3rd Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 55:9
:As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

            Sometimes people we love decide to do somethings that just don’t make any sense to us, we think, ‘Why did they do that? How come to that conclusion? What’s going on?’. We know that we don’t all think the same, but there is hope, to understand your parents, children, friends and other people. We are all fundamentally the same, we are human and are influenced by the things that have happened in our lives, by our genetics and those we have lived alongside. But to think like each other, to really get into someone else’s head, that’s not an easy thing to do. Then compared to this, trying to understand other humans, how on earth could we ever understand God, His thoughts and His ways?

            He tells us. He tells us that His ways are fundamentally different to ours, as separate as the earth and the stars. And by His grace He also tells us how God’s thoughts are different to yours and mine. The difference between the thoughts that come from us and the thoughts that come from God. In the first two verses of this chapter He tells all who are thirsty ‘to come and buy milk and wine without cost’, then asks ‘why do we work for things that don’t satisfy’. His way is to receive from the Lord the blessings of freedom, life, and satisfaction; and our way is to strive to earn things, and strangely enough things that don’t satisfy. Our Heavenly Father here gives a fantastic analogy for how we are saved, thirsty people given free drink; the drink is yours, you need it, you didn’t earn it, but you can reject it; far better to trust the gracious giver and receive well His benefits.

But then God says to you that your ways are like chasing after things that don’t satisfy. Fundamentally, simply put we think we earn everything we get, and we strive for things we don’t need, and this is even in the small things. I’m certain that you all remember wanting to do something that was not helpful at all, maybe you only realised later, or maybe you just really wanted that extra beer, to hit that person in the face, to get to feel good in the moment regardless of what would happen later. But that you always think that you earn what you get might be something that you trust God about, but don’t really see it in your life. But it is true. This is why we struggle with God’s salvation, with our faith and trust in God. Despite your sins, your failures and your betrayals, Jesus still loves you, still forgives you, this is harder to accept for some rather than others. This is what Paul writes about in Romans, what I want to do I do not do, what I do not want to do I do, … what a wretched man am I. Thanks be to God who delivers me from this body of death (Romans 7:15-19, 25). In our society we hear about karma, you get what you give, give good receive good, give evil receive evil; we’re told it’s the way the world works. But what about cancer? What about sudden death of a family member? What about those Jews killed by Pilate?

How does Jesus respond to these questions? Do you think these people are worse sinners, more evil than you? No, all are sinners just as bad as each other, we all want to earn our salvation and strive for things that are bad for us. But unless you turn from your evil ways toward God, you too will perish. (Luke 13:1-5). Are you thirsty, do you need God to take you out of this destructive cycle? Jesus tells us, yes, we are; but don’t forget that God’s mercy and forgiveness, freedom from your sin, death and the devil, these things He freely gives you.

Through Isaiah He tells you that He will make a covenant with you, an everlasting promise and relationship, nothing can take you away from the love of God. This promise to David of the Messiah, the Christ to come. That people from every place will come and He will protect them, people the Israelites had never heard of, many of our ancestors, and also people we do not know. All these people, indeed all people who are trapped by sin, who are chasing the things of this world, the things that don’t satisfy, who are striving for what God freely gives; these people God calls to turn from their sad ways of living, to reject their thoughts and to turn to Him, to Jesus, who has mercy on them and pardons them.

In this season of Lent we remember that we and all people are helpless sinners who need God’s help. We look to Jesus, forward to Good Friday where He suffered our sin, guilt and death, and also to Resurrection Sunday where He rose victorious and free over sin, death and the devil. He is our saviour, our commander and our King.

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

Joseph Graham

2nd Sunday of Lent

Philippians 3:20-21

But our citizenship in heaven has already begun. From where we eagerly await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

            ‘Do what I say not what I do’ A phrase that most of us will have heard or maybe said ourselves. Of course, it means that what I say is true even if I fail to do it myself. But Paul writes something different, he says to do what he does and what he says, probably not something that most of us would be confident to say.

            Paul elsewhere writes that he copies the way Jesus showed him and so in imitating Paul we imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). What we do and the way we do it are important, people see it and it affects them, ridicule or honour even imitation, especially with kids. We hear from James, “I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). The way you live shows people what you care about and what is important to you. Of course speaking is part of that, so don’t be scared to tell others about the help, grace and wonders Our heavenly Father has shown you in your life.

            But here in this passage Paul puts up two ways of living, or walking, of going through the motions of life. He first mentions the way he follows and is calling the Philippians, and through the Holy Spirit you too, to imitate, but then goes on the explain the other way. Those who walk as enemies of the crucifixion of Christ. In context he’s probably writing of those who demanded that Christians act according to the old Jewish ways, diminishing the glory and wonder of Jesus’ death on that cross and so may look to themselves rather than God Almighty. Nevertheless, it’s clear from the description and our lives that this way is still followed today. The way that ends in destruction, the people whose god is their belly, who revel in shameful things, whose minds are set on this life, earthly things, and not on Jesus.

            That their end is destruction is easily understood, they reject Jesus as their saviour and so reject salvation and life. But the god of the belly is a bit different, we don’t have buildings dedicated to your gut. But in this season of Lent if you’ve given up eating some type of food like me you’ve probably also struggled with that god in your belly, maybe even caved in to it, but this god of the belly all humans have is more than just relying on bread alone. It’s seeking to gratify all your desires, to chase after, yes food, also drink, healthiness, strength, intelligence, sex, wealth, power all these desires that you and I have and with which we are tempted away from God to ourselves, like Jesus, by Satan. But then to be proud of falling to these temptations, is to glory in shame. These desires are all for this world, not for the one to come; they are all for our earthly benefit and pride, but reject our relationship with the one who created it. To chase these is to store up treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves come and steal, to set our minds on earthly things (Matthew 6:19).

           Now we can think about people who attack the church from outside and look at how they fit this description, but Paul is writing to Christians. Paul weeps because these people, these enemies of the cross, were part of the church, but then began walking away from the Faith. And so, yes be wary and concerned for each other, how we maybe living; but also examine yourself in what your mind focuses on.

            By God’s grace stand firm in the Lord this Lenten season. The grace that forgives all your sins, all your guilt and all your failure. For you, like the Philippians before you, are already citizens of Heaven, your home is not Dubbo, not Gilgandra, not Australia, not truly anywhere in this wide world; you belong with Jesus in the New Creation. And you wait, yes, we wait, it’s been such a long time, still we suffer, but even more still we wait eagerly; eager for the saviour of all to come, The Lord Jesus Christ, who has authority over everything, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). And with that authority, by His power, He will transform our bodies, weak, mortal and sinful though we be; to be like His glorified body. It does sound a bit like the gospel of glory or the prosperity gospel, but the difference is that throughout scripture we are told that in the end, at the new creation in Jesus, we will be righteous and glorified in Jesus Christ our Lord. This sure hope of salvation, and freedom from sin, death and the devil is the wonderful good news, and by God’s grace He doesn’t hoard it all at the end of time (John 8:36; Romans 6:22; 8:1-4). Rather He gives us little tastes of what is to come, His forgiveness in the absolution; peace in baptism; joy in Holy communion, and transforming our minds and actions now by our hearing and thinking on His Word, these wonderful gifts given by the Holy Spirit. But even compared to the most amazing and deep experience He has given you, there is so much more to come. So stand firm in the Lord.

            In our Christian lives there are just two ways to go, either we look toward Jesus, or we don’t and end up walking away. If you were to imitate my living, it would involve much struggle against the god of my belly, my desires for this world, and many failures, but also feeling shame in my shame and turning back to Jesus who I wait for and who forgives me even a thousand times a day. Even if you and I fall into temptation, our end is not destruction, Jesus does not reject you, He remains faithful to you and forgives you, gives you His peace and joy (2 Timothy 2:13). When we sin, we feel that guilt and shame, our willpower is weak, but this is the lowly body that Jesus will transform to be like Him, your sin does not disqualify you from citizenship in heaven, people can only loose that by rejecting it (Romans 8:38-39; Mark 16:16). So stand firm in the Lord not in this world, don’t forget what He has done and who you are because of Him. We could just concern ourselves with the day-to-day mundane world we live, in danger again and again of falling for that god of the belly; much better rather to remember Jesus, who He is and what He has done for you, what He does for you, who you are in Him and also the end of time when you, me and all our brothers and sisters will live with Him forever.

Pastor Joseph Graham


1st Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:2
“where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry”.

We are waiting for a cool and wet change, a mark perhaps of the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, changing of the seasons. As the seasons change in the weather so they do in our church year. For the last two months we heard who Jesus is, God and man. Now in the next two months we’ll hear some of what He did and why it matters to you and me.

And so, after being baptised Jesus went into the desert guided by the Holy Spirit. This was a time of fasting and perhaps preparation for what He was about to do in His three-year ministry culminating in His death, resurrection and ascension. And after 40 days He was tempted by the devil. Tempted in three ways to break the first of the ten commandments, to rely on the gifts that God had given Him, to rely on others for His own benefit and to use God to get His own way. Even today the devil tempts us to reject God in these same ways.

Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, 5 and a bit weeks. He was hungry it says, probably the understatement of that century, most people I know get hungry within a day; and He is human, we die after 40-60 days without food so it’s safe to say He was starving and close to death. But He is also God, creator of all, the devil tempts Him to prove His divinity by using His power to sate His hunger. He certainly could do it, He feed 5000+ people with 5 loaves and two fish; and God brought bread out of nowhere in the desert for the Israelites (Luke 9:12-17; Exodus 16). However, He listens instead to God’s way and His Word, man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). Of course, Jesus would go on to eat, blessed by the gifts His Father gave Him, but at this time He would not rely on His abilities to satisfy the devil.

We too have many gifts of God, life is the first and the foundational one but also the skills and knowledge we have received through our lives in this world that God has given. And like Jesus the devil tempts you and me to rely on these gifts rather than the God who gives them. A simple small example is when you grab a snack to give you some energy and forget God, in that time you are relying on the snack to give energy, not God who gave you the snack. Certainly there are more atrocious ways we might fall to this temptation of the enemy, like relying on our goodness to get ahead in life or on wealth to benefit and save ourselves. To rely on what is created rather than the creator.

The next temptation was to rely on the devil to receive what God had already promised to give Jesus, all authority, glory and power on earth. Now the devil is the father of lies, so I’m not sure that he could actually give this, but he is also called the ruler of this wicked world (John 8:44; John 14:30, 16:11, Ephesians 2:1-3). Regardless Jesus rightly confesses that we are to worship and glorify God alone, the first commandment, to look to Him when we need help and to live for Him who has given us life and everything we have.

Again you and I hear the whisperings of the deciever when we are tempted to rely on anyone, perhaps even the pastor, for salvation; to worship and glorify someone instead of God. Of course God has given us all the people in our lives, the wonderful ones and the not so wonderful; but again to rely on the gift instead of the giver is to reject God as our saviour. However we can, and should, thank God for the good He brings us through other people, like Jesus being provided for by Mary and Joseph.

The devil’s final temptation, before he leaves to tempt Judas later and orcesrate the crucifixion to his own destruction (Luke 22:3), is to abuse God’s Word and promise implying that Jesus would not have to suffer that death. To display His power and God’s grace to all with all the armies of heaven. Later Jesus reveals to Pilate that He could command all the heavenly armies to come and destroy those calling for His death (John 18:36), but His kingdom is not of this world. And in the same way Jesus rejects the devil and his ways and his twisted usage of the Bible, instead choosing to trust in God’s way that even though it was more painful and difficult that it was the best way and the right way.

Here we can remember that firstly people can twist God’s Words to say what they want and so we, like Jesus, should try to learn the whole of God’s Word and it’s foundation well so we can recognise, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance through the Word, anything off about what someone may say about God, Jesus, the faith and His church. The second thing we can learn is that you and I are tempted to do just that, twist God’s own Word to justify ourselves. The devil may say to you in different ways, ‘well you’re forgiven already for everything, so you might as well swindle that person or lie to your spouse or what have you’. Then when you do fall into temptation, really any temptation, the devil doubles down on this two hit combo as satan the accuser, ‘you’re a terrbile person for doing that, God won’t forgive you’. Of course, he is the father of lies and this is the biggest lie of all, no matter what temptation you fall into, a horrible and wicked betrayal of Jesus even killing Him again it may be, no matter how you fail God, He wants to forgive you and take away your guilt, so turn back to Him and ask for His help.

In the letter to the Hebrews (2:18; 4:15) the Holy Spirit tells us, that our high preist, our leader Jesus, was tempted in every way that you are, but didn’t fall and so He sympathises with you in all your temptations, even your falling into them, and He wants to help; so rely on Him and trust His promises. As we prepare over these 40 days to remember and celebrate our Lord’s death and resurrection let’s remember that He has given us everything we have, has given life to all the people we know and has given us clearly His precious promises of life, salvation and freedom from sin and guilt. Relying on Jesus as He helps us reject the temptations of the evil one.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Transfiguration Sunday

Matthew 17:5
A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”

“You are my dearly loved child”

A cellist with the Sarajevo symphony, Vedran Smajlovic, did what he knew best to help the citizens of Sarajevo.  In full evening dress, he took his cello and sat down amidst the rubble, or with the frightened in bomb shelters or those grieving at funerals and played.

He played concert after concert. It was his gift of love to the city. He did it because he felt his community needed hope and encouragement in the face of so much death, destruction and hopelessness.

His music defied the sound of bombing and gunfire and gave people the encouragement to believe that in spite of the death and destruction, a beautiful future was possible.  This kind of hope was his gift to each person to see beyond the darkness of joylessness and insecurity and fear.

In 1984, Sarajevo was the focus of the world as it hosted the Winter Olympics.  Ten years later the sports facilities created for the Olympics were in ruins. The city of Sarajevo was under siege by Serbian forces. Mortars and artillery fire instantly transformed once beautiful buildings into rubble. Sarajevo’s citizens were frightened, weary and increasingly despondent. No one knew when shells would rain down on them and bring more destruction and death. Snipers targeted people on the streets. Countless were killed, wounded and maimed.

Taking the Gospel reading in its context, there were dark and joyless days ahead for both Jesus and the disciples.  Jesus had already started to warn his disciples that there was a rough road ahead. In just a few verses before our text today we hear this, â€œJesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matt 16:21).

We know that Peter didn’t like Jesus talking about fierce opposition, suffering, and being killed by his own people and reprimanded him for speaking this way.  I guess we would do much the same.  If someone we love, who was hale and hearty, suddenly started talking about coming to a violent and sudden end, we would do something similar. 

What made this kind of talk even harder for Peter is that he had just confessed, â€œYou are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It just wouldn’t make any sense if someone as important as the Messiah, the one sent by God, God’s own Son, was to be killed by God’s own chosen people. Besides of what use would a dead messiah be?  This was unthinkable.  Peter had given up everything for Jesus.

We know how Peter felt about the looming dark days ahead.  Jesus had the same kind of feelings and emotions that we have, and so I imagine that the thought of rejection and mockery and the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross made Jesus flinch.  He didn’t deserve treatment like this.  He had only helped people.  He had shown love and kindness.  This kind of treatment is all wrong.  It isn’t fair.

So, he does what he usually does when things get too heavy.  He withdraws – he withdraws to spend time with his heavenly Father.  He goes to a mountain to be alone in prayer. There he meets Moses and Elijah and they talk.  A voice from a bright cloud says, â€œThis is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” 

What happened there on the mountain – his encouraging and supportive chat with Moses and Elijah who put his fears to rest and refocus him on God’s plan to save all people, and then the affirmation from the Father in heaven â€œThis is my dearly loved Son” â€“ all this was like a father putting his arm around his son saying, â€œI know this is an incredibly tough thing for you to do, but you have my support and help.  You won’t be doing this alone”. 

This mountain top experience wasn’t only an encouragement for Jesus.  In just a short time, the disciples will be sitting in the rubble of everything they believed about Jesus.  What they had seen and heard was suddenly blown to pieces.  Their faith was shattered into a thousand pieces.  Everything was turned upside down when Jesus was arrested and then crucified, the disciples were confused and troubled by everything that was taking place. 

And this wouldn’t be the only time when their faith would be challenged.  Rulers and kings would imprison them, people would stone them, others mock and abuse them, they would go hungry and thirsty and be deprived of basic human decency. They needed something like the cellist of Sarajevo to encourage them and give them hope in the middle of everything that was going wrong.

For them it was the image in their minds of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, the divine glow around Jesus, the voice coming from the bright cloud, â€œThis is my dearly loved Son” that gave them courage, hope and a focus. 

We heard Peter talk about the events of that day in our 2nd reading (2 Peter 1:16-18)as if it had happened just yesterday, whereas in actual fact 30 or more years had passed.  This mountain top experience made a lasting impression on him (not many, if any, Gospel events are recalled in the letters of the New Testament in the same vivid way).  The veil of Jesus’ humanity was lifted just a little and his true greatness, his godliness, his honour and glory were revealed.  Something really important was going on through Jesus.

If Peter ever experienced, as we do, days of uncertainty, 
if he ever wondered if he was on the right track, 
if he was ever tempted to go back fishing instead of being an apostle, 
I believe the transfiguration was one of the memories that shed light into his human dilemma.  God was at work and just as Jesus had been encouraged before going to Jerusalem, Peter was confident and full of hope as he faced his own 
Jerusalem whatever that might entail.  His reflection of the transfiguration reminded him, “Yes, Jesus is truly God’s Son.  I know it.  I have seen his divine glory.  I heard the Father call him, “My own dearly loved Son”. Because of what Jesus’ did for me, I am now also a dearly loved son of the Father and he will watch over me always.”

So in the end what does the transfiguration of Jesus offer us today?  
How does this event in Jesus’ life help us?  
Does it have anything to say to us in 2017?

When we come here to worship, we come into God’s presence and the divine is revealed to us. We have our own transfiguration experience. We hear again the Good News of salvation, sins forgiven, the call to discipleship, the promise of eternal life.  In some way, every time we hear God’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, the veil is torn away, and for a moment, we see the glory of the Lord, his will for our lives and our place in his family. 

We celebrate Holy Communion with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven; what a glorious moment.  We gather around the throne of the Lamb and are renewed, revived, strengthened, encouraged and given new hope to face the troubles that confront us in the dark valleys of the week ahead.

When we are burdened with everything that happens in our lives, we are given a glimpse of the One who invites us to load all our burdens and worries on to him – his power is far greater than any problem that we think is insurmountable. He says to us in our particular need, â€œDon’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 NLT).  Hearing words of the Scriptures like that, lifts the gloom that is clouding our lives and assures us of strength that is beyond our strength to cope.  It enables us to deal with troubles that baffle us. We see Jesus’ shining face smiling at us and the Father’s arm embracing us as we remember that we are his children as he says to us, â€œYou are my own dearly loved son or daughter”.

The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that when we are in the nitty gritty of working for God’s kingdom 
when being disciples means making choices that go against the way rest of the world thinks and behaves; 
when loving and caring and being kind is hard work; 
when forgiving and being reconciled with those who hate us goes against everything within us;
when sacrificing for others is considered stupid in this self-centred world;
when others challenge our faith and question God’s part in this crazy and cruel world and we begin to question our own beliefs,
it is just then as we go down the tough road of discipleship that we hear again Jesus’ encouraging words,
 â€œYou are my own dearly loved child who gives me great joy.  Don’t be afraid.  I will be with you.”

When you walk out the doors of this church this morning, nothing very much has changed in our world.  It will be an ordinary, perhaps somewhat uninteresting, February day out there, down there, in the valley, with nothing visibly different from when you came in.

But you will be different. You have been in God’s presence. You have seen the brilliance of your Saviour’s face and his love for you.  You will be different because you have been encouraged and been given hope.  You have heard the word that keeps you going until your next mountain top experience, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.  You are my dearly loved son or daughter.  I will walk with you through the dark and scary places of this world into the brilliant sunshine of eternity”.

And that leads me to finish where I began.  Remember the cello player who used his gift of music to give hope and encouragement to the terrified and grieving people of Sarajevo.  God has given each of us a variety of gifts.  Think about this!  How can we use the gifts God has given us to bring encouragement and hope to others? 
The cellist of Sarajevo certainly stepped out of his comfort zone to give that encouragement.  How can we be more willing and bolder in sharing the love of Christ?

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy