9th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:14
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

            Jesus loves you. Through all the hard things that might hurt you, stop you, crush you; still God loves you. As we heard last week, nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even His weariness, sorrow or wisdom can, as today He heard of His cousin John’s death by Herod and that Herod thought Jesus was John risen from the dead with power (Matthew 14:1-12). Jesus heard this and left but when He came to shore He saw the great crowd of people who followed to receive from Him. He saw you in your need and had compassion.

            Today as He serves you in this Divine service, He brings you the wonderful gifts only He can give. He welcomed you, forgave all your sin, has spoken to you, and will intercede for you and with you as we intercede for the whole world. In this hard world, suffering virus and restriction, yet still sickness, pain, regret, rejection, fear, death and grief, in this desolate world we need healing. The ancient Israelites in their Exodus into the desert suffered, they needed relief and food, yet God was with them and He provided all in love; drawing His people away from wickedness and their own sin, toward what is best, the peaceful, joyful holy life with God our Almighty creator. And today these slightly less ancient Israelites, again in the desert, in need of healing and food; God was with them, Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sickness, their chronic illnesses, and miraculously provided them food. Now today, we might not be in a desert, but still you are in need.

            Each of you know this far better than I could hope to. You need help. You can’t do it all by yourself. You wrestle to find peace and joy, to hold on to these things. You seek help from government, friends, family; and thank God for these, but they can only help you so much. We have psychiatrists, councillors, doctors, but still we suffer depression, anxiety, and utter despair. Who can give us what we need? Who can give rest? Peace? Joy? Even unconditional and overflowing love? Jesus. He is the healer of the world. Here in this account He had compassion, that gut feeling when you know something is wrong and needs to be fixed, and healed many their chronic diseases. This is such a wonderful gift, caring for our Heavenly Father’s good creation; but Jesus didn’t just come that we might be healthy, I want to draw your attention to what He does next.

            These people who have been healed in one verse, now receive from Jesus something far more important. Just one verse for the healing, now seven for this miracle. Certainly it shows Christ’s divinity, this re-enactment of God’s presence with the Israelites in the desert, receiving the bread of heaven. Jesus is true God, and true man. But I’ll highlight another thing the Spirit shows us from His Word. Think about what this might be referring to: Jesus told the crowds to sit, He took the bread, the offering, there with the people, He looked up to the heavens, He gave thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples to distribute to the crowds who were satisfied, with 12 baskets full left over. 12 the number of God’s people. Looked up, gave thanks, broke and gave out. Sounds a bit like Holy Communion doesn’t it? John in His gospel certainly thinks so (John 6), and the early church called our holy meal the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42). Now why is Holy Communion more important than healing a chronic disease?

            Because you don’t need a healthy body, you need to be united with Jesus body and soul. When Jesus saw Jerusalem He said, ‘how I long to gather you like a hen her chicks’ when He saw the crowds and their need, He was sick in the stomach with sympathy. Just like a parent hurting for the stupid or dangerous decisions of their child, so to and more God feels as He looks at all humanity in our need, as He is looking at you now. This is the heart of Jesus, of God who loves you. And as you come into His presence now over zoom, confessing the truth of your need, receive well His healing. Hear again, Jesus has taken away your sin, the Holy Spirit is recreating you, conforming you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And it hurts me that I can’t bring the bread of heaven to all of you today, yet for those of us who are able to truly participate in Christ’s body and blood, to be united in Him with God and all the saints, pray that we recognise what is happening, that we receive this wonderful gift well, that in this mystical union, as we are conformed to Jesus, we have all we need.

            All that you need is provided for. Jesus has done it (Psalm 22:31). In Him you have suffering but are dead already; and by the Holy Spirit with you by baptism you will rise again into everlasting peace joy and love. Now look around you, at least think of/remember those you know, those God has placed in your life. Do they share this promise with you? Do they know their need?

            As you think of them and receive God’s grace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 8:29
“That those He foresaw and predestined to conform together to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many siblings”.

 

            This is a strange time in the world, and in this season of the church year we ask a few good questions: who are you? What matters? And what now? Weeks ago, in Chapter 6 we heard the Holy Spirit tell us that you are dead, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by baptism (6:4, 11). In these weeks, these chapters, Paul has been grappling with us about what that means this side of eternity. No longer a slave to sin, now a slave to righteousness (6:17-18). What I don’t want to do I do, who will save me from this body of death? (7:15, 24). This world, even you are dead through sin; but the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, who raised Christ, will also resurrect your body (Romans 8:10-11). And as sons now, not slaves, we wait with the groaning creation for this resurrection from real death, the revelation of the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Now today, the Spirit is reminding you, both of your failure and sin, but also that He joins with you to oppose your weakness (Romans 8:26).

            So who are we? You are weak, you are distracted by this world and your own desires, struggling against what is easy you long for something you cannot see. In a word, you fail; yet because of Jesus, because of the Holy Spirit, because of our Heavenly Father who loves you and works all things for your good, for your union with Jesus Christ; because of the Most Holy Trinity you have life everlasting. Just a foretaste this side of eternity, but truly nothing can take this promise away from you, so cling to this, the only thing that is sure. For friendships can end, families break apart, businesses fail, yes we suffer in our lives and this world is as good as dead. And yet God’s Word will stay forever, He’s predestined it (Isaiah 40:8).

            And He has predestined that we be conformed to the image of His Son, to Jesus Christ. Now I ask what does that mean? What does it mean to be conformed to the man who wandered around ancient Palestine without a place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). To be conformed to this man who lived for others, teaching, healing and forgiving sin, so much that often His only times for rest were interrupted (Matthew 14:13). This man who was rejected by His hometown, rejected by His people, His disciples, the people He loved and came to save (Matthew 13:54-57; 26:3-4, 56). Rejected, flogged and crucified. What does it mean for you to be conformed to Jesus Christ? If it comes a time when we are persecuted like others around the globe, does that mean you are less like Christ? If we suffer fire, flood and drought, does that separate you from God’s love? If we are rejected, bashed and murdered, has God abandoned us? No, as it is written, ‘on your account we face death all the day, we are regarded as sheep before the slaughter’ (Psalm 44:22)

            However in all these things we are more than conquerors through the one who loves us. Some people think we are crazy for choosing an execution tool as the mark of our church buildings, but for us this symbol of death is our victory. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God. In Jesus we are victorious over sin, death, and the devil. The Holy Spirit guides us in the way everlasting beyond this corrupt world and into the New Creation, conforming us fully to Christ. Nothing can separate us, so don’t let it. As our Father in Heaven conforms you to His Son, don’t let anything distract you, be it huge like war or bushfire, or small like stubbing your toe. We have been chosen together by God, called out of this dying world to be conformed to Jesus’ everlasting life. To live for others, to show God’s great love by caring for His creation, to rejoice in the truth and encourage others with the mercy God Almighty first showed you.

            Sin is defeated, shame, guilt, and worry are no longer your boss. Death is defeated, the Spirit is conforming you to Jesus, uniting you into His resurrection. And everything that distracts you from the God who loves you is passing away. Yes, this world is dying, and yet we love the work of our Father’s hands just as Jesus did. We intercede for others just as Jesus did. We encourage one another in the hope we share just as Jesus did. That hope, which we experience a small foretaste of, is the redemption of our bodies, the resurrection, the New Creation, the time when God will restore this fallen world, restore all His saints, restore you, through death to life, fully reconciled with Jesus Christ our life and peace.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 139:23-4
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

            The Psalms, yes poems, songs, prayers, but more than that, they are the open hearts of your siblings in Christ, given light and voice by the Holy Spirit. We see what people do and hear what they say, but we do not know the inner thoughts, the heart and soul of another, except by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Even throughout the Bible we see what people did, said or wrote, yet only in a few places does the Spirit reveal their heart, and only by the Spirit can we hear the heart of God (Romans 8:5-8). Today as we listen in faith by the Spirit we hear God’s Word to us. God’s Word, as it cuts us open and raises us to newness of life (Romans 6:4). Today as we join with David, our heart with His, and with God’s people down the ages in this prayer, we open up our heart to God to deal with whatever we might try to hide, even from ourselves.

            Does that scare you? Just like that creepy Christmas carol, He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake…  Is our God just like that all-powerful fat guy on the north pole, presents and punishment for all the boys and girls?  Well, in this fearful prayer (Psalm 139), we confess “you know when I sit and when I rise, you see my thoughts from afar”. “You hem me in behind and before, you lay your hand upon me”. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Think about that, do you like this? Isn’t it terrifying, even evil according to our society’s liberal democratic ideas of freedom? Yet this is God, as they say all-seeing, all-present, all-powerful; but He is not an abstract supreme being up in the clouds, with those philosophers who worship him. More than His knowledge, presence and power, He is the one who loves you (1 John 4:16).

            In this prayer of David, to the Father, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we confess together that we are fearfully and wonderfully made; that God guides us anywhere we might go, held in His powerful hand; that He knows you completely. But this is not a terrified person who is praying, rather someone in awe of God’s authority, power and love. That the Lord of all would humble Himself to create little old me in the womb of my mother (Psalm 8). That He would not abandon me even if I stray. And even though He knows me in and out, still He wants that I live (Ezekiel 33:11). He loves me, cares for me and sent His beloved son to die that I, who was His enemy (Romans 5:10), might live, that God the Son loves you so much He came down to give up His life, from birth, death, resurrection and on, that we might live.

            Why would you forget this, what Jesus is continuing to do for you, that you are joined to Him in His death by your baptism, participating in Him by Holy Communion, why would you reject the truth and go back to live according to this world that is passing away? Just as God promised Jacob that you would be blessed through his children, God has promised you life everlasting without sin (Genesis 28:13-15; Romans 6:5). Why do you reject that promise and hide as if you had never received it? You have been given the Holy Spirit who has made you Children of the living God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, why would you run from this, back to the way of this world? Don’t hide yourself, don’t run; you know that the end will come. Rather remember that true saying the Spirit gave you through Paul, ‘Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst’ (1 Timothy 1:15). And ask with David, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’

Let God search your heart and hear His Word of correction, don’t continue in your sin, treasuring the things of this world, for this world lives only to die. You are free from that, free from sin. You are a child, and heir of God our Heavenly Father (Romans 8:14-17). We are already dead to this world, so stop living for it (Romans 6:11). Agree with God, admit your wrong when He corrects you and walk in the way everlasting that He shows you, the way God’s people have sought to tread since Adam and Eve down through the ages. Confess the truth of who you are and what you have done, you can’t hide it from God. Confess the truth aloud as The Holy Spirit leads you away from worry, guilt, shame, away from sin in the new everlasting life we have received in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

GOOD LISTENING”  MATTHEW 13:9 

            The story that Jesus tells about the sower and the seed is one of the well known parables in the New Testament. Through this story Jesus tells of the importance not only of preaching the Word of God but also of hearing it. In fact so important is this message of the parable that it is one of the few where Jesus himself provides the meaning of the parable. Remember Jesus doesn’t tell stories for the sake of telling stories. The stories were not an end in themselves but a means to an end. In other words his stories always had a deeper meaning- a truth that would help his followers to understand what God had to say to them.

            In this parable the seed is the Word of God. The different kinds of soil that it falls on are the different ways people receive the Word of God that they hear preached, read or study themselves. The farmer did his best to spread the seed. Now the seed was good seed but the results varied depending where the seed fell.

Some fell on hard ground and immediately the birds gobbled it up.

Some fell on rocky soil and withered and died because it could not take root in the shallow soil.

Some seed fell among thorns and weeds and began to grow but were eventually choked by the thorns.

Some fell on good cultivated soil and grew into a bountiful crop. So it depended not only on the sower and the seed but also on the reception the seed got. So the preaching and the hearing of God’s Word become one activity.

            What this means is that effective preaching is not just my activity alone. I can do so much to prepare and deliver my sermons. But effective preaching also involves effective hearing. And that is where YOU come in. The sower can sow the seed until he drops from exhaustion but if the soil is hard and full of weeds it will be a meagre harvest. Like wise the preacher can preach until he is exhausted but if no one is tuned in to what he is saying then he is wasting his time. The Holy Spirit can be speaking to us through the Scriptures as they are being read to us or as we read them ourselves but if we are not listening  with open ears-hearts and minds, those words will not have any significant impact.

             So what does it mean to be a good listener? That is the crucial question.

  1. In the first place, a good listener is open to the Word of God. As the minister prepares himself to preach the Word, so the listeners must prepare themselves to receive it. When the reader begins to read the lessons or the minister begins to preach we can be put off by the person who is reading or proclaiming God’s Word. We may get sidetracked by the readers’ tone and expression­-or lack of it or tune out  when the minister goes on longer than we think necessary.

            Rather than focussing on the person who is doing the reading or the minister who is preaching, prepare yourself to receive the message as God’s Words for you.

Prepare yourself by asking questions such as:

+What will God say to me today through the sermon?

+What will God want me to get out of the Bible readings?

+What will God say to me today that will make a difference to my life?

            The Bible readings and the sermon are God’ Word for you this day. It may be dressed in human words-human examples and even human error, but nevertheless, it is God’s Word for you. What is important that you listen to it as if God himself were speaking to you. You never know what life-changing words you may be missing if you tune out.  

  1. A good listener recognises that the Word of God has authority. It is one thing for the minister in the pulpit to proclaim God’s promises-but unless you believe God’s Word has authority to back up those promises the preacher might as well save his breath. When God speaks –things happen.

The Word you hear is the same Word that proclaimed at the beginning, “Let there be Light”. It is the same Word that gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is the same Word that stilled storms-healed the sick and raised the dead.

It is a Word that is to be believed-trusted because it has the authority of the eternal God himself. 

  1. Good listening means allowing the Word of God the widest possible application to our lives. Let the Word speak to you. As you hear-read the Word, say to yourself as you hear the Word, “That means me”-“God is speaking to me”.

Now it is a well-known fact that when God’s Word gets too close to the bone or touches a raw nerve of sin, we put up our defences.  We may switch off, or start making excuses to justify our behaviour or start applying the message to someone else. As a result the Word isn’t able to establish any roots in us at all. We filter what we hear. We may water it down-put our own interpretation on what is being said (a bit like the spin doctors employed by politicians) or pass it off as irrelevant –not having any meaning for our lives.

Now there comes a point when you need to ask, “What is God saying to me through this passage”? To listen to the Word and regard it only as an interesting piece of Biblical knowledge hardly acknowledges the authority of God’s Word. This is a misuse-misunderstanding of the purpose of God’s Word. When God’s Word speaks, things are meant to change. When we hear God’s Word as a message from God to us we need to take it seriously and make changes in our lives that will bring glory to God.

            Now I’m not saying that applying God’s Word to our lives is easy. As Martin Luther said, “I believe that by myself I can’t believe. Satan- our sinful nature- the influence of the world about us all conspire to lead us away from really hearing what God has to say to us. So we need to be aware of the forces against us that want us to regard the Word as irrelevant- too boring or to believe that we don’t need to change.

            It is all too easy to conform to the standards and ways of living that are acceptable to the majority of the community but are against God’s ways. That is why we daily need to apply God’ Word to our ways of thinking-attitudes-behaviours.  As long as we live on this earth we will need to listen to God’s Word and apply it to our lives. Listening to and applying God’s Word is a vital part of our Christian life.

            If you are to grow in your faith and your relationship with your Lord and Saviour, you need to + set a time aside-+make a definite decision to read God’s Word- to study God’s Word with others and ask the Holy Spirit to help you in your reading and applying God’s Word.

            The Word of God is like a seed- it has miraculous power with in it-the power of the Spirit. But there is something that we need to do. We need to have open ears-hearts and minds to be the rich fertile soil for the Word to be planted in and grow.

We need to recognize the authority of God in His Word. And we need with the help of the Spirit to apply that Word to our lives. May God enable us to be fertile soil for His Word. Amen

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”.

            Will give you rest. On the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2). In green pastures, by still waters (Psalm 23:1-2). And from our ancient brother Augustine, “our heart is restless until it rests in you.” All you who are weary, burdened, come to Jesus and receive His rest. It’s a simple statement, easy to hear, easy to remember; but what does it mean and do you believe it?

            All of you who are weary and burdened, hard working and stressed. Is that you? Or do you have everything under control? Is life easy for you? Relaxing? Do you sit back because Christ has done it all, and not worry about the consequences? Are you carefree and lazy, enjoying this life? Then the gospel is not for you. Jesus is not for you, and He is not speaking to you, you may as well stop listening now and go about in your body of death until you die rejecting God, cut off from His people (Romans 7:24). You are the wise and learned that the Lord of heaven and earth has hidden the truth from because, as we heard Jesus say weeks back you think you can see the truth by yourself, but you are blind to the real world (John 9:39).

            But for those of you who are weary and burdened, working hard to better yourself, to help those around you, working yourself to the bone and stressed that you never seem to achieve peace and salvation. Stop, listen. This is how all people live because Adam and Eve twisted and rejected God’s Word. Eating the fruit, God revealed how they were to live, increased pain in childbearing for Eve, and living by the sweat of the brow for Adam (Genesis 3: ). Some seek to earn salvation by what they do and say, by how they act, yet we know how well a group of people show perfect love, we don’t even need the confusion of Babel to divide us (Genesis 11:16-19). Some work to forget what is important, so they can ignore difficult things; but ignoring difficult things, bottling them up can lead to that great weight of depression and despair. Hear and receive God’s Word to you. Your work has failed, you are hopeless and live in a hopeless world. Jesus is speaking to you, weary and burdened, saying come to me and I will give you rest.

            Come to Jesus, cast your burdens on Him (1 Peter 5:7), fall broken on that cornerstone the builders rejected (Matthew 21:44) and take up His yoke that is truly fitting and light for our lasting good. Take up His yoke, and what is that yoke? It is the cross. As He says elsewhere, take up your cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s ‘the Passion’ you have some idea of how truly fitting and light the yoke of Jesus is, flogged, bloodied, suffocating, and finally killed. This is what rest in Jesus looks like this side of eternity for us and all who see it. In a very real sense we don’t see what is true, we only hear it through faith, by God’s Word to us, carried by the Holy Spirit. He has revealed the truth to us, not that our faith ends in death on the cross, but rather that Jesus’ death conquers death (Hebrews 2:14; Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:55). One of the greatest fears of humanity is death; the pain, suffering, loss, and all that comes with it. We try hard to save ourselves from death, we make new things to keep ourselves alive, we learn new ways to slow our aging, we continue to fight death even when we have lost all limbs, mind and consciousness, even then we fear death. But weary as we are trying to stop it, burdened as we are by our fear, our grief, Christ presents a different way.

            It is no wonder people reject this way, and continue in weariness and stress, it looks to us horrific, the same as lifting all our COVID restrictions and spiting on everyone we see so that, no one gets the virus. Die that we live? How can that make sense! I’ll let you in on a little secret, it doesn’t really, just as Christians have confessed for 2000yrs, it is a mystery. The mystery of God. The incarnation, that divine and human became one in Jesus. Baptism that we are united with Him in life, death and resurrection. Holy Communion, that we are united in common with Christ and His whole body by His flesh and blood in bread and wine. The holy mysteries of God, honestly weird to our world, yet still true. That coming to Jesus, uniting with Him, taking His yoke, the cross, that these unburden us and in Him we have rest. Our hearts at rest in Jesus. Not lazy, not asleep, but at rest the same as God is at rest on the seventh day. He still provides for all things, He still sustains us, but He does not weary Himself, rather has joy in His creation. Like when you’re doing something you love, cooking, hiking, reading, discussing, you’re active as you rest. Humans fear death, but we are already dead in Christ so we have nothing to fear, nothing to be stressed about. So now in Christ you are free to pray, love, rejoice, suffer, and die, in His rest.

To live in love knowing the truth that Jesus, who loves us more than you can imagine, has already died for us, on your behalf, died and risen from the dead. And more, that you are united with Him in that death and resurrection. Free from sin, free from fear, free to live, free to love. This is the fitting and light yoke of the cross. This is true rest. This is the peace of God which truly surpasses all human understanding.

And this peace the Holy Spirit gives you now, to guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life eternal. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6:16
Don’t you know that if you submit yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

            Slaves and obedience. Hard words for us today, but I ask is anyone truly free? Here the Spirit clearly tells us, no. Whoever, whatever, you obey you are a slave to. It’s simply a fact of life. A slave to your stomach, your bladder; a slave to your boss, your lecturer; a slave to money, to our changing culture, to this fallen world, a slave to sin. You can think of teacher’s pets as slaves to the teacher; of the hippies as slaves to that counter culture; of someone with diarrhea as a slave to the toilet. There are countless examples of these things we rely on, these things that tell us about 1 who we are and 2 what we do. And when you obey them, utterly accept what they say about you and this world, they are your god and you are their slave.

            Of course this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to your bladder, but rather I give these examples to show that slavery is not an institution as we might think, and freedom is not absolute. When you fully submit to something you find your identity and meaning there; you are free to live it out, but not free to reject it. Free to do and free from it’s opposite. An example: free to eat, but free from starvation. The same with sin, the slave to sin is free to sin but free from what is right. The slave to righteousness is free to live in holiness but free from sin. So what are you a slave to? Sin or God in Christ Jesus? If we remember from last week the first part of this chapter, in baptism you died to sin and rose to life everlasting in Christ; and obviously dead slaves don’t so to much.

            And this is what Paul is talking about, trying to get through to the Roman congregation, that we who have been united in Jesus by baptism don’t have to sin and can do what is right. You’re allowed to buy your wife flowers just out of love, you don’t have to always sit in front of the TV when you get home. You’re free to thank God even when you hear good news out in a crowd, you’re free from having to beat yourself up when you fail. We are free by the grace of God, to live His life of joy, peace and love that is ours with Jesus, and free from doing what we know to be wrong. Thank God for this gift of freedom, yes, for our slavery to Him. Remember you are free to remind each other and let others know of this wonderful grace as well!

            But when you do, I know that slavery is a hard word for us, and Paul recognises that too. However, he uses it to get across the truth of 1 who we are and 2 how we live. We can imagine sin as a person, that sin tells us who we are ‘a good enough person’ or even ‘someone more important than others’ and sin tells us how to live, ‘to do whatever you want so long as it does hurt anyone else, or at least anyone you care about’. And of course we hear many different things about who we are and how we should live, you know yourself what you hear and what you hold to.

But more than all these different voices is the voice of God who created all things, who is the source of life and existence. He has authority over all things and what He says goes. I mean, He said ‘let there be light’ and there was light, can’t get more true than that (Genesis 1:3). And when you were baptised into Christ, His death and resurrection, our Heavenly Father said, ‘you are my beloved child’ and so you are, and we are family in Jesus (Matthew 3:17). He said, I have taken away your sin, your guilt, your evil, you are righteous in Jesus (Psalm 103:12; 1 Corinthians 1:30). He tells you, ‘you are not of this world’, you are being made new and holy, perfect in Christ (John 17:16). This is the truth, do not reject it, this is who you are in Jesus by baptism together with all your new family the saints of all times and places. And if you want to know what it means to live this life, hear what the Spirit tells you in Matthew chapter 5 and following, go take some time away and read it even with another and listen to how God tells you to live. If you need some help, ask, ask another Christian a saint, ask the Holy Spirit.

Don’t forget who He says you are and don’t forget your family in Jesus, all the saints who have gone before. God has freely given you all these things, He didn’t have to let you know, He didn’t have to say what He said, He doesn’t have to give you life, yet this is what He does, what He has promised. The fruit of this life according to what God has said, is union and reconciliation with Him in love to life eternal, a free gift. This is the Gospel, In Jesus, by the Spirit, you have been set free from all sin and what it says of you, free to hear God Almighty who loves you, free to live according to His Word.

So remember your baptism, and as you live the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6:4
Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may go about in freshness of life.

            How does a Christian live in freshness of life? Now that Christ has ascended and the Spirit has been poured out, what does His church do? How do we live in this reality? When you go about your day, do you live in newness of life, fresh with God’s love? For those who remember a time when you were outside Christ’s church or even when you’ve ignored God, His Word and love, is your life different today? Or do you still live alongside your sin without any attempt to reject it?

            Paul had just written that God’s grace is far greater than all sin, that His grace covers your sins. Do that mean that to seek more grace we should sin more, that greater and greater grace will cover us? May it not be! God forbid! NO! At baptism your sin was washed away, even taken up by Jesus Christ to be killed, destroyed, on the cross. When the Holy Spirit baptised you, the Father adopting you into His family as an heir, a true child, when you were united into Christ together with all Christians in righteousness and holiness, we all were made anew, brought into new, full and fresh life with Jesus. Your old way of living was crucified with Jesus on that cross 2000yrs ago, dead and gone. Just like going from nappies to the toilet, you don’t live life the same. So you who sin living life just like anyone else outside of the Christ’s church, His body, why do you still poop in your pants?

            When you ignore God’s Word, His way of life, you say no to Jesus and yes to whatever else it maybe, the putrid ways of life. Yes to your own self, your pride, to pleasure in all it’s forms, to possessions, money, wealth, whatever; you say yes to being pulled away from Christ back to the old way of living, like a 20yr old going back to wearing nappies, why do you do this? Why do we do this? It’s ridiculous! Even though we have been baptised into Christ’s crucifixion, having the sure promise of God, you and I still worry how to care for ourselves by ourselves in this life; just as those without God’s promise do.

Remember Abraham and Sarah, this couple who trusted God with all their possessions and their very lives; giving up home and family to go where He sent them. God promised them a son, yet they worried how He could give one and so tried to fulfil the promise themselves. Thus Hagar and Ishmael caused trouble and were expelled, yet even though Ishmael was born by Abraham’s sin, God showed His great mercy and provided for them both. God dealt with their sin when He dealt with ours, on the cross, and so because His Word is true, God’s promise sure, Isaac was born, and the Israelites through him down to Jesus the fulfillment of all God’s promises. Abraham and Sarah did go their own way against God, yet God forgave them their sin and they returned to Him, receiving the grace God had promised, living the fresh life with God.

Abraham stopped worrying about the concerns of this world, he didn’t give an inheritance to Ishmael but rather dedicated what God had given to Isaac the child of the promise. Abraham changed the way He lived, He turned to God, repented, and trusted Him above all else. Just as Jesus said, don’t concern yourself with those that kill your body but can’t touch your soul; don’t be concerned with your starvation, weakness, your financial troubles, even people who might try to kill you. Rather, He says, be concerned with God Almighty who can destroy soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28). Why live according to the ways of this world? Why do you ignore God’s Word and seek after lazy pleasure, power or possessions? All these things come to nothing, and if you seek these, rejecting Jesus, He will reject you before the Father in Heaven. Sin is missing the mark, and when you seek to live according to sin you set yourself down a path to, not just nothingness, but missing life falling to putrid death, suffering and a weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28). Utterly alone and without love.

And yet you are not alone, and you are loved. It may not look like it, but we are gathered in a very real sense here through zoom; and more wonderful we are gathered together with all those united with the living God, in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a new life, more than water, but much more even than the washing away of sin. You are united together with all the saints in the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. Paul writes you are buried with Him through baptism into His death; together with Jesus we have grown together, and surely we will rise in His resurrection through the glory of God; our old self was crucified with Christ that our sin come to nothing and we free from it’s enslavement, it’s way of life. So if we died with Jesus, we trust we will also live with Him. This is God’s promise to you today, the Good News, that in baptism you have been joined with Jesus, your sins are dealt with, you are free from them, free to live in Jesus according to the promise. You don’t need to wait until Christ returns to live with Him, His way of life eternal freshness of life, for already in the mystery of baptism you have been united, we are united together with all the saints, with Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Your new life without sin has already begun, so strive to lead that holy life; the life of love for your spouse, children parents, friends, workers, fellow Christians, life of love for God Himself; even as Christ has already made you holy.

Your sins are forgiven, walk away from them and live free in Jesus. As Luther taught daily die to sin and rise with Christ, every morning return to your baptism, remember who you are in Jesus with the Holy Spirit beside you and all the saints, pray. You are not alone, you are loved by Father, Son and Spirit, by me, by this parish, Christ’s church and all the saints who have gone before. Remember who we are, and live the new, fresh life you have been given.

And the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text:  Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

Volunteers for Jesus

 

There are different organisations committed to encouraging the act of volunteering across the Australia and New Zealand. They encourage organizations which are involved in any sort of service to invite volunteers to come and join them. They encourage people to look for opportunities to volunteer.
During National Volunteers Week you might read stories about volunteers in your local newspapers. National Volunteers Week is also a reminder to show appreciation to the volunteers who are often taken for granted.

It is hard to volunteer. To volunteer means that you are giving your time, and making a considerable effort, and maybe it is going to cost you some money too, because volunteers are not always well supported.

  • Volunteering means letting go of your own commitments and giving something of yourself for the sake of others, or for the sake of some worthy cause.
  • Volunteering means doing. Your hands are busy. But it goes deeper, to your heart.
  • Volunteers are committed with a sense of love and care, and a willingness to commit yourself to others in some way because you see a need.

Volunteering can be a hard slog. But ‘National Volunteer Week’ tells us it can also be rewarding, with inner satisfaction and joy. Volunteering for something worthwhile can bring out the deeper satisfaction of life and can enrich you in relationship with others – others who work with you, or others you help and who laugh with you as you share together. Think of all the volunteers who touch your life. Think of how and where you volunteer.

One of the areas where many people volunteer is in our church life. Church volunteers are included among the volunteers in the community. In fact, figures show that church volunteers are more likely to volunteer in other organisations and causes as well.

So first of all, thank you. Thank you to all of you who give considerable time and effort in the life of your church and community. I know that doing some of the tasks which need to be done can be demanding and you can feel unrewarded. So, thank you on behalf of all who benefit. We do see, and we do appreciate. And I hope that through your voluntary work in your church and community you can live and enjoy life, and that you can laugh together and share together.

That all gives us a very good introduction to today’s Gospel text. Because Jesus is calling for volunteers, for willing workers to work for His Kingdom. And He is sending out volunteers into His communities.

Jesus went round visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness.

The best way to enlist volunteers is by example. Never ask anyone else to do anything which you are not willing to do yourself. Jesus shows us how. Jesus was a ‘doer’. He was out there, out there moving from town to town and village to village. He was out there where the need was greatest. He spoke the Good News because He saw that the people were desperate and despondent. He saw the pain and suffering of the people, and He came with His healing power.

Jesus was on a mission. He came to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to the people of earth. That was not just a wonderful idea. It was bringing the grace of God into the real needs of people. He was out there, doing it. As He saw the crowds, His heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Jesus was motivated by a deep compassion. He saw the needs on the outside. He saw broken bodies, and troubled life-styles. He saw the needs on the inside. He saw the addiction to sin, which is the deepest addiction of all. He felt the pain and anguish which it brought in the lives of all these people. He saw it in each person He met. He saw it multiplied in the crowds of people who came out into the streets hopefully when they heard He was coming. He could see that they were desperate, looking for something. They were like sheep wandering around, confused, defenceless, without a shepherd.

He was coming as the Shepherd. He was coming as the Good Shepherd, who had true care and compassion for each of His sheep, and for all of His sheep together, a true dedication to their protection and their welfare. He was coming with the mercy of God to lift the burden of sin and suffering and to bring these wandering sheep into the Kingdom of Heaven.

So He said to His disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that He will send out workers to gather in His harvest.”

Now Jesus looks even further. He knows that the deep human needs are experienced everywhere all over the world. He changes the metaphor from a shepherd to that of a farmer. Now He sees a paddock of wheat, a vast paddock stretching beyond sight. He knows that a crop of wheat has to be harvested at just the right time, when it is ripe and before it is spoiled. He knows now is the right time.

But in those days harvesting was by hand with a sickle. To harvest a paddock of wheat you needed a team. To harvest a paddock this size you needed an army of workers. We need workers, Jesus says. We have so few workers, we need many, many more.

This is not just our task. This is God’s task. This is God’s world. So, let’s pray to our heavenly Father, who is the Lord of the Harvest. Let’s pray for the workers, so that we can do this great work. Let’s get lots of people in, all involved in bringing in this great harvest.

Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness. When you pray for something, you also commit yourself to being an answer to prayer. Jesus called on His disciples to pray for workers in the harvest. The very next thing He does is call them to be workers.

Jesus calls on us to pray for workers in the harvest. I hope that we do pray that God will provide the workers He wants for His harvest, for His mission, all over the world. I hope that we pray for God’s workers in every situation of mission and ministry all over the world.

But when we pray for workers, we pray that God will use us as His workers however and wherever He chooses. Jesus calls His disciples to be His workers. Jesus calls us to be His workers in today’s world too.

One of the principles of good human resources management is that if you give someone a job to do, you have to give them the authority to do it. It is no good expecting them to do a job, but not letting them get on and do it, because they have to refer everything back to you.

Jesus gives His disciples, His workers, His harvesters, His own authority. Just as He had been going around with the authority of God to proclaim the message, and to back up the message with the actions that show God’s power over all evil, He sent His disciples out with that same authority. They were to go out in His name, to speak His Word and to do His deeds.

Matthew then gives us the names of these twelve disciples. We don’t have to go through those names now. But we are talking about real people, each with their own family history, own character and now their own mission. Jesus calls people like us to do His work too.

These twelve men were sent out by Jesus with the following instructions: “Do not go to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns. Instead, you are to go to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.”

There would come a time when Jesus would send His disciples far and wide. Before ascending to Heaven He told them: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. (Acts 1:8)  As we follow the story of the disciples, they started in Jerusalem and Judea and they travelled with the Gospel to many distant places. We can follow the story of those who followed, literally reaching to the most distant places of the world.

Initially Jesus was telling the disciples to work where they were. He was sending them back to their own people and then to the wider world. He was telling the disciples to look and see the needs right there, all around them. He had looked with compassion on the people wandering around aimlessly, like sheep without a shepherd. He was sending His disciples to more of these people in their own communities.

Today too, Jesus calls some people to go to distant places, to places and people who have not yet heard the Gospel. We support missionaries who are bringing the Gospel to people for the first time.

God is calling us to work for Him, to take His message and His love to the people in our own communities. That is where He has put us and that is where He sends us. Because there are needs right here, all around us, people in need, people wandering around aimless, hopeless and defenceless. There are people right where you are, who desperately need to hear the Gospel spoken into their lives. You are the best person to do that.

A volunteer is someone who acts voluntarily. That means you do something of your own free will. The word ‘volunteer’ means you are acting out of your free will or choice. A Christian volunteer is someone who is acting with a will that has been transformed by the Spirit of God.

If you ‘have to’ do it, you are not a volunteer. If you are ‘forced to’ do it, you are not a volunteer. If you do it because you are getting ‘paid to’ do it you are not a volunteer.

Jesus gives the very best reason to volunteer. You have received without payment, so give without payment. (Matthew 10:8b, ISV), or “Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b, NIV)

It is all about grace. God’s grace is the free gift of life with God, through the free gift of forgiveness and the free gift of God’s Spirit. Freely you have received. That is the very best reason for giving, for doing, for being willing to respond to call of Jesus, for volunteering in His service.

Jesus, with a wonderful free will, gave Himself for you, gave His life on a cross, out of compassion for you. He comes to you when you are wandering aimlessly and hopelessly and shepherds you into His Kingdom. This is the very best reason to give of yourself, freely and generously, to give your time and effort for His Kingdom.

We started by talking about all the different sorts of volunteering. People volunteer for many causes, and most are great examples of generous and willing service: serving people and serving the community in some worthwhile way. If you are involved in voluntary community service, I hope it brings you joy and fulfilment.

We talked about volunteering in your church life. We are here today sharing in this worship because many people have given of their time and effort. I hope and pray that as you serve in the life of the church that you find it fulfilling, and that you can rejoice because you share in this very special time with our God and each other.

Jesus calls you, like His first disciples, to give in a way that goes deeper. He calls on you to respond to the needs of the people around you with love and compassion, and to bring His love and the Gospel of His grace and care to people in every need.

Your volunteering may be in some sort of planned or organized way. It may simply be in your everyday life that no one organizes, where you act spontaneously.
Give freely, give voluntarily, give generously of yourself, of your time, with your efforts and dedication. Because God has given so freely and wonderfully to you.

Amen.

Trinity Sunday

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 Corinthians 13:14
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

            Time marches on and worry with it. Think back to the beginning of the church year. Drought and fire across our state and country, and now we’re trying to combat a viral pandemic. From the worries of organising a Carols night, fear of a bash at the BBQ, now to the worries of sanitation around our fellowship and Holy Communion. And yet today marks a shift in the year of the church, in the focus of what God tells us through His Word. We awaited Christ’s coming, Advent, celebrated the incarnation, Christmas, His baptism, His ministry, His preparation, Lent, and suffering, death and resurrection, Holy Week, and during the season of Easter His preparing the disciples to go out into the world. Then the Holy Spirit came in power and drove the Good News of Christ for the first time into that public square last Sunday at Pentecost. Now the time and worry has changed, now God’s church is at work.

            Just as we are getting ready to return to the church building, though in a limited capacity, you have been and are being prepared for your new life in Christ. And what is our new life? Paul writes after rebuking the Corinthians for their division and pride: finally brothers, rejoice, be completed, be encouraged and comforted, thinking the same, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. After teaching, rebuking and training (2 Timothy 3:16) he calls them back to what matters in Jesus, what our life is because of what God has done. You have been joined with Jesus in Baptism, by the Holy Spirit. The Father has made you a new creation, you are no longer trapped by the desires of this world, you are dead to them, now you live with the one true and Triune God by your side (Romans 6). The Holy Spirit comes alongside you, to encourage, to comfort, to bring you peace and guide us together with all saints in this New Life we have been given. And in a very real sense we don’t need to worry about the things of this world, as Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all you need will be provided (Matthew 6:33).

The kingdom of the Triune God, life in and with the Trinity. I suppose if we seek that, it makes sense that we begin this time remembering this foundational doctrine of our faith; that there is one true God in three persons. But rather than trying to perceive the true internal nature of the one who created us, like a sandcastle trying to understand the kid who made it, I’m going to ask, how does the Triune God relate to us individually and together, as the three persons of Father, Son and Spirit. For this is the foundation of our faith, our relationship together with the one who created us, restores us and loves us.

Just for the moment, step out of the nitty-gritty, look not at the tree-bark in front of your face but the beautiful forest around us. Remember the church year, the creeds, recall what you have heard God say over the last 6 months, and over the last thousand, 2000, and more years. And remember what Paul tells us of life with God.  
The Lord’s grace, God’s love, the Spirit’s fellowship. The Trinity created all, the Father spoke the Word, who is Jesus, and breathed life by the Holy Spirit, breath and Spirit the same in the ancient languages; as it is written, in Him we live and move and have our being. This love of God our Father is shown in this relationship, He creates you and sustains you, provides you with all that you have, both other people you love and the things you have. He set up the world and, in His rest, sustains all things from the beginning until His new work of the new creation.
That New Creation began the day after His rest, Sunday after Saturday our ancient Sabbath, when Jesus the Son rose from the dead opening the way in Himself to eternal restored life. This free gift, this grace, He gives of Himself to you and me, all Christians, and freely offers to all, that in Him, united with His humanity, our humanity is victorious of sin, death and the devil, by His grace you are saved, renewed, made righteous and clean as He unites you to Himself in love. Yet He gave His last testament and ascended, how can we be united to Him now?
By the Holy Spirit of course, the breath of God, who Jesus gave to the disciples, who came on the disciples together at Pentecost, who baptised you according to the promise: Water united with God’s Word, by the breath, the Spirit; creation united with creator; you united, together with all Christians, you united with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who draws us together to Jesus Christ, who unites us as a family, who walks alongside us through all our journeys, who shares life with us. This is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, my common union with you, your communion with all the saints, and our Holy Communion with Jesus, who by grace reconciles, repairs completely, our relationship with our Heavenly Father, that we all together might live in the love of God. Or put more simply, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

           Yes we need to recognise the truth of our sin, but in the end your sin has been taken away by the Triune God, so finally the only things left for us are what our merciful God gives, an everlasting life together with Him in peace, joy, and love overflowing.

            Now as you live with the God of love and peace, His peace and love which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev Joseph Graham.

Pentecost Sunday

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 
Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Corinth:  ‘I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.’

Let’s join in a word of  prayer:  Loving God and Father, through your Holy Spirit you gather Christians who worship You with faith in your son Jesus Christ.  A universal Christian Church made not of glass, wood and brick, but of people bound together in the Holy Spirit, even during this global isolation.   We invite the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus on this Pentecost Sunday, to your glory and honour.  Open our spirits to receive the fullness of your Spirit that we may dwell in your love and forgiveness, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome every obstacle in living for you.   Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.

We read from Scripture last week that after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Disciples ‘‍‍worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, ‍‍ and were continually ‍‍in the temple ‍‍praising and blessing God.’

And from acts for this week, we read that when they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer.’   (Acts 1:14 NIV)

 

I can imagine what some of their prayers might have been:  “Lord God, send us the helper Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, fulfil your promise that Jesus told us about”;  “Lord God, let your living water flow around us”; and even  “Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”.    They must have been in prayer almost with one mind.  Sharing a common vision of Christ Jesus, and of who they were in Christ Jesus.  

And just as Jesus promised, at the right time God responded to their prayers by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon them.  It is pretty clear that they had no idea what to expect.  And for a time after the wondrous gift, they didn’t really understand what they had been given.  I always heard the saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it!”  I can imagine their delight and their confusion of what was happening among them.

The message for us this morning, is if we want this same delight, we need to be open to the same confusion and the same blessing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.    

In the upper room, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the Disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  (John 20:22–23 NRSV)

They surely received the Holy Spirit with his words to them.  And they surely received the ability to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness to those who believe. They also received the gift and responsibility to pass this gift of the Holy Spirit to all whom they baptised and said those same precious words, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Just as we received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised, whether this was when we were days old, or as children, or as adults. 

As Peter spoke with new enthusiasm on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38–39 NIV)

We have also received the responsibility to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness.  Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:16–17 ESV)

With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can with true hearts and sincere determination declare that “Jesus is Lord” of our being and of our lives.  And also, with the gift of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, Scripture encourages us to be led by the Spirit.  Paul writes in Galatians, ‘if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’  (Galatians 5:18–25 ESV)

Thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our spirit, and display our faith in Christ Jesus by our lives.  If we live our entire life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit evident, it will be evidence enough for our eternal salvation.  Scripture is clear that salvation comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone, as we discover in the Word of God alone, by God’s grace alone.  All this by the work of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism.

And like the Disciples in the presence of Jesus in the upper room, we received at our baptism a part in God’s kingdom and life in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Paul writes in the book of Romans, ‘We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.  Just love others.’  (Romans 12:5–9 NLT)

But like the Disciples in that upper room with Jesus;  I am convinced that at our Baptism, we did not yet receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit living through us with spiritual gifts. 

Gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of others, of the Church, and of the faith to be passed from generation to generation, by the laying on of hands.    

Those gifts require a special anointing of the Holy Spirit with power.  The Disciples received this in that same upper room when the time was right.  Gifts that demonstrated to an obstinate people that Jesus is the Messiah, risen from the dead, and ‘that repentance and ‍‍remission of sins should be preached in His name ‍‍to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

As Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, ‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.’

(2Timothy1:6–7NIV) 

From Apostle, to Bishop, to Pastor, Apostolic succession of the gift of the Holy Spirit are passed from generation to generation.  The confusion we experience, like the disciples, descending from the upper room at Pentecost, is about what Spiritual gifts we are to receive and what gifts the Holy Spirit will display in our lives. 

For some it is simply the truth “Jesus is Lord.” For others, at times and seasons of their lives, God sends a special anointing of his Holy Spirit to do special things for the building up of the Church.

I heard the witness of one Pastor who received a special intuition to leave his parish for a short time to visit India in mission.  And God followed this with the witness of a parishioner who spoke of a message for him from the Lord.   He had never thought of doing this before, but like Peter called to visit the house of Cornelius, this Pastor felt the urging, and made that visit. 

It felt strange to him, because it seemed everything fell into place so easily.  His transport was paid for, his visa was simplified, and he left Australia with the message already in his heart that he would spread.  He arrived and was quickly drawn to an assembly of thousands, listening to his witness, and seeking his individual prayers. It was as though the Holy Spirit drew them together for just this reason. 

He was there for weeks praying for the people of this place and seeing people healed, released from demons, declaring their faith in Christ Jesus, and leaving the prayers with joy in their hearts.

When this pastor boarded the plane to return to Australia, he was convinced that this anointing of the Holy Spirit would be a godsend for his small congregation.  He would see it grow to thousands with the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly revealed in his ministry.  

But this Pastor was greatly disappointed when none of this happened in Australia.  He prayed, fasted, and eagerly sought the power of the Holy Spirit, but was bitterly disillusioned and ended up sadly abandoning his parish ministry.  But God was compassionate toward this Pastor who repented of his presumption.  He returned this compassion to care for other pastors who were suffering.  

The Holy Spirit will not be controlled, confined, or commanded.  We can only pray to God our Father for the gifts to be revealed with power, and give thanks and praise for the times and seasons that God blesses our lives with gifts of the Holy Spirt.    

As Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others,  those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of languages.   Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.   If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3 NIV)

I know and I fully trust that God has touched our lives with his Holy Spirit.   Our simple declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ proclaims the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our worshipping community.   The love we have for one another witnesses the greatest of gift and fruit of the Spirit that nurtures our faith.  And for that I am eternally grateful to God our Father, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour. 

 We have the example of Pentecost to encourage us as we hold steady to our confession of Christ Jesus.  The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in our living Lord Christ Jesus, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.