Third Sunday of Epiphany

Luke 4:18, 19

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

            Have you ever had to explain something complicated to anyone? Or had something complicated explained to you? Imagine a 12yr old explaining how to use the internet on a smart phone to their 80yr old grandparent who hadn’t even used a computer in their whole life. If the kid just told their grandparent everything all together at one time, I doubt anyone would understand or be fully understood. Rather it’s better to tell things one at a time, step by step, even walking the other person through it slowly. Fortunately this is exactly how the gospel accounts are written, slowly and progressively explaining to us again and again who Jesus is, coming back to the point again and again in different ways. At Epiphany you heard that Jesus is to be king of all people, two weeks ago, we heard Jesus is certainly God’s Son and you are too, in Him, then last week we spoke of Jesus showing His power and bringing joy, now again He reveals something about Himself. He reveals what He will do.

            On the topic of revealing, I have to say that we only heard half the story today with the second half up for next week. So I’ll quickly summarise, the people of Jesus’ hometown were first amazed. Then, after Jesus says a prophet isn’t accepted in his own town, His hometown people try to kill Him, but He gets away. A bit of an odd response to God’s revelation of truth maybe, but nevertheless.

And what is that truth? That He fulfils the promise of God through Isaiah, that one will be appointed by God to bring pardon, freedom and sight to the poor, broken and blind, and will send them out proclaiming the year of God’s favour and acceptance. Good news to the poor and freedom for all people as you read more of the prophecy in Isaiah 61. The revelation of the good news of Christ. But what is He actually saying, and who are the poor, captives, blind and crushed? And what is this acceptance of God in this new year?

Is He talking about you? Are you poor? Well, not when comparing your wealth to many around this world. Are you captive? This doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of prisons or POW camps. Are you blind? I hope your eyes work, because most of you still drive! Are you crushed? Crushed by what? In this country, in this town, you are relatively rich, free and safe, so why do you care about Jesus, this teller of Good news to the poor? The ancient Israelites rejected Jesus, partly as He didn’t fit the earthly, warrior king they were waiting for. They expected help to maim and kill and further themselves in this world. God told the Israelites before they came out of the desert to be aware because when they live in the land of milk and honey they might forget what God has done and ignore Him (Deuteronomy 8:11-19). So, the Jews tried to kill Jesus when they heard His Word, how do you react?

Does it matter to you, or are you thinking about what you’ve got to do this arvo? Is the dullness of the preaching pushing you away from the wonder of God’s gifts to you? Does living this life of luxury, with food, drink and clothes a plenty, or even this dull day to day living help you forget the gravity, the importance of what Jesus does for you and not just you but every single person. Do you always remember the grace, hope and love you have in Jesus Christ, every day, or are you crushed by the worries of this world? Are you poor in spirit and conviction? Are you blind to the truth Christ reveals? Are you trapped by the evil of this world, the temptations of the devil and even your own sinful desires?

The truth of Jesus is that in this world, yes you are; but Jesus comes to save you, to free you from your sin, to forgive and pardon you, to bring you true light, to reveal the truth of your need and your salvation. And with the words of Nehemiah (8:10) “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This day you’ve heard again the wonders of the time of acceptance of you by God. Don’t forget what Christ has done for you, He loves you. Don’t forget that you can rely on Him for help in your struggles with sin and evil. Don’t forget that in Him you are forgiven, a beloved child of God. Don’t forget that with Jesus you have joy. Don’t forget to allow some time to explain or understand things, repetition does help remembering. And don’t forget that because of the cross you will be free.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Epiphany

John 2:11

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

            Who here had wine at their wedding? Who ran out of it because people were still celebrating two days later? In this season of revelation one thing God reveals through John is that Jesus likes weddings, He didn’t let the party stop, didn’t crush the joy. But there is much more to this account than just supplying fantastic and free wine for the wedding feast.

            John calls this miracle the first sign of Jesus. Now we all know that a sign points to something else, street signs and red skies. So what does this story point to? What is it a sign for and what are the other signs? Well, in John’s gospel there are seven events in Jesus’ life called signs, all of them pointing to His death on the cross and the resurrection, three days; all revealing a part of its importance. And so John wants us to think about and understand better Christ’s crucifixion through this story, so that you may believe (John 20:). And not just that but John writes that through this sign of the crucifixion, the death of Jesus, His glory is revealed. How can that be?

            Well the story tells us what will happen, the need will be met with abundance. The wine ran out, and Mary tells Jesus about this, He replies saying His hour has not yet come; the time of His glorification and death is not now. Perhaps regardless, Mary tells the servants to listen to Jesus and do whatever He tells them to do. Jesus instructs the servants and water becomes some wonderful wine. They needed wine, they had run out, and Jesus provided it, and not just any wine, but the best! And in abundance around 600 to 900 bottles of it! And who can make water into wine? God can, but He usually uses grapevines and time. Jesus, the Son of God, provides for your needs. We can only get so far on our own until we fail, fall into shame and need a saviour. Along with every other human you need to be saved from sin, death and evil, you cannot make it on your own; He provides that on the cross.

            But it is not just that, the wine is drawn from those special ceremonial jars. These jars were used in the purification rituals of the Jews, washing hands before meals, cleaning dirty things and purifying the spiritually unclean. This Jewish water of purification into the Christly wine of celebration and joy! Jesus fulfils our needs and also He fulfils the Word of God in the Old Testament. Both all those commands and guides that we learnt in Confirmation and also all the promises that God had made to His people. He perfectly fulfils and completes the whole Word of God, to bring joy to you and all creation. His crucifixion is something new from the old, just as you are a new creation in Jesus Christ, to His glory and your joy.

            So this sign points to God’s glory and our joy in Christ’s crucifixion, His hour. What He has done, Thanks be to God! But what about you, what do you do now? There’s different ways of writing, teaching, poetry, story and others; and when we hear a story from scripture it can be helpful to think about which character is most like you. Probably not Jesus, but maybe, or maybe His mother, the important person of the bridegroom, the MC, the disciples, the bride though we don’t hear what she does, but I’m going to highlight the lowly servants and Mary from verses 4 and 5. Do whatever He tells you. Mary just told Jesus there’s no wine, He tells her ‘what of it?’ then despite this apparent disinterest, even arrogance or denial, Mary relies on God’s salvation through Jesus. She tells the servants to listen to Him and obey. They don’t understand what’s going on, much like us hey, but they trust and obey. Now I don’t know if these servants later followed Jesus, or if we’ll meet them at the end in Jesus, but I do know their example of faith is a worthy one. In Matthews account Jesus sends out the eleven before the ascension telling them to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all He has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20); John’s parallel account more emphasises the forgiveness and peace of God through His Word, the Gospel, and throughout scripture we hear God’s Words, His commands and His promises. To live in Christ’s crucifixion is to listen and obey, as Mary says, Do whatever He tells you, even if you might not understand for He has given you joy to excess!

            So as people of the crucifixion, listen to Jesus and obey Him. When you do fail remember the fulfilment of all His promises, you are forgiven and loved, now married to Christ, in His bride the church. At the crucifixion you might see a dead and rejected man, but that scene is the glory of God and your joy.

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

Joseph Graham

The first Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 3:22

And the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”The

            This is the season of Epiphany, of revelation, and so This is your life! And our first guest is John the Baptist to tell us a bit of your journey. He came to prepare your way, and He points to you the mighty one to come! Of course, I’m specifically talking about Jesus of Nazareth; however to say that John the Baptist was talking about anyone of you might not be that far off.

            Today we remember the baptism of Jesus, the voice and the dove, but what is baptism? Why was John baptising others? And why did we hear from those other parts of God’s Word? From what I have been able to gather, baptism, or washing/submersion, in the time of Jesus was used by the Jews for those coming into the faith, much like Christians do today. Now John and some particular groups of Jews also baptised Jews themselves, those who were already part of God’s people, the importance being that it’s not just outsiders or non-believers that need to be cleansed but also those who are of God’s people. All people need to continually recognise their dirtiness, guilt and sin; their need for salvation, salvation that God had promised. And so John’s preaching and baptising prepares the way for the promised salvation; Jesus. There is more to say about baptism in the ancient world 2000yrs ago but instead we’ll look back a bit further.

            The prophecy we heard from Isaiah chapter 3, spoken around 2700yrs ago, tells the people of Israel, and by God’s grace you as well, to not fear, God Almighty has redeemed you, is with you and will gather you who He formed, made, created. You will pass through the chaotic, deep water and through the consuming, purifying fire in safety to the glory of God. He’s obviously talking about the future, but don’t you think that it sounds a bit familiar? What Bible stories can you remember about people ‘passing through’ water or through fire? … There is, of course, the flood, also the Exodus, the coming into the promised land, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fire (Genesis 6-9; Exodus 14; Joshua 3; Daniel 3). All these stories tell of people who trust God, are in trouble and passing through receive salvation, blessings and life. Not only that but in the flood the Exodus and the three in the fire, those wicked are destroyed, no longer able to harm or threaten. But again Isaiah is looking forward, and though these stories may help us understand they are just a reflection of what it to come.

            And like these stories John tells the crowds, he’s not the greatest or most important, that one is coming and will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Then comes Jesus, the one John said would separate the wheat from the chaff, gather the good grains and burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. We know that the two common images of condemnation are darkness and fire, but remember also the prophecy of Malachi 4 that He will be a refiners fire, purging the dross from you, purifying you from the evil and sin you struggle with day after day in this life. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, guiding the Israelites in the desert, appearing to His prophets in visions (Exodus 13:17-22; Ezekiel 1). Fire can symbolise purity, life, passion, and also destruction; and God Almighty, the Most Holy One, In His holiness destroys wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13; Isaiah 6:3-5; 2 Samuel 6:1-11). God came to be with the Israelites on Mount Sinai but many Israelites died because of their evil. So what does this coming of Jesus mean? Holy Spirit and fire? Judgement? Destruction of all evil? … Well, yeah it kinda does. But does that mean we should be terrified? No.

            As Paul writes to the Romans and the Galatians, we are joined together with Christ in our baptism into His name (Romans 6; Galatians 3:27). And so your life is now a reflection of His. He was baptised, remembering all those passing through water to salvation and peace, The Holy Spirit came upon Him as a dove, symbol of peace, remember the angels to the shepherds, ‘peace and goodwill to those with whom God is pleased’ (Luke 2:14), And who is God pleased with? Jesus, who you are part of, joined with in baptism. God Almighty says to you, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

            But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus suffered in His life, speaking the truth and holding to it. He took on our sin, dying with it, like the flood destroying the wicked; but He rose again to life, like rising up from baptism, glorified, in peace, pure and holy. In Jesus this is your life too, though a poor reflection mired by our failings and forgetting. You do suffer when you hold fast to God’s truth, because we still struggle with our sin and others, but the suffering is not the end. The end is peace, joy and love in Jesus, freedom from all evil, and that end we have now in part. Baptism, passing through the water, is a summary of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which is also a summary of your life. That is the revelation today, you are in Jesus through baptism, hold to the truth and that truth is, God almighty says to you, “You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased. Amen
Pastor Joseph Graham

Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-12

Once there was a man who came to see the well-known Pastor Charles Spurgeon. He asked him if his church was a pure church. The man said that he wanted to find a pure church to belong to. Spurgeon replied that he didn’t know about his own church. He did know that there were many good people in it, sincere Christian people, but there might possibly be a Judas among them, as there was in the company of Jesus’ disciples. Yes, there could possibly be some deceivers and idolaters as there were in the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and all the others in New Testament times. On the whole he thought that his church was not the one this man was looking for. In fact, he didn’t know that there had been such a church in all of history. Pastor Spurgeon then said, “But if you should happen to find such a church, I beg of you not to join it, for you would spoil the whole thing”*

The Church is a strange entity. In our creed we state that we believe in the holy catholic church, or the holy Christian church. But what makes it up? What kinds of people exist within the Church? We might like to think we have the perfect or pure church, but that thinking would be naïve at the least. If someone were seeking the pure church, the one where Christ is found, would they come here? If there were some wise men looking for Christ, would they come here?

The Wise Men of our text are said to have travelled a long way to see the Christ Child. Once they arrived, the Bible says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. ” (Matt 2:11)

Note that the text says that they went into a house. Now we normally think the Wise Men came on the same night as the shepherds – after all, the wise men are often part of our Nativity scenes – but this is not so. They came quite some time after Mary had given birth to Jesus. It’s quite possible Joseph had probably secured a house for the family by this time.

So, the Wise Men walked into the house and saw the Christ Child. Now, they could have just peeked in through the window and then said, “We’ve seen the Christ Child” and then went on their way, but they didn’t do that. We are told they fell down before the Christ Child.

Remember that these were men who were probably often in the presence of the king of Babylon or Persia or one of the other lands of the East. They were probably important, intelligent, and wealthy. How could they now come to the lowly town of Bethlehem and bow down before a child? This house wasn’t a palace and it wasn’t in the beautiful royal city of Jerusalem. Yet here in a humble house was the pure church, because this is where Christ is! There response was to humble themselves, to give themselves before the Christ Child. What humility, what commitment, and how complete their giving of themselves to the Lord!

All of us can learn some important lessons from those Wise Men. You and I have also seen the Christ Child. We have seen him in our Christmas worship services, in the carols on the television and radio, in our Bible readings and devotions. Sadly, some will have failed to see him during the Christmas season in all the hustle and bustle.

But for those of us who have seen the Christ Child, what is our response to him? Do we fall down before him in humility?

No, we probably struggle in this area because each one of us has some sense of pride. Each one of us has a problem in lowering ourselves at times. Each one of us has a big problem in humbling ourselves before people. If we struggle to humble ourselves before people, then is it any easier to humble ourselves before God? Yet if we desire to be wise like the wise men of our text, the first thing we need to do is fall down before Jesus in humility.

The Wise Men also worshipped the Christ Child. Notice carefully that the worshiping was distinct from the falling down and from the giving of gifts to the Christ Child. Those Wise Men certainly didn’t come to impress Joseph and Mary. They certainly didn’t come to show the people on the street that they were doing something great. They came to worship the Christ Child. This is the way it ought to be with wise men today. We hope and pray that there is not a person in this church who is here because they are trying to make a good impression, or because of other people in the church, or because they hope to gain material benefits. If there is, then they are a hypocrite and their practice is out of step with what they profess.

This church is here for one reason. Our presence here is to be for that same reason – and that is to worship Christ and to grow in Christ. All the other religions in the world try to help people look better before God, so that God will finally accept them in his favour. Only in Christianity do people come to know and believe that they are helpless sinners. Yet as we come before Christ, we also hear that God provided an answer to our helplessness and our sinfulness in his Son Jesus Christ. Our response is therefore thanks and praise to God for his loving mercy. Our response is to praise and worship our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – no matter how lowly our church building or how small our congregation might be.

There once was a man of God named John who loved his village chapel. One day, he was stopped by a friend, who happened to be a devoted fisherman. The fisherman said, “John, I’ve often wondered what attraction there is, up at the village chapel. You go there week after week to the same old chapel, see the same people, and sing the same old hymns . . .”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted John. “You often fish at the same spot, and in the same water, don’t you?”

“Yes, that’s true,” agreed the other.

John smiled and said, “Well, actually, you don’t, for the water you fished in yesterday has passed on to the sea; in the same way every time I go to the chapel, the Lord has something fresh for me.”

And how true that is! Sometimes people may wonder why we come here week after week to sing the same hymns, use the same service orders, and hear essentially the same message of forgiveness and hope. Here in our church we keep hearing the word of Christ’s death and resurrection, and that Jesus has paid for our sins and given us eternal life, yet this message is strangely new every time we hear it! Every Sunday we see the baptismal font that threatens to be lost in our familiarity – just another piece of furniture – yet it is also brand new as we continue to receive forgiveness every day through that once-in-a-lifetime event. Here we receive that same meal with the same taste of bread and wine, yet time after time it is still food and drink from heaven – always powerful, always effective, and always new.

The Wise Men knew that they had something fresh before them. And so do we who believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, know that every time we fall before our God and Saviour in worship, we receive something fresh and refreshing.

The Wise Men in our text didn’t just fall down before the Christ Child and worship him; they also offered him gifts. The gifts they offered were not ordinary gifts picked up from a discount store. They probably weren’t even products of their country. We know of no gold native to Babylon. Frankincense and myrrh of the finest quality came from India. So all of the gifts were probably imported and were of great value. They certainly didn’t present to the Lord what was left over.

Consider the three kinds of gifts presented and their meanings. Gold was offered to kings, the riches of royalty. Frankincense was offered to God, burned as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. An offering of Myrrh was a reminder of death, for it could be used in embalming. So here gold was offered to the King of kings, frankincense was offered to the God of gods and Lord of lords, and myrrh was offered to the One who would die for the people. He is our King, our Lord and our Saviour. How significant those gifts were at that particular time!

When we place ourselves before the Christ, what gifts do we give? Leftovers after we pay our bills and treat ourselves to a few luxuries? Or do we follow the example of the Wise Men and offer him our first fruits? And what is our motivation for giving? Let us offer our gifts for the same reason the wise men did: because Jesus Christ is our King of kings and Lord of lords, and, by his death on the cross, our personal Saviour.

Here in this house we meet with Christ. Here in this house we have the pure and perfect church. Not because we are perfect but because Christ is here in his Word, in the waters of baptism, and in his Holy Supper.

In this sense, we all come as wise men and women to worship the Christ. We have all been led here and we all humble ourselves before him. We come to offer him ourselves in humble service toward him and each other. We come to offer him small gifts that are not from our left-overs, but from our first fruits: ourselves, our time and our possessions.

We also come to receive his refreshing Word of forgiveness every week. We come to receive his living Word through the Bible readings and the sermon that inform our lives. We come to taste that heavenly meal that assures us of God’s continuing love and forgiveness. Thanks be to God that Christ allows himself to be revealed to imperfect humans so that we may come before God in peace. Amen.

Walter B. Knight