‘Love is Law’

John 15:17
This is my command: love one another.

            Thank God for love, thank God for His Law. And of course, thank God for mothers without whom we would not be here, and neither would Jesus. Eve, the mother of all the living, broke the law of love and sinned; yet Mary the mother of the Resurrection and the Life, kept this law; more especially her Son through whom God’s infinite love is shown. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Law of love; for He lays down His life for you, who were His enemies, now by God’s loving grace His friends. And it’s not just that He died for you, yet also that He lives for you now and forever. His love is immense, wonderful, glorious and victorious!

            This is the Gospel, God’s love for you. That in Him we are victorious we have overcome sin, death and the devil. And now He calls you to love, He commands you. This is His Law. As He has loved us, we must love Him; Just like John wrote, ‘this is love for God: to keep His commands’ (1 John 5:3). Of course we remember today the 4th commandment, ‘honour you father and mother that it will go well for you in the land’ the only commandment with a promise. So, the child shows their love for God in this life by honouring their parents, by loving them. And the parents must show love to the child otherwise things fall apart; disintegrate, the family dies. This is what we mean when we say the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we fail to love God, if we fail to keep His commands, then things die; a broken arm, broken relationship, broken family, sometimes people become emotionally dead, and horrifically sometimes people die. This Law, this truth, is not abolished (Matthew 5:17); Yes Jesus fulfills it and united with Him we are separated from our sin, yet God’s Law, the Law of love still applies to you and me. It is the way of our New Life in Jesus, His way. We are commanded to love each other, to live our lives for each other, for our parents, our children, our bosses, our workers, our government, and our society. I’m grateful He’s narrowed 600 odd commands in the OT down to one, and this is that one command. You must love.

            Do you? Do you desire what is best for those around you? Do you want God and His love to be known by all people, that wonderful relationship of His joy and peace? Do you live for your family, for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for those who do not yet know Him? Do you love? Or do you fail and cause pain, do you need help?

            Last week we heard that Jesus is the True Vine, that apart from Him we can do nothing. And sometimes that’s obvious, so thank God we are not alone by ourselves and without help. We have each other, and more so we live with the Triune God. He has chosen you, adopted in Baptism and united with Him by the Holy Spirit. He has called you, not servants, but friends revealing the truth to you. And His Work changes you, united with the vine the saps changes you to a living branch. Listening and living with Jesus changes what you want and how you act; like an old faithful couple have worked through their difficulties and continue to grow closer, like the loving mother and child are changed and learn from each other. And He serves us here, as we listen to His Word about what love is, separation from sin, guilt and failure, reconciliation; He serves us rejuvenating our relationship with Him and each other, refreshing and sustaining us together, especially by His Body and Blood; sending us out with His promise of the Holy Spirit to walk with us, to change our desires and provide what we need.

            And we need this help He provides, to keep His command. Which is how John can write that His command is not a burden, to live in love toward all people is only hard when we are overwhelmed by our guilt/failure, pain or torment. And yet, He has declared that in Him you have overcome these things. Hear again His Words, ‘You are forgiven! I sent you free from sin, death and the devil, and free to love.’ I wanna make sure this is clear: Jesus does not want you to burden yourself with this command to love, listen to Him not the world, He does not want you to be burdened and enslaved to a command, rather as He sets you free and provides us all we need. His teaching in scripture, from our brothers and sisters in Christ, of course Bible reading; turn to the psalms when you are struggling, I pray the Holy Spirit open your ears to His prayers. And your prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer, where the Holy Spirit works on our hearts to conform our desires to His; may He remind you to pray in your struggles, to look to Jesus and His victory. And His presence most especially in the sacrament and also in gathering with other Christians in encouragement, not complaint rather talking about how God is at work in our lives, what He is teaching us, and certainly praying together, casting our burdens on Him who cares for you.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Grafted into Jesus.

John 15:5
I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

 

            Grafted into Jesus. This is about a relationship. And we have seen it begin today. Matilda is baptised, joined to Christ. Now, according to the promise, the Holy Spirit brings the wonderful gifts of God to her and all the baptised to sustain us in the Christian life that we live for those around us to the glory of God. The Holy Spirit is that sap from the vine that provides the branches with the nutrients to produce good fruit.

            Baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity she is, according to His Word, a child of the Father, united to Jesus the vine, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Now God has declared this, yet where do we see it? Where does God promise to sustain Matilda and all His baptised children? It is where His Word is spoken, where His Word is heard and received. In the gathering of Christians for mutual encouragement around His Word, our common confession summarised in the Creed. In the prayers of Christians, long and short, crystalised in Our Lord’s Prayer. In the living out of Christ’s victory, living in the freedom of the Ten Commandments and all their gifts. And of course, we can’t forget the wine of the vine, Holy Communion, Christ’s Most Holy Body and Blood. That’s the small Catechism, and that’s this Divine Service.

            It is here, that we remain with Him, make our home in Him and He in us; where we are refreshed together in our mutual relationship. It is here, where He has promised to cleanse us by His Word, ‘I forgive you’. It is here, where we are prepared for the Good Works God has prepared for us to walk in our lives ahead; the fruit of the vine. And as He says, ‘if you remain in me and my words remain in you ask whatever and it will be done’.

            Yet we so often forget Jesus’ words, sometimes ignore them, sometimes replace them, but so often His words do not remain in us. So a question we can ask anytime, what do you spend your time thinking about? Debts? Family issues? A TV series? Who do you listen to? Whose words remain in you and keeps coming back? To ask the same thing, in your thoughts, words and deeds, what and who do you worship? …

And how can we receive again Jesus’ words? Receive again His love? How can our relationship be restored? Like coming home to your family or friends, by returning and listening again, prayer, confession, and meditation on His Words, and sharing His Holy Meal.

            So pray that, not only the Holy Spirit grants what you need, but also that we abide in Him and He in us.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

” War of Love “

1 John 3:20
If our heart should condemn us, know that God is greater than our heart and He knows all things.

            Look to Jesus, listen to His Word. Today is ANZAC day. A day commemorating the landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. A disastrous campaign marked by death, innovation and resilience. An event that has become a sort of birth for Australian and New Zealand national identity, truly to some a holy-day; that blood spilled marking the ground as holy to Australia, a proclamation of our island nation born in war. Now there were commemorations that year, offerings given up for the wounded soldiers, and a call for more to risk the sacrifice of their lives. Yet through the years it had become less popular, especially after the Vietnam war, then just a few years before I was born there was a revival. There are now pilgrimages to the sites of WW1, and a broader commemoration for all those who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping, and for the contribution and suffering of all who have served.

            It is a day to mark lives lost in service to Australia. A day of mourning and gratitude. And yet it is also Good Shepherd Sunday, when Christians hear again Christ’s Word that He is the Good Shepherd to give up His life for His sheep. Those men and women left their country and lost their lives, I do not know their reasons. Yet we do know why Jesus died on Good Friday; it was for love of us, of you, even of all people of all nations, all of this broken creation. And in war, neither side truly knows if the deaths will result in victory like a shepherd dying to a wolf does not know if the sheep will stay safe. Yet Jesus knew, He knew He would lay down His life for the world, only to take it up again in Victory! He has the authority.

            In His victory over sin, death and the devil; Jesus gave up His life for us. Not just in death but also with every breath; Jesus died for you, and also lives for you. This is how we know love. It is not love to dehumanise others as the British did the Germans and Japanese, it is not love to relish a kill count or the brutalisation of your enemies. Yet to stand against the desire to murder, to stand against concentration camps, gulags, genocide, to stand against those who plan the death of your family and friends, community and country; to live your life for others, even the life of your enemies; that is love. That is the love we have received, that is the love we are called to live.

            We ought to lay down our lives for our family. I’m learning this more and more as my children grow, my life is not about me. And John continues, If you have material possessions, see your brother or sister in need and have no pity on them, no pain in the gut; how can this love of God be in you? As John wrote, the Holy Spirit instructs us to love not with just our words or empty speech, but with action and in truth. Do you? Do you live for others, for those in this congregation, parish, in your communities? Are you willing to die for them as Christ died for you? You know what is right, do you do it? Or does your conscience condemn you?

            Hear what your conscience says, and look to Jesus. You know who you are in Christ, a baptised child of Our Heavenly Father, united to Jesus His Son, by the Holy Spirit who is now at work in your life. If your conscience condemns you, telling you that you are a failure and deserve abandonment for what you have done, for what you have failed to do; know that God is greater than your conscience and He knows everything. He knows everything you have done and everything you could have done; and also He knows His love for you, He knows what Jesus has done, the great victory is won, and He knows what He has promised to you. You cannot keep anything from Him.

If your heart condemns you, look back to Jesus and listen to Him. Confess your sins and hear again His Word, I forgive you. Hear again who you are in Christ, child of God, forgiven, beloved. Hear again His call into His victory, in the only war that truly matters, that against sin, death and the devil. We are soldiers in a war that is already won, but now is not the time for rest. The war is won, but is not yet finished. Everyday we still battle sin, death and the devil; in big ways and small. We are soldiers of Christ, living in His love, His victory; and we are called to live this love for all God’s creation, to bring His victory to all people, this is evangelism. To recruit the civilians who are suffering, the non-Christians in your life. To defend and support our brothers and sisters in arms, the Christians in our lives. To point us all to Jesus our Lord and God, to listen to His commands; I forgive you removing your sin, I am with you always, even if you die yet shall you live, it is done.

Your heart, your conscience is right to trouble you; God has given this gift of conscience to all people, written the law on our hearts, and yet your heart is not Lord and God. God is God. So as you go out know that God has said you are forgiven and have confidence before Him, your conscience now speaks against God if it condemns you. So go out reflecting on the love shown to you, the love shown in those best of our armed forces, and seek to love as Jesus first loved you; and if you fail come back to Him and receive His love anew. As you go out into battle, know that we are not alone, we have each other to love and be loved in word and action; and look not to yourself to know what is true, rather look to the Lord Jesus, listen to Him for His Word is truth.

Beloved of God, His peace which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and unto the end of all war. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Be who you are’

1 John 3:3
And all those having this hope on Him, purify themselves as He is pure.

            Children of God, be who you are. It’s interesting how identity has become so much more important in recent years, who you are according to politics, to ancestry, to cultural practises, race, sexual desires, gender roles, even economic history and so much more. There is the call to ‘be authentic’ or to ‘just be yourself’, to live out freely who you are without care for what others think, but only if who you are doesn’t affect or impose on others. It’s a reasonable need, a desire that makes sense, let the rock be a rock, the river a river, the pig a pig. But then the question comes, who says a pig is a pig? Who do we listen to?

            I remember as a child my siblings came to hate the movie, Babe, because apparently I would watch it every afternoon. If you haven’t seen it, or it’s been a while, essentially it’s a movie about a piglet, called Babe, who learns to herd sheep better than any of the sheepdogs. This pig gently asks the sheep to go to the sheep pen and they do, because Babe has a special code, ‘baa-ram-ewe’. Obviously Babe doesn’t live like a pig, rather he finds this strange identity by listening to a Boarder Collie who becomes a foster mother to him. Now why do I bring this up today? Is it to condemn those who identify themselves as homosexual and live it out? Those who identify as any of the LGBTQI+? Those who identify as Greenies, as Country, as old/young, as victim, upperclass, tough, black, white, yellow, pink with purple polkadots? No. Rather to point out that we often, if not always, find our identity by listening to someone. Now that might be yourself, or someone you respect, or even sometimes people you hate. But regardless, once we hold to our identity and know what that is we can live it out.

            Now, God Almighty has called you His children, identifying you with His Son, Jesus Christ the righteous. To Him this is the most important part of who we are, and if He’s the most important for us this identity we have in Christ will be the most important to live out. This is part of what the first commandment means, ‘you will not have any other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). Do you listen to other gods before Jesus? Other identities that are more important to you than being a child of God, other identities that you live out more fully and regularly? Put another way, do you make a habit of sin? If God has called you, although like Babe you look like a pig, to be a sheepdog why would you still wallow in the mud? As John writes, if you hold to this word, this promise of God, you will purify yourself as Jesus is pure. In light of Easter, do you live in Christ’s victory every day? Do you live a life where sin, the fear of death, and the temptations of the evil have no hold over you? The Holy Spirit through John today is clear, if we make a habit of sin, our lives revolving around another identity, we do not have a relationship with God Almighty, neither see nor know Him.

             Is there then any hope left for me, for you? At times I might break these bad habits, then either I fall back or others form. How can we purify ourselves, how can we make ourselves pure as Jesus, God Himself, is? Listen to His Word, His Word in the rest of this letter; From the opening of this letter: if any claim to be without sin, they lie and the truth is not in them; if we confess, He is faithful and just to forgive and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9). Listen to His Word, His work throughout the Bible; did Jesus wait for the Jews to purify themselves of bad habits, of other gods? No, God came to die for us while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10). We cannot even know God without the Holy Spirit, He acts first (1 Corinthians 2:7-15). It is only after He lavishes His great love on us, adopting us, that we can live with Him towards the goal of our hope. It is only in this relationship, this listening to Him, to who He says we are, that we can live out of this New identity in Jesus, of Jesus. As you come today after a week of hearing others, to hear His Word, to hear what you are to God; forgiven, beloved, righteous, as Jesus children of God. As you hear all this He is changing you, He is purifying you, He is making you new again. The Holy Spirit is doing His work today, through as we confess in the creed, the church, Communion, forgiveness, toward the final resurrection and life everlasting with Christ; to grow forever in this relationship. The Holy Spirit, after preparing us for this New Life as God Almighty’s children, is sending us out to live as who we are called to be.

            You, together with all Christ’s Church, are living toward Christ; what we will be has not yet been revealed, but we know when Christ appears we shall be like Him and with Him. This is our hope. According to God’s steadfast Word. You children of God are called toward this, the Holy Spirit waling with you, to purify your lives as Christ’s life was pure, to live according to our most important identity, to fight against our bad habits, our harmful meditations, and those stray thoughts that speak against who we are in Christ Jesus. When you fall, just come back, confess, and hear again God speaking to you. Listen to Him, pray together with the Holy Spirit and live the life of Christ.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

My Lord and My God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Text: John 14:15-21

 

JOHN 14:15(Jesus said) “If you love me, you will treasure my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: 17the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you do know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you. 18I will not send you away as orphans; I am coming to you. 19Yet a little while and the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live you also will live. 20In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. 21Whoever has the commands of me and guards them; he is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

“Seeing is believing!” That is the creed of today’s society that wants to see some verifiable evidence before placing trust in whatever the promise or proposition is, ranging from business deals to purchases we make and relationships entered into or ended, right through to the smorgasbord of claims and promises made in the area of spirituality too. Some years ago there was an article posted on the internet entitled ‘God does not exist and religion is a fairy tale for suckers.’ As the basis for their assertion, the person wrote:

“Please, please, please…give me the power to be God for just five minutes! You wouldn’t recognize the place!…no disease!…no poverty!…no crime!…no hunger!…no suffering!…no crack, no heroin, no tobacco!…no evil people running everything!…no ignorance!…no war!…no murder!…no rape!…no racism or discrimination!…no exploitation!”

Of course this isn’t really anything new. The human race says “I’ll believe that God is real when I see demonstrable proof and evidence—because evil is seen so regularly, then there cannot be a God.” But to assert that evil is proof that God doesn’t actually exist raises a greater problem―what sort of existence would it be where human beings, and the world we live in, is the product of random chance? If there is no God, what hope do we have living in an existence in which sin, evil and chaos rule unrestrained, devoid of the hope and means of deliverance from this situation?

The person who posted this internet article asserts there is no God based on what they can see. There’s another problem with this―if the evil we see is the evidence that God doesn’t exist, then the overarching moral code of the Bible becomes redundant, and to remain living under it is therefore viewed as an imposition. So instead, the self becomes the final authority to determine what is right and good. We should put no other gods above ourselves, for to do so is restraining freedom. But unrestrained freedom is a false freedom; in fact it is slavery, bondage to the self where we do whatever we want to feel good or feel safe or feel in control and preserve ourselves, even when that is damaging to others, and damaging to ourselves. Unrestrained freedom is actually the source of evil.

In our Gospel reading today we hear of humanity’s need for the one true saving God. Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The word for ‘obey’ here in its fullest sense means ‘guard’; ‘hold dear’, ‘treasure’. “If you love me, you will treasure what I command.” But not everyone does treasure what Jesus’ commands. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us, at one time or another, does not treasure or guard what Jesus commands. We find ourselves listening to our own hearts and reason rather than the words of Jesus, and as a human race that has been the case since Adam and Eve fell to the temptation in the Garden of Eden to treat God’s word indifferently too: Did God really say?

God dealt with the problem of sin and evil by taking it upon himself in the Person of Christ. That is why Jesus says to the disciples in today’s text: “Yet a little while and the world will no longer see me”. He is about to go to the Cross and die to make atonement for the world’s sin. He is about to go to the Cross where God judged evil and sin in his own Son in order to redeem the world from it. It is there that the innocent Son of God personally experienced and absorbed the full devastation of human injustice and wicked depravity, to save us from ourselves and God’s just sentence of death upon us as sinners. That is a truth that is painful for us to hear―but not as painful as what Jesus endured for our sakes, in order to redeem us and make us his own.

Most don’t see God in human flesh hanging there on the Cross. Our natural condition means that humans can’t. When people look at Jesus on the Cross perhaps they see a good man, or even a social revolutionary. Or perhaps just a poor man, the victim of cruel circumstances, powerless to help himself. Or perhaps they see a troublemaker who actually deserved the treatment given to him, worthy of the mocking from those passing by: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the Cross and save yourself!’ In the same way the Chief Priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves: ‘He save others’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the Cross, that we may see and believe.’” (Mark 15:29-32). Yeah, that’s it. Come down, do something spectacular that we can see…then we will believe.

In today’s text Jesus said to his disciples: “A little while and the world will no longer see me.” The world will not see him…but they will see him. They will see him after his resurrection. They will see him as he reveals himself to them through the breaking of bread. They will see him as he comes to stand with them and proclaim his peace to them while they gather in a locked room. They will see him as he eats breakfast on the shore. They will see him…not just with their eyes but with their hearts and minds as he is with them. They will see him again: “I will not send you away as orphans; I am coming to you” (verse 18).

And he makes another promise to them: And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him” (verses 16-17). But they will know him. They will know him—the Holy Spirit is not some kind of vague force or impersonal power. He is the third Person of the Triune God. Some versions translate him as ‘the Paraclete’ but there isn’t really any particular English word that sufficiently captures what the original word ‘parakletos’ (pronounced par-a-clay-tos) means. Literally it is ‘one called to the side of’. Some of our English translations say ‘Comforter’ or ‘Counsellor’ and the Holy Spirit is both of those things, giving us counsel and comfort as he leads us into all truth. Another sense is that of an ‘advocate’—someone who speaks in support and defense of another. This is true too, as he stands beside us, defending us from the accusations of the law, others, and Satan himself who accuses God’s people day and night before God (Revelation 12:10). Jesus says that “the world cannot accept this One who walks beside, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Jesus promises them that the Holy Spirit will be their other Paraclete―their other advocate, counsellor and comforter. Their other one called to be by their side and to dwell in them. The first is Jesus himself: “I am not sending you away as orphans. I am coming to you.” The disciples will have Jesus and the Holy Spirit walking with them, guiding them, comforting them, leading them, ministering to them. These promises are first of all to the disciples as they give the apostolic testimony handed down to us today. Though the world does not see or know Jesus and the Spirit, they do, and will, and through the words the Spirit guided them to write, this promise is true for you too as he comes to you with his grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation in baptism, Holy Communion, the absolution, the word, the liturgy.

In our first reading, we heard of the religious marketplace of Athens, the multitude of idols worshipped. Just to make sure they had all bases covered there was an altar with the inscription “To an unknown God”. Jesus promises the disciples in today’s text: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another counsellor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth whom the world is not able to receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you do know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you.” God is so unknown to most people today―people who look for proof: “If I see God, then I will believe”.

But you do know the God unknown by the world. You have received that which the world is unable to receive―the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your Heavenly Father has sent him to be your counsellor to guide you into all truth so that you treasure the words of Christ―the whole of Scripture. Your Heavenly Father has sent his Holy Spirit to be your helper, your guide, to walk with you and stand by you and empty every accusation against you of its condemning power. He is not like idols of gold or silver or stone and he does not live in temples made by hands. But he lives in the temple he made with his hands—you: “…you know him because he is beside you and will dwell within you”.

The Holy Spirit is beside you and dwells within you together with Christ and his Father who sent him to die on the Cross and shed his precious blood to ransom you, that you would be his very own and have a dwelling place in heaven forever. Through the power of the Holy Spirit you know the God whom the world does not know. You don’t just know about God but you know God, personally, relationally, as he shares his own life and blessings with you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That is how, when you look around and are tempted to see only abominable evil and heart-wrenching suffering, that we can be sure God is a loving God. For the Cross is where you see that God went to incomprehensible lengths for you, to punish such evil that is part of the human condition, and free you from your own sin and death, so that you will not be left orphaned in the world but have a room in your Heavenly Father’s mansion. His mighty resurrection, which you share in through baptism, is how you know his promise is true for you: “Because I live, you also will live”. Because God has given you faith to believe in your Saviour Jesus Christ, then one day you will see him with the angels and all the other saints in glory, forever. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 has been called the best loved song in all literature, with the best known opening line. It has been treasured both at life’s happiest occasions, like weddings, and on the saddest occasions, like funerals. For three thousand years, these priceless words have lifted the spirits of the depressed, comforted and assured the suffering and sick, and enriched the lives of all who know it by heart. Even people who say “I’m not very religious”, generally know the 23rd Psalm. It is personal. “The Lord is MY Shepherd”. “My” is a lover’s sweetest and most exultant word as each looks into the other’s face and says “You’re mine”.

As this psalm is read to hospital patients, one can see how they hang onto every word. Every word is written out of deep love for the Lord, and also out of many years of experiencing the Lord’s liberating love just when it is most needed. These are the words of a believer who has been through many bitter battles, with their faith now stronger than ever. The words of our psalmist arouse in us feelings of being provided for, cared for and protected. We Christians cannot help but refer these reassuring words to Christ, our Good Shepherd. We cannot read it without thinking about our Good Shepherd who treasures every single one of us, so much so that he laid down his life for us.

The longer we live, the more we learn that Jesus is the one thing needful. We can say “I shall not want” because our good Lord provides us with all we really need for time and for eternity. “Green pastures” reminds us of how our Lord provides us with more, much more than we need to stay alive. Green is the most restful of all colours, and the most hopeful. Green implies showers of rain as well as sunshine. We need both, don’t we? Green symbolises growth – growth in faith and love. “The best evidence of life is growth.” “Still waters” are restful waters. Sheep won’t lie down until they feel safe and secure. They fear fast-flowing water.

Our Good Shepherd orders our stops as well as our steps. People have often said after being laid abed due to an illness: “I needed that rest”. Jesus knows better than anyone else the burdens of work pressures and busy schedules you carry. That’s why he invites you: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” Christianity is about BEING as well as doing. “BE still and know that I am God”, the Lord says to you. “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength”, God’s Word says to you. We pray in the words of a hymn: “Lord, take from our lives the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of your peace.” He has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

Our Good Shepherd is in the “restoration” business. He’s a restoration specialist. Your Lord is deeply concerned when you wander away from his fold. When he hears us confess: “We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep”, he delights in restoring our souls and welcoming us back into his arms. No lost sheep is too hard for him to restore. After our souls have been battered by the knocks and setbacks of everyday life, the grace of Christ our caring Shepherd gives them new vigour and vitality. “As your days, so shall your strength be.” How tenderly Jesus restored Peter at Easter. Life was new and fresh again. Peter’s love for our Lord was re-ignited. As we say “yes” to Christ’s question: “Do you love me?” we sense him restoring our souls again. We sometimes wonder about the direction of our lives. Today’s Psalm reassures us that our Lord leads us in the way that is right for us.

Psalm 23 is so deeply treasured also because of its realism. It doesn’t only record life’s sunny days. In verse 3, the initial picture of robust contentment is followed by a more sombre picture. An experience all of us must face is mentioned: “the valley of the shadow of death”. Faith enables us to face life’s grim realities with unflinching frankness. This valley is a symbol of life’s uncertain nature. It includes the valley of disappointment, depression and disease. Disease, disability or illness reminds us of our mortality. “Death” here includes the death of a friendship or marriage, a skill or talent, as well as of a loved one. We have the re-invigorating assurance that our Lord has experienced death before us, for us, and now offers us a share in his victory over death. What a comfort it is to know we don’t have to go through it alone.

“For you are with me” (v4) is the climax of the Psalm. Faith triumphantly affirms: “YOU ARE WITH ME”. We stake everything on our Lord’s promise: “I am with you always”, even when, and especially when, you feel otherwise. As threatening as the circumstances in our lives often appear, we trust a Shepherd who is greater than them. On the other side of our dark valley, the sun is shining.

The mother of a child dying of cancer taught her son the 23rd Psalm. She had him repeat: “The Lord is my Shepherd” by counting these five words on his fingers, starting with his thumb. His ring finger was the word “my”. When he got to that word, she taught him to hold that finger in his fist, signifying his relationship with Jesus. When her son died, he was found holding his ring finger. He died in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

We fear no evil because he comforts us with the gracious promises in his Word. To be comforted by Christ is to be fortified. Comfort concerns strength through companionship. We needn‘t face any of life’s battles on our own. Where his words of comfort are remembered, Christ is truly present.

In the Table he has prepared for us, the Lord’s Supper, he reassures us of his creative and transforming presence. We meet enemies that seek to undermine or destroy our faith, enemies like temptation, apathy, envy, bitterness, resentment, the Devil, and despair. In Holy Communion, we receive protection from these enemies. The Lord’s Table keeps our faith safe and strong. Luther said: “If you knew how many fiery darts the Devil is shooting at you, you’d run to the Lord’s Table every chance you got.” In Holy Communion, our Good Shepherd prepares us for trials and temptations of the coming week, and for the life of the world to come. The Bible calls the Holy Communion cup, the “cup of blessing”. Who can calculate all the blessings we’ve received from our participation in the Lord’s Supper? In Holy Communion, we’ve received our Lord’s liberating love, peace such as the world can never give us, and an infectious hope.

Our world needs cheerful faces that banish gloom and exude hope. We don’t have to sulk in the corner, trying to lick our wounds. Holy Communion is a healing medicine that soothes our wounds and cheers our spirits. This Sacrament “anoints” our faces so that they radiate with the presence of our Good Shepherd.

“Anointing’ is an act of honour and recognition. Our Lord gives us himself from “the Table he has prepared for us”, to acknowledge that we are his “sheep” whom he loves and treasures so much. That’s why his goodness and mercy “pursue” us, rather than just “follow” us – that’s what the original Hebrew word really means; they surround us all the days of our life. His mercy is as near to us as our plea: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. His mercy meets us at every turn of our lives.

No wonder the psalmist wants to keep returning to the House of the Lord forever. The Hebrew word “dwell” also means “return to”, just as we keep returning to our homes. David doesn’t man that, in this life, he wants to stay permanently in God’s House. Rather, he’s passionately affirming that the Lord’s House is his true home on earth. We remember David more for the way his psalms have enriched our worship and devotion to God than as king. “My love for your House burns in me like a fire”, David sings in Psalm 69:9. Worshipping the Lord in the House of the Lord was the greatest joy and delight of David’s life. In the presence of the Lord, David tells us, “there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)”, a joy we experience in part now, and in all its fullness and richness forevermore in heaven.

Because Christ, our Good Shepherd treasures you so dearly, he takes care of you more than you could be aware of or imagine.

            O Good Shepherd, bread life-giving,

            As we turn to Thee, believing,

            Guard and feed us evermore;

            Thou on earth our weakness guiding,

            We in heaven with Thee abiding,

            With all saints will Thee adore.    Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Sermon for Easter 5 (Mothers’ Day) 

The Text: John 14: 1-14

A Place prepared

 

Clean sheets on the spare bed. check.
House clean and tidy. check.
Plenty of Food in the house. check
Yep ready for the visitors to arrive.

Is that something you do to prepare for visitors to come and stay with you? A special meal, the spare bed has clean fresh sheets, and the house is tidied? It is special when children who have grown and left home, come home. For a mother, it is a joyous occasion when all the family are together and are at peace with one another.

Depending on where the children are geographically, there may be different ways they can travel to come home. Even when we go to places there is generally more than one way to take to reach a destination. If there is a more scenic way to get to a destination, sometimes that is a better wat than to travel on a major highway.

We can’t do that at the moment. We aren’t allowed to travel. We can’t be with our mother’s today if they live away from us. But that’s okay we can still connect with, phone, Facebook, Skype, email. Once this pandemic is over, once again we can go to their place.

Jesus tells about a place for us to go to today. He calls it his Father’s house. It’s a place where there is not just one spare room, but there are many rooms. But as Jesus says to Thomas, you can’t get there on your own. Jesus says: “I am the way”. To know Jesus is to know the Father. In the same way, the Father knows the ones who listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow him along the way.

It’s interesting that before early believers were called Christians they were called people who followed ‘The Way’.
Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah spoke of, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray”. (Isaiah 35:8).

How are we ever able to walk the way of holiness and be invited into our heavenly room that is prepared for us? For we know that daily we struggle with our humanity and its sinful desires. Rather than daily concentrate on the Holy life God desires of us, we follow our own ambitions.

The way to God was completely closed, and sin was the roadblock. It was like when the Israelites had been rescued out of Egypt they were filled with fear because they thought the way to freedom was blocked by the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariots were closing in behind them. It’s the same in our lives. If we think our way to freedom depends on us, then we fail to trust that Jesus has provided away for our freedom.

The way was blocked because of sin, but God wanted to rescue us from this world in which sin entered and blocked the way to the place where our Heavenly Father has these many rooms prepared. God could not simply excuse or overlook our sin and allow us to enter his place in our sinful state. Yes God is merciful, but He is also just. Justice requires that sin be paid for. At great cost, he himself paid that price.

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it through faith in Jesus. Jesus describes this way as entering through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Perhaps the way through Jesus doesn’t look appealing enough or has too many restrictions. But in reality, the way through Jesus is bigger than you think, because God sent Jesus to save the world. It isn’t God’s fault that many don’t accept that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

We know the way to heaven by trusting in what Jesus has done for us and what he continues to do for us through his gifts to the Church. Our journey begins in Baptism. Through God’s Word and water Jesus dwells in our hearts through faith. Faith receives the promises of God and clings to Jesus as the true and only way. Faith receives Jesus as the way and rejects all other ways that are contrary to what God’s word says.

Just like a mother, God has a lot of love to give, even lots more. God’s love is an everlasting steadfast love that endures rejection, as he sees people go on a journey in other directions to fulfil their needs. However, through the Holy Spirit, God never stops trying to alert us if we go in the wrong direction.

It’s like when your TomTom or Navman tells you perform a U-turn where possible. What I really dislike about relying on GPS is when they try to take you down a road that isn’t there. It makes us end up feeling lost and not sure where I am. Then I need to back track to get on the right way.

Likewise, God gives us a conscience to alert us when we follow a way that leads away from his way. His ways are written on our hearts, and supported through his written word to show us his way.

When it comes to walking the way of holiness, it’s the way of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance because we fail to live holy lives and need to turn back and confess our failures to God. God hears our cries for mercy and forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

He is always waiting like a mother for her children to come home. One of the best images we have of this in the bible is the story of the prodigal son.

When Jesus says, “I am the Way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” he is not meaning this to be a threat. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, as a word of comfort.

They are a comfort for us as well, for we don’t need to panic and search for a hidden map or look for clues, or guess if we are on the road to salvation. It’s clear and simple. As Jesus says “Do not let your heart be troubled. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going away to make a place for you. After I go and make a place for you, I will come back and take you with me. Then you may be where I am.”

A mother’s desire is to protect her children. Have you felt the anxious wait to see your children safely arrive home? You hope they will not get lost, but will follow the way that leads to you, to the place you have prepared for them. Sometimes things occur where as parents, as a mother, you need to go and bring your child to the safety of home.

This is what Jesus did for all of us. He came down from heaven into the world, where we were lost and heading in all sorts of directions and he shows the way home. His desire is for us to be where he is. There is no other way than the way Jesus paved at a great cost to himself.

He calls us to follow him with hearts that forgive, and have compassion. With hearts that welcome home into the family a child who had lost their way. With hearts that even go looking when we notice we haven’t seen them for a while.

It’s what a mother does for her child so she knows her child is safe.

It’s what Jesus does for us. There is only one true way to eternal life. That is the way of Jesus. Amen

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:3b-4
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

            Hello out there, to you in your homes, or wherever you may be, do you hear me? One of the millions of voices in this world. We listen from the humble tin and string, radio, phone, TV and now the internet, we can hear each other from almost anywhere in the world. But then who do we listen to?

            Everyday thousands speak on what’s happening across the globe, with this virus, the economy, celebrities on the internet; and that’s just the morning news. There are so many voices in this world, so many people speaking, vying for our attention; How can you know who to listen to, to focus on, even be devoted to? In Christ’s ‘Good Shepherd’ speech our Lord and Saviour tells us. He says all those before were thieves and terrorists, He is the shepherd who calls His sheep and protects them. So we listen to the voice of Jesus, devote ourselves to God’s Word, because all those who came before are after their own benefit, the thieves, or seek revenge and destruction, the robbers. Of course there are others worth listening to, parents, teachers, friends, but we can still be wary of what we hear and to whom we listen. To keep an ear out for the voice of Jesus, the Word of God everyday, and how might we do that? To open up the bible a read, together if we can, the promises of forgiveness, love and new everlasting life; these that are yours in Christ Jesus. Just as those early Pentecost Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the New Testament, and to prayer together. That’s one of the reasons we set aside time every week to come together and hear God’s Word, especially from the Gospels. Also one of the reasons to mute everyone, so we can focus on what Jesus is telling us through the liturgy, through the readings and in this reflection on His Word.

            To hear the voice of your saviour, before Lent on transfiguration Sunday we heard the Father tell Peter, James and John, ‘this is my beloved Son, listen to Him’ (Luke 9:35). And as we heard from Acts, those who listened to the true words of God through Peter, baptised by the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves to this new life in Christ. This is what this Easter season is for, to hear Jesus’ voice and receive our new life in Him. A life of love through Jesus, having heard the Word of God, as we have here today; forgiven, Jesus saves you and gives you new life. Hearing and receiving His love they respond with thanksgiving and devotion, love and faith toward God and His word, love and service to His people and those in need. A good example for us at this time, so as we hear His Word today, we respond. You are forgiven, we say amen, yes this is most certainly true. Everyday they met together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46), Thanks be to God. He bore our sins that we might die to sin and live for righteousness, again thanks be to God (1 Peter 2:24). He came that we and all who hear might have life everlasting and full, all praise to Jesus Christ! He tells us what is true, and we agree with that summary of the faith in the creed. We hear His voice and He hears ours in the prayers, our thanks and our requests, as we tell Him of what is happening in our lives and what wonderful things He has done. And at the end of this time of devotion to His voice and His devotion to us, He calls us out in peace, leading us out into the world; and of course we His sheep follow His voice.

So as you go out, and as you go in, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until not just hear His voice but see His glorious and loving face. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:38-40
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this warped generation.”

            Repent, be baptised, be saved. The divorce from sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise to you, your descendants and all who are distant. This is a summary of the apostles’ speech on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha, after the death and resurrection of our Lord. The Holy Spirit came down as fire on the apostles, brought them out of their fear, out of the room, and outside by His strength and courage. The Spirit gave them the words, and through their speech pierced the hearts of those listening, just as the Roman pierced the heart of Christ crucified. He revealed their state of death in sin, just as the spear proved Jesus had died, yet these still looked alive according to this warped world. They knew what had been done, how they had declared Jesus as king on the donkey, then called for His crucifixion. Now the Spirit revealed that the one they killed was none other than God himself, incarnate, the Messiah, the Lord over all things. How did they respond to this revelation? ‘What shall we do?’

            Their lives were shaken, turned upside-down, as have our lives been. Some of you might be asking still, what shall I do? Fortunately most all of us are still secure financially, if not please let us know, that we receive an opportunity to show the Love God has given. And yet our lives have changed because of this pandemic and global curfew; the way we live has changed because of something outside of us. You could say that the pandemic has made us repent, or in the Greek, change our minds. So now we ask that question, what will we do?

100 years ago the western world also was made to change its mind, to repent. Progressing to greater and greater feats, this war was supposedly to end all wars, and yet those dreams were shattered just like those men who fought. And further back to the ancient near east these Jews, who became this day our brothers, forefathers in the faith, were struck more centrally, shaken to the very ground, their heart, their core pierced, broken by the truth, God’s Word of Law, their minds were changed, they repented, as the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to them. A far greater change than what COVID19 has done, even than what WW1 did. So they ask, ‘What shall we do?’

Peter tells them, repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus into separation from your sin and failure, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. This day the Holy Spirit worked powerfully, joining with what Jesus had begun to do, bringing God’s Word to all these various peoples, piercing their hearts by revealing the truth, and now does He stop and tell us to save ourselves? No! He is the one who baptises 3000 who received Him and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. He is the one who affected the change, revealing the truth of our sin, we are crushed and broken. What can we do?

Of course many reject the truth, holding fast to their sin and this warped world, trying to force their mind to change back, turning not to God but back to their own sin and death. But for these Jews, the Holy Spirit was still working powerfully, they repented, changed their world view by the power of the Spirit and were baptised by Him into separation from their sin, receiving well the gift of the Holy Spirit, holding not to this world but to Jesus, the new creation, by the faith/trust given by the Holy Spirit. What shall we do? We shall live as who we are, in Jesus Christ, separated from sin, and healed no longer part of this sick and damaged world. As Peter wrote, your souls having been purified by obedience the truth into sincere brotherly love; born again of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23). The Word of God reveals the truth of this world to you, just as Christ revealed Himself through the Old Testament on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27, 32). You have been baptised by God, saved by Him, you can not save yourself, you do not baptise yourself, especially any here baptised as children. You are who God has made you to be, cling not to sin that has been taken from you, but rather cling to Jesus who is Lord and Christ.

            And as Christ Jesus Himself gave, the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham.