‘dying to live’?

Mark 8:34
If any desire to follow behind me, let them disown themself, lift up their cross and let them follow me.

            Again the season of Lent, living the life of a Christian. Now a question, have you ever thought you knew someone, then later find out you were wrong? A friend who disliked you, an enemy who became a friend. You thought you knew who they were, what they wanted, then something happens; you see them in different circumstances, they say something; and you see you were wrong. This is just what has happens to Peter. Immediately before our reading today, Jesus asks who people say He is and Peter replies, You are the Messiah! (Mark 8:27-29) Finally, after all the times the disciples fail to understand, particularly in Mark’s account, finally they get it! Jesus is the Messiah, Christ in Greek, the one anointed to save the Israelites and all the world!

            But Peter didn’t really understand, he saw the truth but only in blurry vision, like the blind man Jesus healed earlier in the chapter (Mark 8:22-25). Peter still had his own idea of who the Messiah was and what He would do. Throw out the Romans, conquer the world, bringing all people to worship God the Jewish way at the second temple in Jerusalem, Israel.  And yet Jesus openly tells them what He is going to do, what will happen. The Jewish leaders will reject Him, cause Him to suffer, Jesus would be killed and after three days rise again. But Peter doesn’t like that; he thinks he knows who the Messiah is, better than the Messiah Himself. No, says Peter, you’re wrong! Jesus turns to the disciples, No Peter, you are wrong! Get behind me Satan/enemy, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

            A good question for us. Are you like Peter? Do you have in mind the things of God? Or do you fill your time and focus on finances, politics both state and street, gossip, worry, the things of this world? As we asked last week, do you treasure the things of this world or the things of God? Do you listen to Jesus, as God commanded at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:7)? Or do you think you know who God is without His help? Do you know better than the one who made you? Trying to bring Him down to your level to serve you like a cheerleader, a schoolmaster, a genie. Do you try to make God fit the things of this world, the things of men? Or do you let God be God and tell you who He is? Do you let Him love you as He has promised? Do you have in mind the things of God, or the things of men?

            This Lent, as we hear God’s Word, as you meditate on it and as you pray; what is he telling us about what a Christian is? Who is Jesus, what is this Messiah? A conqueror crowned with gold, beloved by all His own people, all Australians and all people across this world? No! He tells us who He is. He shows us who He is. He is crowned with thorns, rejected by His own people, ignored by most Australians, and even rebuked by many across the world. And yet, He took up a cross, that horrific tool of public, excruciating torture. He took up His cross, suffering that ridicule, rejection, even regret, on top of all the lashes and heavy nails. He took up our fallen humanity (Hebrews 2:14-18), He took up your sin (Isaiah 53:6), your guilt and failures onto that cross. And, just like every disease stops afflicting the person at death, there in His death, sin dies with Him. But sin does not rise from the grave.

            And this He has done for you 2000yrs ago, He has promised this for you in your Baptism, and He promises that you participate in this in every Holy Communion. He disowned Himself, took up His cross, and died for you. This is His way of life, life everlasting. And Jesus tells His disciples, even His enemy of a moment, Peter, to get in behind. And for all who desire to live His life, to walk His way, to follow Him; deny yourself, take up your cross and follow the Messiah. The gifts God has given you, union with Christ Jesus, separation from sin, and life despite death; cling to these things of God, have them in mind as you continue through Lent. As we say of the Baptismal life in Jesus; die daily to your sin, rise daily and live with Him.

            And the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the Final Resurrection. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Baptism into temptation’

Mark 1:12
And immediately the Spirit threw Him out into the desert.

            Welcome to Lent, the traditional time of temptation in our church year. When we look at ourselves, our way of living, and try harder to live as Christ’s Baptised people, in that New life He has given. When we focus on treasuring the things of God and not the things of this world. To hear the Word of God and other Christians’ reflections on it, in song, speech or written; and hear less of the unending worries of the world. Yet, as you try to live here in the life Jesus has given you, the devil attacks. I mean, if our King suffered demonic temptation, don’t think you won’t.

            After Baptism the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, and if you think that sounds harsh, in the Greek it says the Spirit threw Him out. After that wonderful declaration from our Heavenly Father, of who Jesus is, ‘my beloved Son in whom I am pleased.’ (Mark 1:11) The Spirit throws Him away from the people, the cities, into the desert and the demons. By Himself, alone with the stones, with dust and His own thoughts; and if you’ve ever been alone like that you know how bad it can be. Fear, regret, and sometimes those dreadful thoughts from the devil. There’s a reason ancient people thought demons lived in deserts. So why, after Baptism, does God send His Son out into the desert, forty days of temptation and suffering?

            Why after your baptism, after you became a Christian, adopted and drawn into the Body of Christ; why do you now suffer? When you try hard, when you focus on living the Christian life, the life of Christ; why is it so hard? Why do we feel attacked? Why those stray thoughts of doubt or sin? Why, O Lord, do we suffer? How long O Lord, until you hear us and have mercy? (Psalm 13) We have these hard questions, yet God has not given an answer; instead as the letter to the Hebrews declares and as we hear today, God is with us in it (Hebrews 2:12-18). Jesus suffers temptation with you. In Baptism your old life died, and you were given a new life, the life of Christ. This life where, after Baptism we are promised suffering, persecution and temptation (Matthew 10:16-23; John 15:20; 2 Timothy 1:8, 3:12; 1 Peter 5:8). Yet you are not alone, the Holy Spirit is leading you, Jesus is suffering alongside you, and the Father loves you and is pleased with you. As the psalmist prays, Good and upright is the Lord, therefore He instructs the sinners in the way, He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble His ways (Psalm 25:8-9).

            So now we have that call, to live the life you have been given, the way of God, relying on Him, listening to Him, treasuring the things of Heaven not the things of this world that is passing away. To treasure, Love, Joy, Hope, Life, these Holy and wonderful gifts God has given (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 John 4:8). And to remember your Baptism, death and resurrection in Christ; to remember our union in the life of the New Creation with our Lord and all our siblings in the faith across this world, who suffer with us. As Luther and the Catechism put it, to die daily to sin and rise daily with Christ. This is what Lent is about. Baptism, our dying to sin and rising with Christ, is not just something in the past; it is our daily life as Christians. St Peter tells us that the flood points to what baptism is; those forty days when evil was drowned and destroyed, and God’s people were saved (1 Peter 3:20-21). Now some of you might like boats, but surrounded for forty days by animals and floating on a sea with bloated corpses certainly sounds like suffering to me. Forty days to cleanse the Earth, forty days to prepare for the New world, forty days for evil to die; we could even say as Peter did, forty days of Baptism. Baptism is the death of sin and the beginning of our union with Christ.

            And so we have, Baptism before our temptation, suffering during our Baptismal life, and what is at the end of these forty days of Lent? That traditional day of Baptism, even the truth of what Baptism is; union with Christ’s life, His death to sin, and His Resurrection to New Glorified Everlasting Life (Romans 6; Mark 9:2-3; Matthew 28:3; Philippians 3:21). I was Baptised, I am Baptised, and I will see my Baptism finally and fully revealed at the end of time; just as we say, “I was saved, am saved, and will be saved, in Christ”. You are Baptised, remember what that means; dead to sin, alive to Christ; having the Holy Spirit leading you through suffering and temptation; but most importantly, as we look past these Lenten days of preparation to what comes after, Baptism is God’s promise of complete and everlasting union with Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

            So live, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds against temptation in Christ Jesus and unite you to Him. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Out of darkness shines light’

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God having said, “From darkness light shall shine,” who shone in our hearts to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

            This is our last Sunday before Lent. We started this season looking at the Epiphany of Jesus who is King, Priest and sacrifice for all the people of the world, we end this season seeing this revelation of His Divine Glory. He is not just a human King, an eternal priest and the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus is God Almighty. On the mountain Elijah heard God, who spoke to him after the fire and earthquake. On the mountain Moses saw God, who spoke to him in the fire and cloud of His glory. On the mountain Peter, James and John see God Incarnate, who spoke to them in the full burning radiance of His glory, the glory of Jesus Christ. And yet they don’t understand, the truth is veiled to them until the Resurrection, until the Light of the World came out of that darkness of death. Light out of darkness.

            Just as at the beginning of this old creation, God spoke, ‘let there be light’, and out of the darkness light shone. As Paul wrote, God is the one who illuminates, shines light, opens eyes, gives understanding and knowledge, at times overwhelmingly so. He shone in our hearts to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). He comes to us, to help us understand Him and this life, that is why He gave His Word to be written, and His church to pass on this wonderful truth guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:15). From darkness light shall shine.

            When you did not understand it’s as if you were in the dark, not able to see what was in front of you. Or perhaps you had rejected the truth, Jesus; and gone you own ways; saying ‘so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else’, or even calling what is evil good (Isaiah 5:20). Perhaps you felt trapped in the dark, without a way out (Romans 6:20; Psalm 40:1). In the darkness of your heart God came by His Word, maybe in preaching, discussion, Baptism, Absolution, Holy Communion, and shone the light of Christ.

Yet today, perhaps you suffer because the ones you love do not know the glory of God. That they do not understand what the transfiguration means for this world. They do not understand how a cross, a torture device similar to impaling on a spike, how a cross is the Glory of God. As they come down the mountain Jesus tells those confused disciples, to tell none until the Son of man rises from the dead (Mark 9:9). They came from the confusing and mysterious heights of God on that mountain, to the death of Jesus on that cross. Yet God has said, From the darkness light shall shine.

            Jesus did not stay on the cross or in the darkness of the tomb, but broke out in New Life. The veil in the temple separating God’s presence from the people was torn open (Matthew 27:51). And the veil of confusion among the disciples was lifted when Jesus appeared to them. Then from those first small gatherings within locked rooms, our brothers and sisters burst forth across the world. Where they were killed, martyred for the faith, there the faith flourished. The light shone out of the darkness. And still today, this happens. In your baptism you died to sin and rose in Newness of Life to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4). My father was dead in sin, living in evil, a slave to wickedness; yet when He was brought into the faith, God brought Him to live and proclaim the wonderful Good News of Jesus Christ to His glory, as a pastor of His church. And so many Pastors in our synod are converts into the faith, from a life in the darkness to proclaiming the light of Christ. From the darkness light shall shine.

            If things look hopeless, for you, those you love, for this world; if you are in despair, listen to Jesus (Mark 9:7). As we look together toward our Lord’s suffering and death in the coming season of Lent; remember what comes after. As you take up or focus on one of our Christian disciplines, fasting, prayer or providing for those in need (Matthew 6); as you struggle with temptation and this world, with Jesus in the desert. As you struggle in sickness, stress, anxiety, all the things in this world that can kill you; even your enemies, our enemies, who want us silenced, even dead. Don’t forget, our God is the one who shines light out of the darkness, He converted Paul the murderer of Christians into His Apostle to the world, He converted the Roman empire from slaughtering Christians to defending us. He can shine from the deepest darkness of death, He can bring His glory where we need Him. So don’t give up, pray, and look to Jesus who is the image of God our Father, God who we can see. Look to Jesus in the darkness, listen to Him and pray that He shines even in our lives, in this small congregation, in this fallen, dark and uncertain world.

            The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, despite the darkness. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 1:31
And having come to her, He raised her up by the hand, and separated the fever from her, and she began to serve them.

Been a while so I’ll tell a little story of our trip. We got back into Dubbo on Monday, opened the garage door, drove in and immediately got Karissa out of the car. Into the house settling down our crying daughter, and thinking about what we were going to do for food. I suggested pizza, Rehab agreed, so pizza it was. Weary we went to bed, then I got up took Karissa and Nathaniel’s monitor, a little bit of prayer and rest. Then with Nathaniel up, immediately get the toast ready, the table, water, and then immediately get to work on service preparation. Sounds like a busy and full time right? Just like our passage today.

Jesus was baptised, immediately taken out to the temptations in the desert. He comes back, begins His ministry and calls some disciples who follow Him immediately. They go to town, He’s immediately in the synagogue, teaching and preaching, then a possessed man comes up and Jesus tells it to shut up and get out, and it does. Immediately His fame spreads, and immediately he leaves and goes to Simon Peter’s house, which is where we picked up the story.

And Mark is a good story teller, who’s favourite word happens to be ‘immediately’. And this tells us of the business and importance of Jesus’ work, of His drive. Jesus comes to this house, the brothers tell Him about Peter’s mother-in-law, and he came, raised her by the hand, took her fever away, and she, being healed, began to serve to the glory of God and the benefit of others. Jesus healed this mother-in-law of a fever, but is this what Jesus came to do? Heal mothers-in-law of fever? Is this what Jesus is driven toward? To take away our colds and sweats? He who is God Almighty, who we have heard sits enthroned above creation, incomparable and without equal. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Jesus is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:28-9). No! Jesus comes to do so much more. And this is what Mark’s account is about, Jesus is the Almighty Healer.

And so, Mark summarises Jesus’ ministry in this one verse, He came, raised her by the hand, took her fever away, and she began to serve. Now words are important, that raised and took away, are also the words we use for resurrection and forgiveness, raising from death to life and taking away our sins. This is why Jesus came, what He was driven to accomplish. And then we hear that the town comes for healing, all those possessed by demons, or those having disease, dis-ease, in the Greek, having bad. All those having bad, so if you have bad in you, unease in heart, bad health, wicked life, come to Jesus for the healing. And yet, it’s not just to heal our bad, fevers and colds, not to make us completely healthy for this life of suffering; yet rather He came primarily to heal us all from death, to bring eternal life. This is why the church is a hospital for sinners, why Holy Communion has been called the medicine of immortality. His Most Holy and Precious Body and Blood, maybe won’t protect you from all viruses, from all injury or disease; yet it does so much more, separating you from your sin, guilt and failure, and raising you from death to eternal life in Christ’s Body. You have been raised to New Life and your sin taken from you in Baptism, today God brings you this gift again, and at the End He has promised, we will be finally and completely resurrected and forgiven together in Jesus. So take the example of Peter’s mother-in-law, get up and serve in your New Life of Forgiveness, serve to the glory of God and the benefit of those He has placed around you.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.