“Free for what?”

Galatians 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

            For freedom Christ has set us free! I graduated from school 12 years ago. The next day I rode past a school bus near my school; “Ha! I never have to do that again,” I thought, “I’m free!” Young and free, the whole world before this teenager; work or study, adventure, love, fear and danger; this young adult: free. But free for what? Last week we heard that God’s Law was our guardian, like a harsh schoolmaster; yet now that Christ has come you are free! Free from school, free to go out and live, free to make your own choices. But what choices will you make? Will you respect your old schooling, or make a new way? What now will you do?

Today there is so much freedom across the western world. You are free to study, free to work, free to own land, free to marry whoever, free to divorce, free to do so much that our ancestors even 200years ago were not free to do. So much freedom, so much choice that people are creating their own answers as to what they are free to do. But we don’t always make good choices, if you are free to travel the world, free to live as a different gender, free to work or to just brood in a basement; if you are free yet don’t stand firm in what is good, true and beautiful then you submit yourself again to slavery, burdens and suffering. We hear this in the news all the time, the pain amongst broken families, the troubles of substance addictions, riots and shootings; those people who, not standing firm, are influenced, pushed this way and that, by so many things, dreams, movements, politics, ideals, idols. So many, being free, submit themselves to these false and deadly gods.

Is this the freedom we are called to in Christ? No! Of course not! For you were called to freedom and life, not the burdens of sin and death; so do not use your freedom as an opportunity for these things, rather serve one another through love. (Galatians 5:13). The devil is defeated, yes, but that does not mean that the demons are not now at work. We are tempted by the ads we see and hear, by your body’s selfish desires, even by stray thoughts in our heads; by our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. These are what our guardian, our school master, taught and protected against. God’s Law prepares us for life with Christ. Now that we live free of our guardian; will we respect it and the Holy Spirit who gave it? Or do you freely submit yourself to sin? To porn, impurity, sensuality, sorcery, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these? These things trap you, enslave you, and kill you. Perhaps your body desires them, yet these acts, doing or causing these things and fulfilling those desires does not bring peace only pain. These evil works destroy the gifts God has lavished on you, doing them kills faith and drives away the Holy Spirit, this is why Paul can write that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. God does not save you so that you can kill yourself again. Christ does not give you life so that you can throw it away. The Holy Spirit does not give such great gifts, even faith, even Himself, so that you can despise Him and throw Him out. You are not free to sin.

You are free to live the life of Christ. You here today, forgiven and made new in Jesus, are free to go out and live a life free from submission to sin, death and the devil. To live in accord with the Holy Spirit and with the Law He gave. For all who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. This is why you broken people come together to be reformed by God’s Word, to be conformed to Christ. So, you are now free to respect all of God’s Word, the most troubling or obscure text of scripture and chiefly the Gospel of Christ; and free to respect all of God’s Works, His allowance of all your pain and suffering and chiefly the Cross of Christ. For it is in His Gospel and His Cross that you find the answer to your sin. It is God’s Word and Work that heal you. Jesus has defeated your sin and death, and the demonic powers at the Cross; this Gospel is given for you clearly and assuredly in Baptism, in the Absolution, His words returning you to the grace of your Baptism, and in Holy Communion. In Baptism your sinful self is drowned, slain again by Christ’s Word in the Absolution; and in Holy Communion, you share in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the defeat of sin, the devil and death. The Holy Spirit either comes into you, or if we have not chased Him out, sustains the life of Christ in you. This is the wonder of God’s Word and Work for you here today; He promises you He has dealt with your sin, He has given you life stronger than death, He has cut you free from any demonic influence. Today you are free; For this freedom Christ has set you free!

So now we live by the Spirit! He produces in us who trust Him love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. There is no law, no crushing burden, that comes with the peace of God, joy does not hurt. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. If Christ has set you free from sin and worry, live as the righteous and faithful people He has freed you to be.

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.

“Genesis or Jesus, who do you trust?”

Galatians 3:24
So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.

            My son is two years old, and he has a guardian. He goes to childcare once a week, and there he is protected and guided by the workers. He’ll go on to school and for 13 odd years he’ll be taught and protected by many teachers and staff. Then he’ll go out into the world, either work or study, but he won’t have a guardian. When my son becomes an adult he will no longer have a guardian because, if the guardians have done their work well, he won’t need one.

            Now God’s people had in the beginning proven that they needed guidance and a guard. And so God provided clothing; He kept them away from the precious yet dangerous trees; He destroyed the evil corruption by the cleansing waters of the flood. It’s not unlike a parent clothing their child, keeping the glassware locked away, and washing off filth. And then God made a covenant, began anew a relationship, with Noah; then with Abraham; then with all the people of Israel through Moses. Now every relationship begins with some ground rules; for instance, when you meet someone new you might give them a handshake, but you don’t slap them across the face; so God lays down the ground rules for His relationship with His people. These ground rules, or family rules, are what we mean when we say, ‘the law of God’; these ground rules the first five books of the Bible, also called the Law, were the guardian for God’s ancient people.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These writings are how God formed His ancient people. These are the stories that the Israelites told to their kids, it was Israelite and Midianite rather than cowboys and Indians; kids grew up wanting to be like Abraham not Superman; and they sang the wheels on the chariot (fall off in the mud) when they went on their school trips. As we read the history of God’s people, truly we see how immature they were. How little respect they had for their relationship with God Almighty; and how like a child they needed a guardian, a guide. Thank God, He did give them these books, and the Prophets to speak to them and a book of songs to sing. But did they listen to their guardian? No, like so many children they didn’t listen to their guardians, to the guidance given. They did not trust their teacher, and they went their own way; rejecting the guardian’s protection God’s people ran into danger.

And how often you do the same, failing to be faithful to God’s family rules? This is not the fault of the guardian, it was not the fault of God’s Holy Law that Israel adulterously worshipped idols, it is not the fault of good teachers that a child shoplifts. These ground rules set by God, this way of living in God’s family, is not bad or wrong; but when you break it, the Law punishes you severely. The Law says every sinful descendant of Cain was killed by the flood. The Law says the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire, them and their land. The Law says when some priests and Levites worshipped incorrectly, they were consumed by fire and the earth. Like a harsh schoolteacher the Law of God brought the fear of death as it taught God’s people what sin and wickedness is. The Law of God is Holy and Good, against it’s harsh light your sin stinks as the thickest, darkest stain of dung.

“So the Law was our guardian until Christ came.” The Law of God protected, prepared and taught God’s people, like a boarding house can do until the children mature, until the time is right. “Until Christ came that we may be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” So what is the difference between the guardian and Christ? The Law of God shines a light on your failure and sin, when you hear its condemnation, you should shudder; yet the Law cannot fix you, it cannot live your life for you. God’s Law, His family rules, cannot make you part of the family; what makes you part of the family is either begetting/birth or adoption. It is not God’s Law that justifies you, it is Christ. When you are convicted of your sin, of your failure; do not rely on Genesis, trust in Jesus. Genesis, like a good school teacher, does teach you how to live with God, yet it can’t take away your sin, it can’t make right your relationship with God. This is why we don’t have a lecture hall for a church building, yet why the sermon still has a place. After all, this is a house of prayer, not a hall for study. This is a gathering together with Christ.

As we gather here, Christ comes and renews the promises at your baptism; when you were adopted into God’s family, when this relationship was certified and publicly made known. You, in Christ, are forgiven! He speaks to us in the readings and we speak with Him in song; having a chat before the meal. We together consider all the family, and what this family is all about; as we pray the prayer of the Church. Then we get ready to have a meal, communion with the family.

But the Law does not come to the table, the school teacher is not part of the family. We can respect the school teacher, but they are not your father, and they are not a son. This is why Paul can write: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You are publicly part of this family by God’s work in Baptism, not by your obedience to the Law. You are not baptised into Genesis; you are baptised into Jesus. You derive your identity not from Adam or Eve, but from the Only Begotten Son of God. You do not rely on your school teacher to make you live with Jesus, because you are already living in Him. As Jesus says, wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am with them, I in them and they in me; This is the effect of His Ascension, this is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost and beyond. God’s people were being taught and prepared up to the time of Christ, now mature we are called to live and work with Jesus by the strength the Holy Spirit provides. To care for those in your family with Christ’s humility, to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, to be open about the wonders Christ has done in your life, to daily join Christ and all God’s family in prayer. Yes, respect God’s Law as good and right and true, yet trust in Jesus and live the life He has given you.

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.

All working together

Text: John 16:12-15.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

All working together

Here today in just these few verses we are given an insight into the workings of God and that which is important to him; and this then has an impact on who we are and what we are on about as well.

Now here in this reading we are reminded of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the three members of the Trinity are at work in our world today. The thing that strikes us very strongly is that they are all working together, from their different positions and roles within the Godhead. That is they are at work making known to us that which is of God and which is important for us: that which is all truth. Very clearly, however the point is made that this knowledge has to do with Jesus and what he has said and done for us as he lived on this earth.

Now here Jesus begins by telling us that The Spirit of truth is come to guide us into the things that are important for us to know: the truth. This Spirit, we are told elsewhere, proceeds from the Father and the Son, and will make known to us only that which he hears from them. His sole purpose is to lead us to faith in Jesus Christ, which in turn brings glory to Jesus. He therefore, is sent to us, to make known to us all that Jesus said and did through his life, death and resurrection. The things yet to come, are a reference to Jesus death and resurrection which was yet to come, and which were of great importance for our salvation.

In that regard the Holy Spirit has often been regarded as the shy member of the Trinity. His focus is not on himself and what he does, but has come simply in order to make salvation through Christ, by grace through faith, known to us: to bring us to this knowledge and to help us to trust in this message, so that glory may in turn go to Jesus Christ and from there to the Father. He does not speak or act on his own behalf; as an independent agent, but only of that which he has received from the Father through the Son.

This then highlights the work of Jesus whilst he was here on this earth. God himself come to us, so that he might save us from the hell we have brought on ourselves through our rejection of God and our failing to live under his authority and Word. He took the punishment we deserve, on himself, so that we in turn might be forgiven and assured of life and salvation. Then he was raised from the dead so that we can be assured that he is for real and that eternal life is now there for all who are in Christ.

All this is from the Father. Everything Jesus had and gave he had in common with his Father. The divine love and power is reflected from the Father through the Son, and then made know by the Holy Spirit. All are working together to bring forgiveness, life and salvation to us all. There we have the greatness of our God, and that which we truly thank and praise him for.

But this work and cooperation has continued on from there. This Good News of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed year after year ever since. It has brought life and salvation down through the ages to many, many people. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Spirit has made known all the truth that surrounds Jesus’ death and resurrection that we need to know. Around the world, people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. And glory is going to the Father for all the goodness that he has extended to us.

This goodness and work even now goes on here. The Spirit of truth is still at work, seeking to guide us into all truth. Salvation by grace through faith is still being proclaimed. The emphasis of Christ alone, grace alone, scripture alone and faith alone are still held up in some quarters as vital. Jesus death and resurrection is still the focus in preaching and teaching. The Triune God is continuing to work together to ensure that this message of Jesus continues to go on.

This is surely then also where we join in this important work of God. As we allow the Spirit of truth to work in our lives we too will be focussing all that we say and do on Jesus Christ and the importance of his death and resurrection for our salvation and life. Like the Spirit, we will not act as independent agents, but will act under the guidance of the Spirit and under the authority of God himself. We too will only speak of what has been passed on from Christ as of first importance. As we do, we can be sure that God’s work will go on and continue to bear fruit.

So today, we are reminded again that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all working together with one purpose in mind: Each in their different roles and priorities, all with the same end in mind.

The Spirit of truth is sent to lead us into all truth: The truth and importance of Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us through his death and resurrection. In this, the love and power of the Father is extended to all people.

So also then, when we focus on that same message we know that we too are being joined into that work of God himself. We also know that where that message is, and is proclaimed, that it will bring blessing. But more importantly, glory will go to our Lord Jesus Christ. That in turn will bring glory to the Father. Here again as I conclude this message let us remember that to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, belongs all glory and honour, now and always.


“Coughs, cross, and Spirit; can you wait?”

Romans 8:26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.

            For the six weeks of Easter my family has had about six days free from coughing. We hid inside our rooms for a week because of covid, just waiting to get out. Kids coughing, mum moaning, dad groaning. You can imagine us being worn out, and yet this is nothing compared to the groaning of the whole of Creation right up to the present time. Groaning as in the pains of childbirth, as God’s Creation suffers thousands of hurts because of us and our sin. God knows the beauty of His Creation, and the perfection He has planned for it. And yet Creation waits in pain for the Fulfillment. When will it come? How much longer?

            God has made a promise that He would fix the brokenness Adam and Eve brought on the world; and humanity has been waiting for it ever since. The promise to Abraham that all peoples will be blessed through His descendant, the Israelites groaning in waiting. The promise to the kingdom of Judah of a Messiah, a saviour; the Jews longing for the Fulfillment. And now you, disciples of Jesus, who have seen the first-fruits of our salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord; you join this waiting as you groan inwardly for the complete redemption of our bodies. You can wait as the faithful have for thousands of years, living the life of Christ, walking His way of the Cross; or you can go your own way as the wicked giants before the flood, or the self-destructive ways people invent today. But you who do cling to this hope, the redemption of our bodies, the destruction of sin, death and the devil, the healing of all our brokenness, body and soul; you who cling to this hope, wait.

            But am I strong enough to wait? Can I hold out for that long? My Grandma waited her whole life, yet as far as this fallen world sees, she could not last. Could Jesus’ disciples, without the Holy Spirit, have gone out into foreign lands, among strange tongues, before kings and emperors and spread the gospel? No, by themselves they were huddled inside like isolated covid sufferers. However, God did not leave them orphans. Someone unseen as the wind came into the apostles, filled them with power and made their proclamation understood by all peoples who heard them in their own mother tongues. And now, a mixed multitude praises the One Lord Jesus Christ, bringing all their prayers to Him as they wait.

As we wait. Waiting as my family suffers coughs, waiting while our faithful forebears have died; still the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. He sustains our faithful forebears who still live because of Christ. The Holy Spirt sustains us through trials and tribulations, despite our failings and fears; He is the one who draws us back to Christ. He is the one who intercedes, praying on our behalf, when we do not know what to pray. When you are dry, He is there; and when you are fit and full, He is the one who provides the strength. He is the one who guides us in accordance with God’s will. And this is the reason for our celebration today, that God Almighty, our loving Heavenly Father, chose this day to send the Holy Spirit to enliven His Church. That all peoples, not just the Jews, but Germans, Scots, English, Irish, Tigrayans, Estonians, even Australians, might hear and be saved. That we might receive the Holy Spirit as our advocate while we wait for final and lasting peace in Christ. That by the Holy Spirit you might be joined with hundreds, thousands, millions, of people with hundreds of languages praising, serving and being served by God together.

This is who we are, the Church, the Bride of Christ, clothed in many colours, gathered from every tribe and tongue. You have been gathered to dwell with God Almighty, to pray and speak by the strength of the Holy Spirit in your weakness. To rely on Christ in your day to day, keeping His word, obeying His commands. And by the strength of the Holy Spirit to join Him as an advocate for those around you, family, friends and colleagues. For in the same way, as Paul wrote, the Spirit helps you in your weakness.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.