Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Hebrews 12:28
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe

A kingdom that cannot be shaken; that sounds good if it’s a good kingdom. And I suppose Australia is a good enough country and I’m glad it hasn’t been shaken to its core yet, that we haven’t felt civil war or insurgencies like those overseas. No IRA bombing places, no military dictators slaughtering disagreeing citizens, no plagues and no famines, well at least not yet, though it is getting dusty. So thank God that we live in a relatively peaceful and stable state. But we know that the things of this world are like wood, good until they rot; it’s been 80yrs since Australia’s borders were threatened, but if we lived where our Lutheran ancestors were from we would have seen a lot of rot, a lot of shaking in these last 80yrs. The kingdoms, governments and societies of this world are all fragile in the grand scheme of things; and not just them but also our own lives, work, relationships, health, these are fragile too. Anywhere we look we can see struggling, but what will survive in the end? Where should you place your hope, focus your efforts, look to for reliable and unshakable help?

            Might I propose the one who has already been destroyed, but lives to tell the tale? Through Baptism we are joined into Christ Jesus, into His death, resurrection and ascension; you are now reconciled with God the creator of all, joined to Him by the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus. And if everything that’s made is gonna be shook, be taken away, the thing that will remain is the maker. God, Father Son and Spirit, His Kingdom and His Word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35; 16:18); but all evil, sin, death, and the rotten things in this world will be destroyed (John 3:21; Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). Now God’s unshakable word has promised you that those who believe in Jesus and are baptised into His name will be saved, that you are part of His eternal kingdom; at the end when this world is shaken out like an old rug, changed and purged with fire (1 Corinthians 12:10-15) you will be raised from death and renewed or changed in a moment to be like Christ (1 Corinthians 15:52), free from sin death and the devil, as God told John in the Revelation (21:1f), free to live in the new unshakable, incorruptible heavens and earth, with the holy city, Jerusalem out of heaven, God’s Kingdom no longer hidden or secret, but shining like a beacon to the renewed creation. That is what awaits, the removal of things that are made and the reveal of the unshakable Kingdom of God.

            But what does that mean for us in the here and now, days come days go, We’ve just got our son home and working out what on earth we do with him, yet I know this grand vision of the end of all things, but it doesn’t feel that close. Then again, what does Jesus say at the start of His ministry? ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God in here; repent and believe the good news’ (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God is not just at the end it is here right now, and you are part of it, being protected and sustained by your King, you have this wonderful privilege even though you might not see it, might not touch those pearly gates. In your own life you experience the mercy of God, the small mercies of finding your lost wallet or a good park, to the far greater ones of His forgiveness, peace and joy when you are reconciled to other Christians, to God Himself. And in this reading from Hebrews God is telling you the significance of this time now, to be gathered in Jesus name, having Him present with us and serving us and speaking His Words to us in what we call this Divine service. Unlike the fiery, dark, hidden, yet touchable mount Sinai, you have come to the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, together with angels, the saints who have gone before as we say in the communion liturgy, joining their songs, and with God the judge of all who has pardoned you, and Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant of forgiveness and freedom, and finally when you do seek something to hold, to grasp, Christ’s blood that cleanses and speaks forgiveness rather than the vengeance of Abel.

            God, the consuming fire, has already brought you into His everlasting and holy kingdom, you have this wonderful gift right now, even if you don’t see it clearly. You, together with all Christians past and present experience a foretaste of what is to come, you hear again and again God’s sure promises of forgiveness, peace, love, joy and life everlasting and even experience a bit this side of eternity; so why reject this and be distracted by the fleeting goals of this life? To find comfort is chocolate rather than Christ, to seek pleasure in fantasy rather than God’s real gifts, to refuse His hand in the good things of this life and to try to build your own power and authority, rather than using well the power and authority He has given you to serve His kingdom, to recognise Him in all you do, to care for those in need, to support and encourage those in power to do what is right, to love those He has placed around you, to love those of the kingdom your brothers and sisters, and to respect and hold up His good, life-giving word in your life, practising what He preached and encouraging each other to do the same, to pray, to devote time, to serve and to guide. You are members of Christ’s kingdom, of our heavenly Father’s family, you are saved, are being made new and will taste again His forgiveness and love in the body and blood He offers you today. So let us be thankful that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom and so serve God acceptably with reverence and awe.

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

Joseph Graham.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us

            Such a great cloud of witnesses, this is the family of God, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, throughout time and space; we sometimes speak of the saints in warfare and the saints at rest, those here and those who have gone before. Together we are one in Jesus through faith. Though sometimes we don’t feel it. We certainly don’t see this huge crowd here today. We see the Australian government, not God’s; we ring up our own families, not our brother King David; and often we can even forget that yes we do have brothers and sisters even in the Pope’s Church. In this day and age, you might feel cut off from the saints suffering overseas, thinking ‘they’re not my people’ or even those here today, separated by history, ideals or politics; some Christians even think that it’s just them and Jesus, and aren’t concerned about other Christians. Sometimes we just feel alone and abandoned in our faith, that it’s just us against the world, or that we have to face our sin alone, that no one else will help; ultimately that government, family, church and everything else is dying, and we can not endure.

            But that’s not what God tells us here. Even if you feel like you’re all alone, like it’s just you against evil, even loosing hope whether you can hold on in the end; that’s not the truth. Rather you, all of us, are surrounded by those who have gone before, struggled against the evil in the world and the sin in their own lives, and have been brought to rest by God Himself. It’s like those kids across the road cheering for their school mates to keep going. I got a story like that. When I used to row we had training on those rowing machines and if you’ve never been on one, it’s hard full body work. There were only two machines so you had to wait your turn, but when you got on it was 20minute intense interval training always finishing with a final push and you’d sometimes fall off at the end with jelly-legs. You’d be pushing yourself trying to keep up with what the coach set for you, but it was hard work and you’d start to slack off, but your rowing mates would always be there yelling, ‘come on, long and strong, keep it up, keep it up, come on just 1 more minute hard, you can do it, keep it up, finish strong!’ didn’t make it any easier but it helped get you through. These people knew what you were going through, knew how hard it was, they had struggled with it as well, often through on harder settings than me, and they had done it. Now after finishing they didn’t just abandon me, but they came to encourage me. And today Our Lord is reminding you that you are not alone, we can imagine grandstands full of Christians yelling their silent encouragements to you. Others have gone this way before, and the race can be finished, there is an end in sight, so endure and don’t loose hope!

            And look to the end, Jesus the founder and finisher of our faith, don’t be distracted. You might instead focus on the tasks for today, the laundry, dishes, meals, and forget about Jesus, about His promises. You might instead hear again the news, drug addiction, murder, suicide, civil war, and forget that Jesus is powerful to save, that is why He came. You might instead look at your mistakes, failures, how you could’ve or should’ve done something, and forget that Christ has forgiven you and that The Holy Spirit is still working now and into the future. In this life we are distracted and loose sight of Christ, like Peter walking on the water we begin to sink; but just like Peter, look to Jesus who is pulling you through the distraction and suffering of this life to be perfected with Him in the end. And yes, you are not perfect, neither am I, there is something better to come in Jesus, to be free from your own sin and from the sin of others, for us all to be made new together with Christ; having His desires His peace, joy, love and life! That is the goal at the end of our race, together with all the saints who have gone before, Moses, Elijah, Paul, your faithful ancestors, those suffering around the world now and all those who will come after. Together, not in dribs and drabs, Noah’s still waiting, but God knows the best is that we finish together, made perfect by Jesus altogether at the end.

            Remember how He has sustained His people throughout time, the Roman persecutions, the Muslim conquests, rejection of the humanity of Indian Christians and Chinese persecution for shy of 2000yrs, theological struggles and abuse in the Reformation, persecution and corruption under communism and Hitler, and still murders across the globe today. Here we just have a soft rejection where you might be mocked, but as the passage today continues, “Consider Jesus who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (12:3-4). So remember all your brothers and sisters who struggle against sin, be encouraged that you can keep the faith by the Holy Spirit’s power, focus on Jesus who has saved you, forgiven you, is always here for you and will complete you in peace, joy and love; and endure, with all saints, to the end.

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

Joseph Graham.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

FAITH-WHAT IS FAITH? Hebrews 11:8-9.

Faith is a key word in the Bible- a key principle. But what is faith? Faith is a Collingwood supporter who believes that Collingwood will win another Grand Final in their lifetime. School boy definition: “ Faith is believing something you know isn’t true”. Rather a cynical definition-his father must have been a politician. Faith has two aspects: 1. Believing something to be true. Eg the sun is 93 million miles from the earth.+The earth travels 584 million miles a year in its orbit of the sun. + Jesus was born in Bethlehem-lives in Israel-died on a cross-rose again was the Son of God. Faith means accepting  these statements as true.                                  
2. TRUST:a deeper meaning-“ taking God at his Word”. Trusting in the promises  of God.   Biblical definition: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see´ . Hebrews 11:1. Note the strong words- “ sure” certain“. This is very different from the school boys definition. It is not a vague  hope like saying “I hope it rains”. It is not a pious wish.  So faith doesn’t just say that Jesus died on a cross-but that he died for ME. Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. It is a Whose-Who of people who have demonstrated faith- trust in God. It mentions people like Abel-Enoch Noah-Moses-Gideon-Samuel-David etc. Today I want to focus on Abraham. He is seen as the great example of faith. Today we will learn what faith is from the example of Abraham. The key word here is obviously OBEY. By Faith Abraham  obeyed. He went in obedience to God’s call-not because he had itchy feet- desire to travel- a political refugee- npr was he running away from home. He went simply because God called him. God called so Abraham obeyed. It was as simple as that. Put yourself in Abraham’s position. You live in the city of Haran-comfortable-civilized life- active and involved in the community –family nearby-aged 75-happy to spend the rest of your life there in familiar surroundings-you have no desire to move. It’s the last thing on your mind. It would be a big enough shock to be told to leave everything familiar with. That would be a big enough shock. But to be told to leave all that and go to an unknown country-a place you have never hear of-a place you didn’t know existed. That was a real test of faith. He didn’t even know where he was supposed to be going. Yet he went. He obeyed God. And he obeyed because he had faith/trust in God. Even though he had no idea where he was to go. He knew Who was going with him. He didn’t know the way. But he knew the guide. That was all that mattered. SO what do we learn from this. We learn that faith/Obedience go hand in hand. We learn that a true faith is an obedient faith. As the Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight”. After all if you had sight, you wouldn’t need faith. And what God required of Abraham, he also requires of us-an obedient faith.  Dietrich Bonhoffer a Lutheran pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis in 1944 studied the relationship between faith/obedience in his book on Discipleship; He saw that the two were intricately connected. Two statements-2 side of the coin “ONLY THOSE WHO BELEIVE CAN OBEY” and “ONLY THOSE WHO OBEY CAN BELEIVE”.  Faith gives the motivation-power to enab tle a person to obey, eg Peter walking on the water. His trust in Jesus enabled him to step out in faith. Only when you step out in obedience will you discover that God keeps his promises.

2.ENDURANCE—PATIENCE      Abraham set out for the promisedland.It was a long-slow-tedious journey. Even when he arrived his faith was tested further

  He was not able to take possession of the land God had promised him. He had travelled so far- he had left behind the comfort-security-convenience of his former home. Yet when he arrived at his destination he can’t take possession of the land because other people were already living there. He had to life the life of a Nomad. Puttingup and pulling down his tents. Then moving on again. He was not able to settle down-establish a permanent home. He was a wanderer-nomad in the land God had promised him. He did not even own a square metre of land. In fact the first piece of land he bought was a burial plot on which to bury his wife Sarah when she died. Yet despite the fact that God’s promise had not been fulfilled, Abraham did not give up his faith. He still trusted the Word/promise of God. God had spoken-He had made a promise and that was good enough for Abraham. He had a patient-enduring faith.    

A faith that is the kind that we all need-an enduring patient faith.  Even if our prayers are not immediately answered. A faith that continues to trust despite what may happen. Eg Job.    After all it is fairly easy to believe when your prayers are being answered in the way you want them to be. When everything is going well for you. It doesn’t take much faith to believe in those circumstances.                                                                                                 What kind of faith do you have? Is it a living-genuine faith? A faith that is strong enough to trust-obey even when you are not sure what is going to happen. Even if things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Even though others may make fun of your faith-ridicule you

“Faith is believing what God says simply because it is God who says it”.  So the real test of your faith is whether or not you are prepared to trust and obey. “Obedience is the outward sign of an inner faith”.  “Faith doesn’t make things easier but it enables you  

To cope.   “If your face is wrinkled with cares and worries, try a faith lift.” LH 321. “Faith is a living power from heaven; that grasps the promise God has given. A trust that cannot be o’thrown, fixed heartily on Christ alone.”

Pastor Hayden Blaess

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God we are together this morning to worship You.  To give thanks to you for all that you are to us.  To praise You for salvation and life everlasting that you promise to us.  And to celebrate the gift of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ, who captivates our attention and imagination.   By your Holy Spirit, may we receive Your message with confidence to strengthen and uphold us.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, our risen Lord, Amen.

 â€œWoe is me, gee ain’t it awful!”  These days, in the news, on television, and over the internet, I sense this mournful cry more than most other attitudes.  Not just in Australia, but in the world.  Violence, hatred, distrust, blind ambition, striving after the illusion of pleasure.  It’s almost as though the reading from King David’s son, Solomon, is being used as a script for the background of life today.  “Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

Solomon got to the point of his rule that he saw all his effort, all his wisdom, all his knowledge as dust blown in the wind. 
Toward the end of his life, Solomon realised that all he had done was for his own benefit and amusement.  And that it would have been a more fulfilling life to have lived simply: eating, drinking, and finding enjoyment in his toil.  If that was the extent of life, I can understand how Solomon would have come to that conclusion. 

But in his introspection, Solomon missed some of his important contributions to the life of Israel.  As King, keeping his heart and mind on things of God, he further consolidated the kingdom, and strengthened it against the surrounding enemies.  He built the Lord’s Temple that his father desperately wanted to leave as a legacy.   

But after losing his focus on things of God, and his self-control, Solomon also welcomed many pagan wives into his family, and through these alliances many false gods into the culture of Israel.  I suspect that this was much to the disappointment of God our Father: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The first love of Solomon’s father, David.

We can find this sad pattern of losing focus on things of God in every culture, every dynasty, every age. 

In the United States, a life-long study was embarked in the 1930’s that followed more than 280 individuals over 72 years of their life.  The study examined and documented significant factors of human well-being in the lives of those being studied.  From health, physical condition, marital status, life-style decisions, psychological factors, and personal satisfaction.  At the conclusion of this study, in 2008, Dr George Vaillant was asked about the results of the study.  His reply was simple, but startling, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people.” …  I would add an important other thing that really matters in life.  Our relationship with God our Father, with Jesus Christ our Lord, and with the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus Christ set the proper priority, that Solomon lost sight of, and most people in society today are blinded to.  “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Paul paraphrased this better than I ever could, in his letter to the Christians in Colossae.  ‘Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your  minds on things above, not on earthy things.’ 

At the conclusion of our time in this broken world, whatever we accomplish or fail to accomplish, will be ‘vanity of vanities’ for those things we do, think or say, where Christ Jesus is not at the centre.

Whatever in our life is not hidden with Christ in God, will eventually stand out like a flashing red and blue light in our rear view mirror.  Paul tells us to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature.  Now, I must confess that I have not yet found the magic formula that can totally severe me from my earthly nature.  But what I have learned to do, is follow the intuition of the Holy Spirit.  To stop, look and listen. 

>To pause, when my body tells my soul that my human nature is sticking out again; with that edgy feeling that something isn’t right. 

>To look at my attitudes and be alert to the harsh words I say to those whom I love, and to the silence I use to hurt others. 

>To listen for the still small voice of conscience that can guide me back to love stream of my Saviour. 

As Paul writes, to persistently ‘put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its creator’.          

Vice Admiral, Sir Frances Drake, was quoted: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, as our dreams come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

When any of us lose focus on Jesus Christ, and his provision for lives of meaning and purpose, truly everything is vanity.  And everything becomes pretty scary – filled with uncertainty, and a source of constant worry. 

So, Christ Jesus poses the question, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”  It is God our Father who adds the hours to our days, and the days to our lives.  Who gives us the key to his kingdom in the faith we have in his son our Lord Jesus Christ.  Who gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us to the best decisions to fill our hours and days with love for one another.  Who gives us the courage to confront our daunting earthly nature, and the freedom to allow our spiritual nature to prevail in our broken world.  

As the Psalmist writes, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD  all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.’ (Psalm 27:4 NIV)

Even in these days, together as a worshipping community, we can give the Holy Spirit permission to work among us and in us to make a difference. To set our hearts and lives on fire for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.  So that, after all is said and done, we can raise our faces to Christ Jesus and declare that all is not vanity, but Christ is all in all. 

We can trust that our Lord Jesus will strengthen our faith in every time of uncertainty, as we gather around the Word and the Sacraments.   That He will make his presence felt in our hearts and spirits as we remain united to him and seek his will in our lives.  That He will give us the courage to be good stewards of the precious Gospel message we express in our caring, sharing, loving, and helping.

The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Children’s Talk

God cares about what you think! Did you know that? God cares about the things that interest you. He knows it’s very easy to think all day about what you’re gonna eat, what you’re gonna wear, what games you’re gonna play, what TV you’re gonna watch. He knows it’s easy to think about the new toy you want or the next holiday you’re gonna have.

The Bible says God wants you to be happy, and to care about other things too. To think about some of the things that are important to God.  Like your mom and dad, your sister and brother, your nana and poppy.  God wants you to think about Him once in a while too. 

So, the next time when you’re thinking about things, find some time for Jesus too.  And talk to him in prayer.

Let’s pray:   Dear Jesus, my friend and my God:  remind us all to think about you once in a while and to find time to think about the good things you bring into our life.  We pray in your name.  Amen.

David Thompson