” Eat God’s words “

Ephesians 3:16
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being …

            “He may strengthen you.” We’ve been following the Gospel account of St Mark for a while now, the account of the strong Jesus who defeats demons and casts out sickness, the strong powerful Lion of Judah, the one who sent out the disciples with power over and against demons to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory. But today and for the next few weeks we’re meditating on John chapter 6, the feeding of the 5000 and Christ’s teaching of that crowd. Two things, to eat and to hear, to eat food and to hear the Word of God. Food to strengthen the body and God’s Word to bring strength and life to the soul.

            And today, the fourth Sunday of July; if you didn’t know, because I didn’t; is National Bible Sunday, another opportunity to celebrate the wonderful gift of God in providing and preserving His Word written down for us. Yes, there’s many different versions, different flavours, and I’m sure we all have preferences, yet most all of them have a place. Much like bread.

            And in this wonderful gift of God’s Word, we hear of 5000 men and more women and children, likely over 10000 people eating their fill with more left over. All that from 5 barley loaves, not wheat or rye but barley, and also two small fish. It was a miraculous feast in that field near the sea. However, it was not the first time God provided like this for His people, as we heard from 2 Kings (4:42-44) He had multiplied bread before to give life to His people suffering in a famine. And that was not the first time He strengthened His people with bread, the Passover festival mentioned in today’s Gospel reading, remembers the Exodus from Egypt, when God brought His people through the desert fed with the manna, bread from heaven. The Lord quelled their hunger, providing so they would not starve to death. And for us, we all know that pain of hunger, that desire to fill our bellies, the empty, sinking feeling that drives us … to go to the kitchen and open the fridge to check if you want to cook those sausages or if that raw broccoli look tasty yet. Here in Australia, we are blessed that we do not suffer famine, like so many others; yet still you know that bread, that food, gives you strength and sustains your life.

            And yet you also know that everyone who eats bread, eventually looses their strength and dies. Yes, bread is good, strengthening and sustaining life, Jesus Himself blesses it and shares it out; and yet filling your belly does not defeat death. But here today we receive something that does.

            In these books, thick, skinny, large-print and small; these books hold the very Word of God, the Words that spoke life into creation, that freed God’s people from Egyptian slavery, that fed and sustained the people of old. God’s Word is here with us now, we’ve heard it read from the bible, heard our forgiveness proclaimed, given, again, we have this opportunity to meditate on it, how God’s Word gives everlasting life as bread sustains this body, and we will share in God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in His Holy Communion. Yes, we are called to feed the hungry, but more than that to receive God’s Life-giving Word, to chew on it, meditate on it, incorporate it into our thinking, into our lives, our inner-being, and strengthened by it to bring God’s love and life to those around you. After all, those 5000 men as well as the women and children who ate bread on that field all eventually died; and yet all those who receive God’s Word, consume it, incorporate it, let it become part of themselves, those who eat God’s Word, the tough parts, the bitter, the salty, the sweet, they will live forever in Christ Jesus, the Word of God.

            And so, I pray with Paul for you, that out of Our Heavenly Father’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Holy Spirit opening your ears to hear His Holy Word and guiding you into all truth in your inner being.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

Jesus has compassion on the crowd

Mark 6:30-34

Every so often a commercial, with a catchy jingle or slogan comes along that is especially effective in staying in your brain. How many of us immediately think of a particular brand of chocolate bar when we hear the words ‘Have a break’?  In a commercial sense the words are simple and memorable.  It invites us to enjoy a snack or to take a break. Go on, you deserve it!

Today’s Gospel also speaks about a break!  Jesus had sent his twelve disciples out, two by two, to proclaim God’s word, to preach repentance, and heal the sick.  On their return they reported to Jesus all that they had done and taught.  To escape the demands of the crowds pressing on them, Jesus said ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ – you see they all needed a break.  As we read on, the story says that their break with their Lord was short lived. Even their brief boat ride across Lake Galilee was not relaxing as they encountered wave and wind and as they approached the shore on the other side of the lake, tired and hungry from weeks of ministry, they encountered a large crowd coming toward them – like sheep without a shepherd!

How do we cope when tired and worn out, frazzled and fatigued?  There’s no doubt about it, we live in a busy world!  With all the time saving devices we have in our homes and work places, one would think that we would have so much time to do the things we like to do, to spend more time with our families, volunteer more of our time to charity and the church!

Most of our comments about time relate to the speed with which time is passing. We look at our watches and say “goodness, just look at the time” or “my, how time flies”.  We are already in the second half of the year.  Next thing you know we’ll be getting ready for Christmas.  Time is something we wrestle with every day.  Our lives are packed so full that the day is finished before we have accomplished half of what we want to do!  Yet, if there was ever a busy bloke it was Jesus.  There was a constant flow of people wanting to see him, to hear him, to have him heal their sick, and to test out his theology!  For the disciples it wasn’t any different – so Jesus said, ‘let’s have some time out and get some rest.’

We know ‘time out’ is a good strategy in sport (for example, basketball) when the game needs to be slowed down and weary players need a short break.  When advice from the coach is needed to give the team the winning edge!  When a player needs encouragement and support!  When the opponents are getting the upper hand.  A call for time out is what is needed!

Time out is also a wise principle in everyday living.  We need to take time out and slow down from our busy lives.  We need to take time out to listen to advice from our coach – Jesus.  We need to hear our coach’s encouragement, his words of support when our opponents – the devil and the world and our own selfish desires – are getting the upper hand.  We need to take time out to reassess where we are going, what have we done wrong, and how we can do things a different way!  We know all this – but more often we struggle on and we don’t take a break when we should!  In fact, we may even feel guilty when we do stop for a while and have a bit of quiet time.  Jesus didn’t feel guilty about taking time out!  He didn’t make his disciples feel guilty either.  They were human, so was He.

They had a hectic life and there was a sense of urgency to get as much done as possible in the short time Jesus had in the world!  Jesus had no qualms about having a bit of time away from the pressures that had been placed on him by others.

He has a concern also for his disciples after all they had just finished a strenuous mission.  Yes, he says ‘let’s get away for a while’.  All of us have days where we need that kind of invitation!  Just as Jesus needed to get away for a while, so do we.  But what has happened to the time out that God planned for us?   Not only do we fill in every moment of the working week doing our job, but we’re also driving someone here, dropping someone off there, meeting someone else, and we do that on God’s day as well!  God said, as a general principle, one day out of seven is set aside for God.  It’s also a day of rest!

We need to take time out and lay our whole lives at the feet of Jesus, our Lord! You can’t serve God if your body is fatigued, your nerves are frayed, you’re cantankerous and grumpy, and you shout at everyone who disagrees with you! You are just worn out because everything and everyone is getting at you or so you think.  You feel like doing anything but praising God!

Both body and mind need a rest for a while!  Every year, pastors and lay workers (who should know better) have to resign their call or go on stress leave because they’ve neglected their own need for rest. Burnout is real, so take time out to spend it with the God who loves you.  He made you, saved you, brought you into his family through baptism, and gave you saving faith.  He has given you everything and wants you to continue to bring before him your every daily need.

Instead of burnout, we need the spirit of God to burn this truth into our hearts once again.  The most important work we have to do is the work we must do on our knees.  Yes, on our knees, alone with God in prayer, away from the racket of the world and the din of people’s voices!

That’s probably what Jesus had in mind when he said to the disciples, ‘let’s go to a quiet place and get some rest’.  When they arrived at what was to be a quiet place, Jesus looked out and saw a whole flock of shepherdless sheep coming his way and we hear that the good shepherd Jesus had compassion on them – much more than any ordinary shepherd would, for he could not allow those sheep to live lives of unforgiven sin!

For what do sheep do when they have no shepherd?  They wander around looking for fresh water and green pastures and they are vulnerable to attack by predators.  Wandering sheep need the care of a shepherd! And we know Jesus is that shepherd.

When He saw the crowd of people, he began to teach them! Yes, that is how the good shepherd ultimately cares for his sheep, by feeding them his Word! Before he filled their stomachs with a boy’s lunch of two fish and five barley loaves, he took care of more pressing needs.  He sat those 5,000 shepherdless sheep down and taught them many things! Jesus feeds sheep through their ears because it is often their minds and their hearts that are empty.  And when Jesus feeds sheep, he does not provide them just a taste or a mere snack, but He fills them till they’re full of His Grace, His Mercy and His Goodness!

Today, Jesus invites us to a quiet place away from the maddening crowd and all the demands of our lives to be in his presence, to experience the Holy Spirit who comforts us, for healing, for renewal, and to hear His words of love, peace and joy and direction for our lives. Jesus greets us as he did with the large crowds mentioned in the story as lost sheep.  He greets us with compassion, and forgiveness.

Our shepherd is here – in the bread and wine and as we hear in his word that he claims you as his own.  The time for wandering is over! Jesus is here in word and sacrament to lead us through life.  Let this word from God today be a catalyst to get you thinking where life is taking you!

You deserve a break.  Have a chit-chat with your saviour Jesus and be refreshed by one who loves you!


Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 6:14-29 


Controversy had never been far away from John the Baptist. From the outset his appearance was striking to say the least: munching on locusts to sustain him for his preaching ministry, dressed in the customary clothing for a prophet—a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt. But it was what John proclaimed that was the most confronting: a baptism of repentance. ‘Repentance’ is a hard word for human ears to hear. For many in the world it’s a laughable thought. Even to God’s own people it’s a word that grates in our ears, wounding our pride.

No one likes hearing that word, especially not powerful and influential people, like Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herod was a tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; one of four rulers over the territory of Israel. Herodias was his brother Philip’s wife. And therein is the problem—this relationship violated what God had established for marriage according to Leviticus 20:21. Many would argue that it would be foolishness at best and outrageous at worst to challenge dignitaries on their morality, because there would surely be serious consequences for those who dared to do what John the Baptist did.

 But our text tells us that instead of compromising the truth for the sake of preserving his standing, John faithfully made a stand for God’s word, issuing a call for repentance. He said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Faithfulness to God’s word did come with a terrible cost for John, imprisoned in what many believe to be the fortress-palace of Machaerus in Perea, the military headquarters for the region. But a worse fate awaited. Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. Her opportunity came on Herod’s birthday, when he threw a banquet. The daughter of Herodias came in and danced, and whatever kind of dancing it was, it pleased Herod and his guests so much that he said to her: “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you”, promising: “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” The girl went out to her mother and said to Herodias, “What shall I ask for?” And Herodias answered: “The head of John the Baptist”.

Today’s text immediately follows on from last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus preached in the synagogue and his audience took offense at him. What happens in today’s gospel reading shows us the extreme end of such offense at God’s word—the shocking mistreatment of Christians for the message they bear. Herodias wanted John silenced so badly she decided to have him silenced forever. Where is a loving God in all of this? “This is the gospel of our Lord!” we say. “Thanks be to God!” In fact, But where is the gospel in our Gospel reading today?

Mark tells us today that Jesus’ name had become well known. That was the purpose of John’s own message at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel:

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:2-3)

And so, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins because the reign of God’s Kingdom was now present in Christ, the source of divine grace, forgiveness, blessing and favour. That was Jesus’ own message: “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

In today’s text we hear that there was confusion about the identity of Jesus (just as there is today). In the last chapters of the Old Testament, God had promised he would send his messenger, who would prepare the way for the Lord before he would suddenly come to his Temple. Many believed this would be Elijah, reading literally what Malachi had said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). Mark tells us that many had mistaken Jesus’ identity—some thought Elijah the prophet had returned. Still others thought that Jesus was some other prophet, like the prophets of old. Others thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, who had been raised from the dead, and Herod himself thought this, saying: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

But Jesus is not only a prophet. He not only speaks God’s word, he is God’s Word, the Word made flesh, the One through whom all things had come into existence and who had come to save the world from its sin. That is why John the Baptist had been sent by God—to be the forerunner to Jesus; to prepare the way for him, to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour promised from of old. His message was the same as Jesus’ message, and the people’s offence at John’s message was the same offence at Jesus’ message.

The beheading of John show’s that the treatment John received would be the same treatment Jesus would receive. Given over to be executed at the hands of sinful men, the hands of the sinless one would be nailed to a cross to pay the price to redeem all people, even those who rejected him and those who bear his name and message. John was imprisoned; Jesus was bound and led away and delivered over to Pilate. Herod was greatly distressed at Herodias’ daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, did not want to refuse her. That sounds like Pontius Pilate addressing the crowd which shouted for Jesus to be crucified: “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd…delivered Jesus to be crucified” (14 15-16). John is beheaded; Jesus is crucified. After his execution, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. After Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped Jesus’ body and laid him in a tomb.

This Jesus is the one greater than John who took the sin of the world upon himself to triumph over it, breaking its power and the clutches of Satan and the fangs of death, dismantling their rule through his own victorious reign, suffering human pain and brokenness with us, and doing what John the Baptist could not do, rising again from death to be everywhere present as the Lord of life and salvation. Not a hair on John the Baptist’s head is lost to Jesus who will come again to make all things new.

That is why we say today “This is the gospel of the Lord—thanks be to God!” For this event cannot be understood apart from God’s gracious action to the world through Jesus who died, who was laid in a tomb, and who rose again from the dead to win forgiveness and freedom for all people by overcoming sin, death and the devil―even for those who reject him and his message.

If an immoral and unscrupulous ruler like Herod Antipas can give a girl whatever she asks for—even when that is evil, and promise up to half his kingdom—how much more will Jesus the true King from Heaven give us every good gift from God we ask in his name. For we already have the greatest gift from God, his own dear Son, in whom we were chosen before the foundation of the world to have every spiritual blessing from the heavenly places. The reign of the Kingdom of Heaven has come to us and ruled in our hearts at baptism, giving us new birth by water and the Spirit when we were claimed by Christ to be his forever, to know and love his Father as our own.

He has brought to us forgiveness, freedom and fullness of life, peace and favour from God, access to all his grace, wisdom for our daily path, his ear for our prayers and his own intercessions to his Father for us, his ever-present help, his provision of all the daily bread we need each day, his comfort for the hurts others inflict on us, his angels to watch guard over us as he keeps us safe in his care, and his relief for the burdens we carry as he leads us here to rest by the quiet waters and rich green pastures of his word.

Thanks be to God that the Father has given us his Son, and through his Son, his Spirit so that we know Jesus not as Elijah, or John the Baptist, but that we know him as the Saviour of the world, and our Saviour. We have been chosen in Christ, redeemed by Christ, claimed by Christ, blessed by Christ, to be served by Christ, and together with Christ, his Father and Holy Spirit also.

Despite the raging powers of human evil and the kingdom of darkness, nothing will ever be able to take that away from us, so that just as even a single hair on the head of John the Baptist is not lost to God, neither will any of ours be, until the day we see God in glory. This is everything that Jesus means and gives to us when he welcomes us to the table greater than Herod’s; he welcomes us to his heavenly banquet table and says: Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

‘Strength in humility’

2 Corinthians 12:10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

            When I am weak, then I am strong. How can that make any sense whatsoever? When you’re weak, you’re weak, when you’re strong, you’re strong. You can pick up the dumbbell or you can’t. That’s just the truth of the situation, it’s reality. The strong are strong; the rich, rich; the weak, weak, the poor, poor. In and of themselves, that is who they are, otherwise we’d call them something different.

            So, what is Paul getting at? What is the Holy Spirit trying to guide us into? Why can I delight and rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships, in these COVID restrictions? We have heard of Ezekiel who has just collapsed before the Angel of the Lord, the strength leaving his legs; how can he stand and listen? The lion trapped and immobilised by the net; how can it escape? And the people of Jesus’ hometown, broken sinners, weak, poor, and suffering sickness; how could they save themselves? How is it that the weak are strong? Perhaps today’s psalm may help us. Psalm 123, “I lift my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in the heavens, as the eyes of servants look to their master, the eyes of maids to their mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God till He shows us mercy.”

            It is only with God that Paul can say, when I am weak, then I am strong; because it is not Paul’s strength, but God’s work in and through him. Ezekiel could not stand with his weak legs, yet the Holy Spirit lifted and stood him up, giving him words for the people (2:2). Last week Jesus came and healed the lady in her weakness and inability (). But when Jesus came to His hometown, He could not work among the weak there. Why not? Hear these last words of Psalm 123, “We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” Because of their familiarity with Jesus, they questioned who was He to say such things. It’s tall poppy syndrome at it’s finest. In their arrogance and pride, they ridiculed Him, calling Him not ‘son of Joseph’ but ‘son of Mary’ insinuating a sinful, wicked birth. Yes they were weak, yet in their pride and arrogance they did not recognise their weakness or ask for help, they did not even receive well the mercy Jesus showed them.

            And for us, If I am weak, I need help and the Spirit is at my side to provide. Yet if I refuse to see my weakness, if I reject His help, I am left weak and broken. It is only the weak who humbly recognise the truth, that are strong. It is only those who refuse to rely on their own strength and instead rely on Christ’s who are strong. When you can’t do it, ask for help and it can be done. And sometimes you need to be broken, insulted, persecuted, like Paul, before we recognise the truth: I am weak, I cannot save myself, fix all my failures, give life, love, I cannot do it by myself; I need help. Just as we confessed today in preparation for receiving God’s service now. You cannot fix yourself, you cannot fix this congregation, the church, the country; and yet in your weakness, there is someone who can.

            The Holy Spirit dwells with you, you live in Christ, and our Heavenly Father is at work in our lives. Our God is strength, He is love, and if we are with Him, recognising our weakness and humbly relying on His Word and work, then we are strong. Be not like those of Nazareth, the proud and arrogant and blind; rather like Ezekiel and Paul, know your weakness, receive well God’s strengthening and go out with His Words for the people He has placed in your life.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.