19th Sunday after Pentecost 30th September

James 5:14-16
Is anyone weak? Let him draw near to the elders of the congregation and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the weary and the Lord will raise them up. And if he has committed sins he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you will be healed.

I’ve been looking into prayer in the past couple of weeks, watched a movie called the War room, been going through some studies on prayer, been listening to some encouraging podcasts as well. The early Christians, right at the birth of the church, were devoted to prayer. At Pentecost the 3000 people the Holy Spirit baptised and God adopted devoted themselves, their lives, to the Good News of forgiveness and truth, the fellowship and family of God, to Holy Communion and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Throughout Paul’s letters he prays again and again for faith, hope and love both thanks and for more. I speak with you and others about prayer, how we pray and how often. And here again Our God, Saviour and Ruler tells us to pray. Are you suffering evil, are you cheerful, are you weak? Turn to God and rely on Him, for He will save you.

We hear from Philippians (4:4-7) to pray in all things with thanks giving, and here James is telling us, encouraging us to pray. But why pray? Why should we all ask God for help, for guidance, for healing? Because He has promised to listen to you. In the psalms God tells us to call upon Him in troubling times and He will deliver us and we will glorify God (Psalm 50:15). And from Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord and He heard my cry. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t, then the prophet of God told the wicked King Ahab to go up the mountain to see the rain God was sending (1 Kings 18:41-45). In Hebrews (4:16) God tells us that Jesus intercedes for us, asking God to help us; He is the great High Priest who died for us and loves us; He is our leader our head, and so we can draw near to God’s throne, into the awesome, powerful and terrifying presence of God Almighty, draw near in confidence to His throne of grace, that we, that you may receive mercy and find grace in your time of need. Why pray? Because He promises to hear you, even He wants to listen; and not only that, but He will save you from evil and destruction to the glory of His name.

So we pray because it is part of the life of a Christian, God has commanded us to and He promises to listen and care for you. James tells us to pray when suffering and to sing when full of cheer. From Philippians we hear, to pray with thanksgiving, and from psalm 50 we heard that we glorify God in our response to His help. To pray, to talk to God in all circumstances and about all things. In the large catechism Luther’s advice to parents is to teach children that when they see or hear anything dreadful or frightening to say, ‘Lord God, protect me’ or ‘Help me dear Jesus’ and when good things happen, no matter how small, to say, ‘thank God, or praise God’. To ask for God’s help in every trouble and to thank Him for every good (Large catechism the commandments paragraph 73-77). This habit would have the added bonus of reminding ourselves of God’s grace and mercy everyday.

Now what was that third question? Is anyone weak/sick? Hmm, I wonder what that means. Well, I have been and I’ve come to a conclusion, James is speaking about our physical health, to ask God for help and to ask others for help too, illness and injury are certainly suffering evil. But more than that James is speaking about spiritual weakness, are you weak in the faith? Are you struggling with sin, with guilt, with yourself, others, even with God Himself? Come to those wise Christians around you, to the pastoral assistants, elders, maybe even me, by God’s grace and Word I hope I’ll help you, come to the elders of the congregation and ask them to pray for you. And elders make sure you do. Just as Paul prayed constantly for the spread of the Gospel and the growth of God’s people in faith, we too can join with him and join with Christ Himself in thanking God for our own faith, for the Good News of our forgiveness in Christ and that He would spread this peace, joy, hope and love throughout our whole lives and the whole world. When we struggle in our sin we are sick, sometimes we even feel it physically, or maybe in anxiety or depression. Our heavenly Father knows this and it hurts Him too, He loves you, indeed He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die that you might live.

Jesus died to free you from sin, to heal the terrible sickness that sin causes, even to take away deaths power over us. When you struggle with this truth, when you doubt that it applies to you, God in His great grace has given us another gift, and that is our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we struggle we can come to each other, to ask for help, but also to pray together for encouragement and growth in faith, for the forgiving power of Christ’s blood and for God’s peace and joy. You are with all of us, forgiven by Jesus, saved from death by God our Father and defended by the Holy Spirit, so when you are weak, when you forget, come to be with your family, let yourself be prayed for and hear again that God loves you and Jesus has saved you.

And the peace that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Who touched me??

Mark 5:21-43. 
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. {25} And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. {26} She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. {27} When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, {28} because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” {29} Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. {30} At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” {31} “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” {32} But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. {33} Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. {34} He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Who touched me? Or more accurately; “Who touched my clothes?” In a whole crowd of people, what an amazing statement. Yet here again we hear two stories that point out to us just how amazing and great this Jesus truly is. Here is One who is far more than a good example; or even a great prophet. Here is God Almighty himself, letting himself be touched and touching the lives of people who were in deep, deep trouble. He brought peace and life to people who had no hope of either.

And it is this same Jesus who comes to us today with the same words of peace and life: Despite who we are and how terribly unworthy and insufficient we really are. We are in no better a position than this woman and this child in our reading today: unclean, unhealthy and having no further human way out of our predicament. Yet Jesus comes to us as God Almighty and his power is transmitted into our lives; giving healing, life and peace. Now at this, are we too, astonished; or do we simply take it all for granted as a right?

Let as look a little more closely again at this woman with here serious health problem that had impacted her whole life, and left her with no human possibilities or hope. Now, we are told, that she had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. Not only could the doctors not help her situation, they just added to her suffering. Poor woman! But by now her finances had ran out and there was no Medicare to fill the gap. So now, every human source of relieving her from her ailment was gone.
Her only hope left was now God Almighty himself. But even here, what could she do. She could not go to the Temple, because she was unclean. Here bleeding and God’s command had deemed that. God would have struck her down. She could not afford to buy the sacrifice that was needed, so all avenues here seemed to be exhausted also.

But when she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Here in Jesus, God himself was at work. If she could sneak up from behind un-noticed and touch his garments she would be OK. She wouldn’t have to disclose to everyone what her uncleanness was about, and all would be well. Without being noticed and without a word spoken, she touches Jesus’ clothes, and immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

But then it all goes wrong. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. She had been caught out, and now would have to ‘face the music.’ She knew she was not worthy or acceptable to receive from God. She knew that she should and would be looked on with scorn.

But to her amazement she hears Jesus say to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” This Jesus; God – had allowed her to touch him and receive what she so desperately needed. He has done far beyond what she was able to even hope to get: not only did he heal her, but he accepted her and gave her his peace. She was now not only whole and healthy physically, but spiritually as well. All by the goodness of God Almighty himself, through this Jesus. Though she was helpless and hopeless, through the touch, she now had healing and could go in peace. To God be the glory great things he has done.

Likewise with the little girl who had died, the touch of Jesus brought life and joy to her and her family. What was laughed at, became reality. That which was beyond all human help and hope, God’s touch has again done the impossible. That which was dead, has been brought to life. Here in Jesus; great things he has done.

But that was back then; what about here today? Can we expect Jesus to walk into our midst and touch us in our sickness and death: as individuals and as a congregation? Surely, this is laughable to our world around us? Surely, we might be tempted to think that this story is only here to give us some psychological encouragement and to point out that this Jesus was in some way special?

But here let us remember that Jesus comes to us today and extends his touch to us in even greater ways. He comes to gives us much more, than a healing from a sickness, or even raising us to life. Yes, in some circumstances he will heal and perform great miracles. But to each of us he comes to touch us and give us forgiveness of sins and the assurance of life and salvation. He comes to extend his peace to us so that we can go through life with that peace which is beyond understanding.

Think about it: we too are again and again at the end of our tether. We too have exhausted all human possibilities of being able to have the wholeness and peace in our lives that we know should be there. No matter how good and great we might be, we often come as walking dead. Too may things in the past weeks and years have crushed us and caused us suffering. Many times, we also have brought great shame on ourselves and others, and left us feeling worthless and alone, beyond human help and hope: Even knowing that we are completely unworthy to come into God’s presence.

Yet we know and hear that this Jesus Christ is the only one who truly can help us and give us what we need. So we sneak in the back and sit in those last pews seeking God’s healing, and long for his touch and his power: longing for the freedom to again go forward and live. We tremble with fear at the prospect of going away no better than we came. But we come because we know that it is he alone who can help us.

As we sit, we look up and see the cross: we see that which reminds us of a God who has suffered in our place: who died our death. Yes, here is our God who knows our pain and our hurt. He came to be with us and to help us through.

Then as the Service begins, we are not only reminded of our baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, but here is a reminder that this God is here in our very midst and his name is placed on each one of us.

This surely then makes us very uncomfortable for we are sinful and unclean: unworthy to have God touch us. So, we are entered into a time of confession, so that our troubles are laid bare before God, so that he can deal with them. And he does! Through the pastor he pronounces us forgiven: our sin is removed so that we can live at peace with our God here in this service.

From there he leads us into his Word, so that which he wants us to know, can touch us and encourage us forward. He continually leads us through Law and Gospel to see and know Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. He reminds us of the healing, hope and power that he has won for us. He encourages us forward into the coming week to again live and be the people that he wants us to be, so that others in the community around us can see and know the Good News of Jesus Christ also. He wants to touch them through us.

Before he does, however, he invites us to a special feast so that he can touch us in a very real way. He invites us to join with him, the angels and all the faithful who have gone before us. All, so that he can give himself: his very body and blood which he shed on the cross, so that we can know that we are forgiven and that eternal life with God in heaven has been won for us.

Then once again, before we leave, he places his touch on us. Through the Benediction he gives his blessing to us so that we can go forward with confidence and certainty to face the week ahead. Now, no matter how bad things were when we arrived, we now are healed: forgiven and given life and salvation. That which was sick, dead and unclean, has been made whole. Now we are at peace with God; and we can go in peace once again.

Yes, the world out there is still going to be tough. We still have a sinful nature and the consequences of sin will be ever around us. But now we know, God’s touch has the final say in our life. Now we know that we are loved, forgiven and assured of eternal life, no matter what the devil, the world and our sinful self can throw at us. Nothing now in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Who touched me? As we came here to seek his help we have come into contact with his touch, and have been given healing and wholeness. God has again touched us so that we can go in peace. To him again then be all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze

18th Sunday after Pentecost 23rd September

Mark 9:32

But they didn’t understand His words and were afraid to ask.

I wonder, have you ever come across something that you didn’t understand? And we’re you scared to admit it? Maybe others expect you to get it, or maybe you just don’t want to admit your ignorance and failure to succeed. Too afraid of being humbled to be seen as we truly are, people who need help.

The world teaches us that we need to be independent and self-sufficient. To be able to support ourselves, and then maybe help others; but the best and strongest people need no help from anyone. That’s the goal I was taught growing up, get a job, get my own house, support my own family, be independent and be right. And this world has been teaching much the same things for a long time, to get power for yourself so that you are safe. In ancient Judea the people were waiting for their messiah, for the Christ. Waiting for him to come, to restore the kingdom, to kick out and conquer the Romans and to save the Israelites once and for all. They did not understand God’s great plan to save them and all the world, To forgive and bring new eternal life.

The disciples as people in their time, just as we are in our time, also seemed to have expected Jesus to be that warrior king. Peter confessed Him as the Christ just a chapter ago, then rebuked Jesus telling his Lord that He was wrong and couldn’t go to die. Here and the next time Jesus speaks of His crucifixion the disciples wonder about their worldly place in this New Kingdom, who is the greatest, will I be rich and powerful? They were thinking as the world around us does, wanting to grow in power and fame.

They do trust Jesus and try to hear what He has to say, but they don’t get it. They don’t understand. But they should, they’ve been with Jesus for maybe three years now, His inner circle, those who He explains things to (Mark 4:34), if anyone understood Jesus it would be them. But they don’t understand. They don’t understand God’s plan of healing and cleansing for all this corrupt, sinful world. They think, like those around them, that the new king of Israel will restore God’s kingdom by kicking out the Romans and restoring the old kingdom of the Israelites as a country like any other. But then He says He will be given to the people and die. The disciples don’t get it. They don’t understand how that will work in their worldly thoughts. Jesus rebuked Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of this world’ (Mark 8:33). They don’t understand, but they try to work it out themselves, try to rely on their own strength and wisdom. They ask who is the greatest. To afraid in their pride to admit to Jesus that they don’t understand they turn to themselves.

Too proud to humble themselves by asking for help, they are afraid to talk to God. Too proud to pray. How often aren’t we the same?  ‘I can do it by myself, I don’t need God’s help for this small thing’ but from Philippians we hear God’s word to us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, Ephesians 6:8, 1 Timothy 2:1) Are you too proud to ask for help, too proud to listen, too proud to be proven wrong, to be seen as a failure. Too proud to see that you cannot control what happens in this world, cannot control what happens around you, you can’t even control your own desires. We need God’s help, we need the help of Jesus and the Spirit through our lives, you and I cannot by our own strength understand what God does, or what He wants (1 Corinthians 2:13). By ourselves we cannot escape the traps of sin, by yourself and without God you have nothing, at least nothing good that lasts.

Why don’t we bring our request to God, why don’t we ask for the help that He has promised to give? Are we too concerned with this world, how people see you to think about the one who promises to forgive, save and help you, indeed the one who already has (John 3:16, 1 John 1:9, John 14:16). Too proud to pray, relying on ourselves. Are we too scared of being seen as a failure that we fail our God and saviour? Are we of God or are we of the world?

You and I are in this world, but God has brought us to Him, made us His children, His holy people by baptising us into the life death and resurrection of His Son, our saviour Jesus the Christ. In this world we do look like fools, like failures and like sinners, that is what we are just like everyone else. And just like everyone in this world we need help, and humbly we ask for it, even accepting infants as fellow siblings in Christ. No one of us is greater than another, there is no reason for pride or fear because we are with Jesus, who is far greater and more able than all of us and gives us all we need. We are with Him and He with us. Like Jesus was with he disciples the Holy Spirit is with us, with us in our struggles and our joys throughout our whole lives. He knows us and loves us and is there to help us (John 14:16). Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7). God has given us so much already He doesn’t want us to be afraid to ask for the help you need, so do not fear in your failure to ask Jesus for help like the disciples did all those years ago, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God for He loves you.

And the peace of God which passes all our human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

17th Sunday after Pentecost 16th September

James 3:9-10

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Speech and communication are one of the great gifts God has given to us and all people. We learn it very young and it is really helpful to get around with, much easier than being deaf and mute. It enables us to convey complex ideas to one another, to understand each other. It’s essential to our lives, even those deaf and mute have created sign language to communicate. Without communication, with words or gestures, we would not be able to relate to each other. Without speech or language we would be alone, it is how we know each other and our needs. To relate to someone means to talk with them. To relate to God means to talk with Him.

God has given us speech, and how do we use this gift? Do you use it to show how you care for others? To help and guide others? To teach truth? To build each other up, glorify God, promise good? Or to promise evil? To gossip? To lie or mislead? To bring others down and so curse them? Does your tongue both curse people, and praise God? My siblings in Christ, this should not be.

God’s words have power, He speaks, things happen. It is the similar with our words, what we say and how we say it has consequences. We heard today God addressing this through James, that the tongue is like a ship’s rudder, small but with big effects. Just a small fire can destroy a whole forest, and the tongue is a fire. We all know of times where someone has said something hurtful, to bring another down and it has worked, maybe they said it to you, or you said those words to another. But also, we know of when something kind or helpful was said and how that lightens the day of the hearer, again maybe you heard it or said it. We know that words can and do affect others. They build up and tear down relationships. And that maybe why God gave two commandments in those ten about our speech.

The eight commandment is, ‘you will not bear false witness’ or do not lie. What does this mean? Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully believe, betray, slander, or defame our neighbour, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” To speak well of others is God’s will, so how can we insult others and bring them down? The tongue is a guide for our lives, we hear our words and listen to them; if you say someone is a liar, you will treat them like one. And more you have rejected God’s way and are seeking destruction. So do not speak to curse or destroy others, while praising the God who created them in His image. That is not why God gave us speech, it’s not His way.

His way is shown by Christ, and through His Word and the Bible. By God’s grace we are His people, and He has given us the privilege to know Him and to be able to speak with Him, to pray. The second commandment is the gift of God’s name, “You will not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” Here Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” In giving us His name God is telling us to use it, to call on Him to pray. Just as Jesus took the time to speak with His Father, we too can talk with Him, and what is a relationship without communication? We are invited to praise God for what He has done for us and what He can do; invited to give thanks for His mercy and grace; invited to pray and ask Him to help us when we are in need. To help us keep His word, to stay on His way and to control our tongue. He has done so much for you, giving you speech, a good reputation, allowing you to speak with Him, and He promises to hear you. He has given you this great gift of prayer. Do you use it? Or do you rely on your own strength and advice?

Many people pray as an after thought, as I have done many times in the past, or people pray as a last resort, when they are desperate. Imagine if that was the only time we spoke to our family friends and loved ones, those relationships would suffer. So why do we do this to the one who has saved us from death and freed us from sin’s cage? The Father sent His only child to die for you, to adopt you and save you. And Jesus, His Son, willing gave up His own life to bring you life. The Good News is that you are saved from sin’s power, you are God’s children, His heirs, you have life forever with Christ, God loves and cares for you. Praying doesn’t save you, it doesn’t wash away your sins, Jesus Christ’s blood and the waters of Baptism are what cleanse you. But prayer does help, it helps us rely on God, to remember His ways, to speak His word and to control our tongue. And when you fail to pray, take some comfort that Jesus has and does intercede for you (John 17; Romans 8:34), and the Holy Spirit prays for you in groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). God has given us so many gifts, life and life eternal, forgiveness, peace, speech and so much more. So be careful to use speech and use it well.

And His peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

16 Sunday after Pentecost 9th September

Isaiah 35:1, 3-4
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

“Be strong, do not fear; Our God will come,
he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Life here on earth isn’t easy, is it? Jobs, family, and friends are great blessings but also hard work sometimes. On top of that is sickness, injury and chronic illness; we all know someone with cancer, maybe even a child. As well as worrying about health, we worry about wealth, struggling in this world to succeed or just to break even. There is so much suffering in this world, even when we don’t speak of the struggle of us as Christians against temptation, the flaming darts of the evil one, and our own sin. 

The same is true for every time and every place, including ancient Syria where a gentile woman came to Jesus for help. Her people had threatened and killed the ancestors of Jesus, the Hebrews over hundreds of years, the wicked queen Jezebel who killed many of God’s prophets and enticed her husband Ahaz king of Israel and his people to worship the Baals. These people were the enemies of Israel and the Jews; and produced a woman who was so against God and His followers that the great prophet Elijah feared for his life and fled all the way to Sinai. However, these people also produced the woman we heard about today, a woman who cared for her daughter and heard and believed that Jesus could save her even though she was Syrophoenician. Jesus did not see her as His enemy, but rather heard her faith, her reliance on Him and healed her daughter. Like Ephesians says, our enemy is not people but sin and evil.

She was not His enemy, but rather she relied on Him for life and salvation in her suffering and the suffering of her daughter. We don’t know exactly how her child was suffering from the demon, but it could not have been easy for the family. Perhaps it felt like a never-ending trial, maybe with small times of relief similar to the drought today. We heard from Isaiah of a coming time when the desert and parched land will be glad, rejoicing in bloom. There will come a time when God will come and save us, the blind will see and the deaf will hear, the lame will leap like a dear and the mute shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5-6). A time when God will save us from our enemies. And who are our enemies? The cranky person down the street, or in the next pew; the Muslims? Or are our enemies sin, death and the devil? The enemies of Jesus, not of the ancient Jews. Isaiah is foretelling of the coming of Jesus, the deaf hear, the mute speak here in our story today; and we know that in Jesus’ death He defeated sin and the devil’s power, and by His resurrection He destroyed deaths power over us. God has saved us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; and so we speak of the wonders He has done.

But, life here is still not easy. You are saved, forgiven and having eternal life, but you still struggle in sin and are under attack even by the evil one. Isaiah tells us, be strong and do not fear our God will come, but we need help to be strong. We, like the Syrophoenician woman need help, but unlike her Jesus isn’t walking around town. But He has sent the Holy Spirit to walk alongside us, to comfort us and to help you. And if it wasn’t enough to have God Himself with us, He has given us His armour, truth, righteousness, the readiness of the Good News of peace, faith, salvation and His Word, His true promises to you. We are not alone, God the Holy Spirit is with us, but in His grace, God has also given us each other, to encourage, support and pray for each other. The gift of prayer, to be able to speak with The Almighty creator of all, to thank Him and ask Him for help for us, for all the Lord’s people and those in need. God Himself helps and supports us, by the Spirit, by His Word, by each other and by prayer.

God has given us these great gifts, things better than all the other advice, support structures and help in this world, but if we don’t use them, if we reject God’s help it’s not much help to us at all. If when we struggle in drought, in sickness, in temptation and we throw away God’s shield of faith how can we hope to deflect the flaming darts of the evil one? If we rely not on Jesus, but on our own intelligence and skill, how can we bring rain? How can you save yourself from sinning, how can you save yourself from death? How could that Syrophoenician woman save her child from the demon? She couldn’t, and she knew that. She knew she needed help and she knew where to find it. In Christ Jesus. That is who we find our salvation in, and we find our help in the Holy Spirit who dwells with us.

Paul tells us to be always alert and to pray, and elsewhere to hold tight to the hope we have in Christ. We as Christians are given new life in Christ and are called to live in that new life as Children of the light. We are called to be aware of who we are, to listen to God’s Word, living as Jesus taught and as God teaches through the rest of His Word. This is a struggle, Paul was never rid of the ‘thorn in his side’ and in Romans 7 describes the conflicting desires each of us live with, the desire to sin and the desires to follow God’s Way. How do we know God, what He has done for us and promises us? How do we know God’s Way? By hearing His word, reading the Bible; and by practising our beliefs through gathering, through prayers of thanks and request, through devotion of all our lives to God and through encouragement of each other. The struggles of this life are real, but God helps us through them. He has given you eternal life, saved you from the consequence of sin and will help you through your life in this world. Thanks be to God.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor: Graham Josephs

15th Sunday after Pentecost 2nd September


Some people are obsessed with cleanliness. They are always dusting, cleaning, scrubbing and vacuuming. Now I’m not knocking that. I’d sooner live in a clean house than in a pig sty.

Before God, however, we have to be absolutely clean. We can’t approach God if there is the slightest sin in our heart.

How do we become clean? There are only two methods.
First, it is up to us to clean ourselves. We clean up our lives and hope such cleanliness is good enough.

Second, God cleans us. He gives us a new and clean heart.

Our text from Mark 7 shows us that the first method doesn’t work. We can’t clean ourselves sufficiently to come before God. Only Jesus can make us clean enough to enter God’s presence. May we come to Jesus for true cleanliness.


At the time of Jesus there was a group of religious leaders called the scribes. They dated from about 500- 400 BC. They were legal experts. They devised dozens of rules and added to the ten commandments. They thought that these additional rules would help them to keep God’s law perfectly. These became known as the tradition of the elders. By obeying them they thought they would have clean lives. They thought they were now good enough to come near to God. They were quite wrong, of course.

Let me give you an example of some of the rules they made up in connection with the third commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’. Women were forbidden to look into a mirror for fear they might see a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it. You couldn’t trim your beard or finger nails, or carry a burden such as earrings or even false teeth. You could not walk more than 3,000 meters from your home. Parents could pick up a child, but not if the child had a toy in its hand. You were not allowed to eat an egg a hen had labored to produce on the Sabbath. If a wall collapsed on a person, it was permissible to clear away the rubble only to see if the victim were still breathing. And what could one carry  out of a burning house? Only the clothes on one’s back. You could rush naked back into the flames, however, to put on another set of clothes.

Orthodox Jews still try to follow some of these rules today. One President of an AFL football club was an orthodox Jew, hence he couldn’t attend the Grand Final on the Sabbath, the Saturday. Do you know how he got the football scores? He instructed two non-Jewish security guards to tell each other the match scores as they walked past his open window. Apparently it is all right to overhear such things on the Sabbath!

Helen and I discovered some of these rules in Israel one Sabbath. We had to drink coffee without milk because it took work to milk cows and so the hotel didn’t have any milk. Also some of the lifts in our hotel stopped automatically at each floor even if no one got on or off. The reason, orthodox Jews wouldn’t have to press the lift button to get to their room as this was regarded as work!

In our text Jesus and his disciples were accused of not observing the tradition of the elders. They were eating food with unwashed ‘hands’. This hand washing was not in the interests of hygiene; it was ceremonial cleanness. Before every meal, and between each of the courses, the hands had to be washed. The water for washing was kept in special large stone jars and kept clean.

First, the hands were held with the finger tips pointing upwards; the water was poured over them and must run at least down to the wrist; the minimum amount of  water was 1½ egg shells full of water. While the hands were still wet each hand to be cleansed with the fist of the other. This made the water on the hands unclean.

So, second, the hands had to be held with the finger tips pointing downwards and the water had to be poured over them in such a way that it began at the wrists and ran off at the finger tips. After all that had been done the hands were clean.

            The point is, if you didn’t wash your hands like this you were unclean in the sight of God. And you would be subject to the attacks of a demon called Shibta (Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 166-167).

            You can see why Jesus often got into hot water with these strict Jews. He didn’t observe all the tradition of the elders.

            And you can also see why Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. They were more interested in their scribal laws than the laws of God. As long as they kept these man-made laws they were clean. It didn’t matter if they hated someone, or were full of envy, jealousy, pride and bitterness.

            Jesus said that what makes us unclean is not neglecting to keep these made-up rules. They are outward things. What defiles us is what comes from inside, from the heart. The heart is the source and center of life. It is the spring from which either good or evil flows.

            Take a child, for example. It might push or punch its brother or sister. Dad comes along and tells this child, ‘Say sorry’. The child says sorry, but it is clear that the sorry doesn’t come from the heart.

            So the orthodox Jews thought washing their hands would make them clean before God. How foolish. But we can also fall into the same sort of trap. We can think that clean living makes us right with God. If we go to church, if we give generously, if we work hard on the job, if we read the Bible, if we say table grace, if we live a decent life – then we are clean enough to enter God’s presence.

            A do-it-yourself religion doesn’t work. Our attempts to clean up our act are not good enough. We can never make ourselves clean enough to come before our holy God.

            On the contrary, our heart is full of sin. It is dirty. And that means all kinds of evil pour forth – evil thoughts, motives, interests and actions.


            So how can we get ‘clean hands and pure hearts’ (Ps 24:4) to approach  our holy God? There’s only one way. And that is to confess our sinful attempts to please God and with a humble heart receive the  clean heart he gives us. When did God give us a clean heart? When we were baptised. Baptism links us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only one who has ever really lived a ‘good, clean life’ before God. He alone is the spotless Lamb of God who never dirtied himself with the stain of sin. Yet in spite of his own cleanliness, he chose to cover himself with all the dirt and filth of every other person’s sin. and God chose to give him our punishment for that sin, and us his cleanliness.

            In the waters of God’s holy washing, baptism, He gives us Jesus’ clean, holy life as our own and washes away the stain and dirt of our sin. That’s what you call cleanliness.

            Now, by the power of forgiveness in baptism we are enabled really to do what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and our own hypocritical natures can only mimic – offer a life to God that is clean or godly. Now, in Christ, our actions as God’s people – from the rituals of our worship to the duties of our daily tasks – are clean in God’s sight. No wonder St Paul calls baptism a ‘washing of regeneration’ and ‘renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5).

            In the power of our baptism we can say daily, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me’ (Ps 51:10). That’s exactly what God does for us.

As you know today is father’s day. Their role is vital. There are three things fathers need to do with their children. Much of this applies to grandparents too.

First, take time with them. As one son writes, ‘When I was around 13 and my brother was 10, father promised to take us to the circus. But at lunch time there was a phone call. Some urgent business required his attention downtown. My brother and I braced ourselves for the disappointment. Then we heard him say, “No, I won’t be down. It will have to wait”. When he came back to the table, mother smiled and said to our Dad, “The circus keeps coming back you know”. “I know”, said father, “but childhood doesn’t”’.

Second, fathers need to teach their children spiritual truths. They need to teach children that we cannot make ourselves clean before God. We are all sinners. We all need to repent, that is to own up to our sins before God. We can only become right with God through the cleansing blood of Jesus.

Children will never forget what they learned from their fathers. They will follow Jesus. Some may for a time depart from the way of Jesus, but through God’s Spirit, most of these will come back.

Third, fathers need to model Jesus by the lives they lead. If so, the following incident should never happen. Two boys were walking home from church and sharing their reflection on the lesson. They had been studying the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Little James said to his friend John, ‘Do you believe that stuff about the Devil? Do you think there really is a Devil?’ John looked at him and said, ‘Naah, it’s just like Santa Claus – it’s your dad’ .

Ahh, model Jesus. And this goes for grandparents too. It means decent language, honesty, concern for others, a spirit of forgiveness, all laced with love. (This also means that you will monitor the internet when your children surf it. There is so much evil on the internet which is so readily available.)

This reminds me of some children who wanted to watch a movie on TV. The father said no. They came up with all the regular reasons as to why they should watch it. Everyone else was seeing it. The language was pretty good – the Lord’s name was only used in vain three times in the whole movie. They admitted that there was a scene where a building and a bunch of people were blown up, but the violence was just the normal stuff. The father still said no.

A little later that night the father asked his children if they would like some biscuits he had baked. He explained that he’d taken their favorite recipe and added a little something new. The children asked what it was. The father calmly replied that he had added dog droppings. However, he quickly assured them, it was only a bit. All other ingredients were of the highest quality. He was sure the biscuits would be superb.

The children said ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. The father acted surprised. After all, it was only one small part that was causing them to be so stubborn. He was certain they would hardly notice it. Still they held firm and would not try the biscuits.

The father then told his children how the movie they wanted to see was just like the biscuits. Our minds are telling us to believe that just a little bit of evil won’t matter. But, the truth is even a little bit of dog droppings makes the difference between a great treat and something disgusting and unacceptable.

Now, when this father’s children want to see something that is of questionable material, the father merely asks them if they would like some of his special dog biscuits. That closes the subject.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of fathers for the Christian upbringing of children. No one else has a greater effect on children than their father.  


            Some parents were visiting their newly married daughter. They noticed a turkey thawing in the kitchen sink under a dish drainer.  The father asked why the drainer was being used this way.

The daughter turned to her mother and said, ‘Mum, you always did it’. ‘Yes’, her mother agreed, ‘but you don’t have a cat’!

Traditions! Traditions may be good; but some are not helpful. The traditions in Jesus’ day were not helpful. The people thought that by keeping the traditions of the elders they were clean and their life pleasing to God. They didn’t realise that their traditions were drawing them away from God.

Only Jesus takes away our sin. Only Jesus makes us clean. Only Jesus gives us clean hearts. His death on the cross and his resurrection have made us altogether new. Through Jesus and his Spirit we walk in newness of life. That’s what you call true cleanliness.

It being father’s day I thought I would finish with this little piece: 

Dads Turn Out All Right – In Time.

 4 years: My Daddy can do anything.

  7 years: My Dad knows a lot, a whole lot.

  8 years: Dad doesn’t know quite everything.

12 years: Oh, well, naturally Dad doesn’t understand.

14 years: Father? Hopelessly old-fashioned.

21 years: Oh, that man is out of date; what would you expect?

25 years: He comes up with a good idea now and then.

30 years: Must find out what Dad thinks about it.

35 years: A little patience; let’s get Dad’s input first.

50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?

60 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad.

Rev. Peter Kriewaldt