Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ANZAC Day Address 2017

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus Christ, John 15:13
Not all trauma is meant to be documented. God alone has the tally. Humans have collected bits and pieces here and there; these personal remembrances of conflict. Our gracious God snatches away some of the most heart-rending memories for our own protection. He quickly smothers the terror like a mother cradling her baby, like a comrade falling on a grenade. It allows those who are still in the fray to cope, to carry on. And carry on they did, so that others could live securely.
They are not all numbered, but they shall not be forgotten. How many have been lost down through history? How many acts of sacrifice have gone unrecognized? How many heroic deeds were unrecorded; from Gallipoli to Kokoda, from Desert Storm back to the Somme? The bravery, the valor, the loyalty; these particulars were often known only among comrades. We are privy only to the details they chose to share. Danger unified them. Hope sustained them. Love galvanized them. They saw unspeakable horrors. They heard desperate cries. The stench of decay filled their nostrils. The taste of death clung to their lips. Their consciences carried aspirations of freedom. Their hearts bore the ideals of democracy. They fell so that our way of life could still stand.
The WWI diary of Archie Barwick records this entry from the 27th December 1916, it was a post-Christmas reflection, “A fellow has had many opportunities now of seeing the ravages caused by war. The throwing back of the [German] lines enables one to visit the ground that once was no man’s land…which remains in many instances littered with the debris of a series of long and terrible fights…the ground over which both sides are fighting is one vast cemetery, & as new trenches are cut bodies come out or form part of the walls. It is a gruesome place this Somme...”
And so it is in many of the theaters of war. We can scarcely imagine having as our residence a place with walls lined by the corpses of the slain! Yet, walled in by the dead, they fought for life. Captive to the conditions they fought for freedom. Lingering in dark shadows they trusted light would dawn on the horizon. The stability and privileges we enjoy in our society are the fruit of their sacrifices.
Not all details are remembered, but their sacrifice shall not be forgotten. God alone has the tally. We shall never be privy to the scope of experience the participants of war endure; their suffering, their grief, their glory. Empathy is beyond our capacity, but gratitude is vital for mentoring the next generation. Sacrifice wasted in the present darkens future prospects.
Wars and conflicts seem never to cease. It is the way of a fallen world. A measure of peace is maintained by vigilance. Liberty is guarded by careful investment in shared values and common goals. There is a cost. These are never a given, always a gift. Human strength has its limits. There is always striving, always failing, always hoping. But the cosmic war has already been won. There is no greater love than the sacrifice made by Him who is the Prince of Peace. The Son of God laid down His life for friends and enemies alike. His love cannot be conquered. It cannot be defeated. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), no one else did, no one else can. In spite of all human treachery, Life prevails. In the midst of our darkness, He is light. He knows the scars of warriors. He knows the scars of nations. He knows those hidden scars never disclosed. His own scars tell the story of death and of life.
Today we remember the fallen and those details of their sacrifice which God permits. We commend the rest to His keeping. May the Almighty, for the sake of His Son, grant us the courage to use our freedom wisely, the ability to defend it safely, and the generosity to extend it to others.

Pastor Darrin Kohrt, Concordia & Outlying Lutheran Congregations

Second Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

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

Text: John 20:23
Theme: The Mandate of Forgiveness

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

The news reached the eleven disciples before Jesus Himself did. First, He walked the road to Emmaus. The disciples, meanwhile, had a few more hours to collect their thoughts before seeing Jesus face to face. Imagine the shame and regret they struggled through! They had abandoned Him in His hour of need. How would He respond to them now? Would He rebuke them? The disciples were huddled together with the doors locked. The risen Christ passed right through the locked doors into their presence. He greeted them with peace. What a weight was lifted from them! The risen Christ holds no grudges.

Thomas was not present that first Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared. His refusal to believe the others has been the focus of many sermons throughout the ages. He had to witness the scars firsthand. Jesus was risen. He still is. In response, Jesus commends the work of the Spirit. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”1 The Holy Spirit grants such faith to us “Thomases”, who believe on the testimony of many witnesses, though we don’t feel the scars. Still, we taste, touch, and see His body and blood in Holy Communion.

But more happened in those first reunions than just dispelling the doubt of Thomas. Jesus immediately began to prepare the apostles to be sent out into the world. He would charge them with an awesome responsibility. The crux of the matter is stated like this by Jesus, “If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven: if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”2 He had taught them this before. In the preaching of God’s word unrepentant sinners must be warned their guilt remains unresolved before God, and repentant sinners but be assured, beyond doubt that their sins are forgiven. Christ established the Office of the Ministry for just this purpose.

God is in the business of forgiveness. Humans prefer the commerce of sin. The fact that we don’t see eye to eye on these matters necessitated the coming of Christ end encompasses the whole purpose of the Scriptures. The misunderstanding of sin is a condition of original sin. A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said, "Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness from sin?" There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. "Sin," he said. Dear friends, we are often like the small boy than we’d like to admit. We easily suppose we have no serious sins that need to be dealt with. Those who don’t believe they are seek will not seek a doctor. Those who do not believe they are sinners will not seek a Saviour.

Dear friends, Jesus had said earlier to His followers, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, - and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him.”3 And do you know how the apostles responded to that? The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"4 They understood immediately how difficult and treacherous this business of forgiveness is. They knew, from experience, like we all do, that it is no easy thing. Remember, forgiveness is never earned. If we are waiting for the other person to merit forgiveness, then we really want is satisfaction or revenge. Forgiveness is always an extension of undeserved grace. God has extended it to us in Christ. We couldn't earn it from Him in a thousand lifetimes. But Jesus acquired it with the selfless giving up of His own life.

When human capacity reaches its limits- the ability to forgive or to turn the other cheek is exhausted- it's then that Christ carries us. It's then that the cross becomes real. It’s then that the rubber meets the road in baptismal living. When we stop looking for solutions that are really nothing more than veiled negotiations to get our own way, it's then that the love of Christ must do what no human effort or ingenuity can do. Reconciliation with those who have sinned against us is not easy. It mirrors the reconciliation between God and humans; that required holy blood to be shed. So, what is required for broken relationships that need to be mended? Well, more of the same. It requires the Holy Spirit, who convicts consciences and softens hardened hearts.

Acting like a doormat doesn’t mean forgiveness has been received or reconciliation has occurred. Denial doesn’t mean forgiveness has been received or reconciliation has occurred. Claiming victory or admitting defeat doesn’t mean forgiveness has been received or reconciliation has occurred. Forgiveness is not about winning, or dominating, or giving up. It is about believing what God has done for us in Christ and trusting it is valid also for our relationships with others.

The joy and struggle of forgiveness should be central to our prayer life, just as it sits right in the middle of the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”5 What does this mean? “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, not have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace…so we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”6

And indeed, He does not deny us His grace because the atonement was already accomplished at the cross. The cross is not merely one illustration of sacrifice in competition with others. The crucifixion is the defining event of God's self-disclosure. In it we see who God really is. It is the one necessary redeeming event. The Bible says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.”7 And again, “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”8 The work is completed. The job is finished. We gather now, as we do every Lord's day, not to attempt again what Christ has already done, but to benefit from His perfect accomplishment.

We cannot truly forgive unless we believe we have been forgiven. The power is above and beyond us. Yes, we can forgive those things which we have already decided didn't really offend us. We've moved on and the relationship isn't compromised. But it's another story when the effect of the offence alters our attitude towards the person. We recognise the resentment lodged deep in the heart but our feelings cannot overcome it. We may know the person is genuinely sorry, but we still want them to feel our pain. At these times forgiveness relies on the truth of God's promise. We believe that Christ will resolve all imbalances and inconsistencies. His sacrifice was the atonement for all the injustices humans have perpetrated against one another. It doesn't mean our hearts will suddenly be at peace about something that hurt us deeply. Scars remain. Memories linger. But it does mean we can go forward leaving it in God's hands. We can treat the person as if the past has been forgotten.

Leaving the past behind is part of our Easter joy. The new life we have in baptism originates with the resurrected Jesus and is sustained only through Him. The Holy Spirit continually renews us in our baptism every time His forgiveness is received. That doesn’t mean we sit back apathetically and reflect on God’s blessings to us in the past (though we should always be reflecting on His blessings), it means we face each day renewed and equipped to mirror Christ’s love to others. We may be a dim reflection: We leave the perfect clarity to Him. He still bears the scars. Amen.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Easter
23 April, 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 20:29
2 John 20:23
3 Luke 17:3-4
4 Luke 17:5
5 Luke 11:4
6 Luther’s Small Catechism
7 Hebrews 10:12
8Hebrews 9:26

Funeral of Greg O'Neill, April 21, 2017

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

Text: 1 John 1:7
Theme: Cleansed By His Blood

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Greg, and especially you Bill, his brother;

God puts an end to suffering. Why God permits certain traumas, at particular times, to trouble specific people… we do not know. A conversation with Job might give us more insight. Faith must venture where reason cannot go. Greg, of course, wouldn’t have complained overly much about what he endured. What matters now is that he has been released from every burden of mind and body. The curse of sin and all of its consequences has been broken. His soul has been received into the majestic, peaceful, and awesome presence of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Greg celebrates Easter with a joy that we cannot even imagine. He is free. He is home.

The accident that put Greg in a wheel chair radically changed his life but also gave him an entirely new perspective on those things which are most meaningful. Tragedy has a way of sorting out the trivial from the essential. We know how facing mortality through illness or accident quickly sobers us in evaluating our priorities. Greg understood the essentials better than most. He didn’t give up or give in. He didn’t check out of life or become a recluse wallowing in self-pity. He pursued a vocation that made good use of his mind. He was a blessing to others and a benefit to society.

Greg was a nimble conversationalist. The restrictions on his body left no impairment on his mind. He was able to converse intelligently and gracefully about everything from politics to religion to the popular trends of culture. Greg had a sharp wit and a clever sense of humor that carried carefully nuanced tones of sarcasm. His jovialness and positivity in the face of struggle was an inspiration to many. He persevered through long stays in the hospital and was always dependent on others.

Just as damage to his body did not restrict his mind, so too, it did not finally compromise his faith. Oh yes, questions were asked of God. Soul-searching was done. Intense emotions were worked through. We should not imagine that we can empathize with what Greg endured. We don’t know what darkness he faced or what regrets he had. But we do know that, by the mercy of God, he emerged with a vibrant, measured, and articulate faith. Greg knew the Scriptures and that meant he knew the One of whom the Scriptures speak. He knew the Saviour who shed His blood for the atonement for sins. Greg treasured that sacrifice.

Two of Greg’s favourite hymns, ones included in our celebration today, emphasize the forgiveness of sins that comes only by the shedding of Christ’s blood. The crux of the matter is expressed by the Apostle John, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”1Did Greg believe he needed cleansing from his sins? Yes, he knew that no one can enter into the presence of the Father on his own merits. He knew that the tragedy that crippled him didn’t make him a pity-case, an exception due to circumstances. Forsaking all notions of our own worthiness and placing ourselves completely at the mercy of Christ is the only way to God’s favour. Sin cannot be excused, denied, or negotiated. It can only be repented of. Salvation is by grace, through faith. There is no other way.

I’ve spoken to few people that understood the meaning of their baptism as well as Greg did. Baptism is the entry point of the Holy Spirit into a believer’s life. Baptism is the divine covenant which conveys an eternal inheritance. Greg was a conveyancer and he understood how the transfer of important things took place. Greg was attentive to the important things of God, receiving the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood regularly, meditating on His word; witnessing to His truth. And he was not remiss in His prayers.

Greg’s prayers have been answered. For us, there’s grieving left to be done. It’s not something to be made light of, avoided, or denied. Sorrow over death is a particular reflection of the divine image. God did not create death or intend it. In justice, He wields it as a punishment for sin. But death has no final power over His saints. Therefore, the Scripture says, “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.”2

In the end, Greg’s body was riddled with cancer. But in relation to Christ’s power to raise the dead that’s neither here nor there. It’s a small matter. We are all riddled with the cancer of sin. It permeates our existence. Yet, it is for the believer, only a temporary affliction. The Scriptures says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”3 Greg’s body will be restored in the great day of the resurrection. Then will come to pass the promise of Isaiah, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer.”4 Imagine Greg’s joy when he is again able to leap like a deer, or should we say, a kangaroo!

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies.”5Greg is celebrating Easter: Life! Life with no encumbrances of sin; unmediated enjoyment of God’s presence. Thanks be to God!

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Greg O’Neill
21 April 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 John 1:7
2 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
3 Philippians 3:20-21
4 Isaiah 35:5-6
5 John 11:25