Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 20:4
And he said to them, Go, you also, into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.

            Sometimes Jesus says things that are really obscure to us today, but here He is clear; this is our life in the Kingdom, in Christ. The Father has drawn you to His Son by the Holy Spirit, promising forgiveness and new everlasting life; the promise we receive in Baptism (John 6:44; John 16:13; Titus 3:5-7). Then as Christians we serve our Lord who serves us, giving us all we need including things to do, a way of life which He sustains by Holy Communion, confession and absolution, and prayer. And finally, at the end of time, we all will receive what is just, as we confess, or agree together, in the baptismal creed, life everlasting with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

            Now obviously much more could be said, which is why Jesus tells us so much more, and more’s written besides. Yet for you today, what does it mean to leave the marketplace and go to God’s vineyard? When you hear of the lazy loafers being sent to work, do you relate? When those who got in at the last hour are blessed, and those serving the long hard day get the same; are you envious or do you rejoice? Jesus was speaking to His disciples, the eleven apostles who would shepherd, or pastor, the early church. He brought them out of boats, fields, and tax stalls, to work for the salvation of others in oversight and service. Now you have given me this same ministry, yet it’s not just me in the kingdom working. God has called you too.

            As children, siblings, parents, as drivers, managers, admin, and, of course, as children of our Father in Heaven. He has called you into Christ’s life of truth and love, to be a light to those around you, yeast to lift each other up to Christ (Matthew 5:14-16, Matthew 13:33). And just as Paul wrote, for the Christian to live is Christ and to die is gain, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s (Philippians 1:21; Romans 14:8). This is our calling as God’s royal priesthood, Christ’s holy nation, the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (1 Peter 2:9). You have been called out from the marketplace, from Egypt, from the secular world, into the vineyard, the promised land, the kingdom of God. You have died to sin and been made alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:3-11). This is your calling, now do you measure up? If you see you have been lazy in the vineyard, wanted to go back to Egypt, or have failed in the work, remember what has already happened today. You, together with the rest of us, have confessed that you have failed, have sinned and cannot save yourself; then we asked for Christ’s forgiveness and He has forgiven you (Matthew 18:19-20). And we will in the prayer of the church, together with the saints and with Jesus, ask for mercy and strength to continue in His promise, to live His life.

            It doesn’t matter when you were called into the faith, if you’ve been faithful since infancy, or as an adult, or even on the death bed. What matters is the promise you were given, the confession we made together with the landlord, with our saviour Jesus Christ the righteous. He has forgiven you, and so as we live in that forgiveness you will forgive others; if you don’t, then hear again Christ’s words to you from this morning, ‘you are forgiven’, and live in it. If you need greater comfort or a wonderful reminder, come to the table and receive His forgiveness on your tongue. Receive it well and go to work in the vineyard; to what God has put in your life, what He has called you to, to put those you live with above yourself, to encourage each other in our Christian lives, to bring your requests to God in thanksgiving, to pray, and of course to do the work that He has given you, whatever that may be.

            But through all this, do not forget what Our King has promised you. Not a denari, money, or worldly wealth, but rather what is just, what is righteous. Just as our baptismal agreement states, that creed we confess with all Christians and in accord with Christ’s Word, you have been promised the very thing you need. Communion with Christ and all the saints, forgiveness of all your sins, resurrection of your body should you die before the end, and life everlasting.

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

Pastor Graham Josephs.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 14:4
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

            Last week we heard Jesus say, go if your brother or sister in Christ sins against you go to them and point out their sin, if they listen you have gained your sibling (Matthew 18:15). The Christian community, the family of God is founded and built on forgiveness and mercy. This is the truth, we stand together by God’s mercy, but when you look around do you see it? How can we stand together as one if we are different? Difficult personalities, varying opinions. One wants to joyfully come back to church with faith, and sing with a coffee in hand and a handshake; another wants to honour the government our Lord has put over us, for the sake of the vulnerable. You know yourselves who you like in the parish and who you’d prefer to avoid. But just like our biological families we’re kinda stuck with each other, and God willing we will be stuck together forever with Christ in the New Creation.

            Yet this side of eternity we still suffer division, we struggle with the quirks of another, we rub some the wrong way. At times we might even sin, failing to love each other, to care for each other, to honour Christ who has promised to be with us. This is why Peter asks, ‘how many times must we forgive?’ And why Christ responds, ‘many’ (Matthew 18:21f). Our Heavenly Father in His great mercy has forgiven you your failures, your wicked acts, thoughts and desires, your sin. Like we heard last week, we together ask for mercy and forgiveness of our sin, and just as He promised Jesus forgives you. You are forgiven. Now you may forgive each other. And after forgiveness learn to live together, united under the mercy God has shown us. For He is our Lord and master, we are His servants (Romans 6:18).

            What Paul is addressing here is, fortunately, something I haven’t seen in our parish. It’s the exclusion of people within our communion. Some people knew that God can make all things clean, so they ate rich food, others knew that fasting was a Godly thing so they had vegetables and water (Daniel 1). Yet neither are contrary to Christ (Matthew 4:2; Mark 7:19). Others thought one day was most special, and others that all days were holy; Today those that make a special effort to pray, read the Bible and enjoy God’s gift of family on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, and those who try to spread this special devotion across the week. Again, neither are contrary to Christ (Matthew 28:1; Mark 2:27). And because neither are contrary to Christ, we should not look down on each other and certainly not exclude people from Communion because of this. It’s be like excommunicating someone because they want drums in church, or the organ. It’s not something that should divide the body of Christ, even if you happen to detest, I don’t know, jazz or ripped jeans. What unites us is Christ, our faith and life in Him.

            He is our judge, judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42). He is our Lord and we His servants (1 Timothy 6:15; 1 Peter 2:16). He is our saviour and we His friends (John 4:42; John 15:15). Basically what He says goes. If He says someone’s in, they’re in and we have no right to question that. Now if they reject Jesus’ Word, that’s a bit different, that’s sin and needs to be dealt with for the salvation of the sinner. But if they go against your word, well you need to know that Jesus is their Lord and not you. And that Jesus is your Lord too. So stand with Him and we will stand together, for He able to make us stand. Remember the ancient Israelites, God made them stand on dry land in defiance of their enemy (Exodus 14). And their account is an example to us, not to fall away, but even against dreadful odds rely on Christ who has brought you from death to new everlasting life. Live for the Lord and die for the Lord. In everything we belong to Him who loves you. Stand together under Christ, the body under the head, and love each other despite our differences just as Jesus loves you, point each other to Christ and live as His church that we have been called to be. Together in forgiveness and love.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 18:19
Again truly I say to you, that if two of you agree together on earth regarding any deed you should ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven.

            To agree together, to speak in harmony, in concord, as one. Elsewhere the Holy Spirit calls us to be of one mind, united in our thinking and our way of seeing the world (Philippians 2:2). Of course, not just that we are together with each other, but also united with Christ, that our thinking is conformed to Christ’s thought, that our speaking agrees together with Him (Romans 8:29-30). This is the way of the church, in our synod we agree with the Book of Concord, and we agree largely with the Christian teachers and preachers since Christ; though we might not sound exactly the same because they spoke German, Latin, Greek and Aramaic; still this is what our church is called to, to agree together in Christ.

            Yet sometimes it’s hard to say the same things, I mean listen to the news; the politicians and government can’t even agree within our country, or themselves. And our LCA is also struggling to speak with one voice on many issues, those divisions regarding the Holy Spirit’s work both now and 40yrs ago, different opinions of our members, opposing opinions of our pastors; can we really say we are ‘synod’, walking together in unity? And even our own congregations, our own families, fathers, how often does sin divide us.

            Has any of you had a Christian sin against you?  Have any of you sinned against your brother or sister in Christ? Temptations to go our own way must come, stumbling blocks to trip us in the way; Jesus says, but woe to those through whom they come (Matthew 18:7). To the teachers, pastors, to parents, to all people; better to be thrown to the bottom of the sea than cause another to sin (18:6). Sin causes division, if you need an easy example look at the paedophilia of clergy breaking apart many congregations, parishes and church traditions. But then if our goal is unity with Christ and each other, how can we deal with this? How can we deal with our own sin, with the sins of others, division, how can we deal with sin as Christ’s church?

            To agree together with Christ. What does Jesus say? To you who have been sinned against, who’ve been hurt and offended, go and point out your brother’s fault, your sister’s sin, just between the two of you. If they listen you have gained your sibling, and just like that lost sheep there is great rejoicing in heaven (18:13). When we agree together in Christ regarding what sin is, that what was done was evil to greater or lesser extent, and we forgive each other their sin, just as Christ forgave you, just as we pray in our Lord’s Prayer, the same words with all the saints and Christ, then we share in the peace and joy of Jesus, love and reconciliation with each other and God Almighty. We may truly feel His presence.

            And this is the wonderful thing! Jesus has promised wherever two or three are gathered in His name there He is with us. Together under His name at home, at our dedicated church building, or even in a prison cell. Jesus has promised and His word is sure. Today we have gathered together in Jesus name, by the name and command of our Lord. Under Christ’s command and authority, we have confessed our sin, thought, word, and deed. In each other’s company we have recognised our sin before our Father in heaven. And more than just two, we have agreed on this together, asking for our Father’s mercy and forgiveness. We gather according to Jesus’ promise and command, and just as He has promised, it is done for you, you are forgiven. This is what it means to be part of Christ’s body, reconciled with our Lord and Saviour and each other. We are family, forgiven sin, given new life, living together in love to the glory of God. And God have mercy and strengthen us to care well for each other, to love those close and far off, that we might not just hear the promise but receive a foretaste of His love in our parish.

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

Joseph Graham.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘if anyone desires to come behind me, let him deny himself and raise his cross and follow me.

            This is a bold statement, just think about it for a moment. Do you consider yourself a Christian, a follower of Christ? We just confessed who He is in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, Lord and saviour of the world. Do you want to follow Him? And think about your life. Have you denied yourself for His sake? Have you taken up your cross, your shame-filled execution? Do you follow Him?

            Remember just a few moments before, we heard last week Peter confess Jesus is the ‘Christ, the Son of the living God!’ ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, my Father has revealed this to you; you are now Peter and on this rock I will build my church.’ (Matthew 16:16-18). Just after this Jesus explains He will suffer, die and then rise from the dead; and what does faithful Peter do? He has just confessed who Jesus truly is, just as we have in the creed. Now what does he do? ‘Nah, come Jesus, that’s not what’s gonna happen.’ Peter knew just like we do that Jesus had come to save the world, to destroy death, not to be defeated. This giant of our faith, Peter, the rock, after just making the great, wonderful confession, tells Jesus, he knows a better way. And of course, even today, you and I know better than Jesus about the way things should be done; don’t we?

            ‘Get behind me satan/enemy! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!’ When we go our own way, this is what Christ says to you, ‘Get behind me’. This is why in baptism we reject the devil and all his works and all his ways, and why we are called to return to our baptism everyday, to live out our confession and life by Jesus. To fail in this is to fail to be who we are in Jesus, it is to sin. God has promised, you have been made anew in Jesus, your sins forgiven, God loves you His child, life everlasting with peace, joy and love. This is who you are, who you are called to be; your foundation is Christ, this confession that the church, God’s called out people, is built upon. Sure, in this crazy world we might not know what’s happening next or where we’re going, yet we do know who we are, and whose we are. Admit when you stuff up, confess your sin, submit to Jesus words of forgiveness and everlasting life, and know that, through all this confusion and suffering, at the end we will follow Christ to live together forever in the New Creation (Matthew 26:28; John 6:68; Revelation 21:1).

            So now get behind Jesus. Just like Peter did, take up your cross and follow Him. Perhaps it’s not the literal cross that Peter bore, being crucified upside-down; perhaps not even the execution of Paul who was beheaded beside him; but remember your death. In Christ, by your baptism, you have died to sin, you are dead to this world; Paul told us weeks ago, in baptism you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Take up this truth everyday. Jesus said, those who loose their soul for Christ’s sake will find it. And Paul again, ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). Do you follow Jesus? Every morning, do you remember your baptism, your confession of who Christ is and His promise of who you are? Do you live for Christ, in love toward each other, in honesty and mercy for the benefit of those God has placed in your lives? Do you get in behind Jesus?

            If, like Peter, you fail; remember, like Peter, to deny your pride and sin, to take up your baptism and follow Jesus. To live in Him, receiving His love and devotion, His promises of forgiveness and newness of life, let yourself, your evil, be overcome by His goodness (Romans 12:21).

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

Joseph Graham.

Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:17
Blissful are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, rather my Father in heaven.

            Sometimes things get crazy, just look at us, drought, dust, smoke, viral pandemic, and a lockdown. What do we do when things get over our head? When they get stressful, chaotic, confusing, when it just keeps going on and on, when you’re not even sure it will end, what do you do? We know what some have done when their people, even family, have been killed by police or jail wardens; that many have turned to their insurance agencies with houses burnt to the ground; or, of course, the government. But if you didn’t, and you tried to carry the burden yourself, to rely on yourself, even maybe blame yourself; … perhaps that affects the suicide rate. When the going gets tough, as they say, the tough get going, but I worry for the others. When things get tough, and really tough, what do you cling to? The thing you rely on, what is it? Your foundation, where has it come from?

            The basis, the foundation, the solid rock you stand on. What is God’s Word telling you today? Well Jesus talked about a rock, a rock on which His church would be built. And He does a bit of word play here, for Peter in Greek is rock, yet Peter himself was less solid and firm, rather a bit more hot-headed. He’s always the first to speak, the first to jump out a boat, to make those quick decisions (Luke 21:7; Matthew 26:51). Yet when Jesus asked him who he said Jesus was, Peter gave the good solid answer; Jesus, you are the promised Messiah, the Son of God who is the source and sustainer of all life (Acts 17:24-25). Now that answer wasn’t from Peter, he hadn’t worked it out himself like some sort of conspiracy theorist, simply he’d received it from God. As Christ Himself said, no one can come to me unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). No one truly knows Jesus by their own strength, rather only by God’s grace. It’s not on you, it’s on God.

            Our Father in heaven has given you faith in His Son, by the Holy Spirit. As always our Triune God works together in love for you and all people. He is the one who lays the foundation, the one who tells us, the stone the builders rejected has become the keystone (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus rejected by His own people has become our foundation, just as Paul writes elsewhere (1 Corinthians 3:11). And Jesus plainly told His disciples this, that on this rock, Peter’s confession and the ministry of Christ’s apostles, Jesus will build His church, us who have been called out from the world, and the gates of death will not overcome. Death cannot stop the church. So before His death, Jesus plainly told this to the disciples, that when confusion, chaos and fear threaten the disciples, they might continue to stand on Jesus’ Word on that confession of who He is, the only sure foundation.

            But of course, they forgot, Peter abandoned Jesus and rejected Him, who defeats death. Now here, I just have to make a small aside, Jesus said the gates of death, or hades the place of the dead, would not overpower the church or it’s foundation. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of people attacked by gates, they’re not the most effective weapon. Rather I have heard about gates resisting a siege, battering rams, explosives; sometimes the gates even resist the attacks, they prove stronger, more powerful than the ram, the explosive, the assault. Now when Christ died, He came to the gates of death, that hold the dead behind them, and He crushed those gates, trampling down death by death. When Jesus died the tombs were opened and, as Matthew records later, many of the faithful dead rose and appeared to those in the city (Matthew 27:52-3). Certainly, the gates of hades did not overcome Christ’s assault. Yet despite this obvious and miraculous proof of Christ’s words, the disciples forgot God’s grace and hid in a room.

            For you who have forgotten Christ’s Word, what He has promised, what did we just confess? The creed is just a fuller answer to Christ’s question, who do you say that I am? I know you didn’t write it. I didn’t just come up with it. Rather it’s been passed down by God’s grace, not from flesh and blood, but as a summary of God’s Word. Repent, turn back to Jesus and hear again the wonderful truth. It is not all on you, when it hits the fan, when it goes over your head, when you face death; receive the Father’s blessing and hear His Word, death has no power over you, in Christ you are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Death will not hold us down, death cannot stop God’s church, it’s gates have already been broken to dust.

            And so with this wonderful foundation, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting in spite of death. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 15:27
But she said, ‘No Lord, for also the dogs eat the crumbs falling from the table of their lords.’

            Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, Christie eleison, Christ have mercy, Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. The cry of this woman has been sung by Christians for 2000yrs, it has become part of our liturgy, originally sung after the entrance psalm, now also following our public confession of sin and absolution. But it is not another confession of sin, rather simply it is a cry for help. Last week we heard Peter, one of the twelve, a Jew, cry out to Jesus, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out and saved him, for Peter was of God’s people, whom Jesus came to save. But you are not Jews, at least none have told me if you are, will you be saved when you cry out to the Jewish Christ?

            Now, Jesus still is on the move after hearing Herod thought He was John the Baptist back from the dead. Jesus had gone to a deserted place, but the people followed and 5000+ were fed. Jesus sent them away and the disciples ahead by boat, that He might have time alone to pray. Then He met up with the disciples walking on water, called and saved Peter. Landing on the non-Jewish side of the sea of Galilee, He healed many, but the Pharisees found Him and challenged Jesus. Apparently, the disciples forgot to wash their hands before eating. Jesus answered them, it’s not what goes in but what goes out that defiles you. And now we come to the account of the Canaanite woman today, followed by more healing and Jesus feeding 4000. It’s a mirror of what has gone before, it hinges on this conflict with the Jewish Pharisees. But even though the mirror is similar something key has changed. And Paul tells us what that is.

            The Jews rejected Jesus, their Brother and Messiah, so now the Gentiles, you, would be blessed and that the Jews, God’s ancient people, might repent and come back to Him (Romans 11:30-31). That there would be no longer Jew and Greek, German or Aboriginal, immigrant or local, but that all would be one together in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Brothers and sisters all, in God’s new family (Romans 8:15). How wonderful it is when siblings live together in unity, with love, joy and peace in Christ (Psalm 133:1). When we look out for each other, remember to call or check on those more isolated, on those suffering. When Joseph and his brothers were united, and Jacob’s family saved from famine (Genesis 45).

            But congregations don’t always hold together with love in Christ, and the Israelites had to escape the slavery that came on them. Leaving Egypt they came to Canaan and fought the ancestors of this Syro-Phoenician woman we heard today. The Canaanites who sacrificed their children to their gods, also making a practise of prostitution and adultery; utterly rejecting God Almighty. The Jews of Christ’s day came to calling them dogs. And Jesus does the same. ‘It’s not right to take bread from the children and throw it to the doggies.’

            ‘Yet even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their lords’ table.’ This woman knew who Jesus was, a Jew, she cried out, ‘Lord, son of David!’ She knew who she was, a dog outside of God’s chosen ancient people, just like you and me. Yet just like you and me, she also knew she needed help, and help from the Jewish Messiah. She must have known that ancient promise to Abraham, that all peoples will be blessed through his descendent. Perhaps even the promise through the prophets, that a Son of David will come to save His people and all the nations (). And you know another promise God has made to you in your baptism, in Communion, you are made anew in Christ, being made anew by the Spirit, and wait for the final revelation when you, me and all Christians will live forever in unity.

            You know what you have been promised, you know what is at the end, so join Peter, join this woman, join our brothers and sisters those who’ve gone before and those who are fighting alongside us across the world; join them and cry out to Jesus, Have mercy on us! Through the tough times, call out to God, ‘Lord, rescue me!’ call out to us your brothers and sisters in Christ, that we might be His hands and feet and live together in unity. Don’t give up when it seems Christ ignores you, but press on knowing the promise He has made to you and all Christians. Respond like this woman did, ask even just a crumb, but remember a crumb to Christ can feed 5000.

            And as we kneel and pray for mercy, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to our life together forever as family. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:31
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you waver?”

            I know I’ve said it before, but this event is our life. Again, asking ‘what does it mean that we are Christians?’ What is the Spirit telling you here? Just like the bread and wine with the Word, there is so much more here; Christ walking on the water, calming and calling, then rescuing His disciples is so much more than just a miracle. The chaotic sea was death to the ancient Israelites, remember Jonah? Thrown to His death in the chaos of the storm. And the sea is the home of the Leviathan, that serpent of chaos; it’s the origin of the evil beasts Daniel saw (Daniel 7:3), and a beast in God’s Revelation to John (Revelation 13:1). But of course we hear, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God was over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

            This event has been preserved by the same Holy Spirit and His church for you today, that you may be made courageous and be comforted in Christ Jesus. It is not just that He can walk on water, just something that reminds us of our baptism. Jesus Christ is God Almighty (Job 9:8), through Him all things were made (John 1:3), He has authority over all (Matthew 28:18), and He has conquered death (Isaiah 25:8). All those things that torture or torment you, just as the wind and waves tortured the disciples, all these things Jesus has conquered. This virus, government restrictions, tax, temptation, the devil, sickness, separation and death. All the things that cause your fear, that worry you or hurt you, to Him and in Him they are nothing. For nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). But still the storm rages, most of the long night had gone before Jesus approached the boat.

            Yet, after a time, come He did, He will come, do not fear! Even though you are beaten, bashed, though your conscience convict and you listen to the devil’s condemnation on the wind; Jesus is victorious and with Him the wind cannot harm you. If still now, after hearing Christ’s forgiveness, when in the absolution He said to you, ‘I forgive your sins’, if still now your conscience convicts you after your repentance know that Christ’s Word is more powerful than yours (1 John 3:18-23). With a word He stilled this powerful wind, His Word does what He says. So hear His Word in the storm of your life with Him, be courageous! You have been baptised, you are dead to sin, to those windy temptations of the devil, you have been united with Christ and now live in Him, together with all the saints. Be courageous! As you suffer, call out to Christ for help, for strength, for guidance; just as Peter did. He wanted to be close to Christ, His Lord and ours, He called out in the storm and Christ called him out of the boat upon the water.

            Onto the chaos, into death. Now I don’t want you to forget what happened. Peter our forefather in the faith did walk on the water in the middle of a storm on the sea of Galilee. Yet again, the Holy Spirit is showing us that not only with Christ we may do so much more, a vision of our resurrected and glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21), but more so, that by faith in His promise and His command, Law and Gospel, we have His power over death (Hebrews 2:14), of course by the gift of the Holy Spirit; from God not from ourself (Ephesians 2:8-10). But as we are united with Christ, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit’s work in Baptism and our Most Holy Communion, you are more than conquerors over sin, death and the devil (Romans 8:37), over doubt, guilt and worry.

            He may not have called you to walk on water, but Christ has called you to live with Him, in love, peace and joy (1 John 4:8, 16; John 20:19; Philippians 4:4). Though you be tortured by the waves, by sickness, calamity, or hurt, and beaten by the wind, call out to Jesus, ‘Lord save me!’ and immediately receive His hand, the grace and mercy He has promised you in your Baptism and with Holy Communion, forgiveness and life.

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

Pastor Joseph Grahame.

9th Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.