets you at the threshold of heaven. Profound holiness and peace attend His presence.

Today the announcer of advent promises is confronted by the skeptics of God’s activities. The priests and Levites were intent on understanding who John the Baptist was and what he was all about. After confessing freely that he was not the Christ they pressed him repeatedly. “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered no.” Finally, they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.”2 Perhaps they didn’t want to hear what he was saying about Jesus? Perhaps they didn’t believe He was telling the truth? It was just the beginning of an interchange between heavenly and earthly authorities that wound end with a crucifixion.

So, what was at stake in this enquiry into John’s work of preaching and baptizing? It was nothing less than Jesus’ claim, “Your word is truth.”3 Speaking truthfully would seem to be a pretty straightforward matter. The Eighth Commandment forbids speaking falsehood to or about our neighbour. Yet, we see how the conduct of society in the transaction of words and the exchange of information, is so compromised in its truthfulness, that sometimes it is farcical. Extraordinary effort is made to bend, stretch, reinterpret, “spin”, exaggerate, embellish, amplify, diminish, devalue, deny, equivocate, the statement of facts. It’s so commonplace that it’s given rise to proverbs like, “You can’t believe everything you hear.” Digital technology certainly hasn’t solved the problem. We assume politicians often won’t tell the truth and that the media will spin stories with a certain bias. We are suspect of honest practices in government and private business. Our fears are often well-founded. It speaks to the sinful nature of humanity.

John the Baptist was happy to clarify who he was and who he wasn’t, but not for his own satisfaction or to save his own skin. John the Baptist was a great big, bold, eccentric, prophetic advertisement pointing to Christ. When he met Jesus for the first time in his public ministry (remember, John and Jesus “met” while still in their mother’s wombs), John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”4 He was a witness to the true Light that shines in the darkness. And therefore, we confess with the church, ancient and modern, that Jesus is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”5

But, the self-righteous Jews were not ready to hear this truth. As such, they are the patriarchs of all sinners. Don’t think for a moment this matter is not relevant to us. We like to be seen to be honouring God while actually keeping Him at a distance. This is the spiritual struggle of every believer. Just when we think things are going smoothly, here it comes again, the assertion of our will above the will of God. It comes cloaked in humility. It comes disguised in piety. In its more candid moments it simply comes in its own self-righteousness. And on the strength of that it is bold to claim that God isn’t quite capable of managing our affairs. There may be no animosity against the Almighty at first. We’re happy to allow Him to keep the universe ticking over and handle all those peripheral things that aren’t essential to us. But when it comes to the things we cherish it’s a different story. We like to be in control. When we think we’re getting the short end of the stick we cry unfair. But what we should be doing is crying out in repentance. The Holy Spirit must break us down and restore us. His tool is the word.

We note how the apostle ends the letter of 1 Thessalonians, our second reading today. It may seem only to be a directive postscript, but the importance cannot be underestimated. He says, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”6 He asks them to take a vow. The word of God must be heard. It’s not private information. It’s not classified. It doesn’t require some security clearance. It doesn’t have a restricted audience. The words of Holy Scripture are not local news. Neither are they ancient, but obsolete news. They contain the living words of the Holy Spirit. They transcend time and location. The 3rd Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”7 and this primarily involves the hearing of God’s word. When sent out, the word does not return to God empty8.

Dear friends, Christians are not merely admirers of a baby born two millennia ago in Bethlehem who represents a heart-warming, sentimental story. The circumstances are certainly poignant and evocative of empathy and commendation from a wide audience. The nativity is the type of story that people gravitate to. Charity organizations have learned that sympathy for the plight of the starving is more readily obtained by focusing on a specific individual, not a mass of people who share a common problem. The rationale itself is not unscrupulous. But this infant in a manger does not remain a vulnerable child. This Christ is our General in the war against the forces of evil and darkness. The One whose flesh was housed in a manger and fastened to a cross is He who redeemed all the descendants of Adam from the curse of sin. He was the sacrifice. He shed His blood. He is the victor. We share in His victory.

It is truly an amazing thing that He makes us participants in His life. The Scriptures remind us who we are in relation to God and others. Firstly, we are receivers. Secondly, we are servants. You do not have unlimited capacity. You do not have immeasurable strength. You do not possess infallible virtue, impeccable humility, or immaculate holiness. But Christ does. His compassion cannot be exhausted. His zeal cannot be diminished. His resources cannot be depleted. Most importantly, His sacrifice for the sins of the world can never be gainsaid or nullified. You are not worthy to make the sacrifice. I am not worthy. No mere human that has ever lived is worthy. We cannot purchase, earn, borrow, or steal such worth. Jesus Christ is worthy. He is the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.

We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and we have an inheritance with the saints in the kingdom of light. He bears your sins and you receive His righteousness. Your guilt, your shame, your condemnation; the punishment you deserve fell on Him. He dies your death so that you can participate in His life. He is risen from death and grants immortality to all who believe in Him.

Advent is an antidote for complacency. The droning repetitiveness of life’s routines can dull our alertness to the promises of God. The world is like the pounding of the ocean surf on the beach, ceaselessly washing over the believer. But with a word Christ calms the turbulent storm and calms our troubled souls. St. Paul rephrases the advent message of John the Baptist when he says today, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday of Advent
17 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 John 3:2 2 John 1:21-22
3 John 17:17 4 John 1:29
5 The Nicene Creed 6 1 Thessalonians 5:27
7 Exodus 20:8 8 See Isaiah 55:11
9 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Monday, December 11, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent (B) 2017

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

Text: Mark 1:2-3
Theme: A Voice For Time And Eternity

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

There are some teachings and messages that are bound to specific times in history. These are messages that are appropriate to the culture and the people of the time. The ancient Romans believed in the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. They thought the Roman empire to be unconquerable, eternal. They thought the power of Roman emperors would never wane. In medieval Europe, peasant laborers were continuously indebted to wealthy landowners. Many thought this arrangement was part of an unalterable fabric of society. They thought it would always be this way. But times have since changed. We profess new ideas and live under new arrangements.

Yet, there are fundamental things that do not change and cannot change. There are messages and teachings that are not to be confined to certain eras of history. There are voices that must be heard and heeded because they address realities that have not changed. The voice of John the Baptist is one such voice. His message is for time and eternity. The prophet Isaiah details his message in this way, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth and all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”1 John “went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”2

In John’s day, life was strictly regulated by agricultural practice, people walked most everywhere, communication was mostly verbal, cultural values were strict, Pontius Pilate was the governor of the land. Today our lives are not as bound to agricultural cycles, travel is rapid, and the methods are many. Communication is still verbal, but also written and increasingly visual and very rapid. Cultural values are diverse, and representative democracy governs the people. Yet, the message of John the Baptist is no less necessary and no less contemporary. People are in need. People are lost. People still need to be alerted to the coming of Christ, the Messiah.

John was the voice of one calling in the desert. Our concern is not the desert of Judea, but the spiritual desert that exists apart from faith in the true God and lives of obedience dedicated to the same. Apart from the power of Christ, the proclamation of His word, the presence of His Spirit, a desert always exists. But this desert is not recognized for what it is. In a world that seems to thrive, a world teeming with activity, a world pregnant with opportunity, a dynamic world of struggles and accomplishment, it seems nearly laughable to speak in the terminology of a desert. Yet we must see with the eyes of faith. We must recognize an urgency involved. The prophet Amos spoke to such a situation when he said, “’The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.’”3

Could there be more dire circumstances than to not have access to the word of the Lord? Could there be anything more despairing than to have no assurance of His presence? His love? His forgiveness? Amos warned the people that if they continued to trample the word of God under foot, He might well take it away from them. John the Baptist warned that because Christ was at hand, judgment against sin was also near. Dear friends, can we really think or say there is any less trampling under foot of God’s word today? Any greater reverence and respect for the Almighty? Any more humility and recognition of sinfulness among us? Of course, only the Lord knows but we certainly would not want to be presumptuous. Isaiah reminds us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”4

Therefore, John proclaimed a message of repentance, but with a purpose. Recognition of sin is not an end-in-itself. He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Christ the judge of sin and evil is also Christ the Saviour and forgiver of sins. To have the forgiveness of sins is to have life, hope and salvation. Christ is the Water of Life in a desert of despair. Christ is the Bread of Life amidst a famine of God’s word. Christ is the Light of the World in a universe of darkness. Christ is the Good Shepherd of lost and hurting sheep. Christ is the truth in a world of falsehood. Christ is the price of ransom for a humanity charged, convicted and condemned.

Dear Friends, what does John mean when He quotes Isaiah as saying, “All mankind will see God’s salvation?”5 He can mean nothing less than that the baby born in Bethlehem contains the fullness the Godhead. He can mean nothing less than that His death on the cross was an act of substitution, an act of sacrifice on our behalf. He can mean nothing less than that His resurrection from the grave proves death has been defeated and Satan conquered. He can mean nothing less than that God loves us so intensely and so personally that he spares no effort to give us present assurance and eternal salvation.

With the eyes of faith, we understand that His pardon of our offenses, His Spirit among us and within us, are not some mere religious talk or symbolic gestures. When Jesus Christ says you are forgiven, you are loved, you truly are. This is the promise of Holy Baptism. This is in the gift of bread and wine. This is the purpose of the entire life and mission of Jesus Christ. Apart from the forgiveness of sins, everything else related to Christ is secondary at best, insignificant at worst.

The voice of John the Baptist is a voice of the Christian church that must endure until Christ comes for the final time. The message is timeless, the need is undiminished, the opportunity is endless, the importance is unparalleled. God is coming to His people “and all mankind will see God’s salvation.”6 Christ came once in humility. He will come again in glory. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Advent
10 December 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 3:4-6
2 Luke 3:3
3 Amos 8:11-12
4 Isaiah 64:6
5 Luke 3:6
6 Luke 3:6

Monday, November 6, 2017

Reformation Observed Part II 2017

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

Text: The Gospel: The Power of God
Theme: Romans 1:16

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

“Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”1 That is what Christ says. That is what a man named Martin Luther believed. Luther knew he was a sinner. And he knew that God was the final judge of all sin. What he didn’t know- at first- was how to be assured the problem of sin could be resolved. A huge and consuming question dominated his life. He wasn’t alone. The movement of a small stone can trigger a landslide. But other conditions must exist before a large mass of material will make a dramatic shift to a new location- causing a lot of disturbance in the process. Luther was no small stone, but God used him to start an avalanche. Today we recognize that it has been 500 years since that movement started. It was called the Reformation.

Why did the Reformation happen? What circumstances led to such monumental change and turmoil? There was corruption. There was greed. There was ignorance, arrogance, and apathy within the church. But, simply put, there was an unbearable uncertainty about whether God really was gracious to sinners. The unambiguous message of the gospel was not being heard. Jesus bears the guilt of sin and gifts believers with everlasting life declaring them righteous by grace through faith. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”2

So, people felt bound. Although penance was clearly emphasized in Luther’s day, few had a proper understanding of repentance. Forgiveness was conditional. Restitution and moral improvement were requirements to stay in God’s good graces. But the burden and guilt of sin remained. It stifled the joy of Christian life. The medieval soul was saddled with the prospect of a frightening sojourn in purgatory. Luther directed the penitent to the cross. Human striving cannot merit God’s favour. Jesus did that all alone.

But that truth wasn’t fashionable in that era. Most believed some human contribution was essential to the equation. In contrast, Luther developed supreme confidence in the word of God and the sufficiency of grace. Echoing St. Paul, the church father Origen said, “It is not skillfully composed discourse, nor the mode of delivery, nor well practiced eloquence that produces conviction, but the communication of divine power.”3 The word of God has power. It has the power of the Deity, the potency of the Spirit. It can create. It can destroy. It can resurrect. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”4

It’s been widely discussed that today few people are troubled by the same questions Luther was. There is no need to reassure the heart that is not seeking solace. Perhaps many consciences today are so seared or dulled that peace is neither sought or desired. In these cases, only the Holy Spirit can speak the clear word of conviction to souls so vulnerable. Yet, as people today search for meaning in life and chase the illusory dream of perpetual youth, are they really seeking the same things but just expressing it in different categories?

According to scientists none of the red blood cells in your body are likely to be more than four months old. They do a lot of heavy lifting, and like many other cells are being constantly replaced so that our bodies are renewed. Some cells, such as intestinal cells, are replaced every few days. Certain neural cells are replaced very slowly, and some types are not replaced at all. Ageing, they say, occurs because over time the rate of cell death outpaces the rate of replacement. The basic concept is easy to grasp. The question is, Why? Why should this necessarily be?

I wish to use the fact of cellular regeneration- the ability God has built into our biology for cells to be replaced- as a point of reference and departure to discuss two important concepts about divine truth. The first reference is to highlight both the rhythmic nature of our communion with God and the necessity of teaching the faith to each generation. How could something as precious as the gospel ever be lost from human memory? How could it ‘age’ to the point of obsolescence? The gospel is immortal truth, incorruptible, ageless, without decay, ever-potent. But in our custody, our memories, our faculties, our powers of possession and retention, the gospel, is like the mana of the Israelites in the desert. The mana was sufficient for the day, but when the sun rose it was ruined. “Give us today our daily bread,” is the prayer of the faithful from the mouth of the Saviour Himself. And, so it is with the gospel. The empty stomach soon yearns for food. The parched tongue soon longs for drink. Without these the probability of survival quickly declines to zero. Is the case any different for the health of the soul? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”5

The second is to see it as a broad analogy for the Christian life- only in reverse as to our spiritual vitality. Our mortal frames reach an apex and then speed to their demise, but our spiritual lives keep gaining strength as the Scripture says, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”6 Death will overtake us. At the time of Luther, the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon was said to be searching for the fountain of youth in the new world. He wasn’t the first. Alexander the Great claimed to have discovered a ‘river of paradise’ in the Fourth Century BC. He won’t be the last. Today scientists still search for the secret to eternal youth. Some believe lifespans can be pushed forward indefinitely. But the Scripture says, “Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”7 And again, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”8

Death will overtake us, but it cannot harm us. Pray for the Second Coming of the Lord, dear friends, but don’t assume you’ll be granted the privilege of Enoch or Elijah. So, while we are living, even if we are living vigorously and robustly, even when we are young and fit, we are dying. The question becomes: “What is our purpose?” What pursuits in life are worth dying for? The biblical answer is not surprising, exotic or unattainable. The daily life of the baptised, even in mundaneness, lived for the blessings of others, is the calling to which we have been called. The person who lives for nothing has already died. The person who serves faithfully right up to his or her dying breath, is really living.

Luther revived, revamped, and reinvigorated the biblical teaching on vocation. He lived in a culture where there were two classes of Christians; the clergy and the lay people. The lay person had little hope of enjoying the favour of God as readily as the priest, monk, or nun. The motivation to be a cross-bearing Christian was often driven by guilt- even desperation- instead of the conviction that one’s neighbour could be freely served in all sorts of practical, God-pleasing ways. Luther famously raised the vocation of the milkmaid to the same level of importance as that of the monk. The custodian provides just as holy and helpful of a service to society as does the High Court judge. Everyone has a different role within the body of Christ, but no one’s vocation merits special status with God. The baptized are all equally His children.

For Luther there was only one clear, unequivocal, and infallible authority: The Word of God. This Word is both the God-Man Jesus Christ, and the written word of Holy Scripture; the prophetic and apostolic word of the Holy Spirit. The human conscience cannot be unduly bound by any other authority. That doesn’t mean that Luther was an anarchist by any stretch of the imagination. He was deeply respectful of authority, both civil and spiritual, as ordained by God appropriate to their spheres of jurisdiction.

St. Paul said, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.”9 And Jesus Himself said of the Pharisees, “You must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”10 Why obey? Because behind these authorities was the word of God and the will of God. There can be no question that there is to be no compromise of truth for the sake of peace. Many live under a false understanding of what freedom means. The conscience of a Christian is free not because it is autonomous, but because Christ is our servant. True freedom exists only within the parameters of God’s will. Self-determination- especially when we think of our relationship with God- is not freedom, but slavery. Freedom does not mean the Holy Spirit leaves you to yourself to confront the temptation of sin. He’s right in the fray contending at your side. We are free because Satan has been disarmed and hell has lost its fury.

What drives God to do what He does? The love of the Trinity in eternity was so dynamic and colossal that He created subjects to be the beneficiaries of His love and share in His life. The original relationship was shattered by sin. God doesn’t now wait anxiously or search desperately for commendable subjects to reciprocate His holiness. He resurrects them from spiritual death and gives the life. Jesus gifts sinners with forgiveness, life, and salvation. His grace cannot be earned, purchased, or commandeered. The crucified and risen Lord restores sinners to the good graces of the heavenly Father. Christ is the Advocate. He is the sacrifice. He is the scapegoat. “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.”11

Martin Luther was just a man. But Jesus Christ is NOT just a man. Resolution of the weightiest matters of existence hinge on this truth. Heaven cannot be reached without Him. Hell cannot be avoided apart from Him. Luther would have wanted his own name wiped out of memory if it meant that only one additional soul could come to knowledge of Jesus Christ. Luther lived and breathed the truth the apostle expressed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”12 The crucified and risen Jesus doesn’t leave repentant sinners with question marks. He doesn’t leave us at all. Thanks be to God that today we can celebrate more than just 500 years of Christian heritage, we can celebrate the certainty of Christ’s love for sinners. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Reformation (Observed) combined service
5 November 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 8:34 2 John 8:36
3 Origen, Gospel of John 4 1 Corinthians 1:18
5 Matthew 5:6 6 2 Corinthians 4:16
7 James 1:15 8 Romans 5:12
9 Romans 13:1 10 Matthew 23:3
11 Ephesians 2:8-9 12 Romans 1:18

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation (Observed) 2017

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

Text: John 8:32
Theme: Truth In Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Life is a miracle. It is worth celebrating in the here and now. How much more so eternal life! It’s not over-the-top exaggeration to recognize that the salvation we have in Jesus Christ is something to be more than a little excited about. It’s especially appropriate as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation heritage. A call for discussion by a German monk named Martin Luther initiated a far-reaching re-appropriation of the core truths of Holy Scripture. The power of sin is not broken by human strength, the guilt of sin is not atoned for by human effort. The conscience does not find peace through any schemes that try to appease the Almighty. But God Himself, condescends to us in the person of Jesus. He bears the guilt of sin and gifts believers with everlasting life declaring them righteous by grace through faith. He says today, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”1

The events and circumstances leading up to the Reformation were many and far-reaching. Unrest had been festering for some time in many different areas. Moral corruption within the church had become widespread. The vocations of clergy and laity and the relationship between the church and the state had become conflicted and confused. The spiritual life within the church was often burdened with guilt and legalism. Many Christians were in doubt about their salvation and labored within the institutional schemes of the church to acquire various measures of God’s favour. Biblical illiteracy was rife, and performance of rituals was emphasized at the expense of proper motivation of the heart. The clarion voice of the gospel was being drowned out by any number of expressions of the expectations God had supposedly laid upon the sinner. Superstition about the spiritual realm, including Satan, purgatory and hell was common.

Others had tried to reform the church in different ways but achieved little success. The situation was ripe. God sent Martin Luther into the fray. Luther was the right man, at the right time, with the right skills, and the right tools at his disposal. A devoted Augustinian monk, it was never Luther’s plan to lead a rebellion or even fracture the church. He only wanted to steer it back to its biblical foundations. Luther’s was a conservative reformation, and many thought he didn’t go far enough. Luther spent as much effort trying to reign in those who misappropriated his teaching’s as he did challenging the existing powers. Luther wasn’t in it for the recognition, but for the truth. It was intolerable for Luther that the Roman Catholic church was not directing troubled consciences to the place they could find true peace.

True peace of conscience cannot be acquired without the correct understanding of the nature of sin and its resolution. Despite an emphasis on repentance many Christians in Luther’s day lacked a clear understanding of how the crisis of sin was to be resolved. Moral rehabilitation was thought to be the solution. There was little work for the Spirit to do in the ongoing life of the sinner, let alone Jesus. Dear friends, devaluation of sin inescapably leads to a depreciation of the gospel. Certainly, human nature hasn’t changed. If we deny that we are sinners, if we doubt that rebellion against God and His created order is always the greatest threat to humans, if we question whether we need any assistance to make it from this mortal life to eternity in the divine presence, then the saving love of Christ will mean little to us. As the Lord says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”2

Satan easily has a field day here because God, in His wisdom, often doesn’t judge sin instantly. The punishment for sin is often latent- that is, transgressing God’s will often doesn’t seem to initiate any immediate response. The medieval soul was burdened with the prospect of purgatory. Luther directed the penitent to the cross. Temporal punishments may have to be endured, but the soul is freed eternally by the grace of Christ. Humanity may face many crises from environmental disaster to poverty, to bloodshed, violence, and tyranny- and we can identify many causes from selfishness, to greed, to failed ideologies- but sin is the root cause of them all. That truth is fundamental to the Christian worldview.

How then, can the assurance of God’s love be acquired? Luther came to understand, steadfastly believe, and clearly articulate this truth: The motive for God’s love of every man, woman, and child is not found in that man, woman, or child, but solely in God Himself. God does not seek the lovable person; He creates the lovable person. God doesn’t save those He deems to be worthy. God makes worthy the unworthy and in doing so blesses them with salvation. Grace is properly the virtue of God alone. Jesus gifts sinners with salvation. Redemption begins and ends with Him alone. The gospel is the Good News that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reconciles sinners to the heavenly Father without any support, aid, or contribution whatsoever from the individual. The apostle Paul drives this truth home, “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.”3 It is the promise first made to you in your baptism.

The apostolic teaching about how God can be accessed was not discarded at the time of the Reformation. God comes to us only through chosen means. Though God is everywhere, He chooses to communicate His forgiveness only through word and sacrament. The Holy Spirit converts and teaches only through use of the Scriptures. The heart of God is revealed only through Jesus hanging from the cross. He covers the price of sin for every soul. God chooses to adopt us through the water of Holy Baptism. He chooses to feed us through Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. His means of grace have not changed, and they never will.

Yet, the context into which truth is proclaimed is always changing. Only a willful blindness would refuse to see the challenges that are faced by the Christian church currently and Lutheranism particularly. A seismic shift away from belief in a personal God, a growing confusion about fundamental matters of anthropology- such as, the meaning of being male or female-, and a whole-hearted trust in science to provide the most important answers in life characterizes the conditions in which the church seeks to shine the light of the gospel into people’s lives. In Luther’s time people generally had a robust belief in the spiritual dimension. People didn’t doubt the existence of heaven, hell, Satan or angels. Things are much different todays’ society. Centuries of rationalism have taken their toll on the collective human consciousness. You may be surprised to learn that many Christian teachers of theology don’t believe hell exists, or Satan is real. Some don’t even believe in the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Without the resurrection of Christ, the jig is up. To a significant degree the church in the West is losing its courage to speak the truth in the face of political correctness. Often loss of courage is preceded by a loss in conviction. It hasn’t happened overnight, it’s been hundreds of years in the making. The tacit identity to the sacraments and church rites tells the narrative. The baptized, confirmed, married, and buried of one generation become only the baptized and buried of the next. The progression then moves to burial only, a sort of last connection with the Christian heritage that’s been mostly lost.

For some, the answer is simply to concede to the prevailing ideologies. Some call for unity around whatever common ground can be found with the power brokers of culture. But, sacrificing truth for the sake of unity is like trying construct a building on a shaky foundation. The edifice may seem quite presentable, even serving its purpose usefully, until it needs to stand the test of integrity. When the foundation fails the house may collapse in spectacular fashion. The wise man built his house on the rock. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away”4, meaning that all created things will come to the point obsolescence and collapse, they will not endure… but the kingdom of God will endure eternally.

We do not lose hope because we know this story does not end in defeat. Falsehood does not prevail. The power of sin is broken. Today Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”5 You are His beloved child. He bought you at a price. His grace will not fail you. For, as the apostle says, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”6 It will be nice to have a chat with Luther in the company of the resurrected. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Reformation (Observed)
29 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 8:36 2 Mark 2:17
3 Ephesians 2:8-9 4 Matthew 24:35
5 John 8:31-32 61 Corinthians 15:20

Monday, October 23, 2017

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 33:19
Theme: Moses and God’s Glory

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

We cannot escape the deepest need of the human soul. It is the need to have direct knowledge of God. Did not even the greatest saints have doubts? Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory. Moses wanted to know. It was a genuine human desire. The disciples wanted to know too. They enquired of Jesus. Philip expressed it in John chapter 14. Phillip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us."1 And what does Jesus say? “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”2 Moses was given a similar answer. The Spirit makes the Father known only through the Son.

Direct knowledge of God does await all the faithful. It will be the ultimate reward of faith. But, dear friends, if the imminent presence of God was immediately tangible to us at all times, if we could experience God just as empirically as we do conversing with a friend or eating a meal, there would be no need for faith. One day this will be the case. Perhaps Enoch possessed a faith so exceptionally strong that there was little difference between his experience on earth and his rapture to heaven. “What does the Scripture say, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”3 So close was Enoch’s journey with God that God spared him from death.

But for now- and for the rest of us, God clothes Himself in human attire. He hides Himself in created things. The redeeming God is not a God who normally smashes networks of evil, and demolishes the agendas of Satan through supernatural or cosmic displays of His authority. Yes, He has this power. He can collapse the universe in an instant. He can topple nations and rulers by brute force. He chooses, instead, to abolish the darkness of sin through humility. He submitted to death to spare us of everlasting separation. He shows His strength in gentleness. He clothes Himself in words of forgiveness, in baptismal water and in bread and wine. He handles sin and its consequence in this manner.

Us mortals tend to handle sin in a different way; either we try to justify it, or we try to hide it. In trying to justify it we seek to convince God, ourselves and other people that it was unavoidable or of no serious consequence. In trying to conceal it we naively think that if other people are unaware, that God hasn’t noticed either. Even if we understand intellectually that God does know, we often have no evidence that we are under judgment because of it. In effect, we give ourselves license to keep on sinning. This is a dangerous deception. The Bible says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”4 God knows us better than we know ourselves. In short, we should not try to fool anyone. The call to repentance involves just such integrity. The words of the Spirit are clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”5

Moses deeply desired to know God’s truth and to do His will. The following of God’s will involves a continual refining of our faith and sanctifying of our lives. What we want isn’t always what we need. God redirects our ambitions and our desires for the well-being of our souls and the benefit of others. In doing so our faith is tested. God even allows temptations and through them builds our character and perseverance. Yet in doing so God never deserts us. Commenting on the rebellious actions of the Israelites, St. Paul says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”6

Dear friends, the way out, the way through, and the way in is Jesus. He is the only object of our faith. The Scripture says, “…through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”7 We are justified before God, declared righteous, only by grace, for Christ’s sake, received through faith. Our worthiness is found in Christ alone. This glorious good news is the heritage of the Reformation. Convictions have consequences. Beliefs have repercussions. This truth is worth dying for. Without it all hope would be lost.

From a worldly standpoint, faith takes the ultimate risk. It involves putting all one’s eggs in the same basket. Christians put all their hope in Jesus Christ. For unbelievers this is not only a risk, it is a waste of time. But for us it is a preview of eternity. Christ not only served us from the cross, He continues to serve us from the heavenly throne. We are baptized into His inheritance. We dine at His royal table, receiving the bread and wine of immortality. Now we can serve because we have been served. We can give because we have been given to. We can sacrifice because we have been sacrificed for. We can love because we have been loved.

Many people, even Christians, miss the crux of who God is when they see Him as a Sovereign who primarily wants peoples’ praise and allegiance- as if to build His ego.
It is both interesting and important to note that in His earthly ministry Jesus never commands people to worship Him. He never says, “Bow down to Me.” Rather He states plainly who He is and leads people to understand the conclusion. He rebukes unbelievers, He comforts repentant sinners, He demands strict obedience; but He never commands people to fall on their knees before Him. That will be reserved for the final judgment. God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. God does not delight in people who bow down to Him out of fear or merely honour His name in hopes of gaining some favour from Him. He delights in those who trust that He is good and gracious and follow His will because they believe He has their best interest in mind. We worship the triune God as revealed in Jesus Christ because we see through the eyes of faith a God who loves us at all costs, a God who is eternally faithful and fulfills His promises. Our faith is in the living God who desires to share life with His people.

We’re not as far removed from the circumstances of Moses as we may think. Moses, too, would have to wait for the Messiah to see the glory of God. He asked God, “How shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?"8 God said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 9 It’s hard to ask for a better promise than that! Christ is God’s presence among us. In Him all of our needs are met and our rest will be eternal! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
22 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 14:8 2 John 14:9
3 Genesis 5:24 4 Hebrews 13:4
5 1 John 1:8 6 1 Corinthians 10:11-13
7 1 Peter 1:5 8 Exodus 33:16
9 Exodus 33:14

Funeral of Thelma Semmens (October 20, 2017)

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

Text: Zephaniah 3:17
Theme: The Victory Song

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Thelma, and especially you, Pauline, James, Marcia, Grant, and Robert, her children,

The descriptions of heaven in the Book of Revelations include singing. Music expresses the deepest emotions of the heart. Even more importantly, music seems to be an inescapable way of expressing ultimate truth. When St. John has his privileged view into heaven he describes it in this way, “I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’”1 Thelma loved to sing. She was part of the choir here at St. Peter’s for a number of years. Now she is part of the celestial throng.

When the life a believer on earth falls silent, the angelic spirits in heaven raise their voices in celebration. With song and chant and rejoicing a believer is received into the heavenly realms with revelry beyond comprehension. One of their own has come home. Death is a transition from life to life. It is a transition from a decaying, corrupted, weakening life; to a restored, perfected, and strengthened life. Death is a transition from doubt to certainty, from fear to security, from hope to attainment, from the temporal to the eternal. These truths are so because Jesus Christ was not given to speculation or philosophy or mere theoretical propositions. He is “the resurrection and the Life.”2 He has faced death and overcome it. He has now done this for Thelma Semmens. Thelma has transitioned from a fragile life here, to a glorified life there.

We cannot live forever in this life, nor would we want to. The occasion of a death must always be seized as an opportunity to reflect on our own mortality. No one can say honestly, “That will never happen to me.” “I will never get ill.’ “I will never be in an accident.” “I will never get cancer.” “I will never be suddenly faced with the end of my life.” It does happen. It will happen because of sin. To understand this is to see the priorities of life from different perspective. Those who remain slaves to sin in this life are owned by sin and Satan for eternity. All of our efforts and energies to excuse ourselves from the guilt of sin are useless.

The price of sin is covered by the only One who was worthy to make the sacrifice. Only the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ spares one from eternal condemnation. Our righteousness is not our own. We have it by faith in Christ. The Scripture says, “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.”3 Jesus Christ left nothing undone. On the cross He said, “It is finished,”4 and everything was accomplished. He rose victoriously on Easter securing immortal life.

Several weeks back I had the privilege of offering Holy Communion to Thelma in, what turned out to be the final time. I could tell she was struggling. Her eyes focused on me for a long time and though there was resignation, there was also contentment. She was being prepared to be with her Lord. She had lived a full life. Thelma’s contentment was evidence of her faith. St. Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”5 And so too Thelma. The only true contentment in this life and the life to come is to rest securely in the care of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the world, the Living Water, the resurrection and the Life!”

How desperately the world needs such contentment! The curse of living in this fallen world, the reality of lives ruled by sin, the condemnation of souls in bondage to unbelief and self-reliance is that one can never be content. Apart from Christ, all human beings face eternal death and no one can really believe they are facing the judgment of hell and still be content. People can be defiant or in denial or ignorant, but that in no way changes the outcome. When sin is left unaddressed and unresolved there can be no contentment and Thelma would have wanted people to know that.

I first met Thelma when she came along with Clem to communion services at the hospital. Her friendly demeaner was immediately endearing. She was a faithful companion and support for Clem for many years during his declining health. Thelma now inhabits the place that Christ prepared for her. It is a place that was under preparation for a long time. It was nearly 60 years ago that Thelma was promised a place in heaven through Holy Baptism. Her and Clem were baptized together as adults. Christ has prepared a much better life to come for all who believe in His saving name. For Thelma, as for every Christian, death is not a defeat. It is a victory. Jesus said, “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.”6
Christ is risen. He is living and death no longer holds any power over Him. Life and death, sin and grace, heaven and hell are in His control and He commands them for the good of all who believe.

Thelma enjoyed singing. The words of the prophet have now come true for her, “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.”7 The Lord now rejoices over Thelma with singing. She has been received into His eternal care. All praise and honor be to our gracious and powerful God who has given Thelma the victory, having received her into the eternal joys of heaven. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Thelma Doreen Semmens
20 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Revelation 5:11-12 2 John 11:25
3 Ephesians 2:8-9 4 John 19:30
5 Philippians 4:12 6 John 11:25-26
7 Zephaniah 3:17

Monday, October 16, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 32:14
Theme: God’s Forbearance

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is patient. He is patient with His people. The reason why is important. God is patient, not because He is tolerant (according to our popular usage of the term), or apathetic, or ignorant. God is patient because He is merciful. Therefore, when Peter says that God, “Is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”1 he is not thereby saying that God is hesitant, indecisive, or wavering about sin and its consequences for sinners. His forbearance relates directly to the sending of Christ and His incurring the punishment for our sins. All history moves towards and flows from that event.

It is surely one of the great ironies of the entire biblical narrative that while Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the will of God the people down below turned to idolatry. They abandoned the God who had delivered them. Aaron bowed to their pressure and became complicit with their demands. He forged a golden calf. The golden calf is still the historical reference for any and every form of idolatry. However, as knowledge of the Scriptures wanes in our day, the ancient truths will need to be taught again to a new generation.

Now God’s forbearance is put to the test. The ungratefulness, unrighteousness, and unbelief of the people seemed to know no limits. God had once started over with Noah and his family when He destroyed the world with a flood. He didn’t do it on a whim. The wickedness of humanity had become intolerable. Now history was repeating itself. God told Moses He had similar intentions at this point in time. “Let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”2 God could build a nation through Moses, just as He had done with Noah and Abraham.

But Moses pleads with God to remember His promise, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to who you swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring…”3 The intercession of Moses was powerful. The people were still punished, but God’s condemnation was tempered. Dear friends, we celebrate the forbearance of God, but we don’t take liberties with it. From the perspective of the redeeming work of Christ- His death and resurrection- the forbearance of God is infinite. But repentance is always contemporaneous. Never do we arrogantly test the patience of God.

At the time of Moses, the Israelite community was unique. They were governed directly by God through the prophetic office, held, in this case by Moses. Later, they would elect a king(Saul), like other nations. But, in so far as they we God’s people, they were a community held together by their convictions. They were a covenant people. Their most important meals together involved a participation in the blessings of a God who shed other blood so that their blood could be spared. Does that sound familiar? Our most important meal together is a participation in God Himself, who give Himself to us through His Son in Holy Communion. If you’re wanting to meet with God, this is the place.

So, the essence of Christianity is also realized in community. Christ redeems sinners through His blood. This puts them into community with the triune God. The Holy Spirit gathers people into the family of believers through baptism and the word. This puts them into community with one another. The Christian community gathers to worship around word and sacrament. Forgiven, comforted and instructed by Christ, the Head, believers live their lives in faithful service to one another and as living sacrifices in the world.

Community is characterized by dynamic, tangible and reciprocal relationships. To say in any real sense that we have fellowship with God, that we are in community with Him, is to understand a living relationship. A mental image of an independent deity is not community. A theoretical conceptualization of a transcendent God is not community. Fellowship with God is constituted by the concrete actions of the Son’s incarnation and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. In other words, God establishes fellowship, or community with us, by removing the barriers that prevent us from having a relationship with Him.

Those barriers are the result of a pathological condition of far-reaching extent the Bible summarizes with words such as sin and transgression. The short of it is: We are not born with a desire to have a relationship with God. We are not born with the ability or inclination to want to understand or accept His will. Nor does such desire develop naturally within us. We have our own plans and agendas. We don’t instinctively understand that we are on the path to failure. The only community we desire is that of like-minded people or those we can control. God doesn’t fit the bill. We can’t understand through human reason that apart from fellowship with God, we are condemned to a community of discord, strife and eternal death.

Christian communities are unlike any other. They are not based on societal status, professional vocation or academic interest. The Christian community is characterized by willingness to be reconciled. We know the difficulties of mending hurt feelings, restoring broken trusts, rebuilding damaged relationships. These can only be accomplished through genuine humility, steadfast patience and a generous measure of forgiveness. And they cannot be accomplished by us, but solely by trust in the grace and mercy of Christ.

Your sins are forgiven. You are restored to the Father’s favour, through the Son’s love. When you hear the pastor say, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you are receiving the declaration of pardon secured on Calvary. When you are given His body and blood, you are receiving the life of Him who is the Living One, whom you will be in heaven with forevermore. The forgiving Father graciously welcomes back all the prodigal sons.

It’s no wonder the apostle could say today, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”4 And David writes, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”5 Moses still had a long road ahead of him. The Jordan wasn’t ready to be crossed. God would bear with the people, but there were lessons to be learned. Still, the passion of God includes at its core His willingness to go the distance to redeem sinners. In His time God opened the way to the Promised Land and the people crossed over on dry ground6. It was a preview of Jesus’ work of opening the way to the promised land of heaven. He safely carries us across. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
15 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Peter 3:8 2 Exodus 32:10
3 Exodus 32:13 4 Philippians 4:6-7
5 Psalm 145:8 6 See Joshua 3:17

Monday, October 9, 2017

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 21:38
Theme: The True Heir

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The world is unsettled. The media generally reports the upheavals of society selectively. There is an agenda at work. A certain picture is painted that is intended to colour things according to particular convictions. But the pervasiveness of sin is not taken into account. Do we really think that all the unrest in the world, all the violence, all the hatred, all the premeditated bloodshed, all the anger, all the malcontent, all the tension and frustration, the fear and the uncertainty; do we really think that’s just caused by differences of opinion, by people not seeing eye to eye on otherwise inconsequential matters? Yet the Almighty God says, “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.”1 Of this truth, we can be certain. On it our confidence rests.

Worldviews are currently clashing. Different convictions about core realities are being vented in concrete ways. What is the purpose of life? What gives it meaning? What is the basis for authority? Is there objective and knowable truth? How did I get here and where am I going? Is there divine love, or is love just a composite of the best virtues humans can muster? Did God create men for a purpose or are we just here by random chance? These and other questions are swirling in a vortex of tension that is stretching the fabric of our shared society.

But we are not unique. Humanity has been here before. Today Jesus tells the parable of the unscrupulous tenants. It wasn’t meant to resolve a parochial matter. Universal spiritual truths were at stake. Who did these tenants think they were? Had they become over-protective and over-possessive employees? Were they greedy opportunists? Were they arrogant squatters? Perhaps all descriptions hit the mark, but they were more. They had made themselves owners and lords, judge and jury. They committed murder and brazenly tried to take the inheritance by force. They became a law unto themselves. Jesus was sending a clear message to the religious rulers that they were only stewards of the kingdom. They were not the owners. They did not have the authority to administer the inheritance. They would meet with justice.

The Scriptures confront us with the sobering question also, “Who do you think you are?” It has nothing to do with discovering our ancestry and everything to do with true humility. When we think there is no greater power than combined human ingenuity, when we become entrenched in the belief that we are masters of our own destiny, when we are convinced that we are accountable to no one and nothing but our own sense of justice, then it’s time to consider the question, “Who do we think we are?” The Bible says, “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.”2

God knows, of course, how unruly and selfish our natural intentions are and that’s why He has decreed His will for the well-being of human society. The Ten Commandments are not a quirky or eclectic set of religious rules. It’s no coincidence that biblical morality resonates so closely with natural law. As such, they speak not only to believers, but to all humanity. They reflect God’s passion for the sanctity of life. They are the standard for a stable society.

Sometimes things have to become more broken before God can make it clear to us the only way they can be restored. God does not finally accomplish His will through force, but through “weakness”, through gentleness. As the Scripture says, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.”3 No one could have been farther from understanding the gentle grace of God than St. Paul. But Jesus changed that dramatically. So today, as St. Paul reflects on his family history and the privileges and opportunities he had because of it, he quickly puts it into a proper perspective, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”4

You see, it’s only in, and through Christ that all things are finally reconciled- resolved. Can there be a rage that burns with such intensity that the tranquility of Christ cannot quench it? Can there be evil that is so sinister that the holiness of Christ cannot triumph over the depravity? Can there be an ugliness so pervasive that the beauty of Christ cannot transform it to magnificent virtue? Can there be a person so lost in the labyrinth of Satan that the Good Shepherd cannot recover him? Can there be a heart so stained with sin that the blood of Christ cannot purify it to the brightness of the driven snow? Can there be a soul so fragile that the gentleness of Christ cannot nurse it back to strength? Can there be a darkness so impenetrable that the light of Christ cannot pierce it? Death could not prevent the Easter morning sun from revealing that the tomb was empty. The resurrection of Jesus proved God’s power over all the consequences of sin and evil.

Dear friends, don’t be fooled by the look of innocence that attends an infant baptism. The devil is seething. There is a spiritual battle taking place. Satan is a foe too great for us, but He is powerless against the Son of God. Christ makes a claim on a person, who, left to his or her own natural tendencies, would remain blind to the love and truth of God. Baptism is about a promise so serious that it required a crucifixion. The Scripture says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”5

Newness of life is what God gives to us each time our sins are forgiven. Renewal of hope is what he grants to us every time we hear His promises. Revival of faith is what He bestows on us each time we receive His body and blood in Holy Communion. The question, “Who do you think you are?” must also be understood from the perspective of Christ’s work for you. In the eyes of God, you are His precious child. You have been written into His will. You are sealed with His blood. You are freed to be His servant. You are a treasured member of His family. You are an heir to His everlasting kingdom.

The Scripture says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”6 Jesus Christ is the unassailable foundation. He is the cornerstone. An earthquake cannot shake Him. A flood cannot sweep Him away. A wind cannot topple Him over. It is impossible to load Him up with more weight than He can bear. All the controversy and chaos of human history past or present does not rattle Him. Christ is the true heir to the Father’s kingdom and we are co-heirs with Him in the richness of heavenly blessings. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
8 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 75:3 2 Romans 3:19
3 Zechariah 9:9 4 Philippians 3:7-9
5 Romans 6:3-4 6 Hebrews 12:28

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Exodus 17:7
Theme: The Lord Is Present

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Agitation is often symptomatic of underlying fear. The Israelites were unsettled in the wilderness and complained of thirst. The deeper issue was their doubt about God’s provision; about His very presence. They queried, “Is the Lord among us or not?”1 Moses must have gotten tired of managing complaints. It was a long and trying time in the desert. The people were not exactly models of godly behavior. Yet, God’s patience did not waver. These were His people. He would chastise them, but He would not abandon them. He stood with them at Meribah.

It was a large mass of people in the wilderness so movement required significant coordination. What becomes evident as the time in the wilderness drags on is that the people are failing the test of faithfulness. They had witnessed the mighty power of the Lord and yet they were still full of discontent. Granted, it was a difficult transition. Yet, the rewards were great. The Promised Land awaited them, but most did not reach it. Meanwhile, God gives them water to sustain them, just as He had given them mana and quail.

The episode of acquiring water from the rock becomes a defining one in Moses’s own life. It was due to this incident particularly that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land himself.2 Apparently Moses was initially commanded to speak to the rock to obtain the water. His action of striking it with the staff, though effective through the Lord’s power, was nevertheless a sign of disrespect. Nevertheless, he was a forgiven child of God and Jesus meets him on the mount of Transfiguration.

Many, however, lost faith completely in the desert. What were their defining sins? St. Paul mentions idolatry and sexual immorality specifically, and then says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”3 The Scriptures are clear about sins of sexual immorality including homosexuality. All the doubt that’s been created in people’s minds recently stems from the human desire to be unrestrained, not from any new evidence that sexual promiscuity of every sort is acceptable in society or a right handed down by God. But we note too, that in the general context of our sinfulness, sexual sins are often lumped together with all manner of ungodliness. The apostle says, for example, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”4

Paul is talking about the condition and attitude of unrepentance, not about sinning out of weakness or ignorance. If I pursue unrestricted greed then I’m no better than an idolater or a homosexual offender. Different complications may arise from different sins, but all are reprehensible to God. He then says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”5 There is no sin that the sacrifice of Christ hasn’t atoned for. No one is beyond the reach of His grace.

It’s important to be clear when we share the love of God with others. The deception comes if we think we are being loving apart from being truthful. There is no contradiction between truth and love. If I am convinced that someone’s soul is in danger, I cannot love them by confirming them in their unbelief. I cannot love them by promoting their falsehood. It doesn’t mean, of course, that you act in arrogance or self-righteousness yourself. If someone is in doubt, if they are frail, if they are struggling under the burden of guilt, I certainly cannot love them by harshly presenting them truth that I’m convinced they are obligated to believe. The Holy Spirit must do the work.

Perhaps Moses would have liked to have another chance at bringing water from the rock. We can’t change our history. We can’t rewrite the past. We can’t go back in time. We can’t undo the sins we have committed. So, what does the Spirit want us to do? Celebrate our sins? Ignore them? Deny them? Justify them. They are celebrated all too often when people reflect on the unsavory things they did in their youth with fondness. They are ignored all too often when people just leave them unaddressed. They are denied all too often when people go to great lengths to disassociate with reality. They are justified all too often when people find reasons to excuse their hurtful behavior. The Spirit calls us to confess them, seek forgiveness, and receive divine pardon.

Where are you going to for help? To whom are you looking for strength? How can peace of mind and stillness of conscience be obtained? It’s telling that for some time now many of the books found at Christian book stores are spiritual self-help guides. But you can’t find divine pardon by looking to human sources. There was only one who was worthy to be hung from a cross. He sacrificed His own life, shedding His blood so that we could have the certainty of divine favour. That certainty is not a “conjured up” religious state of mind. It’s not a blind hope invested in a mythical tale. The Son of God was crucified under Pontus Pilate, He died, He was buried, and on the third day He rose from the grave. He did that for you and for your salvation.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that peace with God is easily grasped by the human heart or cherished by the human will. Just look at the struggles the Israelites had! The heart is treacherous. But the Scriptures tell us that even when the conscience is still fragile, still stirred up, still full of anxiety, the pardon is just as valid and certain as if God himself smashed down the wall of our prison and set us free. He grants you this freedom in your baptism. He renews it through Holy Communion. Peace of mind is one gift of forgiveness but it is not the requirement for its validity. The certainty of forgiveness is a serious matter that is authenticated by Christ’s work and promise alone. Refusal to acknowledge the validity of forgiveness calls into question the sacrifice of Jesus, the shedding of His blood, His self-giving to cover the debt of sin. The death and resurrection of Christ weren’t for show. God reconciles us to Himself to us through Christ putting our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west6, “I, even I am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”7

Meribah is an historic name. The connotations aren’t very positive in the biblical context. The name denotes the quarreling that characterized the people’s actions. Yet, the situation provided still another opportunity for the people to witness God’s faithfulness. He had already delivered them from the mighty power of Pharaoh. Would He not be able to provide for them in the wilderness? At Meribah the people asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?”8 The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” and the name Fountain of Living Waters expresses that truth. Jesus is the living water. He quenches every thirst of the desert traveler. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”9 He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”10

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
1 October 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Exodus 17:7 2 Exodus 20:11-13
3 1 Corinthians 10:11 4 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
5 1 Corinthians 6:11 6 See Psalm 103:12
7 Isaiah 43:25 8 Exodus 17:7
9 John 6:35 10 Matthew 28:20

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 20:14
Theme: A Gift, Not A Wage

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Assumption is the mother of all blunders. When our assumptions hold things may go smoothly. But when our assumptions fail the consequences can be disastrous. We might assume other drivers will stop at a red light, but it’s the better part of wisdom to wait for verification. More generally, we may assume we are sailing along in life basically under our own steam, setting our own boundaries, and reaping the benefits of our own investments and ingenuity. Suddenly we are made aware of some vulnerability; even our mortality. We become more conscious of the brokenness of our lives and our world. We may even cry “Unfair!” God demolishes our assumptions more quickly and completely than anyone. Then, God has an opportunity to speak truth into our lives. He does so with unapologetic honesty and compassionate generosity. God never acts inconsistently with His own nature.

It’s the essential nature of God that Jesus wishes to illustrate in today’s gospel reading. Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard. It begins in a straightforward manner and relates to circumstances everyone understood. During the grape harvest those needing seasonal work would go to the marketplace in hopes of being hired as day laborers. The average wage was one denarius for a full day’s work. In the illustration workers are hired throughout the day right up to the last hour.

The twist comes when the day ends and it’s time to get paid. “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.”1 Now, it’s not hard to predict what the response might be. Certainly, the practice wouldn’t hold up under any modern fair work legislation. “They began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”2

The response of the vineyard owner is telling, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius...are you envious because I am generous?”3 Herein lies the trouble for sinful human beings. We have certain expectations of God. We’d like His actions to benefit us in preference to others, or at least not slight us. But we cannot dictate the parameters of fairness to which God must comply. If we could put stipulations on the expression of God’s grace, draw up boundaries and enforce them, cry foul when the lines were crossed, it wouldn’t be grace. Then we would be the ones making the definitions.

You see, the owner wasn’t actually paying those who were hired last a wage, he was giving them a gift. Why did he do it? He was generous. Wages are a debt that is owed. What wages are due us? Would we really like to receive what we deserve? We might think so if we are making self-righteous comparisons to others. But when the mirror of God’s holiness is held before us it’s an entirely different matter. If we look in that mirror- the one that peers with transparency right into our hearts- and see a beautiful image of ourselves, then we’ve turned a blind-eye to our own sinfulness. We don’t really want what we deserve. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”4
These core truths, realities about sin and grace, judgment and forgiveness, what that means for us in the here and now and eternally, are under great dispute in our age. You don’t have to be a genius to recognize that the influence of Christianity is in precipitous decline in our society. Apathy about Christian truth and Christian presence is turning to antagonism and antagonism is moving towards hostility in some circumstances. We might be just at the beginning of a time of purging- the sorting of those who have associations with Christianity in name only. Persecution has always proven to be a reliable sieve.

The reasons are ancient even though they find new expressions. People have other gods they prefer to worship. Technically, everyone has either the true God or idols, even those who claim to be atheists. Luther reminds us that, “A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need... That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is…really your God. ”5 The Scriptures tell us that from conception we are separated from the true God and only He can mend the relationship. The saving work of Christ accomplishes that task. The Bible says, “Now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”6

The gospel is the incomparably good news of God’s grace in Christ. Baptism is one specific means by which God gifts us with that grace. If baptism depended on us it wouldn’t be the work of God. In baptism, the Holy Spirit works repentance and grants the forgiveness of sins. We might understandably query how an infant can come to repentance. It’s a logical question to which the Bible gives a mystical answer. God gifts the child with repentance. The gift of repentance goes hand in hand with the gift of faith. Just as with the gospel in general, baptism is a means by which God’s word works in people’s hearts and minds. The fact is, even the most mature Christian adults cannot repent on their own; it’s an act of spiritual crucifixion and resurrection by the Holy Spirit. The same blessing is continually received in Holy Communion.

Truly, the parable today also teaches us to be content with the place we have in God’s vineyard. In our vocations, each of us makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good. God rewards our efforts even if it’s not in the way we’d like. But in the big picture the main message is about a particular kind of generosity- divine grace. If God were not gracious far beyond human imagination we either wouldn’t exist at all, or we’d be separated from Him eternally- that’s called hell. The specificities of God’s grace are revealed in the incarnation of Jesus, His humble life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. In terms of the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus is actually the one who bore “the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”7 In fact, He shouldered all the burden of our sins and endured the fiery crucible of the cross. So, the grace of God and all His blessings to us are cross-shaped.

God doesn’t leave things to chance and He’s never burned by false assumptions. Our salvation is not in doubt because it is in His hands. The grace of God is completely unmanageable by humans. We can’t control it. You can’t secure the love of God in a vault, you can’t lock it up in a prison- the entire universe cannot contain it. You certainly can’t keep it sealed in a crypt. Death put Christ in a tomb but it could not hold Him. Nails were driven into His hands and feet; a spear was thrust into His side, He breathed His last and gave up His spirit, but it was all in sacrifice for us. It wasn’t the end. It was the inauguration of His eternal kingdom. He is the owner of the vineyard. We’re privileged to benefit from His grace. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
24 September 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 20:9-10 2 Matthew 20:11-12
3 Matthew 20:13, 15 4 Romans 6:23
5 Martin Luther, Large Catechism 6 Colossians 1:22-23
7 Matthew 20:11-12