” War of Love “

1 John 3:20
If our heart should condemn us, know that God is greater than our heart and He knows all things.

            Look to Jesus, listen to His Word. Today is ANZAC day. A day commemorating the landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. A disastrous campaign marked by death, innovation and resilience. An event that has become a sort of birth for Australian and New Zealand national identity, truly to some a holy-day; that blood spilled marking the ground as holy to Australia, a proclamation of our island nation born in war. Now there were commemorations that year, offerings given up for the wounded soldiers, and a call for more to risk the sacrifice of their lives. Yet through the years it had become less popular, especially after the Vietnam war, then just a few years before I was born there was a revival. There are now pilgrimages to the sites of WW1, and a broader commemoration for all those who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping, and for the contribution and suffering of all who have served.

            It is a day to mark lives lost in service to Australia. A day of mourning and gratitude. And yet it is also Good Shepherd Sunday, when Christians hear again Christ’s Word that He is the Good Shepherd to give up His life for His sheep. Those men and women left their country and lost their lives, I do not know their reasons. Yet we do know why Jesus died on Good Friday; it was for love of us, of you, even of all people of all nations, all of this broken creation. And in war, neither side truly knows if the deaths will result in victory like a shepherd dying to a wolf does not know if the sheep will stay safe. Yet Jesus knew, He knew He would lay down His life for the world, only to take it up again in Victory! He has the authority.

            In His victory over sin, death and the devil; Jesus gave up His life for us. Not just in death but also with every breath; Jesus died for you, and also lives for you. This is how we know love. It is not love to dehumanise others as the British did the Germans and Japanese, it is not love to relish a kill count or the brutalisation of your enemies. Yet to stand against the desire to murder, to stand against concentration camps, gulags, genocide, to stand against those who plan the death of your family and friends, community and country; to live your life for others, even the life of your enemies; that is love. That is the love we have received, that is the love we are called to live.

            We ought to lay down our lives for our family. I’m learning this more and more as my children grow, my life is not about me. And John continues, If you have material possessions, see your brother or sister in need and have no pity on them, no pain in the gut; how can this love of God be in you? As John wrote, the Holy Spirit instructs us to love not with just our words or empty speech, but with action and in truth. Do you? Do you live for others, for those in this congregation, parish, in your communities? Are you willing to die for them as Christ died for you? You know what is right, do you do it? Or does your conscience condemn you?

            Hear what your conscience says, and look to Jesus. You know who you are in Christ, a baptised child of Our Heavenly Father, united to Jesus His Son, by the Holy Spirit who is now at work in your life. If your conscience condemns you, telling you that you are a failure and deserve abandonment for what you have done, for what you have failed to do; know that God is greater than your conscience and He knows everything. He knows everything you have done and everything you could have done; and also He knows His love for you, He knows what Jesus has done, the great victory is won, and He knows what He has promised to you. You cannot keep anything from Him.

If your heart condemns you, look back to Jesus and listen to Him. Confess your sins and hear again His Word, I forgive you. Hear again who you are in Christ, child of God, forgiven, beloved. Hear again His call into His victory, in the only war that truly matters, that against sin, death and the devil. We are soldiers in a war that is already won, but now is not the time for rest. The war is won, but is not yet finished. Everyday we still battle sin, death and the devil; in big ways and small. We are soldiers of Christ, living in His love, His victory; and we are called to live this love for all God’s creation, to bring His victory to all people, this is evangelism. To recruit the civilians who are suffering, the non-Christians in your life. To defend and support our brothers and sisters in arms, the Christians in our lives. To point us all to Jesus our Lord and God, to listen to His commands; I forgive you removing your sin, I am with you always, even if you die yet shall you live, it is done.

Your heart, your conscience is right to trouble you; God has given this gift of conscience to all people, written the law on our hearts, and yet your heart is not Lord and God. God is God. So as you go out know that God has said you are forgiven and have confidence before Him, your conscience now speaks against God if it condemns you. So go out reflecting on the love shown to you, the love shown in those best of our armed forces, and seek to love as Jesus first loved you; and if you fail come back to Him and receive His love anew. As you go out into battle, know that we are not alone, we have each other to love and be loved in word and action; and look not to yourself to know what is true, rather look to the Lord Jesus, listen to Him for His Word is truth.

Beloved of God, His peace which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and unto the end of all war. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Be who you are’

1 John 3:3
And all those having this hope on Him, purify themselves as He is pure.

            Children of God, be who you are. It’s interesting how identity has become so much more important in recent years, who you are according to politics, to ancestry, to cultural practises, race, sexual desires, gender roles, even economic history and so much more. There is the call to ‘be authentic’ or to ‘just be yourself’, to live out freely who you are without care for what others think, but only if who you are doesn’t affect or impose on others. It’s a reasonable need, a desire that makes sense, let the rock be a rock, the river a river, the pig a pig. But then the question comes, who says a pig is a pig? Who do we listen to?

            I remember as a child my siblings came to hate the movie, Babe, because apparently I would watch it every afternoon. If you haven’t seen it, or it’s been a while, essentially it’s a movie about a piglet, called Babe, who learns to herd sheep better than any of the sheepdogs. This pig gently asks the sheep to go to the sheep pen and they do, because Babe has a special code, ‘baa-ram-ewe’. Obviously Babe doesn’t live like a pig, rather he finds this strange identity by listening to a Boarder Collie who becomes a foster mother to him. Now why do I bring this up today? Is it to condemn those who identify themselves as homosexual and live it out? Those who identify as any of the LGBTQI+? Those who identify as Greenies, as Country, as old/young, as victim, upperclass, tough, black, white, yellow, pink with purple polkadots? No. Rather to point out that we often, if not always, find our identity by listening to someone. Now that might be yourself, or someone you respect, or even sometimes people you hate. But regardless, once we hold to our identity and know what that is we can live it out.

            Now, God Almighty has called you His children, identifying you with His Son, Jesus Christ the righteous. To Him this is the most important part of who we are, and if He’s the most important for us this identity we have in Christ will be the most important to live out. This is part of what the first commandment means, ‘you will not have any other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). Do you listen to other gods before Jesus? Other identities that are more important to you than being a child of God, other identities that you live out more fully and regularly? Put another way, do you make a habit of sin? If God has called you, although like Babe you look like a pig, to be a sheepdog why would you still wallow in the mud? As John writes, if you hold to this word, this promise of God, you will purify yourself as Jesus is pure. In light of Easter, do you live in Christ’s victory every day? Do you live a life where sin, the fear of death, and the temptations of the evil have no hold over you? The Holy Spirit through John today is clear, if we make a habit of sin, our lives revolving around another identity, we do not have a relationship with God Almighty, neither see nor know Him.

             Is there then any hope left for me, for you? At times I might break these bad habits, then either I fall back or others form. How can we purify ourselves, how can we make ourselves pure as Jesus, God Himself, is? Listen to His Word, His Word in the rest of this letter; From the opening of this letter: if any claim to be without sin, they lie and the truth is not in them; if we confess, He is faithful and just to forgive and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9). Listen to His Word, His work throughout the Bible; did Jesus wait for the Jews to purify themselves of bad habits, of other gods? No, God came to die for us while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10). We cannot even know God without the Holy Spirit, He acts first (1 Corinthians 2:7-15). It is only after He lavishes His great love on us, adopting us, that we can live with Him towards the goal of our hope. It is only in this relationship, this listening to Him, to who He says we are, that we can live out of this New identity in Jesus, of Jesus. As you come today after a week of hearing others, to hear His Word, to hear what you are to God; forgiven, beloved, righteous, as Jesus children of God. As you hear all this He is changing you, He is purifying you, He is making you new again. The Holy Spirit is doing His work today, through as we confess in the creed, the church, Communion, forgiveness, toward the final resurrection and life everlasting with Christ; to grow forever in this relationship. The Holy Spirit, after preparing us for this New Life as God Almighty’s children, is sending us out to live as who we are called to be.

            You, together with all Christ’s Church, are living toward Christ; what we will be has not yet been revealed, but we know when Christ appears we shall be like Him and with Him. This is our hope. According to God’s steadfast Word. You children of God are called toward this, the Holy Spirit waling with you, to purify your lives as Christ’s life was pure, to live according to our most important identity, to fight against our bad habits, our harmful meditations, and those stray thoughts that speak against who we are in Christ Jesus. When you fall, just come back, confess, and hear again God speaking to you. Listen to Him, pray together with the Holy Spirit and live the life of Christ.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto our eternal hope. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

My Lord and My God!

John 20:28
Thomas said to Him, my Lord and my God!

            How often do we believe those we love? Your spouse says ‘no there’s no more mud cake’ then you go and check, just to make sure. How often is it that we are distracted, that we can’t focus on one thing, that we’re torn between what to do, even to think? How often are we Thomas, called Didymus, both names meaning twin, a double-minded man who is both a follower and a doubter. Thomas is us. When you heard the message last week, Christ is Risen! What did you think? Victorious over sin, death and the devil; do I see that in my life? Maybe we justify ourselves like sceptical Thomas by saying, ‘well scripture says to test the spirits, the messages we hear’ (1 John 4). So the question is, in my life, do I trust this Wonderful Good News of Jesus Christ, or do I doubt? And for me my name is a reminder, Joseph Andrew Thomas Graham: those middle names, double-minded male man. Often I feel dragged toward two different directions, trust or doubt, useful or useless, right or wrong; often I am my namesake, Thomas.

            But Thomas is not just the person who rejected the words of his beloved friends, not just one who ridiculed the truth that Jesus rose from the dead as impossible; Thomas also gives the greatest confession in all the Gospels. Jesus is not just the Lamb of God as John the Baptist confesses, not just the promised Messiah of Peter’s confession, not just the Son of God as confessed by the centurion who speared Him, Jesus is my Lord and my God. Thomas this man, pulled in two directions, confesses Jesus of two natures, the human Lord, and divine God Almighty. Jesus was not just another man, and neither did He just appear to die; no Thomas recognises, though probably not understanding the mystery, Thomas knows that Jesus, God and man, died and rose again.

            Yes, Jesus truly suffered as a human, tempted as we are in our lives. And yes, He has authority over the chaos of wind and oceans, to destroy sickness and raise to new life, He is God Almighty creator of Heaven and Earth. Jesus Christ, Lord and God, is victorious over sin, death and the devil. That is wonderful news, amazing and all that; yet it only becomes joyful to us when we share in it, when Jesus is victorious over my sin, my death and the devils attacking me. And Thomas confesses this too, not just Jesus, Lord and God; Jesus My Lord and My God. He is my master, and I His servant; He is my God, and I His follower. This is not from me, it is a gift of God Almighty, from Jesus, as He broke in and defeated my captor and carried me off into His kingdom of peace and joy. He is the one who has given you New Life by water and the Holy Spirit, a New Life for you to live today, to serve your King and follow your God. To live with Jesus who has defeated your sin, destroyed the power death had over you, and defends you against demonic temptation and attack. Doubt is not your enemy, just return to hear God, to hear His Word, Peace be with you, and He will sustain you. Jesus is still here with us even though we might not see, even if my hand doesn’t touch into His side, nor your finger the holes in His hands. He is here with us and He is blessing us today.

            I don’t come here every Sunday just to repeat some words, to wear special clothes, to stand and walk around up here. No, I come into God’s presence to serve Him and serve you. To bring God’s Word, to remind us of all Jesus said, to work alongside the Holy Spirit as He comforts and guides us in this New Life. Yet most of all, I do what I do here for the same reason John wrote His Gospel account, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God, and that by believing you may have life everlasting in His name. That we may live according to our confession, the truth we confess together into eternity with Christ, that Jesus is my Lord and my God.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Speaking eggs and praying buns’

Psalm 118:17
I will not die, but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done!

            Shouts of joy and victory! Christ is Victor! Our enemies are defeated! Sin is dead, the devil is bound, and death O death where is your sting? It’s gone, that’s why we’ve chocolate eggs, not chilli or prickle ones. Now, I know they’ve only been chocolate for 200yrs, but the egg has always been a symbol, a reminder of Christ’s empty tomb, His death from which comes life. It looks like a stone, something dead; and yet from the chook egg comes a live chicken, at least if there’s been a rooster involved. A symbol of life out of death, and now it’s sweet chocolate, a reminder of Paul’s words, ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). For the Christian death is now nothing to be feared, it’s merely a temporary pain. For we know we have been baptised into Christ, the rhythm of His life, into His death and resurrection (Romans 6).

            So, we pray together with Him, ‘I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done!’ And another food that proclaims Jesus’ victory is the hot cross bun. The cross is obvious, Christ died that shameful and excruciating death; then traditionally spices are used, as incense and myrrh on His body to the tomb (John 19:39); but His death is sweet for us (Colossians 1:22), He’s the firstfruit of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), so there’s the fruit and sugar; also no flat bread buns, because Christ is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

            So, we can proclaim His victory with each egg we eat, every bun we munch, that our lives are joined to His and He sustains us according to the Promise. This is the Gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, Lord of all! (Acts 10) No need to fear this mystery, for God has revealed today His salvation, we have seen it! (Mark 16; Luke 2:30) By God’s grace hold firmly to the Good News of Christ’s victory and don’t reject it. (1 Corinthians 15) For ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it’s marvellous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ And as we join with Him, ‘give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.’ (Psalm 118)

            The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the Resurrection. Amen! Christ is Risen!

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Baptism, Communion, the Crux of Victory!’

Hebrews:10:16
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds”,

            Foretold from the Fall that He would be injured, the serpent crushed; that the offspring of Eve would destroy sin, death and the devil (Genesis 3). Promised to God’s ancient people, a suffering servant, offspring of David and God Himself (Isaiah 52-53; Ezekiel 34). His death sung by Isaiah in his prophecies and in the psalms. Despised by all, abandoned by His closest friends, pierced and lifted up, surrounded by enemies, lots thrown for His clothes. He cried out this Psalm 22, His prayer in His crucifixion. Dry in the dust of death, but you O Lord are my strength, deliver/rescue/save me from my enemies. The last line of that Psalm, they will proclaim to a people yet unborn, that He has done it. It is finished. Christ is Victor!

            This is the second part of the Divine service of Easter, after the command to share Christ’s love, and before the Glorious, Wonderful Day of His proclamation. Here today the victory is won. The wonderous New Covenant is cut, as the old Hebrew goes, This new relationship between God and His creation is made here on the cross. We are draw into it by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Holy Communion. This Covenant cut in Jesus, the relationship born on the cross. Water and blood flowing from Him, baptism and Holy Communion where we grow in this relationship. Last night Jesus proclaimed it, a relationship grown over a meal; His Blood of the New Covenant. Now Today, we see what this relationship, this mystery means. He carries the burden of our sin, as we might carry the failure of our child/friend/worker, He carries the failure of the Jewish leaders, the guilt of those who called for the death of an innocent man, the sin of Pilate, He carries the sin of the whole world on His shoulders as He carried that cross beam to the place of the skull (1 Peter 2:24). As The High Priest, Jesus mediates with God on our behalf, to deal with our sin; and as The pure sacrifice He takes on our sin and dies with it. Jesus is victorious over sin.

            He who is Life, Truth, He who is our righteousness, Jesus in the same way as He healed by touching others and overpowering their illness, Jesus touches us and destroys sin, death and the devil in our lives. The pure water and blood that poured from His side are brought to us by the Holy Spirit, for our purification in Baptism and Holy Communion. This is why we renounce the devil and die to sin, how we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes. There is no other way besides Jesus for our reconciliation with God Almighty, and this is why the author says: “Therefore, siblings, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

            As we cling to Him, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Body and Blood, Christ’s love for us’

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

            Here is where we get the name, Maundy Thursday, or in plain English, Command Thursday. The New commandment, that is as new as it is fundamental to creation; the New commandment, that you love one another just as Christ has loved you.

            And how has He loved you? How does He love us today? It is in His Body and Blood. Jesus, the Teacher, the one who knows and understands all things, the best communicator and He has the best message; after all He is the truth! And Jesus is Lord, Master of all, God Almighty, through Him all things were made! He is boss, and all things are under His authority, King of kings and God of gods (Matthew 28:18-20; Deuteronomy 10:17). He is truly the greatest, the union of Creator and Creation, the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10; Galatians 4:4). But all that is just a description of who He is. How does He love us?

            He loves us by serving us, healing us, and knowing us. In His condescension, the Ruler coming down from on High to wash feet from filthy streets. You might have a job, a business, a doctorate, whatever; but we come down to serve our children, to clean up that filthy nappy. This is the relationship God grows with us, and Jesus says, in the same way serve each other. No matter how lowly we might see those in this congregation, how weak or undesirable our brother or sister in Christ; Jesus calls us to love and serve them as He first loved and served us; dying for us who were His enemies (Romans 5:10). Dying to save His people, from our ancient forefathers in the faith; those preparing that first Passover, Pascha, that pointed forward to its fulfilment in Christ. A meal with God, hosted by Jesus Himself, food enough for all; their house saved by the blood of the Lamb, and those at the meal ready to go out and live with God in the desert, toward the promised land. That tradition from Jesus passed onto Paul and down through the ages to us by the Body of Christ, the Church. The proclamation of Christ’s death shared and eaten until He comes. Jesus, He loves us by coming down to know us and serve us.

God Almighty, Lord of lords, comes down to you and me, insignificant though we be; to serve us a meal, to serve Himself as our salvation. His body given for us, and bringing us into Himself, that He knows us and we know Him; His blood covering us, washing away the stain of our sins and saving us from the power of death as the blood of the lamb all those years ago. We cry out for mercy, for forgiveness, for life; and God has heard us, He sent His Son to save us; to defeat our enemies, sin death and the devil, and it is finished! As we come tonight, the memorial of the Last Supper, as we come again to participate with Peter, with John; to be served by Christ as even Judas was; to be in communion, to have that common union with Jesus Christ, the fullness of time, and so to participate in that Last Supper in the upper room, in the giving and shedding of Christ’s Body and Blood on the cross tomorrow, with all His people down the ages and across the world as we lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, and also to participate, to share, to receive a foretaste of the feast, of the life to come! (Revelation 19:6-9). We proclaim Christ’s death until He comes, we declare His Victory over sin death and the devil; Here tonight, in rhythm together with the whole Church, in step with Christ, we share in The Holy Eucharist and call on the Name of the Lord.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forevermore! Amen!

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Good Friday

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father, today we gather with all those who mourn over the fall of humanity.  Sin that required the sacrifice of a sinless Son of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Help us to experience, in a tangible way, Your presence in our lives and our worship today.  Open our hearts and minds to your plan for our lives that has been worked out through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Recently, I revisited Max Lucado’s book “He chose the nails”.  Max encourages us to encounter the mysterious gifts that Jesus chose to give us through his sacrifice. The gifts of Good Friday and Easter Morning are the most precious gifts any person could ever receive because they cost God so much to give.  The Apostle John records those words of John 3:16:  ‘God loved the people of the world so much, he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him will have everlasting life and not perish.”

God did this for us—just for us—because he loves each one of us so much.

When Jesus was taken from his disciples, abused and bound,  he knew the humility that sin binds to all people. Yet Jesus chose to become one of us.

When Jesus stood falsely accused before the chief priests and teachers of the law, he knew the guilt that sin cries out against all people.  Yet Jesus chose to forgive us.

When Jesus stood before the crowd in the hands of the soldiers of the Roman Governor, he knew the rejection and isolation that sin brings upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to invite us into his holy presence in eternity.

When Jesus felt the hatred of those crying out for him to be crucified, he knew the cruel sentence that sin brings upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to love us forever.

When Jesus suffered the lash and the cross, he knew the awful suffering that sin casts upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to give us the victory in his own crucifixion.

And yet, as Chad Bird writes in his book:  Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places:

The glory of God was revealed on the cross of crucifixion.  And yet ‘seeing God on the cross, we do not see.  That is, unless our spiritual eyes have been transferred to our ears.  Unless we see him through the prophecies of Isaiah about the Servant who would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces”. (Isa 53:3)

The Servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (v 5)  If the Word of God, not the vision of our eyes, defines what is real, then we shall really see God on the cross.  We shall bask in the glory where no glory is to be seen.  On the cross and only on the cross, the scales shall  fall from our eyes so that we finally get it:  ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring in the presence of God’. (1 Cor 1:27-29)

The Cross is God’s veiled unveiling.  It is his absent presence.  It is heaven dressed up as hell.  The cross defines how God has always worked and always will.  This is radical life-changing realization.  Beginning in Genesis, and continuing even now in our own lives is the God of the cross. … He conquered the cosmos by suffering defeat in death. He made his life our own, by letting humanity murder him’.  (‘Your God is Too Glorious – Finding God in the most unexpected places’  by Chad Bird, Baker Books, page 24)

So here we are together, honouring the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.  A sacrifice through which Jesus offers the precious gifts witnessed by this holy week.

We didn’t see the star in the sky on the night he was born in our humanity.  We didn’t hear the witness of shepherds about the visit of angels.  We didn’t see him turn water into wine, or calm a storm, or feed 5000 with two fish and five loaves.  We haven’t seen him teaching and healing in the Temple.  We haven’t seen him being questioned by the religious leaders, and the Roman Governor.  We haven’t seen him being whipped for our transgressions.  We haven’t seen him ridiculed by the pagan soldiers.   We haven’t seen him hanging lifeless on a cross.  And yet, we believe.  As Jesus would say to Thomas after his resurrection, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT)

We have learned from the ancients of faith, that God prepared the world through his prophets for the arrival of a Saviour, a Messiah.  The arrival they only hoped for.  The arrival we have heard about from the Scriptures that witness what we have not seen, and yet believe.

We have received the encouragement from the Apostles that the faith we have in our Saviour is as precious, as valid, as powerful, as important as the faith of the Apostles, the Prophets, the Ancients of the Faith.

We have cherished the reality of Scripture, received from our nearer forefathers of the Reformation, that we are in a right relationship with God our Father, through the faith we have in Christ Jesus who offered forgiveness from the cross.

When Jesus whispered from the cross that “It is finished,” we can be assured that it was the end of the old.   And a new beginning of God’s presence among us.  The beginning of life in the presence of God’s eternity.  The call to discipleship, and the unfolding of history into the future from creation to Apostles to modern Christianity.

As Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23–27 NLT)

The gifts that Jesus chose to give us in his death and resurrection show us the unfolding plan of God for us all. With a sure conclusion of the utter defeat of the devil; and the ultimate victory of God’s plan.  A  plan for those through time and place who receive Christ Jesus, those who believe in his name, those to whom God has given the right to become his children.

We are part of God’s ultimate plan in the ultimate victory of Christ Jesus.  Because Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s plan for salvation, as he cried, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

For us now, in our generation, in our time, and in our place, we are called to be faithful in living the faith we have received by the Holy Spirit working in word and sacrament.

We are warned from Hebrews, ‘Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.’

As we approach the conclusion of our age, and the revealed victory of God’s plan for life, we are given the task to hold onto the faith we have received.  To witness that faith by our actions, our attitudes and our words, as we live out our part of God’s plan as children of God who can be trusted.   To encourage each other, as we all face those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s care for us.

To find enjoyment, fulfillment, and purpose in meeting together in fellowship as our hearts sing together the praises of our Saviour who died for us.

This is especially important now that we are closer to our Lord’s return than ever before in history.  When we witness events and hostilities that surely point to the end of times.  As one sign recently said, ‘one in hundred years drought, fire, flood and pandemic, all in 18 months.’  And yet, we realize as Jesus tells us clearly that only the Father knows when he will wrap up this age, and usher in a new age of peace and love.  And that will be wonderful.

Because of Good Friday, we can hear the words of Hebrews with a new direction in our life,  ‘dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.’

And so, today, as we grieve the suffering and death of our Saviour, and we prepare to celebrate His awesome resurrection, let’s hold onto these words of Hebrews, ‘without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.’   And may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Maunday Thursday

The Text: John 13

 

John chapter 13 is a popular reading with many people, Christian and non-Christian alike. There’s something heart-warming about a leader getting on his knees and serving his followers. The love that Jesus preaches tonight, that He enacted with His disciples, and that drove Him on to the cross, is made of quite different stuff than what the world defines and knows as love. In fact the love that Jesus preaches, enacts and suffers himself is so selfless that it cost him his own life.

Jesus had just been welcomed into Jerusalem to the shouts of the crowd. Expectations were running high. The opportunity for Him to spark a popular rebellion and topple the Roman authorities was very real. The chance for Him to reclaim the throne of Israel was before Him.

But what did He do? He gathered in an upstairs room and quietly gives his disciples bread and wine and declares that it is His true body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins. And if that weren’t confusing enough, He then gets up and does the work of a slave. Humiliating Himself as He washes the feet of those who should be looking after Him.

But in this act of love, Jesus gives a clear indication as to the nature of His mission. It was not to be one of earthly glory and fame, but one of service and love. And in this lowly task of cleansing their feet, Jesus was pointing to a far greater cleansing about to be take place on the cross. The foot washing was a symbol, only a picture of Jesus’ ultimate humility, his ultimate gift. Jesus humbles himself to death on the cross for all the disciples, for us, to make us clean from all our sin.

Maundy Thursday helps us remember that Jesus overcomes the world, our sin and the Devil, not through an all-out offensive attack. But through love. A love that is actively at work. A love so deep and profound that it is unconcerned about humiliation. Unconcerned about other’s opinions. Unconcerned about expectations of power and victory and honour. This is the love that was hinted at in the humble act of washing the disciples’ feet, but was finally poured out for all to see on the cross. A love so deep and so astonishing, that it still causes offence even among Christians.

How many of us want to picture Jesus slaying the devil in a mighty battle? How many of us want to see Jesus punishing those who are the worst of sinners? How many of us want to see Jesus take control? But He doesn’t do these things. Instead He kneels down before His disciples and lovingly washes their feet – even the feet of the one who is about to betray Him.

Jesus loves you and me in the same way. It is the same love that has washed over us in holy baptism. That simple act that connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. That simple act that continues to cleanse us right through to the core. It is the same love that speaks tenderly to us as we hear those golden words –your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. It is the same love that is placed in our very mouths as Jesus’ body and blood is given for our forgiveness and life. As Jesus took the place of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples, He revealed how He would continue to serve us until we are called home.

The foot washing is an example of Jesus’ humble and loving service. And Jesus makes it clear that as we have been loved and served by Him, so we are to love one another. His example is a call for us to a love that never stops, a love that doesn’t quit when it’s hard to love, a love that includes all—spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbours, friends, enemies, fellow Christians, and the lost. It’s a compassionate, giving love that gives time, effort, and money. It’s tough love when saying no is the most loving thing you can do.

What motivates us? Where do we get the strength? “We love because he first loved us”. His gift of love calls us to repentance, it forgives us – even when we’ve failed to love as we should, and it draws us to follow him and love others as he did, to the end.

Now some of you might be disappointed tonight because you figure you’ve heard it all before. But this is no small matter for those of us who call Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Jesus considered it a big enough deal to die for. And so we are called to love – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ – so that our life together may be a beacon of hope to this lost world. We are called to leave behind all attempts to have power and control and to seek the way of love and mercy and service. We are called to live out our faith in real, practical and down to earth ways – and mark my words – the unbelieving world is watching.

There is no greater scandal among God’s people than when we fight and lack love for one another. And there is nothing more powerful in bringing people to Jesus than when Christians follow His example and love as He has called us to. One of the early church fathers noted that unbelievers became fascinated with the Christian faith not because Christians appeared so holy, but because of the way they loved each other. It was written that “despite periods of harsh persecution, the witness of generations of Christians living the “new commandment” of Jesus to “love one another,” helped the church to grow and spread across the Roman empire, and led some to proclaim, perhaps with disbelief, “see how they love one another.”

People often show their faith by wearing crosses around their necks. Others post confessions of faith on social media, say grace before meals and refusing to blaspheme. Now as good as these things are in bearing witness to our faith, the only advertisement that Jesus calls us to tonight is to love one another. And in this simple act, inspired by His sin-consuming love, all people will know that we are His disciples. And His love will continue to change the world – one love drenched soul at a time. Amen.