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.

Second Sunday of Easter

The text: John 20:24-29 (ESV) 

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 Many people say: ‘seeing is believing’. In fact, they don’t just say it, they live it. Perhaps you do too. This means if someone told you something remarkable, you’d want to see it for yourself. Perhaps this means we reckon the sense of sight (and perhaps also the sense of touch) is the sense by which we judge truth. If we see it, or can touch it, we’ll believe it.
But this may also mean we won’t always believe what we hear (unless we can confirm by the senses of sight and touch that what we’ve heard is actually true).

 But what if seeing is not believing? Or to put it another way: we often want to see things because we don’t believe them.
For example, imagine you’re Thomas. For some reason you weren’t with the apostles on that night when Jesus came. You meet up with them later and they joyfully tell you of their experience of seeing the risen Lord Jesus among them. But you weren’t there! You didn’t see what they saw. So instead of believing the words of the apostles through your ears, you say you’re not going to believe unless you see him for yourself. You don’t believe your ears and want your eyes to confirm this truth.

 In fact, you’re not going to believe your ears and eyes unless you put your fingers on the nail marks on Jesus’ hands and thrust your hand into his speared side. Until you see and touch this news you’ve heard, you’re not going to believe. After all, don’t people say: ‘seeing is believing’!  But that’s the twist. You want to see because you don’t believe.

 I wonder if you can relate to Thomas. Of the remaining apostles, he was the only one not there. But you weren’t there either. You and I haven’t had the chance to witness our risen Lord for ourselves and use our senses of sight and touch to confirm the good news of his resurrection. None of us were in that locked room and saw the risen Jesus standing among us.

This is why we have this story in St John’s gospel account, because we weren’t there. This true story was written down for all who, like Thomas, weren’t in that room. In some ways, Thomas was fortunate in so far as Jesus came to him so he could confirm this truth of the resurrection eight days later, but what about us?

 We still haven’t been given the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh and place our fingers into his wounds, and so we continue to struggle with our doubts and fears. No matter what we hear in God’s Word, we still demand to see or experience certain things before we believe. In this way, you and I are Thomas in this story. We’re Thomas whenever say or think such things like:

“Unless God answers my prayers the way I want him to, then I won’t believe.”

 “Unless I get something special out of worship today, then I don’t think this church is any good for me.”

 “Unless I feel something when I’m baptised, confirmed, or when I receive the Lord’s Supper, then I’ll question its validity.”

 “Unless I get what I want or expect, and can confirm it with my own senses of sight and sound and touch and taste and even with my emotions, then I won’t believe.”

 But these types of questions or statements means we only want to meet God on our own terms. It shows we’re struggling to believe. It shows we’re like Thomas. So, while we may believe, we ask God to help our unbelief!

 The strange thing about faith is it never stops in one place. While we’d like to think our faith will always increase and get better during our life; it doesn’t. It often wavers between faith and doubt; trust and suspicion. Some people expect that once you’re baptised, once you’re confirmed, once you’ve made a decision for Christ, or once you’ve received faith, then everything’s ok from that time on. But this isn’t true. At times we’ll be strong in our faith, but there will be times of doubt.

 For this reason we can also learn a lot from Thomas.

 When he doubted or struggled to believe, he didn’t dismiss or ignore the fellowship with his fellow disciples. He didn’t stay away, but came back into their little congregation to hear, see, and touch.

 We’re encouraged to do the same.

 We’re encouraged to hear the Word of God read and explained. We use our sense of hearing so we may listen for God speaking to us through the bible readings and the sermon.

We’re also encouraged to attend the Lord’s Supper where we use our senses of touch and taste as we receive our risen Lord’s body and blood on our fingers, on our lips, and on our tongue. But, while our senses of sight and touch and taste will tell us ‘this is simply bread and wine’, the Holy Spirit will ask our sense of hearing to be the more powerful sense so we may believe what we hear: That this is Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for you and me.

 The fact is, a faith which doesn’t constantly look to our Lord Jesus Christ, and listen to him, will slowly die. A faith which refuses to come into his presence and receive his spiritual benefits will shrivel up. A faith which makes demands for proof of God’s love outside of the written Word, the cross of Christ, and his holy Sacraments, is in danger of leading to despair.

 This means if we want to see and experience Jesus on our own terms, or if we want to keep away from the place where his people meet, then we’re becoming an unbeliever. Then, just like Jesus said to Thomas, he says to you and me, ‘Stop doubting and believe’, or literally, ‘Stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer’.

 This is why Thomas, in his time of doubt, went to the place where Jesus promised to be – with his people.

 In our own times of doubt we need to do the same, after all, we know Jesus promises to be wherever his people gather in his name. We know his Holy Spirit is present as we hear the Word of God read and proclaimed. We know Jesus promises to wash, adopt, forgive, and give new life to those who are baptised. We know Jesus promises his true body and blood is present on his holy Supper.

 Seeing isn’t always believing, because the demand to see is a sign of unbelief. On the other hand, believing is seeing. Faith instead gives us a greater sight so we may believe what we hear, despite what we see and don’t see.

 By believing what we hear, we see Jesus is our Lord and our God. We stand beside Thomas and see Jesus is more than just a man. By faith, we see Jesus is also the Son of God who came to suffer, die, and rise again for us so that, by believing, we may have life in his name.

 By believing what we hear, we can see God truly comes to us, hidden in times of simple worship to grant forgiveness, peace, and hope. He comes to challenge our unbelief and comfort us through his Spirit-filled words. He comes to wash us and claim us as his own people who will live with him forever. He comes and wraps his body and blood in humble bread and wine and offers them for us to eat and drink. He comes, hidden in the people joined to him through faith to love and care for us. He comes, sometimes despite our best efforts to lock him out.

 Yes, Thomas was blessed to see his Lord and Saviour in the flesh and use his senses of sight and touch. On the other hand, blessed are those who haven’t seen, yet still believe because they trust their sense of hearing.

 You and I are blessed because we believe what we’ve heard. Jesus is our Lord and God even though we haven’t seen him with our own eyes or touched him with our own fingers. And through faith in Jesus’ word our bodies will also be resurrected and we will see Jesus in heavenly glory forever. Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter Reflection

Daniel 7:13-14
“…there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power… and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

            That picture of the pearly gates, Pete’s got his podium out in front, the recently deceased pops up and there’s clouds and floating winged babies all around. An unusual picture that’s not really found in scripture and sort of downplays the resurrection at the end of time and Jesus as the King and judge of all, but we can see where bits of it come from. The kingdom in the clouds, of course is the Kingdom of God that Jesus so often talks about and that Daniel prophesied about 600yrs before. The Son of Man would come with clouds to the Ancient of Days, God Almighty, and receive all authority on heaven and earth and His kingdom will have no end. And the Apostles witnessed this being fulfilled, Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, came with clouds to the presence of the Father, His right hand, taken up at His ascension. Crowned at the cross now ascending to the throne.

This is one part of the Easter story, of Christ’s earthly ministry that is often forgotten. We know His teaching, the forgiveness and new life of His death and resurrection, but less about this taking up of His universal ministry as King and Lord of all. But this is just as important as His death and resurrection because after ascending He is not bound to a particular place in the universe, He is at the Father’s right hand, not a particular place but as the psalmist writes again and again, wherever God is working, wherever His power is (Psalm 16:11; 17:7; 78:54). Paul too writes that He ascended to fill all things (Ephesians 4:10) and that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). So, it’s not as if when Jesus ascended 2000yrs ago He abandoned us, or even that He left us with just the Holy Spirit and now has nothing to do with us. No Jesus Himself promised last week and the week before that He would be with you, in you and you in Him, so close that we are part of each other (John 14:18-15:11), one body as Paul writes elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:23).

The body of Christ, that phrase is used both of all Christians and also somewhere else… Holy Communion. Yes it’s in a different sense but if Jesus does have authority and power to do anything and in Him we live and move and have our being, then Jesus can be here with us now. And in His grace and mercy He has said of this bread and wine, this is my body, this is my blood. He has promised to be here for you in this meal for all Christians, here we can hold Him and receive His forgiveness and new life. A wonderful, little confusing, but amazing gift of Christ’s presence and love that we share with all Christians, those before us and those after, and now also in full with those coming for the first time today.

And so the peace that He brings for you, the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Text:Acts 16:16-34 & Revelation 22:10-14″
Actions of Being”

A common misnomer in our thoughts these days is this: If it gets the jobdone then it’ll do. This seems to be the bottom line in doing what one must do tosurvive. Unfortunately this type of rationale pays little to no respect

for rightand wrong. In fact one might be tempted to believe, if it gets the job done then it’s justifiable, no matter what the means are of getting there.

As Paul and Silas walked through Philippi on their way to a place of prayer each day, a slave girl possessed by a spirit, repeatedly but rightly points to these men as “servant of the Most High God!” She was not wrong in what she said even though she was a noisy nuisance and others were making money out of her prophesies. Surely this might be used as a means of doing God’s work; after all she was proclaiming the Most High God?Surprisingly though, Paul tired and troubled by her daily ranting, turned andsaid to the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to comeout of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18)After Paul took this action, he and Silas were seized, flogged, and thrown into jail. One would imagine they would have been sorry and sore. But instead, they sat up singing hymns and praying past midnight. Suddenly and unexpectedly an earthquake shook the prison, the doors flew open and the chains came loose.To the horror of the jailer, he awoke at the commotion, thinking his worst nightmare had come true. Believing the prisoners had escaped he reached for his sword to end his life, but Paul shouted,“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28) 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God he and his whole family. (Acts 16:29-34)What must I do to be saved? The question “what one must do?” is perhaps avery natural response for humanity. The jailer faced death, because theprison had become unsecured under his watch. He was frightened, humiliated, and his immediate response, before Paul stopped him, was to take his life.In this account from Acts, we’ve just heard of two responses to two situations.They seem to be knee jerk sudden responses, with little thought to what one must do. The response of Paul and the jail keeper were natural responses according to who they were. They were immediate responses from their beings, they didn’t have to stop and think what to do! In the core of Paul’s being he was troubled by the spirit filled girl and in an instant he turned and cast out the spirit. The Jailer was troubled in spirit too, and in an instant he turned to take his life. Both men acted according to his being, they acted as according to whom they were called to be. The difference between them is this: Paul’s being was led by something or someone external, whereas the jailer’s being was led by his internal being or will. And this was leading him to death.The difference between the prisoners and the jailer doesn’t end there either. In fact, ironically, the prisoners act as free men, singing hymns and praying, way after midnight; whereas the jailer acts as a prisoner, and Paul needs to stops him from killing himself. Then in desperation the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?”As Christians we often place ourselves back under bondage, as did the jailer.Instead of our freedom in Christ allowing us to be who we are called to be, we get caught up worrying what we and others must do to be Christian what we must do to be saved and save others. However, “being a Christian” is exactly that, “being” rather than “doing”. When one faces the question of doing failure, depression, and death follow hot on the heels of our defective human deeds. It’s not so much a question of “what I must do to be?” but rather, “my being in Christ allows me to do what he wills for me.”From Revelation Jesus says to us, “ Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:10-11)Here we are told not to bind up the words of Revelation because the time is near. In fact Jesus is near; the Kingdom of God is near. When Jesus returns to usher in his Kingdom, those who have appeared to be in bondage will be shown to be free while those who seem free, and bind others with their human judgements, will be bound in eternity. Those whose being is dependent on what they do will reap their wage; their means for getting the job done despite God’s way, will be paid for in full. Whereas, those who allow God’s means to make them holy, so that their being is holy, will also get their reward.Jesus continues, “12 Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First andthe Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:12-14)

We all must ask ourselves, “What have I done? Am I doing what God wants me to do, or am I doing something else? What must I do to be saved? How do I wash my robes that I might have the right to the tree of life?”It’s at this point we must turn away from the deathly deeds of our own rationale and understanding, and be continually drawn back into God’s word. In fact, just like the jailer which Paul saved from death, we must be led away from meditating and trusting in our deeds, and our desire to try and put things right by our own action, lest we too die from our futile and failing deeds.Paul and Silas acted according to their being. They were not focused on what they must do. If they had they might have moaned and agonised over the actions causing their arrest. They may have grizzled like victims, “what have we done to deserve this?” But instead they worshiped God with joy knowing their fate and suffering, was about who they were called to be in Christ, rather than what they had done.Likewise, Paul and Silas acted according to their being, when the jailer pleaded, “What must I do to be saved”? They pointed the man to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking God’s Word of truth and grace, so the Spirit could implant faith in his heart too. So in hearing this word, our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus was planted in the jailer by the power of the Holy Spirit, as he and his family were baptised. He no longer had to do anything to believe, belief and being were given as a gift, and the work of being a Christian, moved him to immediately cleanse the wounds of Paul and Silas, take them into his home and feed them, and live in joy that he had come to believe in Jesus Christ.We like the jailer have been captured in baptism, so we might remain in Jesus Christ, receiving all the gifts of his deeds, living as free holy beings of God, who have a right to the tree of life.The grace of the Lord Jesus is with us, because God’s people have received the being of Jesus, through his gracious means of the cross and baptism. And therefore, the last word in Revelation, the last word of the bible for us is this:

The grace of the Lord Jesus “be” with God’s people. Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 14:27(Jesus said,)“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I donot give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

‘Peace I leave with you’
Apparently there is an element of truth in this story. A plane landed after a long flight.The flight attendant explained that there was enough time for everyone to get off the aircraft and then reboard in 50 minutes.

pilot

 Everybody got off the plane except one gentleman. The pilot had noticed him as hewalked by. He could tell that the man was blind because his guide dog lay quietlyunderneath the seat next to him. “Sir”, the pilot said to the blind man, “we will behere for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?”The blind man replied, “No thanks, but maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs.”Picture this: All the people in the gate area came to a complete stand still when theylooked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a guide dog! The pilot was even

wearing sunglasses. Fear took control. People scattered and queued at the airline desk trying to change planes!Fear is a normal human response. It is a part of every person’s life perhaps moreso in some people than others but still everyone has to deal with fear at some time.There are many things that can cause unexpected fear to grip our hearts.The latest wave of flu strains makes us worry for our health.The fear of terrorist attacks permeates public events.The nuclear build up in North Korea has caused nations to fear the possibility of theuse of nuclear weapons.Mothers, fathers and children in Israel and Palestine live in constant fear of another bomb blast or being caught in crossfire.Parents fear for the safety of their children with so many reports in the news ofpeople who would want to harm them.We are afraid to leave our homes unlocked, or to walk in the dark at night.We fear failure so we scramble to meet our tight schedules, duties and obligations.And where there is fear, there is no peace. Fear brings with it anxiety, worry,apprehension, dread, restlessness, panic and tension none of which lead us to feelcalm, peaceful, relaxed and stress free.One of the best newspaper cartoons is Calvin and Hobbes. One day Calvin comesmarching into the living room early one morning. His mother is seated there in herfavourite chair. She is sipping her morning coffee. She looks up at young Calvin. She is amused and amazed at how he is dressed. Calvin’s head is encased in a largespace helmet. A cape is draped around his neck, across his shoulders, down his back and is dragging on the floor. One hand is holding a flashlight and the other a baseball bat.“What’s up today?” asks his mum.“Nothing, so far,” answers Calvin.“So far?” she questions.“Well, you never know,” Calvin says, “Something could happen today.” Then Calvinmarches off, “And if anything does, by golly, I’m going to be ready for it!”Calvin’s mum looks out at the reading audience and she says, “I need a suite like that!”That’s the way many of us feel as we see the news and deal with life. Sometimesthis world seems too violent and people seem to be at each other’s throats. A suitlike that would help, so we can say along with Calvin, “Whatever may come my way,I’m going to be ready for it! Bring it on!”Well, I don’t have a suit like Calvin’s to give you this morning, but I do have someimportant words from Jesus this morning to enable us to say, “Whatever may come

my way, I’m going to be ready for it! Bring it on!”It is the night of the Last Supper. Jesus has just spoken of his impending death. Hetells the disciples that one of them will betray him and urges Judas to go and doquickly what he has planned to do.Peter boldly claims that he would rather die than deny his Lord, but Jesus knows that before the rooster crows he will say three times that he does not know the man they are talking about.
Jesus talks about going where they cannot follow and they are confused about this.Haven’t they followed Jesus for the past 3 years? They have watched him heal thesick, they have seen him bring comfort to the afflicted and laughter to the faces ofchildren. Not a day has past where Jesus has not been with them. Their sole thoughtand attention has been him since the day they were called. And now they are facedwith the thought of life without him. Where is he going that they can’t continue tofollow him in the future?Jesus knows that what will happen his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, histrial and tortuous death the next day will upset them.Like a child lost in a department store, these disciples are afraid, uncertain, confused and nervous. And so he continues saying,“Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me….Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid”(John 14:1, 27).In the New Testament, the peace Jesus gives is an unconditional, eternal gift to hisfollowers in every time and place. That’s why he does not give peace to us as the
world doesfor the world, peace is often very conditional, fragile, temporary, and, isfrequently reduced to mean only the absence of war and strife.Worldly peace always has some kind of strings attached, some kind of conditions,and worldly peace lasts only as long as the conditions are kept. Two feuding neighbours can’t agree over the type of fence to be constructed between their properties. They come to an agreement about the cost, type of fence, what kind of materials are to be used and how high it should be but immediately one reneges on what was agreed, the feud starts again. However, with Christ’s peace there are no strings attached; there is the wonderful promise that it will last forever. Peace, in the New Testament sense means: salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation between God and humanity. The sin that stands between God and us has been done away by the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. We no longer fear God’s anger because of our rebelliousness. Jesus reconciles us with Godhe restores the friendship between God and us.Peace is also the Holy Spirit in our lives as friend, comforter, counsellor, teacher and healer.Peace is knowing that no matter what troubles may come our way, God, ourheavenly Father, has promised to never forget us and to always be our helper andstrength. He sent his Son to go all the way and die for us in order to reclaim us as his own. He won’t give up on us now. We are his special and most loved children.Peace is the flow on of God’s peace into the rest of our lives as we live and work with the people in our day to day relationships and activities.This peace has a positive effect on our health and well being. It is well documentedthat stress, tension, and fear have negative effects on our body.What can we do when fear grips our hearts?Firstly, get to know what kind of God we have. He is gracious, loving and faithful. We don’t deserve it but he loves us and will always stand by us. We see just howpowerful his love for us is when we look at the cross and see what Jesus has donefor us.Get to know God as the king and ruler of the universe. There is nothing so great ortoo difficult for him to handle. Parting the sea to save the Israelites, saving Danielfrom the lions or Jonah from the belly of the big fish, springing Peter from jail, orsaving Paul from a shipwreck were all a piece of cake for him. Helping us when weare afraid is just as easy.Secondly, get to know God’s promisesand trust that he will stick by what he says.Memorise and trust words like theseThe Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me fromall danger; I will never be afraid. (Psalm 27:1,2).God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we willnot be afraid… (Psalm 45:1,2).Or Jesus words of authority and power,“Don’t be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead.” (Revelation 1:17).Be assured that God keeps his promises; that he is with us, even in the worstpossible situation imaginable on this earth.Thirdly, realise that there are too many times whenour human attempts to be boldare not sufficient. There will be times when even the texts of promise that we havelearnt off by heart will do little to ease our anxiety. We may even feel that God has deserted us. It’s then we need the Holy Spirit to help us to forgive us for our weakness of faith, to enable us to trust that God has not forsaken us, to spport us while we tremble in fear and to help us get through. He even takes our cries of fear to God and pleads to him on our behalf (Rom 8:26 27).Our strength, our mind, our skills are of no particular use. We just have to relax and wait patiently, trusting in the God who knows all of our needs and is willing to use his power to help us. The Holy Spirit reminds us when fear is near, God is even nearer.Fourthly,pray.Ask God to intervene in our troubles and the fear they bring. Pray forfaith, for boldness and courage when we are afraid. Pray that we are able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit who points us to the love and compassion of God, and pray that in the end God would take us from the troubles of this world into the eternal world where there will be no more fear.When fears and worries create tension and upset your life, Jesus promises,“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”Amen

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:34
A new commandment I give to you, so that you should love one another as I have loved you so that you love one another.

            What defines you? Who are we? What should we do? You might be asking these questions as you look back at what this congregation once was and look forward with the knowledge that things are changing, even faster. Looking to the past we’ll also remember Resurrection Sunday that great celebration of the church year, and forward to Pentecost the birth of the church; 50 days between the two. I wonder, 2000years ago, what was going through the heads of those eleven disciples, we’ve heard their meetings with Jesus the two weeks after His resurrection, but now they’re waiting for something to happen, the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. Who are these eleven bludgers, what were they doing while they waited back in Jerusalem?

            I don’t know but I’d guess that they were probably thinking a lot about what had happened those last three years with Jesus, and on that Holy Week, the resurrection, the death, and that last meal with His disciples, what He had said and what He had commanded, our text for today. He said many things that last night according to John, they cover from the end of chapter 12 through to His prayer in chapter 17 and arrest in chapter 18. That’s 4 chapters of conversation and teaching in one sitting, I don’t know many people who’ve done that. Through those words Jesus is preparing the disciples for what will follow, His glorification, the fulfilment of God’s great promises, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, and life everlasting. The glory of God in the crucifixion and the glory of Jesus in the resurrection! To God be the glory! And thank God! Jesus gave His entire life for you and me, for the disciples and all people; for our forgiveness and salvation. Better to save you than go on living, that was how Jesus loved you. And since His resurrection and ascension continues to love you, to live for your benefit.

            And so, as He said on that last night, I’ll send a helper the Holy Spirit to be with you. And also He said, I live in you and you in me, together with the Father; the whole trinity in you and you in God. Together. But also, when Judas left to gather the mob, Jesus knew His death was soon and told the disciples what He had told others, where I am going you cannot come, yet. And where was He going? Peter found Him in the temple courts, John at the cross, Nicodemus in the grave site, but no one came with Him into new resurrected life, that death has no power over; at least not yet. He was glorified when He took on all our sin and it’s consequences, forgiving us and cleansing us by His blood; the Father was glorified in the fulfilment of His promises; And the Father glorified the Son, raising Him from the dead to new everlasting life. The disciples didn’t realise what Jesus was saying at the time, that last supper, I’m sure a painfully confusing time, ‘that’s wine Jesus, not blood, you don’t look like a vine.’ Confusing before His resurrection, but after and in light of it, Jesus helped them understand all He had said, that He is God and man, and He can remove all your sin, giving you peace, joy and life everlasting. This is true, but still the disciples after this explanation were told to sit and wait before they could tell anyone. So what were they defined by? Their confusion? Their waiting? Is that what defines Christians? Or as Jesus said, bringing something new, so that they are know by their love for each other. Love that finds it’s origin in Christ Jesus.

            No other order or task could they do at this time, but Jesus’ glorification, His death and resurrection, forgiveness and life giving, meant that the disciples could do the same for each other, as Jesus first loved so that you love. Jesus in His death and resurrection has reconciled you to the one you have betrayed and ignored many times in your life, God Almighty, your creator. How often we forget Him, what He has done for us, giving us life, food, friends, family and all the rest; ignoring that and going our own way, at times not even loving and caring for ourself. This is our sin, our betrayal; but He doesn’t return the favour, He so loved all the world, even those traitorous humans, even you; so loved that He gave His only Son to reconcile us to Himself, to make things good again, to forgive and bring life and peace. And because you and I have that peace with God Almighty, we can have that peace and love for each other. God has forgiven you, He has given His whole life to forgive you; That is love; and He has done the same for every Christian so why would you hold anything against them? This is the one thing that the disciples could do while they waited, all the other commands to go into the world, teach, baptise, spread this wonderful news, they had to wait, but not this one. Love one another as I have loved you so that you love one another. This is what defined the disciples, they were reconciled to God and to each other, they thought of each other as more important than themselves, cared and forgave, in this new life they had in Jesus. And you too have this new life, one of peace, of joy, of love, to God and each other. So live!

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.