My Lord and My God!

John 20:28
Thomas said to Him, my Lord and my God!

            How often do we believe those we love? Your spouse says ‘no there’s no more mud cake’ then you go and check, just to make sure. How often is it that we are distracted, that we can’t focus on one thing, that we’re torn between what to do, even to think? How often are we Thomas, called Didymus, both names meaning twin, a double-minded man who is both a follower and a doubter. Thomas is us. When you heard the message last week, Christ is Risen! What did you think? Victorious over sin, death and the devil; do I see that in my life? Maybe we justify ourselves like sceptical Thomas by saying, ‘well scripture says to test the spirits, the messages we hear’ (1 John 4). So the question is, in my life, do I trust this Wonderful Good News of Jesus Christ, or do I doubt? And for me my name is a reminder, Joseph Andrew Thomas Graham: those middle names, double-minded male man. Often I feel dragged toward two different directions, trust or doubt, useful or useless, right or wrong; often I am my namesake, Thomas.

            But Thomas is not just the person who rejected the words of his beloved friends, not just one who ridiculed the truth that Jesus rose from the dead as impossible; Thomas also gives the greatest confession in all the Gospels. Jesus is not just the Lamb of God as John the Baptist confesses, not just the promised Messiah of Peter’s confession, not just the Son of God as confessed by the centurion who speared Him, Jesus is my Lord and my God. Thomas this man, pulled in two directions, confesses Jesus of two natures, the human Lord, and divine God Almighty. Jesus was not just another man, and neither did He just appear to die; no Thomas recognises, though probably not understanding the mystery, Thomas knows that Jesus, God and man, died and rose again.

            Yes, Jesus truly suffered as a human, tempted as we are in our lives. And yes, He has authority over the chaos of wind and oceans, to destroy sickness and raise to new life, He is God Almighty creator of Heaven and Earth. Jesus Christ, Lord and God, is victorious over sin, death and the devil. That is wonderful news, amazing and all that; yet it only becomes joyful to us when we share in it, when Jesus is victorious over my sin, my death and the devils attacking me. And Thomas confesses this too, not just Jesus, Lord and God; Jesus My Lord and My God. He is my master, and I His servant; He is my God, and I His follower. This is not from me, it is a gift of God Almighty, from Jesus, as He broke in and defeated my captor and carried me off into His kingdom of peace and joy. He is the one who has given you New Life by water and the Holy Spirit, a New Life for you to live today, to serve your King and follow your God. To live with Jesus who has defeated your sin, destroyed the power death had over you, and defends you against demonic temptation and attack. Doubt is not your enemy, just return to hear God, to hear His Word, Peace be with you, and He will sustain you. Jesus is still here with us even though we might not see, even if my hand doesn’t touch into His side, nor your finger the holes in His hands. He is here with us and He is blessing us today.

            I don’t come here every Sunday just to repeat some words, to wear special clothes, to stand and walk around up here. No, I come into God’s presence to serve Him and serve you. To bring God’s Word, to remind us of all Jesus said, to work alongside the Holy Spirit as He comforts and guides us in this New Life. Yet most of all, I do what I do here for the same reason John wrote His Gospel account, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God, and that by believing you may have life everlasting in His name. That we may live according to our confession, the truth we confess together into eternity with Christ, that Jesus is my Lord and my God.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Speaking eggs and praying buns’

Psalm 118:17
I will not die, but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done!

            Shouts of joy and victory! Christ is Victor! Our enemies are defeated! Sin is dead, the devil is bound, and death O death where is your sting? It’s gone, that’s why we’ve chocolate eggs, not chilli or prickle ones. Now, I know they’ve only been chocolate for 200yrs, but the egg has always been a symbol, a reminder of Christ’s empty tomb, His death from which comes life. It looks like a stone, something dead; and yet from the chook egg comes a live chicken, at least if there’s been a rooster involved. A symbol of life out of death, and now it’s sweet chocolate, a reminder of Paul’s words, ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). For the Christian death is now nothing to be feared, it’s merely a temporary pain. For we know we have been baptised into Christ, the rhythm of His life, into His death and resurrection (Romans 6).

            So, we pray together with Him, ‘I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done!’ And another food that proclaims Jesus’ victory is the hot cross bun. The cross is obvious, Christ died that shameful and excruciating death; then traditionally spices are used, as incense and myrrh on His body to the tomb (John 19:39); but His death is sweet for us (Colossians 1:22), He’s the firstfruit of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), so there’s the fruit and sugar; also no flat bread buns, because Christ is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

            So, we can proclaim His victory with each egg we eat, every bun we munch, that our lives are joined to His and He sustains us according to the Promise. This is the Gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, Lord of all! (Acts 10) No need to fear this mystery, for God has revealed today His salvation, we have seen it! (Mark 16; Luke 2:30) By God’s grace hold firmly to the Good News of Christ’s victory and don’t reject it. (1 Corinthians 15) For ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it’s marvellous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ And as we join with Him, ‘give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.’ (Psalm 118)

            The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the Resurrection. Amen! Christ is Risen!

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Baptism, Communion, the Crux of Victory!’

Hebrews:10:16
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds”,

            Foretold from the Fall that He would be injured, the serpent crushed; that the offspring of Eve would destroy sin, death and the devil (Genesis 3). Promised to God’s ancient people, a suffering servant, offspring of David and God Himself (Isaiah 52-53; Ezekiel 34). His death sung by Isaiah in his prophecies and in the psalms. Despised by all, abandoned by His closest friends, pierced and lifted up, surrounded by enemies, lots thrown for His clothes. He cried out this Psalm 22, His prayer in His crucifixion. Dry in the dust of death, but you O Lord are my strength, deliver/rescue/save me from my enemies. The last line of that Psalm, they will proclaim to a people yet unborn, that He has done it. It is finished. Christ is Victor!

            This is the second part of the Divine service of Easter, after the command to share Christ’s love, and before the Glorious, Wonderful Day of His proclamation. Here today the victory is won. The wonderous New Covenant is cut, as the old Hebrew goes, This new relationship between God and His creation is made here on the cross. We are draw into it by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Holy Communion. This Covenant cut in Jesus, the relationship born on the cross. Water and blood flowing from Him, baptism and Holy Communion where we grow in this relationship. Last night Jesus proclaimed it, a relationship grown over a meal; His Blood of the New Covenant. Now Today, we see what this relationship, this mystery means. He carries the burden of our sin, as we might carry the failure of our child/friend/worker, He carries the failure of the Jewish leaders, the guilt of those who called for the death of an innocent man, the sin of Pilate, He carries the sin of the whole world on His shoulders as He carried that cross beam to the place of the skull (1 Peter 2:24). As The High Priest, Jesus mediates with God on our behalf, to deal with our sin; and as The pure sacrifice He takes on our sin and dies with it. Jesus is victorious over sin.

            He who is Life, Truth, He who is our righteousness, Jesus in the same way as He healed by touching others and overpowering their illness, Jesus touches us and destroys sin, death and the devil in our lives. The pure water and blood that poured from His side are brought to us by the Holy Spirit, for our purification in Baptism and Holy Communion. This is why we renounce the devil and die to sin, how we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes. There is no other way besides Jesus for our reconciliation with God Almighty, and this is why the author says: “Therefore, siblings, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

            As we cling to Him, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Body and Blood, Christ’s love for us’

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

            Here is where we get the name, Maundy Thursday, or in plain English, Command Thursday. The New commandment, that is as new as it is fundamental to creation; the New commandment, that you love one another just as Christ has loved you.

            And how has He loved you? How does He love us today? It is in His Body and Blood. Jesus, the Teacher, the one who knows and understands all things, the best communicator and He has the best message; after all He is the truth! And Jesus is Lord, Master of all, God Almighty, through Him all things were made! He is boss, and all things are under His authority, King of kings and God of gods (Matthew 28:18-20; Deuteronomy 10:17). He is truly the greatest, the union of Creator and Creation, the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10; Galatians 4:4). But all that is just a description of who He is. How does He love us?

            He loves us by serving us, healing us, and knowing us. In His condescension, the Ruler coming down from on High to wash feet from filthy streets. You might have a job, a business, a doctorate, whatever; but we come down to serve our children, to clean up that filthy nappy. This is the relationship God grows with us, and Jesus says, in the same way serve each other. No matter how lowly we might see those in this congregation, how weak or undesirable our brother or sister in Christ; Jesus calls us to love and serve them as He first loved and served us; dying for us who were His enemies (Romans 5:10). Dying to save His people, from our ancient forefathers in the faith; those preparing that first Passover, Pascha, that pointed forward to its fulfilment in Christ. A meal with God, hosted by Jesus Himself, food enough for all; their house saved by the blood of the Lamb, and those at the meal ready to go out and live with God in the desert, toward the promised land. That tradition from Jesus passed onto Paul and down through the ages to us by the Body of Christ, the Church. The proclamation of Christ’s death shared and eaten until He comes. Jesus, He loves us by coming down to know us and serve us.

God Almighty, Lord of lords, comes down to you and me, insignificant though we be; to serve us a meal, to serve Himself as our salvation. His body given for us, and bringing us into Himself, that He knows us and we know Him; His blood covering us, washing away the stain of our sins and saving us from the power of death as the blood of the lamb all those years ago. We cry out for mercy, for forgiveness, for life; and God has heard us, He sent His Son to save us; to defeat our enemies, sin death and the devil, and it is finished! As we come tonight, the memorial of the Last Supper, as we come again to participate with Peter, with John; to be served by Christ as even Judas was; to be in communion, to have that common union with Jesus Christ, the fullness of time, and so to participate in that Last Supper in the upper room, in the giving and shedding of Christ’s Body and Blood on the cross tomorrow, with all His people down the ages and across the world as we lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, and also to participate, to share, to receive a foretaste of the feast, of the life to come! (Revelation 19:6-9). We proclaim Christ’s death until He comes, we declare His Victory over sin death and the devil; Here tonight, in rhythm together with the whole Church, in step with Christ, we share in The Holy Eucharist and call on the Name of the Lord.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forevermore! Amen!

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Good Friday

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father, today we gather with all those who mourn over the fall of humanity.  Sin that required the sacrifice of a sinless Son of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Help us to experience, in a tangible way, Your presence in our lives and our worship today.  Open our hearts and minds to your plan for our lives that has been worked out through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Recently, I revisited Max Lucado’s book “He chose the nails”.  Max encourages us to encounter the mysterious gifts that Jesus chose to give us through his sacrifice. The gifts of Good Friday and Easter Morning are the most precious gifts any person could ever receive because they cost God so much to give.  The Apostle John records those words of John 3:16:  ‘God loved the people of the world so much, he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him will have everlasting life and not perish.”

God did this for us—just for us—because he loves each one of us so much.

When Jesus was taken from his disciples, abused and bound,  he knew the humility that sin binds to all people. Yet Jesus chose to become one of us.

When Jesus stood falsely accused before the chief priests and teachers of the law, he knew the guilt that sin cries out against all people.  Yet Jesus chose to forgive us.

When Jesus stood before the crowd in the hands of the soldiers of the Roman Governor, he knew the rejection and isolation that sin brings upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to invite us into his holy presence in eternity.

When Jesus felt the hatred of those crying out for him to be crucified, he knew the cruel sentence that sin brings upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to love us forever.

When Jesus suffered the lash and the cross, he knew the awful suffering that sin casts upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to give us the victory in his own crucifixion.

And yet, as Chad Bird writes in his book:  Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places:

The glory of God was revealed on the cross of crucifixion.  And yet ‘seeing God on the cross, we do not see.  That is, unless our spiritual eyes have been transferred to our ears.  Unless we see him through the prophecies of Isaiah about the Servant who would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces”. (Isa 53:3)

The Servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (v 5)  If the Word of God, not the vision of our eyes, defines what is real, then we shall really see God on the cross.  We shall bask in the glory where no glory is to be seen.  On the cross and only on the cross, the scales shall  fall from our eyes so that we finally get it:  ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring in the presence of God’. (1 Cor 1:27-29)

The Cross is God’s veiled unveiling.  It is his absent presence.  It is heaven dressed up as hell.  The cross defines how God has always worked and always will.  This is radical life-changing realization.  Beginning in Genesis, and continuing even now in our own lives is the God of the cross. … He conquered the cosmos by suffering defeat in death. He made his life our own, by letting humanity murder him’.  (‘Your God is Too Glorious – Finding God in the most unexpected places’  by Chad Bird, Baker Books, page 24)

So here we are together, honouring the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.  A sacrifice through which Jesus offers the precious gifts witnessed by this holy week.

We didn’t see the star in the sky on the night he was born in our humanity.  We didn’t hear the witness of shepherds about the visit of angels.  We didn’t see him turn water into wine, or calm a storm, or feed 5000 with two fish and five loaves.  We haven’t seen him teaching and healing in the Temple.  We haven’t seen him being questioned by the religious leaders, and the Roman Governor.  We haven’t seen him being whipped for our transgressions.  We haven’t seen him ridiculed by the pagan soldiers.   We haven’t seen him hanging lifeless on a cross.  And yet, we believe.  As Jesus would say to Thomas after his resurrection, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT)

We have learned from the ancients of faith, that God prepared the world through his prophets for the arrival of a Saviour, a Messiah.  The arrival they only hoped for.  The arrival we have heard about from the Scriptures that witness what we have not seen, and yet believe.

We have received the encouragement from the Apostles that the faith we have in our Saviour is as precious, as valid, as powerful, as important as the faith of the Apostles, the Prophets, the Ancients of the Faith.

We have cherished the reality of Scripture, received from our nearer forefathers of the Reformation, that we are in a right relationship with God our Father, through the faith we have in Christ Jesus who offered forgiveness from the cross.

When Jesus whispered from the cross that “It is finished,” we can be assured that it was the end of the old.   And a new beginning of God’s presence among us.  The beginning of life in the presence of God’s eternity.  The call to discipleship, and the unfolding of history into the future from creation to Apostles to modern Christianity.

As Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23–27 NLT)

The gifts that Jesus chose to give us in his death and resurrection show us the unfolding plan of God for us all. With a sure conclusion of the utter defeat of the devil; and the ultimate victory of God’s plan.  A  plan for those through time and place who receive Christ Jesus, those who believe in his name, those to whom God has given the right to become his children.

We are part of God’s ultimate plan in the ultimate victory of Christ Jesus.  Because Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s plan for salvation, as he cried, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

For us now, in our generation, in our time, and in our place, we are called to be faithful in living the faith we have received by the Holy Spirit working in word and sacrament.

We are warned from Hebrews, ‘Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.’

As we approach the conclusion of our age, and the revealed victory of God’s plan for life, we are given the task to hold onto the faith we have received.  To witness that faith by our actions, our attitudes and our words, as we live out our part of God’s plan as children of God who can be trusted.   To encourage each other, as we all face those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s care for us.

To find enjoyment, fulfillment, and purpose in meeting together in fellowship as our hearts sing together the praises of our Saviour who died for us.

This is especially important now that we are closer to our Lord’s return than ever before in history.  When we witness events and hostilities that surely point to the end of times.  As one sign recently said, ‘one in hundred years drought, fire, flood and pandemic, all in 18 months.’  And yet, we realize as Jesus tells us clearly that only the Father knows when he will wrap up this age, and usher in a new age of peace and love.  And that will be wonderful.

Because of Good Friday, we can hear the words of Hebrews with a new direction in our life,  ‘dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.’

And so, today, as we grieve the suffering and death of our Saviour, and we prepare to celebrate His awesome resurrection, let’s hold onto these words of Hebrews, ‘without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.’   And may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Maunday Thursday

The Text: John 13

 

John chapter 13 is a popular reading with many people, Christian and non-Christian alike. There’s something heart-warming about a leader getting on his knees and serving his followers. The love that Jesus preaches tonight, that He enacted with His disciples, and that drove Him on to the cross, is made of quite different stuff than what the world defines and knows as love. In fact the love that Jesus preaches, enacts and suffers himself is so selfless that it cost him his own life.

Jesus had just been welcomed into Jerusalem to the shouts of the crowd. Expectations were running high. The opportunity for Him to spark a popular rebellion and topple the Roman authorities was very real. The chance for Him to reclaim the throne of Israel was before Him.

But what did He do? He gathered in an upstairs room and quietly gives his disciples bread and wine and declares that it is His true body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins. And if that weren’t confusing enough, He then gets up and does the work of a slave. Humiliating Himself as He washes the feet of those who should be looking after Him.

But in this act of love, Jesus gives a clear indication as to the nature of His mission. It was not to be one of earthly glory and fame, but one of service and love. And in this lowly task of cleansing their feet, Jesus was pointing to a far greater cleansing about to be take place on the cross. The foot washing was a symbol, only a picture of Jesus’ ultimate humility, his ultimate gift. Jesus humbles himself to death on the cross for all the disciples, for us, to make us clean from all our sin.

Maundy Thursday helps us remember that Jesus overcomes the world, our sin and the Devil, not through an all-out offensive attack. But through love. A love that is actively at work. A love so deep and profound that it is unconcerned about humiliation. Unconcerned about other’s opinions. Unconcerned about expectations of power and victory and honour. This is the love that was hinted at in the humble act of washing the disciples’ feet, but was finally poured out for all to see on the cross. A love so deep and so astonishing, that it still causes offence even among Christians.

How many of us want to picture Jesus slaying the devil in a mighty battle? How many of us want to see Jesus punishing those who are the worst of sinners? How many of us want to see Jesus take control? But He doesn’t do these things. Instead He kneels down before His disciples and lovingly washes their feet – even the feet of the one who is about to betray Him.

Jesus loves you and me in the same way. It is the same love that has washed over us in holy baptism. That simple act that connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. That simple act that continues to cleanse us right through to the core. It is the same love that speaks tenderly to us as we hear those golden words –your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. It is the same love that is placed in our very mouths as Jesus’ body and blood is given for our forgiveness and life. As Jesus took the place of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples, He revealed how He would continue to serve us until we are called home.

The foot washing is an example of Jesus’ humble and loving service. And Jesus makes it clear that as we have been loved and served by Him, so we are to love one another. His example is a call for us to a love that never stops, a love that doesn’t quit when it’s hard to love, a love that includes all—spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbours, friends, enemies, fellow Christians, and the lost. It’s a compassionate, giving love that gives time, effort, and money. It’s tough love when saying no is the most loving thing you can do.

What motivates us? Where do we get the strength? “We love because he first loved us”. His gift of love calls us to repentance, it forgives us – even when we’ve failed to love as we should, and it draws us to follow him and love others as he did, to the end.

Now some of you might be disappointed tonight because you figure you’ve heard it all before. But this is no small matter for those of us who call Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Jesus considered it a big enough deal to die for. And so we are called to love – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ – so that our life together may be a beacon of hope to this lost world. We are called to leave behind all attempts to have power and control and to seek the way of love and mercy and service. We are called to live out our faith in real, practical and down to earth ways – and mark my words – the unbelieving world is watching.

There is no greater scandal among God’s people than when we fight and lack love for one another. And there is nothing more powerful in bringing people to Jesus than when Christians follow His example and love as He has called us to. One of the early church fathers noted that unbelievers became fascinated with the Christian faith not because Christians appeared so holy, but because of the way they loved each other. It was written that “despite periods of harsh persecution, the witness of generations of Christians living the “new commandment” of Jesus to “love one another,” helped the church to grow and spread across the Roman empire, and led some to proclaim, perhaps with disbelief, “see how they love one another.”

People often show their faith by wearing crosses around their necks. Others post confessions of faith on social media, say grace before meals and refusing to blaspheme. Now as good as these things are in bearing witness to our faith, the only advertisement that Jesus calls us to tonight is to love one another. And in this simple act, inspired by His sin-consuming love, all people will know that we are His disciples. And His love will continue to change the world – one love drenched soul at a time. Amen.

Holy rhythm of our life in Christ.

 

Psalm 31:9
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress

            There is a rhythm to life, every life. At it’s most basic we sleep, we wake, we sleep; and each of your own lives have rhythm even if you don’t always see it, even if you try to get rid of it. Every morning I get up, I go to the toilet, drink some water, pray, then when Nathaniel is up; eat, work, lunch, work, kids, eat, kids to bed then us shortly after. Sleep and do it all again. The rhythm of the day.

            Then there’s the rhythm of the week, then there’s the rhythm of the month, then there’s the rhythm of the year, and then beyond us the rhythms of lives, birth, kids, death; the rise and fall of nations; the dance of the tectonic plates, of the stars, the galaxies, the rhythms of the universe; then the edge of what we can grasp, there is the beginning, down through time to us, then over to the end of this creation. And today we stand as on a new beginning, first day of the week, as on the top of a hill looking over this Holy Week ahead. We see with Jesus what is to come, and so we pray with Him; Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress.

            Our Psalmic prayer today begins with a plea for mercy, down into our distress; ‘my strength fails because of what afflicts me, my enemies break me and seek to take my life’; yet up again in calling to God; ‘But I trust in you Lord, my times are in your hands, deliver me, your servant. Let your face shine on me, save me in your unfailing love’. (Psalm 31:9-16). From God to suffering to God again, and His shining face, His unfailing love. This is the rhythm of our life in Christ. Crying out to God, truly suffering, yet crying out and knowing that He will deliver us, He will destroy our enemies. And this is the rhythm of this Holy Week.

            Today we began with the proclamation, Jesus is King of kings! Hosanna, save us God on High! Just as we cry before He comes to us in the bread and wine. He came into Jerusalem, glorified by the people. And yet we hear again the rhythm of our lives; from these heights, He goes down. Throwing out the moneychangers, cleaning and putting right God’s house of prayer. Now the Jewish leaders’ hatred is brought to a head, as we prayed, ‘they plot to take His life’. On Wednesday Judas one of the twelve takes the money from the Pharisees, just as the Psalmist prays, ‘because of all my enemies I am dreadful to my closest friends’. Praying alone in the garden, abandoned by His sleeping disciples; Jesus was betrayed by Judas and the rest, they scatter; ‘dreadful to my closest friends, those who see me flee’. False accusations, lies, taunts, insults, shame and spit, all this thrown at Him; ‘terror on every side’. Stripped, rejected, flogged, shamed; Jesus the Christ crucified, and as we prayed, ‘I am forgotten as though I were dead, I have become like broken pottery’. Yet we continue to pray, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, You are my God. My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies. Let your face shine on your servant, save me in your love never failing.’ The rhythm of our life, a reflection of the life of our Lord that we live out time and again. Yes, times change, times look different, at times worse, and yet all our times are in His hands. Those healing hands pierced on that cross.

            Live Christ’s life, every week, from the heights of God’s serving you forgiveness and life on Sunday, through the troubles, stress and work to the end of Friday, the rest of Saturday, to the Resurrection, New Life, again early Sunday morn. And especially this week, take time, time from the hand of God Almighty, to hear and meditate on the accounts of Christ’s Passion. Know that your suffering is now a reflection of His, that as you speak with those around you, as you eat, sleep, pray, serve, work, and suffer; we, in this baptismal life, are joined with Christ’s last week. As we are hurt and broken, as we break ourselves by our own sins and failures, die to this world at the Glorious cross, and come to Our Lord for merciful healing; to be delivered from all enemies, life over death, to have God Almighty look on you His child and save you in His unfailing love.

            You know the truth, that Christ is victorious over sin, death and the devil; that this is for you, given you by His Word and Sacrament. So walk in rhythm with Him as we live again the suffering and our salvation.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

“Christ is Victor! Yesterday, today and into eternity!”

John 12:31-32
Now is the judgement of this world, now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. And if I am lifted up from the earth, all will be drawn towards me.

            As we come towards the end of this Lenten season, we hear from Jesus towards the end of His ministry. He’s been going from place to place speaking to people, just as we have; going from reading to reading hearing His Word. As His earthly ministry to the Jews comes to a close the Greeks are beginning to seek Him; to seek the Gospel. And yet we had to wait, to wait for it to make sense. For Gospel, Evangelion in Greek, is a proclamation of victory! And it is not yet Easter, Jesus was not yet lifted up victorious that all, these Greeks included, would be drawn to Him.  The goal of His mission, the goal of Lent; the Easter Victory over and against this fallen world of sin and death, and the power of the devil. Jesus today is prophesying His crucifixion and what it means. He is proclaiming, Christ is Victor!

            When we turn on the news we hear what is happening across this world, abuse, corruption, lies, slaughter, destruction and death. The pain this virus has brought, the frustration of the restrictions; corruption in foreign countries, the murder of countless in Ethiopia and Myanmar; the lies and mistruths spouted by politicians and even those near us; destruction by bomb, flood and mouse, and death from cancer. Yes, we know that there is good and beauty in this world, for truly God made it (Genesis 1-2); and yet this world in which we live is sick, we are broken, creation is hurting. And God’s creation has been hurting for a long time (Romans 8:22), this is why those Greeks were seeking Jesus, for in His earthly ministry God has begun to answer, He has begun healing, raising the dead, and proclaiming His immanent Victory, the Gospel (Luke 7:22). God sent His Son to save the world (John 3:16); this world afflicted by sin, by death, and by demons. Yes, it sometimes seems the devil rules over this sinful world, in our anxieties, our depression, despair, even our pride. But Jesus declared, all those years ago, ‘Now is the judgement of this world’ and on that cross He proclaimed the Good News, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

            Today’s reading is just days before His crucifixion, and on His cross this prophecy is fulfilled. This broken world is judged, the devil is thrown out and Christ is crowned King of kings (Hebrews 2:9; Psalm 136:3; Revelation 17:14). The glory of God hidden in that crown of thorns (1 Corinthians 1:23). Now is the judgement of this world, now it’s ruler is thrown out. In fulfillment of His Word, ‘if I am lifted up from the earth’, Jesus was lifted up on that cross, He was raised from the grave, and He ascended into the heavens. Now by His Holy, Powerful, Enduring Word carried by His apostles with the Holy Spirit, by all Christians down the ages, and today now by you; all people are drawn to Him. He brings us into His healing, into His great victory, into His New Creation. It isn’t a once long ago thing, God Almighty brings His victory here to us.

            Here today we have seen it, and we will see it. This Lenten time of preparation is a focussed living out Christ’s victory, given us in baptism; a time of focus on our baptismal life. Elsewhere we are promised that baptism is a union with Christ’s death and raising from the dead (Romans 6). And this too is what Jesus is speaking of. This is what God has promised each of us in baptism. This is what Cooper has just received! According to the ways of this broken world, Cooper is afflicted by sin; His parents won’t need to teach him to do what is wrong; just like I didn’t teach Nathaniel tantrums, that’s all him. But at Cooper’s baptism, his union to Christ’s crucifixion according to the promise, what Christ promised today has been done. His sin afflicted self, Cooper of this fallen world, has been judged, that old sinful man drowned in the waters of baptism (Ephesians 4:22). The ruler of that corruption, the devil, has been thrown out, denounced and rejected by Cooper and his parents and godparents. What is true of Christ’s crucifixion is now also true of Cooper in his baptism. Now is the sinful world judged, now the devil thrown out, here today for Cooper. His enemies are now defeated; Sin drowned in Christ, the devil and his demons thrown out. But what of our final enemy, death? Know that Jesus did not just up and leave after defeating our enemies; He rose from the dead, destroying the power of death for Cooper and for all us who are baptised. He remained and taught the first disciples, living with them. Then He sent them out to make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching; and truly He is with us always to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

            He is with us as we gather in His name, just as He promised (Matthew 18:20). He is with us as we pray with Him His prayer (Matthew 6:5-15). He is with us as we hear His Word. As we serve those in need (Matthew 25:40). As we receive again His absolution (John 20:22-23). As we taste again His Body and Blood (Mark 14:22). As we, with Cooper, participate in His lifting up, on the cross, from the grave, and to His throne on High, in our baptismal life (Romans 6; 2 Timothy 2:12). Now is the judgement of Sin, Death, and the devil; here is their defeat; again He is exalted and today we are again drawn to Christ, we hear the Good News, we taste everlasting life, and we see again Christ’s victory over Sin, Death and the devil. Christ is Victor. And we live in His everlasting life, drawn into His victory so that others maybe drawn as well.

            And so 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.

‘Is Jesus a snake?

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.

            I love this text, John 3:16 is rightfully well remembered, yet so often we forget these wonderful texts surrounding it. The hiding of sin in the darkness and that fear of the light, that when we come into the light in Christ, confessing the truth of who we are, the darkness is taken away and all that is left is of God. That wonderful encouragement to have your conscience healed before God in Confession and Absolution. And then also this little verse, ‘just as the snake in the desert’.

            When I say snake in the desert, you might think of when you found a brown snake, the fear and threat you felt; or you might think of Jesus tempted in the desert; even the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden (Mark 2:13; Genesis 3). And yet we heard today, this bronze snake lifted by Moses for the salvation of the Israelites (Numbers 21:4-9). The reason I love this text is that it helps open our eyes as Christians. It demonstrates that the Old Testament is always pointing to Christ Jesus. It is His story; it is our story. The Father Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but God provided; the Father so loved the world He provided His only begotten Son (Genesis 22:2, 14). King David dancing almost naked down the street as the Ark of the Covenant entered the city; Christ humiliated on His way to the cross of God’s glorious victory (2 Samuel 6:14, 21-22). The snake on a stick (Numbers 21:4-9), the serpent on a tree (Genesis 3), Jesus lifted up on wood (Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus is the fulfillment, the revelation of God’s ancient Word. And for all time that ancient history of God’s people, the Old Testament points to Him. Give thanks to God for He is good; His love endures forever (Psalm 107:1).

            Our God, God Almighty, is not a changing God (Malachi 3:6). He has been with His people all through the ages, He is with us now. It’s just as we prayed earlier, ‘the redeemed of the Lord tell their story, those He redeemed from the hands of the enemy. They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave!’ (Psalm 107; Ephesians 2:1-10). This is the way He has always worked! He speaks and according to His Word things happen. And He shows His love to you in that He spoke generations ago and had His word written and preserved that you too might hear from Him and pass it on. That He might reveal Himself to you and through you. That we might be able to look back on our history, on the life of God’s people; as they too lived through pandemic, exile, war, and persecution.

Not just that we are united in greater and lesser suffering, not just that we serve the same God, that we share in His name on us all, but also that God works in the same way He always has. That we might hear how He strengthened His people in patience, in trust, in love, to do those works He had prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). To know that the goal is Christ, yet He may give us a foretaste of what is to come, according to the word of His promise. That, just as we prayed, He sends out His word to heal us. That according to His promise, His sure and certain Word, we might be healed. But where is that word?

In the desert, trudging and suffering the Israelites grumbled and rejected God’s promise. So, God sent venomous snakes to attack; then the people in need turned to Moses for help from the Lord. They cried out just as we prayed. And the Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake raised on a stick, that the people might look at it to be save from the snakes. There are reasons and connections as to why it’s a bronze snake on a pole, like how the snake on a stick is a symbol of medicine; yet just to know that God tied His word of promise to this real image to save His people. But also, another thing, they look up to a snake to be saved from snakes.

And just the same, the Son of Man must be lifted up. Yes, so much more happens at His crucifixion yet this remains true. Those who look up to Jesus on the cross are saved, according to the Word. If the Israelites were saved from snakes by looking up to a snake, what are we saved from by looking to Jesus? We are saved from death, the wages of our sins; those failures we fight against in the New Life of Christ (Romans 6:23). We are saved from our fallen humanity, our inclination to sin, to serve ourselves, to rely only on created things, to envy what is not ours (Hebrews 2:14). When, trusting in God’s Word, we look to the crucifix, Jesus on that cross, we may have eternal life. He was lifted up for your salvation. The Word of God came to heal you. And in His mercy, He shows you this again today.

Have you ever wondered why there is a cross marked on the bread for Holy Communion? Why the pastor lifts the bread for the Words of Institution? It is the snake in the desert; it is Jesus lifted for your healing to everlasting life. Our Heavenly Father has tied His Word of promise, the promise of renewal, taking away of sin and guilt, everlasting life, and full common union with Christ Jesus, God and Man reconciled, He has tied His Word of promise to the bread and wine of Holy Communion. It is a mystery that today we have only scratched the surface of the connections God is making, the depth of the reasons He has revealed; and yet He sends His Word that the Spirit may open our eyes, to see Christ’s everlasting life for us from the cross in this Holy Meal. To see with Simeon as we sing with Him, ‘my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.’ (Luke 2:30-32).

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The temple of fools’

John 2:19
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’

            Foolish to the nations, that’s what Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). And isn’t it so true. How many think that faithful Christians are fools? Does our society think that Jesus is important, that His church is a vital part of our lives; Or maybe something to be kept hidden in private, like the proverbial crazy uncle. My best friend from school still thinks I’m a fool, for giving up a career in chemistry to become a minister of the Means of Grace. And I’m sure there are people in your lives, that think you too are a fool for the Faith.

            I mean look at our Lord, by Himself He starts tossing tables and driving out animals from the most important centre in the Jewish nation and society. Sure, the temple is supposed to be a house of prayer, not a house of commerce (Mark 11:17); yet one person to overturn the way society is going. What kind of a fool would do that?

            And Jesus tells the people, destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days. A temple that took 46 years for a nation to build, and this fool will raise it in three days? What kind of a fool would follow this madman who died 2000 years ago?

            As Paul said, foolishness to the gentiles; yet to those being saved it is the power of God. The power of the Uncreated Creator, who spoke the Word and it was done, He saw and it was good (Genesis 1). The power of the God of Israel defeating all the gods of Egypt and promising His presence in the tabernacle, that copy of the Heavenly Temple (Exodus 40:34-38). Who promised to come Himself and save not just the Israelites, but all the world (Isaiah 56:4-8, Ezekiel 34:11-23). Who came as a human, in a tabernacle of flesh (John 1:14). Yes, they do not understand that the God whose temple they are in, had told them Jesus is the new Temple. They did not understand until His Word is fulfilled. Because they did destroy the Temple, the promised place of God’s presence, when He was crucified; and He did raise the Temple three days later, at the Resurrection Sunday morning.

            And now you are baptised, joined into His Body, the Church, you are part of this Resurrected Temple (1 Peter 2:4-5). Jesus may look a fool to the world, yet He holds the truth of this world (John 14:6). As He threw those tables into the air, the money to the dirt, He was not just preaching to the Jews, against their focus on money and wealth, against their pride and selfish power, against this abuse of God’s Holy Place. He is also teaching us as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Those cleansing waters of Baptism is Jesus coming into us and throwing out our sin and failures. The cleansing of the temple is the healing of our hearts and minds, Absolution, Baptism, Holy Communion. The question is not, are you letting Christ drive out the sin in your life; He’s already done that according to His promise (John 20:23). Rather the question is; are you picking back up the money and bringing back the animals into the temple? After Christ has forgiven you are you turning from His life of prayer back to focus on wealth and our animalistic/physical desires, back to the way of life our society thinks is wise, self-sufficiency and pleasure?

            Just as Christ cleansed the temple at the beginning of His ministry and in the days before His death, He cleanses us more than once. In this Lenten time of preparation come and hear Christ’s cleansing Words, Forgiveness and Life (Matthew 26:28; John 6:68). Think about what He tells you, meditate on His Word, pray for the wisdom of God and the strength you need, and serve as He did, in love and with concern for all those around Him.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.