7th Sunday of Epiphany

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

            ‘Thank God’ a common phrase that for many secular Australians doesn’t mean much at all. They aren’t really thanking any god, just using an old turn of phrase. But for you and me ‘Thank God’ means so much more and is so very applicable. When that sudden kangaroo misses the car, we can thank God; When someone is declared well after a long sickness, thank God; When new life is created, or old life is saved, thank Him; and Thank our Heavenly Father, your God and mine, for His wonderful gifts of life, forgiveness, peace, joy, freedom from sin and death, His son Christ Jesus.

            Throughout this letter Paul tells us to rejoice and give thanks, to endure everything that is thrown at us and to rely on Jesus. Even to rejoice if you are thrown in prison, beaten and ridiculed. Even if we suffer from drought, from sickness and from sin. In any and all situations, Jesus, through Paul, tells us to rejoice in Him. We allocate a Sunday each year to thank God for the fruits of our labours, traditionally harvests but increasingly that doesn’t really apply to us all. So instead we can thank Him by our words, our attitude and by giving back some of what He first gave us, to others in need. That is why we have the offering every Sunday, not primarily to support me, the church building, or the LCA; but rather as an opportunity to thank God for what He has given you.

            And what has He given you? He has given you food, most every day, that’s why we say ‘grace’ or ‘give thanks’ at meals. He’s also given you money and by extension all the things you buy with that money. A really handy thing those notes, nice and light, barely notice how much we can put in the offering bag … But of course God loves the cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). He is one Himself, and He also gave everything that is its existence, sustaining it and all of us right now; in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). He has given all people the option to reject His gifts, to forget Him and what He has done, to go our own way, to sin. And we often take that route, some worse than others. We tell Jesus, ‘I won’t forget to thank you’, then we say to others, ‘you worked hard for that, you can do whatever you want with it.’ Even you and I, Christians, forget to be thankful to the God we follow. We take matters into our own hands, we sin and we fail.

            But that is not the end of it, and it’s certainly not the start. When you or I go our own way, instead of Christ’s, He has given us that blessed opportunity and encouragement by His Word and the Holy Spirit to turn back to Him, to repent, and confess the truth He has told us of our failure, our forgetting and of His forgiveness, washing us clean in the waters of baptism, forgiven by the blood of Christ (1 John 1; Titus, 3:4-7; Matthew 26:28). Thank God for that! For His wonderful love and loyalty, in the face of our failure to love and betrayal. God gives you life, comfort and joy.

            This, however, is not all that Paul is writing about. Certainly to be thankful in all circumstances and to ask our Heavenly Father for anything we may need, but Paul also writes to think on, to analyse whatever is true, weighty, righteous, holy, toward love, of good report, and virtuous or praiseworthy. Now you and I know that when we meditate or ruminate of a wrong done to us we feel worse and worse, angrier and even sick it’s like a spiral downwards. When we think on things that are false, shallow, wicked, without God, toward hate, of bad report, and wicked or insulting we forget Jesus. To think over your failure or sin, to watch many of the sad things on the News, to surround your mind with evil, even if we are condemning it, is not healthy, is not God-pleasing. Those things can not bring us the peace of God or His joy, but they can lead us away from His son. Better to always remember God’s Word, what He has done through Jesus, this wonderful life He has given, the beautiful world He has created, the shocking forgiveness that He freely gives all people, the stunning love of Jesus in giving His life for you, the depth of peace that the Holy Spirit brings, the miraculous faith of our brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family, the encouragement, the blessings, there is no shortage of these wonderful and holy things. And when you think of these, we can’t help but thank God for His wonderful gifts, His grace. We are filled with His joy.

            It’s not that we forget the world and become hermits, Paul was thrown into prison because he kept getting in people’s way. Rather it’s a change of outlook, when you see a car cut you off, thank God that you didn’t crash, that He’s given you a car to travel fast and efficiently, thank Him that He gave life to you and that other driver and with thanksgiving we can bring our request to God that it doesn’t happen again. And so rejoice at all times, thank The Lord for what He has given, rely on Him for all your needs, and always recall His wonderful grace in Jesus Christ.

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

Joseph Graham

6th Sunday of Epiphany

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

There are things in this world that don’t always make sense to us. We might ask: Why doesn’t the car start? Why are the telly-marketers talking to me? Why did such an amazing person marry me? And even Why, God, do you care for little ol’ me? Many things don’t make sense, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

And the same is true of God’s Word and His promises, He loves you, forgives you, grants you His peace and joy, and promises you freedom from sin, death and the devil by His Son Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Galatians 1:3-5). That is the truth, The Good News, God’s promise to you. But still, sometimes parts of this don’t make much sense to us. When you look around, when you live and see in yourself, sometimes it doesn’t make sense that God would forgive, or it doesn’t make sense that Jesus had to die, or it doesn’t make sense that people who’ve died would rise again with their own body.

Our world teaches us different things: that some people aren’t worth of forgiveness; that fundamentally most people are good people; and that people don’t rise from the dead, especially not if their body has rotted or been eaten by something, and certainly not rising to live forever. And the Corinthians all those years ago were in a similar situation with a popular understanding amongst Greeks that certainly the good spirit lives on after death, but freed from the evil cage of the body. So some of them taught that there was no bodily resurrection, rather something different happened, perhaps like the idea of immaterial spirits frolicking up in the clouds.

But that is not what Paul and the apostles taught, that is not the Christian teaching that has been passed down from Jesus. Paul says it clearly, that if there is no resurrection, Christ was not raised, you are not forgiven, you do not have eternal life and there is no point to your suffering as a Christian. He and I would be proven liars and deceivers, giving false hope and lying about God, even lying to God; and you would be the most pitiable people in the world, striving for some thing that doesn’t exist like El Dorado or the Holy Grail. That is not a good position for us to be in. But when Christians try to listen to the way the world sees the truth instead of God’s truth that is where we end up, foolish liars.

When you try to understand God’s plan without asking Him, you’ll get it wrong and then it can’t make sense. If we think, “well everyone’s got a bit of good, they don’t deserve to die for what they’ve done, surely everyone will be with God in heaven;” Then why did Jesus die, and what is baptism, what is holy communion, why do you need a saviour, what is the final judgement, why is God so brutal; maybe I should follow another God. But when we take God at His Word, though we might not fully understand, it all falls into place.

You and all people do desire to go your own way, to be in charge, and reject God’s will the one who gives you life and fullness. Jesus did die for you and all people, for your forgiveness and freedom from evil. He did rise from the dead in His body, the tomb is empty, now immortal and free from death. And you are in Him through baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit and so you follow the way He paved. In Christ you are forgiven, you have eternal life and will be free from sin; not just you but all who trust God at His Word, and all creation will be renewed.

But if anyone teaches, or preaches, a different gospel they lie and make God a liar, twisting His Word’s to another ‘truth’. You know the Good News, you are saved in it, so keep an ear out for people, even me, who tell you something different. Our society tells us many things, but we are not followers of this world but of God, so don’t trade His way for the Australian highway. Pray that we might see the way our Heavenly Father does, rather than have our faith changed by our culture. God knows what He’s doing, far better than anyone of us and so we listen when He tells us His plan, His promise. That wonderful promise of new eternal life with Him in Jesus Christ, free from sin and death, forgiven and at peace with the joy that comes from God’s true and Good News.

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

Joseph Graham

5th Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 6:5-7

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Fear, love and trust God. The old translation of the small catechism, the summary of the Bible and the Christian faith for children, and for each one of us. Like your life might revolve around meals, your family and your work; the Christian life revolves around Jesus in The Ten Commandments, The Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us how to act, what God has graciously done and promised and to rely on Him and speak with Him in everything. To fear, love and trust God more than anything else.

And who is God? Creator of heaven and earth, our Heavenly Father, Lord of host or armies, the righteous and just judge, destroyer of evil and the wicked. He made all that is, you, your family, good food, the wonderful night sky, stunning vistas throughout this world, also volcanoes, torrential rain and this dry weather we’re having. He is in charge and He hates the wicked, those who want to harm others and those who deceive (Psalm 5:6; Hosea 9:15). God told Moses that He will curse those who reject Him to the third or fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). And later, cursed is anyone who does not do all these things of the Law (Deuteronomy 27:26). And Paul reminds us that, all people have sinned and turned away from God (Romans 3:10-18) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And on top of all this, Isaiah also might recall God’s word to Moses on the Mount, you cannot see my face, for none shall see me and live (Exodus 33:20). I mean, even the flying seraphs hid their faces, perhaps so they weren’t destroyed by God’s holiness, that consuming fire; but Isaiah is staring straight at it (Isaiah 33:14).

Surely if your going to fear anything at all in this world we should fear the God who made it. He promises to destroy all evil and burn up the wicked (Isaiah 27:4; Revelation 21:8). He is awesome and terrifying for those who sin, who put their trust in themselves or anything else other than God Almighty. When you take away all the little things, deadlines, hunger, what to wear, all the worries of our day to day, this is what is left. You before God.

Isaiah sees this and cowers in the doorway. He confesses the truth as you have earlier. He says, ‘woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips.’ He knew his sin, his deception and rejection of God in himself and the sin of his people. You know how you have rejected God, gone your own way, sought to harm others or benefit yourself against others, we hear of what goes on behind closed doors, at the banks, or even out in the open. We, like Isaiah, forget God and His word, instead doing and saying what we want. But we can’t always get it, we don’t have the power. And Isaiah also is powerless compared to God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

But what does God do? What does Jesus do? When you come to Him in your failure, in your need, what does He do? God’s servant got tongs to hold that holy coal, and touched it to Isaiah’s unclean lips, taking away his sin, forgiving him. This image of a burning coal was used in the early church to describe Jesus, God and man, fully together but no less bright as fire and no less solid as coal. And there is another image this reminds us of God touching our lips and taking away your sin. Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood, the Thanksgiving meal. Isaiah saw Jesus in His divine glory, but now we see Him, no less powerful, no less God, but also in His humble humanity. He is God Almighty, yes, but the Word became flesh and lived with us, that holiness mediated in the man Jesus, and so in Him we can approach the divine throne, protected and forgiven. Now there is no need of fear.

Before Jesus, the righteous judge, compared to Him, every person ever still is the same, powerless, scared and a sinner. That is true. But just as that is true, also, as Paul writes, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The blood of the New Covenant touches your lips and forgives all your sins (Matthew 26:28). Christ Jesus is the judge of the world, and you have been forgiven and made clean by His body and blood, saved and proclaimed innocent. Isaiah saw the truth and experienced it, but did not know that in Jesus that merciful grace would be offered to you and all people. To be made clean and holy before God Almighty, to be joined to Him and to receive His deep peace and bursting joy. The disciples felt something like this when hauling the earthly bounty Jesus had given them, realising who He was and hearing that grace, do not be afraid (Luke 5:10). And this wonder in the forgiveness and peace of God we receive through His Word, through the absolution and through the precious body and blood of Jesus. These things are different from all other things in the world, here God has promised and given you forgiveness. In these unearthly things of bread and wine and words from a book, God Almighty gives us His peace. He takes away your fear. You are forgiven.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:7 “Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say.

It’s all in the Word, the Word of God. God was sending Jeremiah with His Word to go and essentially tell his king, the one who controlled the army and could easily have him killed, tell him what’s what. Understandably he didn’t feel like he was particularly ready for this, too young he says. How often don’t you feel inadequate? Maybe taking on a bigger role at work, maybe getting married or having your first child, or even talking to others about your faith, making sure you’re saying the right thing and living the good life. We know what it means to feel inadequate, it’s not pleasant and we look for help in many places. Sometimes we just try to work at it real hard, and sometimes that works; other times we might try to run away, maybe to alcohol or even simply another place, often that doesn’t work; but it remains true that you need help.

            Now I’m going to say, look to Jesus, but first if it is an issue with your car or plumbing the Bible probably shouldn’t be the first port of call. God in His graciousness has given us skills and people with skills to fix many problems we have in this world, so use these gifts and thank God for them. However, when you struggle in the faith, against your own sin, against temptation to hate another for their sin, against the fear of hurting the ones you love in what you say; look to Jesus and the Holy Spirit who has been promised to you to support you, comfort you, to walk alongside you (John 14:16).

            God loves you, 1 John tells us that God is love! He cares for you and Jesus, who is God called the Word made flesh, never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). That description of what love is describes Jesus perfectly, patient, kind, forgiving, and does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. When you plan to do something significant, pray to Him, ask for guidance and help so that you might not do evil, sin, that you might instead speak good true words, even God’s Word. Follow His example and be love for those around you. It’s not easy, Jesus died living it, and you will fail, using your words and harming others, but remember to look to Jesus not yourself. You cannot always make up for your mistakes, you cannot make yourself good and holy, only Jesus can make you right, only God’s powerful Word made flesh can truly heal, clean, forgive and save you. So whatever happens, whatever you do, whatever happens to you, remember your help is in the name of the Lord of all, in Jesus who truly loves you. Indeed, He has already forgiven you and saved you.

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