Anything more than a “blip” along the way?

The Text: Mark 10:46-52

 

Today in the Gospel reading we are introduced to a certain beggar named Bartimaeus. It is a very simple story on one level; it seems like just another brief healing that Jesus does on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. When compared to his Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, should we consider this account anything more than a “blip” along the way? But actually, Jesus uses this healing to achieve two purposes. Firstly, to heal Bartimaeus, making him a follower of Jesus, and secondly, to teach James and John a thing or two about arrogance and blindness.

The reader of Mark’s Gospel knows of James’ and John’s act of pride. Just before this healing story they tell Jesus that they want to sit either side of him in glory in heaven. The cheek of it all, and the arrogance! They are puffed up, spiritually blind in seeing what it is to be a follower of Jesus.

So when they see Bartimaeus—this beggar on the roadside—James and John (we assume) are probably some of the ones who try to silence this unclean nuisance of a man from their glory trip into Jerusalem. Beggars in Jewish society were considered unclean, dirty and to be avoided. In original Hebrew, Bar-timaeus means ‘son of the unclean.’’ But there’s a twist! In Greek his name means ‘son of honour, respect and reverence.’

Jesus sees Bartimaeus according to his true value and identity as a loved child of God. Conversely, the disciples and some of the crowd see him as the lowest of the low. Though Bartimaeus is unable to physically see, he can spiritually see that Jesus, as God’s Son, is passing by. The disciples are simply still blind in seeing who Jesus came to save and heal. And so the disciples then watch and see just how much Jesus loves this beggar. Jesus heals him totally and lets him see light once again.

Bartimaeus then flings away his outer garment, the garment he would lay out to collect money, and keep him warm at night. He doesn’t need it anymore, because he can see that Jesus is all he needs; he now has a family to belong to. He belongs! He is no longer an outsider!

In the original Greek language, to be blind has a second meaning. It means to be ‘smoky, puffed up with the fumes of arrogance’. Smoke gets in your eyes and clouds your vision so you can’t see properly. Actually, James and John are a bit smoky themselves! This whole scene is quite shocking as Jesus’ disciples and the crowd are clearly too puffed up with self-importance and desire to enter Jerusalem with glory, rather than stop and bother with an annoying beggar.

We can remember Bartimaeus as he who threw off his outer garment. The author of the Book of Hebrews would later say this about throwing off: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith’ (Heb 12:1-2a). This section of Hebrews is practically a commentary on Bartimaeus’ healing of sight and subsequent following of Jesus. St Paul would add that we do not just “throw off” but also “put on.” Paul said, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’ (Galatians 3:26-27).

Of you are baptized, then you have the wonderful clothing of Jesus – his robes of righteousness upon you. As you go away with today, imagine that white clothing to be placed over people you personally struggle with, or don’t ever associate with. We can easily see many people as unclean beggars. How many times have we been guilty of being physically put off from ministering to them? Have we been too busy and too puffed up to care because of our busy schedule and important things to do.

On Reformation Sunday we remember the time the church became puffed up and blind and lost the Gospel. Martin Luther was key to removing the garment of blindness and revealing to the people the robe of Baptism and righteousness in Christ that they always had. Just like the past, sometimes the detailed and administrative business of doing church today can get a bit smoky. We can get puffed up with pride and self-importance and are blind with smoke in our eyes to the needs of real people who need Jesus.

Jesus calls and sends you to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to the homeless, to refugees, or the disabled, or mentally ill or anyone who doesn’t quite fit the bill of a comfortable predictable church. We may all have a heart for that, but practically it is not always easy.  

But Jesus helps us and does the leading. We need to follow him along the way like Bartimaeus, casting off our smoky garments of self-righteousness, and putting on the white royal baptismal robes of adoption into God’s family. It is in those robes we are forgiven and cleansed through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Glorious Servant”.

Mark 10:43-44
Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

From Pentecost to Advent, we are in the season of the Church, the green season; and for the last few weeks we have heard Jesus teaching. These teachings are easily applied to the life of the Church, the Bride of Christ. After proclaiming His impending torture, death and resurrection, Jesus is teaching His disciples and the Holy Spirit teaching us the Way of Life in this world. And that way is a life of service. As Jesus says, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life for you, that you may live.

            In this country we are opening up after a long lockdown, a time where, especially in Dubbo, we have been restricted from seeing each other, stuck at home and away from the community. Of course we have phones and the internet, and letters too, we can keep in touch; yet when it’s needed you can’t give that hug over the phone, we can’t just sit with each other. Although you long to serve, we haven’t been able to serve as we want. Now that is changing. With the lockdowns lifting you are able to go a see each other, to support each other, to have a working bee, a lunch, an afternoon together, to be the Church in community. As you’re able go out and serve the people God has given you.

            This life of service is what we are called to as Christians. Our Small Catechism ends with our responsibilities in various callings, in family, work, and state. And Luther in ‘Freedom of a Christian’ which our elders and pastoral assistants are looking at, Luther wrote, both that “Christians have complete freedom and power over everything, and are under no obligation to anyone” and “Christians are servants of all, and are under complete obligation to everyone.” Just like Jesus. He is God Almighty, Lord over all, and yet as we heard from Isaiah (53:5, 7), He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our guilt, as a lamb before the slaughter He did not open His mouth. And by the wounds of this suffering servant you are healed. Your sin, failures, your guilt is taken up away from you by Him and dealt with at the cross. From His Throne above He descended to serve all Creation, to serve you, pouring out His life unto death. Yet as Isaiah (53:10, 11) continues, “after He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied;” His life lengthened, He will rise again and continue to serve. And still today, the Lord of all pours out His life in serving us here in His Divine Service. This is the life we are united to, the New Life we are given by God; Christ’s life of Almighty Lordship and Humble Service.

            In this strange time of our lives, how can we be strong and fearless? How can we even be great? Jesus says you must serve. Serve your spouse, your children, parents, family, friends, colleagues, customers, parish members, the guy you see down the street. By loving service we build relationships, we bring life to others in pouring out your own, just as Jesus continues to. Live this New Life of Christ you have been given, free from the deathly shackles of sin into a life of service, to bring aid, help, and life to those around you. And that greatest help, the best aid, is Christ Jesus, everlasting life together in Him.

            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.

‘Tense times’

Mark 10:27
Jesus looked at them and said, ‘with man this is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’

            We are living in a tense time. There’s tensions in our state with a new premier in town, and that seeking to balance those tensions of the economy, of health, and of social contentment. How will their choices affect us who are governed? There’s tensions within our synod, the LCANZ, regarding ordination, church and schools, loss of members and lack of pastors. What is this LCANZ in these modern times? And of course our society is tense, who can we trust? Can we choose vaccination or lockdown, obedience or outlaw? When the restrictions change, will we be safe or will it be worse? And all these tensions can come into our homes to roost, all this on top of those tension already within our homes. How can we cope with all these tensions?

            And here I am with a rope and a needle. The rope’s nice and big, the needle is hard and sharp; yet if I tried to thread this rope through the needle for the rest of this day I’m sure I’d get tense too. I can’t do it. The rope’s too thick, the eye of the needle too small and too inflexible. And today we heard Jesus say, it’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for someone with lots of stuff to enter the kingdom of heaven. Someone with property, cars, clothes, plenty of water and food, even plenty of friends and family; someone with lots of responsibility will find it hard to enter the kingdom of God. And we can add to that, anyone with lots of anger, arrogance, lust, greed, envy, stubbornness, despair and pride, anyone pulled with so many tensions will find it hard to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus says they will find it impossible.

            He tells us a timeless and ever applicable truth, ‘with humans this is impossible, yet with God all things are possible.’ Look not to yourselves in these tense times, but rather toward God in humility and need. For by ourselves we cannot resolve all these tensions, we need help. You know that often dwelling on the worries of this world just brings you down. By our own efforts apart from God we cannot be saved from all that pulls against us.

            It is impossible for us. Yet not with God, for with God all things are possible. It is by God’s work that we are saved. He is not tense, He is peace, joy and love. It is The Word Incarnate, The Eternal Son of God, born of Mary in time, His death, resurrection and ascension, His Victory over sin, death and the devil. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings us into Him and His Victory, this New Life in Christ; The Holy Spirit who sustains us with His Written Word, who prays for us and with us, who connects us to Christ, who then mediates and reconciles us with Our Heavenly Father. It is God who deals with our sin, our failings, who saves us from the devil, from our enemies and from ourselves, it is God who provides life, even life everlasting, it is God who can change our sick, broken hearts to be like His, it is God who can do all these things that are impossible for you. And He has promised this salvation for you.

            With God all things are possible, by His work and Word you are saved. In this tense time, in this time of struggle that Jesus promises to all His people (Mark 10:30), we know that it is not by human strength alone that these tensions will be resolved. It is not doctors, government, it is not us who will save us; it is God, yes working through His Creation, but it is ultimately and truly God who will save us and provide for us. Whether we loose things this side of eternity or whether God allows us to keep them, still as Jesus says, we have God’s gifts aplenty already, brothers, sisters in Christ across the world and here in this parish, homes food and work we share, elders and children to care for and be taught through, all these in this present time along with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life and peace together with Christ.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

In all this, Job did not sin

The Text: Job 2:10

 

Job was an exceptional man.  He was extremely loyal to God.  In chapter one of Job we are told that he was blameless and upright, who respected God and refused to do evil”, his children liked to party and every morning after one of their parties, he got up early and offered a sacrifice in case they had sinned or silently cursed God”, and that God himself has nothing but accolades to shower on Job.  God says: No one on earth is like him—he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8).

Job was a wealthy man. He was “the richest man in the East” (1:3) with thousands upon thousands of sheep, camels, cattle and donkeys as well as a large number of servants.  God had indeed richly blessed Job. 

We also know that Job was blessed with seven sons and three daughters, a number which seems to indicate that this was the perfect family, a sign of God’s pleasure. He was a good father and had taught his children about God.  He wasn’t wasteful and was very generous and hospitable to those who visited him.

Job enjoyed a good life.  God’s protection rested on his family and everything he owned.  Everything he did prospered with God’s help.  Job’s wealth continued to grow and grow.  He was enjoying life, everything was just right, life couldn’t be sweeter, when bam, out of the blue, his life is turned upside down.

Raiders from the south stole all his stock and killed his servants. A storm destroyed the house where his children were having one of their parties and all ten were killed. The normally healthy Job broke out in terrible painful running sores.  He now sits on a heap of ashes, the only place where he could express his grief after losing so much.  Job is sitting alone—perhaps because he has been excluded from the community, who presume his wickedness for all of this to have happened. 

In one day, Job has gone from riches to rags. From the story, we know that it was Satan that had inflicted all of this on Job, the most God-fearing and loyal man that one could find, while it seems that God has allowed this to happen.

We might well ask, “What had Job done to deserve all this?”  “Why have so many disasters happened to a man who was so good?” 

These are good questions that people are still asking today. We hear of the untimely death of a child and we ask, “What had that child done to deserve that?”  Why should that happen to someone so young when there are so many other evil people who get away scot free?”

Jesus was confronted with the same problem (Luke 13:1-5). Some of those following Jesus referred to disasters that were headlines in the news. One tragedy happened at the temple. There were some pious and honourable folk offering sacrifices at the temple and yet they came to a cruel end.  Pontius Pilate had them killed right there in the temple as they worshipped. 

And then there was the collapse of the tower at Siloam.  Eighteen people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed.  We are no strangers to that kind of thing. Like a surfer who has surfed on the same beach a thousand times, one day finds himself in the same spot as a hungry shark. 

It’s reasonable to ask, “Why do these bad things happen for no obvious reason?”  If we could say that they happened because bad people were getting what they deserved, then the problem would be solved and that would be end of it.  But we can’t.  We know that good people, people like Job, suffered.  We are horrified and can find no logical explanation why a defenceless child should die at the hands of a parent. 

Neither bad health nor the present drought have come as a result of some terrible sin.  Neither can we say that because we are church-going and committed Christians, we will never experience any hardship.

The question that arises in our minds now is this – we can’t explain why bad things happen to us so then how do we cope with tragedies when they do occur?  How did Job cope with the disasters that happened in his life?  We hear:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-21).

Job has two responses to all this bad news. 

First, as can be expected, Job is grief stricken.  He has lost so much so quickly.  In record time, the once rich man has become a pauper.  He has lost his most precious possessions of all—his children, all ten of them at once.  No wonder his grief is so intense.

Job’s second response is one of faith.  While his wife and his friends tell him to give up on God, he doesn’t focus on his grief but states clearly that God is Lord of all things.  He gives freely and generously and he is able to take it all away again.   We are told, In all that happened, Job never once said anything against God” (2:10).  Job grieves but he doesn’t lose confidence in God’s justice and love.

At times our response to events in life aren’t Job-like at all.  The events and the grief are overwhelming and we blurt out, “It’s not fair!  I don’t deserve any of this!  Why won’t God do something and change things?”  We question God’s idea of what is fair and just.

Philip Yancey tells the story in his book, Disappointment with God, about a friend and faithful Christian named Douglas who went through a series of terrible events. First, his wife developed breast cancer.  Then one night, he and his family were involved in a head-on crash with a drunk driver.  His wife and daughter were injured in the smash.  Douglas received a severe head injury that caused sudden and debilitating headaches that kept him from working a full day and enjoying his passion for reading.  More than anything, it affected his ability to care for his wife.  None of this made any human sense.  If anyone had a right to be angry at God, Douglas did.

Yancey thought Douglas would be the perfect person to interview about being disappointed with God. So he began, “Could you tell me about your own disappointment?”

To Yancey’s great surprise, Douglas said, “To tell you the truth, Philip, I didn’t feel any disappointment with God…. The reason is this. I learned, first through my wife’s illness and then especially through the accident, not to confuse God with life.”

He continued, “I’m no stoic.  I am as upset about what happened to me as anyone could be.  I feel free to curse the unfairness of life and to vent all my grief and anger.  But I believe God feels the same way about that accident—grieved and angry.  I don’t blame him for what happened.”

He goes on to point out that we believe that God is fair and so assume that life also ought to be fair.  The fairness of life was disrupted when sin came into the world.  Sin invaded the peace and harmony of our world and our bodies.  All kinds of things come out of the blue that seem completely unfair but they have nothing to say about God loving us any less or that he doesn’t feel the pain as any parent feels the pain of their child.

It’s not God who is unfair—he is as loving and as just as he has always been.  It is life that is unfair—our world and our lives have been affected by the disastrous consequences of evil. 

The question that faces us is this: can we continue to love and trust God—in pain, in sickness, in grief and in any bad times? 

Can we love God in spite of what life brings? 

What will our reaction be when something hits us that really rocks us?  It strikes us so deeply that our love and trust in God is shaken.  We don’t have the human resources to hang on to God and to keep on trusting.  We don’t have the trust that Job had that firmly believes that God’s loves us more than ever.

When tragedy strikes, when we don’t understand, when we think it is unfair and we do end up blaming God, thank goodness God keeps hanging on to us.  Even when our trust is low and our doubts are overwhelming us, God keeps on loving and keeps on holding on to us and supporting us and helping us through that crisis.

The reason why God doesn’t give us specific answers to all our questions is something we have to grapple with even though we would dearly love to know the answers to the questions that we have about the tragedies and crises in our lives.  Maybe the answers are too complex for us to understand.  

The answer we do understand though is the one he gives us in his Son.  He gave his body and spilled his blood for us on the Cross.  He is God’s love for us.  He is present for us right here with his mercy and compassion through his word, and in his body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  He will always be with us through times of hardship and tragedy.  This is the way he responds to our questions—not with answers that make the world simpler, not with slick, neat answers to the question “why”, but he answers with his love, and with his life, given for us.  Amen.

‘To pray or condemn?’

Mark 9:40
Whoever is not against us, is for us.

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s interesting times we’re living in. Listening to the TV or radio news, so many stories about Australia and the World, so many things are happening. We hear about the plans of the political parties to make life better, to keep our country and its citizens safe and strong. About how an event across the other side of the world influences us here on the western plains, 9/11, black lives matter, Wuhan and COVID. There’s so many people going so many ways out in the world, influencing others in so many ways; and here we are, in our homes, in our small congregations. Here we are in the presence of God who tells us, whoever is not against us, is for us.

            And today there are many who are not against us, working in different ways. Of course there are those in other churches; the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, for instance, are a lot more influential in the political arena. There are school teachers, sporting coaches, council workers, nurses, farmers, secretaries, all sorts of people just going about their lives in these hard times. They are not against us, and though they might not always be with us, still we benefit. And all those years ago, before He rose from the dead, there were people defeating demons in the name of Jesus.

            These people were not with Jesus, not following after as were the twelve and many other disciples. Who knows why they did not come to Him, perhaps they were just pragmatic workers and found that demons were much more scared of Jesus’ name than theirs, perhaps they were desperate to help those near them and found Christ’s name a more powerful cure; but the only thing we know of them is they were not with Jesus, yet still used His name to do His work. And a great work that is. Jesus in Mark’s account it a strong silent type, a bit gruff too, yet He gets the job done. And that job has been casting out demons, dissolving disease, and annihilating sin, bringing thousands of loaves from 5 and fulfilling all God’s Word. Jesus has come to conquer the ultimate enemies of all Creation! And now these outsiders are also doing great things in His name. Don’t stop them, even if they’re not with us.

            If people outside our church encourage others to live a good, loving life; why would we tell them to stop? If people outside our Lutheran tradition are pointing others to Jesus; why rebuke them in that? If even Muslims, Atheists, and them New Age spiritualists teach a truth; why would we block our ears to it? Because if they teach something that is true, they’re not soon going to reject it. If these ancient exorcists use Christ’s name, they can’t really say anything bad about Him can they? Imagine, “I heal with the name of Jesus Christ, also don’t listen to Jesus Christ, he’s bad.” Whoever is not against us is for us. And it’s not just in the big things. Jesus says, even if they do something as small as give you a cup of water in Christ’s name, they will not loose their reward. However, just because they are for us, doesn’t mean they are with us.

            We all know good people, people who love and care, people who have helped us, people who for whatever reason are not with us, and perhaps not even with Jesus. People who might do some really good things, but we know that they do not follow the Good Shepherd. People who teach what is true, but do not know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. People who create beauty, but do not live in the beauty of life in the Bride of Christ. How do you treat these people? Do we leave Jesus to join with them? No, yet neither do we reject the good they do. They are not with us, and yet by God’s grace they can be.

So, pray for them and for us, especially in these stress-filled times, that we all might be with Jesus, alongside the Holy Spirit, the Father looking on us all in grace. Don’t condemn them for their faults, rather remember their help and pray for them. As James writes the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective; this is why we pray together here every Sunday, the prayer of the Church for the government, the world, and all those in need. That it is not just you praying for that person, but Christians across the world even though they might not know them personally. Even Moses all those years ago wished to see all God’s people prophesying, speaking His Word to those around. That all of us might do God’s Work, to guide each other away from sin and toward Jesus, so that we all live together in Him, forgiven and saved from death (James 5:13-20). Whoever is not against us is for us, yes, yet we desire all people to be saved. We pray that all sin be cut out and consumed by that fire; that those who are not against us do not loose their reward; that none of the littles ones stumble and wander away. But rather that all people be salted, be healed, and enter the Everlasting Kingdom of God, Everlasting Life together with Jesus. That we be one in Christ.

And so the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now into life Everlasting together in God’s Kingdom. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Groan, go, or get God’s gracious help’

Mark 9:32
But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it.

            My son Nathaniel is two years old and sometimes he just stares at the door and moans. He can’t open the sliding door, it’s too heavy, but he wants to go outside. Now, he’s young and still learning how to communicate and speak, but all it could take is ‘dad! Open please.’ All words he knows and can, sorta, say; but instead of asking he looks at the problem and complains. I wonder how often are you the same?

            In today’s Gospel reading we heard Jesus teaching the disciples the secret truth of what was going to happen, he was going to be handed over, killed, then after three days rise. As clear as could be. However, the disciples didn’t understand; still they had perhaps that common idea of the Messiah who would come and kick out the Romans and proclaim an earthly kingdom of holiness and military might. They did not understand that Jesus was to die, we even hear Peter rebuke Him when He told them earlier (Mark 8:32); and they did not understand that He would rise from the dead. A problem for them, their great leader telling them he would be handed over and die. They looked at the problem, but instead of just complaining like my son, they walked away from the problem to talk of what they sought, earthly glory. Jesus told them something difficult and they were too afraid to ask for His help and so wandered away.

            Now for us, who hear of Christ’s death every year, even every Sunday, things might be different. We have different problems to these people who lived before Christ’s Resurrection and victory over sin, death and the devil. We face problems today, of a pandemic, of a new way of life under government restrictions, of family suffering sickness or war, of family and friends leaving the Faith or rejecting Christ’s love for them, an uncertain future, an uncertain present, our own failings, our sin, death of our loved ones, our sickness and death, and the temptations and attacks of the evil one. … But then is this really all that different from the disciples, these problems we face. And that truth we hear constantly do we really understand it? Jesus, our God and life-giver, died. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, rose from the grave. Do you understand this? Or do you leave this problem to be distracted by the world just as the disciples did?

            Do you look for the greatness that Jesus does not bring? For a good, safe and pleasant life this side of eternity? Imagining life after God fulfills all your wishes? After hearing this core of our Faith, the death of our Lord and His rising, do you forget it and go back to live as everyone else in this stress-filled time? We come today confessing our failures, our sin, our betrayal of our Saviour; and in confessing, repenting, turning back to Jesus, He speaks to us, you are forgiven, your sin is dead and you live again in Jesus. By virtue of God’s promise to you in Baptism, you are joined with Christ in His death and Resurrection, in this mystery that the disciples did not understand (Romans 6). By God’s Word today, you are dead to the greatness of this world, and risen to serve all people. As Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The greatness of the world, all the fame and fortune is nothing to us who are in Christ Jesus. And yet still we get distracted.

Still we wander away from the Word of God, just as the disciples did. Often there are things Christ said, things the Holy Spirit brings to us, that we do not understand, or don’t want to; those problems small and enormous, but what do you do when facing the problems of this ongoing lockdown, the death of a loved one, even your own sin and guilt? Don’t follow the example of the disciples here, rather listen to James (4:7-8), “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you …” God has given you the right to come near to Him, to speak with Him: adopted in the Spirit, Jesus tells us to pray to our Heavenly Father. Do not be afraid. You have been given the name of God to call His attention (Exodus 20:7), to ask Him about it. We pray regularly by the power of the Holy Spirit with The Lord Jesus to our Heavenly Father, ‘deliver us from evil.’ ‘Save us from the problem.’ Help us to understand, open our ears, give us an answer and guide us away from distraction, from temptation.
The disciples did not understand until Jesus came to them after the Resurrection, spoke peace to them, forgave them, and spoke His Word to them; just as He speaks to us here today. He came to them in that locked house, walking on the road, and spoke with them. And He promises to be with us, to hear our prayers, to help and uphold our lives, to defeat the enemies sin, death and the devil, to lead us in life everlasting. He has come to save you, bring you life to the full, take away your failures, sin and guilt, and deliver you from evil. So call on Him when you face a problem, don’t just moan at it like a toddler, don’t distract yourself with the concerns and greatness of this broken world. But when you do not understand, take heart and ask Jesus, The Lord who loves you. Pray, come near to God, gather with our brothers and sisters, or at least call and pray together, gather around God’s loving Word, come and be served again by Him who is the greatest of all. Take heart and call on His name.

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.

‘Word for the weary’.

Isaiah 50:4
The Sovereign Lord has given me a learned tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.

            Word to sustain the weary. This is the fifth week of our lockdown and I’m sure I’m not the only one weary of this lockdown and waiting for a word from the government to deal with it, a word from the medical people to relieve my weariness of this pandemic. A word to relieve the weary. But of course there are many other things in life that weary us, tax, travel, chores, our good Godly obligations, and also, sin, death and the devil. As Paul writes, who will rescue me of this body of sin? Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ my saviour (Romans 7:24). He is the one whose words are spirit and life as we heard in John 6, He gives the Word that sustains the weary.

            And now He speaks to us who suffer, who grow weary, who need help. Our words, which often just add to the weariness, cry out to the Lord who loves us, and as the Psalmist sang, He hears our cries for mercy. He hears us, listens to our weary words. Perhaps worry and fear have entangled you, or apathy and a lack of motivation pulling you down into that couch, or maybe you have been overcome with anger and frustration. And no wonder, I mean just look at the horrors of this world, the murder in Afghanistan, the abuse in Myanmar, and the isolation of many here in Australia. And on top of that, look at the condition of your heart, of your words and actions this last week; Christ died for you, can you say with Him in Isaiah, I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away; or as James reminds us, do you with the same tongue praise God our Loving Heavenly Father and complain against and ridicule humans made in His image (James 3:9)? Who are you really? Who do people say you are?

            But more important, who does God say you are? Listening to Him, throughout His Word He says you are broken, fallen; you’ve turned from who you are meant to be to follow after your own desires and be enslaved to them, perhaps by belly or fear of COVID; you’ve forgotten what is good, what is true, what is beautiful; you’ve been corrupted, listening to the arrogant, the hateful and hurtful, the deceptive, the wicked, and have submitted listening to their poor and weak words. Words that bring no comfort to the weary. Too often you are with Peter as Jesus rebukes you both, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (Mark 8:33) Too often we refuse to listen to Christ’s word that sustains the weary and make ourselves enemies of God.

            And yet Jesus says, ‘Get behind me.’ Give up on those human concerns, be free from your enslavement to sin, and dwell in the concerns of God, get behind and follow Jesus, His Word, His Work. Yes, these words are harsh, just as His words to that Syro-Phoenician woman last week (Mark 7:27), and yet they sustain the weary. They tell a real truth, but a truth that is passing away along with this weary world (1 Corinthians 13:10). A truth that we confess, we agree with, when we confessed our sins in preparation for receiving God’s service today. And that learned and wise tongue of Christ brings us His Word to sustain the weary. ‘I forgive you all your sins.’ You are forgiven. This is now who God says you are, forgiven. Your brokenness, your sin, your enslavement to your own desires is taken to the cross, dealt with, dead, as Jesus said, ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30). You are brought by Christ’s Words today into His New Everlasting Life. United to Him in mercy; denying yourself, taking up your cross, your death to sin; and following by the strength of the Holy Spirit, we are now on God’s side according to His promise. According to His Word that stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).

            And so with Jesus we can confess that Our Heavenly Father wakens us morning by morning, even if we are not able to leave our house. He opens our ears to listen to His instruction, each and everyday. Forgiven in Christ we are not rebellious, we are focusing on our saviour; united with Him in suffering and weariness the Lord helps us and we will not be disgraced. Because we are with God Almighty, who could condemn us? Our sin? No, it is taken and gone. Death? No, Jesus our Lord is The Resurrection and The Life. The devil? No, bound, defeated and cast out, he has no power over us whom God has declared forgiven. As Luther sang, the devil is nothing but a liar, don’t listen to him. Rather listen to Jesus, who comes to save our souls, to save us from the ways of sin, death and the devil. If He is with us, who can be against us? We have no need to fear, or to be ashamed of our cross or His suffering. If we are ridiculed, abused, for living the way of Jesus, we are with Him and He guards our soul, our life, forever. You who are weary, hear again His Word to you and follow behind the Lord our saviour.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

God’s good Word

Isaiah 35:4
Say to those with hurried hearts, be strengthened, do not fear;
Your God will come with vengeance, with Godly retribution, He will come and save you.

            God’s good Word to those with troubled hearts, racing hearts, anxious hearts. Be strengthened, He will come. This truly is a beautiful Word from God, Be strengthened, do not fear. God’s Word spoken to Elijah who was on the run from the Queen Jezebel, born in Tyre and ruling beside Ahab in Israel (1 Kings 16:31). God’s Word to the shepherds the night of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:10). And in our gospel reading today, similar words to the deaf mute, ephphatha! Be opened! And we wait now for similar words from our government when this lockdown ends, ‘be free’.

            The book of Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel, because of how much the prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. As an example, just last week we heard Jesus quote from Isaiah 29, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ and that passage continues, ‘therefore, once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder, the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent vanish. In a short time Lebanon will be turned into a fertile field, in that day the deaf with hear God’s Word, the blind see, the humble and needy will rejoice in the Lord the Holy One of Israel.’ (Isaiah 29:13-21). What beautiful words fulfilled by Jesus, wonder upon wonder, feeding a crowd of more than 5000 Jews, walking on water and in the following chapter of Mark feeding a crowd of 4000 gentiles. And in our text today, Lebanon turned into a fertile field, for Lebanon was the ancient and now modern name for Tyre and the region of Phonicia. These people had never taken up life with God, living side by side with the Israelites for hundreds, thousands of years; they were dead and barren in their idolatry, but today a humble needy woman comes to Christ for another wonder. Lebanon has become a field fertile of faith.

            Then as Jesus travels back toward Galilee, He fulfills Isaiah’s prophecies again, the deaf hear, the mute sing for joy, and that word ‘ephphatha’ ‘be opened’ is the same word in the prophesy of Isaiah. Wonder upon wonder, truly He has done all things well. And yet He hasn’t come to make our lives easy, the Holy Spirit’s Baptism is not a sure-fire way to be healed of blindness as happened with St Paul (Acts 9:18). No, in this life we do suffer, we suffer from our own mistakes, failures, sin, and from the failures of others. Just look at Christ’s life, accused by His own people, beaten and crucified. And we know our enemies, sin death and the devil. But in Isaiah’s prophecy today we hear that God will come with vengeance, to bring retribution, to make things right and just. And today we have heard Jesus getting rid of His enemies, demons and death, by just speaking a word. And it is the same for you. He does this for you. Those beautiful words of promise, ‘You are my beloved child,’ ‘You are forgiven,’ ‘you are alive!’. Thank God that He still speaks, through the means of His glorious grace, Word and Sacrament. The Holy Spirit is at work. He comes with vengeance against the enemies of His people, we need not fear.

            If you are anxious, troubled by the situation of the world today, be strengthened by the Holy Spirit and do not fear, you are united with Christ who has conquered, who brings retribution and makes us right with God our heavenly Father. Jesus came 2000yrs ago fulfilling this promise of God, and He comes here again today with vengeance against our sin, taking it away from us, against death, speaking again His words of Life to us, and against the devil, destroying the evil in our lives. He comes to save you, be strengthened by Him, be opened by His Word, and be freed by His work, as we wait for the final retribution and our final and everlasting salvation in the New Creation.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Washing hands or washing hearts?’

Mark 7:15, 21
Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. … For it is from within, out of a persons heart, that evil thoughts come …

            Out of the heart evil thoughts come. What is the condition of your heart? Not so much the medical condition of the organ pumping your blood, but rather the true condition of your inner self, your core from which desires direct your actions. Is your heart sick and full of sorrows? Is it strong and sure? Is it a big heart embracing all those around you? Or is your heart hidden away from others? After feeding the 5000 Jesus brings this question to the fore, what is the condition of your heart? And what does that have to do with what we do?

            Jesus, of course, has a good and big heart, so big He loves all creation through His life, death and resurrection. He wants to share that with us, as He has taught over the last few weeks in John Chapter 6, the life from the Father shared with us (verse 57). A big heart to care for a rag-tag group of twelve and more disciples. But then come the Pharisees come, Jewish lay leaders who sought to make God’s Law doable even for a poor fisherman. Good people perhaps, people who care for others and teach them how to live, to wash their hands, to wash their dishes, to keep clean and to stay on God’s ‘good side’. So when they see some of Jesus’ disciples eating before washing their hands they go up to Jesus and ask, ‘what’s all this about?’

            Now we need to say a bit about washing, it was as we heard a tradition of the elders, the way things were done in Jewish households; like taking off your shoes before coming inside. However it wasn’t just simple hygiene, to them it had spiritual significance; it was to make sure that they stayed on the ‘good side’ of God, ceremonially clean we might say; so according to their elders when you came home from a place where Gentiles, or unclean people, were you had to wash off their uncleanness. They would wash their hands from finger to elbow, and also ceremonially wash, or baptise in the Greek, their pots and plates, utensils and even the couches they ate on. But Jesus’ disciples weren’t doing that, and He didn’t tell them off, instead He calls the Pharisees hypocrites or fakers. What’s up with that? Does this mean Jesus likes dirt and germs on His food? That you don’t have to wash your hands even in a pandemic?

            Well, not necessarily. The Pharisees have come from Jerusalem to find some dirt on Jesus, so they come up and tell Him off because His disciples, or students, aren’t following the way of life passed down from the elders; importantly that they think will make them right with God. They think it’s the washing of hands will keep them right with God. Jesus responds to their accusation with the words of Isaiah (29:13), ‘this people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they adore me, teaching as doctrine the commands of men.’ Simply put, their heart and lips do not agree, they lie about who they are and what they believe. Now this is important for us to hear, to look at our own lives, our words and reflect on our hearts. What do you treasure? What do you reflect on, what thoughts do you chew over? What are you drawn toward? Do you talk the walk and walk the talk, or do you live a lie?

            This is what James means when He writes, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ (James 1:22). Anyone who hears God’s Word, His commands and promise, yet doesn’t live accordingly are liars and the truth is not in them. Just as the Psalmist sang, only the righteous, the one who speaks truth from the heart, can dwell with the Lord God (Psalm 15). And as we heard from Deuteronomy (4:9), ‘be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen, which is God’s Almighty Works and Word through the Exodus and in the Law, or let them fade from your hearts as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.’ Here today God is saying, live according to His Word and His Work, His commands and His promise. And what is that?

            The first of God’s 10 commandments is, ‘I am the Lord your God, you will have no other gods before me.’ A simple rule where God Almighty, creator of all, has given Himself to us, and in turn we are to honour, respect, fear, love, trust Him, more than anything else, or over and above all other things. To live according to this commandment is to thank the markets, truckies, the farmers, and ultimately God for the food He provides; to ask for His protection and strength for all these people as well so He continues to provide for us through them. Jesus is saying live according to this law before you condemn others about washing their hands.

            But God doesn’t just tell us how life is and how to live it, He also in His power and great love serves us and promises to us great and wonderful things. In Holy Baptism, not just a ceremonial washing, but water and the Word, the Holy Spirit at work; God has promised you your failure to keep the commands is washed away, your sinful self is killed and you united with Jesus in death and resurrection you are raised to a new life in Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. A promise that He has renewed your corrupt and broken heart. And He gives this grace, this promise, again and again, in Holy Communion and in the Absolution, defeating again and again the power of sin, death and the devil in our lives.

            Hear that again, it is God who renews your heart. Is your heart sick with guilt and sin? Hear again the true promise of God, your sins are forgiven. Is your heart proud and sure of itself? Hear again God’s Command, You will respect, fear and trust Him more than anything else, and look at your life, your lips and your heart. Is your heart broken and burdened? Receive again the Good News, God has given you New Everlasting Life, promised in Baptism, in the Absolution, in Holy Communion, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit bringing you into the Life of Christ. Receive His healing, trust His promise, He is the one who renews your heart. And His Words are sure; so receive well His healing and let the good things flow from your new heart, from the peace, joy and love that comes with our freedom over sin, death and the devil in Jesus.

            So the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, now into the fulfilment of all God’s promises. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The One who speaks Beautiful Life’

John 6:66-67
Answering Him Peter said, ‘Lord, where will we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

             Who do we hear? What do we listen to, pay attention to? It’s not an unimportant thing. For example, when you just listen to the doom and gloom of the daily news, we tend to fear. If you just listen to Christian radio, hopefully it brings peace. There’s people who bring you down just by their words, perhaps insults, but also complaints or constant pessimism. And there’s people who raise you up by words, encouraging, loving and giving joyful life. We know that what we listen to is important, it shapes us. There are voices that are not good, and others that are necessary.

            And sometimes it’s not so much what we listen to, but how much. It is important to listen to the news, but probably not it all day; It’s good and proper to listen to your spouse, but not so that they never get a chance to listen to you; And hopefully it’s a blessing and benefit to you when listening to a pastor, but God has brought His Word to you too. There is never a bad time to listen to God, to remember and think on His Words, in the middle of conversation, in worry, in joy, in anger, there is never a time when He is out of earshot, and His Words are Spirit and Life.

            Today finally, we come to the end of this Bread of Life discourse, from people listening just to their bellies, Jesus telling us God’s work is to give us faith to believe Him, that Jesus is calling us into a new life of the Everlasting Way of the Cross, to incorporate His Teaching and Life into our lives and to be mysteriously incorporated into His Glorified Body. A harsh teaching for even His disciples, and many wandered away. But we have grown up and into these truths, Baptism is part and parcel of our lives, the Public Confession and Absolution we receive in the Divine Service, and of course our participation in the Cross, the Last Supper and the Feast to come in Holy Communion, not to mention the rest of our lives. We know the mystery of the Incarnation, that the Creator of all entered into His Creation through the womb of Mary, and that He ascended to reign at the Right Hand of the Father; just as Jesus says here, ‘to see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before’. These mysteries are what many of Jesus’ own disciples rejected, but we hold fast because we have come to believe and know that He is the Holy One of God.

            So, what is the Holy Spirit drawing you into today? Yes toward a truer, and more faithful living out of the Christian Life; onto Christ’s Everlasting way of the Cross; into the battle against sin, death and the devil, as we hear in Ephesians (6:10-20); to participate with Jesus in the Victory He has already won. To contemplate and meditate on what Christ’s Incarnation means for me and the whole world. Into praise of God’s wonderful power and love, thanks for what He has done and is doing, and interceding for this world and all those who suffer. Certainly the Holy Spirit is drawing us toward this, but in todays text I’ll draw your attention to those last verses.

            After many disciples left, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, ‘aren’t you leaving too?’ Then Peter that quick spokesman, who often doesn’t realise the depth and wisdom of his words, answers, ‘Lord, where would we go? You have the words of Eternal Life, and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus has spoken harsh words to those who sought Him, ‘Chew my flesh, drink my blood’ and practically, ‘I am God Almighty’. And there are hard truths in Scripture for us, there are difficult times in our lives despite our Faith and sometimes because of it, there are many reasons we might come up with to leave and reject the importance of Christ’s Words. But where else can you go to hear Truth and Life; who or what else proclaims freedom from sin, death and the devil; how else can we be united with God in love? In the words of Peter, ‘where shall we go?’

            If COVID comes to town, will you search for people other than Jesus to listen to? When restrictions come, will you fill you head with the words of medical professionals, politicians, and those trying predicting the future? When sickness and hardship come into your family, will you turn from the one who speaks Spirit and Life to try and find help elsewhere? Or will you seek out Christ’s Words, among His people, in His Scriptures, and seek His answers in prayer? Relying on His help through the good things He’s given. In these last weeks we have heard how Jesus Words are hard truth, that stop and cut off our brokenness, those parts of us that are wrong. Also how His Words are Good, taste and see as the Psalmist wrote, they comfort and heal, He now dwells in us and we in Him in that Mystical Union. And also that His Words are Beautiful Life, ‘the Son of Man ascending to where He was before’ wondrous things, ‘I speak to you Spirit and Life’, ‘the one who believes, who eats, has everlasting Life and I will raise them on the last Day’.

            No one else speaks like this, these Words of Truth, Goodness and Beauty; these Words we have come to trust and know as Right because we know and trust the Holy One of God. As He serves us every day, the Holy Spirit sustaining our bodies, protecting our souls, and serving especially today by removing your sin again, speaking to you again, hearing again our prayers, and blessing us again with His holiness. Truly despite the tough times, God’s Word is tougher, He dwells with us and we in Him. His strong Word of peace, joy and love; Listen to Him and do not forget that wonder of the Word of Life.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.