Archive for June, 2019

Trinity Sunday ( 1st after Pentecost )

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

Trinity

Genesis 1:1- 2:4a

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that as you speak to us, your creative and redeeming Word may have power in our lives, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We all know the 8th commandment: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. We would probably also know the old saying ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ isn’t true. Words can be very destructive to our self-esteem, our sense of worth, and once said, they can’t be taken back. God encourages us not to use words to injure, kill or destroy, but to build up, encourage and defend.

Although we might hear many words during the day that often seem to go in through one ear and out the other, some words can have a life-changing impact on us. Consider these examples:

I no longer love you.

We’re moving.

You’re fired.

You have cancer.

She’s dead.

Will you marry me?

You’re pregnant.

These words and many like them can literally change your life. Of course the words themselves don’t change your life, but rather confirm or announce a change in your life has just occurred, whether you’re ready for it or not.

Knowing the power some words can have on our lives when spoken by humans, how much more powerful are the words spoken by God! Rather than just confirming or announcing a change in our lives, his words actually have power to do what they say. Unlike so many of our destructive human words, his words can create, transform and renew.

Take for example the creation account. The Triune God said “light” and it happened as he said it, even though the sun wasn’t created until day 4. The same happened every day during the account of the creation. God spoke and things happened as he said them. His words did (and do) what they say.

Note also that as God spoke, a division or a separation occurred. As soon as he said “light”, there was also the exact opposite: “dark”. The light no longer mixed with darkness, but was separate from it. The sky no longer mixed with the sea, but was separate from it. The water no longer mixed with the land, but was separate from it. God ordered things and set them right, and brought order out of chaos.

Note that he first set the structures in place and then filled those structures. For example, he separated light from darkness on day one, but on day four filled the light and darkness with sun and moon and stars. On day two he separated the waters above and the waters below, and filled them on day five with birds and fish. On day three he separated the land and put plants on it, while he filled it with animals and humans on day six.

While chapter one of Genesis clearly shows us the power of his words, chapter two shows a more intimate story of God playing in the mud to personally bring humans into being. Rather than just words, he reached out to and personally interacted with the pinnacle of his creation – human beings. He then graciously gave humans governing authority over his wonderful and awesome creation before we had the chance to prove that we were up to the job. Of course sometimes we get this job right, but too many times we stuff up what God has made. Thankfully he never stopped his creating word and still preserves what he has made despite our best attempts to neglect, abuse, and destroy it.

From the creation account we see how God’s word is all powerful and does what it says. His words never return to him empty.

If we think about it, most of what we know about God is also revealed to us through his Word and through his voice. For example, he not only spoke creation into being out of nothing, but he spoke to Noah of his plans for salvation in the time of flood, he spoke of his saving plan to Moses from a bush that wouldn’t burn, he spoke his instructions for life from a mountaintop, and he gave his word to prophets so that his people would hear him. No-one has seen God face to face, yet he came to his people through his word. His word was enough because his word did what he said.

This is why John begins his gospel account ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God at the beginning’ (John 1:1-2). God speaks – things happen. Like chapter 2 of Genesis, God also chose to interact with us more personally once again when his Word came to us in the human flesh of Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh. The Word of God lived and breathed and walked and died in the flesh of Jesus Christ. God and humans touched and interacted with each other. The Word was more than a voice: it was God coming to his people through physical means.

The Word of God created and still upholds the whole universe. At the same time, he still maintains his intimate contact with humans – through his word, through the Word made flesh in the man Jesus Christ, and now through the power of the Holy Spirit, giving the Church the authority to speak God’s word of forgiveness.

What is totally surprising is what God did when he finished his six days of creating: God rested. The bible didn’t say he got tired or exhausted from his work; after all, he spoke creation into being. Speaking can be tiring, but not for someone as powerful as God. He doesn’t need any rest!

But again his creative process was continuing, bringing order out of chaos. He separates work – no matter how creative and beneficial – from rest. Rest isn’t an add-on or an afterthought to his creation, but an integral part of it. Rest is as vital as light and water and land are vital for us. Farmers know their land needs to rest so that it can produce its fruit more efficiently. We all know rest is vital for us too, but all too often neglect it or misunderstand the benefits of it.

Through rest God wants to bless us. Through rest God renews us, recreates us and sustains us. Rest is the climax of a work pattern created by God. In the same way, the climax of our week shouldn’t necessarily be our work, but our rest. Humans don’t receive the best of God’s blessings by working, but by resting with him.

This is very relevant to worship. Worship, if understood properly, isn’t work, but rest. Worship isn’t a ritual of work for God as if we can make God greater by our praise or worship, but rather worship is resting with God. Pagan people and non-Christians work for their gods, but as Christians we understand we rest for God. We bring honour and praise to God, not by working for him, but by resting in him and with him.

Worship, then, is when we rest and God works on us through his Word; his creative, redeeming, and sanctifying words of peace, forgiveness, love, mercy and grace.

So how does this all relate back to those words you hear that literally change your life, whether you’re ready for them or not?

When God created the world, he didn’t get rid of the chaos that existed beforehand, but rather he ordered it and ruled over it. Chaos, death and destruction will still happen in our lives and sometimes will seem to overwhelm us. Bad things will still happen in our lives and aren’t sent as punishment or to see how much we can handle. We live in a world that was created perfect, but is now corrupted by sin with all its pain and destructiveness. As we hear of natural disasters around the globe, we’re reminded the whole of creation groans in pain from the corruption of sin.

Yet despite the cyclones of destructive words and the earthquakes of changed health and security that affect our own lives, we put our trust in the one who has power to order and rule over the chaos in our lives. He is the one who spoke the words of creation. He is the one who spoke to his people in many ways through his prophets and ultimately through his Son Jesus Christ. He is the one who continues to speak through his written and oral word in the Bible and sends us the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith.

He is the same one who spoke his words of love and intimacy to us as he adopted us as his precious children through baptism by the power of his holy name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the same one who says ‘this is my body…this is my blood…given for you for the forgiveness of your sins’. He is the same one who says, ‘Come to me, all who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest’.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do to change the circumstances of our lives. At these times we’re encouraged to rest: rest in God’s word and in his promises. They won’t necessarily change our lives back again the way we want them to be, but his words have power to bring us peace in the midst of war, comfort in the midst of grief and loss, patience in the face of sickness and suffering, forgiveness in the face of guilt and shame, and life in the face of death.

May the living and powerful Word of Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – continue to do what he sends it to do, to work his miracles of life, peace, forgiveness and love in our lives. Amen.

Pentecost Sunday

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CHRIST’S PROMOTION AGENT

Are you a “morning person”? Can you overflow with excitement at 9.00am on a Sunday morning? Certainly the first Pentecost Sunday must have been an exciting occasion for 120 followers of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit entered their lives in a way that permanently changed them and the future direction of their lives. Where the Holy Spirit takes over the management of our lives, it can no longer be “business as usual”. Just as wind cannot be tamed, so the Holy Spirit cannot be subdued or tamed by us. We cannot predict when and where He works.

Pentecost is no isolated event. It is the fruition of the mighty work of salvation Jesus began on Good Friday. We experience the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit as we embrace the cross of Christ, and receive the mighty blessings that flow from it. As we see from St. Peter’s Pentecost proclamation: when a believer is filled with the Spirit of God, he or she becomes a passionate ambassador for Christ and for all the good He did for us by His cross and resurrection. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to carry conviction when we speak about Jesus Christ. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples. Forever afterwards, the Spirit remains stamped with Christ’s character. The Holy Spirit is clothed with the personality and nature of Jesus. We cannot therefore attribute any teaching to the Holy Spirit which doesn’t shed light on Jesus. There can be no exultant, joyous experience of the Spirit of God without a corresponding thankful appreciation of Christ’s sufferings for us and with us.

The first Pentecost Sunday is depicted as an event of international significance. St. Peter addresses an international audience with the universal language of the Gospel. The descent of the Spirit was marked by something visible in fulfilment of Jesus’ desire, “I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already on fire”, but although the tongues of fire were very visible above each of the 120 Christians gathered together, it was what they heard rather than what they saw that made the real impact on their multi-national audience.

What we have here is the miracle of hearing: the miracle of all those present being able to hear the good news of grace, peace and salvation through Jesus Christ, rather than a miracle of speaking in different languages. The crowd asks, “How is it that each of us hears them [that is, the apostles], speaking in our own language (Acts 2:8)?” and in verse 11: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”.

Certainly Pentecost involves a new gift of speech. But even more so, its newness involves a fresh capacity to hear the Spirit of God speak to and convict the consciences of those who are listening to the message about Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Unlike at the tower of Babel, different languages became no longer a threat or obstacle. The Gospel is a universal message for people of every tribe, nation and dialect. Peter and his fellow disciples are so “on fire” with enthusiasm for the wonders God has done through Christ His Son, that their audience thought they’d had a little too much to drink! Hardly likely at 9 o’clock in the morning!

In response to this accusation, Peter delivers the first Christian sermon and one of the most influential addresses ever given, one that radically changed three thousand lives that day. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches from the Holy Scriptures to show how marvellously God fulfils His gracious promises to His people. Furthermore, on the basis of the Scriptures, he delivers a Christ-centred message, as he shows his listeners how to find Christ throughout the Old Testament. Peter points out how God’s Word, rightly applied, speaks into our present situation with its transforming good news of great joy. Only the Holy Spirit could have inspired such a Christ-centred sermon that hits home and pricks the consciences of those who hear it.

The Holy Spirit can cause people of all ages, young and old alike, slaves and those who are free, to prophesy. Prophesying now takes on a new meaning. It now means much more than to foretell the future. “Those who prophesy are speaking to people to give them strength, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3).” One of the names given to the Holy Spirit is “Comforter” or “Encourager”. We all need encouragement like the earth needs rain. Each week, things happen that we never anticipated, things that can all too easily discourage us, or else others say discouraging things to us that sap our courage and depress us. That great Encourager whom Jesus has sent to us, the Holy Spirit, sends us fellow Christians to lift up our spirits and provide us with encouragement tailor-made to our needs. Such welcome, Spirit-sent encouragement gives us the courage to face life again with hope and confidence, and continue the work our Lord has called us to do.

A prison chaplain was so discouraged by the lack of response to his work, both by prisoners and the prison administration, that one Easter Monday, he was going to resign. He went sailing to think it over on the solitude of the sea. Then the inspiration came to him. “Every day that I stay on that job is a victory. I win just by staying there.” Such inspiration is from the Spirit of Encouragement, who seeks faithfulness rather than success from us. We sow the seeds of the Gospel and leave the size and shape of the harvest to the Spirit in His good time. He’s not in a hurry like we are. The seeds we sow may lie dormant for many years before they spring into life. The Spirit of Jesus doesn’t operate according to formulas invented by human beings. There are no four fail-safe acts of Christian love that will always work and win folk for Christ.

The Spirit of the living God uses each of us according to the unique combination of gifts He has given us. Our gifts complement each other’s gifts, talents and contributions. Those of us who have no musical gift, thank God for those who enrich our worship with their musical and singing abilities. God’s Word links being filled with the Spirit with worshipping God with music and singing: “Let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18b-20).”

The same Holy Spirit that creates faith in us also leads us to worship God, for in our Sunday services, the Holy Spirit endows us with His blessings and nourishes and nurtures the fruits of the Spirit in us. There can be no faith in God that doesn’t lead to praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God for the good gifts of Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. “To believe in God is to worship God (Luther).”

In conclusion, the Holy Spirit calls on each of us, on all of us, to pray for and work for the renewal of the Church. It’s too important to leave to others. Revival begins with me.

We pray:

Come, Holy Spirit, renew my faith, deepen my commitment to You, increase my love for Jesus and those He loves. Revive Your Church, O loving Spirit, beginning with me!”

Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter Reflection

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

Daniel 7:13-14
“…there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power… and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

            That picture of the pearly gates, Pete’s got his podium out in front, the recently deceased pops up and there’s clouds and floating winged babies all around. An unusual picture that’s not really found in scripture and sort of downplays the resurrection at the end of time and Jesus as the King and judge of all, but we can see where bits of it come from. The kingdom in the clouds, of course is the Kingdom of God that Jesus so often talks about and that Daniel prophesied about 600yrs before. The Son of Man would come with clouds to the Ancient of Days, God Almighty, and receive all authority on heaven and earth and His kingdom will have no end. And the Apostles witnessed this being fulfilled, Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, came with clouds to the presence of the Father, His right hand, taken up at His ascension. Crowned at the cross now ascending to the throne.

This is one part of the Easter story, of Christ’s earthly ministry that is often forgotten. We know His teaching, the forgiveness and new life of His death and resurrection, but less about this taking up of His universal ministry as King and Lord of all. But this is just as important as His death and resurrection because after ascending He is not bound to a particular place in the universe, He is at the Father’s right hand, not a particular place but as the psalmist writes again and again, wherever God is working, wherever His power is (Psalm 16:11; 17:7; 78:54). Paul too writes that He ascended to fill all things (Ephesians 4:10) and that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). So, it’s not as if when Jesus ascended 2000yrs ago He abandoned us, or even that He left us with just the Holy Spirit and now has nothing to do with us. No Jesus Himself promised last week and the week before that He would be with you, in you and you in Him, so close that we are part of each other (John 14:18-15:11), one body as Paul writes elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:23).

The body of Christ, that phrase is used both of all Christians and also somewhere else… Holy Communion. Yes it’s in a different sense but if Jesus does have authority and power to do anything and in Him we live and move and have our being, then Jesus can be here with us now. And in His grace and mercy He has said of this bread and wine, this is my body, this is my blood. He has promised to be here for you in this meal for all Christians, here we can hold Him and receive His forgiveness and new life. A wonderful, little confusing, but amazing gift of Christ’s presence and love that we share with all Christians, those before us and those after, and now also in full with those coming for the first time today.

And so the peace that He brings for you, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

Text:Acts 16:16-34 & Revelation 22:10-14″
Actions of Being”

A common misnomer in our thoughts these days is this: If it gets the jobdone then it’ll do. This seems to be the bottom line in doing what one must do tosurvive. Unfortunately this type of rationale pays little to no respect

for rightand wrong. In fact one might be tempted to believe, if it gets the job done then it’s justifiable, no matter what the means are of getting there.

As Paul and Silas walked through Philippi on their way to a place of prayer each day, a slave girl possessed by a spirit, repeatedly but rightly points to these men as “servant of the Most High God!” She was not wrong in what she said even though she was a noisy nuisance and others were making money out of her prophesies. Surely this might be used as a means of doing God’s work; after all she was proclaiming the Most High God?Surprisingly though, Paul tired and troubled by her daily ranting, turned andsaid to the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to comeout of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18)After Paul took this action, he and Silas were seized, flogged, and thrown into jail. One would imagine they would have been sorry and sore. But instead, they sat up singing hymns and praying past midnight. Suddenly and unexpectedly an earthquake shook the prison, the doors flew open and the chains came loose.To the horror of the jailer, he awoke at the commotion, thinking his worst nightmare had come true. Believing the prisoners had escaped he reached for his sword to end his life, but Paul shouted,“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28) 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God he and his whole family. (Acts 16:29-34)What must I do to be saved? The question “what one must do?” is perhaps avery natural response for humanity. The jailer faced death, because theprison had become unsecured under his watch. He was frightened, humiliated, and his immediate response, before Paul stopped him, was to take his life.In this account from Acts, we’ve just heard of two responses to two situations.They seem to be knee jerk sudden responses, with little thought to what one must do. The response of Paul and the jail keeper were natural responses according to who they were. They were immediate responses from their beings, they didn’t have to stop and think what to do! In the core of Paul’s being he was troubled by the spirit filled girl and in an instant he turned and cast out the spirit. The Jailer was troubled in spirit too, and in an instant he turned to take his life. Both men acted according to his being, they acted as according to whom they were called to be. The difference between them is this: Paul’s being was led by something or someone external, whereas the jailer’s being was led by his internal being or will. And this was leading him to death.The difference between the prisoners and the jailer doesn’t end there either. In fact, ironically, the prisoners act as free men, singing hymns and praying, way after midnight; whereas the jailer acts as a prisoner, and Paul needs to stops him from killing himself. Then in desperation the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?”As Christians we often place ourselves back under bondage, as did the jailer.Instead of our freedom in Christ allowing us to be who we are called to be, we get caught up worrying what we and others must do to be Christian what we must do to be saved and save others. However, “being a Christian” is exactly that, “being” rather than “doing”. When one faces the question of doing failure, depression, and death follow hot on the heels of our defective human deeds. It’s not so much a question of “what I must do to be?” but rather, “my being in Christ allows me to do what he wills for me.”From Revelation Jesus says to us, “ Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:10-11)Here we are told not to bind up the words of Revelation because the time is near. In fact Jesus is near; the Kingdom of God is near. When Jesus returns to usher in his Kingdom, those who have appeared to be in bondage will be shown to be free while those who seem free, and bind others with their human judgements, will be bound in eternity. Those whose being is dependent on what they do will reap their wage; their means for getting the job done despite God’s way, will be paid for in full. Whereas, those who allow God’s means to make them holy, so that their being is holy, will also get their reward.Jesus continues, “12 Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First andthe Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:12-14)

We all must ask ourselves, “What have I done? Am I doing what God wants me to do, or am I doing something else? What must I do to be saved? How do I wash my robes that I might have the right to the tree of life?”It’s at this point we must turn away from the deathly deeds of our own rationale and understanding, and be continually drawn back into God’s word. In fact, just like the jailer which Paul saved from death, we must be led away from meditating and trusting in our deeds, and our desire to try and put things right by our own action, lest we too die from our futile and failing deeds.Paul and Silas acted according to their being. They were not focused on what they must do. If they had they might have moaned and agonised over the actions causing their arrest. They may have grizzled like victims, “what have we done to deserve this?” But instead they worshiped God with joy knowing their fate and suffering, was about who they were called to be in Christ, rather than what they had done.Likewise, Paul and Silas acted according to their being, when the jailer pleaded, “What must I do to be saved”? They pointed the man to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking God’s Word of truth and grace, so the Spirit could implant faith in his heart too. So in hearing this word, our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus was planted in the jailer by the power of the Holy Spirit, as he and his family were baptised. He no longer had to do anything to believe, belief and being were given as a gift, and the work of being a Christian, moved him to immediately cleanse the wounds of Paul and Silas, take them into his home and feed them, and live in joy that he had come to believe in Jesus Christ.We like the jailer have been captured in baptism, so we might remain in Jesus Christ, receiving all the gifts of his deeds, living as free holy beings of God, who have a right to the tree of life.The grace of the Lord Jesus is with us, because God’s people have received the being of Jesus, through his gracious means of the cross and baptism. And therefore, the last word in Revelation, the last word of the bible for us is this:

The grace of the Lord Jesus “be” with God’s people. Amen.