‘To pray or condemn?’

Mark 9:40
Whoever is not against us, is for us.

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s interesting times we’re living in. Listening to the TV or radio news, so many stories about Australia and the World, so many things are happening. We hear about the plans of the political parties to make life better, to keep our country and its citizens safe and strong. About how an event across the other side of the world influences us here on the western plains, 9/11, black lives matter, Wuhan and COVID. There’s so many people going so many ways out in the world, influencing others in so many ways; and here we are, in our homes, in our small congregations. Here we are in the presence of God who tells us, whoever is not against us, is for us.

            And today there are many who are not against us, working in different ways. Of course there are those in other churches; the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, for instance, are a lot more influential in the political arena. There are school teachers, sporting coaches, council workers, nurses, farmers, secretaries, all sorts of people just going about their lives in these hard times. They are not against us, and though they might not always be with us, still we benefit. And all those years ago, before He rose from the dead, there were people defeating demons in the name of Jesus.

            These people were not with Jesus, not following after as were the twelve and many other disciples. Who knows why they did not come to Him, perhaps they were just pragmatic workers and found that demons were much more scared of Jesus’ name than theirs, perhaps they were desperate to help those near them and found Christ’s name a more powerful cure; but the only thing we know of them is they were not with Jesus, yet still used His name to do His work. And a great work that is. Jesus in Mark’s account it a strong silent type, a bit gruff too, yet He gets the job done. And that job has been casting out demons, dissolving disease, and annihilating sin, bringing thousands of loaves from 5 and fulfilling all God’s Word. Jesus has come to conquer the ultimate enemies of all Creation! And now these outsiders are also doing great things in His name. Don’t stop them, even if they’re not with us.

            If people outside our church encourage others to live a good, loving life; why would we tell them to stop? If people outside our Lutheran tradition are pointing others to Jesus; why rebuke them in that? If even Muslims, Atheists, and them New Age spiritualists teach a truth; why would we block our ears to it? Because if they teach something that is true, they’re not soon going to reject it. If these ancient exorcists use Christ’s name, they can’t really say anything bad about Him can they? Imagine, “I heal with the name of Jesus Christ, also don’t listen to Jesus Christ, he’s bad.” Whoever is not against us is for us. And it’s not just in the big things. Jesus says, even if they do something as small as give you a cup of water in Christ’s name, they will not loose their reward. However, just because they are for us, doesn’t mean they are with us.

            We all know good people, people who love and care, people who have helped us, people who for whatever reason are not with us, and perhaps not even with Jesus. People who might do some really good things, but we know that they do not follow the Good Shepherd. People who teach what is true, but do not know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. People who create beauty, but do not live in the beauty of life in the Bride of Christ. How do you treat these people? Do we leave Jesus to join with them? No, yet neither do we reject the good they do. They are not with us, and yet by God’s grace they can be.

So, pray for them and for us, especially in these stress-filled times, that we all might be with Jesus, alongside the Holy Spirit, the Father looking on us all in grace. Don’t condemn them for their faults, rather remember their help and pray for them. As James writes the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective; this is why we pray together here every Sunday, the prayer of the Church for the government, the world, and all those in need. That it is not just you praying for that person, but Christians across the world even though they might not know them personally. Even Moses all those years ago wished to see all God’s people prophesying, speaking His Word to those around. That all of us might do God’s Work, to guide each other away from sin and toward Jesus, so that we all live together in Him, forgiven and saved from death (James 5:13-20). Whoever is not against us is for us, yes, yet we desire all people to be saved. We pray that all sin be cut out and consumed by that fire; that those who are not against us do not loose their reward; that none of the littles ones stumble and wander away. But rather that all people be salted, be healed, and enter the Everlasting Kingdom of God, Everlasting Life together with Jesus. That we be one in Christ.

And so the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now into life Everlasting together in God’s Kingdom. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Groan, go, or get God’s gracious help’

Mark 9:32
But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it.

            My son Nathaniel is two years old and sometimes he just stares at the door and moans. He can’t open the sliding door, it’s too heavy, but he wants to go outside. Now, he’s young and still learning how to communicate and speak, but all it could take is ‘dad! Open please.’ All words he knows and can, sorta, say; but instead of asking he looks at the problem and complains. I wonder how often are you the same?

            In today’s Gospel reading we heard Jesus teaching the disciples the secret truth of what was going to happen, he was going to be handed over, killed, then after three days rise. As clear as could be. However, the disciples didn’t understand; still they had perhaps that common idea of the Messiah who would come and kick out the Romans and proclaim an earthly kingdom of holiness and military might. They did not understand that Jesus was to die, we even hear Peter rebuke Him when He told them earlier (Mark 8:32); and they did not understand that He would rise from the dead. A problem for them, their great leader telling them he would be handed over and die. They looked at the problem, but instead of just complaining like my son, they walked away from the problem to talk of what they sought, earthly glory. Jesus told them something difficult and they were too afraid to ask for His help and so wandered away.

            Now for us, who hear of Christ’s death every year, even every Sunday, things might be different. We have different problems to these people who lived before Christ’s Resurrection and victory over sin, death and the devil. We face problems today, of a pandemic, of a new way of life under government restrictions, of family suffering sickness or war, of family and friends leaving the Faith or rejecting Christ’s love for them, an uncertain future, an uncertain present, our own failings, our sin, death of our loved ones, our sickness and death, and the temptations and attacks of the evil one. … But then is this really all that different from the disciples, these problems we face. And that truth we hear constantly do we really understand it? Jesus, our God and life-giver, died. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, rose from the grave. Do you understand this? Or do you leave this problem to be distracted by the world just as the disciples did?

            Do you look for the greatness that Jesus does not bring? For a good, safe and pleasant life this side of eternity? Imagining life after God fulfills all your wishes? After hearing this core of our Faith, the death of our Lord and His rising, do you forget it and go back to live as everyone else in this stress-filled time? We come today confessing our failures, our sin, our betrayal of our Saviour; and in confessing, repenting, turning back to Jesus, He speaks to us, you are forgiven, your sin is dead and you live again in Jesus. By virtue of God’s promise to you in Baptism, you are joined with Christ in His death and Resurrection, in this mystery that the disciples did not understand (Romans 6). By God’s Word today, you are dead to the greatness of this world, and risen to serve all people. As Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The greatness of the world, all the fame and fortune is nothing to us who are in Christ Jesus. And yet still we get distracted.

Still we wander away from the Word of God, just as the disciples did. Often there are things Christ said, things the Holy Spirit brings to us, that we do not understand, or don’t want to; those problems small and enormous, but what do you do when facing the problems of this ongoing lockdown, the death of a loved one, even your own sin and guilt? Don’t follow the example of the disciples here, rather listen to James (4:7-8), “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you …” God has given you the right to come near to Him, to speak with Him: adopted in the Spirit, Jesus tells us to pray to our Heavenly Father. Do not be afraid. You have been given the name of God to call His attention (Exodus 20:7), to ask Him about it. We pray regularly by the power of the Holy Spirit with The Lord Jesus to our Heavenly Father, ‘deliver us from evil.’ ‘Save us from the problem.’ Help us to understand, open our ears, give us an answer and guide us away from distraction, from temptation.
The disciples did not understand until Jesus came to them after the Resurrection, spoke peace to them, forgave them, and spoke His Word to them; just as He speaks to us here today. He came to them in that locked house, walking on the road, and spoke with them. And He promises to be with us, to hear our prayers, to help and uphold our lives, to defeat the enemies sin, death and the devil, to lead us in life everlasting. He has come to save you, bring you life to the full, take away your failures, sin and guilt, and deliver you from evil. So call on Him when you face a problem, don’t just moan at it like a toddler, don’t distract yourself with the concerns and greatness of this broken world. But when you do not understand, take heart and ask Jesus, The Lord who loves you. Pray, come near to God, gather with our brothers and sisters, or at least call and pray together, gather around God’s loving Word, come and be served again by Him who is the greatest of all. Take heart and call on His name.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Word for the weary’.

Isaiah 50:4
The Sovereign Lord has given me a learned tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.

            Word to sustain the weary. This is the fifth week of our lockdown and I’m sure I’m not the only one weary of this lockdown and waiting for a word from the government to deal with it, a word from the medical people to relieve my weariness of this pandemic. A word to relieve the weary. But of course there are many other things in life that weary us, tax, travel, chores, our good Godly obligations, and also, sin, death and the devil. As Paul writes, who will rescue me of this body of sin? Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ my saviour (Romans 7:24). He is the one whose words are spirit and life as we heard in John 6, He gives the Word that sustains the weary.

            And now He speaks to us who suffer, who grow weary, who need help. Our words, which often just add to the weariness, cry out to the Lord who loves us, and as the Psalmist sang, He hears our cries for mercy. He hears us, listens to our weary words. Perhaps worry and fear have entangled you, or apathy and a lack of motivation pulling you down into that couch, or maybe you have been overcome with anger and frustration. And no wonder, I mean just look at the horrors of this world, the murder in Afghanistan, the abuse in Myanmar, and the isolation of many here in Australia. And on top of that, look at the condition of your heart, of your words and actions this last week; Christ died for you, can you say with Him in Isaiah, I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away; or as James reminds us, do you with the same tongue praise God our Loving Heavenly Father and complain against and ridicule humans made in His image (James 3:9)? Who are you really? Who do people say you are?

            But more important, who does God say you are? Listening to Him, throughout His Word He says you are broken, fallen; you’ve turned from who you are meant to be to follow after your own desires and be enslaved to them, perhaps by belly or fear of COVID; you’ve forgotten what is good, what is true, what is beautiful; you’ve been corrupted, listening to the arrogant, the hateful and hurtful, the deceptive, the wicked, and have submitted listening to their poor and weak words. Words that bring no comfort to the weary. Too often you are with Peter as Jesus rebukes you both, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (Mark 8:33) Too often we refuse to listen to Christ’s word that sustains the weary and make ourselves enemies of God.

            And yet Jesus says, ‘Get behind me.’ Give up on those human concerns, be free from your enslavement to sin, and dwell in the concerns of God, get behind and follow Jesus, His Word, His Work. Yes, these words are harsh, just as His words to that Syro-Phoenician woman last week (Mark 7:27), and yet they sustain the weary. They tell a real truth, but a truth that is passing away along with this weary world (1 Corinthians 13:10). A truth that we confess, we agree with, when we confessed our sins in preparation for receiving God’s service today. And that learned and wise tongue of Christ brings us His Word to sustain the weary. ‘I forgive you all your sins.’ You are forgiven. This is now who God says you are, forgiven. Your brokenness, your sin, your enslavement to your own desires is taken to the cross, dealt with, dead, as Jesus said, ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30). You are brought by Christ’s Words today into His New Everlasting Life. United to Him in mercy; denying yourself, taking up your cross, your death to sin; and following by the strength of the Holy Spirit, we are now on God’s side according to His promise. According to His Word that stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).

            And so with Jesus we can confess that Our Heavenly Father wakens us morning by morning, even if we are not able to leave our house. He opens our ears to listen to His instruction, each and everyday. Forgiven in Christ we are not rebellious, we are focusing on our saviour; united with Him in suffering and weariness the Lord helps us and we will not be disgraced. Because we are with God Almighty, who could condemn us? Our sin? No, it is taken and gone. Death? No, Jesus our Lord is The Resurrection and The Life. The devil? No, bound, defeated and cast out, he has no power over us whom God has declared forgiven. As Luther sang, the devil is nothing but a liar, don’t listen to him. Rather listen to Jesus, who comes to save our souls, to save us from the ways of sin, death and the devil. If He is with us, who can be against us? We have no need to fear, or to be ashamed of our cross or His suffering. If we are ridiculed, abused, for living the way of Jesus, we are with Him and He guards our soul, our life, forever. You who are weary, hear again His Word to you and follow behind the Lord our saviour.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

God’s good Word

Isaiah 35:4
Say to those with hurried hearts, be strengthened, do not fear;
Your God will come with vengeance, with Godly retribution, He will come and save you.

            God’s good Word to those with troubled hearts, racing hearts, anxious hearts. Be strengthened, He will come. This truly is a beautiful Word from God, Be strengthened, do not fear. God’s Word spoken to Elijah who was on the run from the Queen Jezebel, born in Tyre and ruling beside Ahab in Israel (1 Kings 16:31). God’s Word to the shepherds the night of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:10). And in our gospel reading today, similar words to the deaf mute, ephphatha! Be opened! And we wait now for similar words from our government when this lockdown ends, ‘be free’.

            The book of Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel, because of how much the prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. As an example, just last week we heard Jesus quote from Isaiah 29, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ and that passage continues, ‘therefore, once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder, the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent vanish. In a short time Lebanon will be turned into a fertile field, in that day the deaf with hear God’s Word, the blind see, the humble and needy will rejoice in the Lord the Holy One of Israel.’ (Isaiah 29:13-21). What beautiful words fulfilled by Jesus, wonder upon wonder, feeding a crowd of more than 5000 Jews, walking on water and in the following chapter of Mark feeding a crowd of 4000 gentiles. And in our text today, Lebanon turned into a fertile field, for Lebanon was the ancient and now modern name for Tyre and the region of Phonicia. These people had never taken up life with God, living side by side with the Israelites for hundreds, thousands of years; they were dead and barren in their idolatry, but today a humble needy woman comes to Christ for another wonder. Lebanon has become a field fertile of faith.

            Then as Jesus travels back toward Galilee, He fulfills Isaiah’s prophecies again, the deaf hear, the mute sing for joy, and that word ‘ephphatha’ ‘be opened’ is the same word in the prophesy of Isaiah. Wonder upon wonder, truly He has done all things well. And yet He hasn’t come to make our lives easy, the Holy Spirit’s Baptism is not a sure-fire way to be healed of blindness as happened with St Paul (Acts 9:18). No, in this life we do suffer, we suffer from our own mistakes, failures, sin, and from the failures of others. Just look at Christ’s life, accused by His own people, beaten and crucified. And we know our enemies, sin death and the devil. But in Isaiah’s prophecy today we hear that God will come with vengeance, to bring retribution, to make things right and just. And today we have heard Jesus getting rid of His enemies, demons and death, by just speaking a word. And it is the same for you. He does this for you. Those beautiful words of promise, ‘You are my beloved child,’ ‘You are forgiven,’ ‘you are alive!’. Thank God that He still speaks, through the means of His glorious grace, Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit is at work. He comes with vengeance against the enemies of His people, we need not fear.

            If you are anxious, troubled by the situation of the world today, be strengthened by the Holy Spirit and do not fear, you are united with Christ who has conquered, who brings retribution and makes us right with God our heavenly Father. Jesus came 2000yrs ago fulfilling this promise of God, and He comes here again today with vengeance against our sin, taking it away from us, against death, speaking again His words of Life to us, and against the devil, destroying the evil in our lives. He comes to save you, be strengthened by Him, be opened by His Word, and be freed by His work, as we wait for the final retribution and our final and everlasting salvation in the New Creation.

            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.