Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-32
if you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

            Abide, dwell, live in Christ’s word and the truth will set you free. What wonderful news! Hallelujah! And thank Him too. Freedom! In Jesus you are free. But what does this text have to do with 95 theological statements 500yrs ago? For that matter, why should we care about any history of God’s people? It’s said, ‘we’re New Testament people, we don’t read the Old one; too many weird names.’ Well 500yrs ago there was a Luther, Bugenhagen, Chemnitz, Andrea, and Melancthon; that last one wanted a fancier latin name than the german blackdirt. Some more strange names, but also some more of God’s chosen people. Since the world began there have been followers of the true God, moreso for 5000 odd years and with the penultimate revelation at the centre of all history in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. And He said this, abide in me and the truth will set you free.

            Now you, like me, might find today Freedom is used in an odd way, ‘America fights for freedom and democracy’, but what about freedom from democracy? When we say we are free, we have to say what we are free to do and what we are free from doing. An example, I am free to criticise the government and free from being killed for that, but in this free country I am not free to build a car without paperwork. So what does Jesus say those who abide in His words are free from? ‘those that sin are slaves to sin.’ We hear this again and again throughout the New Testament, free from sin and a slave to righteousness, the law of the Spirit of life sets free in Christ from the law of sin and death, for freedom you are free so don’t fall again into slavery to sin (Romans 6:18; 8:2; Galatians 5:1; 1 Peter 2:16). Martin Luther was a faithful Christian of the continuing western tradition. He heard God’s command and truly understood the slavemaster of sin that all of us struggle against. He knew despite his hard work and effort in living the perfect life under God’s Law he still fell into pride, laziness, arrogance, and any number of other failings, small by human standards. He had become a slave to his own poor attempts at righteousness, pushed into depression and focusing on his sin, not Jesus Christ his saviour.

But the truth that he then found, the truth that has been taught for 2000yrs throughout the church, the truth that sets us free is this, in Jesus Christ you are forgiven, loved and made new into a new creation, new life free from sin, death and the devil. Simply put that is the gospel, Jesus Christ is Lord, not the devil or anything else; but this doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything we want. This is where we need to be careful still, the reformation is not over, just like Christ’s reign has not finished and your baptism has not stopped effecting you. Jesus says, abide in my words. Live in His teaching, be surrounded by it, breath it, find your protection and life only in the Word of God. Jesus is the source of life and your righteousness, to live in Him is to be free from death and sin. This is the truth! But do you do this? Or do you stray?

For you and me, we are still tempted to walk out from the tent Jesus set up for us (John 1:14), that has existed for 2000yrs (Matthew 16:18), to find our own way in the world, see what others have to say and generally ‘live life’ as they say. It’s easy to see how some things enslave us, or trap us, addiction is an obvious sin, but we all know what sin is, to not ‘love the Lord your God with every part of your being, life body and soul’ the truth Jesus set down in His teaching from God’s ancient people (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). To rely solely on Jesus Christ and what He has done for you. By your own strength this is impossible (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) so Jesus died for you and sent the Holy Spirit to give you faith in Jesus and sustain you on your way (John 14:16-17), this is why Lutherans look only to Jesus, why I try every week to point you to Jesus, because I know you fail to love God perfectly and that His word is true, you are forgiven. When you live and breath the truth you know that it sets you free, you’ve told me that.

But then why are Lutherans not in all the churches? Why are we different? Why so many different denominations, more every year, changing name and pastor again and again; or like the churches of tradition slowly going their way in this weird, chaotic world. Some began out of arrogance, some from unrestrained freedom, some from stubbornness, but all from the attacks of the evil one, and don’t think we are any different. I would not be here if I was not convinced that this is the best example and explanation of Christ’s word, the clearest teaching of His truth, the truth that sets you free. The early Lutheran reformers, properly and uniquely called evangelical and protestant, these brilliant people amongst all the brilliant of God’s people, saw that the truth the sets free had been obscured at that time, in Christ you are forgiven, made anew. They sought to bring this true Christian freedom that was hidden in our western church, to bring this wonder back to its proper centrality, and by its light renew our wonder of all of Christ’s teaching. To clear away the muck and confusion that had built up over the truth and to go back to the faith of our forefathers, to abide as they did in the words of Jesus Christ our Lord. The Roman Catholics now, not what they were 500yrs ago with all that hedonism and corruption, still keep the teachings of Christ though we would say often obscured. And the other side of the reformation have taken the bare minimum and run with that, some even teaching that there was no true Christians for 1400yrs. But they too still have some of Christ’s word, to rely on Jesus is salvation.

This is the reason the Lutheran church should never compromise without, as Luther put it, being convinced by Christ’s Words and plain reason, convinced by the truth; but also why we should never forget our siblings in Christ, the Christians throughout the other denominations, reminding first ourselves, then others of the truth we have been saved by, abiding in Christ’s words passed down through the ages and also of course, bringing that Christian freedom to those who do not yet know it by the Holy Spirit’s help, as we continually live and breath this wonderful news. You are forgiven in Jesus, free from sin, you have life everlasting in Jesus, free from fear of death, and you will be renewed at the end of time in Jesus when all evil is destroyed, ultimately free from the devil’s schemes. Free in Jesus to rejoice, to love, to live; this is the truth we hold to living in Jesus, so in a word, the truth will set you free.

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

Joseph Graham.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 18:1
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

            A favourite and certainly memorable parable, and a hard one for me too, because Luke already wrote us why Jesus said it! That we must always pray and not give up. So I’ll ask who here was weary and worn out at anytime this week? Now, who has been worn out by waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, the defeat and destruction of our enemies, sin, death and the devil?

            Luke in the previous chapters records Jesus speaking of the coming of God’s kingdom, salvation through faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sin and that those of the kingdom, saved and forgiven, serve. Now we hear of a helpless widow, coming to the judge for justice, righteousness, we could say that fancy word, justification. She needs justification because an enemy is trying to take her down. To wear her out, to tell the world she’s a failure and to destroy her. How often aren’t we like this widow, worn out not just by dust or babies, but by our struggle with our own sin and the failures of others, weary dealing with the death and sickness in this world, worn down by the attacks of our adversary the devil. How can we stand against all this by ourselves? Will we abandon the truth, let go of what is good, and reject the life God has given us? It’s certainly easier in many ways to live as if God doesn’t care, as if Jesus isn’t going to come back like a thief in the night, to get absorbed into whatever we do in this life; family, work, fame, even being a part of a parish, and to just go with the flow, take the easy way, to give up.

            But the widow doesn’t give up, she knows what is true and she seeks it. Everything is stacked against her, likely she doesn’t even have children or any family to back her up, to support her. She goes to the only one in town who can help, the person who happens to be the nastiest, snobbiest, least qualified judge in any story. Still she doesn’t give up, she goes again and again, knocked back, burdened, but still holding on to the truth. The judge meanwhile is doing his thing, but becoming increasingly annoyed at this widow. However he sees her devotion, and sees she ain’t letting up so he says to himself, self-centred that he is, ‘I will justify her so that her constant petitions don’t end with my black eye’. Yeah, that’s what the word means, and now I’m just picturing some old grandma walking into a court and punching the judge. So unrighteous judge brings justice against the widow’s accuser.

            But what about the righteous judge? The real judge, the one who will judge the whole world. What does He see? When we pray to our Father in Heaven through our King and mediator Jesus Christ by the power given us in the Holy Spirit, what does He, the Judge of all people, what does He do? He will justify His chosen people; He will make you righteous and save you from your enemies. Will He wait until we’ve bothered Him long enough? No, Jesus tells you, He will justify you and all of us quickly. Hallelujah, Good News if there ever was any! But this doesn’t mean that the struggles of this world will be taken away from us, it doesn’t mean that you will never be tempted again, and I know it doesn’t mean that Christ will come back tonight to finish what He’s started because people have been praying for that I dare say since He went. But when we pray, praying the prayer given by Jesus, your name be kept holy through my words and actions, your will be done even conform my will to yours, forgive us our sins, save us from the evil one; when we pray for Jesus Christ’s justification, He gives it quickly, so quick in fact He’s already made you holy in Him 2000yrs ago and made it personal for you when He baptised you. Promising the Spirit in baptism who has also given you faith, trust and understanding in God and His promises. You are saved, forgiven and renewed in Jesus.

You know God Almighty has authority over everything, because He made it. You trust that if anyone can help you it’ll be Him and so, like the widow, you ask. This is the faith! Trusting the creator and judge of all to make us right with Him, and acting on this faith by praying. My son trusts that someone will help him, and Rehab and I hear that trust sometimes loudly during the night. How much more will our Father in Heaven hear your cries, your shouting for salvation, for justice and righteousness. He hears and He justifies giving you what you need, forgiveness and everlasting life in spite of death in His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Indeed He already has, you are in the Kingdom, in Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives with you, guiding you by Jesus’ words to always pray and not give up; but still Jesus ends the lesson with a question, will he find faith on earth?

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

Joseph Graham.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.

Remember, I know it’s harder for some of us, or at least some have a better excuse. But here today God is calling you to remember the Good News we cling to, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And unfortunately sometimes we forget. We forget in our lives what the core of our Christian faith is, we get side tracked, we forget we’re in this together and we forget why this message is so important for us in our lives. So what is the core of Christianity? Is it love? Maybe a different way of life? Or a decision I made? An assurance I will be safe and prosper in this life? A friendship group? A list of teachings you must know? Or perhaps something else?

Here the Holy Spirit summarises the gospel in the words, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, from the seed of David. We need to remember what this means; the name Jesus means God saves, Christ or messiah means anointed like the kings and priests of old, He is the true and everlasting King of kings and High Priest, He died but overcame death rising up to everlasting life, and He is the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the Son of David to come. The Word of God is not bound, but there is a lot to it. And it is true, but why do you care if it brings you, like Paul, suffering in this life, ridicule, anxiety, shame? What does this truth mean for you and me?

If we die with, we will live with; if we endure, we will reign with. Are you ‘dead’ to this world, rejecting all evil, corruption and deception, just as Jesus did? Do you endure, keeping the righteous way under the burden of all the temptations to be proud, angry, to go the easy way, the wide road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Or do you miss the mark, do you sin? Last week we heard that suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life, that we pray for God’s mercy and help, meditate on His word, then suffer trials where we see our need to turn to God and His Gospel again. Paul writes here that He is suffering because He proclaims the Good News, but all that was for those called out, Christians, that we hit the mark of salvation in Christ Jesus with glory eternal! Through our suffering to turn and look to Jesus for our salvation. This is the core of Christianity salvation in Jesus, if there is ever a time when I or any pastor does not point you to look to Jesus for salvation let me know I’m a false teacher, antichrist, breaking the second commandment, abusing God’s good name and spitting on the Good News given to us. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Timothy to stand firm with the Holy Spirit and God’s clear word against leaders who were twisting the gospel and teaching something new.

They were denying the truth of Jesus’ word and as Christ Himself said, whoever denies me before men, I will deny before our Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:33). This is not something trivial, this is true peace, joy and love, and ultimately life eternal in Christ. We spend hours and years dedicated to learning and remembering any number of things, peoples names, how to fix cars, how to provide for our families, to support each other and any number of good God given gifts; but if we remember all these and neglect our Gospel (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), forgetting what His death means for you … well, we know what happened to the Israelites of old. How could we be so faithless?

If we deny Him, He will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. God always speaks the truth, Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life, His promises are always sure. Even when you fail constantly, rejecting His promises and commands, our Father still loves you, Jesus still mediates for you, the Holy Spirit still encourages, and we will still try to encourage you to remind you of the salvation you have in Christ, given by God in your baptism, renewed for you again and again by the Spirit in Holy Communion. So you remind the rest of us through the witness of your life, acting and speaking in the presence of God; to do everything for the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); to confess the truth of your sin, as we have already today; and to strive daily to lead the holy life of Christ. He has promised you in His life death and resurrection, you have life everlasting with Him, forgiveness of all your sin, renewal, restoration and reconciliation with God Almighty and all His chosen children, the church throughout time and place. God has saved you!

Remember, remind and react to this wonderful news! Don’t just sit on it, letting it gather dust until next Sunday, but endeavour to show yourself to God as His worker without shame. Yes we fail but then listen to His call of repentance and, when you confess the truth of your sin, His declaration, you are forgiven, righteous and reconciled to your Father in Christ Jesus, you can stand before Him, dead to shame and evil in Jesus Christ, in whom you now live. This is His assurance in Holy Baptism. So now do His work in your life without shame, hold to the simple truth, the gospel we are all a part of, ‘Jesus saves you from sin, death and the devil’. You have been given a new life in Christ, a promise that you will reign with Him, so explore and find out what this means in your life, but always remember and hold on to the Word of Truth, the core of our Gospel, ‘Jesus Christ saves you’.

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

Graham Joseph

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:5,6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith greater.” The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’. 

Faith the size of a mustard seed

A small congregation built a new church on a piece of land left to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, but their world came crashing down when the local building inspector arrived and informed the Pastor that unless they double the number of parking spaces, they would not be able to use the new church.

Unfortunately, the new building had used every square centimetre except for a rather steep hill behind the church.

In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move that rocky hill. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.”

They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved before the scheduled opening dedication service.

At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen”. “We’ll open our new church next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this time too.”

The next morning as the Pastor was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door and a rough looking construction foreman entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from a Construction Company.

We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill – in fact, heaps of fill. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that rocky hill behind the church?

We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge. We need to do this now to allow it to settle properly.” Well, the little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned (Source unknown).

Wow. When you first hear this story it’s easy to say that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’.

In other words, through faith we can move mountains.

But is that right?

Is that a correct conclusion?

Was it their ‘mountain moving faith’ or the length of time they spent in prayer that in the end gave them what they were seeking?

Were those 24 people super heroes of faith and so moved the mountain?

The disciples were facing their own mountains that needed moving.

In the previous verses Jesus had been talking about the effect that sin has on our lives.

Firstly, Jesus warns that anyone who causes another person to sin would be better off if a huge rock were tied around his neck and thrown overboard somewhere in the deepest part of sea.

The disciples were worried about this and quite rightly.

Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?

Who hasn’t said and done things that have caused others to be hurt, fell alienated, angry, hateful, and unforgiving?

If that weren’t enough Jesus goes on to say more. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

It’s a difficult thing to talk to someone – rebuke someone – whose lifestyle does not reflect their position as a child of God. Jesus goes on to say even more.

When a person says he/she is sorry, Jesus says there is to be no limit to the number of times we are to forgive that person.

Very possibly he could be asking for forgiveness for the same or a similar sin over and over and over again.

Jesus says in no uncertain terms, ‘You must forgive him’.

That kind of forgiveness goes right against our human nature.

That person who keeps on offending us doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet Jesus pronounces some dire consequences on those who can’t overcome their need for revenge and be forgiving.

The disciples had a problem – you might say they had their own mountain that needed moving.

They recognised their own sinfulness and their failure to live up to their calling as people who belong to God and disciples who claim to follow their master and do his will.

So, they come to Jesus with all this on their minds and say, “Make our faith greater!

Give us a greater amount of faith so that we will be able to do the things that you have asked of us”.

They felt that an increase in their faith would enable them to move the mountain of sin that was getting in the way of their faithful discipleship.

And what does Jesus do – how does he answer their prayer?

Does he lay his hands upon them and pray and give them more faith?

Does he snap his fingers and grant them a double dose of his Spirit and faith?

Does he give them ‘mountain moving faith’ so that they could remove all obstacles that got in their way?

No, he doesn’t – instead he says to them, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you”.

The point Jesus is making is that they have already been given faith.

Even a tiny faith the size of a mustard seed is enough as far as God is concerned.

The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving.

If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.

The bigger the obstacle the more strength I’d need to climb it.

The more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it.

The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.

That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. And thank God for that.

God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives.

If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter?

The size of a key ring doesn’t matter – key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens doors.

Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.

So, what Jesus is saying to his disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they have the smallest amount of faith, they can do great things.

Even the smallest faith can grasp what God has and is doing in our lives;

even the smallest faith is able to recognise the ways that God is able to make changes in lives and in our world through us.

We have all met people who have lived through very difficult times, and no doubt many of us have thought about the great faith they must have had to come out of their troubles as well as they have.

We may even have said to them – with respect and admiration, ‘I don’t think I could have faced what you have faced. I admire your great faith.’

In response to this I have heard people say, ‘My faith is no greater than anyone else’s. I just didn’t know what faith I had until I needed it. God helped me, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it.’

Jesus didn’t need to increase the size of the faith of the disciples. They already had faith.

He assures them of that and states that, even though their faith may be small, God can accomplish great things through them.

And we know that he did. They went on to share the Good News about Jesus even in the face of some strong opposition, being brought before rulers and judges, being imprisoned and killed.

Didn’t Paul say when he was recalling some of the difficulties he had to face as an apostle, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

He doesn’t talk about how great his faith in God was, but rather he talks about what his faith was focussed on.

There are times when our confident, perhaps even over confident faith, is brought crashing down because of what is happening in our lives.

There are times when our faith seems so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family, our self-worth.

But no matter what size and strength we consider our faith to be at any given moment, faith as small as a mustard seed (and that’s pretty small) is able to uproot a mulberry tree (which has an extensive root system, and plant (not dump) it into the sea and still expect it to bear mulberries.

Years ago, I was asked by the parents of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would have enough faith and understanding to come to Holy Communion.

My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding. Their child may never be able to express what she believed in words.

But as far as God is concerned a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great things in their child’s life.’

What a joy it was for all those at church, especially the parents, to see the outstretched hands of this child, waiting for them to be filled with the love of God through the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament.

Praise God that in spite of our sins he has given us faith – even faith as small as a mustard seed.

And God working through the faith he has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required.

God working in us through faith can move mountains and trees and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is powerful, because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful.

Faith, even one that is described as being the size of a mustard seed, relies on Jesus, his love and strength. This kind of faith enables us to rise above the most threatening circumstances.

To repeat Paul’s words, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

Let’s not twist all this around in order to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take faith and prayer and the study of God’s Word seriously.

But realize that you already possess more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family, your community, even your world.

In summary, today we are being asked not how much faith do we have but rather what are we doing with the faith that God has already given us?

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy