Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘if anyone desires to come behind me, let him deny himself and raise his cross and follow me.

            This is a bold statement, just think about it for a moment. Do you consider yourself a Christian, a follower of Christ? We just confessed who He is in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, Lord and saviour of the world. Do you want to follow Him? And think about your life. Have you denied yourself for His sake? Have you taken up your cross, your shame-filled execution? Do you follow Him?

            Remember just a few moments before, we heard last week Peter confess Jesus is the ‘Christ, the Son of the living God!’ ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, my Father has revealed this to you; you are now Peter and on this rock I will build my church.’ (Matthew 16:16-18). Just after this Jesus explains He will suffer, die and then rise from the dead; and what does faithful Peter do? He has just confessed who Jesus truly is, just as we have in the creed. Now what does he do? ‘Nah, come Jesus, that’s not what’s gonna happen.’ Peter knew just like we do that Jesus had come to save the world, to destroy death, not to be defeated. This giant of our faith, Peter, the rock, after just making the great, wonderful confession, tells Jesus, he knows a better way. And of course, even today, you and I know better than Jesus about the way things should be done; don’t we?

            ‘Get behind me satan/enemy! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!’ When we go our own way, this is what Christ says to you, ‘Get behind me’. This is why in baptism we reject the devil and all his works and all his ways, and why we are called to return to our baptism everyday, to live out our confession and life by Jesus. To fail in this is to fail to be who we are in Jesus, it is to sin. God has promised, you have been made anew in Jesus, your sins forgiven, God loves you His child, life everlasting with peace, joy and love. This is who you are, who you are called to be; your foundation is Christ, this confession that the church, God’s called out people, is built upon. Sure, in this crazy world we might not know what’s happening next or where we’re going, yet we do know who we are, and whose we are. Admit when you stuff up, confess your sin, submit to Jesus words of forgiveness and everlasting life, and know that, through all this confusion and suffering, at the end we will follow Christ to live together forever in the New Creation (Matthew 26:28; John 6:68; Revelation 21:1).

            So now get behind Jesus. Just like Peter did, take up your cross and follow Him. Perhaps it’s not the literal cross that Peter bore, being crucified upside-down; perhaps not even the execution of Paul who was beheaded beside him; but remember your death. In Christ, by your baptism, you have died to sin, you are dead to this world; Paul told us weeks ago, in baptism you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Take up this truth everyday. Jesus said, those who loose their soul for Christ’s sake will find it. And Paul again, ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). Do you follow Jesus? Every morning, do you remember your baptism, your confession of who Christ is and His promise of who you are? Do you live for Christ, in love toward each other, in honesty and mercy for the benefit of those God has placed in your lives? Do you get in behind Jesus?

            If, like Peter, you fail; remember, like Peter, to deny your pride and sin, to take up your baptism and follow Jesus. To live in Him, receiving His love and devotion, His promises of forgiveness and newness of life, let yourself, your evil, be overcome by His goodness (Romans 12:21).

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

Joseph Graham.

Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:17
Blissful are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, rather my Father in heaven.

            Sometimes things get crazy, just look at us, drought, dust, smoke, viral pandemic, and a lockdown. What do we do when things get over our head? When they get stressful, chaotic, confusing, when it just keeps going on and on, when you’re not even sure it will end, what do you do? We know what some have done when their people, even family, have been killed by police or jail wardens; that many have turned to their insurance agencies with houses burnt to the ground; or, of course, the government. But if you didn’t, and you tried to carry the burden yourself, to rely on yourself, even maybe blame yourself; … perhaps that affects the suicide rate. When the going gets tough, as they say, the tough get going, but I worry for the others. When things get tough, and really tough, what do you cling to? The thing you rely on, what is it? Your foundation, where has it come from?

            The basis, the foundation, the solid rock you stand on. What is God’s Word telling you today? Well Jesus talked about a rock, a rock on which His church would be built. And He does a bit of word play here, for Peter in Greek is rock, yet Peter himself was less solid and firm, rather a bit more hot-headed. He’s always the first to speak, the first to jump out a boat, to make those quick decisions (Luke 21:7; Matthew 26:51). Yet when Jesus asked him who he said Jesus was, Peter gave the good solid answer; Jesus, you are the promised Messiah, the Son of God who is the source and sustainer of all life (Acts 17:24-25). Now that answer wasn’t from Peter, he hadn’t worked it out himself like some sort of conspiracy theorist, simply he’d received it from God. As Christ Himself said, no one can come to me unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). No one truly knows Jesus by their own strength, rather only by God’s grace. It’s not on you, it’s on God.

            Our Father in heaven has given you faith in His Son, by the Holy Spirit. As always our Triune God works together in love for you and all people. He is the one who lays the foundation, the one who tells us, the stone the builders rejected has become the keystone (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus rejected by His own people has become our foundation, just as Paul writes elsewhere (1 Corinthians 3:11). And Jesus plainly told His disciples this, that on this rock, Peter’s confession and the ministry of Christ’s apostles, Jesus will build His church, us who have been called out from the world, and the gates of death will not overcome. Death cannot stop the church. So before His death, Jesus plainly told this to the disciples, that when confusion, chaos and fear threaten the disciples, they might continue to stand on Jesus’ Word on that confession of who He is, the only sure foundation.

            But of course, they forgot, Peter abandoned Jesus and rejected Him, who defeats death. Now here, I just have to make a small aside, Jesus said the gates of death, or hades the place of the dead, would not overpower the church or it’s foundation. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of people attacked by gates, they’re not the most effective weapon. Rather I have heard about gates resisting a siege, battering rams, explosives; sometimes the gates even resist the attacks, they prove stronger, more powerful than the ram, the explosive, the assault. Now when Christ died, He came to the gates of death, that hold the dead behind them, and He crushed those gates, trampling down death by death. When Jesus died the tombs were opened and, as Matthew records later, many of the faithful dead rose and appeared to those in the city (Matthew 27:52-3). Certainly, the gates of hades did not overcome Christ’s assault. Yet despite this obvious and miraculous proof of Christ’s words, the disciples forgot God’s grace and hid in a room.

            For you who have forgotten Christ’s Word, what He has promised, what did we just confess? The creed is just a fuller answer to Christ’s question, who do you say that I am? I know you didn’t write it. I didn’t just come up with it. Rather it’s been passed down by God’s grace, not from flesh and blood, but as a summary of God’s Word. Repent, turn back to Jesus and hear again the wonderful truth. It is not all on you, when it hits the fan, when it goes over your head, when you face death; receive the Father’s blessing and hear His Word, death has no power over you, in Christ you are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Death will not hold us down, death cannot stop God’s church, it’s gates have already been broken to dust.

            And so with this wonderful foundation, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting in spite of death. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 15:27
But she said, ‘No Lord, for also the dogs eat the crumbs falling from the table of their lords.’

            Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, Christie eleison, Christ have mercy, Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. The cry of this woman has been sung by Christians for 2000yrs, it has become part of our liturgy, originally sung after the entrance psalm, now also following our public confession of sin and absolution. But it is not another confession of sin, rather simply it is a cry for help. Last week we heard Peter, one of the twelve, a Jew, cry out to Jesus, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out and saved him, for Peter was of God’s people, whom Jesus came to save. But you are not Jews, at least none have told me if you are, will you be saved when you cry out to the Jewish Christ?

            Now, Jesus still is on the move after hearing Herod thought He was John the Baptist back from the dead. Jesus had gone to a deserted place, but the people followed and 5000+ were fed. Jesus sent them away and the disciples ahead by boat, that He might have time alone to pray. Then He met up with the disciples walking on water, called and saved Peter. Landing on the non-Jewish side of the sea of Galilee, He healed many, but the Pharisees found Him and challenged Jesus. Apparently, the disciples forgot to wash their hands before eating. Jesus answered them, it’s not what goes in but what goes out that defiles you. And now we come to the account of the Canaanite woman today, followed by more healing and Jesus feeding 4000. It’s a mirror of what has gone before, it hinges on this conflict with the Jewish Pharisees. But even though the mirror is similar something key has changed. And Paul tells us what that is.

            The Jews rejected Jesus, their Brother and Messiah, so now the Gentiles, you, would be blessed and that the Jews, God’s ancient people, might repent and come back to Him (Romans 11:30-31). That there would be no longer Jew and Greek, German or Aboriginal, immigrant or local, but that all would be one together in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Brothers and sisters all, in God’s new family (Romans 8:15). How wonderful it is when siblings live together in unity, with love, joy and peace in Christ (Psalm 133:1). When we look out for each other, remember to call or check on those more isolated, on those suffering. When Joseph and his brothers were united, and Jacob’s family saved from famine (Genesis 45).

            But congregations don’t always hold together with love in Christ, and the Israelites had to escape the slavery that came on them. Leaving Egypt they came to Canaan and fought the ancestors of this Syro-Phoenician woman we heard today. The Canaanites who sacrificed their children to their gods, also making a practise of prostitution and adultery; utterly rejecting God Almighty. The Jews of Christ’s day came to calling them dogs. And Jesus does the same. ‘It’s not right to take bread from the children and throw it to the doggies.’

            ‘Yet even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their lords’ table.’ This woman knew who Jesus was, a Jew, she cried out, ‘Lord, son of David!’ She knew who she was, a dog outside of God’s chosen ancient people, just like you and me. Yet just like you and me, she also knew she needed help, and help from the Jewish Messiah. She must have known that ancient promise to Abraham, that all peoples will be blessed through his descendent. Perhaps even the promise through the prophets, that a Son of David will come to save His people and all the nations (). And you know another promise God has made to you in your baptism, in Communion, you are made anew in Christ, being made anew by the Spirit, and wait for the final revelation when you, me and all Christians will live forever in unity.

            You know what you have been promised, you know what is at the end, so join Peter, join this woman, join our brothers and sisters those who’ve gone before and those who are fighting alongside us across the world; join them and cry out to Jesus, Have mercy on us! Through the tough times, call out to God, ‘Lord, rescue me!’ call out to us your brothers and sisters in Christ, that we might be His hands and feet and live together in unity. Don’t give up when it seems Christ ignores you, but press on knowing the promise He has made to you and all Christians. Respond like this woman did, ask even just a crumb, but remember a crumb to Christ can feed 5000.

            And as we kneel and pray for mercy, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to our life together forever as family. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:31
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you waver?”

            I know I’ve said it before, but this event is our life. Again, asking ‘what does it mean that we are Christians?’ What is the Spirit telling you here? Just like the bread and wine with the Word, there is so much more here; Christ walking on the water, calming and calling, then rescuing His disciples is so much more than just a miracle. The chaotic sea was death to the ancient Israelites, remember Jonah? Thrown to His death in the chaos of the storm. And the sea is the home of the Leviathan, that serpent of chaos; it’s the origin of the evil beasts Daniel saw (Daniel 7:3), and a beast in God’s Revelation to John (Revelation 13:1). But of course we hear, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God was over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

            This event has been preserved by the same Holy Spirit and His church for you today, that you may be made courageous and be comforted in Christ Jesus. It is not just that He can walk on water, just something that reminds us of our baptism. Jesus Christ is God Almighty (Job 9:8), through Him all things were made (John 1:3), He has authority over all (Matthew 28:18), and He has conquered death (Isaiah 25:8). All those things that torture or torment you, just as the wind and waves tortured the disciples, all these things Jesus has conquered. This virus, government restrictions, tax, temptation, the devil, sickness, separation and death. All the things that cause your fear, that worry you or hurt you, to Him and in Him they are nothing. For nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). But still the storm rages, most of the long night had gone before Jesus approached the boat.

            Yet, after a time, come He did, He will come, do not fear! Even though you are beaten, bashed, though your conscience convict and you listen to the devil’s condemnation on the wind; Jesus is victorious and with Him the wind cannot harm you. If still now, after hearing Christ’s forgiveness, when in the absolution He said to you, ‘I forgive your sins’, if still now your conscience convicts you after your repentance know that Christ’s Word is more powerful than yours (1 John 3:18-23). With a word He stilled this powerful wind, His Word does what He says. So hear His Word in the storm of your life with Him, be courageous! You have been baptised, you are dead to sin, to those windy temptations of the devil, you have been united with Christ and now live in Him, together with all the saints. Be courageous! As you suffer, call out to Christ for help, for strength, for guidance; just as Peter did. He wanted to be close to Christ, His Lord and ours, He called out in the storm and Christ called him out of the boat upon the water.

            Onto the chaos, into death. Now I don’t want you to forget what happened. Peter our forefather in the faith did walk on the water in the middle of a storm on the sea of Galilee. Yet again, the Holy Spirit is showing us that not only with Christ we may do so much more, a vision of our resurrected and glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21), but more so, that by faith in His promise and His command, Law and Gospel, we have His power over death (Hebrews 2:14), of course by the gift of the Holy Spirit; from God not from ourself (Ephesians 2:8-10). But as we are united with Christ, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit’s work in Baptism and our Most Holy Communion, you are more than conquerors over sin, death and the devil (Romans 8:37), over doubt, guilt and worry.

            He may not have called you to walk on water, but Christ has called you to live with Him, in love, peace and joy (1 John 4:8, 16; John 20:19; Philippians 4:4). Though you be tortured by the waves, by sickness, calamity, or hurt, and beaten by the wind, call out to Jesus, ‘Lord save me!’ and immediately receive His hand, the grace and mercy He has promised you in your Baptism and with Holy Communion, forgiveness and life.

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

Pastor Joseph Grahame.

9th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:14
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

            Jesus loves you. Through all the hard things that might hurt you, stop you, crush you; still God loves you. As we heard last week, nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even His weariness, sorrow or wisdom can, as today He heard of His cousin John’s death by Herod and that Herod thought Jesus was John risen from the dead with power (Matthew 14:1-12). Jesus heard this and left but when He came to shore He saw the great crowd of people who followed to receive from Him. He saw you in your need and had compassion.

            Today as He serves you in this Divine service, He brings you the wonderful gifts only He can give. He welcomed you, forgave all your sin, has spoken to you, and will intercede for you and with you as we intercede for the whole world. In this hard world, suffering virus and restriction, yet still sickness, pain, regret, rejection, fear, death and grief, in this desolate world we need healing. The ancient Israelites in their Exodus into the desert suffered, they needed relief and food, yet God was with them and He provided all in love; drawing His people away from wickedness and their own sin, toward what is best, the peaceful, joyful holy life with God our Almighty creator. And today these slightly less ancient Israelites, again in the desert, in need of healing and food; God was with them, Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sickness, their chronic illnesses, and miraculously provided them food. Now today, we might not be in a desert, but still you are in need.

            Each of you know this far better than I could hope to. You need help. You can’t do it all by yourself. You wrestle to find peace and joy, to hold on to these things. You seek help from government, friends, family; and thank God for these, but they can only help you so much. We have psychiatrists, councillors, doctors, but still we suffer depression, anxiety, and utter despair. Who can give us what we need? Who can give rest? Peace? Joy? Even unconditional and overflowing love? Jesus. He is the healer of the world. Here in this account He had compassion, that gut feeling when you know something is wrong and needs to be fixed, and healed many their chronic diseases. This is such a wonderful gift, caring for our Heavenly Father’s good creation; but Jesus didn’t just come that we might be healthy, I want to draw your attention to what He does next.

            These people who have been healed in one verse, now receive from Jesus something far more important. Just one verse for the healing, now seven for this miracle. Certainly it shows Christ’s divinity, this re-enactment of God’s presence with the Israelites in the desert, receiving the bread of heaven. Jesus is true God, and true man. But I’ll highlight another thing the Spirit shows us from His Word. Think about what this might be referring to: Jesus told the crowds to sit, He took the bread, the offering, there with the people, He looked up to the heavens, He gave thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples to distribute to the crowds who were satisfied, with 12 baskets full left over. 12 the number of God’s people. Looked up, gave thanks, broke and gave out. Sounds a bit like Holy Communion doesn’t it? John in His gospel certainly thinks so (John 6), and the early church called our holy meal the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42). Now why is Holy Communion more important than healing a chronic disease?

            Because you don’t need a healthy body, you need to be united with Jesus body and soul. When Jesus saw Jerusalem He said, ‘how I long to gather you like a hen her chicks’ when He saw the crowds and their need, He was sick in the stomach with sympathy. Just like a parent hurting for the stupid or dangerous decisions of their child, so to and more God feels as He looks at all humanity in our need, as He is looking at you now. This is the heart of Jesus, of God who loves you. And as you come into His presence now over zoom, confessing the truth of your need, receive well His healing. Hear again, Jesus has taken away your sin, the Holy Spirit is recreating you, conforming you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And it hurts me that I can’t bring the bread of heaven to all of you today, yet for those of us who are able to truly participate in Christ’s body and blood, to be united in Him with God and all the saints, pray that we recognise what is happening, that we receive this wonderful gift well, that in this mystical union, as we are conformed to Jesus, we have all we need.

            All that you need is provided for. Jesus has done it (Psalm 22:31). In Him you have suffering but are dead already; and by the Holy Spirit with you by baptism you will rise again into everlasting peace joy and love. Now look around you, at least think of/remember those you know, those God has placed in your life. Do they share this promise with you? Do they know their need?

            As you think of them and receive God’s grace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.