Reformation Sunday 28th October 2018

Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-32

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


The truth will set you free. Two weeks ago we heard that for us humans it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God, but all things are possible with God. As Ephesians chapter 2 tells us, we were dead in our sin, but God made us alive in Christ; “by grace you are saved through faith. This is not of yourselves it is the gift of God.” (verses 1-10). And last week we heard that the eternal life we have with Jesus our Lord is one of suffering, obedience and prayer. This week we are celebrating, of course, Christ Jesus resurrection over death, but also the return of the church on earth to the teaching of justification by faith, celebrating the Reformation. To say both of those as one, we are celebrating the truth that sets us free!

But, hang on a moment, how can Jesus say that it is His words that set you free, aren’t you free already? We live in a free country, as we hear so often. We are free to say what we want, to associate with whomever, to practise any religion. We are already a free people because we are here in Australia. This was the same reaction Jesus’ followers had, ‘we are descendants from Abraham.’ A bit of a funny reaction I think, because they were subjects to the Roman Empire and the Israelite nation was defined as the people God brought out of slavery in Egypt and into the land promised to Abraham. And for you, you are subject to this nation, you must pay tax and obey the laws of the land, even those you disagree with. We are not completely free in this world.

But even more than that, you are not free in yourself. As a descendant of Adam, you are born in sin and from birth you are turned in on yourself, looking towards your own desires and wants corrupted by sin, and incapable of seeing the truth of the world around us. The Truth that Jesus Christ reveals. You are a slave to sin and you cannot free yourself (Romans 6). Slave to money, to work, to despair or pride. When you lie you can become trapped, and have to lie again and again until it all blows up; until the truth is revealed and you are finally free of your lies. Trapped by your pride, by bad habits, addictions; trapped by sin. If you sin, you are a slave to sin; this is truth that Jesus says (John 8:34). And elsewhere God tells us that sin earns us death (Romans 6:23). Even if you don’t realise it, just like these followers in the text, even if you don’t realise that you are a slave to sin, it is true. Maybe you do realise it and it kills you inside, that you did that horrible thing, that you crushed those you love, you hurt God, to serve yourself, and you wait for the punishment you earned still living with that sin and guilt or even keeping it hidden and failing again and again. But that is not the whole truth, there’s more.

God the Father gave you life, your body, this wonderful world of rain and sunshine. He sustains you through food and water, the air you breath, even your friends and family He has given life to. Then, Jesus suffered and died for you, He asks you to trust Him for your righteousness and forgiveness. And not only these but also the Holy Spirit gives you faith, hope and love; He shows you the truth of this world, your sin and the goodness and graciousness of God particularly through Jesus. Many times we may still reject God’s gifts and instead submit to our own ideas of truth, seemingly wanting to return to the slavery of sin.

But you have been freed from that slavery, you are free to hold to God’s forgiveness and the eternal righteousness and new life you have in Jesus. Saint Paul wrote that in baptism we are taken from that slavery of sin, even we die to that life; and we are brought to new life together with Christ, dead to sin, alive to Christ. Sin is no longer your master, no longer has power over you, you no longer need to submit to it. (Romans 6:1-14). In baptism the Holy Spirit washes it away and clothes you in righteousness, you are joined to Christ, part of His body and adopted as God’s beloved child (Acts 2:38, Titus 3:5-7; Galatians 3:27-29). We are freed by Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. You are freed from sin, death and the devil by Jesus suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. You are forgiven, and given life eternal by Jesus Christ.

That is the truth that sets you free. Jesus died for you, forgiving you by His blood and bringing you eternal life. You no longer need to live trapped by your sin, your failures or your wickedness, but you live by Christ’s words, His obedience, success and righteousness; by God’s gracious gifts, by His marvellous promises. And so, live! Amen

Joseph Graham


22nd Sunday after Pentecost 21st October


Hebrews 5:8-10
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Last week we heard how it is impossible to gain eternal life by what we do, but rather it is a gift, freely given, by God the Father to you through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. In today’s sermon we’ll look at what that means for us here and now, with Christ Jesus, The High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.

I’ll say a bit on Melchizedek, king of Salem because he’s an interesting character, Jesus is part of his priesthood and so we are too, and his name is fun to say. Melchizedek, he was the king of Salem in Abraham’s time and Abraham gave to him a tithe before there was any thought on Earth about the temple or tabernacle tithe. The name Melchizedek literally means ‘king of righteousness’ and he was the king of Salem, king of peace. He appears for a brief time in Genesis 14:18-20 and is not heard from again. Certainly a mysterious figure.

But more certainly the priestly order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of Aaron, descendent of Abraham and first High Priest of Israel; as the writer of Hebrews says later in chapter 7, if perfection could’ve come through the old priesthood why was a new priestly order needed? And later the former is set aside because it is weak and useless, (for the law made nothing perfect) and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:11, 18-19). The old has gone and the new has come.

And what is this new priesthood? How is Jesus The High Priest of the order of Melchizedek? The High Priest is the one who approaches God’s throne and intercedes between us and the one who can save both Him and us from death. Jesus is the one who lived the true and right life, He was tempted in every way as we are, yet He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). And in that life here on earth He brought to God His needs and peace offerings with loud cries and tears, sweat like blood (Luke 22:44), and God heard Him because of His holy reverence, fear and respect. Jesus, our High Priest, is the one who stands between God Almighty, the consuming fire of holiness and light, and you. How small and insignificant we seem in this world and against the greatness of God why should He care for us? But He loves you.

When God Almighty first established the order of Aaron there were priests who ignored God’s command in how they should worship, and they worshipped in their own way. Fire came out of the tabernacle and consumed them (Leviticus 10:2). Rejecting God Almighty and going our own way has dreadful consequences. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus is there between us, is there for us, true God and true man and able to deal with us compassionately in our sin and failure and also forgives us. He has suffered our temptations and knows our struggles, our weakness, and He loves us; just as He turned and loved that rich young man last week. Because He suffered being tempted, He is able to help us who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).  If it were not for Jesus, this High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, we would be lost; but God, being rich in mercy, has made you alive together with Christ the High Priest (Ephesians 2:4). Adopted as His children, as inheritors with Christ, through Baptism by the Holy Spirit, you have eternal life. The life of Jesus.

He is the eternal Son of God, a High Priest who has given himself wholly to God, who even though He was Son of God Almighty, King of kings, became a humble servant to serve you. He learned obedience through His suffering here on earth and was made perfect and the source of eternal life for you who obey Him. A life of obedience, suffering, prayer and ultimately joy and love. This is the one who we follow, not a glorious ruler with great armies, power and riches [though He has them] but rather the suffering servant and High Priest who obeys The Heavenly Father and devotes Himself to your salvation.

Do you who are saved listen to Him and obey Him? When you are tempted to go your own way, do you reject yourself and turn to God and His way? Do you suffer in your life in this world because of the Faith and the gifts of God? The world rejected Jesus 2000yrs ago, He was executed before He was 40yrs old, He suffered because of His obedience and devotion. You are one in Christ, called to the same devotion, called to obey God’s Law. Do you intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to life as in God’s presence, and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy? Part of one of our confessions. With the help of the Holy Spirit, with God all things are possible, strive daily to obey God’s Law, it’s hard work, even as Christ has made you holy by His blood, His life death and resurrection.

In Christ you have eternal life, forgiveness and peace, freed from sin, death and the devil. Jesus lived that life and we are joined in Him, you are holy in God’s sight, but here again we have encouragement to live as the holy people we are in Christ Jesus, to devote our lives to God and to turn away from our selfish sin. You are saved, now live in that newness of life.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guide and guard your hearts in Christ Jesus. Go in that peace and serve the Lord. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

21st Sunday after Pentecost 14th October

Mark 10:17, 27
A man ran up to and knelt before Him and asked Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.

I wonder, have you ever asked that question before. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to get salvation, to get God to love me, heal me, save me? We want these good, holy things, what must we do to get them? I’ve heard this question quite a few times, ‘Have you found Jesus?’ ‘Have you given your life to Christ?’ I’ve even heard some answers as well, but these answers often focus on what you do, what you must do to inherit eternal life.

So I ask you, what must you do to inherit things from your parents? Do you need to keep your room clean? Do you need to exercise well and eat healthy? Maybe be successful in life growing your own family, or growing wealth and benefitting others? Perhaps you need to get your parent their hearts desire before you can inherit from them? Or do we inherit from our parents because we are their children? Not because of what we have done but because of who we are, part of the family.

How did Jesus answer the rich man? Have you kept the commandments? Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, defraud, and honour your parents. The young man says, he has kept all these from his youth. It’s good to hear he hadn’t killed someone, or committed adultery, and has always honoured his parents, but we know that God is stricter on His rules than we are. Jesus says on the sermon on the mount, that anyone who is angry with a brother breaks this commandment, and anyone who looks lustfully at someone not their spouse commits adultery. In our secret thoughts and desires we reject God’s will and go our own way, the way of sin and death. We could ask, ‘in your life have you ever wanted to lie if you could get away with it, wanted to injure, to steal, to disrespect your parents?’ This is God’s Law, God’s Commands. They show us how we should live, what we need to do to be righteous and holy; but they also reveal to us how we fail to live up to these commands, like a mirror shows who we truly are.

And if we’re thinking, ‘I can do all that, be kind and caring to those people I meet.’ Jesus left out the first 3 of our Lord’s commandments, “You will have no other Gods, but Me” He says, “Do not misuse My name” and “remember My holy day and keep it holy.” When we rely on anything that is not God, we reject His commandments; when we use God’s name lightly or fail to use it at all, we reject His love; when we forget the gathering of God’s people, when we ignore God’s Holy Word and when we give no time in our lives, week, or day for God, we reject His care and His truth. God gave these ten commandments, this Law, for you to help you and guide you, but do we even always remember them let alone always keep them?

Jesus said to the young man, ‘Go, give up your reliance on money and wealth and devote your entire life to Me.’ And the man went away severely distressed. And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.’ And His astonished disciples said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ I understand that astonishment and the deep sorrow of that rich young man, and I’m sure that there are those who get it so much more than me. To be crushed by that weight of expectation, on my best day I don’t think I fully keep even half of God’s Law. And to fail every day at anything can be soul crushing, bringing us into despair. Or perhaps to deal with it we convince ourselves that we are actually doing ok and do keep God’s Law, and so ignore God’s Word of truth in arrogance and pride as the Pharisees did elsewhere.

These are the two bad understandings, despair and arrogance, we come to when confronted by God’s Word of Truth, With man this is impossible. You cannot do anything to gain eternal life, nothing you could do could remove your sinful desires and your continual failing. It’s as if you were dead trying to make yourself alive. The man asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ what did you do to inherit your life here on earth? Nothing, you were given life by the grace of God your Heavenly Father, through your mum and dad. With man it is impossible, but not so with God. For with Him all things are possible. Just as mothers love their children, God loves you unconditionally. You cannot make God love you, but He already does. You cannot make God forgive you, but He does in Jesus death, by His blood. You cannot make God give you eternal life, it’s impossible for us to earn it, but Jesus has earnt it for us and freely gives it to us by the Holy Spirit.

God tells us this wonderful truth through Paul, “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7). It’s impossible for you to make yourself righteous, to gain eternal life, so God has done it for you and freely gives it to you in Jesus Christ our Saviour. In His mercy He saved you through baptism by the Holy Spirit, adopting you into His family, making you an inheritor of eternal life (Romans 8:15). That is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. By yourself, by your work and effort you cannot gain eternal life, but In Christ God has given life to you. With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. You are in the Kingdom of God, and by God’s marvellous grace you do inherit eternal life.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

20th Sunday after Pentecost 7th October

Mark 10: 17 – 31
There is a remarkable correspondence between the account in Genesis:2 from today’s lectionary reading and the issues raised by the conversation between Jesus and the rich man and the disciples regarding salvation or eternal life. In trying to understand this connection we also see the truth of Martin Luther’s words in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Therefore, whoever knows well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian (Luther LW Vol 26 p115.)

 What Luther is saying is that in one way or another we are all theologians, we all have views about ourselves, the world and God. But what distinguishes real theologians from fake theologians is their knowledge of the difference between God’s Law and God’s Gospel. This ability consists in the right use of both the Law and the Gospel. God’s Law confronts us with God’s commands. It constantly reminded us just how far we are from knowing and loving God. It tells us that in fact we hate God, we would rather be free of God’s commands and be the judges of what is good and evil for ourselves. How very post-modern is that!

The Gospel on the other hand is God’s Word of free forgiveness in Christ, the covering of our waywardness and hatred of God by God’s gift of Christ’s righteousness; whereby we are set free from being haters of God’s law to embracing his will for us and our neighbour, in which we express our thanks to God for His grace toward us in Christ. 

In the scriptures from Genesis to the Gospel of St Mark read today, we see how the difference and unity between the Law and the Gospel has a very drastic effect if they are not understood or rejected.

In the garden of Eden man (Adam/Adamah means ‘earth’ from which God created man) Adam is put amid a flourishing garden planted with all manner of edible fruits which are there for his benefit and sustenance. There is however one important proviso or exception. He must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says if man eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on that day, “you will surely die.” So, the fruit of this tree has fatal consequences and thus God’s command to avoid the fruit of this tree is a prohibition to safeguard and protect the Adam’s life. God’s command is life giving and life preserving. In this command God’s protective hand is stretched out over man. God wills to protect what He has created from death, with all its negative connotations. God’s command concerning this tree is a powerful promise of life and abundant nourishment for Adam in the garden.

The threat posed by the fruit of the tree, which man is forbidden to eat, is that God knows that once eaten man will have his eyes opened and he will have the knowledge of good and evil. For Adam this is the fatal threat that this tree poses. It promises the knowledge of good and evil. Once man has this knowledge God cannot stop the fatal consequences flowing from the decision to eat the fruit, this occurs in Chapter 3 of Genesis. But once the fatal step is taken man will become himself like God. He will possess in the knowledge of good and evil that which distinguishes the Creator from the creature. The knowledge of creation established in its lawfulness as good. God’s act of creation consists in the establishment of that which is not God within the limits of creaturely being, as created. In relation to God and this limitation of the creature is being a creature is as part of the good creation that the Lord God makes and loves. God knows the creation in its earthly reality as created is limited, is not divine, it is not unlimited but limited, it has boundaries set by God’s act of creation and which is declared ‘good.’

In transgressing the commandment that is meant to save and secure the creaturely life of the creature, man becomes the possessor of divine knowledge; man become as the Bible puts it “like God knowing good and evil”

But such knowledge, once attained, cannot become unknown. Man is burdened with it and it becomes the seed of his destruction as the creature God has made from the dust of the earth. For the creature makes the impossible attempt to be like God and therefore rejects the gracious life preserving truth of God’s command regarding the tree of knowledge. In seeking and achieving this knowledge man hates the limit of his creaturely being and life as the one who God had created and willed to relate to in love. But instead seeks to be equal with God; man grasps the impossible possibility for a creature of being “like God”. Adam thus embraces his own death as a creature in his rejection of God’s good command to “not eat of the fruit tree of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Instead of allowing God to be God and rejoicing in the promised goodness of God’s commandment towards him that wills to preserves life; Adam and all his subsequent generations hurtle headlong to destruction in hatred of God’s commandment and reaching for the unattainable goal of being like God. Possessing the ability to know good and evil, having a conscience, being the judge and therefore being like God. Rejecting the love of God encapsulated in the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; rejecting this love, rejecting the life-giving life preserving commandment, Adam chooses the death of separation from God as a would-be god with all its awful consequences. This is immediately revealed by the book of Genesis in Adam’s family. His descendants multiply and destroy each other as generation succeeds generation.

When we come to the New Testament, the reading from the holy gospel of St Mark 10, we are presented with the difference between those who are obedient and those who are disobedient to Jesus. Who’s in and who’s out of the kingdom. It has two main sections: one dealing negatively with the disobedience of the rich man and the other positively dealing with the nature of the disciple’s obedience.

We shall begin by trying to see the difference by looking at the second section first: The obedience of the disciples. They ask Jesus, “Who can be saved”, for they are “astounded” and “amazed” at Jesus saying that it “is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than that rich man should enter the kingdom of God.” When the rich man seeking eternal life says he has kept the commandments turns away from Jesus when confronted with the meaning of God’s commandments.

Contrary to the rich man who departs and goes away from Jesus. The saying of Peter in v.28., is not contradicted. That they indeed, the disciples, have left all and followed Jesus. They have done in fact what the rich man could not do. But to their amazement Jesus does not then say that therefore they inherit eternal life, as opposed to the rich man. Surely, we may think, Jesus is over emphasising the situation of human beings before God. Haven’t the disciples done precisely what the rich man was unable to do and in so doing, leaving all and following Jesus, haven’t they by doing this shown that entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is after all a human possibility.

But Jesus words in v.27 puts an end to this illusion. That even they, the disciples, the obedient ones, should enter the Kingdom of Heaven is an impossibility for men. So, Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ urgent question, “Who then can be saved” is effectively – ‘No one’ can, ‘Nobody can be saved’. The disciples, standing as they do before the disobedience of the rich man, are forced by Jesus words to see themselves as standing on a par with the rich man when it comes to reckoning up “Who can be saved.” They are forced to see that their only hope, as it is also the hope of the rich man, that with God, “all things are possible,” and therefore even their salvation as well. For this possibility of God is standing before them and the rich man in the person of Jesus, who as God’s Son is identified in his flesh with the godforsakenness of the human condition. He is God’s possibility which excludes both the rich man as well as disciples from salvation in terms of what they have done or not done: for He is in Himself not simply the divine possibility of salvation He is its actuality.

Even though it is true of the rich man that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of as needle than that he should enter the Kingdom of Heaven, this is also true of the disciples: those who have done what the rich man could and would not do. From the point of view of their own ability the disciples too lack precisely the same thing as the rich man. This is the discovery they are forced to make when, according to the text, they exclaim, “Who then can be saved!” The judgment of Jesus on the rich man, the affirmation by Jesus of the one thing necessary applies no less to the disciples.

These words of Jesus compel the disciples to see the disobedient in an entirely new light. Jesus’ seemingly harsh words directed at the rich man and indirectly to them as well, who have left all and followed Him, that they indeed are included in Jesus saying, “With men it is impossible.” With these words Jesus binds the disciples in complete solidarity with the disobedient rich man. In Jesus encounter with the rich man and in the consequent discussion the disciples are confronted with the yawning abyss of their own disobedience, the impossibility of their salvation apart from the actuality of the possibility of God’s grace present for them in Jesus. The presence of God’s grace in Jesus excludes all people from the Kingdom of Heaven in order that those who enter, enter only because of the gift of grace present in Him. Who can be saved? Nobody can be saved, the affirmation of the one thing necessary for the rich man applies no less to the disciples.

What is it then that distinguishes the disciples of Jesus from the rich man, the disobedient. The difference does not consist in their obedience, what they have done in following Jesus as opposed to the rich man’s disobedience. What distinguishes the disciples from the rich man is not who and what they are but who and what Jesus will to be for them in His call of them. In their following Jesus, their being with Him, they testify to the possibility of grace, the fact that with God all things are possible and that includes their obedience. They remain disciples only in so far as they continue to acknowledge this mystery to be the basis of their existence. For the conversation between Jesus and the disciples ends with the cryptic saying, “many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”

But this gift of grace present in Jesus was there not only for the disciples it was there for the rich man as well. The gospel writer adds the critical words in the context of Jesus conversation with the rich man: “Jesus”, he says, “looked upon him and loved him.” When Jesus goes on to tell him what he lacks, the freedom from his riches, he does so in order that he, the rich man, may see that Jesus is there specifically for him. Jesus call of the rich man to follow him and forsake his riches shows us, as in Genesis, that the command of God is life preserving and grounded in God’s love. It is that rich man, may give up what he has chosen as giving his life meaning and value, his possession and instead receive the gift of God’s grace as that which gives his life enduring meaning. Within the hard shell of the commandment that Jesus gives the rich man is the life preserving love of Christ which he chooses not to receive  

For who else is Jesus on the way to Gethsemane and Golgotha, but for the sake of those who are enslaved by all that negates true human life. Jesus hard words to the rich man, the demand that he lays upon him and which causes him to turn away, this hard demand is in order that the rich man may be set free to allow himself to be loved by Jesus. This was purpose of the command of the law which the rich man could recite but did not know. The rich man can certainly reject what Jesus wills to be for him and he does so. But his actions cannot negate or overthrow the Kingdom of Christ, the fact, so poignantly stated by the gospel writer, that Jesus looked upon him and loved him, loved specifically him with his hard and rebellious heart.

In Him God has taken to himself the sinful humanity of every one of us, children of Adam and become the One, the only one to live a human life before God that allows God to be God. To fulfil the Law not for his own sake but for ours. This involves Him confessing the sin of Adam and all his descendants by allowing God to be in the right in rejecting the foolish creature who sought to be God by knowing good and evil. Allowing God to be the judge. Allowing God to be in the right over against Him and thus embracing his journey to the cross and death in order that a new Adam may come to life in His resurrected glory and be the one who lives to give this new humanity of His to those who accept the gift of His truth and righteousness as the truth about the untruth of their lives and thus live by faith in Him. And we are promised this wonderful gift of Himself in Word and Sacrament

Dr.Gordon Watson.