Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Christian Burial of Dean Braun (April 10, 2017)

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

Text: John 14:2-3
Theme: Divinely Prepared

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Dean, especially you, his children; David, Keith, Trevor, Peter, Kay, Christine, Leon, Tricia,

The summons of God is not negotiable. When the days ordained for us have been fulfilled, the Almighty requires the presence of His servants. There are no proxies. Dean Braun was ready. He was prepared. He was well and truly looking forward to having the weight of mortality lifted. Life had become unpalatable and without much pleasure. Not that Dean was complaining. He was too self-disciplined and content for that. God’s timing would suffice. He was patiently waiting for the Lord to receive him.

We shouldn’t assume, of course, that the devil didn’t get his jabs in. As the time grows short, Satan gets desperate. He throws the sins of our past in our face. He fabricates a specter of doubt saying, “Can you really be at peace with what you have done? Remember this! Remember that! Why did you! How could you!” The devil plays upon the natural fear people have of the unknown, something that becomes more intense as death draws near. These things are not child’s play. Even the strongest Christians are not exempt.

Remember, twelve men who were with Jesus day and night for three years still had doubt. And what does the Lord say to them? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.”1 He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”2 Satan’s strategy is fatally flawed. The guilt of sin has been removed for all who believe. The devil’s claims me nothing.

Dear friends, you have heard the Scripture, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you.”3 Dean Braun is now a possessor of that inheritance. He has passed through the gates. He did so the only way possible, by grace. Until the sacrifice of the Son of God was completed the door of heaven remained shut. The holy God does not tolerate any corruption of the goodness He originally created. Sin is incompatible with God’s being and therefore sinners in and of themselves are barred from His presence. Hell is nothing more, but nothing less than being locked out of God’s gracious presence forever.

Dean’s soul is in the presence of Christ not because God recognized his cordiality, his productivity, or his humility. Dean has passed into the profound joy and peace of eternity because Christ possessed the only virtue that was acceptable: His very life given in sacrifice. The transition into heaven isn’t a given. The way had to be prepared. Dean clung to the truth of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and ascended for us and for our salvation. Dear friends, if we believe that God sanctions or requires even the smallest measure of worthiness on our part to qualify us for heaven, then the gospel is no longer good news but a new articulation of the law. Furthermore, if we think that we can impress God is any way then we do not really understand sin. In and of ourselves we are condemned. In Christ, we are redeemed. Hold fast to His promise!

Dean’s capacity as a younger man to work and provide for his family was exceptional. He toiled tirelessly, but willingly for the wellbeing of others. And the Lord blessed him mightily. God once said to Abraham, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”4 Apparently, Joyce and Dean thought God was talking to them too! And, indeed He was! Look at their descendants gathered here! Dean fathered eight children, was grandfather to 27 grandchildren, great-grandfather to 30 of the next generation, with more on the way. That might not be exceptional by biblical standards but it’s pretty impressive by today’s measure. Few are keeping pace.

But Dean doesn’t have to provide any longer. He doesn’t have to do the milk run, split Mallee stumps the size of human heads, or discipline the children. More importantly, his heart and conscience are at ease. He has no regrets, no anxieties, no worries about future problems. And Dean has not taken on the role of a guardian angel. His time is not being occupied by watching over the family or fretting about how they are. Heaven is a tad bit more riveting than that. Nothing even remotely trivial will distract from the mesmerizing attention the majesty of the Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit requires.

In heaven, we will be manifestly content. That’s something the maturing Christian learns already in this life. St. Paul once said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”5 Dean learned the same wisdom. Not one to complain he took most things in stride. He left things in God’s hands. He knew where strength, and hope, and forgiveness were found. Dean didn’t fit church into his life when it suited, when he wasn’t too busy, or when he felt like going. Dean was in God’s house because that’s where he believed he should be. There was nothing, forced, artificial, or self-serving about it. He understood that to absent oneself from God’s blessings was to be foolishly deprived. Dean’s presence in church was always characterized by dignity and modesty. He was a churchman of the highest integrity.

So today we give thanks even in the midst of our grief. And we carry no false hopes about God’s intentions. Paul once wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.”6 Dear friends, to grieve without hope is to feel the bitterness of separation without the expectation of reunion. It is to concede that the coldness of death is the final reality. Left to our own devices it is the conclusion we always reach. Death is a burden that is too heavy for us to bear alone. The Holy Spirit understands that. He reminds us of the empty tomb. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid…I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”7

Dean enjoyed a full, and active, and blessed earthly. And during that life he was being prepared for even more important things. Think what an instant our time here is, whether we live one year or hundred, in comparison to eternity! Dean didn’t quite make it to his 89th birthday, but he achieved something far more important, he made it home for Easter. He has profound peace and unknowable joy. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Dean Leslie Braun
10 March 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 14:1-2
2 John 14:27
3 1 Peter 1:3-4
4 Genesis 22:17
5 Philippians 4:12
6 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
7 Revelation 1:17-18

Monday, April 10, 2017

PALM Sunday (A) 2017

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

Text: Matthew 21:10
Theme: The Storm Before the Calm

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The cry was, “Hosanna!” It was an exclamation of hope, praise, and expectation. It was also a plea; an appeal for deliverance. “Lord, save!” The burden had become too great. Their hosannas were directed to the right person but mostly for the wrong reasons. This man would change the world, but much more radically than they imagined. Palm Sunday was the storm before the calm. By Friday the followers had fled and the silence of death blanketed the scene. False hopes were dashed, but new beginnings awaited. Jesus, the Christ, would make good on the prophetic promise. Salvation would be achieved.

The constancy of Christ while running the gauntlet of Holy Week stands in sharp contrast to human frailty. Human beings are fickle, capricious; erratic. We change our minds and our moods. Sometimes we don’t even know why, other times our reasons are not very good. Our inconsistencies are a cause of tension, conflict, pain and confusion. But Christ is trustworthy without exception. That doesn’t mean He wasn’t under duress. His suffering was not a game.

Christ faced all the temptations common to the human race. His humanity is not a sham. He did not yield to sin. His perfect obedience secured our perfect righteousness. His sacrificial death opened for us the gates to eternal life. You are accounted holy before God because the Father looks at you through the work of His Son. Believers are grafted into Christ like the branch into the vine, they gathered like the lost sheep into the flock, they are fitted like living stones into the temple of the living God. You are fitted, you are gathered, you are grafted. You are His baptized. He has washed you clean.

Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, not a stallion. He did that as a sign of humility, as a bearer of peace. He was the promised Messiah they had long-waited for. He did come to free His people, not from the oppression of the Romans, but from the bondage to sin. He freed them to serve others without fear of failing to gain God’s favour. Dear friends, it’s impossible to joyfully sacrifice yourself for others if you believe you need to invest most of your effort in gaining merit before God. But we live in and through Christ.

You are called do what is impossible for you, alone, to do: Love your neighbour from a pure motive. But Christ has done it. You must refrain from doing what is impossible for you to actually refrain from: Pursuing selfish ambition. But Christ has done it. These are the blessed paradoxes of the baptismal life. In and of ourselves we are still sinners. In Christ we are holy and pure. When exposed to the light of God's law we are guilty. When sheltered by the shadow of the cross we are free from all accusation. In regards to His Bride, the church, the Scripture says, “…having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”1 For the believer in Christ every command of God has already been fulfilled. Jesus is our substitute in all things.

Does that mean that we are engaged in some sort of spiritual mind game here, or that the commands or God's law no longer apply to believers? Certainly not! The law is good, and righteous, and holy. God’s commands are for our well-being and the good of our neighbours. We should understand clearly that God is serious about punishing those who transgress His commands. God gives us freedom but we can’t construct moral parameters based on our own opinions or define truth based on our own ideas. If recognition of our shortcomings doesn’t drive us back to Christ for mercy, then self-righteousness (whether we are even conscious of it or not) has commandeered our spiritual lives. Self-righteousness is a kissing cousin to lawlessness. Both are symptomatic of estrangement from God.

But, dear friends, we should also know that following the law will never gain God's favour. Genuine obedience is motivated by the Holy Spirit. The Scripture says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”2 We are ever, and always, and only saved by grace. The unmerited mercy of God is our refuge and hope. And, indeed, it is a hope that does not fail us. It is sealed by the death and resurrection of God's Son. He lives now to intercede for us before the Father. He lives now to commend the Spirit to His work. He lives now that we might have future life with Him. This life is no longer a burden but a privilege. That’s why the apostle could say today, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who…humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”3

What a remarkable privilege it is to be a beacon of light for someone whose life is shrouded in darkness! What a blessing to be the presence of peace in the life of someone dwelling in chaos! What a liberty to speak the truth to those immersed in falsehood! We know such people and we know that we are among them. Many such opportunities will seem rather mundane, people struggling to cope with the daily challenges of life, hardly exciting or dramatic, but people's lives are changed by one act of love at a time. We have no power to change anyone, but God transform darkness into light.

The first Palm Sunday was filled with excitement. Hopes were high. Palms were brandished. Possibilities were revitalized. This Messiah had captured the popular imagination. He was riding the wave of positive sentiment created by His tender care of the people, His resilience in the face of His opponents, and the undeniable power He had over sickness, sin, and the forces of nature. The cries of “Hosanna!” were not mislaid. Yet, He Himself knew that the excitement would soon collapse under the weight of the looming crucifixion. It was the storm before the calm. The commotion of Sunday would give way to the exhaustion of Good Friday.

Yet, the pleas of “Hosanna!” did not go unfulfilled. The Son of God would rise victoriously on the third day. He did not give immediate deliverance from Roman rule, He gave eternal redemption from sin, death, and Satan’s power. As the apostle says, God “is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”4 God answers our cries of hosanna. Baptism is an answer to the cry of Hosanna. Holy Communion is an answer to the cry of Hosanna. The body and blood of Christ imparts to you the power and presence of Christ. It extends forgiveness to you. It strengthens your faith. It puts your conscience at rest. It fills you with hope.

Absolution is also an answer to the same plea, “Lord, save!” God never lets our petitions go unanswered. He knows exactly what support we really need and when we need it. The Holy Spirit doesn’t mollycoddle us but leads us onto maturity in Christ. That path leads through the cross and empty tomb. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the hightest!”5 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Palm Sunday
9 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Ephesians 5:26-27
2 Philippians 2:13
3 Philippians 2:5-6, 8
4 Ephesians 3:20
5 Matthew 21:9