First Epiphany Sunday

 

Acts 10:38, 42
Jesus of Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, went about working good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, God was with Him.
And He commanded us to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that He is appointed under God judge of the living and the dead.

 

            Thank God for all the gifts He has given, for life, food, family, friends, for peace, relatively good government, a land to call home, all these wonderful things that so many throughout the world and throughout history have not had. Yet now we have all this, what do we do with it? How should we use these gifts? Knowing all this what will you do in this drought and as our state is burning down. Job said the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). But while we have these gifts, what will you do?

Of course today we celebrate something else, the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of His earthly ministry the healing and good works He did for all those oppressed by the devil, of course that is all us people. Wonderful gifts of freedom from sickness and oppression for many all those years ago. We could ask what Jesus did, with what He was given; but I’ll leave that for another time. Rather, I’ll ask you about those disciples He brought along, after Jesus finished His earthly ministry, what did they do with what God had given? They waited as God had commanded (Luke 24:49), then received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1), proclaimed the word and in the Spirit brought thousands into the baptism of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41). By God’s power and Holy Word He has drawn tens of thousands into the baptism of Jesus by such a plain washing, the mystery of water and Word (Ephesians 5:26).

And so you who are baptised, might not really remember it, but today we heard again what happened, when you were baptised into Jesus’ baptism. The Spirit and power descended on you in Christ Jesus and our Heavenly Father said of you in Jesus Christ, you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17). I’m moving fast through this because I’m sure you’ve heard already this wonderful news, the gospel itself, but now I want to ask, what does this mean for you now? The gifts given you by water and the word are wonderful marvellous and mysterious gifts, forgiveness, healing, death of sinfulness and resurrection to righteousness, unity with God Himself. You have all these gifts, what now? As you sit here today, what does this truth mean for you? How has it changed you and the way you live? We ask God to teach us His ways, that we may walk in His truth (Psalm 86:11) and not live according to our sinful flesh (Romans 6:12-14). For us who have received God’s promises, what is it to live His way?

Christ’s first followers, the apostles, once they received these mercies also received a command, to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all that Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). And here Peter told these Gentiles that command to him, to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that Jesus Christ is appointed by God judge of the living and the dead. Now there’s no undie stress to you here, you don’t have to go to Iran or anything, these commands were given to the church, and so we as Christ’s church seek to proclaim the Gospel and to walk God’s way here where we are. And to walk God’s way is to listen to Him and live accordingly, to bear witness to the truth that Jesus died for you, that your sins are forgiven, and that Jesus is your Lord, king of all kings (John 20:28; Revelation 17:14). That He is judge of all the living and all the dead. That Jesus is in charge.

To know what that means, we come together to hear His words, and the Word of His Father through the bible readings. Sometimes these are difficult to understand so we listen to what the church has said through the ages, how wise Christians have tried to explain, yet still there are mysteries. Great and wonderful the mystery of union with Jesus and all Christians by the Holy Spirit in His baptism, the mystery of Christ’s return to reconcile all things to Himself, destroying all evil, cleansing all who trust and glorifying them into bodies like His (Romans 6:3-4; Philippians 3:20-21). These are true, in His mercy God even demonstrates to you and me the small mysteries of faith, peace from out of nowhere, finding lost keys, the beauty of the sunset in smoke, dust and cloud. Today we are reminded by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament again of God’s mysterious, yet true, love for you. He is in charge and He is on your side, what wonderful good news.

Certainly a comfort in difficult times, in the stress of drought, the despair of fire, and the struggles in this life. Yet more than a comfort, the Good News of Jesus Christ, Saviour, motivates us. Yes to listen, to hear and to comfort each other with His good words, but more to live differently. To thoroughly witness in the way you live, what you do, how you act and how you speak. Firstly you are free from sin in Christ, it is dead to you, so you don’t need to trap yourself in it (Romans 6:5-11). You are free to love each other and all people, free to care, to do good just as Jesus did for all people (Luke 7:22). Jesus tells you again, you are forgiven, your sins are removed and destroyed (Psalm 103:12), yes even those you did this morning, you are free from regret, free to turn away from your sin, from sin against you (Ezekiel 33:11), to turn back to God’s way of reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-22), active in love and peace (Acts 3:19). Free from sin and free to live in Christ, again wonderful news!

In Christ you are free to live His way, according to the judge of the living and the dead. He has told you that in Him you are safe, to rely on Him and on nothing else (Matthew 22:36-40). He has given you life, the Holy Spirit the giver of life to help you through this world (1 Peter 3:18). And now today, this week, in your homes, your work, your shopping, through all your life, just like the disciples and the ancient prophets, by the way you live you are free to bear witness to the forgiveness of sins and new everlasting life in Jesus’ name that you receive in His Word and Sacrament.

So as you go out and as you come in the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.