Pentecost Sunday

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 
Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Corinth:  ‘I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.’

Let’s join in a word of  prayer:  Loving God and Father, through your Holy Spirit you gather Christians who worship You with faith in your son Jesus Christ.  A universal Christian Church made not of glass, wood and brick, but of people bound together in the Holy Spirit, even during this global isolation.   We invite the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus on this Pentecost Sunday, to your glory and honour.  Open our spirits to receive the fullness of your Spirit that we may dwell in your love and forgiveness, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome every obstacle in living for you.   Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.

We read from Scripture last week that after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Disciples ‘‍‍worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, ‍‍ and were continually ‍‍in the temple ‍‍praising and blessing God.’

And from acts for this week, we read that when they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer.’   (Acts 1:14 NIV)


I can imagine what some of their prayers might have been:  “Lord God, send us the helper Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, fulfil your promise that Jesus told us about”;  “Lord God, let your living water flow around us”; and even  “Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”.    They must have been in prayer almost with one mind.  Sharing a common vision of Christ Jesus, and of who they were in Christ Jesus.  

And just as Jesus promised, at the right time God responded to their prayers by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon them.  It is pretty clear that they had no idea what to expect.  And for a time after the wondrous gift, they didn’t really understand what they had been given.  I always heard the saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it!”  I can imagine their delight and their confusion of what was happening among them.

The message for us this morning, is if we want this same delight, we need to be open to the same confusion and the same blessing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.    

In the upper room, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the Disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  (John 20:22–23 NRSV)

They surely received the Holy Spirit with his words to them.  And they surely received the ability to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness to those who believe. They also received the gift and responsibility to pass this gift of the Holy Spirit to all whom they baptised and said those same precious words, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Just as we received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised, whether this was when we were days old, or as children, or as adults. 

As Peter spoke with new enthusiasm on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38–39 NIV)

We have also received the responsibility to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness.  Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:16–17 ESV)

With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can with true hearts and sincere determination declare that “Jesus is Lord” of our being and of our lives.  And also, with the gift of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, Scripture encourages us to be led by the Spirit.  Paul writes in Galatians, ‘if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’  (Galatians 5:18–25 ESV)

Thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our spirit, and display our faith in Christ Jesus by our lives.  If we live our entire life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit evident, it will be evidence enough for our eternal salvation.  Scripture is clear that salvation comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone, as we discover in the Word of God alone, by God’s grace alone.  All this by the work of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism.

And like the Disciples in the presence of Jesus in the upper room, we received at our baptism a part in God’s kingdom and life in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Paul writes in the book of Romans, ‘We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.  Just love others.’  (Romans 12:5–9 NLT)

But like the Disciples in that upper room with Jesus;  I am convinced that at our Baptism, we did not yet receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit living through us with spiritual gifts. 

Gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of others, of the Church, and of the faith to be passed from generation to generation, by the laying on of hands.    

Those gifts require a special anointing of the Holy Spirit with power.  The Disciples received this in that same upper room when the time was right.  Gifts that demonstrated to an obstinate people that Jesus is the Messiah, risen from the dead, and ‘that repentance and ‍‍remission of sins should be preached in His name ‍‍to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

As Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, ‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.’


From Apostle, to Bishop, to Pastor, Apostolic succession of the gift of the Holy Spirit are passed from generation to generation.  The confusion we experience, like the disciples, descending from the upper room at Pentecost, is about what Spiritual gifts we are to receive and what gifts the Holy Spirit will display in our lives. 

For some it is simply the truth “Jesus is Lord.” For others, at times and seasons of their lives, God sends a special anointing of his Holy Spirit to do special things for the building up of the Church.

I heard the witness of one Pastor who received a special intuition to leave his parish for a short time to visit India in mission.  And God followed this with the witness of a parishioner who spoke of a message for him from the Lord.   He had never thought of doing this before, but like Peter called to visit the house of Cornelius, this Pastor felt the urging, and made that visit. 

It felt strange to him, because it seemed everything fell into place so easily.  His transport was paid for, his visa was simplified, and he left Australia with the message already in his heart that he would spread.  He arrived and was quickly drawn to an assembly of thousands, listening to his witness, and seeking his individual prayers. It was as though the Holy Spirit drew them together for just this reason. 

He was there for weeks praying for the people of this place and seeing people healed, released from demons, declaring their faith in Christ Jesus, and leaving the prayers with joy in their hearts.

When this pastor boarded the plane to return to Australia, he was convinced that this anointing of the Holy Spirit would be a godsend for his small congregation.  He would see it grow to thousands with the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly revealed in his ministry.  

But this Pastor was greatly disappointed when none of this happened in Australia.  He prayed, fasted, and eagerly sought the power of the Holy Spirit, but was bitterly disillusioned and ended up sadly abandoning his parish ministry.  But God was compassionate toward this Pastor who repented of his presumption.  He returned this compassion to care for other pastors who were suffering.  

The Holy Spirit will not be controlled, confined, or commanded.  We can only pray to God our Father for the gifts to be revealed with power, and give thanks and praise for the times and seasons that God blesses our lives with gifts of the Holy Spirt.    

As Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others,  those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of languages.   Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.   If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3 NIV)

I know and I fully trust that God has touched our lives with his Holy Spirit.   Our simple declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ proclaims the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our worshipping community.   The love we have for one another witnesses the greatest of gift and fruit of the Spirit that nurtures our faith.  And for that I am eternally grateful to God our Father, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour. 

 We have the example of Pentecost to encourage us as we hold steady to our confession of Christ Jesus.  The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in our living Lord Christ Jesus, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Ascension Sunday

John 17:1
When Jesus had said this, He lifted His eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son, so that the son may glorify you.’

            We are coming to the end of some restrictions, my parents are looking forward to the day they can come down and see our son again, and some of you are looking forward to these reunions too. But we are also coming to the end of this Easter season, this season of joy, Christ is risen, Hallelujah! He has come to teach and prepare His disciples for His mission to the world, and yet 3 days ago He ascended to His throne in Heaven, ruling over all with authority. Now the eleven wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit before they go into the world, growing the church in our green season of Pentecost. The preparation is coming to an end, soon you will have to work and work hard for the Kingdom of Christ Jesus your Lord.

           To answer those who ask why are you a Christian? Where is your God? Even your own questions and doubts. To love those near you, to love Christians around the world and to show the love of Christ to those in need; how are the homeless fairing? How are the other countries around the world? What can you do to bring the love and hope of Christ to those people, and to our own backyard? Your work as a Christian, to speak God’s Word and to serve as did Jesus the son (1 Peter 4:11). That the Father’s name, His reputation, may be glorified, may be kept holy, by those inside and outside the church because of what you do and say; just as we pray in our Lord’s Prayer, ‘hallowed by your name’ (Matthew 6:9). Jesus here speaks with His Father and ours, ‘Glorify your son that the son may glorify you’.

            That night when He was betrayed, Jesus taught the disciples about who He was so that they may have peace. Jesus is God together with the Father, this is part of our understanding of the Holy Trinity; that the Holy Spirit will come to walk alongside us, to bring us into Christ, into the love of the Trinity; and that we love each other, keeping and guarding His Word, command and promise. A lot to take in, 3 chapters, about 100 verses, packed when we normally just hear 10 or so a Sunday. And that night, I don’t think they really got it because they scattered at His arrest. Yet Jesus after teaching and preparing them with the Word of God, turned His attention to our Heavenly Father; … God’s Word then prayer, I wonder when in the week we do that … but now is the time for teaching, soon is the time for prayer.

            Remember John wrote this gospel so that you might believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have eternal life in Him (John 20:31). And here in this prayer, Jesus tells you, eternal life is to know the Father as the only true God and, just as John wrote, to know Jesus Christ whom He sent. This Jesus who prays for you, on your behalf, even though He knows you may reject Him as the disciples did that night, that you may forget His words, His promises. Thanking God for the eleven, He is also thanking God for you, that in you Jesus is glorified! You do know Jesus, baptised into Him by the Holy Spirit, you have been taught the faith and continue to hear the Word of God; you come and hold Him, taking Him into yourself in the bread and wine, Christ coming to refresh you as part of His body, Christ in you, you in Him; you keep His Word, His commands and promises, confessing the truth of what you have done, just like Peter recognising his sin yet not despairing but turning back to Jesus, confessing, repenting and receiving Christ’s mercy; even though we fail like the eleven, we trust Jesus Word, guarding it, keeping His commands, and we return to be strengthened to love again, to be prepared for the work He has for us; and in all this have peace and trust Jesus’ true prayer, that the Father answers when Jesus asked that He guards you in His name, so that we may be united to Jesus and each other, united in eternal life and strengthened, prepared to live it out.

            So as you go out today, as we prayer; the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, through all trials and tribulations. Amen.

Rev Joseph Graham.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Text: John 14:15-21


JOHN 14:15(Jesus said) “If you love me, you will treasure my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: 17the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you do know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you. 18I will not send you away as orphans; I am coming to you. 19Yet a little while and the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live you also will live. 20In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. 21Whoever has the commands of me and guards them; he is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

“Seeing is believing!” That is the creed of today’s society that wants to see some verifiable evidence before placing trust in whatever the promise or proposition is, ranging from business deals to purchases we make and relationships entered into or ended, right through to the smorgasbord of claims and promises made in the area of spirituality too. Some years ago there was an article posted on the internet entitled ‘God does not exist and religion is a fairy tale for suckers.’ As the basis for their assertion, the person wrote:

“Please, please, please…give me the power to be God for just five minutes! You wouldn’t recognize the place!…no disease!…no poverty!…no crime!…no hunger!…no suffering!…no crack, no heroin, no tobacco!…no evil people running everything!…no ignorance!…no war!…no murder!…no rape!…no racism or discrimination!…no exploitation!”

Of course this isn’t really anything new. The human race says “I’ll believe that God is real when I see demonstrable proof and evidence—because evil is seen so regularly, then there cannot be a God.” But to assert that evil is proof that God doesn’t actually exist raises a greater problem―what sort of existence would it be where human beings, and the world we live in, is the product of random chance? If there is no God, what hope do we have living in an existence in which sin, evil and chaos rule unrestrained, devoid of the hope and means of deliverance from this situation?

The person who posted this internet article asserts there is no God based on what they can see. There’s another problem with this―if the evil we see is the evidence that God doesn’t exist, then the overarching moral code of the Bible becomes redundant, and to remain living under it is therefore viewed as an imposition. So instead, the self becomes the final authority to determine what is right and good. We should put no other gods above ourselves, for to do so is restraining freedom. But unrestrained freedom is a false freedom; in fact it is slavery, bondage to the self where we do whatever we want to feel good or feel safe or feel in control and preserve ourselves, even when that is damaging to others, and damaging to ourselves. Unrestrained freedom is actually the source of evil.

In our Gospel reading today we hear of humanity’s need for the one true saving God. Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The word for ‘obey’ here in its fullest sense means ‘guard’; ‘hold dear’, ‘treasure’. “If you love me, you will treasure what I command.” But not everyone does treasure what Jesus’ commands. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us, at one time or another, does not treasure or guard what Jesus commands. We find ourselves listening to our own hearts and reason rather than the words of Jesus, and as a human race that has been the case since Adam and Eve fell to the temptation in the Garden of Eden to treat God’s word indifferently too: Did God really say?

God dealt with the problem of sin and evil by taking it upon himself in the Person of Christ. That is why Jesus says to the disciples in today’s text: “Yet a little while and the world will no longer see me”. He is about to go to the Cross and die to make atonement for the world’s sin. He is about to go to the Cross where God judged evil and sin in his own Son in order to redeem the world from it. It is there that the innocent Son of God personally experienced and absorbed the full devastation of human injustice and wicked depravity, to save us from ourselves and God’s just sentence of death upon us as sinners. That is a truth that is painful for us to hear―but not as painful as what Jesus endured for our sakes, in order to redeem us and make us his own.

Most don’t see God in human flesh hanging there on the Cross. Our natural condition means that humans can’t. When people look at Jesus on the Cross perhaps they see a good man, or even a social revolutionary. Or perhaps just a poor man, the victim of cruel circumstances, powerless to help himself. Or perhaps they see a troublemaker who actually deserved the treatment given to him, worthy of the mocking from those passing by: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the Cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the Chief Priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves: ‘He save others’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the Cross, that we may see and believe.’” (Mark 15:29-32). Yeah, that’s it. Come down, do something spectacular that we can see…then we will believe.

In today’s text Jesus said to his disciples: “A little while and the world will no longer see me.” The world will not see him…but they will see him. They will see him after his resurrection. They will see him as he reveals himself to them through the breaking of bread. They will see him as he comes to stand with them and proclaim his peace to them while they gather in a locked room. They will see him as he eats breakfast on the shore. They will see him…not just with their eyes but with their hearts and minds as he is with them. They will see him again: “I will not send you away as orphans; I am coming to you” (verse 18).

And he makes another promise to them: And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him” (verses 16-17). But they will know him. They will know him—the Holy Spirit is not some kind of vague force or impersonal power. He is the third Person of the Triune God. Some versions translate him as ‘the Paraclete’ but there isn’t really any particular English word that sufficiently captures what the original word ‘parakletos’ (pronounced par-a-clay-tos) means. Literally it is ‘one called to the side of’. Some of our English translations say ‘Comforter’ or ‘Counsellor’ and the Holy Spirit is both of those things, giving us counsel and comfort as he leads us into all truth. Another sense is that of an ‘advocate’—someone who speaks in support and defense of another. This is true too, as he stands beside us, defending us from the accusations of the law, others, and Satan himself who accuses God’s people day and night before God (Revelation 12:10). Jesus says that “the world cannot accept this One who walks beside, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Jesus promises them that the Holy Spirit will be their other Paraclete―their other advocate, counsellor and comforter. Their other one called to be by their side and to dwell in them. The first is Jesus himself: “I am not sending you away as orphans. I am coming to you.” The disciples will have Jesus and the Holy Spirit walking with them, guiding them, comforting them, leading them, ministering to them. These promises are first of all to the disciples as they give the apostolic testimony handed down to us today. Though the world does not see or know Jesus and the Spirit, they do, and will, and through the words the Spirit guided them to write, this promise is true for you too as he comes to you with his grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation in baptism, Holy Communion, the absolution, the word, the liturgy.

In our first reading, we heard of the religious marketplace of Athens, the multitude of idols worshipped. Just to make sure they had all bases covered there was an altar with the inscription “To an unknown God”. Jesus promises the disciples in today’s text: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you do know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you.” God is so unknown to most people today―people who look for proof: “If I see God, then I will believe”.

But you do know the God unknown by the world. You have received that which the world is unable to receive―the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your Heavenly Father has sent him to be your counsellor to guide you into all truth so that you treasure the words of Christ―the whole of Scripture. Your Heavenly Father has sent his Holy Spirit to be your helper, your guide, to walk with you and stand by you and empty every accusation against you of its condemning power. He is not like idols of gold or silver or stone and he does not live in temples made by hands. But he lives in the temple he made with his hands—you: “…you know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you”.

The Holy Spirit is beside you and dwells within you together with Christ and his Father who sent him to die on the Cross and shed his precious blood to ransom you, that you would be his very own and have a dwelling place in heaven forever. Through the power of the Holy Spirit you know the God whom the world does not know. You don’t just know about God but you know God, personally, relationally, as he shares his own life and blessings with you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is how, when you look around and are tempted to see only abominable evil and heart-wrenching suffering, that we can be sure God is a loving God. For the Cross is where you see that God went to incomprehensible lengths for you, to punish such evil that is part of the human condition, and free you from your own sin and death, so that you will not be left orphaned in the world but have a room in your Heavenly Father’s mansion. His mighty resurrection, which you share in through baptism, is how you know his promise is true for you: “Because I live, you also will live”. Because God has given you faith to believe in your Saviour Jesus Christ, then one day you will see him with the angels and all the other saints in glory, forever. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 has been called the best loved song in all literature, with the best known opening line. It has been treasured both at life’s happiest occasions, like weddings, and on the saddest occasions, like funerals. For three thousand years, these priceless words have lifted the spirits of the depressed, comforted and assured the suffering and sick, and enriched the lives of all who know it by heart. Even people who say “I’m not very religious”, generally know the 23rd Psalm. It is personal. “The Lord is MY Shepherd”. “My” is a lover’s sweetest and most exultant word as each looks into the other’s face and says “You’re mine”.

As this psalm is read to hospital patients, one can see how they hang onto every word. Every word is written out of deep love for the Lord, and also out of many years of experiencing the Lord’s liberating love just when it is most needed. These are the words of a believer who has been through many bitter battles, with their faith now stronger than ever. The words of our psalmist arouse in us feelings of being provided for, cared for and protected. We Christians cannot help but refer these reassuring words to Christ, our Good Shepherd. We cannot read it without thinking about our Good Shepherd who treasures every single one of us, so much so that he laid down his life for us.

The longer we live, the more we learn that Jesus is the one thing needful. We can say “I shall not want” because our good Lord provides us with all we really need for time and for eternity. “Green pastures” reminds us of how our Lord provides us with more, much more than we need to stay alive. Green is the most restful of all colours, and the most hopeful. Green implies showers of rain as well as sunshine. We need both, don’t we? Green symbolises growth – growth in faith and love. “The best evidence of life is growth.” “Still waters” are restful waters. Sheep won’t lie down until they feel safe and secure. They fear fast-flowing water.

Our Good Shepherd orders our stops as well as our steps. People have often said after being laid abed due to an illness: “I needed that rest”. Jesus knows better than anyone else the burdens of work pressures and busy schedules you carry. That’s why he invites you: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” Christianity is about BEING as well as doing. “BE still and know that I am God”, the Lord says to you. “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength”, God’s Word says to you. We pray in the words of a hymn: “Lord, take from our lives the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of your peace.” He has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

Our Good Shepherd is in the “restoration” business. He’s a restoration specialist. Your Lord is deeply concerned when you wander away from his fold. When he hears us confess: “We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep”, he delights in restoring our souls and welcoming us back into his arms. No lost sheep is too hard for him to restore. After our souls have been battered by the knocks and setbacks of everyday life, the grace of Christ our caring Shepherd gives them new vigour and vitality. “As your days, so shall your strength be.” How tenderly Jesus restored Peter at Easter. Life was new and fresh again. Peter’s love for our Lord was re-ignited. As we say “yes” to Christ’s question: “Do you love me?” we sense him restoring our souls again. We sometimes wonder about the direction of our lives. Today’s Psalm reassures us that our Lord leads us in the way that is right for us.

Psalm 23 is so deeply treasured also because of its realism. It doesn’t only record life’s sunny days. In verse 3, the initial picture of robust contentment is followed by a more sombre picture. An experience all of us must face is mentioned: “the valley of the shadow of death”. Faith enables us to face life’s grim realities with unflinching frankness. This valley is a symbol of life’s uncertain nature. It includes the valley of disappointment, depression and disease. Disease, disability or illness reminds us of our mortality. “Death” here includes the death of a friendship or marriage, a skill or talent, as well as of a loved one. We have the re-invigorating assurance that our Lord has experienced death before us, for us, and now offers us a share in his victory over death. What a comfort it is to know we don’t have to go through it alone.

“For you are with me” (v4) is the climax of the Psalm. Faith triumphantly affirms: “YOU ARE WITH ME”. We stake everything on our Lord’s promise: “I am with you always”, even when, and especially when, you feel otherwise. As threatening as the circumstances in our lives often appear, we trust a Shepherd who is greater than them. On the other side of our dark valley, the sun is shining.

The mother of a child dying of cancer taught her son the 23rd Psalm. She had him repeat: “The Lord is my Shepherd” by counting these five words on his fingers, starting with his thumb. His ring finger was the word “my”. When he got to that word, she taught him to hold that finger in his fist, signifying his relationship with Jesus. When her son died, he was found holding his ring finger. He died in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

We fear no evil because he comforts us with the gracious promises in his Word. To be comforted by Christ is to be fortified. Comfort concerns strength through companionship. We needn‘t face any of life’s battles on our own. Where his words of comfort are remembered, Christ is truly present.

In the Table he has prepared for us, the Lord’s Supper, he reassures us of his creative and transforming presence. We meet enemies that seek to undermine or destroy our faith, enemies like temptation, apathy, envy, bitterness, resentment, the Devil, and despair. In Holy Communion, we receive protection from these enemies. The Lord’s Table keeps our faith safe and strong. Luther said: “If you knew how many fiery darts the Devil is shooting at you, you’d run to the Lord’s Table every chance you got.” In Holy Communion, our Good Shepherd prepares us for trials and temptations of the coming week, and for the life of the world to come. The Bible calls the Holy Communion cup, the “cup of blessing”. Who can calculate all the blessings we’ve received from our participation in the Lord’s Supper? In Holy Communion, we’ve received our Lord’s liberating love, peace such as the world can never give us, and an infectious hope.

Our world needs cheerful faces that banish gloom and exude hope. We don’t have to sulk in the corner, trying to lick our wounds. Holy Communion is a healing medicine that soothes our wounds and cheers our spirits. This Sacrament “anoints” our faces so that they radiate with the presence of our Good Shepherd.

“Anointing’ is an act of honour and recognition. Our Lord gives us himself from “the Table he has prepared for us”, to acknowledge that we are his “sheep” whom he loves and treasures so much. That’s why his goodness and mercy “pursue” us, rather than just “follow” us – that’s what the original Hebrew word really means; they surround us all the days of our life. His mercy is as near to us as our plea: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. His mercy meets us at every turn of our lives.

No wonder the psalmist wants to keep returning to the House of the Lord forever. The Hebrew word “dwell” also means “return to”, just as we keep returning to our homes. David doesn’t man that, in this life, he wants to stay permanently in God’s House. Rather, he’s passionately affirming that the Lord’s House is his true home on earth. We remember David more for the way his psalms have enriched our worship and devotion to God than as king. “My love for your House burns in me like a fire”, David sings in Psalm 69:9. Worshipping the Lord in the House of the Lord was the greatest joy and delight of David’s life. In the presence of the Lord, David tells us, “there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)”, a joy we experience in part now, and in all its fullness and richness forevermore in heaven.

Because Christ, our Good Shepherd treasures you so dearly, he takes care of you more than you could be aware of or imagine.

            O Good Shepherd, bread life-giving,

            As we turn to Thee, believing,

            Guard and feed us evermore;

            Thou on earth our weakness guiding,

            We in heaven with Thee abiding,

            With all saints will Thee adore.    Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Sermon for Easter 5 (Mothers’ Day) 

The Text: John 14: 1-14

A Place prepared


Clean sheets on the spare bed. check.
House clean and tidy. check.
Plenty of Food in the house. check
Yep ready for the visitors to arrive.

Is that something you do to prepare for visitors to come and stay with you? A special meal, the spare bed has clean fresh sheets, and the house is tidied? It is special when children who have grown and left home, come home. For a mother, it is a joyous occasion when all the family are together and are at peace with one another.

Depending on where the children are geographically, there may be different ways they can travel to come home. Even when we go to places there is generally more than one way to take to reach a destination. If there is a more scenic way to get to a destination, sometimes that is a better wat than to travel on a major highway.

We can’t do that at the moment. We aren’t allowed to travel. We can’t be with our mother’s today if they live away from us. But that’s okay we can still connect with, phone, Facebook, Skype, email. Once this pandemic is over, once again we can go to their place.

Jesus tells about a place for us to go to today. He calls it his Father’s house. It’s a place where there is not just one spare room, but there are many rooms. But as Jesus says to Thomas, you can’t get there on your own. Jesus says: “I am the way”. To know Jesus is to know the Father. In the same way, the Father knows the ones who listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow him along the way.

It’s interesting that before early believers were called Christians they were called people who followed ‘The Way’.
Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah spoke of, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray”. (Isaiah 35:8).

How are we ever able to walk the way of holiness and be invited into our heavenly room that is prepared for us? For we know that daily we struggle with our humanity and its sinful desires. Rather than daily concentrate on the Holy life God desires of us, we follow our own ambitions.

The way to God was completely closed, and sin was the roadblock. It was like when the Israelites had been rescued out of Egypt they were filled with fear because they thought the way to freedom was blocked by the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariots were closing in behind them. It’s the same in our lives. If we think our way to freedom depends on us, then we fail to trust that Jesus has provided away for our freedom.

The way was blocked because of sin, but God wanted to rescue us from this world in which sin entered and blocked the way to the place where our Heavenly Father has these many rooms prepared. God could not simply excuse or overlook our sin and allow us to enter his place in our sinful state. Yes God is merciful, but He is also just. Justice requires that sin be paid for. At great cost, he himself paid that price.

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it through faith in Jesus. Jesus describes this way as entering through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Perhaps the way through Jesus doesn’t look appealing enough or has too many restrictions. But in reality, the way through Jesus is bigger than you think, because God sent Jesus to save the world. It isn’t God’s fault that many don’t accept that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

We know the way to heaven by trusting in what Jesus has done for us and what he continues to do for us through his gifts to the Church. Our journey begins in Baptism. Through God’s Word and water Jesus dwells in our hearts through faith. Faith receives the promises of God and clings to Jesus as the true and only way. Faith receives Jesus as the way and rejects all other ways that are contrary to what God’s word says.

Just like a mother, God has a lot of love to give, even lots more. God’s love is an everlasting steadfast love that endures rejection, as he sees people go on a journey in other directions to fulfil their needs. However, through the Holy Spirit, God never stops trying to alert us if we go in the wrong direction.

It’s like when your TomTom or Navman tells you perform a U-turn where possible. What I really dislike about relying on GPS is when they try to take you down a road that isn’t there. It makes us end up feeling lost and not sure where I am. Then I need to back track to get on the right way.

Likewise, God gives us a conscience to alert us when we follow a way that leads away from his way. His ways are written on our hearts, and supported through his written word to show us his way.

When it comes to walking the way of holiness, it’s the way of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance because we fail to live holy lives and need to turn back and confess our failures to God. God hears our cries for mercy and forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

He is always waiting like a mother for her children to come home. One of the best images we have of this in the bible is the story of the prodigal son.

When Jesus says, “I am the Way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” he is not meaning this to be a threat. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, as a word of comfort.

They are a comfort for us as well, for we don’t need to panic and search for a hidden map or look for clues, or guess if we are on the road to salvation. It’s clear and simple. As Jesus says “Do not let your heart be troubled. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going away to make a place for you. After I go and make a place for you, I will come back and take you with me. Then you may be where I am.”

A mother’s desire is to protect her children. Have you felt the anxious wait to see your children safely arrive home? You hope they will not get lost, but will follow the way that leads to you, to the place you have prepared for them. Sometimes things occur where as parents, as a mother, you need to go and bring your child to the safety of home.

This is what Jesus did for all of us. He came down from heaven into the world, where we were lost and heading in all sorts of directions and he shows the way home. His desire is for us to be where he is. There is no other way than the way Jesus paved at a great cost to himself.

He calls us to follow him with hearts that forgive, and have compassion. With hearts that welcome home into the family a child who had lost their way. With hearts that even go looking when we notice we haven’t seen them for a while.

It’s what a mother does for her child so she knows her child is safe.

It’s what Jesus does for us. There is only one true way to eternal life. That is the way of Jesus. Amen

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:3b-4
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

            Hello out there, to you in your homes, or wherever you may be, do you hear me? One of the millions of voices in this world. We listen from the humble tin and string, radio, phone, TV and now the internet, we can hear each other from almost anywhere in the world. But then who do we listen to?

            Everyday thousands speak on what’s happening across the globe, with this virus, the economy, celebrities on the internet; and that’s just the morning news. There are so many voices in this world, so many people speaking, vying for our attention; How can you know who to listen to, to focus on, even be devoted to? In Christ’s ‘Good Shepherd’ speech our Lord and Saviour tells us. He says all those before were thieves and terrorists, He is the shepherd who calls His sheep and protects them. So we listen to the voice of Jesus, devote ourselves to God’s Word, because all those who came before are after their own benefit, the thieves, or seek revenge and destruction, the robbers. Of course there are others worth listening to, parents, teachers, friends, but we can still be wary of what we hear and to whom we listen. To keep an ear out for the voice of Jesus, the Word of God everyday, and how might we do that? To open up the bible a read, together if we can, the promises of forgiveness, love and new everlasting life; these that are yours in Christ Jesus. Just as those early Pentecost Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the New Testament, and to prayer together. That’s one of the reasons we set aside time every week to come together and hear God’s Word, especially from the Gospels. Also one of the reasons to mute everyone, so we can focus on what Jesus is telling us through the liturgy, through the readings and in this reflection on His Word.

            To hear the voice of your saviour, before Lent on transfiguration Sunday we heard the Father tell Peter, James and John, ‘this is my beloved Son, listen to Him’ (Luke 9:35). And as we heard from Acts, those who listened to the true words of God through Peter, baptised by the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves to this new life in Christ. This is what this Easter season is for, to hear Jesus’ voice and receive our new life in Him. A life of love through Jesus, having heard the Word of God, as we have here today; forgiven, Jesus saves you and gives you new life. Hearing and receiving His love they respond with thanksgiving and devotion, love and faith toward God and His word, love and service to His people and those in need. A good example for us at this time, so as we hear His Word today, we respond. You are forgiven, we say amen, yes this is most certainly true. Everyday they met together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46), Thanks be to God. He bore our sins that we might die to sin and live for righteousness, again thanks be to God (1 Peter 2:24). He came that we and all who hear might have life everlasting and full, all praise to Jesus Christ! He tells us what is true, and we agree with that summary of the faith in the creed. We hear His voice and He hears ours in the prayers, our thanks and our requests, as we tell Him of what is happening in our lives and what wonderful things He has done. And at the end of this time of devotion to His voice and His devotion to us, He calls us out in peace, leading us out into the world; and of course we His sheep follow His voice.

So as you go out, and as you go in, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until not just hear His voice but see His glorious and loving face. Amen.

Joseph Graham.