Monday, October 1, 2018

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: Esther
Theme: God of Providence

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is not remote. His ways are largely hidden to our natural senses. But He is not absent from any aspect of our lives. He not only provides for the daily needs of the body, He also secures our eternal future. Often, we attribute the causes behind events to planning, or chance or accident. But really, God is at work providentially. Today’s Scripture from Esther offers a fine example to consider. Esther had an exceptional vocation. She was an orphan Israelite girl, who by the providence of God, became the queen of the Medes and Persians.

What does the providential work of God look like? Is it visible to our eyes? We still use and hear the phrase “God willing.” Is that an expression of our deeply held convictions or more of an expression of wishful thinking? Do we believe God is always at work whether He is acknowledged or not? God’s providential work is as tangible as the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the clothes we wear.

The providence of God is His active foresight, supervision, and governance of the activities of life that result in certain outcomes. The notion applies cosmically and locally. The sun does not continue to shine apart from the providence of God nor does rain fall on the local crops. The same truth pertains to human affairs. Nations and leaders do not prosper without the countenance or concession of God, nor do individuals.

Providence relates to God’s sovereignty. An unbalanced view of God’s providence can easily lead to the false teachings of fatalism and determinism. If God makes all the decisions, aren’t we just puppets, pawns in a cosmic chess match? Fatalism can be the cause of despair or lawlessness. If God has pre-determined everything, what meaning can my life have? Why not pursue my own selfish agenda and blame any failure on God? Sinful humans are always happy to blame someone else for their transgressions. The call to repentance is not made obsolete by God’s providence.

Let’s consider now the case of Esther. It’s clear that her attractiveness made her the target of a world ruler. The Bible says, “Esther was lovely in form and features.”1 and that “the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval.”2 We have no evidence that Esther chose to be the queen of King Xerxes. But she did not make herself offensive to him. The account says, “Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.”3 God worked through the situation for the benefit of His people. Esther carefully followed the wisdom and advice of her cousin Mordecai. Mordecai had raised her in the absence of her parents.

The crux of the story comes when it is revealed that one of the nobles named Haman planned to destroy the Jews, and Mordecai their leader. Haman was jealous of Mordecai and the honour he had been receiving from the king. King Xerxes did not know in the beginning that Esther was Jewish. Esther’s intervention allowed the Jews to be spared and Haman to be executed. A number of plot-twists and not a little intrigue preceded the final resolution of the matter. So, who was finally most instrumental in the outcome? Was it Esther’s decisiveness or God’s providence? Was it both?

What is the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the human will? Are we only pawns and puppets fated to the decisions of the Almighty? Do our decisions only appear as such? The Lutheran Confessions help us make an important distinction, “In secular and external matters affecting the nurture and needs of the body, man is indeed very clever, intelligent and busy. In spiritual and divine things, however, which concern the salvation of his soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yes, like a log or a stone…”4

So, humans make all sorts of choices and decisions each day that may benefit or endanger their well-being. The rational mind is decisive in these matters. (That doesn’t mean, however, that decisions are necessarily well-considered. Often, they are driven by feeling or emotion.) Regarding spiritual things, however, the Bible teaches that humans are incapable of apprehending divine truth apart from the Holy Spirit. That means, left to our own rational thinking, we would never come to a correct understanding of God. The unenlightened intellect is powerless to know God properly or trust in Him.

But God doesn’t abandon us in our incompetence. He comes to us. He not only makes Himself known providentially, He makes Himself known salvifically. He reveals Himself as the God who came to save through the person of His Son. The gospel is not an extrapolation of the general goodness of God. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has by His own death and resurrection redeemed sinners from sin, death, and the power of the devil. It is underpinned by the specific historical realities of His suffering under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and His physical resurrection from the grave seen by many eye-witnesses.

Dear friends, it would have been easy for Esther to adopt the culture and values of the Medes and Persians. She landed in the lap of luxury. She was given a privileged status. Yet, Esther remained firm in her integrity. Her people were in grave danger. They were at the mercy of superior powers. It would have seemed an impossibility that events could have turned out as they did. Her part in their rescue proved pivotal. She was uniquely positioned to influence the king and God used that to serve the well-being of His people.

Each of us is uniquely positioned to serve the well-being of others also. The circumstances may not be as regal, or the situations as dramatic, but to the person served the outcome is just as important. God works providentially in our lives and also through our lives to support others. Our faith is active in love. The convictions we hold and the decisions we make not only affect ourselves and those closest to us, but also all with whom we have any meaningful interaction.

God is not a concept. For God to be a providential God He must be a living God. He is not subject to the forces of the universe. The Scripture says Christ is constantly, “sustaining all things by His powerful word,”5 and that “all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”6 It says, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”7It was no accident that God sent His only-begotten Son. It was no mistake that He was delivered over to be crucified. It was not by chance that He appeared alive on the third day. St. Peter says, “This Man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death.”8

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead never to die again. That truth is not luck or probability. It was no coincidence that Esther become the queen of Persia and dined at the royal table. It’s no coincidence either that you are baptized into the name of Christ and eat at the table of the King of kings. He’s not simply working behind the scenes. He’s at the centre of all things. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
30 September 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Esther 2:7 2 Esther 2:17
3 Esther 2:15 4 SD, II
5 Hebrews 1:3 6 Colossians 1:16-17
7 John 1:4 8 Acts 2:23-24

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: Mark 9:35
Theme: Servant of All

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jesus asked the question. He didn’t need to, of course. He already knew the answer. But He also knew it would be instructive for His foolhardy disciples. “What were you arguing about on the road? But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”1 And there it is; a candid window into the mind of the heart! No one can completely escape the innate desire to have a privileged status before others and before God. It is an irrepressible mark of sin. Jesus’ ability to be the lone exception- transparently, authentically, unfailingly humble- is beyond our comprehension. It is a mark of His divinity. It is an article of faith. “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”2 Christ is the servant par excellence.

Honestly, we’d rather be served by others. And pride is but one expression of our sinfulness. Today James reminds us that selfish motives drive immoral behavior. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want…You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you many spend what you get on your pleasures.”3 We see that these 1st century believers, who would have had very limited material blessings, were still prone to the misuse of them.

How applicable is the lesson for us! Are we willing to step back and consider how the pursuit of affluence is one of the great idols of our time? Can we see clearly its spiritual effect on our communities, our families, and our own personal lives? James convicts us for misusing God’s blessings. Over-indulgence is rife in our culture. Consumption can become a fulltime lifestyle. It hardly harmonizes with the biblical call to humility and servanthood. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”4 The model for greatness is servanthood, not self-promotion.

Dear friends, we can recognize that the world provides many fine examples of philanthropy and models for good stewardship and service to others, but for believers it’s always God’s word that is decisive. This is true for all matters of faith and life. At the upcoming synod the LCA will again take up the topic of ordaining women to the pastoral office. The broader and deeper issue that underlies the discussion is Scripture’s authority and how it is interpreted. It’s no secret that deciding questions of value, ethics, morality, and truth based on the word of God is not looked upon as favorably by the culture of our day as it was in times past. We shouldn’t be shocked that the world has a different mindset. If this surprises us, we are well-advised to adjust quickly. The world settles things on the basis of reason and natural law. Thankfully, natural law shares much in common with God’s law. But the Lutheran church resolves things on the basis of God’s word; the Scriptures. The biblical approach is now struggling against the tide of culture which is threatening to become a tsunami.

But Jesus was never reluctant to swim upstream and we are privileged to follow in His wake. Only He will get us safely to the shore. Jesus’ disciples were fearful and flummoxed when He said today, “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.”5 What would that mean for them? It would be Pentecost before they began to understand. They would become servants of the highest order.

So, what should our serving look like? We must get out of our heads the idea that Christian service must be extraordinarily noteworthy to be valid. Only flashy things are considered newsworthy by society, but God notices simple, faithful efforts. God doesn’t demand that you drop everything, and head oversees to the mission field. The opportunities to serve are right before you. Anyone who’s claiming lack of prospects doesn’t understand the Christian teaching on vocation. ‘Love God above all things and love your neighbour as yourself’ is not a hollow slogan. When we try to do it, we’ll find no shortage of challenges and opportunities. The Holy Spirit must attend us constantly or we’d accomplish nothing at all.

You’ve probably heard it said many times that getting old is not for sissies. The decline of physical vitality and mental capability brings sobering challenges. There’s no way to bypass or opt out of the ageing process. It can become very taxing. It reminds us how vulnerable we really are. It drives us to a deeper reliance on the Lord. A helpful comparison can be made here to Christian living. Whether we call it living the sanctified life, the baptismal life, or bearing the cross, the Scripture makes it clear that it’s not for sissies either. Christ doesn’t lead us down easy street. He takes us on the high road. The high road is also the narrow road. Marginalization, ostracization, and persecution are the warnings from the apostolic witness.

Satan is leading the attack on civil discourse in our society. Shouting down and public shaming are becoming more common as a means to ‘win’ an argument or simply bully the opponent. The trend is an ominous omen for the future. The implications for Christianity are likely to be substantial. The Bible calls us to be considerate defenders of the faith. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…”6

Without overdramatizing we might consider the public reaction at the time of Stephen’s stoning. Acts 7 gives us these details, “When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven…’Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him…”7 Let’s pray this is not where we’re headed in our culture. Nevertheless, the clear, strong voice of the Lord overpowers all the chaotic cries saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”8

Jesus says of Himself, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.”9 The prophet Isaiah describes His saving work in this way, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”10 So broken was our relationship with the Father, so unserviceable was our debt of sin, so uncrossable was the chasm of death, so insurmountable was the ascent to heaven that the crucifixion of the holy Son of God, the Immanuel, the sacrificial Lamb, was necessary to secure our redemption. Jesus, the Christ, willing surrendered His life in substitution for ours. He rose from death, securing life, so that we can now live without fear. In baptism we’re assured that Christ obliterates that fear because He demolishes death’s ultimate power. When you receive His body and blood in humble faith you can be assured that His immortal life is being extended to you.

The Lord of all, the Creator of everything, the Immortal Son who reigns with unequaled power, is the Servant of sinners. He is the One who stoops. He is the One who humbles Himself. He is the One who carries the load. He is the One who tirelessly, unceasingly, and flawlessly intercedes for the benefit of His people. It is a privilege to be in the service of the Servant of all. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
23 September 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 9:33-34 2 Mark 9:35
3 James 4:1-3 4 Mark 9:35
5 Mark 9:31 6 1 Peter 3:15-16
7 Acts 7:54-57 8 John 16:33
9 Matthew 20:28 10Isaiah 53:5

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: James 2:14
Theme: Faith and Deeds

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Life always gives evidence of its existence. The fact that we are here is evidence of the Creator- the Life-giver. Similarly, living faith is always expressed in activity. And the evidence cannot be forged. If you take fresh apples and pin them on an apple that it is dead, the tree will not come to life. A healthy tree produces fruit. A dead tree produces nothing. Again, James says today, “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”1

James is clearly teaching here about integrity: Those who talk the talk should walk the walk. The wool cannot be pulled over God’s eyes. If we stand here in God’s house and simply go through the motion of confessing our sins and then go out and act with hard-heartedness towards our neighbour then our repentance is a sham. We are hypocrites. It’s easy to pacify our consciences by piously appearing to confess before God. Our lack of genuine remorse can be hidden from others by anonymity. Seeking forgiveness from the person we have hurt is much more difficult if our heart isn’t truly convicted. So, we must ask ourselves if our practice of repentance is habitually duplicitous.

Remember, any sin against our neighbour is firstly a sin against God. The key is understanding that we must act on knowledge of the truth, not on our feelings. Let’s say I have wronged someone, but I don’t feel particularly remorseful. Immediately I think of ten things I consider more sinister that that person has committed against me. I begin to justify my lack of remorse using my own standards our fairness. An inevitably biased tit-for-tat dynamic governs my thinking. In my own mind my excuses are a sufficient defence. The fact remains, however, that I have transgressed against this person. I am under obligation to apologize and seek forgiveness.

The will of God takes precedence over my opinion. What does Christ say? “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”2 The practice of reconciliation is the exercise of our baptism. If you still don’t feel regret, pray that the Holy Spirit would give you enough maturity of faith to apologize graciously. And remember that the forgiveness you receive from Christ is valid even when it doesn’t evoke any particularly happy emotions. God’s pardon can be rejected through unbelief, but it is not invalidated by our ineptness in fully appreciating it. More on this in a minute.

Dear friends, our understanding of what Christianity means goes awry when we practice it as the human attempt to curry favour with God and thus obtain certain benefits from Him. If through the acquisition of knowledge, the observance of morality, or the practice of charity (all things which are proper fruits of faith) we seek to pull God closer to us, then we have turned Christianity on its head. We can be driven by coercion to do many things. Fear is a powerful motivator as is self-indulgence. But self-giving, self-sacrificing love cannot be motivated by fear. Fear stifles true reciprocity and thus cripples godly relationships.

The proper relationship between faith and its activity is explained comprehensively in the Lutheran confessional writings. A couple of excerpts will suffice for now. “In the preaching of penitence it is not enough to preach the law, the Word that convicts of sin. For the law works wrath; it only accuses; it only terrifies consciences. Consciences cannot find peace unless they hear the voice of God, clearly promising the forgiveness of sin. Therefore it is necessary to add the Gospel promise, that for Christ’s sake sins are forgiven and that by faith in Christ we obtain the forgiveness of sins.”3 And again, “God pronounces righteous those who believe Him from their heart and then have good fruits, which please Him because of faith and therefore are a keeping of the law.”4

Faith and good works are not pitted against each other. Christ has accomplished our salvation. We cannot achieve it, but only receive it. Only Christ suffered and died to atone for sins. Only He had the power to rise again from the dead. The Holy Spirit enables us to trust in these life-altering truths. We call this faith. The Holy Spirit then inspires us to live accordingly, serving others and modelling the humble life of our Saviour.

So, if you fear that your faith is in the doldrums, that you underappreciate all that Christ has accomplished for you and what it means; seek the increase of your faith. After hearing the Lord’s instruction on the necessity of forgiving those who come to you in repentance, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”5 The father of the son who Jesus freed from an evil spirit said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”6 Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”7 If your faith is bold, pray that God would prevent it from becoming arrogant. If your faith is timid, pray that God would prevent it from being cowardly. If your faith is compromised by the skepticism of the human intellect, pray that God would refine it to be like that of a child. If your faith is childish, pray that God would tutor it to maturity.

Seeking the increase of our faith necessarily entails seeking the Spirit. Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”8 But if we already have the Holy Spirit (from the time of baptism) why do we still seek Him? Because the Holy Spirit is not a personal possession. He is not an inanimate object. He dwells in believers, but they do not own Him.

Seeking the Spirit necessarily entails desiring the Word. The two are never parted. The Spirit, the Word, and faith are inseparable realities. The Spirit and the Word exist independently from us, but faith cannot exist apart from the first two.

Desiring the Word necessarily entails desiring the sacrament. Belief that Holy Communion is simply auxiliary to the well-being of our faith is a tragic misunderstanding of its meaning and purpose. It’s not simply a remembrance of the final meal Jesus had with His disciples. It’s not a religious rite intended to facilitate proper decorum. Jesus says, “This is My body given for you…This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”9 He says, “…which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”10 Holy Communion nurtures and invigorates faith because it communicates to the believer Christ’s power. His body and blood are life-giving and life-sustaining. Moreover, the sacrament is a far greater gift than we could ever merit or deserve. Only when we learn to be grateful for crumbs from the Master’s table can we really understand what it means that we actually sit at the royal banquet.

Dear friends, faith can move mountains; not because you or I are anything at all, but because with Christ all things are possible. The Spirit says, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”11

+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
9 September 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 James 1:14 2 Matthew 5:23-24
3 AP IV 4 i.b.i.d.
5 Luke 17:5 6 Mark 9:24
7 Luke 11:9 8 Luke 11:13
9 Luke 22:19-20 10Matthew 26:28
111 John 5:5

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Funeral for Edna Zacher (4 September 2018)

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

Text: John 14:1
Theme: The Reward of Faith

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Edna, and especially you, Jenny, Graham, and Kevin, her children;

Edna Zacher no longer has any yearnings. She suffers no anxieties. If only we had just a hint, a whiff, a taste, a glimpse, a trace of what Edna now enjoys! She has crossed beyond the fallen-ness of mortal limitation. She is free. She is fearless. She is content. And she is so not because she is now the maker of her own destiny. She is in the unmediated presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the entire host of heaven.

Today we give thanks that Edna has received what had first been promised her in baptism. The apostle says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”1 That inheritance is now hers. Her time has come, the resurrection on the Last Day notwithstanding.

Edna, of course, was ready to go home. She was comforted by the thought of it. Did Edna have the comfort of eternal life because she believed she was more worthy, more pious, or more religious than others? Did she believe she was less flawed, less intolerant, less immoral? Did she think she had achieved some level of spiritual reputation that the Almighty would be forced to recognise and reward? No, Edna was a sinner who trusted in the forgiveness of her Lord. She knew her faults and failings and she knew there was only one person who could resolve that dilemma. The Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”2

Edna’s faith went hand-in-glove with her life. She was not a special-occasion or Sunday-only Christian. Edna was a regular in God’s house. She wasn’t there for show, but to have her faith nurtured from God’s word and her soul fed from the Lord’s Table. She drew her daily strength from His promises and presence. She modelled His love and did it joyfully as a wife, mother, and grandmother, as an employee and a teacher (of sewing), and as a friend and mentor to many.

The world changed a lot during Edna’s lifetime; western culture especially. All kinds of fanciful ideas about death and the afterlife are now becoming commonplace. Kids used to ask whether the family pet was going to heaven (and thankfully they still do). But, now they also ask whether vampires are real and if zombies can rise from the dead. Virtual reality tends to desensitise the mind to the sanctity of life and introduce confusion about the real nature of mortality. The age of relentless mass media intrusion contributes significantly to the worldview of everyone exposed to it. Sorting out truth from falsehood is challenging. The less familiar our society becomes with biblical teaching the more misunderstandings and misrepresentations become entrenched in the common psyche.

The concept of the circle of life, for example, is a myth with ancient origins and modern embellishments. The energy or lifeforce of the dead do not become the essence of the next generation’s existence. God is not so inept or under-resourced that He must recycle souls. Deceased relatives do not become fixed stars in the sky, or comets shooting across the galaxy. Communion with God is finally realised as heaven- the unhindered experience of His goodness. Separation from Him is ultimately experienced as hell- the horrific fact of His absence (of any goodness). There is nothing in between.

Dear friends, there are no second chances, no reincarnations, no turning into angels. No negotiations take place at the gate of heaven. Everything is done and dusted on a hill called Calvary. The Scripture says, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"3 The earth-shattering event of the crucifixion was followed by the undeniable event of the resurrection. He is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Edna knew that. She believed it.

Jesus said, "Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”4 He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."5 And why did He lay down His life? Because He knew that sinners would remain hopelessly lost and doomed to destruction if not for His selfless act of love. Society is always changing but the needs of people never change. The history of humanity is a broken record of repeated arrogance, ignorance, and rebellion. A just God would have every right to consign all sinners to condemnation. Yet, again, and again the mercy of God comes to the fore. The crucified and risen Christ brings life, hope, and salvation to all who believe. God never turns away any who take refuge in Him.

Death is no respecter of persons, and so neither is grief. We must all face mortality. The rich are not spared from grieving, nor are the powerful, or the popular. White collar, blue collar, urban, rural, ethnic, indigenous, those whose lives are brimming over with success and those whose lives are submerged in failure; it makes no difference. Death causes separation. No human has the means or power to reverse it. But Jesus Christ has. Jesus Christ did.

Graham, Kevin, Jenny, your mum has been received back to the One who gifted her to you in the first place. She is crowned with life. She endures no more frailty. She no longer ages. She experiences no more pain, suffering, or regret. An accomplished seamstress, Edna is now woven into the tapestry of God’s eternal kingdom. A skilled dressmaker, she is now clothed with the Saviour’s righteousness. A gifted cook, she is now served in the heavenly banquet. She enjoys glorious and vibrant life. She is at peace. “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”6Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Edna Clara Zacher
4 September 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Peter 1:3-5 2 Romans 6:23
3 Matthew 27:54 4 Revelation 1:17-18
5 John 10:11 6 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: James 1:17
Theme: Gifted From Above

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Spirit says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth.”1 The first gift of God from above is His own Son. He is the incarnation of the saving promise of the Father. With Jesus comes the forgiveness of sins, hope and support for the present, and certainty about our eternal future. On this Father’s Day we are rightly reminded that the fatherhood of God is made possible to us only through the brotherhood of the Son.

We are birthed into the family of the heavenly Father through His life-giving action. For the one being born, birth is a passive activity. It’s not something you do, but something that is done to you. The one being born benefits from the actions of others. Just as God breathed life into the first man, Adam, so too He breathes spiritual life into our listless frames in baptism. Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”2 The unilateral activity of God, then, gifts us with life and sustains that life until the end.

Dear friends, God does not owe us a single thing. He is not indebted to us. It’s only arrogance that causes us to think God has obligations to us that He must fulfill. Any expectations that He should meet our desires certainly aren’t based on what we truly deserve. God owes us nothing and yet He provides us with everything. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the people who patiently tolerate our eccentricities, our very lives are gifts. They are endowments from God’s infinite capacity and magnanimous generosity. “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”3

We have His word and that alters everything. The gospel is transformative. It is the power of God, therefore it initiates new life in the one receiving it. The demand of the law, i.e., to stop trusting in idols (including ourselves) and trust instead in the one true God, is then fulfilled when the Holy Spirit grants faith. The conversion of the heart, the renewal of the mind, the transformation of the will are the first fruits of the gospel’s activity. The law will continue to make its demands, “Do this!” “Don’t do that!”. But obeying those demands, while proper, godly, and necessary, never makes any headway with the sinner’s need to be justified in God’s sight. Obeying the law is a consequence of faith, a corollary even, but never achieves pardon from the heavenly Father. Rather, it is the pardon that drives the desire to follow God’s will.

St. James talks about these realities today saying, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”4 When people receive the word of God and believe it things change. But what things? The daily routine of a person who is converted from unbelief might not seem too different than before. They go to work, struggle with the dynamics of relationship, face temptations and endure challenges. But now, their perspective if different. Their conscience is attuned to God’s will. Their heart is comforted by His promises. The meaning and purpose of life take on an entirely new perspective in view of eternity. Living as a baptized child of God involves the lifelong endeavor of dying to self and living for others. The purpose of a Christian’s life is neither pursuit of self-indulgence (even when this can be done in a way that’s acceptable to society as is the case in our affluent culture), nor the task of saving the world. The Christian has the privilege of holy vocation. Our holy vocations involve being the hands and feet, the mouth and mind of Christ to our neighbours…beginning with our spouses, family, and members of the body of Christ and extending right out to our enemies.

Today James emphasizes the verbal aspect of this privilege when he says, “Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”5 He goes on to speak very frankly about taming the tongue. We’ll hear this Scripture in two weeks’ time. For the moment we’ll just consider the lesson of four preachers who met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, "Our people come to us and pour out their hearts, confess certain sins and needs. Let's do the same. Confession is good for the soul." In due time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to play the pokies and would sneak off when away from his church. The second confessed to liking to smoke expensive cigars and the third one confessed to spending too much money on frivolous shopping trips. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn't confess. The others pressed him saying, "Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?" Finally, he answered, "It’s gossiping, and I can hardly wait to get out of here."

Will Rogers once said that you should live in such a way that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip. It is colloquial advice that speaks frankly to one of the most common temptations we face. Are we any better than the fourth preacher just mentioned? It may seem easier to confess our sins to God than to admit guilt to the person we have offended. The anonymity cloaks our shame and embarrassment. But truly, we should be even more concerned about offending God than we are our neighbour. He is the final judge. But our Judge is also gracious beyond measure.

God owes us nothing, and yet He gives us everything. The Scripture says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”6 Here are two rhetorical questions that have emphatic answers. God spares no expense. This knowledge can sustain us in our darkest trials. To be sure, the Almighty does often give the appearance that He is withholding blessings, but this fact too must finally tend to our wellbeing and His glory. The man born blind in John chapter 9 surely endured his blindness as a complication of the sinful, fallen world in which we reside. But his blindness also gave occasion to reveal God’s glory through the healing power of Christ7. It’s no different with us.

Dear friends, Jesus Christ did not expose Himself to the insults of the world, capitulate to the false indictments of men, suffer at the hands of sinners, traverse the gauntlet of hell, and succumb to the horror of death only to establish the legacy of a martyr or inspire others fighting oppression by His determined example. The only begotten Son of God was slain on the crudest altar constructed by men so that the sum total of the debt of sin- all the liability accumulated in the history of the human race could be paid in full. He wiped the ledger clean. He settled the account. He shattered the darkness with light that cannot be extinguished. He is risen, and He reigns. The power of His life sustains your life. Thanks be to God!

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
2 September 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 James 1:17-18
2 John 3:5-6
3 James 1:17
4 James 1:22
5 James 1:19-20
6 Romans 8:31-32
7 See John 9:3

Monday, August 27, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
Theme: Spiritual Defence

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Scriptures are comprehensive in their depictions of God’s provision for us. The biblical writers do not use dull or tedious imagery when painting the picture of God’s presence and purposes in the world and in our lives. Today St. Paul paints the description of a well-equipped Roman foot soldier and makes application for the spiritual battlefield Christians find themselves on. He mentions the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, foot protection involving the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God1.

Why does he do this? The apostle was certainly not given to war-mongering. Instead, he is teaching and equipping the saints for the very real struggles they will face. He intends to build our confidence and bolster our resolve. Dear friends, when it comes to spiritual warfare there is no option to opt out as a conscientious objector. Satan brings the battle right to our doorstep. There is no place of neutrality. He and his troops are experienced, hardened warriors. The only possibility of a truce the devil will consider is one that is all on his own terms. He takes no prisoners. When people align themselves with his will he can then invest his resources elsewhere.

The strategy of the soldier is to find the weak points in the opponent’s armor. There is little point in attacking the most well-defended areas. Striking the thick breastplate, for instance, is unlikely to bring success. But, the places where the armor is joined, the exposed gaps, these are where the damage can be done. Satan aims for these targets. His tactic involves pinpointing our frail spots. So, maturity in faith involves understanding our vulnerabilities. Our weaknesses are not always as obvious to us as our strengths. This is the nature of sinfulness causing a loss of perspective.

Consider your own weaknesses. Are you prone to egotism? Are you inclined to lust? Are you susceptible to greed? Are you given to gossip? Do you have a penchant for complaining or a proclivity for deceitfulness? Is the mirror you look in to see your spiritual image true? Or is it like one of those trick mirrors they have in a circus? The word of God is the only true mirror. Any of our distorted explanations are just reflections of our sinful natures. Our weak points are not resolved by denying them or ignoring them, but through genuine humble repentance and authentic faith.

God alone can secure our victories. When temptation is resisted, or transgression is averted, don’t be too hasty to pat yourself on the back. Rather, give thanks that you can participate in the Spirit’s victory. Rejoice, that Christ has conquered in your stead. The will of a believer cooperates with the Spirit but never has the strength or sanctity to initiate or complete the task.
When the Israelites were sandwiched between the Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea there seemed to be every reason to panic. How does Moses encourage them? He says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”2 Therefore the Psalmist also writes, “Be still, and know that I am God.”3

We never know precisely what battles we’ll face in life. Some challenges are routine, others quite extreme. But we do know this: There was never a greater battle than the one that took place on the hill called Calvary. It is well-named as Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. There on the rubble heap of death the Lord of life was slain. There the Holy One of God contested the forces of darkness. Life contended with death, truth with falsehood. His body was laid in a tomb, but on the third day He stepped forth from the grave securing immortal life. He did that as your God, your Saviour, your Lord. He did it not under coercion, but in determination to obey the Father’s will. And, yet He did it not only to please the Father, but as the most profound expression of the divine nature. God creates. He redeemed. He resurrects. He gives. All these things He does in and through Jesus; crucified, risen, ascended, reigning!

It is clear that Western society is becoming increasingly estranged from the biblical worldview. The reasons are many. But it’s not a new situation in the history of humanity. We are reminded in our gospel reading today that great throngs of people were following Jesus until the truth, and its implications, became too difficult to swallow. St. John tells us, “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you? Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.’”4

Dear friends, we can’t have God on our own terms. We can’t shape Jesus in our own image. We can’t adjust divine truth to fit our preferred opinions or to align with the politically correct ideologies of the day. It is a common practice, to be sure. Yet it is not the practice of following Christ, but of idol-making. The Holy Spirit doesn’t excuse us from the tension that is created when opposition to the faith is raised. In fact, that’s exactly what bearing the cross means. Living as baptized children of God doesn’t mean that God removes us from all the stresses of a sinful world. Each day we are right in the fray. We are defending against Satan’s attacks. We are supporting those in need. We are witnessing to the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We can’t do this under our own steam, but only by the Holy Spirit’s power. That’s why St. Paul says today, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”5

God never promises life will be carefree. Perhaps you feel defeated- this very day. And, perhaps you have many convincing reasons to feel defeated from a human standpoint. Your failures are accumulating. Your successes are diminishing. Maybe some of your most important relationships are strained or your health is ailing. Maybe things aren’t as you thought they would be at this point in your life. But know this: Christ has not been defeated! Stand on this truth. Take refuge in it. Cherish it. Extol it. Publish it. “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again: death no longer has mastery over Him.”6 There is nothing that can happen to you in this life that Christ cannot resolve in eternity.

Dear friends, until Christ comes again in glory Satan will continue to press his attack. We live in the tension of the already, but not yet. Jesus has already secured salvation for all who believe. But we do not yet enjoy the full consequences of that victory. Still, the devil is conquered. The outcome is not in doubt. The reigning Christ will not be unseated from His throne. And in His eternal, heavenly presence no armor of any kind will be needed. Thanks be to God! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
26 August 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Ephesians 6:13-17
2 Exodus 14:14
3 Psalm 46:10
4 John 6:66-69
5 Ephesians 6:18
6 Romans 6:9

Monday, August 20, 2018

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2018

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

Text: John 6:51
Theme: Life-Giving Food

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Holy Scriptures are always very consistent in their witness. Though compiled over nearly 1500 years the theme of the Bible remains unchanged throughout. Since the Holy Spirit is the author this should not seem surprising. It is also evidence of the fact that the holy Christian church is one continuous and contiguous entity. Believers throughout the ages, unrestricted by the dimensions of time and space, participate in the life of God through common means. Those who are part of the church triumphant enjoy the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by sight, we in the church militant, by faith. But the certainty of the latter is not less than that of the former. This is so because the Saviour who came in the flesh and reigns in that flesh is immortal. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”1

But we live in a constantly changing world. And it is the nature of human beings to become frustrated about changes they cannot control. The people who witnessed Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes were enthralled by His ability but they were not prepared to concede their need for a more fundamental rescue and recognize His divinity. Finally, when Jesus named Himself as the way of eternal salvation the matter is driven to a head. “At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.”2

This complaining and skepticism sounds very familiar. Remember what happened nearly 1500 years earlier. The Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt, yet they quickly lost patience with God in the desert. The Bible says, “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert!’”3 They thought they preferred to die rather than wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises!

The pathology of sin is expressed as a continuous diatribe of complaint against God. Our failures, hardships, and painful experiences are not easily accepted as our own fault. Like Adam blaming Eve and then ultimately God, we prefer to put the responsibility on others we claim have wronged us and finally God who has failed to help us. This pattern becomes a way of life. Unless called to account by God’s authority, we become unrepentant and feel justified in blaming others. No matter what happens, we see ourselves as victims and not the cause.
God reveals to us how things really are. Maturity in the faith is not reached by passing blame but by claiming guilt. Certainly, others have, and do, and will continue to sin against us. But that reality is not resolved by seeking revenge or by avoidance or by denial. What do we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”4 How difficult it is to forgive those who sin against us! But a genuine commitment to forgive others is a defining characteristic of the baptismal life. That which we receive from Christ- grace and forgiveness- is expressed in our relationships with others.

The Christian who is not continually engaged in the dynamics of repentance and forgiveness is not a true follower of Christ regardless of what other appearances are made. Paul said it directly last Sunday, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and sander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”5 Faith is not a matter of living independently from God but of needing Him more. The freedom Christians have is not about living without God’s support but being freed from the guilt of sin. Christ was crucified and raised and in baptism believers are integrated into His life, they are not set on their way to live apart from Him.

It was reasonable that the Jews understood God’s giving of manna as the standard expression of God’s provision. Now this Jesus seemed to be challenging that. How could Jesus’ multiplying of the loaves and fishes be a greater miracle than that of the manna and quail God supplied all those years in the desert? Jesus was seeking to lead them to a deeper faith. The manna was only temporary nourishment. Jesus Christ is eternal food. The manna could not prevent physical death. Even with unlimited manna available the bodies of the Israelites still succumbed to sin. But Christ has defeated sin and death. All who trust in Him will have their bodies raised from death and glorified for eternity. They needed to understand that baptismal water was thicker than Jewish blood.

From beginning to end, conception to grave, death to life- to eternity- God provides for our wellbeing of body and soul. To the skeptical Jews Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”6 The Bible is clear that all credit for being rescued from the power of sin and hell rests with God. The Holy Spirit makes the dead person alive. But every person possesses the power of spiritual death. Separation from God is always ultimately the fault of the individual. God may exact the punishment for rejecting Him, but He is never the cause of the rejection. The grace of Christ is universal. And though people can harden their hearts against God, no one has the power to awaken themselves from spiritual slumber. Beyond these truths we cannot probe. Nor do we need to. God’s promises are sure. His word is clear. His sacraments reveal and extend His mercy to us.

The importance of physical food we readily grasp. But we can hardly read John chapter 6, listen to Jesus’ words about the bread of life, and not think of the sacred meal we receive in the Lord’s Supper. Physical food is God’s gift to the body. Holy Communion is His gift to body and soul. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.”7 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
19 August 2018 (9 August 2009)
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 13:8
2 John 6:41
3 Numbers 14:2
4 Matthew 6:12
5 Ephesians 4:30-32
6 John 6:44
7 John 6:47-48, 51