Monday, August 10, 2020

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2020

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen. Text: Romans 10:8 Theme: The Word Is Near You Dear friends in Christ Jesus, The universe is expanding…at least according to some of the foremost experts in the field. The heavenly bodies- planets, stars, blackholes, entire galaxies- are said to be moving apart at pace. What exactly the universe is supposedly expanding in to is a perplexing question? Telescopic observations suggest the universe is dynamic, but direct verifications are not possible. Sophisticated mathematical equations are employed for these astronomic theories. The distances suggested are so vast they are not calculated with traditional measurements. Light travels a long way in a year, but a year is just a short stroll compared to the size of the universe. None of this mindboggling magnificence should surprise us because our omnipotent God has unlimited capability. It is widely understood that we are just a miniscule dot on a planet that itself is a mere speck in the universe. Ludicrously small. But, dear friends, the God who created that universe, has drawn near to us, become one of us, taking on flesh and blood. And the immensity of His love, the love of the crucified and risen Jesus, dwarfs the cosmos. Christianity is not a methodology to circumscribe God- to find Him, approach Him, probe Him or access Him. Christianity is a strategy for surviving His presence. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”1 The God who flung the farthest star out into space is near to you. Today St. Paul unpacks the significance of that nearness. “The righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”2 We are justified by faith, through Christ’s sacrificial work, and this results in a coordinated relocation of sin and God’s blessings. Sin severs people from the holiness of God. Now sin’s estranging significance (we’ll call it distancing in the current context, a term we’re becoming too familiar with) can’t be measured with the metric system, kilometers, light years, or other mathematical equations. Sin is transgression of the perfect will of God. It involves missing the mark and also disobedience resulting from willful rejection or ignorance. Yet, sin does not separate us from God in matters of degree, as if, a little bit of sinning kept God at arm’s length, more sinning pushed God to edge of the horizon, and complete ungodliness pressed Him to the far reaches of the galaxy. The distancing consequence of sin is categorical. If we are not in His light, we are in the dark. God is unmovable. We’re the ones always wandering from His presence. And if we’re cut off from God, that doesn’t mean we have some space to take a breather and do things our own way. It means His judgment is imminent. But God always moves towards us, and He moved to intervene to prevent the condemnation of the human race. The heart of the gospel is this: Jesus sandwiched Himself between sinners and the wrath of God that was pressing upon them. He got so close He was squeezed upon the cross. He got so near He became THE sinner on behalf of all sinners. Dear friends, the challenge of Christian living, of living baptismally, is not finding God in the big or small things each day. The challenge is understanding that God was never lost. In our Scripture St. Paul says that confessing Jesus as Lord is a mark of true faith. Why, because it recognizes that in the incarnation, God is present on earth- not just visiting, He is dwelling. The title “Lord” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew covenantal name of God, Yahweh. To confess Jesus as Lord was to equate Him with God, the Father. This is, of course, exactly Paul’s point. The God who had been faithful to the Israelites throughout the centuries has now come in the person of Jesus. Christ was the fulfillment of the promises, only many didn’t receive Him. Though Jesus was crucified on the accusation of being a threat to Caesar, the real charge was blasphemy. This Jesus had made himself equal to God. Understandably, then, the early Christians were always running foul of the Jews for their belief is the divinity of Jesus. First Century believers confessing Jesus as Lord carried the added risk of offending the state officials. The title lord was also reserved for the Roman Emperor. Other use of the term was not looked upon favourably. The Romans generally permitted and even encouraged religious pluralism. They saw it as one of the historical strengths of the empire. They did not, however, tolerate exclusive claims to deity. In summary, significant risk was involved for early Christians to confess Jesus as Lord. It’s difficult for us to appreciate the danger. We are still free to gather and confess of Him “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”3 But it’s a very important lesson in history, and one persecuted believers around the world understand readily. Whether or not we believe the universe is expanding is not our concern here. Our interest is in the expansive love of Christ. At one point St Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus asking that they might be able “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”4 Love that surpasses knowledge, love that surpasses measurement, is divine love. It is extravagant. The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for charity from Alexander the Great as he passed by with his mighty army. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right to even put out his hand for help. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded, "Cooper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving." Generosity suits our God. It's a great way to understand the gift we receive in Holy Communion. Like beggars, crumbs from the Master’s table would suit us. We need only our daily bread. But He gives us a heavenly feast. Jesus gives us His life-giving body and precious blood, food for the soul, medicine for healing, strength for the journey. We need only to survive, but He lavishes us. What did the Father say when the prodigal son returned home? “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it.”5 So, you see, the love of Christ is categorical too. It cannot be measured, and it is not rationed. God isn’t cruel. God doesn’t toy with us or play games. He doesn’t jest when He offers His word, His Spirit, His grace. He is not frugal with His mercy or thrifty with His love. And He is not distant. “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”6 This proximate Jesus died for you, rose for you, and lives for you. Amen. Ninth Sunday After Pentecost 9 August 2020 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt 1 John 1:14 2 Romans 10:8-10 3 The Nicene Creed 4 Ephesians 3:18-19 5 Luke 15:22-23 6 Romans 10:8

Monday, August 3, 2020

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2020

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

Text: Romans 9:3-5
Theme: The Consistency of God

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The compassion of God is consistent. So is His judgment. He is not fickle. His manner of working is never at odds with His nature. The current pandemic is causing some to ask whether the patience of God is growing thin. Significant events typically incite such claims. People’s awareness is heightened, and their curiosity piqued. Those are generally good things. But the question is not whether God is “speaking” in the current circumstances, but, in which circumstances isn’t He speaking? God didn’t set the world spinning and then stand back to see what would happen. The creation displays His power. The conscience senses His presence. God is not silent.

But, the most important way, the only definitive, way the Spirit speaks to us is through the Scriptures. What does the Bible say about what God is doing in traumas and tragedies throughout human history? He is calling to repentance and offering grace. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”1

Today, as we continue through the Book of Romans, St. Paul laments the lack of repentance and faith in his fellow Jews. His lament is not characterized by criticalness, but by grief. He says, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…they are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”2

If it were possible, Paul would ask this favour from God, such is his sorrow…that the Almighty would sever him from Christ for the sake of his brothers. It puts him in very elite company. It was like the earnest plea of a Moses, who said, “...please blot me out of your book that you have written."3 Moses could not bear to see the Israelites cut off from grace so he offered himself as substitute. But such is not the way of God with men. There is only one substitute, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. No one else can ransom the life of another.

Why is Paul filled with such anguish and grief? Because he is also an Israelite by birth, descended from the line of Benjamin. In regard to receiving the coming Messiah, his people were in the pole position. And yet so many remained steadfast in their rejection of Jesus. Their rejection cuts a Paul to the heart. Their unbelief pains him deeply. Here we see pastoral concern at its finest. Paul was a preacher, a peerless herald of the gospel. He did it proficiently and professionally, but he wasn’t professional per se, at least not in modern understanding. St. Paul was a curator of souls. He didn’t are about his own skin or his reputation. The term for pastor in Greek is the word shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the shepherd par excellence who pastors His people. Paul is one of His most dedicated under shepherds.

So, it was the privileged status of the Israelites that caused Paul’s grief to be so severe. He goes on to list the rationale. Theirs was the law. God gave His law to and through them. Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments yet had to ascend again after rebuking the people for their idolatry. Still, the commandments became the parameters for their relationship with a God and one another. Those same commandments, unchangeably relevant, are the moral foundation for human society. Jesus did not abolish them. He took our guilt for our failure to follow them.

Theirs was the worship. God established a system of animal sacrifice as central to Israelite worship. The lifeblood of animals was offered in substitution for human life. The sanctity of life and the holiness of God were the central truths. A holy God could not tolerate sinners in His presence. Moreover, they had no means by which to appease Him. Animal sacrifice provided symbolic atonement. Most importantly, it prepared people to expect the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross.

Theirs were the promises. What were the promises? Woven together with the covenants, they were God’s continual re-iterations of faithfulness. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was dependable. His grace and favour would not fail them. Again, and again He forgave them and restored them. Again, and again He returned them from idolatry, exile, and apostasy. His holiness was never compromised, that is, He never condoned or accepted their sinfulness or unbelief. But His compassion was unfailing. Again, and again He ran to them, like the Father rushing to welcome home the prodigal son.

And the list goes on. God’s dealing with the Israelites demonstrated His attitude to all humanity. He cherished them like a firstborn son. In the same way, the only begotten Son, the Son of the Father, cherishes us as His children. All who receive Him by faith are the true Israel. The crucified and risen Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, the promises, the worship. His righteous covers us. His sacrifice reconciles us to the Father. His body and blood feed us. His Spirit leads us.

Dear friends, have no doubt that one day the earth will stop spinning. The Lord will come in glory. And, whether our souls have already been received into God’s presence or we’re still scurrying about on the earth, we will be accounted for on that great and awesome day. Transformed, body and soul, into the immortal image of Christ, our future joy cannot yet be comprehended. God’s people will not go wanting.

Remember last week Paul uttered this unfathomable truth. “We know that is all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”4
The conviction that God has, and can, and will continue to accomplish this mammoth task of bending towards goodness should have us brimming over with confidence while keeping us balanced with humility. These are unsettling times. But sometimes some unsettling is necessary to move people off the sand and settle them on the unshakeable foundation of His truth. We are baptized. Our names are written in the book of life. What do we have that the Father has not given us? What do we lack that the Son cannot supply? What can we risk that the Spirit won’t restore? God is steadfast. Amen.

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
2 August 2020
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 2 Peter 3:9-10 2 Romans 9:3-5
3 Exodus 32:32 4 Romans 8:28

Friday, July 31, 2020

Funeral of Mervyn Schulz (31 July 2020)

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

Text: John 11:25
Theme: Resurrection

Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Merv; Nola, Jamie, Shane, and Tony; and especially you, Robyn;

Merv wanted the farm gates to always be open. It was his vocation, his passion, and his joy in this earthly life. But there are other gates. Gates that open to the dimension called heaven. Merv has passed through those gates into the presence of Him who is the resurrection and the life. Thanks be to God!

Like most farmers, entrepreneurs, or the otherwise self-employed, Merv was his own boss and the buck stopped with him. He wasn’t accountable to other authorities for his farming decisions. He reaped the blessing of ventures that went well. He bore the loss of those that didn’t. Typical of agriculturalists of his generation, he worked incredibly hard. And God blessed him richly. He built up his operation from nothing with consistent dedication and toil. He loved his family, was a leader in his profession, and served his community. He left a legacy that will long be remembered.

But the purpose of a Christian funeral isn’t to idolize or idealize. A Christian’s legacy is finally only beneficial to the extent that it points us beyond this journey to our permanent home. Life involves an accumulation of scars, failures, disappointments, and regrets. Often these are outweighed by accomplishments, blessings, privileges, and joys. But it’s not always the case. Life can be hard, cruel, and unfair. We are fragile. Life is vulnerable. There are no guarantees we’ll enjoy health and prosperity. But there is a promise that points us beyond.

During his lifetime Merv (like many of you here), witnessed the dramatic decline of the Christian church. Faith plays a diminishing role in people’s lives. Truth about the things that ultimately matter hardly enjoys consensus or even much interest. How did the universe come to be? Why are we here? What is our purpose? What happens when mortality is reached? Is there heaven or hell, or do we just cease to exist? If heaven does exist on what basis are people received into the presence of God? Are we mostly just good enough, except for a few rotten apples? Or to use Merv’s language, rotten onions?

The Bible has clear answers to these big questions. If death has the final say, where does that leave us? The Bible says this, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”1 In other words, if Christ did not conquer death through the cross and resurrection then sin still controls our eternal destiny. There is no forgiveness. There is no real hope. That same Scripture continues, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…”2

And there you have it, the truth that pales all others. Everything stands or falls on this truth. But truth is falling out of fashion these days. For many it’s too definitive, too restricting. The current appetite is for self-definition. The appealing thing about relativizing the truth is you can construct it to suit your own opinions. You can please yourself. The risk is that relativized truth is just a grand deception. There are few things our society prizes more than the opportunity to be self-made people. But spiritually, before the Almighty, in the face of sin, death, and hell, the claim of self-definition is the grandest of illusions. We have nothing that we haven’t been given. Merv has been given life in Christ. His race is finished.

But we live on and our needs haven’t changed. We need forgiveness. We need underserved, unconditional, and unquestioned love. And we need it from God. Without forgiveness sin hunts us down and holds us in captivity away from God. Only Christ can rescue us from death’s power.

In the 14th century, Robert Bruce of Scotland was leading his men in a battle to gain independence from England. Near the end of the conflict, the English wanted to capture Bruce to keep him from the Scottish crown. So, they put his own bloodhounds on his trail. When the bloodhounds got close, Bruce could hear their baying. His attendant said, "We are done for. The hounds are on your trail, and they will track us down." Bruce replied, "It's all right." Then he headed for a stream that flowed through the forest. He plunged in and waded upstream. When he came out on the other bank, he was in the depths of the forest. Within minutes, the hounds, tracing their master's steps, came to the bank. They went no further. The English soldiers urged them on, but the trail was broken. The stream had carried the scent away. A short time later, the crown of Scotland rested on the head of Robert Bruce.

You see, the forgiveness of Christ carries believers across the Jordan to the Promised Land. Death cannot follow. If you believe the soul of Merv Schulz has been received into eternal rest, peace, and joy by any means other than the undeserved mercy of God in Jesus Christ, then your conviction is based on something other than biblical truth. The Scripture says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,- not by works, so that no one can boast.”3 The entire message of the Bible is unequivocal about this truth. It is the essence of the gospel. The holy Son of God saves sinners.

Merv was a perfectionist. Those closest to him knew that. But, of course, regarding what really matters there is no perfection this side of heaven. All are sinners. All fall short of the glory of God. Merv was no exception. Nothing we have or are can pay the price for our sins. Nothing we do can pry open the gates of heaven. An answer must be given on the day of judgment. Thanks be to God, that for believers, an answer has already been given. Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life has sacrificed Himself that our sins might be atoned for.

Up until recent years Merv was an active member of the congregation here at New Residence. Here he heard the faithfulness of God proclaimed week in and week out. Here the Holy Spirit shaped his heart, his mind, his will, and his actions. Here he shared in God’s blessings with other members of this Christian community. Here he received the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion along with the forgiveness of his sins. And, appropriately, here his remains will be laid to rest.

But, dear friends, Merv isn’t here. This coffin contains only the elements that constitute his body. His soul is in the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saints, and angels. A baptized child of God, he is safe in the Saviour’s arms. He is at rest. He has been released from all the limitations of this fallen life. And he enjoys a peace that we can only imagine. We do not begrudge him that rest, even though we grieve.

Grief is one of the deepest, most problematic, and complex of all human experiences. Death creates a vacuum, an emptiness, a loneliness. It’s understandable this should be the case because humans are created in the image of God. And our lives are interwoven. When death rips someone away, the fabric of life is torn. The tear can’t be mended by powers that we possess. God must do the mending. He gives life. And He receives the lives of believers back to Himself. Robyn, Jamie, Shane, Tony; Merv won’t be replaced. His journey here is ended.
May the Almighty God, for the sake of His Son- the atoner of sin, and conqueror of death- through the power of the Holy Spirit, send His light into your dark moments, may He embrace you in His love, and may He give peace to your hearts. May He strengthen your trust so that you may eagerly anticipate seeing Merv again in the glory of the resurrection. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Mervyn Gordon Schulz
31 July 2020
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 15:17
2 1 Corinthians 15:19-20
3 Ephesians 2:8-9

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2020

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

Text: Romans 8:26
Theme: Help for the Weak

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

What does the Holy Spirit do in our time of need? “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”1 Many of the prevalent ideologies of our culture tell us we shouldn’t have any weaknesses. And, if in some aspect we are weak, we should appear to be strong. St. Paul is more honest, candid, and realistic. We are not independent from God; we are completely reliant on Him. Unbelievers too, constantly rely on the goodness of God, but they don’t recognize it. Only the final judgment will breach the unwavering denial and rejection that enslaves the ungodly. Lest such claims are thought to be uncharitable, it’s good to remember that souls are at stake. Jesus says today, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous.”2

Christ did not come to merely enhance the conditions and experiences of this temporal life. He came to overthrow the dominion of sin and the supremacy of death. If the mission of the church is not to show “those living in darkness and the shadow of death”3 that Christ is the “light of the word”4, to save them from eternal damnation, then we’ve badly misunderstood the whole content of the Scriptures. If the purpose of our Christian witness is not to show that many of the things considered strengths in worldly terms are weaknesses in God’s sight, and many of the things society considers wise are foolish in God’s sight, then what are we doing?

If we have the mind of Christ5 our greatest desire is to see people freed from the guilt and power of sin, protected from Satan’s deceptions, and saved from the eternal threat of hell. What knowledge could we give that is more important? What support can we offer that is a higher priority than looking after the soul? We’re not talking about neglect of peoples’ physical, psychological, and emotional needs. God works holistically, of course. He opens people to receive the gospel through simple acts of kindness. Jesus says, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because He is my disciple…he will certainly not lose his reward.”6 But it’s all in service to their eternal well-being.

Christian maturity is measured by increasing dependency on God, not autonomy. In Christ, the weak are strong. Still, it might seem a strange thing to say- as the apostle does here- that we do not know what we ought to pray for? Surely our most honest and heart-felt prayers are offered when we beseech God in time of desperate need? Do we not know exactly what pain or grief we seek to be relieved of? Indeed, we may. Yet, it is not for us to prescribe what course of action God may deem best for us. So, while it is proper and necessary for Christians to call upon God in prayer at all times and in every circumstance, it is not wise to try and dictate to God how He should address those needs.

Perhaps that’s why in his next breath St. Paul ventures this unfathomable truth. “We know that is all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”7 The exact translation is a little tricky but it doesn’t change the fundamental meaning. The misapplication of this verse- it’s not our loving of God that triggers His goodness- is not our concern here. Of interest is the mystery of how this could be and the support it gives us in times of doubt.

From our perspective God’s accomplishment of this herculean task- this working of His good purposes in all circumstances for the elect- is largely enigmatic and cryptic because the ways of God are inscrutable to us. When we pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”8 we are asking for precisely this blessing. To do so God must use Satan as His lackey causing the devil to unwittingly drive people to the mercy of Christ. The scope of evil, its depth and breadth, the extent to which it penetrates the human mind and heart is beyond our comprehension. Even our own capacity to participate in unrighteousness and the guilt that it accumulates must be accepted- as by faith- as the way things really are. Our sinfulness can be demonstrated to us to some extent, but its true profundity is beyond our grasp. This drives us to repentance.

Yet, the conviction that God has, and can, and will continue to accomplish this mammoth task of bending towards goodness should have us brimming over with confidence while keeping us balanced with humility. What do we have that the Father has not given us? What do we lack that the Son cannot supply? What can we risk that the Spirit won’t restore?

A man in his mid-forties was searching for meaning. It wasn’t a mid-life crisis, per se, he wasn’t rushing out to buy a Harley or pursuing quick fixes to recover his youth. It was a deeper search than that- more existential-ish. He had grown up in a nominally Christian home but his connection with the church soon faded. He became fully immersed in the “rat race” of society. He had a stable family, a wife, three kids and a dog. He lived in the suburbs. His new search for purpose wasn’t really a focused quest, either. He was restless but not anxious.

One day he was dining in a restaurant for Sunday lunch. He was unaware the family next to him had just come from church. He overheard the young daughter ask her father, “Daddy, why didn’t anyone help Jesus when He was put on the cross? If I would have been there, I would have helped Him.” At first he found the exchange quaint. But he couldn’t shake the image. Soon the hollowness in his life started to be stirred up by the bravery of her words and the enormity of the misunderstanding in her mind. This virtuous girl would presume to intervene in the most horrific crime in the history of humanity! She would purpose to make intercession for the Intercessor. His search for meaning wasn’t quite over but the Spirit now had a hold of him.

Dear friends, the Intercessor has many ambassadors. Maybe, today, tomorrow, or the next day (or all three), the Spirit is going to be using you as an assistant to His intercession? Maybe your prayer for someone in their weakness is not just a fond thought while having your after dinner cuppa or your bedtime devotion? Maybe it will involve an email or a phone call? Maybe it will require a personal visit, time, resources, or money? Maybe it will demand sacrifice? Maybe it will really inconvenience you? Such ‘maybes’ are not theoretical possibilities, but concrete realities, matters of when, not if. Sharing one another’s burdens is the privilege of Christian fellowship. Epicureans, ancient and modern (you can “google” it), strive to journey through life avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. It’s naturally a very appealing philosophy. Believers, however, suffer alongside others in step with the Suffering Servant, Who truly carries the load.

The eighth chapter of Romans crescendos to a magnificent flourish. St. Paul invites all challengers to the contest. He throws down the gauntlet. He summons all opponents; nay-sayers, gainsayers, skeptics, cynics, scoffers, scorners, ridiculers, scribes, Pharisees, Judaizers, all who query, doubt, question or oppose the claim that eternal certainty, joy and peace are found in the God who took on flesh and was surrendered to crucifixion on behalf of all sinners. The apostle invites all who dare to adjudicate the recompense for spiritual iniquities against God’s people, including Satan Himself, saying, “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…It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”9

It is into His name that you are baptized. It is His holy body and precious blood that you receive at this altar. In Him you have life, and peace, and hope. And you don’t have to wait to find out if you’ve been accepted into His family. You are already citizens of heaven. Your life has meaning. Yes, believers too can lose the plot. The emptiness creeps in like the shadows on a cold winter’s night. Surely this is one of the weaknesses of which this chapter speaks. But don’t fear. The Spirit won’t let you wander aimlessly in the wilderness indefinitely. Christ has already been to the wilderness. These certainties are irrefutable. And so is our creed, expressed so incomparably to end the chapter, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels not demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers; neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”10 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
26 July 2020
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 8:26 2 Matthew 13:49
3 Luke 1:79 4 John 8:12
5 See 2 Corinthians 2:16 6 Matthew 10:42
7 Romans 8:28 8 Matthew 6:13
9 Romans 8:31-34 10 Romans 8:38-39

Monday, July 20, 2020

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2020

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

Text: Romans 8:24
Theme: Hope In Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Do you have hope? Hope that sustains you? Hope that steadies you in times of adversity? Biblical, spiritual, godly hope- hope that is nothing like the world’s concept of chance or luck- but the confidence that God is true to His promises. He does not deceive. God’s word says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”1 This hope is anchored by faith in the promises of God. It is not immediately tangible to us. That’s why the apostle says, “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?2 In a moment you’ll be approaching the altar to receive the sacrament. What do you see there- a bit of bread and wine? But you receive with it a life-giving power in the body and blood of the Saviour.

Why do we need this hope? Because the world is not the stable place, we’d like it to be. Listen again to Romans 8, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”3 Here the apostle says the entire creation is groaning. It is aching for liberation. And how will it be freed? It will happen in the reverse order of the original curse. Human beings, made in the image of God, were the crown of His creation. Reflecting His glory through special endowment they were the last part of creation. But in the great reversal, at the Second Coming, in the apocalypse, they will be the first to be liberated from the power of sin and the rest of creation will follow. Then the new heavens and earth will be established.

But is St. Paul communicating something here that we can’t relate to? Do we really grown inwardly for the redemption of our bodies? Or are these words written for people in those places and times when life was hard, really hard; when it was such a burden you longed to be released from it? Perhaps the creature comforts we have too easily lead us off the narrow road?

Yet, the world is a dark place. It’s always been the case. The decay of the world is a foundational teaching of Scripture4. The consequences of the Fall move us inexorably toward demise. Humanity is coming unraveled. The biblical teaching on the world’s transience is not limited to any particular epoch or age of history. Yes, it was initiated by a particular event. The rebellion in Eden started it all. Still, before the flood of Noah, the ancients lived for nearly a thousand years. They possessed an incredible vitality. That fact must be balanced by the statement of Genesis 6, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”5

The plight of humanity can be depicted like a tiny boat on turbulent sea. It rides up on the crest of a wave and then down into a trough. The waves roll on and the beach is looming. Inevitably, the wave will crash against the shore dashing the boat against the rocks. We see the ebb and flow of the moral rectitude of societies over the centuries. Well-documented is the rise and fall of nations throughout history. Rome was dubbed the eternal city and the Roman Empire thought to be unconquerable. It too fell, decaying from within. Adolf Hitler wanted to establish a 1000-year Reich; it didn’t last a generation.

Dynasties are established and then they fail. Why? Because human nature doesn’t fundamentally change. We’re talking here not about advances in technology, engineering, or medicine. We’re talking about the pathology of sin, about wickedness, verses holiness, moral depravity verses godliness. The human race is not becoming more morally enlightened, it’s not rising to new categories of virtue. It is only undulating on the waves of fluctuation until the close of history.

Western-style democracy is not immune to corruption and even disintegration. All societies are composed of people, including their structures of governance. People are sinners. People are fallible. Human beings have limitations, individually and collectively. The coronavirus is proving that. The Scriptures tell us to honour proper authority but not to idolize it. There is nothing either inherently evil or inherently good about government. Government involves the coordinated (and of course, often uncoordinated) actions of groups of people working within structures.

Our affluence and prosperity are not guaranteed. They are not givens. The time may come again sooner than we think when most of world will be living hand to mouth. The current challenges show how quickly things can change; how vulnerable we really are. No one knows what things will look like even a year from now. That being said, though, God will continue to sustain the world for as long as He sees fit. It’s no effort for Him to extend the time for repentance, the time for the Spirit to work, for as long as He so desires. Believers aren’t pessimists about these things. We already understand this world is a temporary home.

Our perspective on the future changes everything. We have security. So, we can ask ourselves such questions as, “What am I doing in life that has eternal significance? Into what or who do I invest my limited energies and resources? The Bible teaches us that we are in the world and we must negotiate its challenges, interact with its structures, participate in its wholesome activities, but do so it a way that we are giving witness to the much greater hope that we have.
We are in the world but not of the world. The Scripture says, “All that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life-is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”6

Our hope is not in winning this world’s contest of self-indulgence or achieving a memorable legacy. We have a baptismal inheritance. Our future will be glorious beyond imagination. What hope was Jesus carrying when He climbed that hill to Calvary? Was He trying to make a name for Himself, establish a reputation as a martyr? Was He trying to set the stage for a magician’s trick to be performed in three days’ time? No, dear friends, He was carrying the prospects of all humanity. Because of His sacrifice, sinners would not have to be plunged into the darkness of eternal death. His death and resurrection reconciled us to the heavenly Father and opened the gate to His eternal kingdom. Satan has been disarmed. The threat of hell no longer hangs over us.

St. Paul says, “I consider that our present suffering are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”7 The present hour is a gift of grace, an endowment in time, but tomorrow is not guaranteed. Tomorrow time could cease. We could be in eternity. And what more could we hope for? What more could we dream of…the glorified perfection of our bodies, the establishment of incorruptibly purified hearts, the complete realization of all of our faculties and senses! We have Christ and so we are never without hope. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
19 July 2020
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 6:19 2 Romans 8:24
3 Romans 8:22-23 4 See 2 Corinthians 7:31
5 Genesis 6:5 6 1 John 2:16-17
7 Romans 8:18

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2020

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

Text: Romans 8:1
Theme: No Condemnation

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Bible is full of history, God’s work in history. So, the Bible is also filled with truth. It contains historical truths, moral truths, and theological truths. The historical truths of the Bible aren’t all of the same importance. It rained for forty days and forty nights at the time of Noah’s flood, not 30 days, or 50 days. Yet that fact hardly compares with the truth that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified under Pontius Pilate and then rose again on the third day. The truth that Mount Sinai was the place where God delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses is hardly on par with the truth that sin, left unresolved, separates humans eternally from God. But all of the truths of the Bible hang together. The truths of creation and redemption are “supra-truths”, so to speak. They are reality-defining and destiny-changing. It’s these truths especially, the ones that reveal God’s love to us in the incarnate Jesus, that rightly occupy our attention.

For some time now we have been working through the letter of Saint Paul to the Christians in Rome in the Sunday lectionary. Consider committing yourself to reading through the Book of Romans. It will challenge you and edify you. It can only help to strengthen your faith. In this letter the apostle spells out clearly and comprehensively the implications of these core biblical teachings. He says today, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”1 It follows on from last week’s depiction on how the sinner grapples with the power of sin. Jesus removes the condemnation. This is Good News, truly fantastic news. It means Christ has made reparations for the offense of our sins, so the consciences of believers can be at ease. Life is completely re-orientated.

Christians are now led by the Holy Spirit. They are no longer in bondage to the sinful nature.
Dear friends, you are now freed from the fear of judgment by obeying the law, by striving to follow the Ten Commandments. You are freed to follow God’s will because Christ has released you from the punishment against sin. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus completely changes the relationship between the sinner and the law, between the sinner and God.

Previous to this intervention of Jesus, before the gifting of faith through the Holy Spirit, prior to the washing of regeneration in holy baptism, we are/were unable to truly love God in any way. The unbelieving only serve themselves and find security in false gods. The failure isn’t due to lack of effort, but incapacity. Such is the power of original sin. The apostle says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”2

The perpetual challenge of Christian living is our tendency to underestimate the power of sin and therefore underappreciate the power of the gospel. I say perpetual, because Satan is always trying to drag us back under a scheme of works-righteousness or pacify us with the deception that our sins are too petty to be concerned with. He doesn’t have to do this with unbelievers, he targets us.

So, let’s consider some of the implications St. Paul is speaking of in these verses. If, for example, you are convinced you are not a sinner (at least not a serious one that needs forgiveness), you are not able to hear the gospel. Yes, mechanically the words can be received into your ears and knock around in your head. But those words will bring you no comfort. They only transmit information to you. Need facilitates receptivity. It’s not the healthy that need a physician. It’s not the self-governed that need to be freed. It’s not the wealthy that need charity. It’s not the secure that need to be rescued. It’s not those in a stable family that need to be adopted. It’s not those whose bellies are full that need a meal. It’s not the innocent that need a gracious judge.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit must still convict you, and He will only do that through the law. The Scriptures are full of specific examples. The Spirit sent Samuel to convict Saul3, Nathan to rebuke David4, and Elijah to confront Ahab5, just to name a few. All of us can be added to the list. In the public assembly of the gathered congregation, the pastor can’t know who is too puffed up in self-righteousness to be able to hear the gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can know this. Even the sinner in the complexity of self-deception doesn’t always know. I don’t know, unless you’ve personally communicated it to me, when you answer this question, “Do you confess that you have sinned, and do you repent of your sins?” whether your response is apathetic, a mindless repetition of the printed answer, heartfelt, or even honest. But the Spirit not only knows, He is the surgeon and the nursemaid of your heart.

Remember, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”6
So, conversely, ideally, and specifically the repentant only need to hear the gospel. In other words, as soon as the law has done its work, the gospel is necessary and it alone can comfort the soul. The sick need a doctor. The enslaved need freedom. The poor need charity. The endangered need rescuing. The orphaned need adoption. The hungry need food. The guilty long for pardon. Obviously, in a public worship service the Holy Spirit must sort out who needs what, when and how much. But it’s for this reason that the fulness of God’s truth must always be proclaimed. We don’t know who the Holy Spirit might bring into this space, but the fundamental needs are all the same.

This, dear friends, is the great privilege, the greatest joy of the Office of the Ministry. As a servant of the great Servant, an under shepherd of the Chief Shepherd, to announce the free and full forgiveness of sins. It’s the only power that can thaw frozen hearts and enlighten darkened minds. It overthrows Satan, subdues hell, and allows us to laugh in the face of death. We laugh not in ignorance, or arrogance, or madness, but because death no longer has any power over us. Why? Because of this central truth, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”7

If you are hanging out for the assurance of pardon, forgiveness, and peace you have come to the right place. This is the hall of reconciliation, where heaven meets earth, not in displays of pomp and circumstance, but in the proclamation of truth and the participation of divine blessings….in word and water, bread, and wine. If you are aching to know, to really be comforted about whether your transgression of betrayal, or unfaithfulness, or hardheartedness, or arrogance, your petty sins or haunting iniquities, really can be wiped clean and put in the past, whether you can really start anew and afresh, then there is Good News for you. The Saviour doesn’t joke about such things. He doesn’t jest. He doesn’t make hollow promises. Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."8

In Christ, the empty are filled. The cast out are gathered in. The forgotten are remembered. The forsaken are loved. Dear friends, you are loved with such a joyous and unconditional love in and by and through the beloved Redeemer that you’ll never comprehend it until the life to come. Next week we’ll continue in Romans 8. It’s enough now to say that the call to Christian discipleship is a call to the high and holy privilege of serving others with the same grace with which we have been served. “There is…no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
12 July 2020
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 8:1 2 Romans 8:7-8
3 See 1 Samuel 15 4 See 2 Samuel 12
5 See 1 Kings 18 6 Romans 8:1
7 Romans 6:9-10 8 John 8:31-32

Monday, July 6, 2020

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2020

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

Text: Matthew 11:17, 28-29
Theme: Contentment and Rest

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The power of the gospel to impart forgiveness, comfort, peace, and rest into our lives never diminishes. The gospel is incorruptible, inexhaustible, and incontrovertible because it is the living word, of the living Jesus, the crucified, risen, and reigning immortal Son of God. In contrast, we have very finite capacities and when we reach our limits all sorts of challenges ensue. Our gracious God knows this and that is why He is never remiss. He attends us whether we are in His house resting in His Word, at work laboring in our vocations, or at home grappling with our family dynamics.

Jesus taught authoritatively in the synagogues and addressed the crowds at length in large and small gatherings. He also spent a lot of time interacting with people in the everyday venues of life. Today He makes reference to one of most common of those venues, the marketplace. The marketplaces were excellent playgrounds for the local children when the trading had ceased. Undoubtedly Jesus had observed their activities on many occasions. Contrary to the practices of the time, Jesus often referred to children when teaching the faith. When playing, kids imitate what they observe the grown-ups doing. Jesus refers to them now in order to call out the hypocrisy of the current generation.

He says the current generation is like those children calling out to others, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”1 The children calling the tune condemned the other children for not bowing to their wishes. Specifically, when they played ‘weddings’ the other kids didn’t dance. They didn’t join the celebration. Conversely, when they played ‘funerals’ they didn’t grieve. Wedding and funerals were very public activities that children observed and participated in. (It was not uncommon at the congregation I served in Colorado for the preschoolers to play chapel. They took turns playing the role of the pastor.)

So, what was Jesus’ point? He points out their duplicity. The inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the person of Jesus was confronting for them, but also it was too generous. On the one hand, they didn’t like their definitions of righteousness being overturned. On the other hand, they didn’t like this overabundance of grace that seemed to be thoughtlessly poured out wherever Jesus went. The direct point of comparison involved Jesus and John the Baptist- John as the forerunner, Jesus as the fulfillment. John the Baptist was too ascetic for them, too inhospitable. They didn’t like his call to repentance. They didn’t like being called out for their sin. John was a solitary figure who drew people out into the wilderness. He didn’t hobnob with the people of society.

Then, along comes Jesus. He’s interacting with anyone and everyone. He’s dining at the homes of Pharisees, forgiving prostitutes, and healing lepers. He’s teaching and preaching in every village and making Himself available to people to the point of exhaustion. He was too filled with kindness, grace, and forgiveness for their liking. Though He drew huge crowds, in the end most deserted Him. The crucifixion was too unpalatable for them.

The Jewish leaders, on their part, couldn’t control either Jesus or John the Baptist. They couldn’t conform them to their program of religiosity. So, John the Baptist and Jesus were both accused of being demonic. And, so it is that Satan himself supports such accusations out of desperation. You see, the closer God is, the nearer we are to His truth, the more in tune we are with His Spirit, the less convincing are the devil’s claims that God is aloof, apathetic, impotent, or cruel. Unable to substantiate these claims of plausibility, the devil resorts to the label of madness. After all, who but a demon-possessed madman would claim to be the divine Son of God! His followers are soon painted with the same brush. And, as is the case in every age throughout history, believers in our increasingly secular society are more and more likely to be labelled as fanatics, or loonies.

In short, Jesus condemned them for being unpleasable. They couldn’t be satisfied. This Messiah didn’t meet their expectations. Naturally, we all have expectations. Life consistently involves managing and re-evaluating expectations- rejoicing in those that are met and lamenting those that fall short. Dear friends, any expectations we have of God must be founded on what He reveals to us. We can’t dictate to God according to our whim.

When sinful, fallen creatures make selfish demands on a holy, gracious God, something more than disappointment awaits. People, because we are permeated by a state of fallenness, are characterized by contradiction, conflict, confusion, and complexity. God is characterized by simplicity, though He often appears to us as paradoxical and mysterious. He is pure, unadulterated love. But it’s hard even for believers to see that sometimes. Our natural tendencies are to be legalistic when it suits us. Typically, this means wanting someone else to ‘toe-the-line’, to meet our standards of morality. Conversely, we also have the propensity to play fast and loose with the gospel when it suits- when we’re wanting some cheap grace for ourselves.

But forgiveness isn’t cheap. It came at the immeasurable cost of Jesus’ life. This chapter of Matthew ends with beautiful words of compassion from Jesus. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”2 As He says in John 10, Jesus is the good Shepherd. He doesn’t come to steal, and kill, and destroy like the unfaithful hired hand. He says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”3 Wearied by the struggles of life, Christ offers us true rest.

Any person who has struggled to barely stay awake before collapsing into bed understands the need for rest. Exhaustion, though, isn’t all of the same sort. It may be due to hard, satisfying labor where worthwhile accomplishment has been achieved. Conversely, fatigue may be due to the complete depletion of energy required to maintain an ongoing struggle or defence. The heart, mind, and will can become exhausted as well as the body. We understand these truths experientially. At some point, we’re out of capacity to go on.

Dear friends, the most compete and unbearable type of fatigue that exists across all categories is caused by trying to carry the weight of our sins. One thousand lifetimes of compensation would not lessen the weight of guilt by one fraction. Trying to suppress the guilt doesn’t work either. It eats us up inside. Therefore, David says in the Psalms, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long…my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”4 Only one person can carry that burden. He carted it up the hill of Calvary. There is rest in the shadow of the cross.

The Scripture says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.”5 Jesus Christ was crucified to make atonement for your sins. He was raised on the third day. The weight of our sins has been lifted. You heard it in the absolution. You’ll taste in in the sacrament. And this rest, this spiritual, divine rest, transcends all temporal chaos- that is all the busyness, struggle, angst, and activity that drains our physical, mental, and emotional capacities. And it is a sampling of what is to come. The Promised Land, heaven, is the place of rest. It is the baptismal inheritance of all believers. It is already yours. May you, through the Spirit, look forward to its full enjoyment. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
5 July 2020
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 11:17 2 Matthew 11:28-29
3 John 10:10 4 Psalm 32:3-4
5 1 Peter 2:24