Archive for September, 2019

Forteenth Sunday after Penteost

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

Luke 15:7
I say to you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than over 99 righteous who don’t need to repent.

            Jesus always tells some interesting stories, sheep, coins and parties. He’s there in ancient Judah with these greedy embezzlers, probably prostitutes and all sorts of obvious sinners coming to hear Him, His words of truth in love, repent and believe the good news (Ephesians 4:15; Mark 1:15). At the beginning of His ministry in Luke’s account He declares, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19). These sinners had come to hear the good news, hopefully not to reject it. However the religious elite, the ones who knew God’s Word and looked down on those who didn’t, they were different, they came not to hear but to grumble, ‘how can he associate with druggos, bikies, and even those thieving bank managers?’ Jesus always has good ears, He hears them and He responds.

            There will be more joy in heaven over one of these rotten people repenting than all those who don’t need to repent. More joy at one of these lost sheep, at real risk of destruction, being found, picked up and taken home, more joy at this one salvation than over 99 who were already safe. Now sometimes it’s helpful for you to think about who you might’ve been all those years ago; a despised tax collector coming to hear Jesus, a grumbling Pharisee? A righteous sheep, or the lost, in Greek destroyed, coin? The sinner or the righteous? I’m sure that tax collector Zacchaeus knew which one he was. So who are you?

            I’ll give a small hint from the Psalm for today, ‘all have turned away, all are corrupt, there is no one who does good, no not even one.’ (Psalm 14:3). You are a sinner, just like me, just like those tax collectors and just like those Pharisees who were too proud to notice. Too proud like the kings and people Jeremiah brought God’s Word to, refusing to accept their need for a saviour, their need to change and serve God alone. God promised destruction and they were lost. But what happened to the lost? It’s them Jesus came to save!

            As Paul wrote, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), later in Luke, to seek and save the lost (19:10). The shepherd travels and finding the lost sheep, lifts it to His shoulders and brings it home in joy! The woman brings light, cleanses the house and seeks out the coin, finding again with joy! And in the parable after these the father welcomes his prodigal son with joy! Yes, you have sinned, you are afflicted by sinful corruption that all humans suffer from, but you have been lifted up, saved by Jesus. You were lost, dead in your transgressions and sin but God raised you up with Christ, yes baptised into His death and rising in Him with new life, Christ has cleansed you by the washing with water through the word, this is the truth (Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 6; Ephesians 5:26)!

            Now saved and made holy by Christ, receiving the joy and peace that comes with this wonderful grace, who are we but the friends and neighbours of the shepherd and the woman in the parables, together with all the saints who have gone before, with the angels and all heaven rejoicing when the Father draws another sinner to salvation in His Son (John 6:44). Celebrating when any other is born into this new life in Jesus, rejoicing at all baptisms and with every new convert; it doesn’t matter their work, family, sickness, or sins; and also rejoicing when after you sin, after one of us sins against you, going your own way, after this when you repent, transform your mind, and reject deception and sin, when one of us returns to this new way of living in Jesus, confessing the truth of what we have done, and coming before God’s throne of grace we can rejoice as each of us receive His wonderful grace! To live again the joy of Christ’s forgiveness, He came to save you and all sinners; to thank God for His mercy, that we don’t receive the destruction we and the ancient Hebrews deserved; and to taste, even if just a moment, the wonderful victory that is ours in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

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

Joseph Graham

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Jeremiah 18:11
Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.

Make your ways good. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is again sent by God to tell His wayward people to return to Him and avoid disaster; they do not listen, keep on rejecting God, worshiping the Baals, sacrificing children to Molech, and they also plot Jeremiah’s downfall. Eventually God’s disasters come, the kingdom is defeated, the temple destroyed and the people are exiled into Babylon. God does not deal with idle threats, but neither are His promises idle. Israelites turned back to their God in exile and after a time the promised land was returned as God had promised, and just as had been promised in Eden Jesus came, took our suffering, died and rose again, destroying the power of sin, death and the devil. God’s promises are sure.

But what about you? The Ten Commandments teach us that our heavenly Father will punish those who break them to the third and fourth generation and will bless those who keep them for thousands. So do you listen to His words, to His promise to you? Or do you ignore His commands, His word for your life, that gives you life? The Hebrews turned from the one true God again and again they suffered because of their sins; for a time they lived God’s way, but again and again they turned from this narrow one and went their own way, the ways of the people around them. How often do you do the same? Do you consider your Lord’s will when you make a big decision? Consider all He has done for you when you eat your food and drink? Do you reflect on the wonder of His forgiveness for all your failures? How does the way you live everyday show you glorify Him and not anyone else?

Jesus says His disciples must give up on everything to follow Him (Luke 14:33), to live not for your parents, not for your spouse, your child, or even yourself; but rather to live only for Jesus. For the ancient Hebrews it was obvious when they worshipped another god, for us it is harder to recognise, but when you do not reject all this world to cling solely to Christ you break God’s commandments, refuse to listen to His word. This is the cost of discipleship, it’s easy to see why the Hebrews continued in their own ways, doing what they thought was right.

To walk God’s way, to listen and obey His words of command and promise, law and gospel, is to do everything for the glory of God. To repent. Paul writes of a good example, Onesimus, a runaway slave who name means useful, but turned out rather useless to his master Philemon. However Onesimus became a Christian, rejected his own selfish way and went to return to his servanthood. He gave up his freedom in this life to submit himself, not to Philemon, but to Christ. Now Paul doesn’t leave it there but also almost coerces Philemon to show mercy to his runaway slave, to treat him like a brother for Christ’s sake, to reject society’s standard and perhaps his own retribution against this criminal. To reject our own sinful ways and to follow God’s righteous way of forgiveness, peace, joy and love.

So what about you? Did you pay attention to the reading of Holy Scripture, +the different verses we use for the liturgy, to Christ forgiveness to you for all your sins? And will you live in the light of these truths, to truly listen to what God Almighty has told you, to reject the evil of this world, to live differently, to live as God’s people and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy? How is your life different from non-Christians?

If people I knew from school saw me now they would easily see I am married and have a child by the way I speak and act. My life is now fundamentally different to when I was a high schooler, though I still cook, just now I’m cooking for Rehab and Nathaniel, not my brother Ben, the fundamental reasons have changed. In Baptism, in Holy Communion, in receiving the Holy Spirit and God’s grace your life has been fundamentally changed, is this wonderful truth reflected in the way you live each day or do you still walk in the ways of the wicked, abusing God’s gifts and His love? How, with the help of the Holy Spirit, could you change your life for the glory of God; and how can you encourage the rest of us to live in God’s way? That’s a take home question, to ask God and yourself.

An important question that ancient Hebrews rejected. They heard God’s dire warning, repent or face destruction, a promise of suffering, and they received it; but for you do not forget Jesus Christ has suffered for you, in Him is forgiveness and new life. You have heard God’s Word the truth of your evil and of Christ’s forgiveness and gift of new life, and agreed confessing it. So as we are renewed by His body and blood, live in that new life, in God’s good way.

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

Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

Scripture: Luke 14:1-14                                                              

“Jesus is coming to dinner, and you’re all invited!”

We have to use our imaginations a bit about just how this invitation got passed around because there are precious few details given. We know Jesus is coming to dinner. We also know that there was growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. The dinner gathering was made up of a leader of the Pharisees, a few of his fellow Pharisees and some local bible experts. (Called the “scribes” or “lawyers” in the bible)

We can safely assume then, that the invitation was somewhat disingenuous. Listen once again to these words in the beginning of our scripture. “… Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a mean on the sabbath, {and} they were watching him closely.”

There are two key ingredients that make up the charged atmosphere of this meal time. The scribes and Pharisees watching like a hawk, hoping to get something on Jesus that will enhance their case against him. Jesus, on the other hand, is focusing in on the radical disconnect between the desires of God and the practice of their religion. The passage points to, but can not fully show the tremendous passion that underlies this meal.

As the passage progresses, Jesus by his actions and his words addresses the issues of healing, humility and hospitality. It is perhaps no accident that the healing comes first. It is the healing ministry of Jesus that ignites much of the protest against his ministry. Not so much because of the fact that he heals, but because of the time that he heals. Amazingly, the joy of the healing presence of God in the lives of hurting people is lost to Jesus’ nay sayers. While the crowds of common people are recognizing and rejoicing at the work of God, the because they get all worked up about the legality of whether healing on the sabbath is against the prohibition of working on the sabbath.

Let’s look more closely at how this meal time goes as Jesus addresses:

[1] Healing

As the Pharisees are “watching him closely,” Jesus encounters a man with dropsy. The term dropsy is no longer used in medical literature. The condition is swelling caused by edema or water. One modern version of the bible translates this incident by describing the man as having, “swollen arms and legs.” In any case, the man is there before the meal actually gets started.

The language of the text suggests that the man with dropsy may have been a plant for this occasion. It was not long before this event that Jesus had been teaching in a synagogues. A woman who apparently suffered from severe osteoporosis was present for his teaching. [Luke 13:10-17] Jesus healed her and the ruler of the synagogue lodged a bitter complaint that the woman could be healed on any other day. This healing, he reasoned, was not legitimate because it was done on the sabbath.

The guy totally misses the point. Jesus tells the whole gathered crowd that these religious leaders would not hesitate to walk one of their thirsty donkeys to a place where they could drink on the sabbath – but they would deny this woman (a member of their own faith to be sure) an opportunity for healing. The crowd, however, understands. They break into joyous celebration. What better day to see this woman of faith released from her long burden? How wonderful that she should be healed on God’s day of rest which should be honored by all God’s children!

All of us know people like these Pharisees – don’t we? You know – the person who never sees the positive and can always pick out the negative. There are those folks who can walk into a room with 99 good things to make a positive comment about and perhaps one thing that deserves a bit of criticism – and what do they see first? Right! They can spot the flaw in a microsecond and miss the good things entirely.

Jesus addresses the lawyers and Pharisees before he begins to deal with the sick man who stands before him. He is way ahead of them. They are not interested in the health or illness of the man who stands before Jesus. Talk about manipulation!

He asks them a question. “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” They don’t answer a word. Of course this is a setup. No words are exchanged between the man who is ill and Jesus — at least Luke does not record any conversation. The man is healed and sent on his way. What a great day it was for him. Especially if he expected no more than to assist the religious bureaucrats in trapping Jesus. He goes back to family and home a new man having experience something of the coming of God’s reign.

Now Jesus turns back to his host and his entourage. “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” This time there is more than silence. They, “Could not reply to this.” The disconnect between the desires of God for the children of God and the devotion of the lawyers and Pharisees to the letter of the law brings shame to his adversaries — to say nothing of increased anger and opposition.

The essential point of this lesson is that Jesus brings hope and healing while his detractors bring rules and regulations to those who are seeking the presence of God in their lives.

[2] Humility

Now the meal begins to get underway and Jesus observes how the invited guests begin to head for the head table. In Jesus’ day, tables were closer to the floor than we are used to and guests would recline at couches round the table. The honored guests would be closest to the host. The tables at a larger gathering would be in the shape of a U with the host and most honored guests at the head table.

In the event a honored guest would show up a bit late, someone who had taken a position near the host might be asked to find another spot so that the more important guest might be seated near the host.

Jesus tells a parable which is central to the way God’s kingdom works. If the guests take the lowest position possible at the meal, chances are the host will ask them to move up in position. On the other hand if they come to the meal assuming that they would surely have a seat at the head table, it would be terribly embarrassing to be asked to move to a less favorable seat.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of a person of authentic faith and a central principle in the kingdom of God. Luke 18:14 details the story of how a Pharisee and a sinner went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee suggests to God that he is so thrilled he is not a wretch like the man who prays beside him. On the other hand, the sinner can do nothing but hang his head and beg for God’s mercy. Jesus responds, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

James spells out how it is that humility is the way of advancement with God. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” [4:10]

[3] Hospitality

Now Jesus turns to the host of the meal and talks about hospitality. “Don’t give a dinner for your friends or family and rich neighbors. Rather invite people who have no possible way of paying you back. Invite the poor and dispossessed and you will be blessed by God in the end.”

Throughout his gospel, Luke has focused on Jesus’ heart for the poor and socially unacceptable people of his day. In fact, the sure sign of the presence of God was to be, “good news” for the poor. Messiah’s mission was to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.

Hospitality is one of the marks of the faithful community. “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers,” Paul wrote to the church at Rome. [Rom. 12:13] The writer of the letter to the Hebrews enjoined his readers, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” [Heb. 13:2]

Those who sought to entrap Jesus in the breaking of sabbath laws missed the point of his healing ministry, failed the test of humility and were self serving in their hospitality.

And so let us be aware that, “Jesus is coming to dinner!” Whenever we reach out to bring hope and healing to others, or open our hearts to those who others reject, Jesus comes to dinner. We are called as people of faith to become a community of hope and healing — a place of hospitality where humility is the mark of greatness.