‘Washing hands or washing hearts?’

Mark 7:15, 21
Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. … For it is from within, out of a persons heart, that evil thoughts come …

            Out of the heart evil thoughts come. What is the condition of your heart? Not so much the medical condition of the organ pumping your blood, but rather the true condition of your inner self, your core from which desires direct your actions. Is your heart sick and full of sorrows? Is it strong and sure? Is it a big heart embracing all those around you? Or is your heart hidden away from others? After feeding the 5000 Jesus brings this question to the fore, what is the condition of your heart? And what does that have to do with what we do?

            Jesus, of course, has a good and big heart, so big He loves all creation through His life, death and resurrection. He wants to share that with us, as He has taught over the last few weeks in John Chapter 6, the life from the Father shared with us (verse 57). A big heart to care for a rag-tag group of twelve and more disciples. But then come the Pharisees come, Jewish lay leaders who sought to make God’s Law doable even for a poor fisherman. Good people perhaps, people who care for others and teach them how to live, to wash their hands, to wash their dishes, to keep clean and to stay on God’s ‘good side’. So when they see some of Jesus’ disciples eating before washing their hands they go up to Jesus and ask, ‘what’s all this about?’

            Now we need to say a bit about washing, it was as we heard a tradition of the elders, the way things were done in Jewish households; like taking off your shoes before coming inside. However it wasn’t just simple hygiene, to them it had spiritual significance; it was to make sure that they stayed on the ‘good side’ of God, ceremonially clean we might say; so according to their elders when you came home from a place where Gentiles, or unclean people, were you had to wash off their uncleanness. They would wash their hands from finger to elbow, and also ceremonially wash, or baptise in the Greek, their pots and plates, utensils and even the couches they ate on. But Jesus’ disciples weren’t doing that, and He didn’t tell them off, instead He calls the Pharisees hypocrites or fakers. What’s up with that? Does this mean Jesus likes dirt and germs on His food? That you don’t have to wash your hands even in a pandemic?

            Well, not necessarily. The Pharisees have come from Jerusalem to find some dirt on Jesus, so they come up and tell Him off because His disciples, or students, aren’t following the way of life passed down from the elders; importantly that they think will make them right with God. They think it’s the washing of hands will keep them right with God. Jesus responds to their accusation with the words of Isaiah (29:13), ‘this people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they adore me, teaching as doctrine the commands of men.’ Simply put, their heart and lips do not agree, they lie about who they are and what they believe. Now this is important for us to hear, to look at our own lives, our words and reflect on our hearts. What do you treasure? What do you reflect on, what thoughts do you chew over? What are you drawn toward? Do you talk the walk and walk the talk, or do you live a lie?

            This is what James means when He writes, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (James 1:22). Anyone who hears God’s Word, His commands and promise, yet doesn’t live accordingly are liars and the truth is not in them. Just as the Psalmist sang, only the righteous, the one who speaks truth from the heart, can dwell with the Lord God (Psalm 15). And as we heard from Deuteronomy (4:9), ‘be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen, which is God’s Almighty Works and Word through the Exodus and in the Law, or let them fade from your hearts as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.’ Here today God is saying, live according to His Word and His Work, His commands and His promise. And what is that?

            The first of God’s 10 commandments is, ‘I am the Lord your God, you will have no other gods before me.’ A simple rule where God Almighty, creator of all, has given Himself to us, and in turn we are to honour, respect, fear, love, trust Him, more than anything else, or over and above all other things. To live according to this commandment is to thank the markets, truckies, the farmers, and ultimately God for the food He provides; to ask for His protection and strength for all these people as well so He continues to provide for us through them. Jesus is saying live according to this law before you condemn others about washing their hands.

            But God doesn’t just tell us how life is and how to live it, He also in His power and great love serves us and promises to us great and wonderful things. In Holy Baptism, not just a ceremonial washing, but water and the Word, the Holy Spirit at work; God has promised you your failure to keep the commands is washed away, your sinful self is killed and you united with Jesus in death and resurrection you are raised to a new life in Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. A promise that He has renewed your corrupt and broken heart. And He gives this grace, this promise, again and again, in Holy Communion and in the Absolution, defeating again and again the power of sin, death and the devil in our lives.

            Hear that again, it is God who renews your heart. Is your heart sick with guilt and sin? Hear again the true promise of God, your sins are forgiven. Is your heart proud and sure of itself? Hear again God’s Command, You will respect, fear and trust Him more than anything else, and look at your life, your lips and your heart. Is your heart broken and burdened? Receive again the Good News, God has given you New Everlasting Life, promised in Baptism, in the Absolution, in Holy Communion, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit bringing you into the Life of Christ. Receive His healing, trust His promise, He is the one who renews your heart. And His Words are sure; so receive well His healing and let the good things flow from your new heart, from the peace, joy and love that comes with our freedom over sin, death and the devil in Jesus.

            So the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, now into the fulfilment of all God’s promises. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The One who speaks Beautiful Life’

John 6:66-67
Answering Him Peter said, ‘Lord, where will we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

             Who do we hear? What do we listen to, pay attention to? It’s not an unimportant thing. For example, when you just listen to the doom and gloom of the daily news, we tend to fear. If you just listen to Christian radio, hopefully it brings peace. There’s people who bring you down just by their words, perhaps insults, but also complaints or constant pessimism. And there’s people who raise you up by words, encouraging, loving and giving joyful life. We know that what we listen to is important, it shapes us. There are voices that are not good, and others that are necessary.

            And sometimes it’s not so much what we listen to, but how much. It is important to listen to the news, but probably not it all day; It’s good and proper to listen to your spouse, but not so that they never get a chance to listen to you; And hopefully it’s a blessing and benefit to you when listening to a pastor, but God has brought His Word to you too. There is never a bad time to listen to God, to remember and think on His Words, in the middle of conversation, in worry, in joy, in anger, there is never a time when He is out of earshot, and His Words are Spirit and Life.

            Today finally, we come to the end of this Bread of Life discourse, from people listening just to their bellies, Jesus telling us God’s work is to give us faith to believe Him, that Jesus is calling us into a new life of the Everlasting Way of the Cross, to incorporate His Teaching and Life into our lives and to be mysteriously incorporated into His Glorified Body. A harsh teaching for even His disciples, and many wandered away. But we have grown up and into these truths, Baptism is part and parcel of our lives, the Public Confession and Absolution we receive in the Divine Service, and of course our participation in the Cross, the Last Supper and the Feast to come in Holy Communion, not to mention the rest of our lives. We know the mystery of the Incarnation, that the Creator of all entered into His Creation through the womb of Mary, and that He ascended to reign at the Right Hand of the Father; just as Jesus says here, ‘to see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before’. These mysteries are what many of Jesus’ own disciples rejected, but we hold fast because we have come to believe and know that He is the Holy One of God.

            So, what is the Holy Spirit drawing you into today? Yes toward a truer, and more faithful living out of the Christian Life; onto Christ’s Everlasting way of the Cross; into the battle against sin, death and the devil, as we hear in Ephesians (6:10-20); to participate with Jesus in the Victory He has already won. To contemplate and meditate on what Christ’s Incarnation means for me and the whole world. Into praise of God’s wonderful power and love, thanks for what He has done and is doing, and interceding for this world and all those who suffer. Certainly the Holy Spirit is drawing us toward this, but in todays text I’ll draw your attention to those last verses.

            After many disciples left, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, ‘aren’t you leaving too?’ Then Peter that quick spokesman, who often doesn’t realise the depth and wisdom of his words, answers, ‘Lord, where would we go? You have the words of Eternal Life, and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus has spoken harsh words to those who sought Him, ‘Chew my flesh, drink my blood’ and practically, ‘I am God Almighty’. And there are hard truths in Scripture for us, there are difficult times in our lives despite our Faith and sometimes because of it, there are many reasons we might come up with to leave and reject the importance of Christ’s Words. But where else can you go to hear Truth and Life; who or what else proclaims freedom from sin, death and the devil; how else can we be united with God in love? In the words of Peter, ‘where shall we go?’

            If COVID comes to town, will you search for people other than Jesus to listen to? When restrictions come, will you fill you head with the words of medical professionals, politicians, and those trying predicting the future? When sickness and hardship come into your family, will you turn from the one who speaks Spirit and Life to try and find help elsewhere? Or will you seek out Christ’s Words, among His people, in His Scriptures, and seek His answers in prayer? Relying on His help through the good things He’s given. In these last weeks we have heard how Jesus Words are hard truth, that stop and cut off our brokenness, those parts of us that are wrong. Also how His Words are Good, taste and see as the Psalmist wrote, they comfort and heal, He now dwells in us and we in Him in that Mystical Union. And also that His Words are Beautiful Life, ‘the Son of Man ascending to where He was before’ wondrous things, ‘I speak to you Spirit and Life’, ‘the one who believes, who eats, has everlasting Life and I will raise them on the last Day’.

            No one else speaks like this, these Words of Truth, Goodness and Beauty; these Words we have come to trust and know as Right because we know and trust the Holy One of God. As He serves us every day, the Holy Spirit sustaining our bodies, protecting our souls, and serving especially today by removing your sin again, speaking to you again, hearing again our prayers, and blessing us again with His holiness. Truly despite the tough times, God’s Word is tougher, He dwells with us and we in Him. His strong Word of peace, joy and love; Listen to Him and do not forget that wonder of the Word of Life.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Chew on Christ’

John 6:54
Those chewing my flesh and drinking my blood have eternal life, and I will resurrect them on the last day.

            Here we are again, for some of us it’s not new you’ve been on zoom for a year or more now; but still the restrictions on our lives have come back, not just the Divine Service over zoom, but we can’t even visit each other, our friends or family, can’t eat together, hug or shake hands. It’s almost like we live in a world where the only real people are those we live with, everyone else is either a disembodied voice over the phone or a flat copy on the TV. Our lives mainly confined to our homes, thank God for wide open farms when you have them, yet many of us have more time to think, to worry, to get caught up in our own heads. But that is not who we are, that is not who God has called us to be, we are not disembodied spirits trapped in a physical cage, we are the holy people of God, body, soul and spirit, we are of the New Creation.

            Now looking around some might think that Christianity is just about sitting in a chair or couch and listening to someone speak; listening, maybe even singing along to certain songs; That the Faith is just about what happens when we die and that we don’t really care about this world. Now that might have been true if Jesus had just said ‘believe my words, the concepts that I teach.’ But He didn’t. As we slowly make our way through this chapter of John 6, we have heard the miraculous feeding of the more than 5000, that these people listening to their bellies and not Jesus follow after Him to seek more bread for their bellies; then Jesus rebukes their low focus on this earthly world, as if my belly is who I am, is what protects and provides for me. Rather Jesus speaks of a bread from heaven, not like the manna people ate, but something different, something spiritual; this bread you are to believe in and take into your life and receive everlasting life; whatever that might mean.

            By Jesus’ Word He has broken their focus on their bellies, their earthly appetites, and brought them to focus on heavenly things. It’s not too different that what we’ve experienced with these lockdowns. Before we could be distracted by so many things, when we had the time and opportunities we could fill our days with so much stuff. Travel, shopping, sport, visiting, craft, schooling, Bible studies, all sorts of different things; but when the lockdowns came it brought the question, what is really important in this world. What am I doing to myself and others when I do all these things, is it worthwhile or not, God pleasing or not? So, Jesus changed their focus from bellies to heaven with words, COVID changed our focus to question what do we treasure, and what is going on.

            And these are spiritual questions, and our minds might get worried, and perhaps we haven’t been taken up into heaven but I’m coming to you now from the internet’s cloud. All this airy-fairy stuff, but it is important. What do we treasure, and what does it mean to be and live as a Christian today; what does it mean to believe in Jesus, the bread of Heaven. It means to chew on His flesh and drink His blood. Jesus isn’t just a good teacher, to bring some wispy words of wisdom for our earthly life; He didn’t just appear to die, deceiving the authorities then later continuing His work; He is not just some spiritual or heavenly being, Jesus is God in the flesh. He has flesh and blood like us, a belly, a mouth, and He died on that cross. He did not just teach but also healed and comforted, He held children in His arms, and picked others off the ground. And He did not just serve people in ancient Jerusalem, but sent out His Apostles to serve people everywhere, to bring life to the world even today. Jesus is not just some ancient abstract concept, He is real, He is earthy, He is here.

            Jesus has brought us from the depths of our earthly lives, to the spiritual heights of the heavens, then back down into a New Creation, His Incarnation. This is the pattern of our Divine service, away from the world, Confession absolution, to hear God’s Word, the Readings, to receive Christ, Communion and to go out rejoicing under His Blessing. From feeding bellies with barley loaves, to this talk about believing in heavenly bread, now to chewing His flesh and drinking His blood. From feeding our bodily desires, through His Holy Word and teaching, to our Holy Communion with His Body and Blood. This is why I far prefer to lead God’s service in person, face to face; because that is who Jesus is, He is here with us, truly with us, so close that we are members of His Body, He dwells in us and we in Him according to His promises. And because we are united with the Bread of Life we have Life everlasting. All this we believe, yet we are not just spiritual or intellectual beings, our bodies, our flesh is part of who we are, it’s part of who Jesus is. Our Faith is lived out in our actions, our service to other people. If we believe that the most important thing is this earthly life we will be controlled by our earthly desires, if we think the most important is some spiritual existence we will forget God’s good creation, if we think Jesus, God in the flesh, is most important that will transform the way we live here today, just as His Holy and incorruptible Body and Blood transforms us from people trapped in darkness and sin, into free and faithful people of God.

            Now of course, we receive a foretaste of this truth most fully in Holy Communion, receiving the true food and drink, Christ’s Body and Blood, and receiving it’s benefits through faith; where we receive this truth not just in our heads, but on our tongues, with our teeth. Not that we overpower Jesus, breaking Him apart and forcing Him to become part of us, rather it is Jesus overpowering our brokenness and making us right with Him. But truly it is a mystery, a truth we can know but not understand. How is it that bread and wine and God’s Word can be Christ’s Flesh and Blood, bringing us forgiveness and New everlasting life? How is it that the Creator of all lived as a human and died for the life of the world? It’s a mystery, and it’s something good to chew on.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Consuming the cross’.

John 6:51
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

            This day and age, it’s a funny one, a lot of change and a lot of struggle. We listen to the radio, about consumers, about voters, about COVID cases, and among all these crazy things apparently there’s some people who eat bread from the sky. How weird is that? But of course, that’s us, Christians consuming, not shoes or cars, but the bread from heaven. Christ Himself said it. Yet it’s not loaves from the clouds, or flour in a fog; Jesus says that He is the bread from heaven … a little stranger again. And He says that if you eat the bread you have eternal life, and yet also whoever believes in Him has eternal life. What’s going on here? Do we need to eat Jesus? Or just believe His teachings? What does He mean when He tells us to consume this Living Bread that came down from heaven?

            And actually, what do the journalists mean when they call us consumers? Of course, we consume food, we eat bread; but that’s not all they’re talking about. We consume, socks, shoes, cars, crockery, books, TV, games, and for some maybe too much journalism. It’s not that we chew on all these things, though my kids might, it’s that we take them into our lives, incorporate them into how we live, and make them part of ourselves. Think of bread, we take it into ourselves to support our life, to incorporate it into our flesh. In a similar way, when we get invested in reality TV series, or if our life revolves around a football, a phone, even as we are informed and changed by the news we hear; what we consume changes who we are.

            And yet as we eat these things, as we consume, in particularly today partisan news sites, we see these don’t bring contentment, rest and lasting peace, these things do not stop death. And that crowd 2000yrs ago, did filled their bellies, but that was yesterday; and now they wanted what so many want today, what so many think will bring peace, food without work, basically free money. But Jesus doesn’t give that, He knows worldly peace is a lie, and tells the crowd, He tells us, to eat the bread that came down from heaven, to believe in Him who God the Father sent.

            Just three chapters earlier in another conversation, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” And just a sentence before, Jesus proclaimed, “the Son of Man must be lifted up”. The bread of heaven sent down by the Father, then lifted up for the life of the world. And the bread, given for the life of the world, is His flesh. He is speaking of the Crucifixion. Christ died on that cross, so that you might have life and have it to the fullest! He died to save you, your friends, your family, your frustrations, and all people; and not just all people but all the world. In the age to come, we won’t just be floating around on clouds, there will be dirt, hills, a great river, trees, and life everlasting. The New Creation is Paradise.

            And coming down from heaven, Jesus died, buried in the grave, only to rise again and bring all creation with Him into the New Creation of life everlasting. That’s the gospel, you’ve heard it again. Now Jesus says, “it is my Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes, trusts, in Him shall have everlasting life, and I will raise them up on the last Day. … Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Whoever trusts in Jesus, consumes His Words, makes His teaching part and parcel of their lives, will live forever. So when you go out from this house, this time of prayer, seeing the smorgasbord this world puts out for you, a consumer; when you go out, ask yourself this question, what will you consume?

            The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, that you live in the light of the New Creation.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Is your belly rumbling?

John 6:34-35
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life.

            Ah, bread, cake, biscuits! I walk into the supermarket and every time go and look over to the chocolate mud cakes, then think … hmm, no, not cake; now what was I here for?. Food can be an amazing distraction, it can stop a conversation, an empty belly can take you away from your work, and a full and gurgling one can force you to the toilet. It is one of those things we have to live with that commands our attention everyday, like ads on the TV or the internet, but heaps more useful. Our belly distracts us from so many things.

            Our bodily desires distract us from God, the one who provides, giving life. And we see this clearly in John 6. The crowd was fed miraculously by Jesus, then He left because they wanted to make Him king by force. Jesus filled their bellies, and listening to their bellies not Jesus, they wanted to force Him to stay as their ruler to fill their bellies everyday.
But Jesus walked on the water over the sea, and when the crowd realised Jesus had crossed the sea, they jumped into some boats and followed; but not now to make Him king, apparently they’d forgotten about that, rather to ask, ‘when did you get here?’ A strange question all things considered, yet Jesus answers, ‘Amen amen, truly truly, you’re just here to fill your bellies again.’ They didn’t care about His teaching, the signs He performed, they were again distracted from Jesus by their bellies.
Those selfish bellies ask, ‘what must I do to do the works God requires and get bread?’
Jesus replies, ‘God’s work, is to believe, to trust, in me.’
And now do they trust, do they listen to His Word? No. Again, the belly distracts the people from God’s Word, from the Good News. Yes, it is true that humans work to eat, yet here Jesus is revealing that God is the one who saves, who provides for you, who sustains you, who even enables you to trust Him, who gives you faith.
But they reply, ‘Moses gave manna for 40yrs in the desert, what you gonna do?’
Jesus said, ‘Amen amen, truly truly, it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven, bread that comes down and gives life to the world.’

Sounds like good bread, thinks their bellies saying, ‘always give us this bread.’
And how often aren’t we the same? Give me food to fill my belly, wine to forget my sorrows, give me fitness without effort, love without pain, blessings without suffering or death to sin; fulfill all my desires, serve me, and always give me this bread.

But Jesus says to you and me, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever humbly comes to me will never hunger, and whoever trusts my Word and my Work, will never thirst.’

            His Word is true, it stands strong forever; yet you are distracted by so many things in this world. We know food is important, but it is never more important than Jesus, that is why we say grace at meals, why we give thanks; pray morning and night, ask for help, for mercy, for forgiveness. So as you seek Jesus in your life, as you remember the gifts He has give you and share them, and as you are distracted, what might you do?

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.