Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

            Sometimes things can be pretty hectic, a lot can happen in one day, and you think back, how did all that fit in, surely that was yesterday? Maybe you felt that way last Sunday, food, family, God’s service, travel … For the disciples on that Resurrection Sunday I’d bet it was a hectic one too; going from devastation at their friend and teacher’s death; grief at the supposed lies that Jesus was the King to save the world; then waking up to confusion at the women’s news; then when Peter and John confirmed the empty tomb; fear of the Jews who had just killed their leader and probably were looking for the disciples and the body; two leave for Emmaus and come back with news of their conversation with the risen Lord; then Christ suddenly appears inside locked doors says a few words shows His body and just as suddenly leaves. Now I doubt most of us even remember how I started that sentence, but that all happened to the disciples in one day. Devastation, grief, confusion, curiosity, disheartened, surprise, joy, wonder, disbelief; all these emotions within 24hrs, certainly an emotional rollercoaster if there ever was one. Hectic! And into all this Jesus speaks peace.

            To have all your plans destroyed, your position redundant, your friend and leader dead, and the authorities the ones who killed Him. Your whole world crumbled before your eyes, emotionally exhausted, from the heights of Palm Sunday your King welcomed royally, within a week His crucifixion; can we just go back to our lives before all this happened? But now the body’s gone, will the authorities come and try to kill us too? What can we do? And then, in the midst of this fear, worry and the darkening of the day, suddenly, there’s someone else in the middle of the room! Whose that? What’s, How’s…? Peace be with you. Holed up in this house for fear of the authorities, probably exhausted from the events of the previous week, Jesus comes to them bringing peace. Perhaps the disciples thoughts; What’s happened to Jesus my Lord, the promised Christ? He is alive! Am I following a madman to my own death and destruction? No, Jesus has ultimate power over death! What can I do to save myself? Peace, you don’t need to worry, Jesus has done it for you, He saves you.

            Here Jesus first and foremost brings the peace that comes from knowing He is alive, their friend and leader is alive, but also that He has God’s power to appear where He wills and the truth that death has no power over Him. It’s not just a vision, but Jesus, body and soul, is fully alive, risen and glorified. God’s Word is true, Jesus is alive and so peace to you. Earlier Jesus had said that He would turn sorrow into joy (John 16:22); and how true that was this first Resurrection Sunday! From fear and terror, to wonder and joy in just two words. With His physical body, His scars He proves who He is and that He lives, and the disciples rejoice! What an amazing experience, what wonder, to have your whole world destroyed and now three days later restored and glorified! To be like Job in His devastation, seeing all you love destroyed, but then here to have it all suddenly restored and so much more! That wonderful joy and release of grief and fear, but then Jesus still has more to say, and again He says peace to you. First peace to allay fears then peace for calm to listen to the truth.

            Peace to you, as the Father sent me so I send you. The mission of the church, the body of Christian believers, is to continue Jesus’ mission, to bring God’s Word of forgiveness and truth to the world. And He breathes on them, just as the Father breathed life into Adam, so now Jesus in new life breathes on the disciples and says, receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven, if you retain them, they are retained. This is Jesus’ mission, what God sent Him for, to bring His forgiveness and condemnation of sin, truth and mercy. Now Christians are called to follow Him, to speak God’s Word of mercy and truth to all the world. And that Word has power, when I say to you today God’s Word of forgiveness, your sins are forgiven, God does forgives your sins. This is the grace that Jesus gave to the church and that you and the LCA have given to me to serve you. He also gave the authority to declare the truth, just as He did, that those who reject Jesus, who reject that they sin and reject Christ’s forgiveness are not forgiven. This is the truth, it is God’s Word, Jesus’ mission, and we need to be careful how we do this, so again you have entrusted me with the public working of His mission, but we all Christians also declare Christ’s truth to each other, forgiving one another and trying to lead all people back to Jesus, in word and action.

            Now I don’t have all the answers, just a guide to speak the truth in love. However, we see how Jesus again, does His mission when we hear of Thomas the Twin. He was struggling, as we all do, with two people inside himself, the believer and the unbeliever. He was not with the twelve and when they tried to fulfil Christ’s mission by telling Thomas the truth, He did not believe. Thomas was staying in His betrayal and rejection of Jesus. But Jesus again suddenly appeared. Did Thomas have a flash of fear? Again He had betrayed His Lord, will He now be struck down as that fig tree? No, rather Jesus brings peace to a troubled conscience. “Here are my wounds, touch them, do not be faithless but faithful, believe!” God’s Word works its forgiveness and Thomas makes the strongest declaration in the whole Gospel of John, ‘My Lord and My God.’ We know that Jesus was more than a man, more than a prophet, so much more than even the archangels of God. But throughout His life no one had confessed that He was God Himself. Now Thomas, who has been called the doubter, gives the strongest confession of trust and faith in Jesus, My Lord and My God. So Jesus shows His mission, bringing truth and forgiveness; then Thomas gratefully receives it. This is now our mission to together bring Christ’s Word of truth and mercy to each other and all people and receive it well from each other, responding in joy, trust and love; confessing together who Jesus is, Our Lord and Our God.

            And so, the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Good Friday

Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.”

            Today we remember again the death of the one who loves us and gave everything for us. Betrayed by His friends and followers, first Judas, then the rest, even Peter three times disowning Him; betrayed and condemned by the Jews and their leaders, those who had waited for His coming for many years and generations; flogged and crucified by those He had come to save. This is your king, crowned on His wooden throne, for all the world to see His power. But we still see a naked man torn and bleeding, dying on that cross; He who had given so much, bread to the 5000, healing throughout Judah, even raising the dead, now himself dying. As Isaiah said 700 years before, we consider him punished, struck down and afflicted by God.

            But God’s word is certain, He spoke the world into being and continues to sustain all creation, the world has not ended yet. Isn’t it amazing that He gave those words to the Israelites 700 years before it happened. And even before that, David sung of the coming Messiah, even telling of how He would suffer, how His clothes would be divided (Psalm 22). God’s Word and promise was true and sure for Isaiah and the Kingdom of Judah, and for David and the United Kingdom of Israel, even though they did not see it. These and the other prophets, speakers of God’s Word, were desperately waiting and looking forward to the fulfilment of God Almighty’s promise (1 Peter 1:10-12). They had a glimpse of what was to come, and they faithfully pointed forward to the wonders and marvels that God would do for all people in Jesus Christ. And today we again remember that wonder, that marvel, that Christ Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was afflicted and killed, pierced for your transgressions, crushed for your corruption. Struck down, He bore all your sins, took your guilt and shame, the sickness of sin that all people are born with, that desire to go our own way, away for life and toward our destruction. Jesus took all that onto Himself, He died and with Him died your sin and guilt, upon Him was the punishment that brought you peace, and with His wounds you are healed. These are the sure words of God, they will not pass away even 2000 years after Jesus said, ‘it is finished’, even still now, with His wounds you are healed.

            We who trust His words, who follow Him in the only way to life, we remember today, but also every time we see the cross, or the crucifix, this deathly event. But don’t forget what Christ’s death means for you, for me and for all people, whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Don’t forget the wonder of God’s Word coming to fruition, like a flower finally blooming, this is the event that all God’s people look to, both before and after; it is right to date our calendar back to the life of Jesus, this is the focal point of all creation, time and space. We everyday battle against the desire to focus on other things, to live for work, family, power, wealth, even ourselves, and not live with Jesus; to go our own way. But it is not your boss who gives you life, your strength cannot heal you, money does not take your sin away and destroy it, only in Jesus are you safe and free from the destruction you bring on yourself. But there, Jesus enthroned on the cross, there all our sin, our evil, is dealt with, and God frees you and me, freely He gives peace, joy and love, even counting us righteous, forgetting every one of our betrayals and restoring you and me to the wonderfully merciful, just and loving arms of our Heavenly Father, with Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

            By His wounds you are healed.

And the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, crowned on the cross. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Maundy Thursday

Psalm 116:12

What shall I return to the Lordfor all his goodness to me?

 Here we are tonight, commemorating the last supper Jesus had with His friends before He died for you and for me. The night He lowered Himself to the rotten job of cleaning filthy feet that had trodden the dusty paths of Palestine. Serving His disciples, His students and followers, the ones who should’ve ordinarily speaking served Him. Then eating with them and miraculously, mysteriously giving His body and blood to them for forgiveness even before He had died for their sins. And finally giving a new command, a mandate, saying, “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35). Then what follows are those dreadful events we remember in the coming days. Dreadful for Jesus, He sweat blood, but also wonderfully hopeful and joyous, for in His dying He freed many captives and in His rising He brings them with Him into new marvellous life.

            That is His story and it is yours too, who trust His words. So what shall you return to the Lord for all the goodness He’s given you? We struggle in this world, to do what is right and to not do what is wrong, we suffer through drought and even plenty. Afflicted by the devil, by sickness, by expectation, by the tyranny of time and money, even in our resting we are tempted to forget the wonder of what God has done for you. He created us and all that is, He gives us life and sustains us knowing what is best for everything’s benefit but we constantly forget what He did, that He sustains us and that all we have is given by Him. Instead we go our own ways, away from God and the source of life, into sin and death, broken relationships, betrayal and lies. We seek to make ourselves masters of our own universe, but what we think is best for us often is most harmful. It’s easy to see this when we think about eating sweets, or meat and alcohol, even that desire to just stay in bed; but also our desires to build up wealth and safety for this life and to please everyone are also ultimately harmful. This is sin, our sickness that drags us away from God.

            But even in our sin, in this slimy hole we can’t escape He sent His Son to save us, Jesus Christ (Psalm 40:1). Despite our rejection of God and His great love for us He is merciful to us, and seeks our good, salvation and freedom from sin, death and the devil. The Lord is gracious and righteous, full of compassion, He protects the unwary and when the psalmist was brought low He saved Him (Psalm 116:5-6). Jesus gave His life to save you, to bring you true and ultimate rest in God. He gave His life for His disciples, even though they all broke their promises, to stay with Him, to love as He loved, He died for them too, freeing them from sin, He forgave them. Just as He forgives you. And so as the psalmist asks, what shall we offer to the Lord for all this wonderful and merciful goodness He has freely given?

            I will life up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all people. Serving Him with thanksgiving throughout this new life He has given, listening to Him, even at this dreadful time of betrayal. Striving to love each other as He first loved us, giving His whole life, from birth to death and beyond, for you and me. Listening to the Word of God, to Jesus, trusting Him and looking to Him for the mercy and forgiveness we so often need. He has given us everything and still He gives more. Thank God for His mercy and great love for you and me, call on His name in your time of need and in your time of plenty Praise the Lord, Hallelujah!

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

Easter Sunday

1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

  Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Resurrection Sunday the Great Celebration of life over death, Jesus bursting from the grave to new and vigorous life! He, just like all people descendent from Adam, died; died on the cross. He was buried, but death could not hold Him, death is defeated and in Jesus there is no fear of that final enemy. Still today we search for ways to delay death, try to fight that enemy that comes for all people; many intelligent people are searching for a way to prolong our lives here on earth, to improve the quality of life as we age and even to try and find a way for immortality in this life. Certainly much good has come from this, but this world is not perfect, it is sick with sin and suffering. Our forefather Adam and Eve the mother of the living, turned away from God and went their own way; they left the source of all life, God Almighty, and tried their luck with the serpent and knowledge. And still today all humans are good children of that couple, seeking for more, for immortality, stability and power in this life, going our own way and rejecting God’s love and life itself. We all face death because of our sin and like an addiction we cannot get out by ourselves.

            But we are not by ourselves. Jesus is with us. The Holy Spirit was sent to walk alongside you, to advocate and encourage you. In baptism God promises that we are now His children, restored to His family like the prodigal son. In baptism we are together with Jesus, we are joined back to the source of life, so now death has no power over us (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)! Jesus says that those who believe will not perish, even if they die, still they will live (John 11:25)! Glory to God our Father! This is the wonder of Resurrection Sunday, that Jesus rose from the dead, not to die again as Lazarus, the widows child, or any number of people who have come back from being dead. Death no longer has any power of Jesus, He rose from the dead not just for His everlasting life, but for yours. If we are joined with Him in His death to sin, surely we will rise again in a new, everlasting and glorified life like His (Romans 6:1-14; Philippians 3:21).

Jesus rose, and as certain as that is, you who are joined to Him in baptism and Holy Communion have life everlasting. On Good Friday we see our sin and evil destroyed, wonderful thing that this is, without the new life of today we are left suffering in this evil world. But this world is not the end. Those scientists that seek to extend life, even if they are successful will not reach the peace, joy and love that only the Triune God provides. With Jesus we are truly free from sin, from guilt and shame, free from the destruction our desires bring on ourselves, freed from sin, death and the devil. Yes will still suffer temptation and evil in this world, just as Jesus did, but just as it was promised that we would be freed from the power of sin and death, so He has promised, that just as He died and rose, so too you and I will be renewed when He returns at the resurrection of the dead, when sin, death and the devil will be destroyed. Now this wonderful comfort, you are forgiven, you are in Jesus a new creation a new life, this is not just for you, but for all people!

We heard from Acts Peter’s realisation that salvation was not just for the Jews, but for all people in all the world, for us and every different type of person. This offer of forgiveness and new life is for all people. So Jesus told the disciples to preach, to speak of His love to all people, to testify that Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead and that everyone who trusts His forgiveness is forgiven. It does not matter if you are Greek, German, Tigrinya, Australian, rich, poor, the nicest person down the street, a rapist, or even a politician; this message, this Good News, is for all people. For all people have turned away, all have sinned, all people face death, but God rich in mercy, many times more merciful than us, does not wish our destruction, rather that all people turn back to life, to love, to Jesus Christ, the King of kings, Lord of all and saviour of sinners. In sin all die, but in Jesus all will be made alive.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

Good Friday

Text: John 19:28-3028

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished,and so that Scripture would be fulfilled,Jesus said,“I am thirsty.”29A jar of wine vinegarwas there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.30When he had received the drink, Jesus said,“It is finished.”With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.It is finished

We wonder why Jesus’ ministry had to end this way.Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?They are very reasonable questions, but they are not questions that we would ask if we truly understand what Jesus promised.Take St Peter for example.Jesus prophesied that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.Peter objected and said, “Never, Lord –this will never happen to you”.But did Peter hear Jesus properly?It is very likely that Peter didn’t hear fully what Jesus said.It is likely that once he heard Jesus say that he must be killed that he stopped paying attention.And that’s what death does.When we hear about death, especially about the death of someone we love it can also make us wonder why.Why does life end?Why is it necessary to die?But Peter needed to listen to Jesus and the totality of what he said:asHe said that after he was killed, on the third day he would be raised to life.But even as Christians we don’t always think of that when we are confronted with death.We don’t automatically think of eternal life when someone we love dies.We are usually so grief stricken thatwe cannot see past the reality of death.Even St Paul acknowledges that when he speaks of Christ’s victory over death.He says: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Whereas death no longer has victory because of Jesus’ death and resurrection it certainly still carries its sting.And that sting is evident every time we sit at the bedside of a loved one –as we watch the coffin lowered into the grave, as we visit the gravesite of our loved ones –the sting of grief in death remains.But Paul also reminds us that we grieve but not as those who have no hope.We have hope because we know that the grave will not hold Jesus for long. We know that on the third daythat he will rise.But those 3 days are so long when it’s someone we love.Even though we know that we will be reunited with all our loved ones as we await the resurrection, it is so hard because the grief is so deep.Asking “why” about death or questioning God’s love because of death won’t remove the sting of death from our experience.Our loved ones will continue to face the reality of death and we shall continue to face the reality of our own death.Death is a reality of life.The only way to truly findcomfort in death is to listen carefully to what Jesus said about his own death.On the third day I will be raised to life.Without death there can be no resurrection.Without Jesus’ resurrection,we can never see death in any other way than an horrific event.Even Jesus’ own death is meaningless without that final part that Peter missed –on the third day I will be raised to life.To outsiders, a battered and broken Jesus who could no longer hold his head up and died in humiliation and defeat could not possibly be anything but a reminder of the pain and finality of death and no hope at all. But to those who believe into him, the true Son of God has completed his great work of defeating death and he cries out “it is finished”.But what is finished?Death’s victory is finished.As St Paul says, “the message of the cross if foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.And the power of God is,that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead,we too shall be raised to eternal life.Jesus’ announcement, “It is finished,” is clear and simple. No long explanations of how –no detailed sermon of what you have to do.Just “it is finished.”Jesus has completed his task that God sent him to do. He came so that you and I can have forgiveness and eternal life. He came to give us the victory of death –the same victory over death that he achieved. He came to ensure that we would enter his kingdom of heaven and live forever.That’s why Jesus had to die because in order todefeat death he had to die and rise from death.And just as Jesus has risen from the dead, we too shall live a new life when we die.Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over death. Amen

Palm Sunday

Philippians 2:5

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus

This little text from verse 6-11 tells us everything that has happened and everything that will, in light, from the point of view of Jesus. It speaks of Jesus’ priorities in obeying and glorifying God. It’s one of those texts like John 3:16, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes will have eternal life, and also the first confession, Jesus Christ is Lord from Romans (10:9). There is so much in these texts, but they need to be unpacked, explored even lived out; though to fully unpack and understand it would probably take a lifetime. So I’ll do my best in the next couple minutes.

Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus. This mind, this way of thinking, of understanding and of action and life, have this in you that we hear and was obviously in Christ Jesus. It’s more than just thought, it’s also action; Jesus didn’t just think about being humble and obedient, He acted on it and died on that cross for you, me and all people. God, through Paul, is telling you and me to let this insight and action be your insight and action; your new life. We’ve heard about the new thing that God is doing, that you and I are now, through baptism together with Jesus, dead to our old life of sin and risen to new life in Jesus (Isaiah 43:19; Romans 6:6-11). That God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). God is the one who brings us to Christ by the Holy Spirit and gives us this new way of trusting Him, these new thoughts, God’s way of thinking, the mind of Christ Jesus (John 6:44; ). To receive these gifts well and to hold on to this, not rejecting the Spirit is now that task of us who are saved.

But what does all that mean? It’s all very well to say, ‘be humble’ or ‘be obedient’ even to say, ‘hold to God’s thoughts’. In the day to day how should I do this, how can I be like Jesus? That old question, ‘what would Jesus do?’ Well, verse six, The Son of the Father, second person of the trinity, God from God, light from light, equal to the Father, a position of authority and power beyond what we can imagine, He does not see this as something to be grasped, to be prioritised. Rather the Son empties Himself and takes on being a servant, takes on flesh, becomes a man, and we all know how insignificant we feel when thinking on the problems of this world, when seeing the stars of a pitch-black night and when contemplating God’s love for you. Jesus did not care about the power of His position, but took the actions needed to help those around Him, and fortunately for us that’s everyone. So what about the different positions of power you hold, your relationships, in the family, at church, in the workforce, and also even if you just know about something more than others. All these different positions where you have some power, even if it isn’t absolute. Do you take pride in yourself, in the gifts God has given and try to keep the glory and praise to yourself? Do you take pride in being a good father, a good wife, a good participant at a BBQ, a smart cookie, even in your own humble attitude; or do you listen to God, using what He has given you for the benefit of those around you and to His Glory? Do you prioritise your pride and power instead of the benefit of others and the glory of God?

What is your priority, your focus in life? When we live in this world, going about our lives, we are surrounded even submerged in a way of life contrary to Jesus’ way. We are constantly taught that we need to prioritise and rely on ourselves, to be independent, to be confident and have high self-esteem, to take pride in ourselves and to compete with each other. We know about the ‘corporate ladder’ the desire to climb to the top, but in every other relationship and role we still need to struggle against our sinful, selfish inclinations to make it about us, prioritising ourselves. Instead we need to deny ourselves take up our cross, suffering, and follow Jesus as He did the same, even to humble ourselves becoming obedient to the point of death, to die to ourselves to our sinful desires and pride and live for others, for Christ and the glory of God (Matthew 16:24-26; Romans 6:6-11; Galatians 2:20).

This is a tall order, a high mark to aim for and I find that I myself often forget to even aim, and I miss the mark, we sin and we fail. To live and think as Christ lived and thought every day of our lives in the face of all these distractions, is a hard thing. But fortunately Christ Jesus did live that life for me, for you and me (Hebrews 2:14-18); Today is Palm Sunday when we remember His glorious entrance into Jerusalem as King, and we look forward, down to His humiliation, suffering and death on the cross and burial in the tomb. And past that to a glimpse of His exaltation in the resurrection and on to the ascension and the coming hope of His coming again to destroy sin, guilt, the devil and death and to renew all creation, you, me and all those other saints who have gone before risen from death, free from all our sin and evil, renewed and perfected in Jesus who has gone before, the author and perfector of our faith and our life. And so what is our priority, what do we look to first? To our own positions of power here on earth, or to thank and praise Jesus for all He has done for you, me and all people, to give glory and praise to the only one truly deserving, God Almighty. For He has saved you through Jesus, and will renew you and exalt you as Jesus has been resurrected and exalted. This Holy Week where we remember the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is where we see clearly God’s true work of salvation, and in baptism you are joined up with Jesus by His promise and word, humbled and emptied and dead with sin, then God’s sure promise that you will rise anew free from sin and death together with Jesus, exalted by God’s power to what is good and right, the glory of God.

And may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until we stand with Him in glory, to the glory and prais of God our Father. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

5th Sunday of Lent

Philippians 3:13b-14

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

            God is doing a new thing. But then we don’t really like new things do we? That means change, means hard work, means moving away from what you know and have grown to accept. The funny thing for us as Christians is that this new thing that God is doing, and in part the goal that Paul strives for is in the past, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your salvation, redemption and freedom from sin and death. It’s also in the past applied to you in baptism, drowned and dead to sin, the Old Adam, then risen cleansed to a new life in New man, Jesus, free from the chains of sin and the devil. From the old to the new, but it’s not back to the future, rather forward to the past.

            We can say that because although our resurrection in Jesus and our baptisms are both in the past we wait for the time they take full effect, when He returns, raises the dead and make all things new (Revelation 21:5). So what do we do while we wait? Just sit at home watching TV or playing games, maybe sell all you have and go live in the scrub, or just go about your life here on earth as if this world is all there is and will never really end, that it will not be made new? No there are huge problems with all these ways, they all come from ourselves, our own thoughts and desires, they are the ways of that Old Adam. Rather what does the Triune God teach us to do? What are His ways? Paul writes that he forgets what is behind, and elsewhere what is passing away (Matthew 24:351 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17), the glory we attain in this world, who we are in this world, neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:28), even what you have done, how you have acted; to forget these things and strive for, strain toward what is ahead. Because all these things, what you have done and who you are in this world are nothing compared to what Jesus has done for you and who you now are in Him, who you will be.

Forward into the past. We know what Jesus has done and what He has promised, resurrection from the dead, His righteousness, freedom from death and our sinfulness. We know this, it was shown to our forebears in the faith all those years ago, in the distant past. But you and I in our struggles and failures to stay on God’s way, the straight narrow path, know that He will fulfil His promises to us, this worth more than anything we might do, so we strain with Paul to reach that goal, that end, like a runner in a race. Don’t give up on the promise to you, but to share in Christ’s way of life, His sufferings, and becoming like Him, who you are joined to in baptism, dying and rising to new life. This is the new thing, forward to the past, the goal of our Christian faith, to be resurrected from the dead, to receive Jesus’ righteousness, to be renewed.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, from now to the end. Amen.

Joseph Graham

4th Sunday of Lent

Luke 15:21, 32

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

This parable needs no introduction, only the Good Samaritan might be more well known. But still, just because it is familiar to us doesn’t mean it’s a chore to listen to again. I’ve heard it called the parable of the lost son, following the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin; or called the Prodigal Son, prodigal just means wasteful, or even the loving Father, but what ever you know it as, it reminds us again of those things we so often take for granted and forget.

            Last week we heard that God’s ways are not our ways and this week we see this played out in the parable. One son decides he’s not satisfied with his life with the Father, takes the gifts the Father has given him, leaves and strives after things that don’t satisfy, throwing away and forgetting all the Father had done for him. The older son stays but also is not satisfied, potentially even resenting his younger brother because the older didn’t live that life, and then resenting him for the great gifts of peace, joy and love freely given to him. And then the Father, the one who sustains both sons even when they don’t recognise it, and who loves them both freely, not because of what they have done and not despite what they have done, but unconditionally loves both his wayward sons.

            Our ways are the ways of the sons, of active and passive rejection, neither were satisfied with God’s grace and love; God’s way is the way of the Father, of unconditional love and free restoration with Him. So here Jesus, talking to the faithful, law-abiding Pharisees who taunted Jesus because he ate with prostitutes and sinners, to them Jesus puts forward the two broad ways that we, as people who now believe in Him, go. Either the rejection of God and His goodness for our own benefit in the here and now, striving for things that do not last, wealth, sex, power; or the more subtle dissatisfaction and taking for granted what God has given you. The younger son turns from his evil ways and back to God pleading for mercy and receiving freely abundant grace; then the older brother resents the joy and peace the younger received. It reminds me of my parents.

My dad wasn’t a Christian, grew up as part of the culture, strove for the things in this world that don’t satisfy, then the Holy Spirit brought him to the truth, to Jesus Christ. It was a big change for him and he jumped right in, reading the books in the local pastor’s library, then the following year beginning to study to become a pastor. But mum grew up in the church, she had known God’s mercy and grace for her whole life, there was no great change, no ‘Damascus road’ experience. Mum was a bit envious of dad that he had that wonderful experience; dad was a bit envious of mum because she didn’t need it.

So how do you see yourself in this story. Are you the younger brother, an outright sinner who lived for this evil world then returned to God’s love? Or are you the older brother, taking God’s grace for granted and fighting your desire to sin? Or maybe sometimes a bit of both? Do you want to live like all the other people of Australia, by that policy of ‘if it doesn’t hurt anyone and makes you feel happy, do it’? This is the season of Lent when we take some time to look at ourselves and why Jesus died, so when you examine yourself against God’s Word, how do you like these brothers reject His love and promises to either go your own way or wish you could? How do you fall to temptation? That drive all humans have to rely on ourselves and store up treasures here on earth. Both in our thoughts and actions.

We all like the young son, are unworthy, are sinners; Paul writes that we deserve death (Romans 6:23). But what does the Father do? Does He make His son a slave? No! He graciously forgives and restores him to the family. The son knew what he had done was wrong, and knew that the Father was loving and generous, the son repented, turned back to God, confessed his sin and was forgiven. This is you and me, today we have confessed our sins, heard our Heavenly Father’s word of forgiveness and will eat with Him in thanksgiving and joy in Holy Communion. From 2 Corinthians (5:16-21) we heard that we who are in Christ are already part of the new creation, restored to the true and steadfast relationship with God Almighty; the old has gone and the new has come; our guilt and sin is taken away by Jesus and we are given His freedom from the devil and fear of death. We are called to live differently, what happens now that’s how Jesus ends the parable, do you stay with God? Or do you leave again or just grumble? This is the life of the Christian to, with the Holy Spirit’s help, struggle against temptation and our corrupt human ways to strive for things that don’t satisfy. But you and I are reconciled, you are forgiven, your Heavenly Father still loves you and wants the best for you. You are baptised into Jesus Christ, washed clean from your sin, even dead to it; sin no longer has power over you; and you are raised to new life, the new creation, reconciled fully to God. Don’t forget who you are, I know it’s not new, but don’t take it for granted; but far more than that don’t forget that you are reconciled to your loving Heavenly Father.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham