First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 64:8
And you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

            We’ve heard again and again over the last few months, the season after Pentecost is about Christ’s church, who we are and what we do. Well today the church season changes and we being to hear again of who God is and what He does and will do. So who is God? Isaiah tells us, He is Our Father, He is the potter.

            And as the potter, He made us, we are the clay, the work of His hands. He is the one who can change who we are, who can fix breaks or failures in us, who can build us up into something beautiful and useful; or, as Jesus tells us, destroy those who reject Him body and soul (Matthew 10:28). He is the creator of everything. The creator, not creation; He is the potter not the clay. Why is that important for us? Well, if a broken pot wants to get fixed, asking a fancy pot isn’t gonna help, we need to rely on God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1:8), Our Father will keep you firm to the end, will support, sustain, give you strength so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ! God is faithful! But, we people are not.

            Isaiah laments of God’s people, ‘no one calls on your name, no one relies on you for strength; because you have hidden your face from us and given us over to our sins.’ In the time of Isaiah, yes God had kept a remnant, but so many had left the faith. The powerful relied on their armies, the arrogant on their good works, the poor on idols. His people had abandoned the faith of their forefathers, relying not on the creator but the created. And is it much different today?

            Isaiah writes, All of us have become like the unclean, all our righteousness, our good works, are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and our sin, like the wind, sweeps us away. We confess, I am a poor miserable sinner who cannot help myself. When we live in sin we slowly but surely die, we cannot get out by ourselves. An obvious example is life in gangs, or the old mafia stories; and of course when people rely on alcohol or drugs instead of God. And I’m sure there’s been times in your life when you have felt beaten down or carried away by your guilt over what you have done. As Isaiah said, ‘you have handed us over to our guilt.’

            Yet he doesn’t end there, no he keeps going. ‘Yet you, Lord, are our Father! We are the clay you are the potter, we all are the work of your hands. Do not be angry to excess Lord; do not remember our sins forever! Oh, look on us, for we are your people!’ I know my sin, the guilt I have and experience. I know that I am clay in the potters hands, and I know what I deserve. But you and I are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. No! Far from it!

We are broken and hurting children in the hands of our loving Heavenly Father. He has let us loose to do what we might choose. We chose to touch the fire, even jump into it, carried away on our foolish desires; then we have tried to hide it, to fix it ourselves, but we cannot. We need help. You need help. To repent, turn away from sin and turn back to Our Loving Heavenly Father. To confess our sin, to reveal our guilt, and to receive His healing as He reshapes us. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. No, we are sick in need of the medicine of Jesus, renewal in the Holy Spirit. This is the rhythm of our life on earth. To sin, to repent, to be restored by Jesus. But this is not an endless cycle, in fact the whole of creation suffers in the same way. We are clay, dirt, earth, and look to the potter for His restoring hand, and the whole earth looks to Christ and His return, to be restored, renewed, made perfect on that Last Day.

We join again with the psalmist, “Let your hand, O Father, rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man, Jesus, you have raised up for yourself.
Then we, united in Him, will not turn away from you; revive us, in Him, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”
(Psalm 80:17-19)

            And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until that Last Day. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 25:34
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

            The sheep and the goats, faithful and lazy servants, the foolish virgins and the wise. A long chapter in Matthew’s gospel, we’ve heard it over these last three weeks. I wonder what Jesus is trying to tell us?

            As our church year comes to an end, we look to the end of the church on this earth. Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has been teaching the church, who we are and what we can do. But now we hear the end. The Last Judgement, when Jesus reveals Himself to all, in glory, to judge the living and the dead. Jesus, high above all the rubbish and corruption of our governments here on earth. Jesus is the King of kings, Lord of lords, simply He is in charge (Revelation 19:16). And when He finally reveals Himself, He will reveal all things. He will show who you are to the whole world, what you have done, just as at a court case. After all He is the righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:8). He will say to the sheep, come; and to the goats, get lost! So, who are you? A sheep? Or a goat?

            To the goats He said, depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Eternal punishment, not meant for people. Rather Jesus tells us God prepared it for our enemy and his agents, not for those people who reject God’s love, who refuse to love others, but made just for the demons. As God says through Ezekiel, just a chapter before our reading today, thus says the Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). But still, this is where the wicked condemn themselves to, what those who reject Christ’s love and mercy receive. Those who reject life, don’t get it.

            Does this make you uneasy? Does it make you afraid? For yourself, your friends and family? For all those people in our community, in our world who do not know Christ? Yes? Good! When Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, He knew His words would not bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Christ speaks harshly throughout the gospels, it’s no different than the prophets who proclaimed His coming. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus, the King, speaks harshly to those at peace with their sin. To pierce their hearts, to terrify and crush the conscience, showing us our sin in the face of God’s holiness, seeing our sin as God sees it.

            Yes, Christ came to crush the unrepentant sinner, He is harsh with the arrogant and individualistic goats. But not with the humble, listening sheep. To the sheep He says, ‘come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!’ ‘Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Gentle and tender He speaks to the broken sinner, to the lost sheep, healing the injured, strengthening the weak (Ezekiel 34:16). The kingdom prepare for you, not angels, not just those great saints since the beginning, for you. God declared to the serpent in the garden, His foot will crush your head (Genesis 3:15). From the foundation of the world, our Heavenly Father planned for you to come into His kingdom, to receive life, life forever in peace, joy and love with Him, Father, Son and Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-5; Titus 1:1-2). When Christ does return, we will know where we stand, everyone will. Yet what hope does He give those listening 2000yrs ago, what hope does this passage give you?

            Who are the sheep? They are those blessed by the Father. You are blessed by the Father, at the end of every Divine Service He makes this clear. And the sheep inherit the kingdom. You are children of God, adopted in Baptism by the Holy Spirit, you are now co-heirs with Christ to this Heavenly Kingdom prepared from the beginning (Matthew 3:17; Romans 8:17). The sheep come to Jesus. You come to Jesus and receive from Him His flesh and blood (John 6:53; Philippians 3:21). The sheep, made righteous in the blood of the lamb, receive eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:21). You receive the life of Christ as we, His Church, are united with Him in the mystery of God’s love (Ephesians 3:6, 9). In His presence today (Matthew 18:20). In His speaking to us through His Word. In His forgiveness and life given in baptism, absolution, Holy Communion. Who are the sheep? We are, God has promised. Who is the church? We are, alongside all the saints across space and time. And what can we do now, as the Church? Serve those in need, those locked up or housebound, those suffering addiction or disease, those hungry, hurting, naked and needy people in our families, in our parish, in our towns. Lord have mercy on us and make our desires yours, that we may care so much that we don’t even notice when we serve others.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twentyfourth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Thessalonians 5:5-6
For all of you are children of light and day, not of night and dark; therefore we should not sleep as the rest, rather we should watch and be sober.

            Careful. A word I say often to Nathaniel as he waddles around. Watch out! A sentiment we are very aware of under these COVID restrictions. Be careful when you go to the shops, cautious and aware. Sanitise your hands, wear the mask, if you’re at all sick stay home and get tested. The kids at school know it; watch out or COVID will get you!

            It reminds me of another warning, one from so many years ago we struggle to count them. The Lord said to Cain, ‘why are you angry? … if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. (Genesis 4:6-7). Watch out or sin will get you. And 2000yrs ago Peter sent out this letter to the faithful, ‘be watchful and sober-minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8). Watch out or the devil will get you. But there is something far greater than our enemy, far more powerful than any sin. The Day of the Lord is coming.

            Judgement day; the final revelation, in Greek: apocalypse. When Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31f), the foolish virgins cast out, the wise ones brought into the wedding feast of the Lamb! They say are you ready for your death; forget about death, are you ready for this? Do you know who you are? Since Pentecost God has been teaching His church, the Holy Spirit has been speaking to you. Telling you who you are, bringing you wonderful gifts, yet soon the King will return from His journey to settle accounts. Did you hear who you are? Who God declares you to be? Who He makes you to be in Jesus? … Do you hold on tight to the gifts you have been given? Relying on Christ, on God’s grace, on His love for you? … or are you worn out, loosing energy and sight of the goal, just as our country is becoming lazy with our COVID restrictions?

            Today the Holy Spirit is telling you and me, to wake up, to know who we are, to know what is to come. Some may refuse to listen, some just throw away Gods gifts, like those at night in deep sleep, or drunk running from their problems. But you are not of the night, not of darkness. Your sin, darkness has been taken away from you, your failure has been dealt with by Christ crucified. You have been made anew in Jesus by His washing in Baptism, by His Most Holy Blood in Communion. Brought into His light, guided by The Holy Spirit, you are children of the day, you are the light of the world ()! And since we are children of the day, since we belong to the New Day in Jesus, let us not give up hope, let us not loose heart, you are forgiven, you have all the Heavenly hosts on side. Let us be aware of who we are everyday, our heart on our sleeve, showing Christ’s love and faith to those around us, always knowing, even thinking on our wonderful hope of salvation.

For God did not destine us to anger, to wrath, but rather to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This salvation, separation from your failures and union with God in Jesus with peace, joy and love; this salvation given to you today through the absolution returning you to the grace, the gifts, of your baptism, and through Christ’s very body and blood given and shed for you, forgiveness and union with Christ. Know this, you have been saved. You are already one of God’s people, awake in the light of Christ. This is who you are, child of God our Heavenly Father, coheir with Jesus our Lord and Saviour, friend of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. As awesome and terrible as the Day of the Lord may be, as we hear from the prophets, us who are united with Christ in His death, will live together with Him. Encourage each other with this, build each other up! I need reminders of who I am because of Jesus, of what is truly important; and I’m sure you do too. So encourage each other, speak with each other and the other Christians you know about the faith, the wonderful gifts of God, His promises to us all. Children of God, Baptised into Life, you are Christ’s! Go in peace, love, and joyfully serving and praising Christ Jesus, your Saviour!

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twenythird Sunday after Pentecost

Joshua 24:22
Then Joshua said to the people,
“You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.”

            Last week I asked, who are the saints? Now I want to ask, who do you serve? What do you live for?

            Today we hear from our ancestors in the faith, the ancient Israelites, after that patchwork conquest of Canaan, before they settled down. This is the children of the generation who saw God’s mighty works in Egypt and Mount Sinai, who followed the pillar of flame and smoke, who fed on the bread of heaven, whose clothes never wore out all those 40yrs in the desert. God had shown His great love and mercy, shown that He fulfils His promises to Abraham, bringing these people out of slavery and delivering them into this paradise of a promised land. Now who did they serve? Their ancestor Abraham had been an idolater before God called him to Shechem (Genesis 12:6-8). Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose wives had been idolaters but abandoning their false and powerless gods again at Shechem where Joshua is now speaking (Genesis 35:2-4). The great grandsons of Jacob, brought out of Egypt to Sinai worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32). Now Joshua rereads the Law, the Word of God, to His people. Fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness (24:14).

            And so to us here, Fear the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in sincerity and faithfulness. You know what He has done for you, not just His suffering and death for your sin all those years ago, but His constant love for you throughout your life, despite your failures. Now if you don’t want to, if it’s evil or wrong in your eyes, choose who you will serve. Those things you used to serve, money and alcohol, pleasure and productivity. Those things that trapped you. And you know better than anyone else those things you desired, you devoted yourself to; those things you have wanted and relied on more than the Triune God. Or choose to chase after the things our Australian society worships, perverse sexuality, aggressive nationalism, … You who have been joined to Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism, in Holy Communion, choose who you will serve.

            Hopefully, we respond like the Israelites, knowing the good Jesus has done for us, and the wonders He has promised you; ‘far be it from us that we should ever forsake the Lord to serve other created things … we will serve the Lord, for He is our God.’ As I’ve been listening to you and you to me, we have confessed just this already about seven times in our response to God service today. This is your confession as a Christian, that you rely on Jesus only, that you live life united with Him for the benefit of others, that we all together desire what the Holy Spirit gives us, we want what the Lord wants. But then what does Joshua say? You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.

            In yourself are you holy? Do you everyday reject what is against God, and live for what is good? Do you always strive for what is true and right? Or have you lied, deceived someone, have you ignored the needs of another, the homeless down the street, the sick in hospital, even your friend, your children, your spouse? Do you rely on coffee or alcohol instead of Christ’s strength? Do you drink more than pray? Does your life look no different to those around you who hate or reject our beloved Christ? Do you not want to live better, to as Paul says, die to sin and live to God in Christ (Romans 6:11)? Do you fail to live up to God’s holiness, failing to serve Him? In short do you sin? … I a poor helpless sinner, as Luther wrote, ‘we are beggars this is true’.

            But are we those 5 foolish virgins (Matthew 25:3)? Begging for oil then shut out from the feast? No, Jesus Christ came to save sinners, you can be sure He came to save you. Just as Joshua said, by yourself, without the Holy Spirit, you cannot serve God. Yet you have the Spirit, who is that oil. Just as He came down on Christ at His Baptism, He promised that He has come down on you at yours. Rely on Him, the gifts He brings and all the promises of God to you in Jesus. This is that oil. You have them, don’t neglect it like the foolish virgins; forgetting the promises and left outside in the weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:10; 22:13). Receive the Holy Spirit well, and receive the salvation won by Jesus through Him. Tend to these gifts, hearing again God’s promise to you, in the Bible; again the way of the New life we have been given, exampled by the saints; again confessing the truth of both our failures and our Heavenly Father’s love for us, in His service to us every Sunday. To not neglect meeting together as Christians, to pray, to thank God, praise His great love and power, to be holy even as Christ makes you holy. Encourage one another with the promise of God. Just as Jesus died and rose again; all of us, who are united with Him by Holy baptism and Holy Communion, have been promised we will be with the Lord in peace forever. In short, as people saved in Jesus, you belong to Him, live for Him and serve Him in all you do. You are a witness.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Twentysecond Sunday after Pentecost. All Saints Day

Matthew 5:3
Fortunate are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

            What is a saint? In our bible studies recently, going through the Acts of the Apostles; our church after Christ ascended. There’s Pentecost, the first preaching, and Stephen the first recorded saint to receive that crown and fortune of Martyrdom, dying for the faith. Fortunate are you Stephen, for yours is the kingdom of Heaven. Down the ages there have been so many faithful Christians, gentle, merciful, pure of heart, craving righteousness and making peace. Fortunate are the saints who have gone before inheriting the earth, filled with righteousness, called children of God, seeing Jesus face to face. This is our church, this is our family; you are not baptised into the LCA, you are baptised into Christ’s church.

            The same Church, Paul, Stephen’s vicious opponent, was baptised into, adopted as God’s son, then sent to strengthen and grow. The same church you were baptised into, the same church Karissa will be baptised into, that same church of those of our parish who died this last year, Lewis, John and Ruth. Fortunate are they who rest in Christ now, fortunate are the saints, people who embodied these beatitudes.

            But these beatitudes are not attitudes you must work towards. Just take hungering for righteousness. Do you decide when you are hungry or not? We can choose to eat or not, but do you choose to be hungry? No. It’s something you’ve no control over. It just happens to you, almost as if it’s given to you. Just like the Holy Spirit giving us the desire for righteousness, we receive this hunger and all these blessings from God. And all these blessings point to Jesus. The lives of the saints, the lives of all good Christian examples, point to Christ. Those people who prove, that Jesus isn’t just up there in heaven somewhere, but here in the lives of us Christians. Who is poor in spirit? Jesus emptied Himself and became obedient unto death even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Who mourns? Jesus wept when He saw Jerusalem, How I long to gather you as a hen her chicks (Matthew 23:37). Who is meek, powerful yet gentle? Jesus to Peter at His arrest, you think I can’t call on my Father and Him send 12 legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). Who hungers for righteousness? The boy Jesus listening and asking questions in the temple (Luke 2:46) Who is merciful? Jesus healed the silent long-bleeding woman (Matthew 9:20-22). Who is clean/pure in heart? From His purity Jesus cleanses lepers (Matthew 8:3). Who makes peace? Jesus says, peace be with you, my peace I give you (John 14:27). Who is persecuted because of righteousness? And so the Pharisees sought to kill Him (Matthew 12:14).

            Who are the saints? The last beatitude: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Jesus. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted, not only the prophets and saints who were before you, in the same way they persecuted Christ Jesus Himself. We have been hearing since Trinity Sunday who we are in Christ’s church and what that means. Today we remember we are not alone, Christ is with us, He shines through us, His saints, by the grace given to you by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, you are already called children of God; and in another great mystery we are united together with all the saints who have gone before, in Christ’s Holy and Beloved Bride, His Church. Remember who you are, who we are together; and remember the fortune waiting for you, peace, joy, love and life everlasting with Jesus and all the saints who have gone before.

            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.