Thursday, April 6, 2017

Midweek Lenten Devotion 2017

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

Text: Matthew 27:41
Theme: The Wound of Mockery

Dear friends of the Wounded Saviour,

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me!” So they say! But is it really true? Can we be so dismissive of the verbalization of motives and beliefs? Words can be powerful. We quickly learn which words can be taken with a grain of salt and which words convey meaning and intent. Words can heal. Words can destroy.

The theme for our Lenten series this year is “A Wounded Saviour for a Wounded People.” In the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at how Christ was wounded by betrayal, apathy, denial, mockery, and abandonment during His passion. The suffering of Christ is familiar to us, but it’s not merely incidental to the storyline of salvation. Only by bearing our sin as a true human being could our redemption be accomplished and our resurrection assured. This evening we’ll be focusing on the wound of mockery.

In relation to the other aspects of suffering Jesus endured, mockery might seem to be a minor component. Mockery involves only words. After all, Jesus was whipped and then experienced the physical torture of the cross. But how do we measure pain? How do we assess its severity, its scope, its consequences? The medical profession often uses a scale to gauge the pain of sufferers by rating it between one and ten. But, pain is very subjective. What one person tolerates cripples another. Childbirth might be the most universally recognized pain and it has garnered many biblical references. Physical pain gets a lot of attention, but what about psychological and emotional pain? Dying of a broken heart is now a proven medical reality.

Malicious words can be like arrows piercing right through our consciences and lodging deep in our hearts. They open wounds and they cause scars. We learn to know that the intentions of the speaker often determine the impact of the words. There once was a law professor who had the habit of mocking his students in the classroom. His intention wasn’t to harm but his manner was very convincing. He imagined that it would help hone the participants’ skills in formulating legal arguments. Instead, few and fewer students signed up for his classes. They were unable to distinguish his simulated mockery from spiteful intent.

Jesus was mocked with intention and vehemence. “…twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head…and kneeling before Him they mocked Him.”1 And again, “…the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him, saying ‘He saved others; He cannot save himself.’”2 Ridicule and mockery cause pain. They leave wounds. His detractors heaped scorn upon Him. Their goal was to completely destroy His credibility; to break His morale. They wanted the memory of Him and His legacy to be erased as soon as possible. He was a blasphemer in their eyes and a danger to the piety of the people. Yes, a threat to the piety of the people.

Remember now that we’re not merely observers musing on past historical events. We too, are the sinners Christ came to save. Jesus may indeed be a danger to your piety. If your standing before God is constructed on and maintained by your belief that your virtue or goodness, your generosity or devotion is praiseworthy in His sight, then you aren’t seeking the forgiveness that reconciles but the acclamation that isolates. The Scripture says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”3 If we sow to grow our egos we will reap the consequences of idolatry.

Christ is, in fact, the sworn opponent of every attempt to establish self-righteousness as meritorious before the Almighty. There are simply no concessions and no cooperations. The Lamb of God alone is worthy. Only His foot crushes the head of the Serpent. Only His arm shatters hell’s iron gates. Only His gentle touch embraces the fragile soul. Jesus is our righteousness before God, our holiness and redemption. We are deemed holy in His sight not because we are good even in the smallest measure, but in spite of the fact that we are self-serving to the core. The baptismal covenant made with you is valid not because you are deserving but because Christ is worthy. His body is given and His blood is shed for you in the sacrament not because you’ve earned the right but because He has made the sacrifice.

Every Lent we risk the age-old temptation of thinking it’s up to us to pull up our spiritual bootstraps. That we must put our noses to the grindstone and get our spiritual lives and our churches turned around. Dear friends, do not try to rob Christ of His glory. Do not try to pull Him off the cross while He still draws breath. The answer for an anemic church, for the body of Christ in any country or locality that is living off the capitol of the previous generation, is not the exhortation to try harder or do better. It’s not the threat of blame for the failure that seems to be looming. Appeals seeking to prod the sinful nature into action never have been and never will be the answer. The answer is not to presume to speak for God but to let the Spirit speak for Himself. The answer is the wounded Jesus for a wounded people.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”4Jesus knows what to do with wounded people. He knows how to handle scars. He received the deepest scars ever dealt and he still bears them. He was the target of assassination. Yet God prevented His untimely murder so that the public spectacle of the crucifixion might be a witness recorded for all to see and hear. His wounds are our refuge.

Christ was mocked so that you could hear those joyful words of God’s welcome, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”5 Lent isn’t an aimless journey. It has a destination. That destination isn’t so much a place as it is a presence. We are journeying to the presence of the Wounded One; the Risen One. In His presence, we have perfect health. Even human words are powerful. God’s words are a matter of life and death. All the damage done by sticks and stones…and words, will be undone. Jesus is for us the Word of Life. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Midweek Lent 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 27:29
2 Matthew 27:41-42
3 Galatians 6:7
4 Isaiah 53:3-4
5 Matthew 25:34

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth Sunday In Lent (A) 2017

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

Text: John 11:16
Theme: Life Journey

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jesus waited two more days. He commenced with His journey to attend to Lazarus (who was now dead) only after remaining where He was two days longer. He wasn’t hesitant. He wasn’t apathetic. He wasn’t too tired. He wanted the bitterness of death to fully sink in. He then crossed back over the Jordan not to attend a funeral, but to facilitate a resurrection. It would be a preview of the Parousia, His coming again in glory to “judge the living and the dead”1.

Life is a journey. It has many detours, obstacles and opportunities. Do you think about where you are going in life and how you plan to get there? Are you prepared to be re-routed why you take a wrong turn? Do you acknowledge that God has a bird’s-eye view of your journey? Jesus Himself will again journey to earth. When He does, what circumstances will He encounter? Christ will meet us in the candid reality of our daily routine. When Christ returns some of us will have terrible colds or the flu. Others will be dealing with terminal cancer or crippling illness. Some will be preparing for marriage and others will have just been wed. Some will be in labour and others will have just been born. Some people might be in prison (though hopefully none of you), though I might be there for preaching the gospel one day, an activity steadily moving towards the category of criminal offence. Still, that’s nothing new. Attempts were made to silence the early messengers of the truth too. “But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.”2 Disobedience to God’s will always takes us down the path of destruction. Lent reminds us that the way of repentance is the only safe road.

When Christ comes, some people will lie at the threshold of mortality. Before His glorious return, Jesus will not prewarn us so that we are "fast forwarded" through the trials or joys of life in order to be in a more suitable position to receive Him. He will meet us in the frailty of our humanity. He will meet us as Moses met the people of Israel when he came down from Mount Sinai. He will meet us as the host met those in attendance in Jesus' parable of the wedding banquet. Jesus will meet us as He meet the lepers, the blind, the lame, the scribes and Pharisees, and His own disciples. He will meet us at whatever point we are at on our journey. And that, of course, is precisely the point. Of course, in the world, there will be wars and conflicts, and contentions. The busyness, and opulence, and poverty will continue unabated. Utopia will never exist here. Jesus will bring it all to a dramatic halt. We will be eating, sleeping, working, and playing. It will be as in the days of Noah. No one will be unaffected. No one will be exempt.

Why need we spend so much time talking about what it will be like when Jesus meets us coming in His glory? Because our perspective on the future informs how we understand the present. Our worldview is not the myopic vision of unbelief. We are ambassadors in the service of our divine Monarch. Each day when we step out the door, we are continuing the journey of faith the Holy Spirit has gifted us with. In our own wrestling with sin, and selfishness, and doubt, we are used as God’s instruments to assist others in seeing that their journey is not one of futility or despair. We are companions in the Way.

Dear friends, the remarkable truth is that through your baptism you are already living in the reality of the everlasting kingdom. The Bible describes you an eschatological being, that is, a participant in the last things. You already partake of that food. The body and blood of Christ is immortal food. It is a heavenly meal for our pilgrimage to our heavenly home. You already have the Spirit. St. Paul says today, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”3 We have passed through the first resurrection in our journey to the final and eternal one.

You already have a place in heaven with Christ. Jesus told His disciples, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”4 Christ prepares that place for every believer. But the Scripture also speaks of it as a present reality saying that God, “raised us up with Him [Christ] and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”5 It is a present reality we're just not able to enjoy it yet.

Does that mean our journey here can be characterized by apathy? We are told to eagerly anticipate the Second Coming. We should do so not out of a defeatist attitude, as if we were giving up on life waiting to be zapped up to heaven. The Scriptures encourage us to be grounded and sensible. Paul talks about the dangers of idleness and the value of hard work. But we're also to walk by faith not by sight. We recognise that in the very midst of our daily routines Christ is drawing us towards Himself even as His imminent approach draws near. The risen Christ is the present Christ is the coming Christ.

It seemed in today’s situation Jesus wasn’t coming very quickly. Martha and Mary were perhaps expecting more urgency. Jesus waits, but He does not fail to act. He knows the consequence of sin must first do its work. What does the Scripture say? God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”6 The picture of repentance is constituted by the details but its validity is evidenced by the road one is traveling; the broad or the narrow. Though Thomas misunderstood Jesus’ journey to Lazarus his intention was to travel with Jesus, “Let us go also, that we may die with Him.”7

And that is the destination of faith’s journey: Death and resurrection with Christ. There is no eternity apart from the presence of Jesus. Think of the dry bones that are raised to life. Here Ezekiel is granted a vision of the power of Christ’s resurrection. Death collapses in His presence while fragile flesh is immortalized. “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”8

Don’t think though this is all other-worldly talk about inaccessible truths, that the journey of faith is somehow surreal or esoteric. The God’s gifts of life are dispensed here in real time and in this very space. The forgiveness you receive is not contingent on some future condition. You are forgiven, right here, right now. There are no conditions still to be met, nothing still unfinished that needs to be completed. God is as good as His word. Christ was crucified for you. He honours in heaven what He promises on earth. Recall the Small Catechism, "Confession has two parts: First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor, as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven."9 You are a cherished child of God. You are an honoured son. You are a treasured daughter. The blood of Christ washes every spot and stain from your soul. You are given a clean slate; a new lease on life.

Dear friends, Jesus Christ journeyed from heaven to earth to meet you at the baptismal font. It was as if He was coming to the tomb of Lazarus. He says to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”10 Death no longer holds any power over Christ. Therefore, it has no final authority over us. Surely it was one of the longest journeys ever taken, those few short steps from the grave of Lazarus to the vicinity of Jesus! After all, he was dead. We’re all traveling the same road. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday in Lent
2 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Nicene Creed
2 Acts 5:29
3 Romans 8:11
4John 14:2
5 Ephesians 2:6
62 Peter 3:9
7 John 11:16
8 1 Corinthians 15:54
9 Luther’s Small Catechism
10 John 11:25-26