‘The old has gone, the new has come.’

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the New Creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!

            150 years ago our theological forebears fled their old life, their old country, and came to Australia swearing fealty to Queen Victoria. One year and three months ago 50,000 Tigrayans fled their country as war destroyed their old life. And today many Ukrainians are working out their new circumstances in fear and trembling. For them the old has gone, the new has come.

            And for those of us who have led a life before becoming Christian, or wandered away like the prodigal son, you know the different life you are called to as a Christian. I remember an old work mate of my dad’s found out that he was a pastor, he swore in disbelief, “Greg __ Graham’s a ___ priest!? Yet all of us, whether from the womb or from later in life, have been brought into a new life in Christ. Reconciled to God. We were baptised into a new life, a life reconciled with God in Christ, the life of holy righteousness.

            And now I’m going to go through what happens in Holy Baptism. First, of course, we gather together in the presence of Christ and hear His wonderful words. And in the written Word, He has revealed to us that we are temples; our bodies like the outer court of the tabernacle, soul the holy place and spirit the holy of holies where the presence of God dwelt. Yet before the Holy Spirit lives in us, animating and sustaining us; it’s not empty, though it is dark. And this is why the Pastor rebukes the unclean spirit, to make way for the Holy Spirit. This is why the one to be baptised, or their sponsors, renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. For the old has gone, the new has come.

            Then after prayer and the creed, there is the baptism, water and the Word. Now lets remember back to the second day of creation, when the waters above and the waters beneath were separated from one another; well in Baptism they are reconciled together. Like how we are reconciled to God. When we get water from the ground, sea, or swamp, it’s generally salty or brackish, and if you drink it straight, you’ll probably be sick. Think of it as water of death. Yet when water falls from the sky, it washes dirt and filthy away, and we collect it to sustain our lives. It’s water of life. So, the one to be baptised can be immersed in the dead waters below and rise up; being united with Christ’s death and resurrection, dying to sin and rising to new life with Him (Romans 6). Or the one to be baptised can be washed from above, being cleansed from sin and unrighteousness and renewed in and by Christ (John 3:3, the Greek can mean either born again or from above; Ephesians 5:25-27). And of course we can do both in baptism as a fuller image of what God is doing. Often in art of Christ’s Baptism we see Him coming up from the water and John pouring water from above. Yet still, it’s not the amount of water that reconciles us, it is God. The emergency baptism of spit is just as valid as the dunking and sprinkling because of His Word and work. For it is God who reconciles us to Him in Christ.

            The old spirit has been cast out, the old Adam drowned; and we are reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. Now then in the rite, there is the laying on of hands, reception of the Holy Spirit and prayer for the newly Baptised child of God. No longer a child of this broken world, now animated by the Holy Spirit in Christ and reconciled to God. The old has gone and the New has come. Now they are a member of God’s family in the care of their parents, Godparents and congregation. We are to no longer regard them according to the flesh as Paul wrote, for they are a New Creation reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. And God has given them and us His ministry of reconciliation.

            Therefore we, now, together, are ambassadors for Christ, God is making His appeal to those around us through you. So, as Paul writes, be reconciled to God. And be reconciled to each other. For God sees us all as His beloved children, and after all every human is made in the image of God. If God has reconciled us to Himself, then we love what He loves and want what He wants; and He loves you, all your siblings in Christ, every human, and all His Creation. Be what you are. An old lady is an old lady, not a young man. Just as your sin has been taken away today, live separated from sin. You who are baptised are children of God, so take after Him not after the devil. Be who God has made you to be, take your identity from Him, don’t let sin or death or the devil rule over your life for Jesus Christ is your Lord. Or as Paul simply states, be reconciled to God. For you are His ambassadors.

            You are Christ’s ambassadors, temples of the Holy Spirit, Children of the ever-loving Father Almighty. In Christ you are not your own ambassador, temples of pleasure, or children of the devil. You are a New Creation, the old has gone and the new has come. So live in His reconciliation, with Him and each other; and make a good and loving appeal to those God has put in your life. And when you break that reconciliation, come back as the prodigal son for God will receive and reconcile you again.

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.

Talk about a hard hitting truth!

Luke 13:3, 5
I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.

            The people asked Jesus and I ask you, are those suffering in Ukraine, Tigray and Myanmar more evil than you that they are so horrifically afflicted by sin, death and the devil? Were those Christians who were executed by the Islamic State so faithless that God allowed for them to die? Were those Christian martyrs flayed, beheaded, stoned, sawn in two, burnt alive, because they were worse sinners more guilty than you? Jesus tells you no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.

            Talk about a hard hitting truth! And I thought the New Testament was all mercy, grace and Gospel! But unless you repent, you too will perish. Unless you turn away from your enacted love of sinful habits, your trusting the lies of this corrupt world, your fear of death; unless you turn away from those and turn toward Jesus, to fear, love and trust Him, you too will perish. Peter says at Pentecost, repent and be baptised everyone of you (Acts 2:38). Jesus began His ministry with the proclamation, ‘repent and believe the Good News!’ and ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven in here!’ (Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17). John the Baptist called the people to a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3). And now, in this Christian season of Lent, the Church calls you to repent.

            For, if you think you are standing firm in the Faith, in Christ, as a Christian, be careful you do not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). The Christian life is not an easy life, lazy and relaxing; Jesus came down from the mountain of Transfiguration and was immediately confronted by the enemy (Luke 9:37-42). Immediately after His Baptism the Holy Spirit drove Him out into the desert to fast and suffer the attacks of the devil (Luke 4:1-2). You will not be free from the attacks of your own sin and guilt, from the attacks of death and sickness, the attacks of the devil and temptation, until Christ returns in glory or takes you to be with Him. So, take these attacks as opportunities to pray, to turn back to God; for as Paul wrote, if you think you are standing firm, be careful you do not fall.

            Repent, turn to God in trouble and triumph; when it’s going well or going worse, pray and listen to His Word. In the Lenten studies this week we spoke about the ‘domestic church’ or how we bring Christ to each other in our home life. We said, ‘the family that prays together stays together,’ then spoke about how we read God’s word separately because of other commitments. We talked about our mealtime prayers, thanking God and asking His blessing regularly at every meal, or not so regularly. There was also the mention of singing God’s praises together in the home. When things are going well, or going worse; we can always repent, turn to God together, as family, to pray and listen to His Word. For we need Him each and every day, together as family we need Him, together as a congregation we need Him; His strength, His wisdom, His compassion, His words.

            But why do we need Him? What strength does He provide? What kind of wisdom does He grant? What is His compassion? For this we turn back to the Old Testament, dark and dusty, brimstone and fire; to God’s words through Isaiah whose sin was burnt from his lips by the Divine fire. God says, ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.’ (Isaiah 55:1). He shows compassion to the weak and poor. God says, ‘Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.’ (55:3). He has great strength to give life and make a promise that lasts forever, for of course the Word of the Lord stands forever! God says, ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (55:9). His wisdom beyond our comprehension, and in that wisdom He has made an everlasting and never-changing promise of life to Adam, to Abraham, to David, to Daniel, to Peter, to Paul, to countless others and today again to you.

Jesus, the fulfillment of the Promise, complete reconciliation of God and man, the first born of the New Creation, the goal of humanity; Jesus is life. That is why we need Him everyday. That is why we repent, turn back to Him. And that is why He says, unless you repent, you too will perish. Because just as when you wander away from light you find darkness, when you walk away from life you have death. So repent, cling to Him who is life everlasting (Psalm 63:8), cling to Jesus who is for you and your whole family and all the world.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

“Go and tell that fox”

Luke 13:32
Go and tell that fox, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

            On the Sunday of Transfiguration before Lent began we heard an image of our goal in Christ. The human body completely united with God’s blazing glory. Jesus came down the mountain to defeat sin, death and the devil; casting out the demon from the boy, healing him and restoring him to his father. And last week you heard the Holy Spirit bringing Jesus out into the desert to fast and be attacked by demons. Tempted with those three great temptations of pleasure, possession and pride; and the devil departing for a time. Today we hear a veiled threat and the love of God.

            For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to drive out demons and heal the people, to defeat sin, death and the devil for you. Jesus had been teaching, healing and casting out demons, casting wide the net of the Gospel; yet in doing so he had disturbed and angered the local leaders, the Pharisees and the scribes. Teaching, ‘unless you repent you too will perish.’ (Luke 13:5). Healing a woman, who was crippled by a demon, on the Sabbath, God’s day of rest; teaching the freedom of the Lord’s Day (Luke 13:10-16). And now the Pharisees confront Him, telling Him to leave under threat of death. But Jesus is not in a rush and He knows His work. “I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” To show God’s love to the people, even when some of those people stood against Him.

            Jesus standing against death and the devil, yet not fussed by the people who stood against Him. Continuing His way of life, He stood firm. And this is what Paul is writing of to the Philippians (4:1). St Paul and many like him strove to follow in the example of Jesus, to live in His life, to do as He did. Listening to His Word, which stands forever, Paul believed God’s Baptismal Promises, that our citizenship is not here in Australia, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). In heaven, where God reigns in glory and where sin, death and the devil have no power. And Paul more than believed, he eagerly awaited our Saviour from there, from the right hand of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (3:20). Awaiting our Lord who defeats sin, death and the devil and will destroy your sin, your death and your devils; transforming your bodies to be like His glorious body (3:21). This is God’s goal for all of humanity, the revelation of the mount of Transfiguration, that we become who Jesus is. This is why we encourage each other, why we try to explain the faith to others, to spread the News of His victory. This is why we have the Church Year, Lent; why we might fast, pray and give to those in need.

And this is what being a Christian is. When you are Baptised, you are baptised into Christ’s everlasting life. When you are Justified, God Justifies you, He makes you righteous, with Christ’s Justice, His Righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). When you receive Holy Communion, Christ incorporates you into Himself, the two become one flesh. As you are united with Christ Jesus, you, together with all Christians, are becoming as He is. Fully reconciled with God Almighty, our Father; Eternally Victorious over sin, death and the devil; and glorified by Him in the New Creation, shining with His Eternal Glory. You have a foretaste of this today, a foretaste of God’s goal for us, of Christ’s goal; yet today, tomorrow, you struggle to follow His example again.

We struggle, especially as we focus, fast, pray, give to the needy, we struggle against sin death and the devil. And others stand against us, people, those we work with, our government, at times even friends and family; they stand against us when they set their minds on earthly things. Paul says not that they fast but that their god is their stomach, not that they pray but that they glory in shame (Philippians 3:19). Yet we have a helper, the Holy Spirit; we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ; and we have an ever-loving Father, God Almighty. He who made a total and unilateral commitment to Abraham, has promised forgiveness, and New Everlasting Holy Life in relationship with Him to you. He loves you.

That is why Jesus, despite those living as enemies of His cross, keeps working. A good example for us. A couple of days then on the Third day He would reach His goal. A few days until Good Friday, then on the Third day He would rise, resurrect, stand forever in victory. And we will receive Him today as we too proclaim, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

What two days of the week start with the letter T

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.  This week’s Memory Verse from Romans is ‘”Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul also tells us in Philippians,  ‘Above all else, live in a way that brings honour to the good news about Christ.’ (Philippians 1:27 CEV) 

Today, we confront the challenge of temptation and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to aid us in overcoming temptation.  So that we can honour Christ Jesus by living in a way that brings him honour.

Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God our Father, this morning we gather to worship You and to begin our journey with Your Son from His victory over temptation to His victory over the cross.  We praise you for the gift of salvation that He has given, and for His life and ministry that we witness together through the Scriptures.   Father, guide our time together so that we may confront our own temptation with confidence. We pray together in the name of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

An American local sheriff was looking for a new deputy.  One of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest candidate, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the sheriff, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The sheriff thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the sheriff asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter ‘T’?”   “Today and tomorrow,” replied the applicant, smiling confidently. The sheriff was again surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.

 “Now, listen carefully, who killed Abraham Lincoln?”, asked the sheriff. The candidate seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The sheriff replied, trying to be gentle, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his mates who were waiting to hear the results of the interview.

He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, we heard the words of God, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   I am convinced that these words from God the Father would have rang true throughout the spiritual realms.  And that would have perked the attention of the devil.   It appears he was permitted to test Jesus, just as he was given permission to test Job.  And just as he often is given permission to test us.

In our Gospel reading this morning it is Jesus’ first days on the job of ministering to a wayward people. Immediately he is confronted with three major temptations. Ultimately Jesus is confronted with a choice: Would he take the crown without the cross?   Would he allow his humanity to overcome his divinity.

We are often confronted with a similar choice.  Would we enter the Kingdom of God in eternity, without a commitment to the community of believers here.  Would we go through this life holding onto the Good News of our own salvation without reaching out together with that Good News of Jesus Christ bringing honour to his name.

Like Jesus, we are confronted with the most basic temptations in life that bring us ultimately to this choice.  We face these temptations in our attitudes, actions and words we use every day. We don’t need the devil to bring on these temptations.  We do a fine job by ourselves.  But when we are intentional and serious about following Christ Jesus, the devil will surely try to distract us.

Thank God, we have three very strong supporters in our confrontation with temptation. We have the Holy Spirit who will encourage our faith, we have the law of God which will point out when we fall to temptation, and we have each other to share our journey, remind us of God’s forgiveness and strengthen our resolve to live our Christianity.

The devil has been active in the world for almost as long as God himself.  Their purposes are opposite from each other, of course.  God created the world and preserves it.  Satan desires to destroy the world.  God loves and nurtures His people, while Satan is filled with a consuming hatred for God and all his creation. 

God provides for the justification of all believers through the gift of His own Son as a sacrifice for our sin.  Satan tries his worst to distract Jesus and then to destroy him.    Scripture tell us that God ‘will remember our sin no more’.  Satan stands as a constant, hollow but hounding accuser, trying to heap guilt upon us for every failure.

And here we are.  Living the tension of our Christian challenge.  To live in community as forgiven children of God, with both the guilt over sin and the freedom of forgiveness.  God hates the sin but will never hold back his love and forgiveness for every person with faith in Jesus Christ. 

Through our faith we already have a place in eternity with Jesus.  We don’t even need to fret over that.  But we still live with a certain tension every day.  As we live our faith in community, we feel the urgency to offer others this freedom and joy of salvation.  We also often feel fearful about sharing our life of faith openly. Showing our neighbour the care we have for them.   Reaching out together with an intentional attitude of compassion, and care is easier together.  As we follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God saw that the world was captivated by sin, and he grieved for the humanity that he loved so much.    In the same way, we often see the brokenness around us, in our families, among our friends, and throughout our neighbourhoods. 

In order to account for the human will that was captivated by sin, God took this sin upon himself.   God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father shares in what the Son experiences.  The Son acts in unison with the Spirit to accomplish the will of the Father.  And all three in their eternal unity, share in our joy and sorrow.  In the same way, we can gather in community to pray.  To assist where we are able to reach out with both compassion and the Gospel.  

Pray intentionally and specifically for those around us who are still wandering in the dry and dark places.  In community, we can make a difference by being available and ready to introduce the reality of God’s grace together. In what the world witnesses about our love for one another.

Through Jesus Christ, God renewed our relationship with himself.  But here’s the rub – that renewal didn’t stop the brokenness of the world.  Jesus calls us to join together to bring a small bit of calm and order out of the chaos of that  brokenness. We reach out better together.  And in those times when we feel powerless to present the love and grace of God to others we can remember the words of Christ to Paul:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NIV)

I am sure that after the waters of the floods that affect our coastline and rivers recede there will be so much opportunity to assist our neighbours on the Mid North Coast with sustenance and clean-up.  But we can only do this in community with others, working together.  Trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence. 

Today, we were to confront the decision to call a pastor for part time service to our Congregation to bring a new energy to our outreach in Port Macquarie. And to join with the community of Lutherans in NSW to support that pastor’s part time service to the Gospel through the District initiative of Frontier School of Mission.  Again, trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence.

The Gospel tells us today that after His baptism, Jesus spent forty days preparing for his journey to the cross, in the solitude of the desert hills. In Lent, we embark on forty days as well.  To prepare for the remembrance of God’s sacrifice.  Forty days for Jesus, and forty days for us.  But for many, those forty days are little more than tradition.  And for so many more, these days go by without even a notice. 

Thank God, he sets no time limit for our preparation for eternity.  When we receive the gift from our triune God of baptism, God will use our whole lifetime to prepare us to receive his ultimate gift of eternal life.  And God gives us each other to journey together through our life of faith, hope, and love.   Especially during these forty days of intentional Christian living.  They say that it takes about six weeks of intention to break a bad habit.  And it takes about six weeks of intention to build a good habit into character of living. When we are faced with the temptation to ignore our commitment to Christ and to community, we can turn to the scriptures and to each other for encouragement.  And we can remember the words of James, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV)

When we are faced with the temptation to accept the Kingdom of God without living our commitment to Christ and to each other here in this broken world, we can gain strength against temptation.  Jesus responded to the devil, “The Scriptures say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”  We test God when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives and still expect every blessing from God for the here and now.  We already have God’s blessings for eternity by our faith in Jesus Christ.

We can also take courage from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  ‘If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.  For it is by believing in our heart that we are made right with God, and it is by confessing with our mouth that we are saved.’ 

The great English statesman and man of God William Wilberforce once wrote that “Christianity can be condensed into four words: admit, submit, commit, and transmit.  Admit Christ as Lord,  submit to Christ as Lord, commit our lives to Christ as Lord, and transmit the Love of Christ to a dying world.  (Draper’s Quotes, Accessed QuickVerse Platinum 2010) Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873)  We transmit the love of Christ to the world better when we hold onto each other and reach out together.

We can pray, “Thank You Jesus! For entering humanity for us.  For holding strong against the temptations that so easily beset us.  For holding fast to bring salvation into this broken world.  And then for loving us even when we fall victim to temptation.”   The grace and peace of God, keep our hearts, our minds and our voices in, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson