“Free for what?”

Galatians 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

            For freedom Christ has set us free! I graduated from school 12 years ago. The next day I rode past a school bus near my school; “Ha! I never have to do that again,” I thought, “I’m free!” Young and free, the whole world before this teenager; work or study, adventure, love, fear and danger; this young adult: free. But free for what? Last week we heard that God’s Law was our guardian, like a harsh schoolmaster; yet now that Christ has come you are free! Free from school, free to go out and live, free to make your own choices. But what choices will you make? Will you respect your old schooling, or make a new way? What now will you do?

Today there is so much freedom across the western world. You are free to study, free to work, free to own land, free to marry whoever, free to divorce, free to do so much that our ancestors even 200years ago were not free to do. So much freedom, so much choice that people are creating their own answers as to what they are free to do. But we don’t always make good choices, if you are free to travel the world, free to live as a different gender, free to work or to just brood in a basement; if you are free yet don’t stand firm in what is good, true and beautiful then you submit yourself again to slavery, burdens and suffering. We hear this in the news all the time, the pain amongst broken families, the troubles of substance addictions, riots and shootings; those people who, not standing firm, are influenced, pushed this way and that, by so many things, dreams, movements, politics, ideals, idols. So many, being free, submit themselves to these false and deadly gods.

Is this the freedom we are called to in Christ? No! Of course not! For you were called to freedom and life, not the burdens of sin and death; so do not use your freedom as an opportunity for these things, rather serve one another through love. (Galatians 5:13). The devil is defeated, yes, but that does not mean that the demons are not now at work. We are tempted by the ads we see and hear, by your body’s selfish desires, even by stray thoughts in our heads; by our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. These are what our guardian, our school master, taught and protected against. God’s Law prepares us for life with Christ. Now that we live free of our guardian; will we respect it and the Holy Spirit who gave it? Or do you freely submit yourself to sin? To porn, impurity, sensuality, sorcery, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these? These things trap you, enslave you, and kill you. Perhaps your body desires them, yet these acts, doing or causing these things and fulfilling those desires does not bring peace only pain. These evil works destroy the gifts God has lavished on you, doing them kills faith and drives away the Holy Spirit, this is why Paul can write that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. God does not save you so that you can kill yourself again. Christ does not give you life so that you can throw it away. The Holy Spirit does not give such great gifts, even faith, even Himself, so that you can despise Him and throw Him out. You are not free to sin.

You are free to live the life of Christ. You here today, forgiven and made new in Jesus, are free to go out and live a life free from submission to sin, death and the devil. To live in accord with the Holy Spirit and with the Law He gave. For all who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. This is why you broken people come together to be reformed by God’s Word, to be conformed to Christ. So, you are now free to respect all of God’s Word, the most troubling or obscure text of scripture and chiefly the Gospel of Christ; and free to respect all of God’s Works, His allowance of all your pain and suffering and chiefly the Cross of Christ. For it is in His Gospel and His Cross that you find the answer to your sin. It is God’s Word and Work that heal you. Jesus has defeated your sin and death, and the demonic powers at the Cross; this Gospel is given for you clearly and assuredly in Baptism, in the Absolution, His words returning you to the grace of your Baptism, and in Holy Communion. In Baptism your sinful self is drowned, slain again by Christ’s Word in the Absolution; and in Holy Communion, you share in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the defeat of sin, the devil and death. The Holy Spirit either comes into you, or if we have not chased Him out, sustains the life of Christ in you. This is the wonder of God’s Word and Work for you here today; He promises you He has dealt with your sin, He has given you life stronger than death, He has cut you free from any demonic influence. Today you are free; For this freedom Christ has set you free!

So now we live by the Spirit! He produces in us who trust Him love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. There is no law, no crushing burden, that comes with the peace of God, joy does not hurt. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. If Christ has set you free from sin and worry, live as the righteous and faithful people He has freed you to be.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

“Genesis or Jesus, who do you trust?”

Galatians 3:24
So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.

            My son is two years old, and he has a guardian. He goes to childcare once a week, and there he is protected and guided by the workers. He’ll go on to school and for 13 odd years he’ll be taught and protected by many teachers and staff. Then he’ll go out into the world, either work or study, but he won’t have a guardian. When my son becomes an adult he will no longer have a guardian because, if the guardians have done their work well, he won’t need one.

            Now God’s people had in the beginning proven that they needed guidance and a guard. And so God provided clothing; He kept them away from the precious yet dangerous trees; He destroyed the evil corruption by the cleansing waters of the flood. It’s not unlike a parent clothing their child, keeping the glassware locked away, and washing off filth. And then God made a covenant, began anew a relationship, with Noah; then with Abraham; then with all the people of Israel through Moses. Now every relationship begins with some ground rules; for instance, when you meet someone new you might give them a handshake, but you don’t slap them across the face; so God lays down the ground rules for His relationship with His people. These ground rules, or family rules, are what we mean when we say, ‘the law of God’; these ground rules the first five books of the Bible, also called the Law, were the guardian for God’s ancient people.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These writings are how God formed His ancient people. These are the stories that the Israelites told to their kids, it was Israelite and Midianite rather than cowboys and Indians; kids grew up wanting to be like Abraham not Superman; and they sang the wheels on the chariot (fall off in the mud) when they went on their school trips. As we read the history of God’s people, truly we see how immature they were. How little respect they had for their relationship with God Almighty; and how like a child they needed a guardian, a guide. Thank God, He did give them these books, and the Prophets to speak to them and a book of songs to sing. But did they listen to their guardian? No, like so many children they didn’t listen to their guardians, to the guidance given. They did not trust their teacher, and they went their own way; rejecting the guardian’s protection God’s people ran into danger.

And how often you do the same, failing to be faithful to God’s family rules? This is not the fault of the guardian, it was not the fault of God’s Holy Law that Israel adulterously worshipped idols, it is not the fault of good teachers that a child shoplifts. These ground rules set by God, this way of living in God’s family, is not bad or wrong; but when you break it, the Law punishes you severely. The Law says every sinful descendant of Cain was killed by the flood. The Law says the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire, them and their land. The Law says when some priests and Levites worshipped incorrectly, they were consumed by fire and the earth. Like a harsh schoolteacher the Law of God brought the fear of death as it taught God’s people what sin and wickedness is. The Law of God is Holy and Good, against it’s harsh light your sin stinks as the thickest, darkest stain of dung.

“So the Law was our guardian until Christ came.” The Law of God protected, prepared and taught God’s people, like a boarding house can do until the children mature, until the time is right. “Until Christ came that we may be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” So what is the difference between the guardian and Christ? The Law of God shines a light on your failure and sin, when you hear its condemnation, you should shudder; yet the Law cannot fix you, it cannot live your life for you. God’s Law, His family rules, cannot make you part of the family; what makes you part of the family is either begetting/birth or adoption. It is not God’s Law that justifies you, it is Christ. When you are convicted of your sin, of your failure; do not rely on Genesis, trust in Jesus. Genesis, like a good school teacher, does teach you how to live with God, yet it can’t take away your sin, it can’t make right your relationship with God. This is why we don’t have a lecture hall for a church building, yet why the sermon still has a place. After all, this is a house of prayer, not a hall for study. This is a gathering together with Christ.

As we gather here, Christ comes and renews the promises at your baptism; when you were adopted into God’s family, when this relationship was certified and publicly made known. You, in Christ, are forgiven! He speaks to us in the readings and we speak with Him in song; having a chat before the meal. We together consider all the family, and what this family is all about; as we pray the prayer of the Church. Then we get ready to have a meal, communion with the family.

But the Law does not come to the table, the school teacher is not part of the family. We can respect the school teacher, but they are not your father, and they are not a son. This is why Paul can write: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You are publicly part of this family by God’s work in Baptism, not by your obedience to the Law. You are not baptised into Genesis; you are baptised into Jesus. You derive your identity not from Adam or Eve, but from the Only Begotten Son of God. You do not rely on your school teacher to make you live with Jesus, because you are already living in Him. As Jesus says, wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am with them, I in them and they in me; This is the effect of His Ascension, this is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost and beyond. God’s people were being taught and prepared up to the time of Christ, now mature we are called to live and work with Jesus by the strength the Holy Spirit provides. To care for those in your family with Christ’s humility, to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, to be open about the wonders Christ has done in your life, to daily join Christ and all God’s family in prayer. Yes, respect God’s Law as good and right and true, yet trust in Jesus and live the life He has given you.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

“The Gardener King and you”

Revelation 1:5-6
From Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen!

            In our garden we have a few garden beds, made of metal, of plastic, of pallets. One of them has a gap in it’s side, so when we water the water flows straight out and takes some dirt with it. It’s a broken bed, yet a gardener can fix it and keep the treasured plants it holds. A good gardener tends to all things in His garden; every part, He takes care of all these things He has authority over. He loves his walled garden, his paradise. He lives for it, his little kingdom of life, of plants, bugs, birds, and all sorts of things. Like a little Christ, he cares for that part of Creation he has been given.

And Jesus is our gardener; Christ is King! Lord over all! Just as we have heard on this last Sunday at the end of this strange Church Year, there is a revelation as we remember the end of this world, and Paradise, that walled garden, that awaits. As The Holy Spirit foretold through Daniel, the Son of Man has ascended with clouds to the Ancient of Days and has been given authority over all things (7:13-14). He Himself tells us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel account, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (28:18-20). And just as we prayerfully proclaim in the doxology after the Lord’s Prayer, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are Yours; now and forever.” (Daniel 7:14). Jesus Christ is today; caring for His garden, Lord of heaven and earth; the faithful witness who has taught us this truth; the firstborn of the dead who brings us this victory; and the Ruler even now over all the kings of the earth. Jesus reigns! He who is beginning and end; who is, who was, and who is to come; the Lord God Almighty!

            And He has shown His love and care to all humans, even all of Creation, in giving up His life for those who hated Him; remember His words from the cross, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). And He has been revealed to you. You know Jesus Christ is God and man, though perhaps we don’t truly understand this wonderful truth. You know He has defeated sin, death and the devil; though we still struggle against their final desperations. You know God Almighty reigns today, though perhaps we wish He did things differently. You know He loves you, has freed you from a life of sin by His blood, and has made us to be a Holy Nation, and a Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). To reign with Him where He has placed you (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6).

            To serve and care amongst your family, your friends, this parish, this town. To receive His treasures, Love, Joy and Peace, and to let Him grow and spread these gifts through you. To pray with Jesus as He prays for His Church, for the world and for all those in need. To speak as one speaking the very words of God, to serve as one serving in God’s strength (1 Peter 4:11). To let Him influence not just you and your life, yet also the part of His Creation that’s around you. For by God’s Promise you are a little Christ, a little gardener, as the Baptismal candle receives its flame from the Christ candle, you receive your Life, your Way from Christ’s Everlasting Way of Life (John 8:12; Matthew 5:14).

You have been called to reign with Jesus, to participate in His Everlasting Kingdom; to bring paradise into this world; to fight the Good Fight against, sin, death and the devil where He has placed you. To live for those around you, not yourself. To love even your enemies, not reject them. To serve Righteousness, not pride or greed or laziness or weeds. How is your corner of the garden growing? … Is there some things that need fixing, some places you need help? Thank God for our King! For Jesus Christ loves you, the Holy Spirit serves you, Our Heavenly Father provides strength, that we all might love, serve and provide for those He gives us. Our King has dealt with your sin, your failure, He gives you new life, even today He renews you that you need not fear, and has defeated your enemies. Freed from your sin by His blood, you are now members of His Kingdom, saved priests to serve in His garden bringing life to the world around you. You are forgiven, now rely on God Almigthy in this New Life. Speak to your King, ask Him for help, for mercy, thank Him for the Words and gifts He gives you, pray for those around you; and work with God Almighty as He serves His garden, bringing His victory and everlasting life to His Creation, through you.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Dodgy chairs & Jesus Christ

Mark 13:2
‘Do you see these great buildings? Replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’

            I wonder, have you ever had an experience of resting or sitting or leaning on something that looks good and sturdy, a chair, a fence, a rock; but then when you put your weight on it, it shifts. I’ve seen people sit on a plastic chair and it shatter beneath them. Or lean against a fence post only to have it fall. Or to rest on a rock while hiking then the rock wobble or even roll down the hillside. Sometimes it’s a scary lesson, and yet unfortunately it’s one we learn time and again, to be careful what you rely on.

            But then, look at what wonderful things we have in this world! The cars that fly over roads across the country. Those great ships that cart our food and clothes, and all the things we need for our lifestyles across the deep, wide oceans. The monument of Parliament house and the intricate bureaucracy that supports it. Even our democratic society, and of course the wonders and horrors of the internet. What massive works, what magnificent constructions! Surely these will last, surely we can rely on these! Yet can we always rely on them? Or are they sometimes like a deceptive stone? What do you rely on?

            The Jew’s, of course, relied on the temple. This temple of God, renovated by King Herod the Great around the time of Christ’s birth, it had been reconstructed by the Jews returning from Exile 500yrs prior, the first temple built by King Solomon by the wish of his father David, replacing the tabernacle God had commanded be constructed at Mount Sinai to be His footstool. And yet it was just a shadow of the Heavenly Tabernacle, the Temple of living stones, Moses had seen (Hebrews 8:5). This Temple was the centre of Jewish life, it was the place to encounter God Almighty; it was the place that all faithful Jews sought to gather around three times a year at the great feasts God had instituted. A majestic testament to God’s beauty, His strength, and His reliability, His lasting presence with His people. But Jesus replies, ‘do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down.’ And this happened in 70AD. The centre of Ancient Jewish life was destroyed. Their world fell apart.

            Has this ever happened for you? Has your world fallen apart? Those things you relied on for safety, for strength, broken and thrown down. Revealed to be temporary and transient helps, like an old chair that shatters underneath you. The rhythms of your life shattered, perhaps by cute yet crying children, by sickness or financial loss, by a global pandemic or by civil war. In despair, wonder and confusion, what can you rely on, what will always be there, through thick and thin, sickness and health, for richer for poorer; what is the everlasting support? It is God, and His work through the Church, the bride of Christ. It is our Heavenly Father who created you; Jesus Christ who defeats death for you; the Holy Spirit who guides you with the Scriptures in His Church. Yes, Bibles may be burned, cathedrals and prayer tents alike destroyed, even pastors and priests defeated and converted by demonic lies; and yet still as nation rise against nation, as the earthquakes, famine, disease, these are the beginning of birth pains, just the beginning of the end.

            This is the consistent and reliable witness of Scripture, the Holy Spirit bringing these words to us from 4000, 3000, 2000yrs ago; and these everlasting words still true today. Christ’s Church has preserved and passed down these everlasting words for 2000yrs. This is not new, war famine and disease are as old as Cain and Abel; just as you in many ways have suffered many things since your birth. And yet the reality of sin, death and the devil, is not the only truth the Church has passed down. In Christ there is something that is ever new, always refreshing, a living way opened for us through the curtain of His flesh, the temple of His body. The everlasting High Priest, always reliable and true, never deceptive or failing like that old chair or the majestic things humans construct; Our Everlasting Priest Jesus takes away our guilt and washes away our sin (Hebrews 10:22). He grants us an everlasting hope, that in the end all God’s people, those written in His book, will be delivered, healed and free from sin death and the devil (Daniel 12:1). That even now, He makes known to you the path of life, a new way, the way of Jesus (Psalm 16:11).  So, rely on Him. Walk His way. Listen to His Word. Pray and serve together as Christ’s Church, for this world is falling away, yet Jesus is everlasting. Rely on Him in all things.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Anything more than a “blip” along the way?

The Text: Mark 10:46-52

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Glorious Servant”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Tense times’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

In all this, Job did not sin

The Text: Job 2:10

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job has two responses to all this bad news. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we love God in spite of what life brings? 

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

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

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

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

‘To pray or condemn?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the final revelation. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.