‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’

Mark 5:36
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’

            Last week we heard of Jesus calming the storm. ‘Who is this?’ those overwhelmed disciples gasped. Then at the beginning of this chapter Jesus arrives at a foreign land and a demon possessed man calls to Him, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ Now as Mark records Christ’s life for you and me, what do you think the Holy Spirit is teaching us? Certainly that Jesus is Lord over the wind and the waves, that He helps even the foreigners; but what does that mean for us here today?

            We are not foreigners to Him, in Baptism the Holy Spirit has united us to Jesus, into His Church, we are His body. And we are not wind and waves, though sometimes we might just go with the flow… Rather we are His people, together with all Christians we are His Holy Bride, His Church. And yet here on earth we see people wandering away from the Faith, congregations bleeding members; And we hear that congregations are closing, the church looks dead in many places, Estonia, Sweden and Denmark are the top three least religious countries in the world, and Luther’s Saxony is now largely atheistic; Cathedrals and Chapels become museums of a bygone age. The Bride of Christ, Jesus’ wife-to-be, this heavenly woman we are a part of, is suffering in this world as she awaits her Groom and Lord.

            And today we heard of two other women suffering as well, and there is a connection. Remember how 12 is the number of God’s people? 12 tribes, 12 apostles, a rich lady bleeding for 12 years, a 12yr old girl lying dead. Now this lady had spent her wealth on all the doctors she could, the experts, the naturopaths, looking anywhere for help, everywhere for help, and yet still she bled; and because of her bleeding she was not ritually clean, not allowed into the temple to be with God, to grow in that relationship. She was under immense physical suffering and also separated from God because of it. Like for us, when the going gets tough and we fall into despair and forget that the Lord is God our saviour. And the young girl, a daughter of a Pharisee, who knows how much she suffered as she lay there, who knows what killed her, but just imagine the pain and grief of those around. The bleeding woman, the dead, young woman.

            And yet, we hear, ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassion never fails … it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord … Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope … For no one is cast off by the Lord forever’. These words from the middle of the book of lamentations (3:22-33), a long poem mourning the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; the people slain, the city ransacked, the survivors starving and broken. There may yet be hope! For the Church, the Bride of Christ, there may yet be hope! For you as you struggle, broken or bruised, there may yet be hope!

            For the lady, for the girl, we hear that hope fulfilled! “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed!” “Come, lay hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live!” Jesus healed the woman, and addressed her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” After 12 long years the bleeding stopped, there is an end to the suffering even perhaps in this world. And the girl who had died, Jesus told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” He went into that house, the mourners ridiculing Him for saying He would heal her, as so many ridicule Christ’s Bride today; Yet He sent out the mockers, He knelt down and took her by the hand and said, “little girl, rise up.” And just like Lazarus she rose from the dead. Here is proof Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, He is the one who can bring healing, and ultimate healing; and not just that, but He has promised this to His Church, to all His people who gather in His name, who are Baptised into His name, who share a meal and participate together in the Body and Blood, the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

            And you are here, part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Bride of Christ, this heavenly woman who has suffered so much. Abused from outside, and even from within; bruised and bleeding yet still she perseveres; she has hope, she knows Jesus will save, and down the ages He already has healed so much hurt within her. And here we are, many of us suffering in our own lives, and yet we know many times when God has helped even us individually; the timing of an accident or emergency, the help of a doctor or advice of a neighbour, even just a home cooked meal delivered to your door. And so much more, Jesus takes away our sin and guilt, you no longer need to live in it; He comes to us, the Holy Spirit dwells within and travels with us in truth and love. And even if the Church looks dead in places, she is not dead forever; for some of us there’s the childhood faith that waned as we grew and encountered this world, yet returned with strength later in life; and if we look to regions, there have been Christians in China almost continually since the 300s, despite many attempts to wipe her out, and today Russia has seen a great return to the church after the years under Soviets. She will not die, death cannot defeat us because our Bridegroom has already won.

Through our suffering we always have hope, a hope we can share with all who suffer! Jesus will come; He has saved us, brought us into the Church; He is saving us, dealing with our sin, our guilt, and sustaining and protecting us through all times; He will save us, when finally He comes in glory to make His suffering Bride His glorious Wife.

            Unto that time, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Church in the stormy sea’

Mark 4:41
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this?’

            A great wind and huge choppy waves, out on the boat in the middle of the sea; it’s bad enough caught in a storm on land, pushed around by the wind, and pelted by the rain, but if even what we stood on was shaking, it’s no wonder the disciples said, don’t you care if we perish?

            Out on a boat in the middle of a sea. Out in the church buffeted on all sides, and even the ground beneath us shaking. It’s a worrying place to be. And yet here we are, our congregations and parish, shaken in recent weeks by the loss of two key members. Yes, we’ve had other troubles, and they still continue for many of us; worries about how we’ll get things done, about the future of this congregation, about the safety and salvation of our families and friends. And now perhaps things are coming to a head for you, for this congregation, this parish. What will happen next? Will we just abandon ship? Jump into the stormy waters? And what is Jesus doing? He promised to be with us, that the Holy Spirit would guide us, that His Church will never die. What is Jesus doing? Is He asleep?

            The boat was and is an ancient picture of Christ’s church; the disciples, those who would pass on the faith down to all who believe; the sea, a place of chaos and monsters, the uncertainty of this broken world; and the winds of temptation tearing at the sails. This event has long been used as a picture of the Church in this broken and tumultuous world. Here we are together, as in a boat; yes like a boat out on sea there are calm times for us, and yet also times when we feel uncertain, when we feel attacked both from the chaotic waves on the seas and the water sloshing about our feet in the boat threatening to sink us lower. We like the disciples are unsure of what will happen, in the Christian Church today, in our LCA Synod, in this parish and even in your own Christian life. When things are threatening to fall apart, even when we are sinking under the pressure of all this. What do we do? What can you do?

            Remember that Jesus is in the boat with us, call to Him for help, to do what we cannot. Trust in the Lord. And make no mistake, Jesus is Lord, Master over all. He stood and rebuked the wind and waves, Peace! Be silent! And they obeyed. Jesus is Lord of all, Victorious over sin, death and the devil. The chaotic waters and powers of the air submit to His Word. Silenced by His command they obey Him. The disciples ask ‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him.’ Of course the answer is, God Almighty, Creator of all, the one who laid the earth’s foundation, who marked it’s dimensions, who set the boundaries of the seas, who came before Job in a storm! And Job in his life was certainly rocked about, just like the disciples, just as we heard with Paul, just as the Church has been down the ages, and just as we in the boat of Christ’s Church also suffer today. Who is Jesus? He is God Most High! Now how do you respond?

            Job submitted, the waves stopped, the disciples feared, yet you know the Gospel, the truth of why Jesus came, to reconcile us together with God our Father, by the Holy Spirit. He has opened His heart wide to you, shown His love for you; today forgives you again, speaks with you again, strengthens you for going out into this broken world. Will you respond in prayer, praising Him the Lord of Hosts, God who created even you, who commands the storms of this world; and thanking Him for His mercy and teaching? Will you respond in song, singing of His greatness, and proclaiming His love? Will you respond as we go out into our communities, amongst those people we meet, and those trials we suffer, will you respond with love?

            Just as the disciples were in the boat with Jesus, under His protection, we are too. This doesn’t mean that there are no hard times in our lives, no hard decisions for our congregation, no persecution for Christ’s Church; and yet through all this, Christ is with us as He promised. We need not fear, yet even if you do that is good if it brings you to call on Jesus. Like the disciples, you might have little faith at times, ‘How can Jesus save if He sleeps, if I don’t see Him here?’ yet you’re still in the boat. We are in the boat together, and Jesus Lord over all storms, is here with us; we can call on Him and He listens, He will save His people despite our troubles in this world. Yet that question remains, how will you respond?

            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.

The mysterious way

The Text: Mark 4:26-29


In today’s Gospel, Jesus is addressing the frustration and impatience of humanity as we try to understand the mysterious way the kingdom of God grows and extends itself in the world. I say that because of the way the ‘parables of the Seed’ follow close on the heels of the ‘parable of the Sower.’ The parable of the Sower and Jesus’ explanation help us understand why it is that not everyone who hears the Gospel believes it and bears the fruit of faith.

There’s a background story for every set of ears that hears the word of the Lord, and some of those background stories get in the way. Having said that, notice how the parable of the Sower ends: some of the seed falls on good soil and produces a yield, some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred-fold. That’s exciting, and that’s what we want to see happen, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen as often as we would like it to. And so today’s gospel assures us: “Night and day, whether the farmer sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, but he doesn’t know how. All by itself the soil produces grain, first the stalk, then the head, then the kernel in the head,” and there is no shortcut to that process. Modern fertilizers and farming techniques might help a little, but there are no short cuts. It takes as long as it takes, and that’s what Jesus says the kingdom of God is like. There are no short cuts. His work in the Church, his work in us, and his work in others takes as long as it takes, and that can frustrate us, just as it frustrated the people of old, as we see what’s happening to the Church in our time.

The book entitled: “The Benedict Option” begins by tracing some cultural changes right back to the 14th century, when the western world in general stopped distinguishing the connection between God and his creation. Then there was the Renaissance in the 15th century, the Reformation in the 16th century, the Scientific revolution of the 17th century, the so called Enlightenment of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, WWI and WWII in the twentieth century, capped off with the sexual revolution in the 1960’s.

The author gives an overview of how those historic events have altered the way people think since the days of the Medieval Church. Not just in terms of knowledge, and what humanity has learned in the last 700 years, but the thought processes we have, and most especially about ourselves. He names the people of the Medieval day “Religious man,” and says, “They were born to be saved.” That’s what they thought about themselves! Then he names the people of our day “Psychological man” and says “They were born to be pleased.” That’s what we think about ourselves. A key idea in the book is that the Christian Church needs to detach itself from today’s culture, because the two are incompatible.

An article from the Lutheran Theological Journal titled “Reflections on the status of the Church as we look towards the future” makes these observations[1]:

.. “A completely new form of culture is upon us, one which rejects the long Western tradition of commonly held beliefs (namely, the Christian faith) and the structuring and ordering of society which flows from it (namely, the Church, family and state institutions such as government). It rejects the moral code of sacrificing self-interest in favour of community interest. Instead, this culture puts the individual first and at the centre of everything, with the highest good being individual freedom and choice, personal happiness, self-definition and self-expression… Anything that restricts the individual must be re-shaped, deconstructed or destroyed… It believes we are inherently good, and that more individual freedom will improve the world… He says “It’s easy to see why this culture is called post-Christian, but in fact it’s actually stronger than that – it’s actually anti-Christian and we can see that by its aggression toward the Church in the media… This is the culture which has shaped those born into it over the last 50 years and explains much about why our churches are emptying out of people under 50. Even those with the best Christian upbringing are being pulled in this direction…

The idea that strong biblical Christian faith can be maintained with little or no friction with contemporary Western culture doesn’t hold up. The two are incompatible…It’s time to hunker down and keep the gospel alive for those who are wrecked by this new culture.”

The authors of these two works recognise that our Western culture is toxic in terms of faith in Jesus Christ. Finally there is recognition that buying into today’s culture is something we need to repent of for faith in Christ to survive.

It is a grim picture I’ve painted for you this morning. You might even say it’s a depressing picture, and yet it explains so much of what we’re seeing all around us.

So, is there any good news for us to hear today? Thank God there is! Night and day the seed of God’s word, the seed of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, has continued to grow in us and sustained us in the faith.If that weren’t the case, then we might have joined the exodus from the Church as well. But God in Jesus Christ has kept his word. As often as we have been troubled and perplexed by the experiences of life, his word has strengthened us and held us in the faith. And as often as we’ve been tempted to take this new culture on board and live that way, his word has called us to repent.

What about the friends and loved ones we know who have turned away? How are we going to save them? The reality is, we can’t. We can’t save anyone, not even ourselves. That’s Jesus’ work in us, and it’s actually dangerous for us to even try. The very best thing we can do is bear witness to Christ, and the very best witness we can give is to live the life Jesus is calling us to live; to come regularly to worship, to pray for the lost, show loving kindness for them, and be there for them in need—to “to hunker down and keep the Gospel alive for those who are wrecked by this new culture.”

So Lord, we thank and praise you for grace and mercy to us, that day and night your word has been at work in us, drawing us into your kingdom. Help us give a good witness to you and your kingdom, so that others might join us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] The article was written by Pastor Greg Pietsch, former Bishop of the Victorian District.

‘You and the Dragon’

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

            They say when the going gets tough the tough get going, yet that is not quite what is going on here. We are talking about the struggles of the Christian life, and particularly here for Paul, the struggles of the preachers; earlier he wrote, “as we [ministers] share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Even so this suffering and comfort is for all those who live by Christ, to the goal we share of full reconciliation with God our Father (2 Corinthians 5:20-21) and the renewal of all Creation. Things you cannot do by your own strength, I mean can you even heal your own hurts? When things get real tough, when death comes knocking can you fix it? And then we look around at God’s Creation, around at this broken and groaning world, and the tough times happening. The tough times of COVID and those restrictions, those riots in the USA, civil war in East Africa, the death of a loved one, waking up to your son coughing throughout the night; tough times. And of course, when God’s Son, the prophesied Saviour of humanity and all Creation, was abandoned by all, handed over to those tough Romans be tortured, to die by crucifixion. The going got tough and the tough killed Jesus.

            But Jesus, He got going. To those looking on from outside, Jesus had wasted away to nothing, yet truly He was renewing not so much Himself as all Creation. God had said as much, all the way back at the beginning of this world, telling the serpent, that dragon, what was to happen; the dragon would crush His heel, yet He would crush the dragons head. More than a heel Jesus bleeding, bruised and killed, He crushed the devil, He bound the strong man unto the end when this dragon, stripped of power will have more than just a crushed head, the devil will be thrown into the pit of burning sulfur. The devil is defeated and Christ is victorious. And by the Holy Spirit, according to God’s promise in Baptism, we are united in this victory, the Ultimate Victory that yet outwardly looks like a defeat. When the going gets tough, Jesus gets things done.

            Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly you are wasting away, things falling apart, stressed, suffering, even facing death; cling to Christ, to the promises of our Heavenly Father, and be renewed daily by the Holy Spirit. When this world and it’s distractions fall apart God may grant us the ability to see what is truly happening underneath it all, what is happening inwardly. Not the inner workings of council bureaucracy, rather the reality of demonic attack and Christ’s defeat of the devil both at the cross and here in our lives. As we receive those words of God, “I forgive you” the devil runs in fear; as we taste Jesus, He binds that so called strong man, the lies and temptations and we receive the Truth and the Life, Jesus Christ Himself. As He told the Pharisees, Jesus binds the strong man and takes what he has stolen; and so as we heard last week, we are freed from that slavery to sin, to failure and guilt, you have been freed from the lies of the devil.

United to Christ in baptism, and returning to that union in the Absolution, the demonic has no power over us; the Lord of Hosts has His angels to guard us, and the Holy Spirit Himself lives in us, sanctifying us, making us Holy. And if you need certainty that Christ is in you and you in Him, come to the table and receive anew His most wonderful gifts; receive into your body, His Body and Blood. Be strengthened, but don’t let your guard down. Yes the devil is defeated, yet like a snake beheaded he thrashes around causing pain and suffering, but without fangs he has no power to kill us who live in the Victory of Christ.

So through the trials, the sufferings, the outward wasting away; hear the Word of Jesus, receive the renewing gifts of God from the Spirit, and know that our enemies have lost, our Lord is Victorious and our light and momentary troubles with Him will result in an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.