Last Sunday of the Church year 25th November

John 5:24

Truly truly I say to you, those listening to my word and believing Him who sent me have life eternal and does not come into judgement, but rather has passed from death into life.

God’s many promises through baptism are a special thing. Paul writes to the Romans (chapter 6) that we are baptised into Jesus Christ’s death and so surely now live with Him and await the time when our bodies will too become like His. To fully come into that eternal, limitless life that He has promised right here, those who listening to my word and believing Him who sent me have eternal life. And it’s a very special thing to see God promising these things again in baptism today. A special thing on a special day in the church year, the last Sunday when we look forward to that full realisation of all God’s promises, the return of Christ Jesus the King. When He comes again and we with all Christians, saints of all time, see our salvation. Free not just from the power of sin and the fear of death, but completely free from all evil, sin, wickedness and living in the full and perfect life that God gave us all by promise through baptism.

In this chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus responds to the hatred of those who rejected Him because He spoke of God Almighty as His equal. But as we confessed earlier Jesus is equal with the Father, and the Holy Spirit; and He declares it here too. Jesus is not just a great teacher and holy, righteous man, He is God. Just as the Father wakes the dead and makes them alive, so too does Jesus; The Father has given authority to judge all to Jesus; to honour Jesus is to honour the Father. Jesus is divine, He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the only true, almighty and lifegiving God. And He tells us to listen to Him and believe the one who sent Him. Each and every one of you, to listen and believe, and what does Jesus tell you?

He tells us that no one is perfect, that we all make mistakes, that you sin and you need help. But it’s not just that, it’s not just a surface thing that we can put off or give up; He tells us through Paul and the Psalmists that no one here on earth seeks for the one true God, there is no one who is righteous no one who understands, all have fallen short and utterly failed (Romans 3:10-18; Psalms 14, 53, 5, 140, 10). A few weeks back we hear Jesus’ words, it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:27), and Paul also tells us that by our own human effort we cannot understand anything of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) that His words are foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18) He even describes us as dead in trespass and sin, following the course of this world (Ephesians 2:1-3) picking up that imagery from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). Truly speaking, without Jesus and the Holy Spirit that is who we are, that is what we are dead and foolish to God’s wisdom.

And if that was all He said we would be the most pitiable people on the planet. But Jesus, God Himself, did rise from the dead; He is alive! Risen indeed! God created all living things, He makes life from nothing and Jesus too makes life, generates it, is it. Someone with a cold passes on the cold, and someone with and infectious disease passes on that disease and the death that goes with it; but Jesus is the opposite of death, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! (John 14:6) Instead of being destroyed by death, He is so much life that death becomes life. He is so holy that instead of being made unclean by touching the diseased He makes them clean, healing and forgiving. In His word He tells us clearly, you were dead, wicked and utterly selfish, but by God’s power, by His lifegiving you now have true life. Paul writes it like this, all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death, buried with Him on that Good Friday with sin paid for, destroyed and gone (Romans 6). You were joined together with Jesus in that death He died, so that, just as He was raised from the dead by the glory of The Father, you too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Joined together with Jesus on the cross and certainly we will be joined together with Him in the resurrection, that new and fulfilled life of divine peace and sinlessness. Dead to sin alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).

Baptism is not just something we do because we listen to Jesus, it’s not just water and it’s not just a once off thing, done, dusted and forgotten. It is where we, by God’s power, promise and grace, are joined together with Jesus Christ, God become man, the beginning and end of our Christian life and our faith; from creation to the great apocalypse, everything that matters points to Jesus, the one our Heavenly Father sent. And so, you, who are listening to Jesus and are believing The Father’s promises are already joined to life eternal, even though you might not always see it. Being joined to Him you also share in His judgement, that has already been paid and resolved, nothing more needs to be said. You have already passed from death into life, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. So live it by The Spirit’s strength!

Pastor Joseph Graham

26th Sunday after Pentecost 18th November

Penultimate Sunday of the church year

Hebrews 10:22-24
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds

I wonder, should I say this, or should I not? Do I doubt the truth of God, or do I trust Him because He has proved faithful? Well I am going to say this, and I’m throwing my lot in with Christ. You know what Jesus did for you 2000yrs ago, and what God has continued to do for you in this life. Do you hold tight to Him, to The confession of Truth, or do you hold it loosely, ready to hide your convictions or even ready to let go? Are we afraid to ask God for His help, are we unsure that He does love and care for us? Maybe we think that our sins and failures are too great for God to forgive, that He has given up on us, or even that we have to make it up to God Almighty, creator of all, and we’ll wait a day or two to speak with Him again.

But God has not promised you that He rejects those who fail and sin, He has not even told you to offer sacrifices to pay for those failings. In fact He tells us that there is nothing we can do, those animal sacrifices of the Old covenant could not wash away all your sins. God has promised you that Christ’s sacrifice, His life, death, resurrection and ascension, has completed you who are being made holy, even from that prophesy of the New Covenant through Jeremiah, He remembers your sins and lawless deeds no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Because of Jesus you, and all Christians, can enter into God’s presence, joined together as one body, even the body of Christ. We have been assured of this forgiveness and of the holiness and goodness, righteousness we receive from God. God has promised us and He is faithful, He tells us that through baptism you are forgiven Acts 2:38; you are adopted Galatians 3:26-27; you are part of the body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:13; joined with Christ in His death, and so also in His newness of life and ultimately His resurrection Romans 6:3-11 (Titus 3:4-7). These wonderful and awesome promises God Almighty has given to you through something as mundane as washing with water. Of course, it’s not the water that saves, it’s God’s Word and promise; but by God’s marvellous grace He’s given us something simple to assure us, that no one can take away and that we can easily grasp. Baptism, and your hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and your body washed with the pure water.

So let us hold tight to God’s Word, His promises, to Jesus the truth, hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. You know the truth of this world, how it really is and what things are really about. God tells us. He tells us who we truly are, what you have done, your helplessness and the help, salvation and renewed life that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gives to you. And here the letter to the Hebrews tells us to hold fast to those words that we say together, when we say ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3), when we confess the ecumenical creeds, when we agree with God and proclaim the truth He has spoken, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and I am one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3) Saved and purified by the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:2-6; 1 John 1:7) now waiting for His return and the full realisation of our new life with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21-22). That is our confession of hope, in a nut shell.

And holding fast to that nut, what do we do now? Just leave that good news on the mantelpiece to gather dust? No! You throw that walnut at your brother and tell him to do good! Here we are told to provoke each other to love and good work, just like my older brother used to provoke me to hit him, but it’d be good things not hitting people. We are also told to not give up on each other, but to be called alongside each other, to be the Holy Spirit to one another, encouraging, admonishing, helping and comforting each other, to point to Jesus and what He has done for us, for you. And this so much more as Christ’s return gets closer.

Pastor Joseph Graham

25th Sunday after Pentecost 11th November

The Widows Mite, More Than It Appears To Be

Text: Mark 12:38-44

Proposition: Pride and humility are revealed in our actions and they declare our belief in who we think is supreme and best able to care for us.                     

Introduction: It had been about three days since Jesus made the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which means it was three days away from the time of His arrest, humiliation and death. One of the last lessons of faith that Jesus gives to the people is the caution to avoid the pitfalls of pride, especially in worship, leadership and stewardship. It’s a caution to value the things that God values, to not be fooled by outer appearances, to neither over estimate the proud nor under estimate the humble. There’s a story told about how a delegation called on Theodore Roosevelt at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The President met them with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. “Ah, gentlemen,” he said, “come down to the barn and we will talk while I do some work.” At the barn, Roosevelt picked up a pitchfork and looked around for the hay. Then he called out, “John, where’s all the hay?” “Sorry, sir,” John called down from the hayloft. “I ain’t had time to toss it back down again after you pitched it up while the Iowa folks were here.” In politics, sports, entertainment and even the church, appearances can be deceiving. As Mark records what Jesus did in those last days, what occurs is a contrast between the worthless actions of the proud and the extravagance of humility. It was a lesson that the apostle Peter never forgot, perhaps as he told the account of these days to young Mark what Peter remembered was how he had fallen in pride and been restored through humility. Turn with me to Mark 12: 38-44.                                                                                                                                             

  1. Recognize The Source Of Pride.                                                                           

Pride is often known by its desire for greatness, that’s how Jesus begins to describe it. The long robes, the formal greetings in the market places, the special seats at the feasts, all these point to how pride is a desire to ascend to the highest place. We recognize pride in the way that it exalts itself, the way it calls others to, “Look at me, look at what I’m doing, aren’t I great!”. Maybe you recognize these as words that children have often called out to their parents as they rode their bike for the first time or climbed the tree in the backyard. When they say this it’s cute, it has a feeling of accomplishment and pride seems to be a good thing, a natural influence in our lives that draws us to take risks and to stretch our capabilities. Does pride somehow start out good and then somewhere along the way turn bad? Is it like a cute little Tiger cub that one day grows up to be a man-eater? 1 John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” It seems that no matter where you look in Scripture the term pride isn’t referred to in a positive way. Consider these thoughts from the book of Proverbs:      Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 13:10, “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.”                                                                                                               

Shame, strife… the Scripture states that these have their origins in pride, no matter the age or stage of life. As pride seeks to elevate self it will either seek to gain the approval of some or seek to diminish those who oppose it. Perhaps one of the most insidious appearances of pride is when it cloaks itself as humility. Jesus refers to the pretense of the Scribes as they make long prayers. He speaks about the way their piety is used to for dishonest gain in consuming the widows’ house. The face and the posture and the words seem humble but at the heart of it all is pride. But pride is not just action or attitude, it comes from a deeper place. Charles Spurgeon tells a story about a wise man who comes upon a shepherd boy taking care of his flock. The water that the sheep have to drink from in the creek is so muddy that it is undrinkable. So the shepherd boy is taking out jugs of water, letting it sit and then carefully pouring the clear water out to the flock. The wise man sees this and observes that it’s going to take all day to water just half the flock. He suggests to the shepherd boy that they walk upstream to see what makes the creek so muddy. As they come over a rise they see this pond out of which the creek flows and it has all kinds of wild animals and birds walking about its edges. The pond is fed by an underground spring and the spring water is pure yet all these wild animals and birds are stirring up the mud and the creek becomes undrinkable. If they will chase these away and then guard the pond then the shepherd no longer needs to work so hard at straining out the muddy water. The point is that pride issues from the heart and we can work at changing our behavior till the day is done and it still won’t fix the problem. You need to go to the source, clear out that which pollutes it and then guard it from other intruders. How do you do that? Proverbs 8:13, “All who fear the LORD will hate evil. That is why I hate pride, arrogance, corruption, and perverted speech.” Know the truth of Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.” In contrast to the pride of the Scribes comes the humility of the widow as she brings her offering to the Temple.

  1. Know the Strength of Humility.                                                                                

I think it could be a little unnerving to have Jesus sitting there by the offering plate as it were, watching what each person drops into it. We would likely think that this was inappropriate if it happened today. Yet there Jesus is, I’m thinking that He was there because that’s where the Father asked Him to be, that’s where this event was about to unfold, a literal event and even a prophetic event. On the surface this looks more like a story about generosity than humility, an extravagant generosity that draws the eyes of the Savior. It’s what Jesus says next that moves this to the realm of humility, “…she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” So two ideas immediately present themselves:

  1. When it comes to giving to the Lord it’s not the amount that is of primary importance but rather the heart attitude of sacrifice that the amount represents.
  2. When giving to the Lord it’s not about duty so much as it’s about dependence. When you think that she gave her whole livelihood that sounds irrational, what will she live upon tomorrow? The widow’s answer would be that God has promised to provide for her. This is where the focus shifts from lessons on giving to lessons on humility. It’s why Jesus calls the disciples to Himself, the lesson of humility is one which they will dearly need as they face isolation and the formidable forces of resistance of both Herod and Satan. Charles Spurgeon said that, “It is not humility to underrate yourself, humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you.” The widow in Israel was one who was to be protected, Psalm 68:5 says that God is a Father to the fatherless and a judge of the widows. Deut.10:18, Prov.15:25, Psalm 146:9, Jer.7:6, Isa. 1:17…all these verses speak about God’s concern for the widow and the fatherless. The care of widows was meant to be a spiritual barometer for the nation of Israel, that this widow had but two mites to drop into the offering spoke very poorly of the spiritual health of the nation. It is no small coincidence that this story is immediately followed by the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. The widow knew the word of God, she had placed her hopes upon its promises and upon the Lord Who stood behind this Word. Her humility was a confidence properly placed, she had no hope in herself. All this is what Israel ought to have done. Humility begins in the heart, the same place that pride has its origin. It is from the heart that God calls us to follow after His will and design for us. Consider Isaiah 57:15, “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit cof the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” If humility is to think of yourself as God thinks of you, then humility is a pursuit of the truth of who we are. Humility in that sense is what marks the character of Jesus, He knows the truth of who He is. It is that same right assessment of identity that Jesus calls us to, it’s why He revives the spirit of the humble that they would walk truthfully before Him. The contrite heart is a repentant heart one that changes from pride to humble agreement with God. The widows’ heart was humble, the circumstances of livelihood were there and it was a concern, yet she declared her even more real trust and dependence in God. In the Bible there are 49 verses referring to Pride, 25 referring to the humble and 833 that speak about the heart. Guard your hearts! “The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.

24th Sunday after Pentecost 4th November

All Saints reflection

Matthew 5:1-12

Fortunate are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Fortunate are you when others despise you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We hear blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven, God Almighty’s Kingdom, that belongs to all those who He has justified through Jesus; for all those saints who have gone before. It’s always a bit funny, or rather strange, talking about our Christian brothers and sisters who have died. There again is the pain of loss, of what could have been, that sorrow at sin and its final consequence; but also the comfort and joy that those who rest in Jesus, baptised into His death, will surely rise again with Him on the last day, or maybe they’ve joined up with the angels singing God’s praise in His glorious presence as Revelation shows us. We don’t know exactly what happens after a Christian dies, God only saw fit to write down that we will find our ultimate rest and peace in Jesus Christ His Son.

But I am not talking to the saints who’ve gone before, but rather to you, the saints still in the war. Fighting against temptation, against fear, despair your own sin, even the sins of those down the street. We are still in the thick of it, and just like many farmers in this drought we are called to be vigilant all the time. Are you?

Do you always reject temptation? Do you realise that you cannot live on your own? Are these beatitudes things that you need to do, God’s Law for you? Jesus was teaching His followers when He spoke these beatitudes. Fortunate/blessed/happy are the poor in spirit, the crushed and broken, those who have no self assurance, no self esteem, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; do you hunger for something when you’re full, or when you don’t have it? Rather than God’s Command these are promises for who? In the final one we hear who Jesus is talking to: Fortunate are you, Jesus says, when you are despised and persecuted for His sake, rejoice and be glad.

And you are blessed and fortunate because you have been shown your sinful failings and been washed in the saving waters of Baptism, as that saint who came before us said in his letter to the Romans (6:1-11), in baptism we are joined to Christ in His death and so too you and all the saints who have gone before, all those who knew their need and received Christ’s righteousness, all of us have suffered under sin, but will be ultimately be united together in His resurrection, on the last day.

Pastor Joseph Graham.