Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Resurrection of Our Lord 2017

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

Text: Matthew 28:8
Theme: Still Giving Life

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

The Marys were the first. They came at dawn with hearts full of darkness. They pondered the meaning of His death and the apparent failure of His mission. Their hope was low, or even lost. But at the place where the dead are housed they met the Creator of Life. And the Light of the World quickly dispelled their darkness. Jesus was risen. Death had been defeated. Reconciliation had been accomplished. The condemnation of sin would no longer estrange sinners from God. They saw the risen Lord with their own eyes and we now enter into their joy with the eyes of faith. The Bridegroom has returned to us. The Shepherd has come back.

Celebrations were tempered and erratic at first. The truth of His resurrection didn’t immediately sink in. As if in a stupor, they struggled to come to terms with the facts. Pentecost was still 50 days off. Yet, the risen flesh and blood Jesus met the test of tangibility. The women clung to Him. The disciples ate with Him. Thomas felt the very scars where the nails were driven and the spear had pierced. He was real. He was living.

Dear friends, Christianity lives or dies by the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Without the resurrection, the crucifixion remains a tragedy, only a heroic event of martyrdom that has no lasting consequence beyond the ability to inspire awe and imitation in successive generations. Moreover, Christianity as a whole collapses into a human oriented religion whose main purpose becomes easing the suffering of this life. That’s a noble task in and of itself, but without the fact of the resurrection nobody can be promised the true well-being that only comes with “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”1

The message is not always palatable to a skeptical society. We have been schooled in empirical validation for some time now. If we can’t see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, or taste it, is it real? In Jesus’ day, the theological liberals were the Sadducees. They did not believe in the resurrection or in angels. The Pharisees were much more conservative. They believed that God would raise the dead as He had promised already in the Old Testament. The same thing is still evidenced today. Many liberal biblical scholars do not believe in the supernatural, including heaven, hell, and Satan; or Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This leads to a spiritual crisis of the greatest proportions. The specificity of Christ and His work of redemption are replaced by a God of providence, a higher power who exists, but of whom we know very little about His intentions. From this perspective, there is no blood sacrifice, no appeasement of divine wrath, no victory over Satan.

Anemic understandings of the Christian message are nothing new. The apostle Paul took up a defence of Christ’s work with the Christians in Corinth in this way, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”2

Our faith is not a composition of human opinions. If it is, we’d best move on! In Christ hope is never lost. Consider the example of a devout Christian woman whose husband was a hardened atheist. For forty years, this woman prayed fervently for his conversion but with no results. He steadfastly resisted any consideration of the facts about Christ, the reality of sin, or the existence of God. Late in life the woman became ill and was confined to her bed for an extended period of time. It became too difficult for her to read. Her only request was that her husband read to her from the Bible as he attended her bedside. It was simply a part of her daily routine. This he agreed to do for her sake only. Shortly before she died she had the joy of seeing him baptized and become an active member of the congregation. Her lifelong prayer was answered in the 11th hour.

Today we celebrate the victory of Christ over death. In doing so we celebrate our status as the baptized people of God. The Scripture says, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”3 We are raised with Christ already now spiritually. Our second resurrection will involve the restoration of body and soul for eternity.

Knowing the future promised to us, Holy Spirit changes our perspective on the present. You may think your life involves drudgery, hardship, or tragedy. Your hope may be razor thin that certain things in your life will ever be realized, reconciled, or resolved. You might be physically frail, emotionally fatigued, or psychologically damaged. You may suffer from too little self-esteem or too much ego. You may feel you’ve been deceived or treated unfairly. Or you might be accused of the deception or unfairness. You might be driven by ambition, by anger, by sympathy, or complex mixture of many other motives. If so, take heart, you are no different than the average sinner.

And you are not alone, you are part of the church. Jesus sent the women to go and tell. He then sent the apostles saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”4 The result is this remarkable reality; this gathering of sinners deemed to be saints in the sight of the holy God: The church. No earthly organization compares. The dimensions of this holy fellowship are not limited by time or space. The Holy Spirit draws us. The mystery of the crucified and risen Christ binds us together. Here at this footstool of God was are gathered at the threshold of the throne. Here earth convenes with heaven. Here we participate in sacred blessings.

Here personal agendas are laid aside. Here egos are checked at the door. Here opinions are abandoned and truth is exalted. Here Christ invites us battled-hardened and weary sinners to enjoy rest. Here Christ feeds our souls with the sacred meal of His body and blood. Here is the assembly of those who are promised a baptismal inheritance. Here we gather at the Jordan peering into the Promised Land. Here the sheep of the flock are kept safely in His fold. Here we raise our alleluias and they are joined with “angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.”5

Dear friends, Christians should labour under no misunderstandings about the truths we hold sacred. The current public climate of our society is becoming increasingly hostile. It’s critical that we know what and who our true enemies are lest we be distracted by the trivial things in life and the temptations of the world. The guilt of sin, the cleverness of Satan, and the inevitableness of death cannot be resolved in any measure by our abilities. Left on our own our prospects in this life are difficult enough (God allows wickedness to prosper for a time), but at the time of death we would be utterly doomed, estranged from God.

But Christ has all these things in hand. He says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”6 And again, “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.”7 Nothing more important can ever be said or accomplished. These truths are why we celebrate today. Amen.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Resurrection of our Lord
16 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Nicene Creed
2 1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 17-19
3 Romans 6:3-4
4 Matthew 28:19-20
5 LH, p16
6 Revelation 1:17-18
7 John 11:25-26

Good Friday 2017

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

Text: John 19:6
Theme: No Guilt, Still Condemned

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Crucifixions were not unusual events. Death by this horrendous method of torture was standard punishment for the condemned. Jesus did not merit special consideration when it came to His method of execution. Common thieves shared His fate on Calvary. But this crucifixion had a different meaning and a different ending. Pilate sought to wash his hands of the matter saying, “I find no guilt in Him,”1 still, he handed Jesus over to be crucified. The great exchange of guilt was about to occur and the cross was the facility for the transaction.

We can reasonably speculate that some people became somewhat numb from witnessing crucifixions just as we become desensitized to violence by watching too much on TV. Nonetheless, the stomach-turning nature of it undoubtedly had the desired effect of deterring those planning to transgress the authorities. The earliest symbol of Christianity was the fish, not the cross. This may reveal the sensitivity of proximity the early Christians had. Nevertheless, Paul said all that really need to be said when he wrote to the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”2

The crucifixion brings clarity. In no other way can sinners be absolved than by receiving the forgiveness which has its source there. We worship a bleeding, dying Saviour. The specificity of what we recognize today should not escape our notice. The belief that humanity considered corporately, or that life considered compositely, is the essence or power of the divine, the very definition of God, is an ancient pagan idea. The deification of nature or the collective life force of all living things characterizes some human attempts explain the mysteries of existence. But the belief that one individual man is God, that is Christianity. In seeing Jesus, we see God. God is everywhere but we only have access to Him where He wills to be. He willed to be present among us in the flesh and blood person of Jesus, the Christ.

Christ was sacrificed to resolve the guilt of sin. That’s where the rubber meets the road for us. Humans are complex composites of self-awareness and myopathy. We are full of self-contradiction. On the one hand, we know what temptations we are vulnerable to. We know our public sins that shame us and private sins that embarrass us. We know those sins we desperately want to justify so that we don’t have to give them up. We can call it intuition, which the Bible teaches us is simply the proper functioning of our conscience as it responds to God’s law. We bear the image of the Creator and we have a sense of when we are tarnishing it. The Scripture talks about unbelievers “who do not have the law, [yet] do by nature things required by the law…they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.”3 Therefore, no one is excused.

On the other hand, we can be so short-sighted, narrow-minded, arrogant, and ignorant that we don’t even realize we are sinning. We might habitually hurt others and not have a clue. We might be so biased and out of touch we don’t even know we are falling under God’s condemnation. Furthermore, we may be puffed in self-righteousness, actually believing our sins are blessings to ourselves and others. The apostle Paul says, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.”4 And David pleas to the Lord, “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.”5

Public or private the Scriptures tell us this matter of our sin must be resolved and we are directed to the Crucified One. Therefore, we pray the Holy Spirit would fill us with a trust that we cannot muster on our own. After all, it’s a tall order to believe that this single act is the source of divine pardon. But, dear friends, the only people that don’t have some sort of faith, some type of trust, some manner of confidence are those who are in complete despair or utter confusion. Some believe science will provide all the answers, others trust that everyone will “go to a better place”, some think they have no sins to be forgiven, while still others think people just simply cease to exist when they die. But, all of these positions express some belief about what will happen when mortality is realized. Atheists also have beliefs, they just don’t have faith in God.

The message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not parochial. It’s not met for a certain people of a specific time or place. It never becomes obsolete. People are always looking for God. Any god they find that didn’t get hung on a cross is an idol. That’s a radical message. It allows no competitors. It is offensive to some, not sensible to others. Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”6 Some think it’s outrageous that the Father would require the blood of His own Son. Others prefer to go their own way without any help from God at all.

Isaiah asks, “Who has believed our message?”7 The message is a tough sell today too. What about the pre-flood era? Was Noah a poor preacher? He preached for 100 years and didn’t have a single convert. What about Elijah and his near-despair about people’s rejection of God? Jesus Himself says that before He returns the love of many will grow cold and He asks rhetorically whether He will find faith on the earth. These are sobering things to ponder.

It's hard to imagine how personally hurtful the sins committed against Jesus leading up to His crucifixion were. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. The rest of the disciples forsook Him and fled. The soldiers mocked Him. Pilate washed his hands of the whole matter. Both thieves He shared the Skull with even ridiculed Him at first. Still, He persevered. At the death of Jesus, the whole creation convulses and recoils. Darkness descends at midday and tremors rattle the earth. More importantly, the curtain of the temple is rent in two and some believers are raised from their graves. It was a preview of the great day of judgment and resurrection.

In the crucifixion, we see the very heart of God. Abject humility, supreme sacrifice, perfect obedience illustrate not only the ideals but the necessities for atonement. A sinless Son of God was required to pardon sinners. No half-way measures would do. No mediocre efforts would suffice. You are baptized into this death. You are fed with divine food supplied by the table of the cross.

There hangs Jesus, the Son of God, from the cross. He hangs there so that we can stand in the assembly of the righteous. He hangs in darkness so we can enjoy divine light. He gasps for air so that we can breathe easily. He bows His head so that we can dare to lift our necks and behold the very face of God. He succumbs to death that we might have life. Now is the hour of the power of darkness, but the light of the resurrection will soon pierce the horizon. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Good Friday
14 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 19:6
2 1 Corinthians 2:2
3 Romans 2:14-15
4 Romans 7:7
5 Psalm 19:12
6 1 Corinthians 1:23
7 Isaiah 53:1
8 Romans 7:7

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Maundy Thursday

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

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:26
Theme: The Testament of Love

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Life is in the blood. Drain the blood and you drain the life. It was no coincidence that God designated blood for the ratification of covenants. Life is precious, holy, and sacred to God. It is not simply a reflection of His goodness; humans are made in His image. People are a reflection of the Almighty God. He created us to be in fellowship with Him. Tragically, our first parents decided to go their own way and we have all inherited their self-centeredness. Restoration with God only happens through the forgiveness earned through blood: The blood of Christ.

Undoubtedly, a knife would have been required to cut the tension in the Upper Room. Jesus had gathered His disciples to celebrate the Passover meal. But the devil had gotten to Judas and Peter would make the bold and foolish promise not to deny Jesus. Hearts would be tested. Motives would be weighed. Agendas would be revealed, exalted, and shattered. In the complexity of these dynamics Jesus would institute His covenant of love: The Lord’s Supper. The rituals and customs of the Passover celebration would be superseded and replaced by the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ given to believers for their forgiveness, life, and salvation.

What Jesus does in the Upper Room is radical. The average Jew would have considered it blasphemous, idolatrous. Through Moses God had restricted the consumption of blood. Yet, Jesus supersedes the celebration of the Passover and brings it to its true fulfillment. With the bread He offers His own body. With the wine He offers His own blood. His followers were commanded to consume these gifts for the forgiveness of their sins. Previously the blood of sacrificial animals was shed and offered to God, but never ever consumed.

Why? Because God accepted the blood of the animal, and thus the life, as a substitute for that of the sinner. People didn’t consume the blood, God did. The debt of sin requires the forfeiture of life. God received the payment in lieu of. But now, Jesus, the Lamb of God, would forfeit His own life on behalf of all others, thus clearing the debt of others. Only His blood could accomplish what no animal sacrifice could do, appease the divine wrath, and renew the life of the sinner through its consumption.

The hours that were ahead of Christ on that Thursday of the first Holy Week were filled with pure torture. Yet, He had the presence of mind and willpower to gift His church with this blessing. Jesus Christ was not the bringer of novelty, He was the revealer of mysteries. He didn’t institute arbitrary or obscure requirements to burden His people. He brought to clarity and completion everything spoken beforehand about His saving work. Circumcision was surpassed by baptism. The need for animal sacrifice was made obsolete by Jesus’ own death. Previously, the blood, though very real, was only a type of a greater reality to come. What does the Scripture say, “The blood of goats and bulls…sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”1

What does it mean to have the conscience cleansed? It means Christ has reconciled us to the heavenly Father. It means we can be completely assured that the countenance of God is favorable towards us. It means the devil’s accusations need no longer trouble us. It means we can go about our daily tasks confident we are doing God’s will. It means we can be forgiving towards others because we know that God has forgiven us.

Receiving the sacrament requires faith, and nothing more. It is the only thing necessary in order to partake worthily. “Who receives the sacrament worthily? That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”2 The sole requirement of faith may sound like an easy thing. But we’re not talking about faith as a generality, a positive vibe, or the sentiment of good will. Rather, the Spirit-given faith that specifically trusts the promise of the crucified Christ offered in His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Such faith desires the gift that God offers. Such faith acknowledges that the sinner is lost apart from the mercy of God. This faith is no easy thing, it is a divine gift. What about being repentant, sorry for our sins? Yes, that must exist for biblical faith to be real and not a sham. The unrepentant, and thus unbelieving person will not receive forgiveness in the sacrament but judgment. No one can benefit from that which they reject.

God intends that the regularity of the Christian life should revolve around the word and sacraments. Holy Communion is in the centre of the hub. It is necessary to nourish our bodies with physical food. So, too, our faith must be fed. From His altar, an altar raised from the sacrifice of His crucifixion and triumph of His resurrection, we receive the food of immortality. In the tangible-ness of bread and wine the Spirit has promised to communicate to us the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Through it our relationship with God is renewed and our relationships with other believers is strengthened.

Our participation in this liturgical assembly together sets the tone for our weekly routine. We live in the left hand kingdom as agents of the kingdom of light. We spend the week out there in the world but we are not of the world. That doesn’t mean we are imposters. We are citizens also, in the secular realm. But we are pilgrims. We are guests. This world is not our permanent or final home. Together we pray for the wellbeing of the church and the world. As we do so tonight we are mindful of the Christians in Egypt whose churches were bombed during Palm Sunday services. It was to Egypt that our Lord fled for safety when He was an infant. But He returned to Jerusalem so that He might be offered in sacrifice, rise from death and open the gates of heaven for us. He blesses us now and prepares us for His return in glory. Take and eat, take and drink…His forgiveness is yours. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Maundy Thursday
13 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 9:13-14
2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 Philippians 2:5-6, 8
4 Ephesians 3:20