Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 8:29
“That those He foresaw and predestined to conform together to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many siblings”.

 

            This is a strange time in the world, and in this season of the church year we ask a few good questions: who are you? What matters? And what now? Weeks ago, in Chapter 6 we heard the Holy Spirit tell us that you are dead, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by baptism (6:4, 11). In these weeks, these chapters, Paul has been grappling with us about what that means this side of eternity. No longer a slave to sin, now a slave to righteousness (6:17-18). What I don’t want to do I do, who will save me from this body of death? (7:15, 24). This world, even you are dead through sin; but the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, who raised Christ, will also resurrect your body (Romans 8:10-11). And as sons now, not slaves, we wait with the groaning creation for this resurrection from real death, the revelation of the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Now today, the Spirit is reminding you, both of your failure and sin, but also that He joins with you to oppose your weakness (Romans 8:26).

            So who are we? You are weak, you are distracted by this world and your own desires, struggling against what is easy you long for something you cannot see. In a word, you fail; yet because of Jesus, because of the Holy Spirit, because of our Heavenly Father who loves you and works all things for your good, for your union with Jesus Christ; because of the Most Holy Trinity you have life everlasting. Just a foretaste this side of eternity, but truly nothing can take this promise away from you, so cling to this, the only thing that is sure. For friendships can end, families break apart, businesses fail, yes we suffer in our lives and this world is as good as dead. And yet God’s Word will stay forever, He’s predestined it (Isaiah 40:8).

            And He has predestined that we be conformed to the image of His Son, to Jesus Christ. Now I ask what does that mean? What does it mean to be conformed to the man who wandered around ancient Palestine without a place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). To be conformed to this man who lived for others, teaching, healing and forgiving sin, so much that often His only times for rest were interrupted (Matthew 14:13). This man who was rejected by His hometown, rejected by His people, His disciples, the people He loved and came to save (Matthew 13:54-57; 26:3-4, 56). Rejected, flogged and crucified. What does it mean for you to be conformed to Jesus Christ? If it comes a time when we are persecuted like others around the globe, does that mean you are less like Christ? If we suffer fire, flood and drought, does that separate you from God’s love? If we are rejected, bashed and murdered, has God abandoned us? No, as it is written, ‘on your account we face death all the day, we are regarded as sheep before the slaughter’ (Psalm 44:22)

            However in all these things we are more than conquerors through the one who loves us. Some people think we are crazy for choosing an execution tool as the mark of our church buildings, but for us this symbol of death is our victory. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God. In Jesus we are victorious over sin, death, and the devil. The Holy Spirit guides us in the way everlasting beyond this corrupt world and into the New Creation, conforming us fully to Christ. Nothing can separate us, so don’t let it. As our Father in Heaven conforms you to His Son, don’t let anything distract you, be it huge like war or bushfire, or small like stubbing your toe. We have been chosen together by God, called out of this dying world to be conformed to Jesus’ everlasting life. To live for others, to show God’s great love by caring for His creation, to rejoice in the truth and encourage others with the mercy God Almighty first showed you.

            Sin is defeated, shame, guilt, and worry are no longer your boss. Death is defeated, the Spirit is conforming you to Jesus, uniting you into His resurrection. And everything that distracts you from the God who loves you is passing away. Yes, this world is dying, and yet we love the work of our Father’s hands just as Jesus did. We intercede for others just as Jesus did. We encourage one another in the hope we share just as Jesus did. That hope, which we experience a small foretaste of, is the redemption of our bodies, the resurrection, the New Creation, the time when God will restore this fallen world, restore all His saints, restore you, through death to life, fully reconciled with Jesus Christ our life and peace.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 139:23-4
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

            The Psalms, yes poems, songs, prayers, but more than that, they are the open hearts of your siblings in Christ, given light and voice by the Holy Spirit. We see what people do and hear what they say, but we do not know the inner thoughts, the heart and soul of another, except by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Even throughout the Bible we see what people did, said or wrote, yet only in a few places does the Spirit reveal their heart, and only by the Spirit can we hear the heart of God (Romans 8:5-8). Today as we listen in faith by the Spirit we hear God’s Word to us. God’s Word, as it cuts us open and raises us to newness of life (Romans 6:4). Today as we join with David, our heart with His, and with God’s people down the ages in this prayer, we open up our heart to God to deal with whatever we might try to hide, even from ourselves.

            Does that scare you? Just like that creepy Christmas carol, He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake…  Is our God just like that all-powerful fat guy on the north pole, presents and punishment for all the boys and girls?  Well, in this fearful prayer (Psalm 139), we confess “you know when I sit and when I rise, you see my thoughts from afar”. “You hem me in behind and before, you lay your hand upon me”. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Think about that, do you like this? Isn’t it terrifying, even evil according to our society’s liberal democratic ideas of freedom? Yet this is God, as they say all-seeing, all-present, all-powerful; but He is not an abstract supreme being up in the clouds, with those philosophers who worship him. More than His knowledge, presence and power, He is the one who loves you (1 John 4:16).

            In this prayer of David, to the Father, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we confess together that we are fearfully and wonderfully made; that God guides us anywhere we might go, held in His powerful hand; that He knows you completely. But this is not a terrified person who is praying, rather someone in awe of God’s authority, power and love. That the Lord of all would humble Himself to create little old me in the womb of my mother (Psalm 8). That He would not abandon me even if I stray. And even though He knows me in and out, still He wants that I live (Ezekiel 33:11). He loves me, cares for me and sent His beloved son to die that I, who was His enemy (Romans 5:10), might live, that God the Son loves you so much He came down to give up His life, from birth, death, resurrection and on, that we might live.

            Why would you forget this, what Jesus is continuing to do for you, that you are joined to Him in His death by your baptism, participating in Him by Holy Communion, why would you reject the truth and go back to live according to this world that is passing away? Just as God promised Jacob that you would be blessed through his children, God has promised you life everlasting without sin (Genesis 28:13-15; Romans 6:5). Why do you reject that promise and hide as if you had never received it? You have been given the Holy Spirit who has made you Children of the living God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, why would you run from this, back to the way of this world? Don’t hide yourself, don’t run; you know that the end will come. Rather remember that true saying the Spirit gave you through Paul, ‘Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst’ (1 Timothy 1:15). And ask with David, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’

Let God search your heart and hear His Word of correction, don’t continue in your sin, treasuring the things of this world, for this world lives only to die. You are free from that, free from sin. You are a child, and heir of God our Heavenly Father (Romans 8:14-17). We are already dead to this world, so stop living for it (Romans 6:11). Agree with God, admit your wrong when He corrects you and walk in the way everlasting that He shows you, the way God’s people have sought to tread since Adam and Eve down through the ages. Confess the truth of who you are and what you have done, you can’t hide it from God. Confess the truth aloud as The Holy Spirit leads you away from worry, guilt, shame, away from sin in the new everlasting life we have received in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

GOOD LISTENING”  MATTHEW 13:9 

            The story that Jesus tells about the sower and the seed is one of the well known parables in the New Testament. Through this story Jesus tells of the importance not only of preaching the Word of God but also of hearing it. In fact so important is this message of the parable that it is one of the few where Jesus himself provides the meaning of the parable. Remember Jesus doesn’t tell stories for the sake of telling stories. The stories were not an end in themselves but a means to an end. In other words his stories always had a deeper meaning- a truth that would help his followers to understand what God had to say to them.

            In this parable the seed is the Word of God. The different kinds of soil that it falls on are the different ways people receive the Word of God that they hear preached, read or study themselves. The farmer did his best to spread the seed. Now the seed was good seed but the results varied depending where the seed fell.

Some fell on hard ground and immediately the birds gobbled it up.

Some fell on rocky soil and withered and died because it could not take root in the shallow soil.

Some seed fell among thorns and weeds and began to grow but were eventually choked by the thorns.

Some fell on good cultivated soil and grew into a bountiful crop. So it depended not only on the sower and the seed but also on the reception the seed got. So the preaching and the hearing of God’s Word become one activity.

            What this means is that effective preaching is not just my activity alone. I can do so much to prepare and deliver my sermons. But effective preaching also involves effective hearing. And that is where YOU come in. The sower can sow the seed until he drops from exhaustion but if the soil is hard and full of weeds it will be a meagre harvest. Like wise the preacher can preach until he is exhausted but if no one is tuned in to what he is saying then he is wasting his time. The Holy Spirit can be speaking to us through the Scriptures as they are being read to us or as we read them ourselves but if we are not listening  with open ears-hearts and minds, those words will not have any significant impact.

             So what does it mean to be a good listener? That is the crucial question.

  1. In the first place, a good listener is open to the Word of God. As the minister prepares himself to preach the Word, so the listeners must prepare themselves to receive it. When the reader begins to read the lessons or the minister begins to preach we can be put off by the person who is reading or proclaiming God’s Word. We may get sidetracked by the readers’ tone and expression­-or lack of it or tune out  when the minister goes on longer than we think necessary.

            Rather than focussing on the person who is doing the reading or the minister who is preaching, prepare yourself to receive the message as God’s Words for you.

Prepare yourself by asking questions such as:

+What will God say to me today through the sermon?

+What will God want me to get out of the Bible readings?

+What will God say to me today that will make a difference to my life?

            The Bible readings and the sermon are God’ Word for you this day. It may be dressed in human words-human examples and even human error, but nevertheless, it is God’s Word for you. What is important that you listen to it as if God himself were speaking to you. You never know what life-changing words you may be missing if you tune out.  

  1. A good listener recognises that the Word of God has authority. It is one thing for the minister in the pulpit to proclaim God’s promises-but unless you believe God’s Word has authority to back up those promises the preacher might as well save his breath. When God speaks –things happen.

The Word you hear is the same Word that proclaimed at the beginning, “Let there be Light”. It is the same Word that gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is the same Word that stilled storms-healed the sick and raised the dead.

It is a Word that is to be believed-trusted because it has the authority of the eternal God himself. 

  1. Good listening means allowing the Word of God the widest possible application to our lives. Let the Word speak to you. As you hear-read the Word, say to yourself as you hear the Word, “That means me”-“God is speaking to me”.

Now it is a well-known fact that when God’s Word gets too close to the bone or touches a raw nerve of sin, we put up our defences.  We may switch off, or start making excuses to justify our behaviour or start applying the message to someone else. As a result the Word isn’t able to establish any roots in us at all. We filter what we hear. We may water it down-put our own interpretation on what is being said (a bit like the spin doctors employed by politicians) or pass it off as irrelevant –not having any meaning for our lives.

Now there comes a point when you need to ask, “What is God saying to me through this passage”? To listen to the Word and regard it only as an interesting piece of Biblical knowledge hardly acknowledges the authority of God’s Word. This is a misuse-misunderstanding of the purpose of God’s Word. When God’s Word speaks, things are meant to change. When we hear God’s Word as a message from God to us we need to take it seriously and make changes in our lives that will bring glory to God.

            Now I’m not saying that applying God’s Word to our lives is easy. As Martin Luther said, “I believe that by myself I can’t believe. Satan- our sinful nature- the influence of the world about us all conspire to lead us away from really hearing what God has to say to us. So we need to be aware of the forces against us that want us to regard the Word as irrelevant- too boring or to believe that we don’t need to change.

            It is all too easy to conform to the standards and ways of living that are acceptable to the majority of the community but are against God’s ways. That is why we daily need to apply God’ Word to our ways of thinking-attitudes-behaviours.  As long as we live on this earth we will need to listen to God’s Word and apply it to our lives. Listening to and applying God’s Word is a vital part of our Christian life.

            If you are to grow in your faith and your relationship with your Lord and Saviour, you need to + set a time aside-+make a definite decision to read God’s Word- to study God’s Word with others and ask the Holy Spirit to help you in your reading and applying God’s Word.

            The Word of God is like a seed- it has miraculous power with in it-the power of the Spirit. But there is something that we need to do. We need to have open ears-hearts and minds to be the rich fertile soil for the Word to be planted in and grow.

We need to recognize the authority of God in His Word. And we need with the help of the Spirit to apply that Word to our lives. May God enable us to be fertile soil for His Word. Amen

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”.

            Will give you rest. On the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2). In green pastures, by still waters (Psalm 23:1-2). And from our ancient brother Augustine, “our heart is restless until it rests in you.” All you who are weary, burdened, come to Jesus and receive His rest. It’s a simple statement, easy to hear, easy to remember; but what does it mean and do you believe it?

            All of you who are weary and burdened, hard working and stressed. Is that you? Or do you have everything under control? Is life easy for you? Relaxing? Do you sit back because Christ has done it all, and not worry about the consequences? Are you carefree and lazy, enjoying this life? Then the gospel is not for you. Jesus is not for you, and He is not speaking to you, you may as well stop listening now and go about in your body of death until you die rejecting God, cut off from His people (Romans 7:24). You are the wise and learned that the Lord of heaven and earth has hidden the truth from because, as we heard Jesus say weeks back you think you can see the truth by yourself, but you are blind to the real world (John 9:39).

            But for those of you who are weary and burdened, working hard to better yourself, to help those around you, working yourself to the bone and stressed that you never seem to achieve peace and salvation. Stop, listen. This is how all people live because Adam and Eve twisted and rejected God’s Word. Eating the fruit, God revealed how they were to live, increased pain in childbearing for Eve, and living by the sweat of the brow for Adam (Genesis 3: ). Some seek to earn salvation by what they do and say, by how they act, yet we know how well a group of people show perfect love, we don’t even need the confusion of Babel to divide us (Genesis 11:16-19). Some work to forget what is important, so they can ignore difficult things; but ignoring difficult things, bottling them up can lead to that great weight of depression and despair. Hear and receive God’s Word to you. Your work has failed, you are hopeless and live in a hopeless world. Jesus is speaking to you, weary and burdened, saying come to me and I will give you rest.

            Come to Jesus, cast your burdens on Him (1 Peter 5:7), fall broken on that cornerstone the builders rejected (Matthew 21:44) and take up His yoke that is truly fitting and light for our lasting good. Take up His yoke, and what is that yoke? It is the cross. As He says elsewhere, take up your cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s ‘the Passion’ you have some idea of how truly fitting and light the yoke of Jesus is, flogged, bloodied, suffocating, and finally killed. This is what rest in Jesus looks like this side of eternity for us and all who see it. In a very real sense we don’t see what is true, we only hear it through faith, by God’s Word to us, carried by the Holy Spirit. He has revealed the truth to us, not that our faith ends in death on the cross, but rather that Jesus’ death conquers death (Hebrews 2:14; Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:55). One of the greatest fears of humanity is death; the pain, suffering, loss, and all that comes with it. We try hard to save ourselves from death, we make new things to keep ourselves alive, we learn new ways to slow our aging, we continue to fight death even when we have lost all limbs, mind and consciousness, even then we fear death. But weary as we are trying to stop it, burdened as we are by our fear, our grief, Christ presents a different way.

            It is no wonder people reject this way, and continue in weariness and stress, it looks to us horrific, the same as lifting all our COVID restrictions and spiting on everyone we see so that, no one gets the virus. Die that we live? How can that make sense! I’ll let you in on a little secret, it doesn’t really, just as Christians have confessed for 2000yrs, it is a mystery. The mystery of God. The incarnation, that divine and human became one in Jesus. Baptism that we are united with Him in life, death and resurrection. Holy Communion, that we are united in common with Christ and His whole body by His flesh and blood in bread and wine. The holy mysteries of God, honestly weird to our world, yet still true. That coming to Jesus, uniting with Him, taking His yoke, the cross, that these unburden us and in Him we have rest. Our hearts at rest in Jesus. Not lazy, not asleep, but at rest the same as God is at rest on the seventh day. He still provides for all things, He still sustains us, but He does not weary Himself, rather has joy in His creation. Like when you’re doing something you love, cooking, hiking, reading, discussing, you’re active as you rest. Humans fear death, but we are already dead in Christ so we have nothing to fear, nothing to be stressed about. So now in Christ you are free to pray, love, rejoice, suffer, and die, in His rest.

To live in love knowing the truth that Jesus, who loves us more than you can imagine, has already died for us, on your behalf, died and risen from the dead. And more, that you are united with Him in that death and resurrection. Free from sin, free from fear, free to live, free to love. This is the fitting and light yoke of the cross. This is true rest. This is the peace of God which truly surpasses all human understanding.

And this peace the Holy Spirit gives you now, to guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life eternal. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.