The Last Sunday of the Church Year

Jeremiah 23:6
n His days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell in safety, and His name will be called The Lord our righteousness.

The king will reign. This is the end of the church year, we have been on a journey from the coming of Jesus through His life, death, resurrection and ascension, to Pentecost the birth of His church, the way He calls us to live as saints throughout all time and place and these last few weeks, looking toward the end of this world. But one thing stays true, the King will reign. Drought, fire, dust and smoke Jesus says true to you, you have nothing you need to fear, not even spiders or snakes, but do be wary of the dangerous ones. Wars and conflicts, but the gates of hell will not overcome Christ’s church that you are a part of in Holy baptism. This kingdom will know no end.

But this corrupt world will. Jeremiah in his time saw the end of the kingdom of Judah, a kingdom lead mostly by men who rejected God, they went their own way, worshipping other gods and other kingdoms. Now two things, shepherd, really grazier or tender, describes rulers, they are supposed to tend to the people in the land. The second thing, God promised His people through Jeremiah, now the promise was partially fulfilled through the destruction of the kings of Judah, the exile and the restoration of the Jewish state by king Cyrus the Persian, but more fully Jesus fulfils the promise when He came, Son of David, Son of God, to save God’s people and continues to raise up shepherds over us today. This is true, yet we can’t fully see it until the final revelation at the end, when all is finished, fulfilled, perfected. So when God through Jeremiah is speaking to the ancient Jews, He is also speaking to you.

We Christians, followers of the truth, those who trust Christ Jesus the King of kings. We have been scattered across this world and divided by different teachings, different ways of life. The leaders across the globe reject God’s way of forgiveness and peace, even here in Australia they can forget they are called to tend to all those in this land, not just their friends or family. This is also a warning to me as your pastor, latin for shepherd here in this pasture. Leaders in the church are not immune to sin and the attacks and deceptions of the devil. Political or military power is one thing, but you have authorised me to have spiritual power over you, pray I don’t abuse it teaching in such a way that you are pointed to yourself rather than pointed to Jesus and your salvation and life in Him. Wrong teaching can destroy you, this is why it’s a scary thing to lead God’s people, the one who has been given much, much will be expected (Luke 12:48). And there will be a judgement at the end, under Jesus justice and righteousness will be the law of the land, the evil shepherds will be destroyed and those who reject Jesus the king killed, no more will God’s people be lead astray or abused, the devil and all his demons will be executed.

You will be free. Today you are freed from your sins, saved from the devil who accuses and tricks you, in Jesus you are safe. And here is the wonderful news, you and I don’t have to rely on ourselves, on what we have done or failed to do; you don’t have to rely on your good life, or your confession, and you don’t need to be afraid or doubt Christ’s words to you, given to you for the forgiveness of your sins. This beautiful good news is the name of the king, the Son of David, the Lord our righteousness. Jesus is your righteousness, it is not about you, He has done it, it’s not about me, Jesus saves, it is not about our words, He is the one who has promised and He fulfils all God’s Word. In Jesus you are washed clean of all your failures, all your sin, all the evil you have done. You are forgiven, you are safe. When Christ Jesus, God Almighty, comes as judge you have no reason to fear because He has already rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and evil, as Paul wrote, and brought you through baptism into His kingdom, redeemed you and reconciled you to Himself; you have peace through His blood, joined to His death in baptism and now alive in Him who makes you righteous. The judge can’t judge Himself, even if He did He is wise, caring, just and righteous, straight to God’s kingdom for you. And that is what Jesus your righteousness has already said to you.

This is the end of the year, next week we’ll start again looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. You do not need to fear or distress because for you and all Christians the judgement has already been made, you live now in the New Creation, Jesus Christ. We just have to wait until God reveals it to us, and with the conflict, disease, fire and drought, we might not have to wait too long for peace, joy and life everlasting.

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

Joseph Graham.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 21:18-19
But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win your soul.

            Drought and fire, the worst I’ve ever seen. We don’t know when it will end or how many lives will be destroyed, but we know that it’s not over yet. More news updates everyday, fires here and fires over in the US, droughts and famines, civil conflicts and wars, this is the world we live in. We hear the words of Jesus, the letters of saints who have gone before and we wonder, what is this to me? How can this make sense of the world? Love and forgiveness don’t bring the rain, and even if they did, we don’t live in a forgiving world. We live in a world of sinners.

            This is why the world rejected Jesus and still does, He was not a sinner. His preaching of the truth in love lead to hatred of Him and his persecution, suffering and death. He knew the truth that sets free, the truth we confess with Him and all Christians in the Creed, the truth of God Almighty’s Word given to His people of old and preserved for us today. He was under no illusion to the true way of this world, not distracted by the amazing accomplishments achieved by humans, not seduced by the beauty even of this whole world. He stood firm in God’s way, of forgiveness, truth and love. His disciples as we heard today admired the great skill and beauty of the temple God had made in Jerusalem. This place dedicated to Almighty God of all, an image of where heaven and earth meet, of all creation, nations, sea, outer space and beyond the universe to the most holy place; this great wonder that pointed to the one true God. And Jesus responded, ‘this place will be destroyed.’

            Now it’s hard for you and me to really get our heads around this. Jesus is saying two things, one the temple will be destroyed similar to telling an American the white house would be nuked, and two this whole creation, what God’s temple was an image of, will be destroyed. Understandably the Jews wanted to know when. Jesus doesn’t really say, rather He tells them what life is going to be like before the end comes, wars and rumours of wars. Sounds familiar hey? And what does this life look like for those who follow and trust Father, Son, and Spirit? Persecution, arrest, and confrontation with those in power. And betrayal by those close to you, death and hatred. This is what Jesus promised your life before the end will be like. Not a very cheery image is it? How could we hope to survive this?

            Not a hair of your head will be destroyed, in enduring you will win your soul. You have been saved by Jesus, death is not the end, we wait for the resurrection of the dead in Christ to everlasting life in the new creation, the new temple is Jesus, the image of the new creation, sinless, joyful, glorified and untouchable by death or the devil. Here today He renews you in this new life in Him, forgiving you, teaching you and strengthening you; coming to be where He has promised to be for you, wherever two or three gather in His name, and in the bread and wine for your forgiveness. And He doesn’t abandon you when this time today ends, He has given you each other to support and encourage in this hard world. He has sent His Holy Spirit to be there for you, helping, guiding and supporting through your struggles. Even when you are asked, ‘why are you a Christian?’ He tells us not to worry about a script, but rather He will give you wisdom and the words. You have been placed in the kingdom of God, remain under His authority, hearing His word, receiving His forgiveness, and through all this He will stay with you and at the end we will together join the resurrection of Jesus to live together with God Almighty, our creator and Father, living with true peace, joy and love forever.

            We receive together God’s love and mercy now, we are not persecuted for Christ or in a famine, and more you are forgiven all your sins and helped through this life by God Himself. Yet still we wait for the world to come, just as we wait for the rain.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 20:38
He is not God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.

            Last week I reminded us that God is not a God of the dead but of the living, so all who have died in Christ are alive and we are together with them in Christ’s presence here today, living to God. That need not be a worrying thing, if our perfect righteous creator can forgive you, those former sinners, murders, liars and cheats washed by the holy blood of the lamb can certainly forgive too. And here is where we find that teaching, Jesus telling some of the Jewish leaders just how dumb and short-sighted they were regarding the resurrection and also marriage.

The Sadducees were trying to catch Jesus out, to prove that the resurrection was dumb, but they themselves had a dodgy view of what was to come, of how to understand the resurrection from the dead, believing it meant that people’d rise from the grave and continue living just like people have always lived in this corrupt world. Sometimes we might think the same, that this world will just continue, and nothing will really change, governments come and go, people born, marry and die and God’s promise that He’ll sort everything out was just wishful thinking. Maybe we’ll slowly get better, maybe there’ll be a big conflict between Christians and everyone else, maybe we’ll all just die from war and depression. Always found it a funny quirk that the Greek here sounds like the English for sad.

But rather than this sad state of affairs, Jesus paints a different picture, in the Matthean account He calls them wrong saying they don’t even know God or the Torah, the Jewish scriptures (Matthew 22:29). Instead of saying things will continue the way they’ve always done, Jesus says, those who attain the resurrection in the new age will not marry, things will be fundamentally different. Now I want to talk to you about the concept of foreshadowing. There’s some more precise language of type and antitype but I’ll stick to our vernacular. Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s Word, of the whole of the Law, of all the promises and prophecies God gave throughout time (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; John 19:28-30). This is what we teach and why we look to Jesus for all things, but sometimes God gives a taste of what’s to come, just a little of what we will experience in the fullness of time. An example, The ancient Israelites rejected God in the desert, God sent snakes that started killing them, then God got Moses to make a bronze snake on a wooden pole that the people would look to and be saved (Numbers 21:6-9). Now all people have rejected God, we suffer and die because of our sin, God sent His Son to die on a wooden cross that whoever looks to Him, whoever trusts Him has eternal life; Jesus Himself tells us that the bronze snake foreshadows Him (John 3:14f). Okay, so the Old Testament foreshadows Jesus, now what about marriage?

Jesus had told us that God gave us marriage at creation and that, what God has joined together let no man separate (Mark 10:9). But now He says there is an end to marriage, as long as we both shall live as we vow in the rite. But now I’ll put to you this, marriage between a husband and wife foreshadows the marriage between the church and Jesus Christ. I’m not sure how much we can say but clearly the Spirit tells us through Paul that the wife and bride reflects you with the whole people of God, the church, and the husband and bridegroom reflect Jesus and His ultimate love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). If this is the true way to hear Christ’s words, your marriage finds its fulfillment in our relationship to Christ as His bride, His wife.

But regardless, Jesus is not just teaching that the resurrection is true, and we know this from His own resurrection and the Spirit’s words throughout Scripture, But Jesus is also teaching that even in marriage we live to God. So no idolising your beautiful, wonderful and caring wife, or your helpful husband, and no idolising your children, even if they are the cutest in the world. Rather we love our spouse and children because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), to the glory of God. Yes they are wonderful and lovely people, usually, but God has put them in your life to practise your faith, to love, to care, to encourage, to forgive, to practise reconciliation and also to bring up the next generation, but all this ultimately to the glory of the God who has given this wonderful gift to you. So yes, the resurrection is true, at the end we will live to God, but all live to Him even now and in marriage; as Paul writes to the Romans, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7-8).

So we live to God, as Paul writes, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); whatever you do, do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); and as Hannah Samuel’s mum prayed the Lord brings death and makes alive, He brings down to the grave and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6). All live to God, He is the goal of all good things, and in Him we have peace (Haggai 2:9). This is true, here in Christ Jesus, in His presence, we have peace; but there are those who want to destroy that peace, the man of lawlessness, that want us to live not to God but to others. Thank God He has given us Christians around us, even in our marriages and families, to encourage us in the faith, to hold to the teachings of the apostles, to pray to God for us, as Paul did, that “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17). To be encouraged and strengthened, body and soul until we join with those who have gone before in the resurrection to our wedding feast with Jesus.

And the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.

All Saints Day

Daniel 7:18
“But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.

Receive the kingdom that will last forever, the kingdom of God. Today we are celebrating the Christian festival of All Saints from last Friday. We thank God we are in His kingdom, and for all our brothers in Christ, Christians throughout the world now and those who have gone before, all the saints at warfare and all the saints at rest. We are all in Christ, so we are all together. God gave Daniel a vision the worldly kingdoms defeated and the Holy people of the Most High to receive this everlasting kingdom, and earlier a vision of a great rock that crushed the powers of this world then grew to fill all things (Daniel 7; 2). Jesus is the fulfilment and in His ministry proclaims it, ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is here, repent and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1:15) The king foretold, coming on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9), suffering, dying forever victorious over sin for your forgiveness, and rising forever victorious over death for your life. The power of this world destroyed, the power of God’s kingdom has come and the gates of hell and death will never overcome it (Matthew 16:18). This is the wonderful news for you today.

Last week we remembered the church of God throughout human history, how and why the reformation happened, but now we remember all the members of God’s kingdom and the eternal truth that together we receive this kingdom, this inheritance of the King of kings. You were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And when were you sealed, given the Spirit? As Jesus said you must be born again by water and the Spirit (John 3:5) and then Paul writing to Titus, He has saved us in mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), this is the one baptism all saints are baptised into (Ephesians 4:4-6). And so sealed in baptism in the Spirit, elsewhere joined to Christ Jesus in Holy baptism (Romans 6:3), we are members of the kingdom (Ephesians 2:19), you are a co-heir with Jesus (Romans 8:17), inheriting with Him and all our Father’s children the kingdom of God. The Holy people of the Most High will receive this everlasting kingdom.

And that kingdom of forgiveness and everlasting life is here. God is not a god of the dead but of the living (Mark 12:27), so you who are in Christ are with all others who are in Christ. It’s not something we can comprehend by our own human understanding and without a God-given vision we cannot see this truth, but today you are in the presence of God, in the name of Jesus. He is here! Just as we are joined mystically with Him, we are joined together with all who are in Him, all Christians suffering and struggling throughout this world, and with those Christians who have died before us. We remind ourselves in the prayer before communion, together with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. This image from Revelation (4:2-11; 7:9-17) of the multitudes of martyrs and all saints praising and glorifying the Lamb who was slain, the victorious lion of Judah. Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty! We are not alone, in the wonder of Christ descending to you and me offering Himself in bread and wine we have a foretaste of the feast to come. Coming to the table in Christ with all saints, one in Christ and not separated. You are forgiven, you are freed by the truth, you, together with all the holy nation, the royal priesthood, the chosen people of God, we have received this everlasting kingdom, together. And thank God for that!

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

Joseph Graham