Who is your god?

Jeremiah 31:33
Therefore, this covenant which I will make with the house of Israel following those days, says the Lord, I will give My Law in their minds and on their hearts I will write it, and I will be their God and they will be my people.

            He will be our God and we, His people. Who is your god? Where are God Almighty’s people? These are the questions that the Reformation 500yrs ago grappled with and sought to answer. A question of relationship. In those times there was corruption, lies, and fear; Pope’s proclaimed celibacy and mercy while putting their children in places of power and waging war across Italy, monks teaching that money buys forgiveness, and that Bubonic plague had swept through Europe killing even some of Luther’s friends. What gods held sway over the people in all this? What did people rely on and look to for help in times of need? Who could they put their trust in, their faith in? In Fame, Fortune, fun, in their rulers? Our Reformational answer: in Christ.

            For He made a promise, a promise of Life and Purity to His Bride the Church. That He would wash her clean (Ephesians 5:26), and teach her the Truth (John 16:13), and destroy her enemies (Romans 12:19). After all Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). And He fulfills the Word of God in the Old Testament, the Messiah, God and man, come to seek and save the lost. After the days of Exile, which God foretells through Jeremiah, a new covenant would be made, a new relationship, a betrothal, a marriage. This Covenant, says the Lord, means His Law in your mind, His Word on your heart; it means He is your God and you His people; it means a new relationship, a union, and because there’s lots of us, a common union, or for us lazy Australians always shortening words, Communion, Holy Communion. “In the same way He took the cup and said, take and drink, this is My Blood of the New Covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins” (Matthew 26:28).

In these strange times we hear again of corruption, of lies, of fear all across the world, let alone just central Europe. We see people put their faith in policies, in media, in money, in family, in medicine; not that these are bad things, they’re given by God, and yet we know the 1st commandment: You will have no other gods before me. What does this mean? I will fear, love and trust in God Almighty more than anything else. And what are these ‘gods’ our Lord is forbidding us from fearing? In his longer reflection Luther writes, ‘anything you look to for all good things and run to in times of trouble, that is your god’. And you know people whose work is their life, people who serve drug addiction in everything they do, people who value money above all else. Often they are more faithful to their gods than we are to ours. Yet we are called to a different life, not to be people of wealth, people of security, or people of power instead people of The Lord, God Almighty. After all He has promised Himself to you in Baptism; now betrothed we, as part of the Church, await the consummation of that Mystical Union between Christ and His Bride, the Church, at the end of this World, the wedding feast of the lamb (Revelation 19:7-10). But He does not just promise us marriage then leave, no, in every Holy Communion we have a foretaste of the feast to come; like a couple engaged might go for coffee, Christ comes to us, to be with us, Body and Blood, truly present, uniting us to Himself and all Christians. In Holy Communion He is purifying us, making us true, and uniting us with Him in love, so we have no need of fear. This precious gift, this time with our Beloved Saviour and all our brothers and sisters across this world and those who’ve gone before, this is our hope.

This New Covenant, this wonderful new relationship, our betrothal in Holy Baptism and in Holy Communion a foretaste of the Consummation at the end of this world, this is what we are about. 500yrs ago, people were kept from receiving Christ’s Most Holy Blood, the Blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins. And for 3 months we have refrained from this wonderfully special time with Christ here together. Yet now we can receive this precious gift from God together. Proclaiming our faith in Him as we take our God on our lips, as The Lord Jesus Christ comes to us His people. For He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep in His care. It is not money, nor power, nor politicians, doctors, freedom, safety, or yourself who gives you life. It is Christ. Listen to Him. Speak to Him. Look to Him in every circumstance with thanksgiving, joy and requests. In this New Covenant, this new relationship, look to Him for all good things and run to Him in times of trouble. For He is our God, and by His grace and mercy, we are His people.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto our wedding feast with the Lamb. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Anything more than a “blip” along the way?

The Text: Mark 10:46-52


Today in the Gospel reading we are introduced to a certain beggar named Bartimaeus. It is a very simple story on one level; it seems like just another brief healing that Jesus does on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. When compared to his Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, should we consider this account anything more than a “blip” along the way? But actually, Jesus uses this healing to achieve two purposes. Firstly, to heal Bartimaeus, making him a follower of Jesus, and secondly, to teach James and John a thing or two about arrogance and blindness.

The reader of Mark’s Gospel knows of James’ and John’s act of pride. Just before this healing story they tell Jesus that they want to sit either side of him in glory in heaven. The cheek of it all, and the arrogance! They are puffed up, spiritually blind in seeing what it is to be a follower of Jesus.

So when they see Bartimaeus—this beggar on the roadside—James and John (we assume) are probably some of the ones who try to silence this unclean nuisance of a man from their glory trip into Jerusalem. Beggars in Jewish society were considered unclean, dirty and to be avoided. In original Hebrew, Bar-timaeus means ‘son of the unclean.’’ But there’s a twist! In Greek his name means ‘son of honour, respect and reverence.’

Jesus sees Bartimaeus according to his true value and identity as a loved child of God. Conversely, the disciples and some of the crowd see him as the lowest of the low. Though Bartimaeus is unable to physically see, he can spiritually see that Jesus, as God’s Son, is passing by. The disciples are simply still blind in seeing who Jesus came to save and heal. And so the disciples then watch and see just how much Jesus loves this beggar. Jesus heals him totally and lets him see light once again.

Bartimaeus then flings away his outer garment, the garment he would lay out to collect money, and keep him warm at night. He doesn’t need it anymore, because he can see that Jesus is all he needs; he now has a family to belong to. He belongs! He is no longer an outsider!

In the original Greek language, to be blind has a second meaning. It means to be ‘smoky, puffed up with the fumes of arrogance’. Smoke gets in your eyes and clouds your vision so you can’t see properly. Actually, James and John are a bit smoky themselves! This whole scene is quite shocking as Jesus’ disciples and the crowd are clearly too puffed up with self-importance and desire to enter Jerusalem with glory, rather than stop and bother with an annoying beggar.

We can remember Bartimaeus as he who threw off his outer garment. The author of the Book of Hebrews would later say this about throwing off: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith’ (Heb 12:1-2a). This section of Hebrews is practically a commentary on Bartimaeus’ healing of sight and subsequent following of Jesus. St Paul would add that we do not just “throw off” but also “put on.” Paul said, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’ (Galatians 3:26-27).

Of you are baptized, then you have the wonderful clothing of Jesus – his robes of righteousness upon you. As you go away with today, imagine that white clothing to be placed over people you personally struggle with, or don’t ever associate with. We can easily see many people as unclean beggars. How many times have we been guilty of being physically put off from ministering to them? Have we been too busy and too puffed up to care because of our busy schedule and important things to do.

On Reformation Sunday we remember the time the church became puffed up and blind and lost the Gospel. Martin Luther was key to removing the garment of blindness and revealing to the people the robe of Baptism and righteousness in Christ that they always had. Just like the past, sometimes the detailed and administrative business of doing church today can get a bit smoky. We can get puffed up with pride and self-importance and are blind with smoke in our eyes to the needs of real people who need Jesus.

Jesus calls and sends you to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to the homeless, to refugees, or the disabled, or mentally ill or anyone who doesn’t quite fit the bill of a comfortable predictable church. We may all have a heart for that, but practically it is not always easy.  

But Jesus helps us and does the leading. We need to follow him along the way like Bartimaeus, casting off our smoky garments of self-righteousness, and putting on the white royal baptismal robes of adoption into God’s family. It is in those robes we are forgiven and cleansed through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Glorious Servant”.

Mark 10:43-44
Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

From Pentecost to Advent, we are in the season of the Church, the green season; and for the last few weeks we have heard Jesus teaching. These teachings are easily applied to the life of the Church, the Bride of Christ. After proclaiming His impending torture, death and resurrection, Jesus is teaching His disciples and the Holy Spirit teaching us the Way of Life in this world. And that way is a life of service. As Jesus says, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life for you, that you may live.

            In this country we are opening up after a long lockdown, a time where, especially in Dubbo, we have been restricted from seeing each other, stuck at home and away from the community. Of course we have phones and the internet, and letters too, we can keep in touch; yet when it’s needed you can’t give that hug over the phone, we can’t just sit with each other. Although you long to serve, we haven’t been able to serve as we want. Now that is changing. With the lockdowns lifting you are able to go a see each other, to support each other, to have a working bee, a lunch, an afternoon together, to be the Church in community. As you’re able go out and serve the people God has given you.

            This life of service is what we are called to as Christians. Our Small Catechism ends with our responsibilities in various callings, in family, work, and state. And Luther in ‘Freedom of a Christian’ which our elders and pastoral assistants are looking at, Luther wrote, both that “Christians have complete freedom and power over everything, and are under no obligation to anyone” and “Christians are servants of all, and are under complete obligation to everyone.” Just like Jesus. He is God Almighty, Lord over all, and yet as we heard from Isaiah (53:5, 7), He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our guilt, as a lamb before the slaughter He did not open His mouth. And by the wounds of this suffering servant you are healed. Your sin, failures, your guilt is taken up away from you by Him and dealt with at the cross. From His Throne above He descended to serve all Creation, to serve you, pouring out His life unto death. Yet as Isaiah (53:10, 11) continues, “after He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied;” His life lengthened, He will rise again and continue to serve. And still today, the Lord of all pours out His life in serving us here in His Divine Service. This is the life we are united to, the New Life we are given by God; Christ’s life of Almighty Lordship and Humble Service.

            In this strange time of our lives, how can we be strong and fearless? How can we even be great? Jesus says you must serve. Serve your spouse, your children, parents, family, friends, colleagues, customers, parish members, the guy you see down the street. By loving service we build relationships, we bring life to others in pouring out your own, just as Jesus continues to. Live this New Life of Christ you have been given, free from the deathly shackles of sin into a life of service, to bring aid, help, and life to those around you. And that greatest help, the best aid, is Christ Jesus, everlasting life together in Him.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Tense times’

Mark 10:27
Jesus looked at them and said, ‘with man this is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’

            We are living in a tense time. There’s tensions in our state with a new premier in town, and that seeking to balance those tensions of the economy, of health, and of social contentment. How will their choices affect us who are governed? There’s tensions within our synod, the LCANZ, regarding ordination, church and schools, loss of members and lack of pastors. What is this LCANZ in these modern times? And of course our society is tense, who can we trust? Can we choose vaccination or lockdown, obedience or outlaw? When the restrictions change, will we be safe or will it be worse? And all these tensions can come into our homes to roost, all this on top of those tension already within our homes. How can we cope with all these tensions?

            And here I am with a rope and a needle. The rope’s nice and big, the needle is hard and sharp; yet if I tried to thread this rope through the needle for the rest of this day I’m sure I’d get tense too. I can’t do it. The rope’s too thick, the eye of the needle too small and too inflexible. And today we heard Jesus say, it’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for someone with lots of stuff to enter the kingdom of heaven. Someone with property, cars, clothes, plenty of water and food, even plenty of friends and family; someone with lots of responsibility will find it hard to enter the kingdom of God. And we can add to that, anyone with lots of anger, arrogance, lust, greed, envy, stubbornness, despair and pride, anyone pulled with so many tensions will find it hard to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus says they will find it impossible.

            He tells us a timeless and ever applicable truth, ‘with humans this is impossible, yet with God all things are possible.’ Look not to yourselves in these tense times, but rather toward God in humility and need. For by ourselves we cannot resolve all these tensions, we need help. You know that often dwelling on the worries of this world just brings you down. By our own efforts apart from God we cannot be saved from all that pulls against us.

            It is impossible for us. Yet not with God, for with God all things are possible. It is by God’s work that we are saved. He is not tense, He is peace, joy and love. It is The Word Incarnate, The Eternal Son of God, born of Mary in time, His death, resurrection and ascension, His Victory over sin, death and the devil. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings us into Him and His Victory, this New Life in Christ; The Holy Spirit who sustains us with His Written Word, who prays for us and with us, who connects us to Christ, who then mediates and reconciles us with Our Heavenly Father. It is God who deals with our sin, our failings, who saves us from the devil, from our enemies and from ourselves, it is God who provides life, even life everlasting, it is God who can change our sick, broken hearts to be like His, it is God who can do all these things that are impossible for you. And He has promised this salvation for you.

            With God all things are possible, by His work and Word you are saved. In this tense time, in this time of struggle that Jesus promises to all His people (Mark 10:30), we know that it is not by human strength alone that these tensions will be resolved. It is not doctors, government, it is not us who will save us; it is God, yes working through His Creation, but it is ultimately and truly God who will save us and provide for us. Whether we loose things this side of eternity or whether God allows us to keep them, still as Jesus says, we have God’s gifts aplenty already, brothers, sisters in Christ across the world and here in this parish, homes food and work we share, elders and children to care for and be taught through, all these in this present time along with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life and peace together with Christ.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

In all this, Job did not sin

The Text: Job 2:10


Job was an exceptional man.  He was extremely loyal to God.  In chapter one of Job we are told that “he was blameless and upright, who respected God and refused to do evil”, his children liked to party and every morning after one of their parties, he got up early and offered a sacrifice in case “they had sinned or silently cursed God”, and that God himself has nothing but accolades to shower on Job.  God says: “No one on earth is like him—he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8).

Job was a wealthy man. He was “the richest man in the East” (1:3) with thousands upon thousands of sheep, camels, cattle and donkeys as well as a large number of servants.  God had indeed richly blessed Job. 

We also know that Job was blessed with seven sons and three daughters, a number which seems to indicate that this was the perfect family, a sign of God’s pleasure. He was a good father and had taught his children about God.  He wasn’t wasteful and was very generous and hospitable to those who visited him.

Job enjoyed a good life.  God’s protection rested on his family and everything he owned.  Everything he did prospered with God’s help.  Job’s wealth continued to grow and grow.  He was enjoying life, everything was just right, life couldn’t be sweeter, when bam, out of the blue, his life is turned upside down.

Raiders from the south stole all his stock and killed his servants. A storm destroyed the house where his children were having one of their parties and all ten were killed. The normally healthy Job broke out in terrible painful running sores.  He now sits on a heap of ashes, the only place where he could express his grief after losing so much.  Job is sitting alone—perhaps because he has been excluded from the community, who presume his wickedness for all of this to have happened. 

In one day, Job has gone from riches to rags. From the story, we know that it was Satan that had inflicted all of this on Job, the most God-fearing and loyal man that one could find, while it seems that God has allowed this to happen.

We might well ask, “What had Job done to deserve all this?”  “Why have so many disasters happened to a man who was so good?” 

These are good questions that people are still asking today. We hear of the untimely death of a child and we ask, “What had that child done to deserve that?”  Why should that happen to someone so young when there are so many other evil people who get away scot free?”

Jesus was confronted with the same problem (Luke 13:1-5). Some of those following Jesus referred to disasters that were headlines in the news. One tragedy happened at the temple. There were some pious and honourable folk offering sacrifices at the temple and yet they came to a cruel end.  Pontius Pilate had them killed right there in the temple as they worshipped. 

And then there was the collapse of the tower at Siloam.  Eighteen people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed.  We are no strangers to that kind of thing. Like a surfer who has surfed on the same beach a thousand times, one day finds himself in the same spot as a hungry shark. 

It’s reasonable to ask, “Why do these bad things happen for no obvious reason?”  If we could say that they happened because bad people were getting what they deserved, then the problem would be solved and that would be end of it.  But we can’t.  We know that good people, people like Job, suffered.  We are horrified and can find no logical explanation why a defenceless child should die at the hands of a parent. 

Neither bad health nor the present drought have come as a result of some terrible sin.  Neither can we say that because we are church-going and committed Christians, we will never experience any hardship.

The question that arises in our minds now is this – we can’t explain why bad things happen to us so then how do we cope with tragedies when they do occur?  How did Job cope with the disasters that happened in his life?  We hear:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-21).

Job has two responses to all this bad news. 

First, as can be expected, Job is grief stricken.  He has lost so much so quickly.  In record time, the once rich man has become a pauper.  He has lost his most precious possessions of all—his children, all ten of them at once.  No wonder his grief is so intense.

Job’s second response is one of faith.  While his wife and his friends tell him to give up on God, he doesn’t focus on his grief but states clearly that God is Lord of all things.  He gives freely and generously and he is able to take it all away again.   We are told, “In all that happened, Job never once said anything against God” (2:10).  Job grieves but he doesn’t lose confidence in God’s justice and love.

At times our response to events in life aren’t Job-like at all.  The events and the grief are overwhelming and we blurt out, “It’s not fair!  I don’t deserve any of this!  Why won’t God do something and change things?”  We question God’s idea of what is fair and just.

Philip Yancey tells the story in his book, Disappointment with God, about a friend and faithful Christian named Douglas who went through a series of terrible events. First, his wife developed breast cancer.  Then one night, he and his family were involved in a head-on crash with a drunk driver.  His wife and daughter were injured in the smash.  Douglas received a severe head injury that caused sudden and debilitating headaches that kept him from working a full day and enjoying his passion for reading.  More than anything, it affected his ability to care for his wife.  None of this made any human sense.  If anyone had a right to be angry at God, Douglas did.

Yancey thought Douglas would be the perfect person to interview about being disappointed with God. So he began, “Could you tell me about your own disappointment?”

To Yancey’s great surprise, Douglas said, “To tell you the truth, Philip, I didn’t feel any disappointment with God…. The reason is this. I learned, first through my wife’s illness and then especially through the accident, not to confuse God with life.”

He continued, “I’m no stoic.  I am as upset about what happened to me as anyone could be.  I feel free to curse the unfairness of life and to vent all my grief and anger.  But I believe God feels the same way about that accident—grieved and angry.  I don’t blame him for what happened.”

He goes on to point out that we believe that God is fair and so assume that life also ought to be fair.  The fairness of life was disrupted when sin came into the world.  Sin invaded the peace and harmony of our world and our bodies.  All kinds of things come out of the blue that seem completely unfair but they have nothing to say about God loving us any less or that he doesn’t feel the pain as any parent feels the pain of their child.

It’s not God who is unfair—he is as loving and as just as he has always been.  It is life that is unfair—our world and our lives have been affected by the disastrous consequences of evil. 

The question that faces us is this: can we continue to love and trust God—in pain, in sickness, in grief and in any bad times? 

Can we love God in spite of what life brings? 

What will our reaction be when something hits us that really rocks us?  It strikes us so deeply that our love and trust in God is shaken.  We don’t have the human resources to hang on to God and to keep on trusting.  We don’t have the trust that Job had that firmly believes that God’s loves us more than ever.

When tragedy strikes, when we don’t understand, when we think it is unfair and we do end up blaming God, thank goodness God keeps hanging on to us.  Even when our trust is low and our doubts are overwhelming us, God keeps on loving and keeps on holding on to us and supporting us and helping us through that crisis.

The reason why God doesn’t give us specific answers to all our questions is something we have to grapple with even though we would dearly love to know the answers to the questions that we have about the tragedies and crises in our lives.  Maybe the answers are too complex for us to understand.  

The answer we do understand though is the one he gives us in his Son.  He gave his body and spilled his blood for us on the Cross.  He is God’s love for us.  He is present for us right here with his mercy and compassion through his word, and in his body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  He will always be with us through times of hardship and tragedy.  This is the way he responds to our questions—not with answers that make the world simpler, not with slick, neat answers to the question “why”, but he answers with his love, and with his life, given for us.  Amen.