” Eat God’s words “

Ephesians 3:16
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being …

            “He may strengthen you.” We’ve been following the Gospel account of St Mark for a while now, the account of the strong Jesus who defeats demons and casts out sickness, the strong powerful Lion of Judah, the one who sent out the disciples with power over and against demons to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory. But today and for the next few weeks we’re meditating on John chapter 6, the feeding of the 5000 and Christ’s teaching of that crowd. Two things, to eat and to hear, to eat food and to hear the Word of God. Food to strengthen the body and God’s Word to bring strength and life to the soul.

            And today, the fourth Sunday of July; if you didn’t know, because I didn’t; is National Bible Sunday, another opportunity to celebrate the wonderful gift of God in providing and preserving His Word written down for us. Yes, there’s many different versions, different flavours, and I’m sure we all have preferences, yet most all of them have a place. Much like bread.

            And in this wonderful gift of God’s Word, we hear of 5000 men and more women and children, likely over 10000 people eating their fill with more left over. All that from 5 barley loaves, not wheat or rye but barley, and also two small fish. It was a miraculous feast in that field near the sea. However, it was not the first time God provided like this for His people, as we heard from 2 Kings (4:42-44) He had multiplied bread before to give life to His people suffering in a famine. And that was not the first time He strengthened His people with bread, the Passover festival mentioned in today’s Gospel reading, remembers the Exodus from Egypt, when God brought His people through the desert fed with the manna, bread from heaven. The Lord quelled their hunger, providing so they would not starve to death. And for us, we all know that pain of hunger, that desire to fill our bellies, the empty, sinking feeling that drives us … to go to the kitchen and open the fridge to check if you want to cook those sausages or if that raw broccoli look tasty yet. Here in Australia, we are blessed that we do not suffer famine, like so many others; yet still you know that bread, that food, gives you strength and sustains your life.

            And yet you also know that everyone who eats bread, eventually looses their strength and dies. Yes, bread is good, strengthening and sustaining life, Jesus Himself blesses it and shares it out; and yet filling your belly does not defeat death. But here today we receive something that does.

            In these books, thick, skinny, large-print and small; these books hold the very Word of God, the Words that spoke life into creation, that freed God’s people from Egyptian slavery, that fed and sustained the people of old. God’s Word is here with us now, we’ve heard it read from the bible, heard our forgiveness proclaimed, given, again, we have this opportunity to meditate on it, how God’s Word gives everlasting life as bread sustains this body, and we will share in God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in His Holy Communion. Yes, we are called to feed the hungry, but more than that to receive God’s Life-giving Word, to chew on it, meditate on it, incorporate it into our thinking, into our lives, our inner-being, and strengthened by it to bring God’s love and life to those around you. After all, those 5000 men as well as the women and children who ate bread on that field all eventually died; and yet all those who receive God’s Word, consume it, incorporate it, let it become part of themselves, those who eat God’s Word, the tough parts, the bitter, the salty, the sweet, they will live forever in Christ Jesus, the Word of God.

            And so, I pray with Paul for you, that out of Our Heavenly Father’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Holy Spirit opening your ears to hear His Holy Word and guiding you into all truth in your inner being.

            The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word of God. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

Jesus has compassion on the crowd

Mark 6:30-34

Every so often a commercial, with a catchy jingle or slogan comes along that is especially effective in staying in your brain. How many of us immediately think of a particular brand of chocolate bar when we hear the words ‘Have a break’?  In a commercial sense the words are simple and memorable.  It invites us to enjoy a snack or to take a break. Go on, you deserve it!

Today’s Gospel also speaks about a break!  Jesus had sent his twelve disciples out, two by two, to proclaim God’s word, to preach repentance, and heal the sick.  On their return they reported to Jesus all that they had done and taught.  To escape the demands of the crowds pressing on them, Jesus said ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ – you see they all needed a break.  As we read on, the story says that their break with their Lord was short lived. Even their brief boat ride across Lake Galilee was not relaxing as they encountered wave and wind and as they approached the shore on the other side of the lake, tired and hungry from weeks of ministry, they encountered a large crowd coming toward them – like sheep without a shepherd!

How do we cope when tired and worn out, frazzled and fatigued?  There’s no doubt about it, we live in a busy world!  With all the time saving devices we have in our homes and work places, one would think that we would have so much time to do the things we like to do, to spend more time with our families, volunteer more of our time to charity and the church!

Most of our comments about time relate to the speed with which time is passing. We look at our watches and say “goodness, just look at the time” or “my, how time flies”.  We are already in the second half of the year.  Next thing you know we’ll be getting ready for Christmas.  Time is something we wrestle with every day.  Our lives are packed so full that the day is finished before we have accomplished half of what we want to do!  Yet, if there was ever a busy bloke it was Jesus.  There was a constant flow of people wanting to see him, to hear him, to have him heal their sick, and to test out his theology!  For the disciples it wasn’t any different – so Jesus said, ‘let’s have some time out and get some rest.’

We know ‘time out’ is a good strategy in sport (for example, basketball) when the game needs to be slowed down and weary players need a short break.  When advice from the coach is needed to give the team the winning edge!  When a player needs encouragement and support!  When the opponents are getting the upper hand.  A call for time out is what is needed!

Time out is also a wise principle in everyday living.  We need to take time out and slow down from our busy lives.  We need to take time out to listen to advice from our coach – Jesus.  We need to hear our coach’s encouragement, his words of support when our opponents – the devil and the world and our own selfish desires – are getting the upper hand.  We need to take time out to reassess where we are going, what have we done wrong, and how we can do things a different way!  We know all this – but more often we struggle on and we don’t take a break when we should!  In fact, we may even feel guilty when we do stop for a while and have a bit of quiet time.  Jesus didn’t feel guilty about taking time out!  He didn’t make his disciples feel guilty either.  They were human, so was He.

They had a hectic life and there was a sense of urgency to get as much done as possible in the short time Jesus had in the world!  Jesus had no qualms about having a bit of time away from the pressures that had been placed on him by others.

He has a concern also for his disciples after all they had just finished a strenuous mission.  Yes, he says ‘let’s get away for a while’.  All of us have days where we need that kind of invitation!  Just as Jesus needed to get away for a while, so do we.  But what has happened to the time out that God planned for us?   Not only do we fill in every moment of the working week doing our job, but we’re also driving someone here, dropping someone off there, meeting someone else, and we do that on God’s day as well!  God said, as a general principle, one day out of seven is set aside for God.  It’s also a day of rest!

We need to take time out and lay our whole lives at the feet of Jesus, our Lord! You can’t serve God if your body is fatigued, your nerves are frayed, you’re cantankerous and grumpy, and you shout at everyone who disagrees with you! You are just worn out because everything and everyone is getting at you or so you think.  You feel like doing anything but praising God!

Both body and mind need a rest for a while!  Every year, pastors and lay workers (who should know better) have to resign their call or go on stress leave because they’ve neglected their own need for rest. Burnout is real, so take time out to spend it with the God who loves you.  He made you, saved you, brought you into his family through baptism, and gave you saving faith.  He has given you everything and wants you to continue to bring before him your every daily need.

Instead of burnout, we need the spirit of God to burn this truth into our hearts once again.  The most important work we have to do is the work we must do on our knees.  Yes, on our knees, alone with God in prayer, away from the racket of the world and the din of people’s voices!

That’s probably what Jesus had in mind when he said to the disciples, ‘let’s go to a quiet place and get some rest’.  When they arrived at what was to be a quiet place, Jesus looked out and saw a whole flock of shepherdless sheep coming his way and we hear that the good shepherd Jesus had compassion on them – much more than any ordinary shepherd would, for he could not allow those sheep to live lives of unforgiven sin!

For what do sheep do when they have no shepherd?  They wander around looking for fresh water and green pastures and they are vulnerable to attack by predators.  Wandering sheep need the care of a shepherd! And we know Jesus is that shepherd.

When He saw the crowd of people, he began to teach them! Yes, that is how the good shepherd ultimately cares for his sheep, by feeding them his Word! Before he filled their stomachs with a boy’s lunch of two fish and five barley loaves, he took care of more pressing needs.  He sat those 5,000 shepherdless sheep down and taught them many things! Jesus feeds sheep through their ears because it is often their minds and their hearts that are empty.  And when Jesus feeds sheep, he does not provide them just a taste or a mere snack, but He fills them till they’re full of His Grace, His Mercy and His Goodness!

Today, Jesus invites us to a quiet place away from the maddening crowd and all the demands of our lives to be in his presence, to experience the Holy Spirit who comforts us, for healing, for renewal, and to hear His words of love, peace and joy and direction for our lives. Jesus greets us as he did with the large crowds mentioned in the story as lost sheep.  He greets us with compassion, and forgiveness.

Our shepherd is here – in the bread and wine and as we hear in his word that he claims you as his own.  The time for wandering is over! Jesus is here in word and sacrament to lead us through life.  Let this word from God today be a catalyst to get you thinking where life is taking you!

You deserve a break.  Have a chit-chat with your saviour Jesus and be refreshed by one who loves you!

Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 6:14-29 

 

Controversy had never been far away from John the Baptist. From the outset his appearance was striking to say the least: munching on locusts to sustain him for his preaching ministry, dressed in the customary clothing for a prophet—a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt. But it was what John proclaimed that was the most confronting: a baptism of repentance. ‘Repentance’ is a hard word for human ears to hear. For many in the world it’s a laughable thought. Even to God’s own people it’s a word that grates in our ears, wounding our pride.

No one likes hearing that word, especially not powerful and influential people, like Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herod was a tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; one of four rulers over the territory of Israel. Herodias was his brother Philip’s wife. And therein is the problem—this relationship violated what God had established for marriage according to Leviticus 20:21. Many would argue that it would be foolishness at best and outrageous at worst to challenge dignitaries on their morality, because there would surely be serious consequences for those who dared to do what John the Baptist did.

 But our text tells us that instead of compromising the truth for the sake of preserving his standing, John faithfully made a stand for God’s word, issuing a call for repentance. He said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Faithfulness to God’s word did come with a terrible cost for John, imprisoned in what many believe to be the fortress-palace of Machaerus in Perea, the military headquarters for the region. But a worse fate awaited. Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. Her opportunity came on Herod’s birthday, when he threw a banquet. The daughter of Herodias came in and danced, and whatever kind of dancing it was, it pleased Herod and his guests so much that he said to her: “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you”, promising: “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” The girl went out to her mother and said to Herodias, “What shall I ask for?” And Herodias answered: “The head of John the Baptist”.

Today’s text immediately follows on from last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus preached in the synagogue and his audience took offense at him. What happens in today’s gospel reading shows us the extreme end of such offense at God’s word—the shocking mistreatment of Christians for the message they bear. Herodias wanted John silenced so badly she decided to have him silenced forever. Where is a loving God in all of this? “This is the gospel of our Lord!” we say. “Thanks be to God!” In fact, But where is the gospel in our Gospel reading today?

Mark tells us today that Jesus’ name had become well known. That was the purpose of John’s own message at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel:

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:2-3)

And so, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins because the reign of God’s Kingdom was now present in Christ, the source of divine grace, forgiveness, blessing and favour. That was Jesus’ own message: “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

In today’s text we hear that there was confusion about the identity of Jesus (just as there is today). In the last chapters of the Old Testament, God had promised he would send his messenger, who would prepare the way for the Lord before he would suddenly come to his Temple. Many believed this would be Elijah, reading literally what Malachi had said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). Mark tells us that many had mistaken Jesus’ identity—some thought Elijah the prophet had returned. Still others thought that Jesus was some other prophet, like the prophets of old. Others thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, who had been raised from the dead, and Herod himself thought this, saying: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

But Jesus is not only a prophet. He not only speaks God’s word, he is God’s Word, the Word made flesh, the One through whom all things had come into existence and who had come to save the world from its sin. That is why John the Baptist had been sent by God—to be the forerunner to Jesus; to prepare the way for him, to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour promised from of old. His message was the same as Jesus’ message, and the people’s offence at John’s message was the same offence at Jesus’ message.

The beheading of John show’s that the treatment John received would be the same treatment Jesus would receive. Given over to be executed at the hands of sinful men, the hands of the sinless one would be nailed to a cross to pay the price to redeem all people, even those who rejected him and those who bear his name and message. John was imprisoned; Jesus was bound and led away and delivered over to Pilate. Herod was greatly distressed at Herodias’ daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, did not want to refuse her. That sounds like Pontius Pilate addressing the crowd which shouted for Jesus to be crucified: “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd…delivered Jesus to be crucified” (14 15-16). John is beheaded; Jesus is crucified. After his execution, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. After Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped Jesus’ body and laid him in a tomb.

This Jesus is the one greater than John who took the sin of the world upon himself to triumph over it, breaking its power and the clutches of Satan and the fangs of death, dismantling their rule through his own victorious reign, suffering human pain and brokenness with us, and doing what John the Baptist could not do, rising again from death to be everywhere present as the Lord of life and salvation. Not a hair on John the Baptist’s head is lost to Jesus who will come again to make all things new.

That is why we say today “This is the gospel of the Lord—thanks be to God!” For this event cannot be understood apart from God’s gracious action to the world through Jesus who died, who was laid in a tomb, and who rose again from the dead to win forgiveness and freedom for all people by overcoming sin, death and the devil―even for those who reject him and his message.

If an immoral and unscrupulous ruler like Herod Antipas can give a girl whatever she asks for—even when that is evil, and promise up to half his kingdom—how much more will Jesus the true King from Heaven give us every good gift from God we ask in his name. For we already have the greatest gift from God, his own dear Son, in whom we were chosen before the foundation of the world to have every spiritual blessing from the heavenly places. The reign of the Kingdom of Heaven has come to us and ruled in our hearts at baptism, giving us new birth by water and the Spirit when we were claimed by Christ to be his forever, to know and love his Father as our own.

He has brought to us forgiveness, freedom and fullness of life, peace and favour from God, access to all his grace, wisdom for our daily path, his ear for our prayers and his own intercessions to his Father for us, his ever-present help, his provision of all the daily bread we need each day, his comfort for the hurts others inflict on us, his angels to watch guard over us as he keeps us safe in his care, and his relief for the burdens we carry as he leads us here to rest by the quiet waters and rich green pastures of his word.

Thanks be to God that the Father has given us his Son, and through his Son, his Spirit so that we know Jesus not as Elijah, or John the Baptist, but that we know him as the Saviour of the world, and our Saviour. We have been chosen in Christ, redeemed by Christ, claimed by Christ, blessed by Christ, to be served by Christ, and together with Christ, his Father and Holy Spirit also.

Despite the raging powers of human evil and the kingdom of darkness, nothing will ever be able to take that away from us, so that just as even a single hair on the head of John the Baptist is not lost to God, neither will any of ours be, until the day we see God in glory. This is everything that Jesus means and gives to us when he welcomes us to the table greater than Herod’s; he welcomes us to his heavenly banquet table and says: Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

‘Strength in humility’

2 Corinthians 12:10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

            When I am weak, then I am strong. How can that make any sense whatsoever? When you’re weak, you’re weak, when you’re strong, you’re strong. You can pick up the dumbbell or you can’t. That’s just the truth of the situation, it’s reality. The strong are strong; the rich, rich; the weak, weak, the poor, poor. In and of themselves, that is who they are, otherwise we’d call them something different.

            So, what is Paul getting at? What is the Holy Spirit trying to guide us into? Why can I delight and rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships, in these COVID restrictions? We have heard of Ezekiel who has just collapsed before the Angel of the Lord, the strength leaving his legs; how can he stand and listen? The lion trapped and immobilised by the net; how can it escape? And the people of Jesus’ hometown, broken sinners, weak, poor, and suffering sickness; how could they save themselves? How is it that the weak are strong? Perhaps today’s psalm may help us. Psalm 123, “I lift my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in the heavens, as the eyes of servants look to their master, the eyes of maids to their mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God till He shows us mercy.”

            It is only with God that Paul can say, when I am weak, then I am strong; because it is not Paul’s strength, but God’s work in and through him. Ezekiel could not stand with his weak legs, yet the Holy Spirit lifted and stood him up, giving him words for the people (2:2). Last week Jesus came and healed the lady in her weakness and inability (). But when Jesus came to His hometown, He could not work among the weak there. Why not? Hear these last words of Psalm 123, “We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” Because of their familiarity with Jesus, they questioned who was He to say such things. It’s tall poppy syndrome at it’s finest. In their arrogance and pride, they ridiculed Him, calling Him not ‘son of Joseph’ but ‘son of Mary’ insinuating a sinful, wicked birth. Yes they were weak, yet in their pride and arrogance they did not recognise their weakness or ask for help, they did not even receive well the mercy Jesus showed them.

            And for us, If I am weak, I need help and the Spirit is at my side to provide. Yet if I refuse to see my weakness, if I reject His help, I am left weak and broken. It is only the weak who humbly recognise the truth, that are strong. It is only those who refuse to rely on their own strength and instead rely on Christ’s who are strong. When you can’t do it, ask for help and it can be done. And sometimes you need to be broken, insulted, persecuted, like Paul, before we recognise the truth: I am weak, I cannot save myself, fix all my failures, give life, love, I cannot do it by myself; I need help. Just as we confessed today in preparation for receiving God’s service now. You cannot fix yourself, you cannot fix this congregation, the church, the country; and yet in your weakness, there is someone who can.

            The Holy Spirit dwells with you, you live in Christ, and our Heavenly Father is at work in our lives. Our God is strength, He is love, and if we are with Him, recognising our weakness and humbly relying on His Word and work, then we are strong. Be not like those of Nazareth, the proud and arrogant and blind; rather like Ezekiel and Paul, know your weakness, receive well God’s strengthening and go out with His Words for the people He has placed in your life.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’

Mark 5:36
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’

            Last week we heard of Jesus calming the storm. ‘Who is this?’ those overwhelmed disciples gasped. Then at the beginning of this chapter Jesus arrives at a foreign land and a demon possessed man calls to Him, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ Now as Mark records Christ’s life for you and me, what do you think the Holy Spirit is teaching us? Certainly that Jesus is Lord over the wind and the waves, that He helps even the foreigners; but what does that mean for us here today?

            We are not foreigners to Him, in Baptism the Holy Spirit has united us to Jesus, into His Church, we are His body. And we are not wind and waves, though sometimes we might just go with the flow… Rather we are His people, together with all Christians we are His Holy Bride, His Church. And yet here on earth we see people wandering away from the Faith, congregations bleeding members; And we hear that congregations are closing, the church looks dead in many places, Estonia, Sweden and Denmark are the top three least religious countries in the world, and Luther’s Saxony is now largely atheistic; Cathedrals and Chapels become museums of a bygone age. The Bride of Christ, Jesus’ wife-to-be, this heavenly woman we are a part of, is suffering in this world as she awaits her Groom and Lord.

            And today we heard of two other women suffering as well, and there is a connection. Remember how 12 is the number of God’s people? 12 tribes, 12 apostles, a rich lady bleeding for 12 years, a 12yr old girl lying dead. Now this lady had spent her wealth on all the doctors she could, the experts, the naturopaths, looking anywhere for help, everywhere for help, and yet still she bled; and because of her bleeding she was not ritually clean, not allowed into the temple to be with God, to grow in that relationship. She was under immense physical suffering and also separated from God because of it. Like for us, when the going gets tough and we fall into despair and forget that the Lord is God our saviour. And the young girl, a daughter of a Pharisee, who knows how much she suffered as she lay there, who knows what killed her, but just imagine the pain and grief of those around. The bleeding woman, the dead, young woman.

            And yet, we hear, ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassion never fails … it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord … Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope … For no one is cast off by the Lord forever’. These words from the middle of the book of lamentations (3:22-33), a long poem mourning the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; the people slain, the city ransacked, the survivors starving and broken. There may yet be hope! For the Church, the Bride of Christ, there may yet be hope! For you as you struggle, broken or bruised, there may yet be hope!

            For the lady, for the girl, we hear that hope fulfilled! “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed!” “Come, lay hands on my daughter so that she will be healed and live!” Jesus healed the woman, and addressed her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” After 12 long years the bleeding stopped, there is an end to the suffering even perhaps in this world. And the girl who had died, Jesus told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” He went into that house, the mourners ridiculing Him for saying He would heal her, as so many ridicule Christ’s Bride today; Yet He sent out the mockers, He knelt down and took her by the hand and said, “little girl, rise up.” And just like Lazarus she rose from the dead. Here is proof Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, He is the one who can bring healing, and ultimate healing; and not just that, but He has promised this to His Church, to all His people who gather in His name, who are Baptised into His name, who share a meal and participate together in the Body and Blood, the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

            And you are here, part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Bride of Christ, this heavenly woman who has suffered so much. Abused from outside, and even from within; bruised and bleeding yet still she perseveres; she has hope, she knows Jesus will save, and down the ages He already has healed so much hurt within her. And here we are, many of us suffering in our own lives, and yet we know many times when God has helped even us individually; the timing of an accident or emergency, the help of a doctor or advice of a neighbour, even just a home cooked meal delivered to your door. And so much more, Jesus takes away our sin and guilt, you no longer need to live in it; He comes to us, the Holy Spirit dwells within and travels with us in truth and love. And even if the Church looks dead in places, she is not dead forever; for some of us there’s the childhood faith that waned as we grew and encountered this world, yet returned with strength later in life; and if we look to regions, there have been Christians in China almost continually since the 300s, despite many attempts to wipe her out, and today Russia has seen a great return to the church after the years under Soviets. She will not die, death cannot defeat us because our Bridegroom has already won.

Through our suffering we always have hope, a hope we can share with all who suffer! Jesus will come; He has saved us, brought us into the Church; He is saving us, dealing with our sin, our guilt, and sustaining and protecting us through all times; He will save us, when finally He comes in glory to make His suffering Bride His glorious Wife.

            Unto that time, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Church in the stormy sea’

Mark 4:41
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this?’

            A great wind and huge choppy waves, out on the boat in the middle of the sea; it’s bad enough caught in a storm on land, pushed around by the wind, and pelted by the rain, but if even what we stood on was shaking, it’s no wonder the disciples said, don’t you care if we perish?

            Out on a boat in the middle of a sea. Out in the church buffeted on all sides, and even the ground beneath us shaking. It’s a worrying place to be. And yet here we are, our congregations and parish, shaken in recent weeks by the loss of two key members. Yes, we’ve had other troubles, and they still continue for many of us; worries about how we’ll get things done, about the future of this congregation, about the safety and salvation of our families and friends. And now perhaps things are coming to a head for you, for this congregation, this parish. What will happen next? Will we just abandon ship? Jump into the stormy waters? And what is Jesus doing? He promised to be with us, that the Holy Spirit would guide us, that His Church will never die. What is Jesus doing? Is He asleep?

            The boat was and is an ancient picture of Christ’s church; the disciples, those who would pass on the faith down to all who believe; the sea, a place of chaos and monsters, the uncertainty of this broken world; and the winds of temptation tearing at the sails. This event has long been used as a picture of the Church in this broken and tumultuous world. Here we are together, as in a boat; yes like a boat out on sea there are calm times for us, and yet also times when we feel uncertain, when we feel attacked both from the chaotic waves on the seas and the water sloshing about our feet in the boat threatening to sink us lower. We like the disciples are unsure of what will happen, in the Christian Church today, in our LCA Synod, in this parish and even in your own Christian life. When things are threatening to fall apart, even when we are sinking under the pressure of all this. What do we do? What can you do?

            Remember that Jesus is in the boat with us, call to Him for help, to do what we cannot. Trust in the Lord. And make no mistake, Jesus is Lord, Master over all. He stood and rebuked the wind and waves, Peace! Be silent! And they obeyed. Jesus is Lord of all, Victorious over sin, death and the devil. The chaotic waters and powers of the air submit to His Word. Silenced by His command they obey Him. The disciples ask ‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him.’ Of course the answer is, God Almighty, Creator of all, the one who laid the earth’s foundation, who marked it’s dimensions, who set the boundaries of the seas, who came before Job in a storm! And Job in his life was certainly rocked about, just like the disciples, just as we heard with Paul, just as the Church has been down the ages, and just as we in the boat of Christ’s Church also suffer today. Who is Jesus? He is God Most High! Now how do you respond?

            Job submitted, the waves stopped, the disciples feared, yet you know the Gospel, the truth of why Jesus came, to reconcile us together with God our Father, by the Holy Spirit. He has opened His heart wide to you, shown His love for you; today forgives you again, speaks with you again, strengthens you for going out into this broken world. Will you respond in prayer, praising Him the Lord of Hosts, God who created even you, who commands the storms of this world; and thanking Him for His mercy and teaching? Will you respond in song, singing of His greatness, and proclaiming His love? Will you respond as we go out into our communities, amongst those people we meet, and those trials we suffer, will you respond with love?

            Just as the disciples were in the boat with Jesus, under His protection, we are too. This doesn’t mean that there are no hard times in our lives, no hard decisions for our congregation, no persecution for Christ’s Church; and yet through all this, Christ is with us as He promised. We need not fear, yet even if you do that is good if it brings you to call on Jesus. Like the disciples, you might have little faith at times, ‘How can Jesus save if He sleeps, if I don’t see Him here?’ yet you’re still in the boat. We are in the boat together, and Jesus Lord over all storms, is here with us; we can call on Him and He listens, He will save His people despite our troubles in this world. Yet that question remains, how will you respond?

            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.

The mysterious way

The Text: Mark 4:26-29

 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is addressing the frustration and impatience of humanity as we try to understand the mysterious way the kingdom of God grows and extends itself in the world. I say that because of the way the ‘parables of the Seed’ follow close on the heels of the ‘parable of the Sower.’ The parable of the Sower and Jesus’ explanation help us understand why it is that not everyone who hears the Gospel believes it and bears the fruit of faith.

There’s a background story for every set of ears that hears the word of the Lord, and some of those background stories get in the way. Having said that, notice how the parable of the Sower ends: some of the seed falls on good soil and produces a yield, some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred-fold. That’s exciting, and that’s what we want to see happen, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen as often as we would like it to. And so today’s gospel assures us: “Night and day, whether the farmer sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, but he doesn’t know how. All by itself the soil produces grain, first the stalk, then the head, then the kernel in the head,” and there is no shortcut to that process. Modern fertilizers and farming techniques might help a little, but there are no short cuts. It takes as long as it takes, and that’s what Jesus says the kingdom of God is like. There are no short cuts. His work in the Church, his work in us, and his work in others takes as long as it takes, and that can frustrate us, just as it frustrated the people of old, as we see what’s happening to the Church in our time.

The book entitled: “The Benedict Option” begins by tracing some cultural changes right back to the 14th century, when the western world in general stopped distinguishing the connection between God and his creation. Then there was the Renaissance in the 15th century, the Reformation in the 16th century, the Scientific revolution of the 17th century, the so called Enlightenment of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, WWI and WWII in the twentieth century, capped off with the sexual revolution in the 1960’s.

The author gives an overview of how those historic events have altered the way people think since the days of the Medieval Church. Not just in terms of knowledge, and what humanity has learned in the last 700 years, but the thought processes we have, and most especially about ourselves. He names the people of the Medieval day “Religious man,” and says, “They were born to be saved.” That’s what they thought about themselves! Then he names the people of our day “Psychological man” and says “They were born to be pleased.” That’s what we think about ourselves. A key idea in the book is that the Christian Church needs to detach itself from today’s culture, because the two are incompatible.

An article from the Lutheran Theological Journal titled “Reflections on the status of the Church as we look towards the future” makes these observations[1]:

.. “A completely new form of culture is upon us, one which rejects the long Western tradition of commonly held beliefs (namely, the Christian faith) and the structuring and ordering of society which flows from it (namely, the Church, family and state institutions such as government). It rejects the moral code of sacrificing self-interest in favour of community interest. Instead, this culture puts the individual first and at the centre of everything, with the highest good being individual freedom and choice, personal happiness, self-definition and self-expression… Anything that restricts the individual must be re-shaped, deconstructed or destroyed… It believes we are inherently good, and that more individual freedom will improve the world… He says “It’s easy to see why this culture is called post-Christian, but in fact it’s actually stronger than that – it’s actually anti-Christian and we can see that by its aggression toward the Church in the media… This is the culture which has shaped those born into it over the last 50 years and explains much about why our churches are emptying out of people under 50. Even those with the best Christian upbringing are being pulled in this direction…

The idea that strong biblical Christian faith can be maintained with little or no friction with contemporary Western culture doesn’t hold up. The two are incompatible…It’s time to hunker down and keep the gospel alive for those who are wrecked by this new culture.”

The authors of these two works recognise that our Western culture is toxic in terms of faith in Jesus Christ. Finally there is recognition that buying into today’s culture is something we need to repent of for faith in Christ to survive.

It is a grim picture I’ve painted for you this morning. You might even say it’s a depressing picture, and yet it explains so much of what we’re seeing all around us.

So, is there any good news for us to hear today? Thank God there is! Night and day the seed of God’s word, the seed of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, has continued to grow in us and sustained us in the faith.If that weren’t the case, then we might have joined the exodus from the Church as well. But God in Jesus Christ has kept his word. As often as we have been troubled and perplexed by the experiences of life, his word has strengthened us and held us in the faith. And as often as we’ve been tempted to take this new culture on board and live that way, his word has called us to repent.

What about the friends and loved ones we know who have turned away? How are we going to save them? The reality is, we can’t. We can’t save anyone, not even ourselves. That’s Jesus’ work in us, and it’s actually dangerous for us to even try. The very best thing we can do is bear witness to Christ, and the very best witness we can give is to live the life Jesus is calling us to live; to come regularly to worship, to pray for the lost, show loving kindness for them, and be there for them in need—to “to hunker down and keep the Gospel alive for those who are wrecked by this new culture.”

So Lord, we thank and praise you for grace and mercy to us, that day and night your word has been at work in us, drawing us into your kingdom. Help us give a good witness to you and your kingdom, so that others might join us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] The article was written by Pastor Greg Pietsch, former Bishop of the Victorian District.

‘You and the Dragon’

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

            They say when the going gets tough the tough get going, yet that is not quite what is going on here. We are talking about the struggles of the Christian life, and particularly here for Paul, the struggles of the preachers; earlier he wrote, “as we [ministers] share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Even so this suffering and comfort is for all those who live by Christ, to the goal we share of full reconciliation with God our Father (2 Corinthians 5:20-21) and the renewal of all Creation. Things you cannot do by your own strength, I mean can you even heal your own hurts? When things get real tough, when death comes knocking can you fix it? And then we look around at God’s Creation, around at this broken and groaning world, and the tough times happening. The tough times of COVID and those restrictions, those riots in the USA, civil war in East Africa, the death of a loved one, waking up to your son coughing throughout the night; tough times. And of course, when God’s Son, the prophesied Saviour of humanity and all Creation, was abandoned by all, handed over to those tough Romans be tortured, to die by crucifixion. The going got tough and the tough killed Jesus.

            But Jesus, He got going. To those looking on from outside, Jesus had wasted away to nothing, yet truly He was renewing not so much Himself as all Creation. God had said as much, all the way back at the beginning of this world, telling the serpent, that dragon, what was to happen; the dragon would crush His heel, yet He would crush the dragons head. More than a heel Jesus bleeding, bruised and killed, He crushed the devil, He bound the strong man unto the end when this dragon, stripped of power will have more than just a crushed head, the devil will be thrown into the pit of burning sulfur. The devil is defeated and Christ is victorious. And by the Holy Spirit, according to God’s promise in Baptism, we are united in this victory, the Ultimate Victory that yet outwardly looks like a defeat. When the going gets tough, Jesus gets things done.

            Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly you are wasting away, things falling apart, stressed, suffering, even facing death; cling to Christ, to the promises of our Heavenly Father, and be renewed daily by the Holy Spirit. When this world and it’s distractions fall apart God may grant us the ability to see what is truly happening underneath it all, what is happening inwardly. Not the inner workings of council bureaucracy, rather the reality of demonic attack and Christ’s defeat of the devil both at the cross and here in our lives. As we receive those words of God, “I forgive you” the devil runs in fear; as we taste Jesus, He binds that so called strong man, the lies and temptations and we receive the Truth and the Life, Jesus Christ Himself. As He told the Pharisees, Jesus binds the strong man and takes what he has stolen; and so as we heard last week, we are freed from that slavery to sin, to failure and guilt, you have been freed from the lies of the devil.

United to Christ in baptism, and returning to that union in the Absolution, the demonic has no power over us; the Lord of Hosts has His angels to guard us, and the Holy Spirit Himself lives in us, sanctifying us, making us Holy. And if you need certainty that Christ is in you and you in Him, come to the table and receive anew His most wonderful gifts; receive into your body, His Body and Blood. Be strengthened, but don’t let your guard down. Yes the devil is defeated, yet like a snake beheaded he thrashes around causing pain and suffering, but without fangs he has no power to kill us who live in the Victory of Christ.

So through the trials, the sufferings, the outward wasting away; hear the Word of Jesus, receive the renewing gifts of God from the Spirit, and know that our enemies have lost, our Lord is Victorious and our light and momentary troubles with Him will result in an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Participation with the one who saves all Creation’?

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Romans 8:17
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if perhaps we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

            To participate with the Trinity, to have a relationship with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; that is what it is to be a Christian. It’s similar to any other relationship, I’m a Woolies customer if I shop at Woolies, and I fail as a Woolies customer if I go to IGA. If I never take time to spend with my wife I hurt our relationship, if I neglect to teach my children I fail as a father, if I insult my father I sin. This is part of what Paul is getting at today, and Isaiah certainly felt his failure, ‘I am a man of unclean lips.’ So a question on this Trinity Sunday is, how is your relationship with our Triune God?

            Do you fail to care for our Father’s creation? To follow in His steps, to create beauty like the sunset and cultivate life in the world around you; to take charge of what God has put under your care, like the Garden to Adam? Do you look to the work of God’s hands to save you, your mind, wealth, government, medicine, all these good gifts. Do you look to them to save you instead of our Father who created them? Child of God, how is your relationship with God our Father?

            And with His Son? Jesus came down from heaven, conceived, born of Mary, escaped to Egypt, grew up in a poor, rough area, saw His adoptive father die, preached, healed, brought light to this dark world, yet rejected by His people, family and friends, flogged, crucified and died for you; then rose to glory and now rules for your salvation. Every breath He breaths for you, and how do you receive it? Do you thank Him for His love, praise His Almighty work of salvation every moment He lives for you? He freed you from slavery to sin, and the desires of your body; do you live in that freedom, or do you run back to the cage?

            My dad had a budgie before I was born, it lived in a cage. This budgie was so used to the cage, felt so safe there, even when dad took him out and put him on top, he’d fly straight back in. Good for a bird owner, good for a slave owner, but also too often a sad reflection of our relationship with Jesus who freed us.

            As Paul wrote, if you live according to the flesh, the old sinful ways, you die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the practises/habits of the body, you will live. And so how is your relationship with the Holy Spirit? Do you breath together with Him, do you walk in step? Or do you walk your own way, following after some other goal, some other god? You know the gifts the Spirit brings, forgiveness/separation from your sin, your guilt and the peace that comes with, love not just of God, also from us, the truth of this broken world, the truth of you and of God’s work for you. How The Triune God relates to you, as we confess as one in the Creed, simplistically in creating, saving and transforming you. And that wonderful transformation from a slave to sin, to a child of God, it is not painless, like hard exercise, like puberty, like pregnancy, we suffer when we change.

            We suffer as we leave the way of life under sin, as we die daily to our flesh and rise to new Life to God in Christ. To kill those desires and thoughts that lead us astray, those habits, those hurtful reactions. Yes we suffer from others too, from those who don’t understand, those who hate Jesus, and those who have been hurt by the sins of the Church. And we also suffer in ourselves. It hurts to reject the desires of our bodies for the sake of others, and yet the Holy Spirit rewards us with peace and contentment, knowing we showed God’s love to another and walked in step with Jesus. It hurts to break old habits and form new ones, especially when we fail; yet we hear Jesus again declare, ‘I forgive you’ the Holy Spirit giving us strength to live our New Life and our Father smiling on us and sustaining us. It hurts to let God be God, in charge of my life, to give and take all things; to rely fully on the mercy of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit. And yet as we do, living in this wonderful relationship with our Triune God, we have life.

            That life created by the Father, won by the Son, and given by the Holy Spirit; so that I can say with Him, you are children of God, co-heirs with Jesus, and have received the Holy Spirit. Live with Him together, suffer with Him together in this broken world, so that we may all be glorified with Him together in the Revelation of the New Creation.

            The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto His glorious Coming. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Holy Breath?’

John 15:26
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.

 

 

 

  Pentecost, what a wonderful day. The fiftieth day after Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. Ten days after His ascension to rule over all. The day the Holy Spirit came and filled God’s Church in a building in ancient Israel. This day is the beginning of our church going out into this broken world, proclaiming Christ’s Victory and God’s healing and renewing of His groaning Creation. Sent from the Father by the Son, the Holy Spirit to guide and empower His Church. The Triune God revealing Himself to us by His Word.

            And how does He reveal Himself to us today? The Holy Spirit, breath of a mighty wind, to empower speech in God’s people for the benefit of all, to help us in our weakness, our brokenness, and to draw all of Creation to the fulfillment of our hope, life everlasting in Jesus. The Holy Spirit sent down to walk alongside us, but how is He with us? I can’t see Him or hold Him, but we do hear of people feeling the Spirit, and being moved by the Spirit. What’s going on there, Who is this Holy Spirit? Well if God is revealing Himself to us, condescending to our level to help us understand the truth, perhaps we start with His name, Holy Spirit.

            Language is a funny thing, we say spirit, breath, wind, but when I’m translating from Hebrew or Greek I only see one word. For our ancestors in the Faith, spirit, breath and wind are the same; He is Holy Spirit, Holy Breath, Holy Wind. This is why we say the Trinity is there clear as day in Genesis, though we might translate it differently, the Holy Spirit, Breath of God, Almighty Wind, hovered over the waters. And by breath we speak words. Let there be light! And there was. (Genesis 1). And later, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1). Here we hear the relationships in God, the Father speaks, by the Holy Breath, the Spirit, His Word, the Son. God is Father, Son and Spirit; God is Speaker, Word, and Breath. Always working together, without a speaker there is no word, without breath there is no word and without speech what is a speaker? One example of this is Christmas, The Father begot Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, or the Speaker begot the Word by the Holy Breath. But why has He revealed Himself like this, how does this help us?

            Ok three things, power, unity and work. One thing it shows is that, especially today, the Holy Spirit empowers us to speak Holy things, to proclaim the Word of God as Peter and the Apostles did all those years ago. It’s not my breath that brings God’s forgiveness and healing, it’s not from my spirit rather it’s from the Holy Spirit. So if I rely on my breath, my work, my power, apart from the Holy Spirit, my words are not God’s. If I rely on myself, no matter the effort, I cannot bring Christ, the Incarnate Word, to others. If it’s by my breath it’s not of God, if I’m inspired by the Holy Spirit God is at work. Now you can work so hard so as to loose your breath, if it’s without the Holy Breath in the end it’s nothing. However, if by the Holy Spirit, He always draws us to Christ.
And this is the second thing. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires and empowers Church, that’s why in the Creed the third part is I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, forgiveness of sins, resurrection, and life everlasting. The Holy Spirit is the one beside us, at work in God’s Word and Sacraments, here today as we gather. The Holy Breath is the one who draws us into a warm relationship with God in His fullness, He is the presence of God. How can I say that, that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God? We’ll let’s just say I break COVID rules and come right up into your personal space, breathing down your neck, warming you; you’d know I’m close because of my breath. And it’s so much more if God’s Breath warms us, not down our necks but filling our lungs and we walk with Him actually breathing the self same air. All Christians, the whole Church, inspired by the same Holy Breath, we are united together by Him. And then we can speak as though God Himself is speaking, filled with His Spirit and bringing Jesus’ renewal to those around us.
And a third thing, the Holy Spirit isn’t a thing, He’s a person. He might not have a simple name like Father or Jesus, but He’s no less active, no less powerful, no less God. When the Father breathed on Adam, the Holy Spirit gave Adam life; all breath is from the Holy Spirit this is why we confess He is Lord the Giver of life. And He was at work throughout the Old Testament bringing life, resting on people giving them portions of God’s gifts, superhuman strength to Samson, great wisdom to Solomon, and the ability to speak God’s Word, to prophesy, to countless down to John the Baptist. He even took Elijah up into heaven on that fiery chariot. And today He guides us into all truth (John 15:13), those encouraging words He gave you, that drive to do good in that moment, and the ability to pray. To pray with the Breath of God, breathing in and out, God’s grace in and our failures out; even when our breath fails and we have no words, the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf in groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26). We can just breath, in and out with the Holy Spirit, in the presence of God.

Those three things, He empowers us to speak Jesus, He unites us together in Jesus, He work in and through us for Life.

The Holy Spirit, He is truly a wonderful gift, even the Lord of Gift giving. And according to the promise of God’s Word uttered by the Holy Breath in His Church down the ages, you have received Him in the laying on of hands at Baptism. Of course He can move and work however He wants, and He does work outside of ordinary means; yet God promised that you receive His Spirit in Baptism so you can have assurance of His presence in your life. However, although we have received Him we may try to remove Him like getting ride of good clean air with smoking; clean air gives many benefits, but second-hand smoke tastes foul. How do we clear our lungs? We breath, in and out; breath in or receive well God, His Word, His Sacraments; breath out or remove sin and evil. Pray God’s Word, morning and night; gather with each other around God’s Word; come together to His altar. Walk in step with the Holy Spirit and breath together as one. This is the life of the Christian, what we confess every time in the Creed. So as we continue to sing together, breathing the same air in and out in time, as we join together in prayer. Know that we are only united by the Holy Spirit, be filled and changed by Him and breath Him as you go out to continue His work of Pentecost, to proclaim Christ’s Victory, to speak life and courage to those around you, and to spread the Holy Breath wherever you go.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to when we will always breath as one. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.