Twentyfirst Sunday after Pentecost: Reformation.

Romans 3:23-24
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

            Why are we here? It’s time for the sermon, message, lecture, speech; but if you’ve been listening and receiving God’s gifts in this, His divine service, you’ve already heard all I might have to say. Rejecting pride in our public confession of our failures, those failures absolved and dealt with by God’s true Word restoring us from despair, the Word we pray in the psalm, and hear from the prophets, the apostles and Christ Himself, the creed we confess with His church, and soon the prayer we pray together with Christ.

All of us have sinned, even if you think you haven’t we all certainly fall short of God’s glory.  You can’t reach God by yourself, can’t best Him nor join yourself to Him. And yet He comes to you. Our rock and our redeemer, redeems you through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; freely justifying you, making you righteous, by grace, that wonderful free gift. We trust in Him and Him alone (John 11:; only name; ). This is what faith alone is.

Or more simply, how do you know if Jesus saves you? We know because of what Jesus has done and said, and trusting Him we receive forgiveness from sin and life everlasting in Jesus. So look to Jesus, not yourself. That’s my job as a pastor pure and simple, to point you to Jesus. And that’s your job as a Christian to point others to Jesus. That’s the reason Luther, Melanchthon and the rest preached what they preached, wrote what they wrote. To point others to Jesus. To tell all people, to look not at themselves for their salvation, not to their money that bought indulgences, not to their charity, prayer, or fasting, not their church membership, their decision or any other work; rather to only rely on Jesus Christ, on His promise of forgiveness and life, on His work of defeating sin, death and the devil, in His life, death and resurrection. To live by the first commandment.

And this is why our tradition still exists, why our synod is here, why it’s Prussian ancestors came over; that we treasure Christ’s teaching. The truth that sets us free (John 8:31-36).

But if we have the truth, what about others? Weeks ago we heard Paul call us ‘to be the bee’, as I said (Philippians 4:8-9); and so when you speak to other Christians, to those outside the church, even those here in our parish; we need to remember these words of Paul and focus not on the evil or corruption we see in other teachings or practises, rather to meditate and dwell on what is true and wonderful in our own, even perhaps in theirs. Luther’s last written words, “we are beggars, this is true.” We can do nothing good by yourself (Romans 8:8; 1 Corinthians 2:11-15). You are helpless, yet Jesus helps you (Psalm 40:1-5). In His great mercy He recognises that us poor humans need something sure, so He condescends and ties His mighty Word, that brought creation into being, ties it to simple water, bread and wine, even to the words of another miserable sinner, the pastor. When you forgive sins, they are forgiven (Matthew 18:18); you can trust Jesus at His Word to you through me, because He is trustworthy. Don’t look to the pastor for your salvation, every one is a beggar like you, rather look to Christ and His promise recorded and preserved for you by the Holy Spirit down through His Holy Church. As Jesus says, “do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27), because it is Christ who justifies, who makes righteous, good and straight; and He is true (John 14:6).

Don’t reject His word and, being proud and arrogant, confident in thinking yourself righteous by your own strength, you are a helpless beggar, hear Jesus’ Word and know it to be true. Then when you fall into despair in your life, into depression, anxiety, suffering, guilt or shame; hold onto these words of Jesus, “I forgive you all your sins”, and know that He has promised this to you, His Word is sure. Now, our trust in Christ may not take away our despair immediately, the Holy Spirit may wait, yet Jesus says, blessed are those who believe without seeing (John 20:29). Yet still we cry out with the psalmists, Lord have mercy (Psalm 123:3; Luke 18:13). Jesus Christ you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us and grant us your peace!

And if you doubt my words as a Pastor, Christ’s promise is still there for you, for He promises in your baptism, your sin is washed away as dirt in a river. This is something that can be seen, felt and held onto; your baptism cannot be taken away, just as the Holy Spirit’s baptismal promise to be with you, to kill your sinful self and bring you into new everlasting life in Christ cannot be taken away, only rejected. You have been united to Christ, betrothed to Him in His bride, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. As in our marriages united and sharing all things, He receives our sin and death destroying them on the cross, we receive His righteousness, holiness and everlasting life (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Peter 2:24). Yet together with all Christians, we wait for the wedding feast and the consummation of our marriage at the end of this broken world (Revelation 19:6-8, 21:2-4).

The wedding feast that we have a foretaste of in Holy Communion. So if you struggle with the words of the Pastor, ‘are they for you?’ struggle with the gifts of your baptism so long ago, Christ our bridegroom has tied His promise of union, forgiveness and life everlasting, to one more thing. Bread and wine. Not just His Words, He gives His own resurrected and glorified body and blood to you in our thanksgiving meal. “My blood of the New Covenant,” as prophesied by Jeremiah, “for the forgiveness of all your sins” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:28). We can say that we hold our Creator and Redeemer in our hands, that you receive God’s forgiveness and everlasting life on your tongue, that by this Most Holy and precious Communion we are united, together in His Church, with Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. No one can take His promise from you, and as your pastor I must always be ready to bring you these precious gifts, these means of grace.

God offers you peace and joy through these means of grace, I pray that we all receive them well and so live in that wonderful light of Christ knowing that salvation is not about me, rather it is Christ. We do not look to a few syllables of a pastor in a dress, or to only water, or to just wafer and wine, as other Christians might accuse us. We look only to Christ Jesus, who in His great mercy promises His righteousness and life to you through the means He has ordained, not costly certificates, not specific clothes, not marvellous music, but simple water, a few words, a bit of bread and a sip of wine. No need to look anywhere else, but by faith to see Christ where He has promised to be. Why are we here? To point ourselves and others to Jesus.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twenteeth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:21
Then He says to them, give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

            The Pharisees come up and ask, do we have to pay tax? Unfortunately/fortunately Jesus says yes, you do have to pay tax so here’s a reminder to do your tax return if you haven’t yet. Our government provides us with maintained roads, protects us from other governments, prints our money, and for all their flaws we still live in relative peace and safety. For that we give them back some of the money they printed for us. Now, we don’t have Caesar Tiberius on the back of our coins, it’s the image of Queen Elizabeth; and as a democracy, the most important building for the government is on the $5 so even the poorest might know who governs them. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

            But what does Jesus mean by that second bit? Give to God what is God’s? When He picked up that coin, whose image was on it? Caesar’s. Then where is God’s image? All the way back at the very beginning, God said, let us make humans in our own image (Genesis 1:26). Both a subtle nod to the Trinity, and an answer to our question. Humans are made in the image of God, every one of us. When you see another human, they are an image or icon of God. Then again, in Paul’s letters the Holy Spirit tells us that Jesus Himself is the icon or image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15). And then we, as Christians, are of course being united with Christ, conformed to the image of God’s Son, as we heard earlier this year (Romans 8:29). So, we are the image of God from creation, and more so as Christians being brought into the perfect image of God in Christ. Give to God what is God’s, give to Him yourself, give to Him Christ, and with Christ be given to God.

            But what does it mean to give yourself to God? Practically what does giving your life back to the one who gave it look like? Specifically to you, I may not be able to say, yet generally we know it is to keep the Ten Commandments, trust and rely only on God Almighty who loves you, use His name well, keep holy His day and His Word, honour your parents and those in authority, love each other as Christ first loved you. To do this in every part of our lives is difficult, yet it’s what the Holy Spirit is calling you to, that in everything you do, say and think it is to the glory of God with thanksgiving, or more simply in everything, love God and love those around you (John 14:). But it’s not easy, and we need help. Thank God for His great and wonderful mercy in giving you the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide you, and for taking your guilt, shame and sin onto the cross and killing them; some of the many wonderful gifts He gives in Baptism, absolution and Holy Communion. And He has asked us to use His name, the name He’s given to you, and pray to Him for that help: Your name be kept holy, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in my life today, that my life is for you Heavenly Father, giving back to God what is God’s. God serves you, now you can serve Christ. Remember God’s promises to you, and if you need a reminder of what giving back to God looks like, we can all take the advice of our small catechism and speak God’s Word of the Ten Commandments and pray God’s Word of the Lord’s prayer everyday, and try not to forget it after 10min.

            So give taxes, respect and anything else owed to the Government to the government; and give to God the things that are His; your life and all He has first given to you. Give yourself to Him, give yourself to Christ and with Christ be given to God. Recognise what God has first given you, life, forgiveness, separation from sin, love, and live it in honour of His grace, to the benefit of those around us.

            The strange days don’t let up, do they? Eight months afraid of a pandemic and frustrated with government restrictions. As a pastor out here, some of it does seem confusing to say the least. And yet last Sunday we read the words of Jesus, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

Some people were trying to get Jesus in trouble with the government and asked if we need to pay taxes. Jesus asked for a coin. “Whose face is on it?” “Caesar’s.” Whose face is on our coins? Queen Elizabeth, but parliament house is on our $5 note and I’m pretty sure that’s where the taxes really go. So, if the government gives us our money, gives us roads, utilities, protection, then Jesus says to give back what they ask in return. That’s a reminded to do your tax return if you have forgotten.

But money and infrastructure isn’t all we have been given. You’ve been given life by God through your parents, taught by teachers, helped by friends and family. Jesus doesn’t want you to be in debt, but more so He doesn’t want you to forget the good things you have been given; to treasure your morning coffee, those who love you, the rain and sun for the crops, and, for those to whom God has promised, separation from sin, shame and guilt, and new everlasting life with Him. To thank the government for the good that they do do, respecting them for it. And to recognise Jesus as above the government, to thank God for every good He gives in our lives, even life itself.

And another gift, 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.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if any excellence, if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

            Well, that was a big, long list of words. True, honourable, just, pure or holy, toward brotherly love, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy; that’s part one, part two: what you have learned, received, heard, seen in those faithful who taught you the faith. Honestly that’s too big a sentence for me to remember and meditate on easily. So fortunately, God’s given me something smaller, like a bug: ‘be the bee’, also ‘don’t be a fly’. But what does it mean to be the bee? Well it’s Spring, the grass is growing, finally, the flowers blooming, and Bill is busy with his hives because the bees are buzzing. And what do bees seek? Those beautiful colours of the flowers, and the sweet nectar they contain. To bring these back to the hive is their life, you could say what they always think about. Sweet beauty from which the beehive makes that wonderful, healing honey! Thank God, and Bill for that!

            But what then, about the fly, what does it seek? Rot and stench, from which flies produce maggots. The fly doesn’t think about sweet nectar, the bee doesn’t concern itself with the backside of a sheep. So simply, be the bee, not the fly. And we all know grumpy people who do not let go of past hurts or regrets and constantly reflect on them, meditating on the evil that was done, and forgetting the wonderful things God is doing for them, and also hurting others with their constant whining, complaining and insulting. Then there are others, who recognise God’s wonderful gifts every day, who are thankful even in evil circumstances. There’s Paul writing this letter from prison threatened with death, and Joy with MS in Cooee Lodge. People like these are thankful for what they have, for what God has given. They thank God, even in their requests, and receive well His joy. Joy that rejoices in Christ, just as Paul wrote, a gentleness known to all, not anxious but bringing everything, every request and praise to God with thanksgiving; and receiving the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

            Up to now any non-Christian could be nodding their head: be that bee, focus on the good, the true, and the beautiful, think on those things in Paul’s first list. Wonderful, yet we are not non-Christians, you are Christ’s and you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). It’s not ‘think on whatever you may regard as true, honourable, just, holy’ … not ‘what our society might’, rather it’s specifically those things you have learned, received, heard, and seen. The true, holy, and admirable things passed down to you from our ancestors in the faith, preserved by the Holy Spirit since God first gave them, yet also under threat by false teachers (John 16:13; Matthew 24:24). And those things are the Bible, most commonly for us from the English protestant tradition (the Luther Bible still contained the intertestamental books); and the Divine Liturgy, God’s service to us every Sunday, though we may continually be revising it especially in this strange time; the practise of evening devotions within many of our families, morning and evening prayer as suggested by the small catechism; the sanctity of marriage; the ministry of the means of grace; the festivals of the church year; a history against government intervention; of course, Lutheran lunches; and any number of other practises and teachings. To keep what has been given to you and to pass it on is vital to our Christian Faith, to our life in Christ, our life as His church.

            Of course, just as we don’t change for change’s sake, for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), we also don’t continue everything our parents in the faith did without examination. Afterall, be the bee, not the fly. Seek what is true and lasting, what has been kept pure down the ages. Recognise and avoid the shameful actions and ideas that were passed on to you, but focus on those honourable, lovely and praiseworthy traditions kept down through the years, practise them faithfully and, now Paul doesn’t mention this here but, pass them on. We have these wonderful gifts because the Holy Spirit working through His Church has preserved them, because faithful Christians, Polycarp, Augustine, Pope Gregory, Luther, Kavel, for many of you our parents or spouse, and all the thousands whose names we have forgotten, these who have practised and passed on God’s wonderful gifts down to you. Treasure His forgiveness and everlasting life promised to you according to His word in Baptism and Holy Communion, receive His promises with thanksgiving, be the bee,

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:42
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is wonderful in our eyes’?

            Two weeks ago I said ‘here is a clear parable’; but today I think, this one’s a bit hard. And yet the Holy Spirit has preserved this word for us, for you today, so what might it mean?

            Are you to relate to the Pharisees in charge of the teaching of God’s Word and the care of His people? We can ask, How well do we listen to the messengers He sends to receive the fruits? Those needy people in our congregation, our families, and our community? Is there at the end utter destruction for those who failure to care for each other and those with less? Perhaps this is why the Holy Spirit has brought this Word to us today to condemn our failures (Matthew 25:31-46).

            Or maybe it’s just to let you know to role of the pastor, the carer or healer of souls. That I, and the other pastors and bishops, are to point you always to Christ for the sake of healing your conscience, saving your soul. And if I fail … gone! Just as the Lord revealed to the prophet Ezekiel (3:16-27). So, a condemnation to sinful pastors.

            Could it be another parable of the kingdom? After all, since Pentecost we have been hearing and remembering our history of the church, of who we are and what we do. And Jesus Himself says, the kingdom of God will be taken from the Pharisees and given to a nation producing its fruits. So this vineyard, this walled garden, ‘paradise’ in Persian, is taken from the Jews who rejected it and given to Christ’s church. The holy nation of both Jew and Gentile (1 Peter 2:9). Condemning the Pharisees rejecting the faith, yet I wonder, what is Jesus saying about a stone?

            I’ve had to grapple a bit with this so I invite you into the wrestle. After the Pharisees give their answer, an easy and understandable one, Jesus doesn’t really affirm it, rather instead points to scripture. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone, the Lord has done this and it is wonderful in our eyes’. But where was this stone in the parable? Who was rejected to become the place where two walls originate and join? I suppose yeah, the servants were killed, but chiefly it was the landowner’s son who was rejected. He should have been respected but instead was despised and killed. Just as Jesus was rejected and despised, arrested, thrown out of the city, and crucified. But now He tells them, and us, that the one rejected will be made the most important stone, on which all is centred and all comes from, for the corner stone, as far as I understand, is placed first then the measuring and construction begins from it. This then would be a clear statement, a promise that though the Pharisees will reject and kill Jesus, God the Father will make Him the origin of a new construction, or the New Creation we hear of elsewhere, and for us particularly the new creation in our baptism into Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). So, may Jesus be using this parable to show the sin of the Pharisees, the situation they find themselves, and then that He fulfills the promise God gave through Isaiah and the Psalms, just as Peter later explains, and this truth is wonderful in our eyes (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Psalm 118:22-24; 1 Peter 2:1-12).

            But He says something else about a stone, those who fall on it shattered, those it falls on crushed; those who can’t swallow the truth of Christ, who stumble at it will be shattered and when Christ comes in judgement they will be utterly crushed. Lord have mercy on those people, and on us too. Clearly Christ is no less harsh in the Old Testament than the New, all is the Word of God. And the care of God’s Word to His ancient people in that Law has been taken from the Pharisees and given to us, a nation producing it’s fruits; those words that tell us the Lord our God is a zealous God, punishing the children to the third or fourth generation of those who hate Him (Exodus 20:5). Yet the Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul, making wise the fool, giving joy, light, and far more precious than gold, as we have just confessed in today’s psalm (Psalm 19:7-10). The Law, the ten Commandments, those words that many think of as a burden, we confess as refreshing the soul. The stone that crushes those it falls on, is wonderful in our eyes. Why? Why is it good news that the Pharisees who rejected Jesus are themselves rejected? Why is it Good News to hear these Words from God before confession, to reflect on how you have relied and sought help from other things before God, have neglected the gift of God’s name in failing to live up to it or pray for those who need it, have even rejected the holy things of God in favour of work and busyness? How can this revelation of truth, this condemnation of your failure and sin be a good thing? A wonderful thing?

            Paul tells us. Whatever good I thought I had done, like those Pharisees, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Compared with knowing the wonder of Jesus Christ our Lord, everything else is filth, rubbish, a word starting with s … Just as God’s Law reveals about what the world thinks is a good life. But to be found in Jesus, part of the New Creation, the paradisal vineyard of God’s people, the living temple built around this wonderous cornerstone, not having a righteousness of my own, not measured by my sin rather justified and measured from the cornerstone, receiving the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. This Jesus who was rejected has become the foundation and origin of something new. And you have been joined to Him in baptism, your old, condemned, self crushed by the stone, now created anew into Christ’s body. The holy things of God, represented as a vineyard under care, have been given to the care of this New Creation. God’s people are now defined and find our source in Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone. And this is the wonderful thing! That God cares for you, He wants the best for you and that is to be fitted next to Christ, conformed to Him as we heard Paul write weeks ago (Romans 8:29). To be joined together with Him as His church. To live for each other, to the glory of God and the good of those around us.

            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.