Sixth Sunday of Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live;to love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him, because He is your life.

            My dad was a big fan of Led Zepplin, and hearing God’s Word today reminds me of that ‘stairway to heaven’. ‘there are two paths you can go by but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.’ Of course the woman thinks she can ‘buy her way into heaven’ which is entirely missing the right road, but we can still hear echoes of Christianity throughout our culture. Two ways, a wide easy road to destruction or the narrow and difficult way of salvation (Matthew 7:13). But this is not just some airy-fairy idea, Moses puts this to the Israelites as a choice, life or death, good or evil; it’s up to you.

            These Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt by the mighty power of God obvious and indisputable. They heard God’s command and followed Moses into the desert. Then they grumbled against God and Moses because it looked like they had chosen a path of death. But God did bring them to the land He had promised, though they refused to trust God’s Almighty power, so God sent them back into the desert for 40 years. Now Moses addresses their children, still God’s people descendants of Abraham, the one He called out (Genesis 12). This book of Deuteronomy, the second law, tells the Israelites again about their relationship with God Almighty, and Moses ends it with this promise. If you choose life and good, God’s way, to love Him and listen to Him, you will live, you and your descendants because He is your life.

            This word was given to God’s people all those years ago, but now He brings it to you. I put before you, life and good, death and evil. Choose life every day, make that commitment to truly hear God’s Word that you receive His peace, joy and love and your life is changed; to truly love Him in all that you do, do it all for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17). And remember when I speak from here I am talking to myself too; no Israelite was excluded, no Christian is excluded. To choose life every day, to daily put on the full armour of God, to pray without ceasing for all our petitions with thanksgiving, being dedicated to God in everything we are (Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6). This is what God calls us to, me and you. And we know what this means, to dedicate 8hrs a day to work, to dedicate an evening to your spouse, to dedicate an afternoon to your family; we are called to dedicate everything to God, to choose life not death. A very tall order. How can our salvation hinge on our own choice? Weather we choose life or choose death.

            This is where we come to one of the mysteries of the Faith. Do we focus on my choice or on what Jesus has done for me? This is very important for every Christian to understand, because if we confuse this, we ruin the peace God gives. Are you saved by choosing life? Are you saved by your continual decisions to listen to God and love Him in your everything? If you are, can you be sure that you are saved? That you have life everlasting? Or have we opened a door for doubt or even despair?

            I’ll ask another question, were the Israelites chosen by God, or did they choose to live such good lives that God noticed them and blessed them? Did those Israelites escape Egypt by their own strength and seek God in the desert to find Him and listen to Him? Did you baptise yourself and earn adoption as God’s beloved child, or was it God who loved you first and brought you into new life in His Son (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:18)? Moses was addressing the people of God, a rebellious people, stubborn as an old German Lutheran mule, but still chosen and loved by God (Exodus 32:9). It was God who brought them out of Egypt, who led them by His voice to Sinai, who taught them and brought them to the promised land. And Moses told the Israelites just earlier in the passage that when they go into the land, reject God, go into exile and God brings them back He will ‘circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul that you will live’ (30:6).

            Just as He chose the ancient Israelites and continued to love them even though they rejected Him, He has chosen you, promising that He gives you new and renewed life everlasting in your baptism, that your Heavenly Father has drawn you to His Son and sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide you on His way; to choose life everyday (Romans 6:4; John 6:44; 14:17). Hear God’s Word for you today, love Him in all you do that this obedience and service may be a blessing to you and all around you. God has given you life and He is the only one who sustains it, He is the one who makes you holy circumcising your heart, He is the one who works and the one who saves you. I asked before, what do we focus on? We focus on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Yet in doing this we are choosing life and good by the strength of the Holy Spirit, this is why we say if one is saved it is God’s work, if one is condemned it is their rejection of life. But again for the Christian to choose life and not death is a daily thing, it’s not just the end; and we see this throughout the Old Testament, the earthly results of clinging to God or rejecting Him. So I tell you today, with the Light of Christ shining into these ancient words, God loves you and hears you, He has already saved you and will perfect you. Cling to Him for He is your life.

Joseph Graham.

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

The Text: Matthew 5:13-20

“Be What You Are”

 Some years ago the story was told of a 30-year-old man who spent most of his life as an imposter: at the age of 16 he posed as an airline pilot; at 19 he posed as a paediatrician. Later, he was an assistant district attorney. He was caught in the end. But by that time he had passed cheques amounting to 2.5 million dollars. He was not what he appeared to be.

 Sometimes people tell us that they want nothing to do with the church. The reason?  Because, so they say, there are too many hypocrites there. The trouble is that Christians don’t always know who they are, and they don’t act accordingly. Christians need to be genuine. They dare not be a phony or a hypocrite. The world is quite right in judging the truth of Jesus by the sort of people faith in Jesus is able to produce. 

 So the question for us, as Christians, is this: what are we? The answer to that question comes from Jesus. In the first two verses of today’s Gospel he says that we are salt and light!  Listen carefully! Jesus does not say you ought to be salt, or that should be light, but rather “You are salt…You are light.” What a tremendous saying! After all, what Jesus is saying is this: “You disciples standing here before me—you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

 One wonders if anyone in that bunch of people, squatting in the dust of that Galilean hillside, could take it all in. And what about us? The church was in its numerical heyday fifty years ago when Christians felt as if they were the majority. Numerical significance and cultural superiority was the self‑understanding of most churches in the Western world at that time.  We were the majority faith. This was our country, as we saw it, our world. Today, can you imagine that there ever was such a time, when they closed the petrol stations on Sunday mornings and refused to play football matches on Sundays? Were you endangered in the stampede leaving your neighbourhood this morning on your way to church? I doubt it. Here, when we go to church on Sundays even in a rural or middle‑class neighbourhood, we are a minority with just a bit of occasional hostility and derision.

 It’s been said that it is a dubious sign if the world lives too peaceably with the church. We’re all familiar with the saying about rubbing salt into a wound. Salt always bites and stings at those points where we men and women have wounds, where our sore-points are. So where there is salt in a church and it’s preaching there is bound to be a negative reaction against it. But where there is no bitter reaction to the message what then? Perhaps what is lacking is a biting salty truth that will sting in some people’s pious wounds. To be salt and light, Christians must be different from the world.

 From the point of view of purely quantity, the proportion of practicing Christians to the whole mass of people in the world is comparable to the few grains for salt in a big pot of food. And when we Christians get discouraged as we think of how we few stand alone in our family, the place where we work, or among our friends and acquaintances; when we are afraid and confused, then we do well to take comfort from this saying of Jesus. He did not say: “You are the great power-bloc of the world”. No, he said: “You are the pinch of salt in the world!” And that, by its very nature, is a very small quantity.

 But actually, how often can the power of this one pinch of salt turn out to be mightily effective? When one person does not join in the gossip around the dinner table, then that pinch of salt seasons the negative group conversation. When one teenager refuses to go along with the group’s plan for the night, then that can be a change of direction. When one Christian practices forgiveness in a company that is poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge, then all of a sudden there can be a healing factor in the situation. When one Christian is willing to stand up for his or her faith where this is hard to do, then suddenly the whole atmosphere of a meeting can be “salted” as ears that were closed before may now be opened. When one person in any group paralysed by fear communicates something of the peace of God to others simply by being who they are and where they are, then the salt is doing its work in the midst of corrupting strife and disorder; then the light is shining in the darkness of fear and distrust.

 There is still this other important attribute of both salt and light. Both become useful only when they give of themselves, when they are mixed with something else and sacrificed, as it were. Light goes into darkness and salt loses itself in the food. Each individual Christian is given a great promise: he or she is a grain of salt. But this one Christian also has the responsibility to share this promise. And, of course, if we are to fulfil this responsibility, then we must get out of the “salt-shaker” as it were. Salt works, salt remains salt only as it gives of itself. Or a Christian puts his light under a bowl simply because he is afraid that the winds that blow in the evil world, among his unbelieving friends in the factory or office or school will blow out the light of his faith. But when that light is kept under a bowl its light helps nobody, and what is more, it exhausts the oxygen and nothing is left but a nasty, shapeless wick.

 You don’t need to be super-confident to ask your neighbour to come with you to worship. You can do it faithfully in weakness, and in fear and trembling. You don’t need to be brimming with slick ideas of how to get through to seventh graders to teach Sunday School. You don’t need to be comfortably sure of what to say in order to visit a fellow member in the hospital. You don’t have to be financially secure, guaranteed of a surplus for life, to be a steward who tithes. You don’t need to feel sure of your faith to begin to pray regularly for others. You can stumble over the words, praying in weakness.

 And if you do—when you do—you will find not that you miraculously have done everything perfectly, amazing people with your skills. But you will find that the Lord keeps his promise, and that somehow the words you stumbled over—the awkward condolence, the wavering word of love, the blurted invitation—found a home in another human heart.

 A Christian dentist moved into a new house. He soon found neighbourhood teenagers littering his yard and riding their bicycles over his lawn. None of this encouraged him to love his new neighbours as himself. One night the leader of the teenage group had a bad toothache. The boy’s mother sent the boy to the dentist for a check-up. The dentist found the tooth in need of expensive repair and offered to take care of it. The boy refused. He said his family couldn’t pay the bill for a job like that. In the end the dentist persuaded the lad to let him do the repairs. The dentist did not send the boy a bill. Soon he forgot the incident. That summer the dentist left town for an extended holiday. When he returned, he found that his lawn had been well looked after during all that time by the teenager whose tooth he’d fixed. The dentist tried to pay the boy. But he refused. Shyly he said: “A tooth for a tooth”.

 With day-by-day efforts like that, we make our light shine. We bring rich flavour to a tasteless society, and so become the salt of the earth. God gave his only-begotten Son for this world. Therefore we are called upon to be salt and light for this same world. And certainly the world is worth saving by our sacrifice because this one man Jesus Christ first sacrificed himself for all of us. We are to be the little grains of salt for the little bit of earth that God has entrusted to us. We are to be the glimmer of light for that little part of the world in which we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

When are you really blessed?

More and more people were hearing about Jesus, more and more people were coming to look for Jesus. They had heard what Jesus was doing, as he healed the sick and helped people in their needs. Now they wanted to find out what Jesus was all about.

Jesus had been telling them that the Kingdom of heaven was coming, the Kingdom of heaven was coming to earth. Jesus was bringing the Kingdom of heaven to earth.

So what was this kingdom like? What did it mean to live in this kingdom?

Where is the kingdom of heaven today? Is it up there? Is it also down here? What does it look like?

Are you citizens of the kingdom of heaven?

Hey, come and follow me.

Matthew tells the story of Jesus going up a mountainside, calling his disciples to himself, and teaching them. His teaching is what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew does not tell us where this mount is but the traditional belief is that the Sermon on the Mount was given on the slopes leading up from the lake.

If you go to Israel, to Galilee, this is the place that they will show you as the site of the Sermon on the Mount. There is a church built there, a rather beautiful church in a lovely garden, called the Church of the Beatitudes.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful setting. And the Sermon on the Mount gives us some of the best known and most loved words that Jesus ever spoke. Among them are the opening words that we heard as our Gospel today. We know these words as the Beatitudes, which means the Blessings.

Jesus talks about being blessed. Blessing means sharing in the goodness of God, receiving the gifts of God.

Yet, when we listen to what Jesus says about being blessed, it is hugely challenging. That’s because Jesus’ idea of what being blessed means and our idea of what being blessed means are hugely different from each other.

You have probably been told to count your blessings. Maybe you have told others to count their blessings. OK – count your blessings. What are the blessings you have, that you really appreciate…?

Now let’s see what blessings Jesus talks about when he talks about your blessings.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Are you blessed when you are poor?

We like to think that the things we have make us rich. Or we don’t expect to be rich, but we do like to be comfortable. The opportunity to live a comfortable life; that is a blessing.

We don’t want to be poor. Sometimes people have to put up with being poor, but it is not a blessing. Yet Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor.”

OK…he says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So he is talking about spiritual things, not material things.

Do you want to be spiritually poor? I think we want even more to be spiritually rich, to have a spiritual life where we feel wonderfully exalted.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” You are blessed when you have nothing, when you come with nothing, because then you are ready to receive everything that God wants to give you. You are blessed when you let go of all your own spirituality, and you live in the grace of God.

You are blessed when you have nothing, nothing of your own and when you rely on God for everything; when you rely on God for every spiritual gift.

And what does God give you?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

God gives you a place in the kingdom of heaven. This means that you receive life from God, life that is full and free, life that is lived with God.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Count your blessings. Surely the greatest blessings are the people in your life, people who belong to you and you belong to them, people whom you love, people who love you.

How can you be blessed when you lose someone who is a blessing? How can you be blessed, when you mourn such a loss?

Jesus says you are blessed even in the face of loss and tragedy. You are blessed by his presence and by his promise. He has promised to be with you—when your need is greatest, his gift is even greater.

You will be blessed, even when you mourn great loss. You will be comforted, covered with the grace of your loving Father.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

We are taught that we have to be strong, that we have to be assertive, that we have to stand up for ourselves. We like to believe that we are blessed when we can make our own way in the world, when we can stand up for our rights, when we can get what we deserve.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the meek.” Meek is not weak. But meekness is a different sort of strength.

Being meek is being strong enough that you do not have to prove how strong and tough you are. Being meek is being strong enough to forget about yourself, and give of yourself for the sake of others. Being meek is being more concerned about caring about the rights and the needs of others, than your own rights and your own needs.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Blessed are you when you are meek, when you are prepared to give up what you think is yours, because God will give you much more. You will inherit the earth. Your life on earth will be rich and fulfilling, because you will be living as citizens of heaven even while you are living on earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

None of us like to be hungry. None of us like to be thirsty. Hunger tells us that we need food. Thirst tells us that we need something to drink. Hunger and thirst are fine, as long as we can eat and drink when we need to eat and drink.

And most of us eat and drink much more than we need. We eat and drink to savor the richness of taste, to enjoy food and drink to the fullest.

There is another kind of hunger and another kind of thirst. It is spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. It is feeling that deep need for spiritual nourishment and spiritual fulfilment.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

We might try to convince ourselves that we have enough righteousness, that we are good enough to satisfy ourselves and to satisfy others, and to satisfy God. But then we are living a lie, and our blessing is an illusion.

You are blessed when you come to God with complete honesty, knowing that you need righteousness from God, knowing that you need God to forgive your sins and make you whole and healthy and strong. When you come to God with that need, and when you come to God with that faith, then you will be filled, and you will be blessed.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

We like to think that blessings are all the things that make life good for ourselves. And we are pretty good at complaining when we think life is not fair. We are quick to blame someone, anyone, and maybe we blame God if life does not give us what we think we deserve.

Mercy is knowing and understanding the needs of others, and forgetting about our own needs and wants. Mercy is being prepared to give of ourselves for the sake of others. Mercy is sacrificing ourselves, and what is ours, rather than being worried about getting for ourselves.

Blessed are you when you are merciful. Blessed are you when your heart and mind are tuned to other people, people who are close to you and people who might be far away, but people who have great needs, physical needs, are politically oppressed and in danger, and suffer from spiritual emptiness.

When you see those needs, when you feel those needs, when you respond to those needs—that is mercy. And when your heart and mind are tuned into the needs of others, somehow your needs don’t seem so urgent at all.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive God’s own mercy, the mercy of forgiveness and the mercy of pain and anguish relieved, the mercy of being loved and supported. When you are merciful you are committing yourself to the mercy of God, and God gives mercy richly and fully.

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”

We like to think that we are smart and sophisticated, and being smart and sophisticated means that we can see and do whatever we like. We think that we can play with all sorts of things that are evil, because that is what is flaunted in our world. We like to think that makes us clever and wise, and that if we are smart enough these things won’t do us any damage.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

When we fill our minds with all sorts of experiences to prove that we are mature and that we can handle them, we lose sight of what is really precious and enriching. We lose sight of God.

When we hear the word of God and focus on what is good and holy, even in the middle of the most demanding and degrading sights, then we learn to see God in every situation, and we are blessed as we seek the will of God everywhere, always.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

We all want peace. But we also want things to be done our way.

We want to hold control. We want others to serve our purposes.

We generate conflict, in our own personal life and at every level right up to international power-plays and wars.

It takes great wisdom but also great will power to become a peace maker, to overcome the conflicts in your own life, and to work with others to overcome conflicts in their life. It means sacrifice. It means forgiveness. It means understanding life is more than getting your own way.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

God is the great peacemaker, breaking down the hatred and rebellion that people throw against him, and leading people to reconciliation and restored relationships. Peacemakers are children of God, for they are learning from God, and following in the footsteps of their heavenly Father.

Making peace is a vital part of Christian life. Learn how to be a Christian peacemaker.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t like pain. I don’t like to be rejected. How can you be blessed when you are being persecuted?

Being persecuted is not a blessing. But being persecuted can show that you have a blessing which is much greater, a blessing that no one can take from you, no matter how much they try.

Christians have been persecuted, and Christians are still being persecuted, when they stand up for their faith. Persecutors think that they can enforce their will, and destroy Christian faith by using ridicule, threats, pain, violence, and even death.

Jesus says that you are blessed even when you are persecuted. That’s because righteousness, the gift from the righteous God, is stronger and more precious than any persecution.

People might turn against you, and take away your property and your comfort, your reputation, your freedom, even your life. What have you got left?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Those persecuted because of righteousness have the kingdom of heaven. That is God’s gift, and no one can take that away. That is the greatest blessing.

So Jesus teaches us about being blessed, about being really blessed.

He strips away so many things that we think are blessings. He shows us the blessings that go much deeper, blessings that are much more precious, the blessings of living with God in the kingdom of heaven.

Do you still want to protest: “But I don’t want to let go of all the blessings that I want”?

Look at Jesus, look at the way he lived. He was poor in spirit, dependent on his heavenly Father. He suffered great loss, and great deprivation. He was pure in heart, and merciful, and meek. He was persecuted, to the point of the cross. He gave it all away for the sake of bringing peace.

When are you blessed? You are blessed when you are with Jesus. May you share his blessings in the kingdom of heaven, now and forever. Amen.

Third Sunday of Epiphany

1 Corinthians 1:18
The word of the cross is moronic to those perishing, but to those being saved it is the power of God.

            We’re in the season of epiphany, revelation, and I always find it fun and joyful when I find something small but unexpected. Just like translating today’s passage and reading out ‘moron’ in the Greek because it’s a Greek word; then I think back to my friends at school who weren’t Christian and yeah, they thought I was a bit of a moron to trust God. I mean look at us, we look to a man who died on a cross to give us life. That’s ridiculous! Looking to death for life, makes no sense, and yet here we are. Morons to those outside of Christ because we trust the word of the cross.

            In the eyes of this world it’s foolish, stupid and moronic that Christ’s death would bring you everlasting life, and to believe that I, a sinner just like you, could take away the guilt of your sin against someone else, and yet I forgave you all your sin, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that’s the thing. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, teaches us it is not about me, not about the pastor who baptised or confirmed you, not about Luther, Peter or Paul; it is Jesus Christ who died for you and all Christians, all baptised into His name and joined to Him in His life and holiness. This is the power of God in Christ. It is Jesus who is Lord and saviour of all Christians. This is why the name ‘Lutheran’ isn’t truly helpful, it’s a slur from the Roman Church that stuck, yet Luther himself preferred ‘Christian’ and in the early years we were known as ‘evangelical’ or gospel Christians because of the primacy of scriptural teaching in our congregations. The book of Concord, the confessions of the evangelical church, sought to be just that, agreeing, or in concord, with what God’s people, the church, have confessed as true from Pentecost to now, well up to 1580 when the book was published. We are not followers of Martin Luther, any more than we follow Isaiah the prophet. You were not baptised in the name of Luther, but in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He makes us holy; He renews and gives life everlasting. It is God who baptises, washing clean and giving such great gifts as reconciliation and adoption into His loving family. It is God who forgives, yet like a postie He has given me the message for you, indeed every Christian can bring God’s word of forgiveness (John 20:21-23; James 5:16) to another because we are joined with Jesus who is God, but you and the Holy Spirit have given the pastor that responsibility to proclaim God’s grace publicly.

            Last week we heard the truth, Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And three weeks ago at Epiphany it was revealed that God’s love in saving people from sin, death and the devil is not just for His ancient people, but also for you here today. As we hear the promises of God, we trust Him by the power of God the Holy Spirit and agree together that we are forgiven, sin no longer has power over us because of what God has done in Christ Jesus. We confess together the wonderful truth of what God has done, is doing and will do, in the words of the creed. We say with one voice ‘Amen’ this is most certainly true, it is done and will be done, at the end of our Lord’s prayer. This is concord, to all speak the same thing, the same in mind and in opinion. This is what Jesus desires for all His people, as He prayed in the garden, may they be one as we are one (John 17:21).

            So by His power in baptism, may we be one, as our Father planned it. What a wonderful picture of the common life in a Christian community, peace, love, joy; truly if we lived together this way, the way that every one of you were called to in your baptism, called saints, set apart in Christ, everywhere calling on the name of Jesus, awaiting the revelation of Christ who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the Day of the Lord; called into this wonderful fellowship of Jesus the Son of God; if you lived this way the truth of Christ’s love would shine around us. Yet do you live this way? Or is there still division? Distance and separation between you and another member of this congregation? Between you and another Christian? Disagreement on what God has said, what He has done, on the way God wants us to live? Are we of the same mind and opinion, speaking together in agreement with what God has first said?

            Or must we again humble ourselves and confess the truth of our pride, stubbornness, and reliance on our own worldly wisdom, to confess our sins? Jesus is our Lord, King of kings, Judge of the living and the dead (John 20:28; 1 Timothy 6:15; Acts 10:42). He is the one in charge, in Him you are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). You are not your own, you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The Spirit through Paul reminds us, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). You and I, and all of us have come here together as one family to humbly receive God’s gifts. To submit to God’s mercy in this Divine Service, where God serves you by His Word and in His sacraments. In His wisdom, serving through His word read again by human voice, His proclamation with human lips, bread and wine, and a guy in white dress up the front. Plain, dull and moronic to those who are perishing, but the very power of God to those being saved.

            So thank God for His great mercy, rely on Him to make you holy seeking reconciliation and agreement with all in Christ, speaking together and living the truth of God’s power saving you in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ our King.

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

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Epiphany

John 1:29b, 39
Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He said to them, come and you will see. Therefore they went and saw where He remains and they remained beside Him that day.

            Look! Over there, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! You didn’t come here to see or hear me, not to sing the songs or to find a comfy seat. You came here to see Jesus. To listen to Him and to stay in His presence. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am with them (Matthew 18:20). Jesus is with us here, now! We come to hear His words, the truth and this sanctifies us (John 17:17). God’s Word does what He sends it to do just like the wonderful rain (Isaiah 55:11). To receive from Jesus mercy and a new life free from sin, to hear His words, His commands and what is most precious to be forgiven, our sins taken away by the Lamb of God, to hold on to this forgiveness received in the bread and wine. You come as those disciples did all those years ago, you come to stay with Jesus.

            Thank God for His mercy, what a wonderful time what a fantastic gift! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He is here for you. You have already heard His voice, ‘I forgive you all your sins … peace be with you’, and in God’s great mercy He will offer you again forgiveness in the assurance of Christ’s body and blood. Forgiveness and life you can taste, what a wonderful and precious gift! This is the wonderful Good News, God’s promise of full life and deep peace to you, for you. Don’t be distracted by our faults, by the songs, the prayers, all our responses, don’t be distracted by me, but through all these see Jesus your saviour, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. He is the focus, the reason, everything we do is trying to point us to Him, receiving His gifts and responding. For He’s the only one who reconciles you to God Almighty and reconciles our Heavenly Father to you.

Hear again His love and mercy, you are forgiven all your wretched sin, all the wrong and evil you have done to yourself and others, every betrayal of God and all other failures, and yes you fail, turned away from God at birth still today you reject Him and forget Him. You live as though Jesus stayed dead and as if this life is all there is to live for. I know this because God has said it and God does not lie (1 John 1:8, 10). He has told you and He has told me that we are poor miserable sinners, wanting our own happiness and independence that we might take the glory even just a little for ourselves (1 Timothy 1:17). To steal from the God who created and sustains us, to betray Jesus our bridegroom, and to run off and live our own way.

This is the sin of all people, this sin that I struggle against sometimes fighting harder sometimes giving in. Yet just like you preparing to receive Jesus’ wonderful gifts I too reject my sinful pride and admit, agreeing with Jesus, that I have sinned and fallen short as a Christian, God’s child, fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Your sins and my sins are horrific and real, and with all people these make up the sin of the world. It is easy to think that the fire and drought are God’s retribution, but what did John say in the reading of the Good News today? Behold, look to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Jesus takes away your sin and mine. He takes it upon Himself, like the scapegoat of old, like the sacrificial lambs for forgiveness of sins, just as God promised through Isaiah; silent like a lamb to the slaughter He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon Him was the punishment that brought us peace, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53).

To understand the depth of your sin and helplessness, offers the beginning of grasping the joy of John; Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! The Holy Spirit reveals to you your sin, and to me mine. The Word of God is sharper than any sword cutting straight to the heart, and like a hammer crushes all excuses and all pride. We can hide it all we like, God knows you better than you know yourself, your deepest desires, your darkest thoughts, we cannot escape the one who searches the heart (Psalm 139). And yet why would you want to? God loves you as the perfect husband loves His wife (Hoses 3), He came to reconcile you to Himself, to make all things right, to take away your sin, and to renew you bringing you into a new and holy life. Jesus has taken away your sin, you are free from it (Romans 6:22; 1 Peter 2:16). He took it upon Himself and died, sin dying with Him, but not rising in the resurrection; In Jesus’ crucifixion the sin of the world is dead and powerless (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5, 8). So you joined with His life in Baptism are dead to sin and alive in Him (Romans 6:11) Now just like those disciples the Holy Spirit has brought you faith through hearing His Words (Ezekiel 16:60; 33:11; 34:25) and Jesus has called you to come and see, to remain with Him, living His way in forgiveness and truth.

John pointed to Jesus, Andrew was draw by the Holy Spirit then remaining with Jesus he brought this wonderful news to his brother. So as you remain with Jesus, listening to Him receiving His gifts, go in His peace and serve your Lord. Amen.
Joseph Graham.

First Sunday of Epiphany

 

Acts 10:38, 42
Jesus of Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, went about working good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, God was with Him.
And He commanded us to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that He is appointed under God judge of the living and the dead.

 

            Thank God for all the gifts He has given, for life, food, family, friends, for peace, relatively good government, a land to call home, all these wonderful things that so many throughout the world and throughout history have not had. Yet now we have all this, what do we do with it? How should we use these gifts? Knowing all this what will you do in this drought and as our state is burning down. Job said the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). But while we have these gifts, what will you do?

Of course today we celebrate something else, the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of His earthly ministry the healing and good works He did for all those oppressed by the devil, of course that is all us people. Wonderful gifts of freedom from sickness and oppression for many all those years ago. We could ask what Jesus did, with what He was given; but I’ll leave that for another time. Rather, I’ll ask you about those disciples He brought along, after Jesus finished His earthly ministry, what did they do with what God had given? They waited as God had commanded (Luke 24:49), then received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1), proclaimed the word and in the Spirit brought thousands into the baptism of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41). By God’s power and Holy Word He has drawn tens of thousands into the baptism of Jesus by such a plain washing, the mystery of water and Word (Ephesians 5:26).

And so you who are baptised, might not really remember it, but today we heard again what happened, when you were baptised into Jesus’ baptism. The Spirit and power descended on you in Christ Jesus and our Heavenly Father said of you in Jesus Christ, you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17). I’m moving fast through this because I’m sure you’ve heard already this wonderful news, the gospel itself, but now I want to ask, what does this mean for you now? The gifts given you by water and the word are wonderful marvellous and mysterious gifts, forgiveness, healing, death of sinfulness and resurrection to righteousness, unity with God Himself. You have all these gifts, what now? As you sit here today, what does this truth mean for you? How has it changed you and the way you live? We ask God to teach us His ways, that we may walk in His truth (Psalm 86:11) and not live according to our sinful flesh (Romans 6:12-14). For us who have received God’s promises, what is it to live His way?

Christ’s first followers, the apostles, once they received these mercies also received a command, to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all that Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). And here Peter told these Gentiles that command to him, to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that Jesus Christ is appointed by God judge of the living and the dead. Now there’s no undie stress to you here, you don’t have to go to Iran or anything, these commands were given to the church, and so we as Christ’s church seek to proclaim the Gospel and to walk God’s way here where we are. And to walk God’s way is to listen to Him and live accordingly, to bear witness to the truth that Jesus died for you, that your sins are forgiven, and that Jesus is your Lord, king of all kings (John 20:28; Revelation 17:14). That He is judge of all the living and all the dead. That Jesus is in charge.

To know what that means, we come together to hear His words, and the Word of His Father through the bible readings. Sometimes these are difficult to understand so we listen to what the church has said through the ages, how wise Christians have tried to explain, yet still there are mysteries. Great and wonderful the mystery of union with Jesus and all Christians by the Holy Spirit in His baptism, the mystery of Christ’s return to reconcile all things to Himself, destroying all evil, cleansing all who trust and glorifying them into bodies like His (Romans 6:3-4; Philippians 3:20-21). These are true, in His mercy God even demonstrates to you and me the small mysteries of faith, peace from out of nowhere, finding lost keys, the beauty of the sunset in smoke, dust and cloud. Today we are reminded by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament again of God’s mysterious, yet true, love for you. He is in charge and He is on your side, what wonderful good news.

Certainly a comfort in difficult times, in the stress of drought, the despair of fire, and the struggles in this life. Yet more than a comfort, the Good News of Jesus Christ, Saviour, motivates us. Yes to listen, to hear and to comfort each other with His good words, but more to live differently. To thoroughly witness in the way you live, what you do, how you act and how you speak. Firstly you are free from sin in Christ, it is dead to you, so you don’t need to trap yourself in it (Romans 6:5-11). You are free to love each other and all people, free to care, to do good just as Jesus did for all people (Luke 7:22). Jesus tells you again, you are forgiven, your sins are removed and destroyed (Psalm 103:12), yes even those you did this morning, you are free from regret, free to turn away from your sin, from sin against you (Ezekiel 33:11), to turn back to God’s way of reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-22), active in love and peace (Acts 3:19). Free from sin and free to live in Christ, again wonderful news!

In Christ you are free to live His way, according to the judge of the living and the dead. He has told you that in Him you are safe, to rely on Him and on nothing else (Matthew 22:36-40). He has given you life, the Holy Spirit the giver of life to help you through this world (1 Peter 3:18). And now today, this week, in your homes, your work, your shopping, through all your life, just like the disciples and the ancient prophets, by the way you live you are free to bear witness to the forgiveness of sins and new everlasting life in Jesus’ name that you receive in His Word and Sacrament.

So as you go out and as you come in the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

 

Second Sunday after Christmas

Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14



  Mary Poppins  is a classic children’s movie. I’m sure you have seen, or at least heard of it. Those who have seen it might recall the scene where Bert, the chimney sweep,  draws pictures with coloured chalk on the pavement. The curious thing about this scene, is that Bert, Mary and the two children don’t just sit back and admire his work – they actually jump into the picture. They enter his creation.  They experience the world he has just drawn in all it’s glory, beauty and wonder. They engage and interact with this world in a way that you can never do so by just observing the picture on the pavement. They dance with the penguins and ride the horses from the merry-go-round as they sing – including the famous Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. There are some similarities here to Christmas.  After God created the world, he doesn’t just stand back and watch. He is continuously involved in it. He continues to care for his creation. He continues to provide for you and me. Many have shared stories of how they or their property were miraculously spared in the recent fires. On Boxing Day, our family had an incident on a river that could have ended a lot worse, but we thank God that he was there protecting us, bringing us all to safety.
Yet God doesn’t just intimately care for his creation. God is so involved, that like Bert entered the world he’d drawn, our God enters the world he has made – our world. John says,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. … the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Christmas is about Jesus, not just admiring his creation from a distance, but becoming flesh and blood to enter our world and become one of us.
Now when God came into the world, he could have come as he was. He could have come in some spectacular way.  He could have come like a superhero with special powers. He could have come with all the glory, glitz and glamour of the greatest celebrity of all time. He could have been the richest millionaire, throwing money at everything and anything so he could fix the world and solve all it’s problems.
Now in some respects he did some of this. Somewhat like a superhero, he performed numerous miracles, but that wasn’t his main message. Like a celebrity, there were times that he had a large following, and times that he felt terribly alone. But he didn’t throw money around to fix our problems.  His greatest miracle and his main message was that Jesus died on the cross to fix our greatest problem – the problem of sin in the human heart.
Sin infects our world. It contaminates us, destroying our relationships with each other and with God. It destroys how we see ourselves. It leaves us feeling broken and hurting within.
The only cure for sin, is for someone perfect to die in our place. We need someone to come as our substitute and sacrifice themselves for us. That’s why Jesus came.  So when Jesus entered our world, he actually became one of us. Not just as a fully grown human, but as a little vulnerable baby, born to a humble couple. Jesus is God in the flesh. He looked like you and me. And this wasn’t just a disguise Jesus wore. In Jesus Christ, God actually became one of us. And that means he experienced all there was to experience about humanity. He experienced deep joy and happiness, but also trials, hardship, suffering, death and vulnerability. So vulnerable that so many times he nearly didn’t make it to the cross.
At his birth, Jesus Christ was extremely vulnerable. His mother was pregnant before she was married. So according to their laws, they could have stoned her to death before he was even born. They travelled so far that she could have miscarried along the way.
Then when Jesus was finally born to a young, inexperienced mother, with no family support, the town was so overcrowded that the only accommodation left for them was out in the garage. We often joke about someone sleeping in the dog kennel or the
3 Immanuel – At Christmas God enters creation Matt 1:23, John 1:14
chook house, but Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually did. Not only was Jesus born amongst animals, he was placed in their food bowl. These conditions certainly wouldn’t meet Australian health standards for a newborn infant.
And if this wasn’t enough, the king at the time was jealous. When he heard that a new king had been born, he wanted to get rid of the child. To make sure, King Herod ordered that all children in Bethlehem and surrounds be killed to make sure the child was dead. Talk about being vulnerable.
This is the extent God went to for you, to become one of us. He experienced the joys of life as well as the pain of suffering we experience.  His death was one of the most horrific and tortuous known in history. That’s what God was willing to go through for you and me – so that by trusting in him, you and I don’t need to experience the torture of hell. That’s how much he loves you.
And God continues to love you. Jesus is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Jesus is still with you and me today, walking amongst us and dwelling with us. It might seem hard to find him in this crowded, busy world, filled with many different faiths and beliefs. We often expect God to come in glory, surrounded by angels, bright lights and beautiful music. You certainly wouldn’t expect the king of the world, the God of the universe, to come to us in the dim lights of a stable and the lowly screams of a baby. You wouldn’t expect him to be crowned in thorns and be enthroned on a cross.
Yet he did all that for you and me. He did that because he loves you and wants you to know your sins are forgiven. Christmas is only important because of Easter. You can’t truly believe in the baby at Christmas without trusting in the freedom and forgiveness of the cross.  The place that God promises to be found today is not in spectacular ways, but in a humble book, in ordinary bread and wine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God comes to us today in many ways, but the most certain way is through the bible and the sacraments. That’s why church services, devotions and a healthy prayer-life focus so heavily on the bible.
Now we all know that Christmas is a festive season. But for many, Christmas is also a stressful time. Many financial pressures with Christmas shopping, cost of travelling, and job losses. And when the day finally comes, some family gatherings aren’t so pleasant. Maybe there’s some tension, arguments or even on-going feuds. There is likely some disappointment after an exchange of presents, as well as the reminder of the loss of loved ones. And of course, this year with so many fires, there are many fearing for their lives, their homes, and their families.  When Joseph was worried about his situation, an angel came and told him it was going to be okay. Everything was in God’s hands. Continue with your plans to marry Mary.
And to the fearful shepherds, the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that for all the people. Today a Savior has been born to you”
I don’t know what you are going through, but whatever your situation, God says to you, ‘Do not be afraid, Jesus knows the stress you are going through, and he wants to take all your worries and anxious thoughts, and fill you instead with his peace and joy.’ (Philippians 4:6) Seek first his kingdom and he will provide all your needs (Matthew 6:33).  Jesus is called “Immanuel” – which means, ‘God is with us’. The loving God is with you! He always has been, and he will continue to walk with you no matter what.
On this, the last Sunday of the Christmas season, may you know true joy, love, hope and peace through Jesus Christ, and may that go with you all throughout this New Year, and on into eternity.

Darren Kukpe.

New Years Day 2020

What’s in a Name?

About 2000 years ago, an eight-day-old baby boy was circumcised according to Jewish law, and was given the name Jesus. What makes this child or his name so special? In our world over 350,000 babies are born every day; that is over 127 million babies born in the world each year. Many of those babies are circumcised for reasons of religion or custom. Many are presented in churches and temples; they are all given names, and in Israel many are even given the name, Jesus.

Yet this one child—Jesus of Nazareth—has changed the course of history and of many individual lives. He has caused the years to be numbered from the time of his birth; BC—Before Christ, and AD—Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord. While your name or mine might not tell other people much about ourselves, the Name (or names) of Jesus tell us something very significant about his person.

William Shakespeare is known for the famous quote: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet! That is not true in relation to Jesus. His name is packed with meaning and purpose; and this one referred to in the Scriptures as the ‘Rose of Sharon,’ would by any other name than those given by God, certainly NOT smell as sweet. 

So what is the significance of the Name of Jesus? While many other Hebrew children were given the name Jesus, including the notorious criminal Jesus Barabbas, the name of Jesus of Nazareth was chosen, not by his parents, but by God himself. Luke writes: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived (Luke 2:21). You will remember how Matthew records the angel’s instructions: You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt.1:21).

The name ‘Jesus’ is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, ‘Joshua’ which means “The Lord Saves”.  How appropriate a name for this child!  Just as Joshua had been chosen to conquer the enemies of Israel and lead them into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus had now been chosen to conquer the enemies of the entire human race – sin, death and the devil – and lead his faithful people into the promised land of heaven.

It is not just his common, given name, Jesus which is significant.  Matthew recalls the prophecy of Isaiah: They will call him Immanuel—which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). His name describes his nature. This Jesus of Nazareth would be God in human form, true God and true man, living among his people.

Luke tells of another name the angel gave for Jesus: He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). This name also tells us about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and fulfils the prophesy of Isaiah: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  This child born to us, this Son given to us is not like the 127 million other babies born each year; he is not like all the other children called Jesus or Joshua. He is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32).

When Jesus was born, the angels gave the shepherds another significant name for this child: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The name ‘Christ’ held great significance for the Jews. ‘Christ’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’—meaning ‘The Anointed One’—the long awaited King and Saviour of his people. The angel told Mary: The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33).  Hence this Jesus is distinguished from all others by being referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus.’

When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians he showed how Jesus lived up to each of these names.  He lived up to the name ‘Son of the Most High’ by being in very nature God (Phil 2:6). He lived up to the name ‘ImmanuelGod with us’—by taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness (Phil 2:7). He lived up to the name ‘Jesus—The Lord saves’ when he humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross (Phil 2:8); and he lived up to the name ‘Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One’ when God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11). Yes, Jesus is certainly the name above all names!

What does the name of Jesus have to do with us?  John tells us that when we believe in Jesus who is The Christ, the Son of God, we receive ‘life in his name’ (John 20:31). The name of Jesus saves those who trust in it because to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in the person of Jesus and everything he is for us. Early Christians developed the symbol of the fish because the first letter of each Greek word in the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour” spelt out the word ‘ichthus’ [pronounced ick-thus] the Greek word for fish. This confessed who Jesus was.

The apostles declared that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

When the Jews asked the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”(Acts 2:37, 38). When we are baptised in the name of Jesus we are given the name and nature of Christ as a personal gift for our forgiveness and eternal salvation.  We are referred to as CHRISTians. 

Scripture tells us that when we are baptised in the name of the ‘Son of the Most High’, we also become sons of the Most High God (Gal 3:26). The ‘Immanuel – God with us’ now becomes ‘Christ in us’’ (Gal. 2:20).  ‘The Lord saves’ us by joining us to his dying and rising (Rom 6:3-5).  Christ, The Messiah King gives us the power to join him, seated at his Father’s right hand in glory (Eph. 1:19-23). Such is the power of this name!

So as we enter a new year, what are we to do with the name of Jesus? Jesus’ name cops quite a bashing in today’s society. It is used commonly in cursing and swearing. Next time you hear it used that way, ask the person who says it: “Do you know who you are talking about?” You may get some interesting reactions. The name of Christ is being removed from State Schools and from prayers at all levels of government. We hear the name of Christ and the people who bear his name demeaned in the media. We Christians can even bring disgrace to the name that we bear by failing to live like ‘little Christs’ in the world or by failing to call upon the Lord’s name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

God calls us to live as ‘bearers’ of his name, honouring his name, believing in it, calling upon his name in worship, praying to the Father in Jesus’ name and praising his name forever. Luther encouraged us to begin each day by making the sign of the cross and repeating the name in which we were baptised.  All these things are involved in the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your Name”. We are acknowledging the holiness of all God’s names—including Jesus—and asking that we may keep them holy in speech, in life and in teaching.

So, “what’s in a name?” Let’s never forget that the name given to a Hebrew baby over 2000 years ago and engraved on our lives by baptism and faith is our most precious possession. A rose by any other name would certainly NOT smell as sweet!  Amen!

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

First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 63:7
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, … according to all that the Lord has granted us, … according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

            The steadfast love of the lord never ceases (Lamentations 3:22). This reminder of God’s steadfast love in His prophetic prophecy through Isaiah is hemmed in behind and before with reference to God’s vengeance and the rebellion of Israel herself. Suffering and death behind and before, just as in the Gospel today, Herod’s attack on Jesus murdering all boys in Bethlehem under 2 and Jesus’s own death on the cross. Death and suffering behind and before us, drought and fire, funerals and cancer, the evil foolishness of governments and authorities across this corrupt world and your own struggling against sin, death and the devil. Like the Israelites of old and Jesus Himself we are surrounded in suffering. But remember the abundance of the Lord’s steadfast love for you.

            That word ‘steadfast love’ in Hebrew is a wonderful word, deep and comforting in it’s meaning. It means loyalty to covenants, like integrity and faithfulness, but also kindness and everlasting love because of what God has promised. Then of course the question is what has He promised?

            Salvation in His love and in His pity redemption, carrying the Israelites all the days of old. He gave the Israelites such great goodness, strengthening them and sustaining them by His word and His creation, redeemed from Egypt but now suffering again because of their rejection of their saviour. God had promised through Moses, If you will truly hear my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). And this promise had been fulfilled, when Israel listened to God’s word it was a holy nation, under King David, under Hezekiah, under Josiah, treasured by God. However, when they rejected Him they suffered their sins and the evil of others.

            And why the Israelites? Through Moses again God told His people, ‘you are a people sanctified. The Lord has chosen you … not because you were many, but because the Lord loves you and is keeping His promise to your forefathers, to Abraham (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). And that promise? I will make you the father of many nations, will establish my covenant with your descendants through the generations giving them this land of Canaan, I will be their God; and now the part we care more about, through you all peoples of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 17:4-8; 12:3). Now we know God kept those first two promises, Abraham the father of the Israelites, Edomites, Arabs, Midianites, father of many nations. And the second promise, the Israelites after receiving the fulfilment of another promise of protection then escape from Egypt did settle in that land of Canaan. But what of that last promise? Through you all people will be blessed? How have all peoples been blessed through Abraham?

            Well, the answer as I’m sure you know is Jesus, Abraham’s descendent. He came to redeem, not just the Israelites, not just the descendants of Abraham, but all the peoples of this world (Isaiah 49:6). God Himself, the second person of the Trinity, descended to be born a human, to live and suffer just like you and me, attacked by Herod, by this corrupt world, hostile and rejecting its own creator, the one who loves them. He came into this world He created, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). Jesus lived a life truly hearing and trusting God’s Word, unlike the failure of the ancient Israelites, walking God’s way and speaking the truth of God’s love and faithfulness, His covenant loyalty. Jesus suffered because you and I want to sin, we don’t like to hear that we are wrong rather we desire to walk our own ways and trust not in our creator. Jesus suffered ridicule, abuse, rejection, and finally death because He held tight to God’s Word, to the truth, to love, in the face of this corrupt world. He died, and if He were just a human that would be the end of the story again no comfort for you, but He is not just fully human, but also fully God. Rising from death, God and man united and victorious over all evil, redeeming and glorifying this humanity Jesus was given authority over all things. What He says goes, and He keeps His promises despite His suffering and despite yours.

            Now what does Jesus say? I will send you a comforter to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth … He will teach you all things and remind you of all that I have said (John 14:15-27)! The Holy Spirit came into this world at Pentecost giving birth to the church, another promise kept, but again what is this to you? When did The Father, through Jesus by the Holy Spirit promise you anything? Promise you adoption as His sons, His children? Promise forgiveness and salvation, Redemption or deliverance? When were you joined up with this salvation from your sin, this victory in Christ over death and the devil? When did God promised all this to you? Baptism into His name. The Holy Spirit through the New Testament writers teaches us from that fiery day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39) that this message and baptism was for those who listened, their children and all who are far off; that is you and me! The Holy Spirit goes on to promise through Paul that He comes to you through baptism and you are adopted as God’s children, and more that you have been joined into Christ, part of His body and one with Him reconciled to God, saved and redeemed (Titus 3:4-8; Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Peter 3:21). Today we have heard again why God’s loyalty to His promises is such a comfort to us, and no one can take them away from you, you can’t be unwatered, unbaptised; and you did nothing to earn these promises you just lay there or stood there as the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, working through the Word of promise, the pastor and the water baptising you into His family, washing you clean from all sin and bringing you into the everlasting life of Jesus Christ. You are in Him, this is God’s promise to you and He is faithful.

Not just this but, He remains faithful even if the baptised goes on to reject Him, rejecting the truth. It’s not that all who are baptised are automatically saved, just like not all those descended of Abraham are God’s children. Jesus tells us, if we reject Him on Earth, He will reject us before the Heavenly Father (Luke 10:16). But in His wisdom God gave us baptism and promised that He is at work in it giving His promises to you specifically, that you can be sure that He loves you. This is why I don’t often condemn those who don’t trust the promise, I don’t know your heart like our Lord does, but I know when I simply say ‘you are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ all those who trust God’s Word just brought again to them receive His forgiveness and all those who don’t trust Him, don’t. I don’t need to tell those who reject God’s promises that they don’t receive them, because they already know that.

But you, you who trust God, who suffer the attacks and temptations of the devil, you and I both need to hear again God’s Word that He spoke to you all those years ago at your baptism, to guard against fear and forgetting. This is why the Holy Spirit sent all those letters we now have in the New Testament to encourage and strengthen you and all the baptised church of God, to remind you that you are in Jesus, God’s children, you have overcome in Him sin, death and the devil, all the suffering in this world and that in the end, either your death or Christ’s return, you will be renewed, glorified and freed from death and the devil just as Jesus was because you are joined with Him (Philippians 3:21).  

            Baptised with Christ into His death, you like those Israelites Isaiah prophesied too are in the midst of suffering. Suffering because of stress, sickness, worry and now because you are in Christ suffering the increased attacks of the devil from many directions, just as Jesus was attacked by Herod as a toddler. But through all this suffering you have God’s sure promises to hold on to, the certainty of the love He has shown throughout the ages, to Abraham, to the Israelites, apostles, to Christians and to you. He promised in baptism you have been joined to Jesus, sharing in His flesh and blood that has destroyed death and the devil. This is your life in Jesus, free from sin, from fear of death, and free from fearing the sufferings of this world. This present suffering is not the end He will come and renew all things. This is His promise and He is loyal to His promises, so you can Have peace.

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

Joseph Graham.

Christmas Day 2019

Luke 2: 8-20

How’s your Christmas going so far?

Is everything the way you planned it, or have some things already ‘gone wrong’?

Just think back through all your preparations for today. You may have gone to some effort to buy presents for a number of people, which was hard enough in itself because you may have wanted to find just the right thing for someone who doesn’t really need anything anyway. Then you had to wrap everything up in pretty paper and you might have put on some ribbons and other fancy decorations.

You put up the Christmas tree with lots of blinking lights and shiny decorations, which takes a long time, because you want it to look ‘just right’.

You’ve thought through the food for today: what you’re going to eat and how much to cook – probably more than enough! You might use a special tablecloth, bring out the finest dishes and cutlery, select some nice drinks, and decorate the table with bon-bons, party poppers, tinsel, and candles. Even now you might be thinking about what you need to do to make today special and ‘just right’.

You might have a list of people you want to contact today, maybe you have a strict schedule so that you can see as many people as possible, and you might have put on your best clothes, best shoes, and your best behaviour.

You’ve planned long and hard so that today will be ‘just right’, after all Christmas is such a special time of year.

But how do you feel if or when things go wrong today?

What if they don’t appreciate that present you took so much effort to get?

What if a cat or a child climbs the pretty Christmas tree and it falls down?

What if you burn the food or don’t get it all served up at the right temperature?

What if you’re involved in an argument with a member of your family or one of your guests?

What if you’re alone this Christmas?

What if one of your loved ones has died and you miss them?

What if your family is divided by conflict or misplaced love?

What if your Christmas involves a bedside vigil with a sick person?

What if you receive news of tragedy today?

Despite all your best laid plans for Christmas to be ‘just right’, sometimes you can be very disappointed.

Because of the pressures and expectations of having a Christmas filled with peace and joy and family and love and forgiveness and good food and generosity, and having everything ‘just right’, many people really struggle when things don’t go the way they planned. Unfortunately for many people, today can be one of the most disappointing or saddest days of the year because it won’t be ‘just right’.

For too many, things are far from being anywhere near ‘right’. This could be because they have unrealistic expectations of themselves or other people, or it could be because sometimes bad things happen that they hadn’t prepared for.

If you had planned Jesus’ birth, would things have turned out the way they did?

So that Christmas was ‘just right’, you might have chosen good looking and famous people to be the parents of Jesus, maybe some kind of movie stars or sports celebrities.

You might have announced the impending birth in the papers and arranged lucrative media deals to televise the birth in a famous and well-equipped hospital. Jesus would have been surrounded with every luxury, including the softest cloth to wrap him in, a comfortable bed, peaceful music to soothe his cries, and surrounded him with sweet smells. You may have invited important and influential people to witness the birth, and arranged a special list of gifts which they could search the world for to give the Son of God: after all, everything has to be ‘just right’.

But would you have chosen poor people from a village, that no-one would think anything good could come out of, to be the parents of the Creator of the universe?

Would you have arranged for them to travel by foot to another town just before the child was to arrive?

Would you have booked out every hotel and home in the village so the only place they could give birth is in a place where animals lived? For those of you with animals, would you even consider letting anyone stay overnight in your dog kennel or chook house, let alone allow them to give birth in there?

Would you have ensured the only midwife available was the husband who couldn’t even call 000 for advice? The only music and smells would have come from the animals, the cloth might have been rough, and the first bed was a feeding trough!

Would you have announced the birth to some of the most disregarded and criticised people who live outdoors looking after sheep? Even if you did, would you have invited them to witness this historic occasion instead of inviting powerful and worthy dignitaries?

This doesn’t sound like a Christmas that’s gone to plan, yet according to God’s plan, everything’s just right!

Jesus came into our world where everything is far from OK. He came to save people who aren’t OK. In fact it’s because everything’s not OK that he came to save us.

Without Jesus things aren’t OK between us and God, just as things often aren’t OK with the world, our families, or our friends. Relationships break down, people have accidents, get sick, or die, and tragedy, human selfishness and greed often fills media reports.

Yet the sign given to the shepherds that their Lord and Saviour has come who’ll set everything right, is a baby wrapped up in poor clothing and lying in a feed trough.

This might challenge our Christmas where we might expect everything to be ‘just right’.

If we brought the Christmas story into our own time, imagine God not choosing to be born in powerful and busy cities like London, New York, or Sydney. Imagine him ignoring all these places and being born in an Aboriginal camp out in central Australia with flies and dust sticking to his face. Imagine him born among the warring and starving tribes of Africa, or among the broken homes and terrors of Afghanistan or Iraq.

God doesn’t always meet our expectations or logic. His justice is to show mercy and grant forgiveness. His salvation and eternal life comes through a cruel death on a cross. His adoption of us human beings as his children so that we might be his heirs comes through a splash of water combined with the power of speaking his name. He gives you his Son’s body and blood with all their benefits through his word, through faithfully receiving his promise and by eating a wafer of bread and drinking a sip of wine.

God seems to do things in an upside down way that constantly challenges our expectations. The Messiah wasn’t some privileged man born to wealthy or influential people, but God himself came into our world wrapped up in frail human skin and he relied on his parents for support and nourishment.

The greatest victory he won for us wasn’t in the healing miracles, the raising of people from the dead, or even feeding 5,000 hungry people with a few small fish and loaves of bread. His greatest victory was in his sacrificial death for sinful, unworthy, and all too often ungrateful human beings.

God’s plan of salvation might seem at odds with our own plans for a perfect Christmas, or for a life that is ‘just right’ where everything goes our way. We might measure success by happiness, prosperity, health, profits, peace and everything being ‘just right’, but God measures his success by lowliness, humbleness, brokenness, and death.

In the middle of our dark nights and days where we might struggle with the realities of chaos, tragedy, pain and suffering, God’s message of ‘Don’t be afraid’ breaks in to turn our world upside down. He wants us to see our lives as he sees them, where things are reversed. God takes on our lowliness, so that through faith we might become a child who belongs in heaven. He wants us to see the hope and salvation he gives us through his Son Jesus Christ, even though he might not be whom we expect, or even come to us in ways we didn’t anticipate.

This doesn’t mean that we need to go home and change all our plans for Christmas! We don’t need to deliberately upset everything so that we experience a ‘real’ Christmas where everything’s not ‘just right’.

May we all enjoy peace and happiness and good food and good company, and everything else we wish for, but if that doesn’t happen- don’t be afraid. Christmas is still Christmas even if everything seems to go wrong. If nothing else, it serves as a good reminder of God’s plan of salvation for a crazy, mixed up, muddled up world where we are the ones who have everything topsy-turvy.

Whether your Christmas is ‘just right’ or not, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world as a human child to make all things new and right through his death and resurrection.

For this reason we sing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Amen.