‘Word for the weary’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

God’s good Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Washing hands or washing hearts?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The One who speaks Beautiful Life’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Chew on Christ’

John 6:54
Those chewing my flesh and drinking my blood have eternal life, and I will resurrect them on the last day.

            Here we are again, for some of us it’s not new you’ve been on zoom for a year or more now; but still the restrictions on our lives have come back, not just the Divine Service over zoom, but we can’t even visit each other, our friends or family, can’t eat together, hug or shake hands. It’s almost like we live in a world where the only real people are those we live with, everyone else is either a disembodied voice over the phone or a flat copy on the TV. Our lives mainly confined to our homes, thank God for wide open farms when you have them, yet many of us have more time to think, to worry, to get caught up in our own heads. But that is not who we are, that is not who God has called us to be, we are not disembodied spirits trapped in a physical cage, we are the holy people of God, body, soul and spirit, we are of the New Creation.

            Now looking around some might think that Christianity is just about sitting in a chair or couch and listening to someone speak; listening, maybe even singing along to certain songs; That the Faith is just about what happens when we die and that we don’t really care about this world. Now that might have been true if Jesus had just said ‘believe my words, the concepts that I teach.’ But He didn’t. As we slowly make our way through this chapter of John 6, we have heard the miraculous feeding of the more than 5000, that these people listening to their bellies and not Jesus follow after Him to seek more bread for their bellies; then Jesus rebukes their low focus on this earthly world, as if my belly is who I am, is what protects and provides for me. Rather Jesus speaks of a bread from heaven, not like the manna people ate, but something different, something spiritual; this bread you are to believe in and take into your life and receive everlasting life; whatever that might mean.

            By Jesus’ Word He has broken their focus on their bellies, their earthly appetites, and brought them to focus on heavenly things. It’s not too different that what we’ve experienced with these lockdowns. Before we could be distracted by so many things, when we had the time and opportunities we could fill our days with so much stuff. Travel, shopping, sport, visiting, craft, schooling, Bible studies, all sorts of different things; but when the lockdowns came it brought the question, what is really important in this world. What am I doing to myself and others when I do all these things, is it worthwhile or not, God pleasing or not? So, Jesus changed their focus from bellies to heaven with words, COVID changed our focus to question what do we treasure, and what is going on.

            And these are spiritual questions, and our minds might get worried, and perhaps we haven’t been taken up into heaven but I’m coming to you now from the internet’s cloud. All this airy-fairy stuff, but it is important. What do we treasure, and what does it mean to be and live as a Christian today; what does it mean to believe in Jesus, the bread of Heaven. It means to chew on His flesh and drink His blood. Jesus isn’t just a good teacher, to bring some wispy words of wisdom for our earthly life; He didn’t just appear to die, deceiving the authorities then later continuing His work; He is not just some spiritual or heavenly being, Jesus is God in the flesh. He has flesh and blood like us, a belly, a mouth, and He died on that cross. He did not just teach but also healed and comforted, He held children in His arms, and picked others off the ground. And He did not just serve people in ancient Jerusalem, but sent out His Apostles to serve people everywhere, to bring life to the world even today. Jesus is not just some ancient abstract concept, He is real, He is earthy, He is here.

            Jesus has brought us from the depths of our earthly lives, to the spiritual heights of the heavens, then back down into a New Creation, His Incarnation. This is the pattern of our Divine service, away from the world, Confession absolution, to hear God’s Word, the Readings, to receive Christ, Communion and to go out rejoicing under His Blessing. From feeding bellies with barley loaves, to this talk about believing in heavenly bread, now to chewing His flesh and drinking His blood. From feeding our bodily desires, through His Holy Word and teaching, to our Holy Communion with His Body and Blood. This is why I far prefer to lead God’s service in person, face to face; because that is who Jesus is, He is here with us, truly with us, so close that we are members of His Body, He dwells in us and we in Him according to His promises. And because we are united with the Bread of Life we have Life everlasting. All this we believe, yet we are not just spiritual or intellectual beings, our bodies, our flesh is part of who we are, it’s part of who Jesus is. Our Faith is lived out in our actions, our service to other people. If we believe that the most important thing is this earthly life we will be controlled by our earthly desires, if we think the most important is some spiritual existence we will forget God’s good creation, if we think Jesus, God in the flesh, is most important that will transform the way we live here today, just as His Holy and incorruptible Body and Blood transforms us from people trapped in darkness and sin, into free and faithful people of God.

            Now of course, we receive a foretaste of this truth most fully in Holy Communion, receiving the true food and drink, Christ’s Body and Blood, and receiving it’s benefits through faith; where we receive this truth not just in our heads, but on our tongues, with our teeth. Not that we overpower Jesus, breaking Him apart and forcing Him to become part of us, rather it is Jesus overpowering our brokenness and making us right with Him. But truly it is a mystery, a truth we can know but not understand. How is it that bread and wine and God’s Word can be Christ’s Flesh and Blood, bringing us forgiveness and New everlasting life? How is it that the Creator of all lived as a human and died for the life of the world? It’s a mystery, and it’s something good to chew on.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Consuming the cross’.

John 6:51
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

            This day and age, it’s a funny one, a lot of change and a lot of struggle. We listen to the radio, about consumers, about voters, about COVID cases, and among all these crazy things apparently there’s some people who eat bread from the sky. How weird is that? But of course, that’s us, Christians consuming, not shoes or cars, but the bread from heaven. Christ Himself said it. Yet it’s not loaves from the clouds, or flour in a fog; Jesus says that He is the bread from heaven … a little stranger again. And He says that if you eat the bread you have eternal life, and yet also whoever believes in Him has eternal life. What’s going on here? Do we need to eat Jesus? Or just believe His teachings? What does He mean when He tells us to consume this Living Bread that came down from heaven?

            And actually, what do the journalists mean when they call us consumers? Of course, we consume food, we eat bread; but that’s not all they’re talking about. We consume, socks, shoes, cars, crockery, books, TV, games, and for some maybe too much journalism. It’s not that we chew on all these things, though my kids might, it’s that we take them into our lives, incorporate them into how we live, and make them part of ourselves. Think of bread, we take it into ourselves to support our life, to incorporate it into our flesh. In a similar way, when we get invested in reality TV series, or if our life revolves around a football, a phone, even as we are informed and changed by the news we hear; what we consume changes who we are.

            And yet as we eat these things, as we consume, in particularly today partisan news sites, we see these don’t bring contentment, rest and lasting peace, these things do not stop death. And that crowd 2000yrs ago, did filled their bellies, but that was yesterday; and now they wanted what so many want today, what so many think will bring peace, food without work, basically free money. But Jesus doesn’t give that, He knows worldly peace is a lie, and tells the crowd, He tells us, to eat the bread that came down from heaven, to believe in Him who God the Father sent.

            Just three chapters earlier in another conversation, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” And just a sentence before, Jesus proclaimed, “the Son of Man must be lifted up”. The bread of heaven sent down by the Father, then lifted up for the life of the world. And the bread, given for the life of the world, is His flesh. He is speaking of the Crucifixion. Christ died on that cross, so that you might have life and have it to the fullest! He died to save you, your friends, your family, your frustrations, and all people; and not just all people but all the world. In the age to come, we won’t just be floating around on clouds, there will be dirt, hills, a great river, trees, and life everlasting. The New Creation is Paradise.

            And coming down from heaven, Jesus died, buried in the grave, only to rise again and bring all creation with Him into the New Creation of life everlasting. That’s the gospel, you’ve heard it again. Now Jesus says, “it is my Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes, trusts, in Him shall have everlasting life, and I will raise them up on the last Day. … Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Whoever trusts in Jesus, consumes His Words, makes His teaching part and parcel of their lives, will live forever. So when you go out from this house, this time of prayer, seeing the smorgasbord this world puts out for you, a consumer; when you go out, ask yourself this question, what will you consume?

            The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, that you live in the light of the New Creation.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Is your belly rumbling?

John 6:34-35
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life.

            Ah, bread, cake, biscuits! I walk into the supermarket and every time go and look over to the chocolate mud cakes, then think … hmm, no, not cake; now what was I here for?. Food can be an amazing distraction, it can stop a conversation, an empty belly can take you away from your work, and a full and gurgling one can force you to the toilet. It is one of those things we have to live with that commands our attention everyday, like ads on the TV or the internet, but heaps more useful. Our belly distracts us from so many things.

            Our bodily desires distract us from God, the one who provides, giving life. And we see this clearly in John 6. The crowd was fed miraculously by Jesus, then He left because they wanted to make Him king by force. Jesus filled their bellies, and listening to their bellies not Jesus, they wanted to force Him to stay as their ruler to fill their bellies everyday.
But Jesus walked on the water over the sea, and when the crowd realised Jesus had crossed the sea, they jumped into some boats and followed; but not now to make Him king, apparently they’d forgotten about that, rather to ask, ‘when did you get here?’ A strange question all things considered, yet Jesus answers, ‘Amen amen, truly truly, you’re just here to fill your bellies again.’ They didn’t care about His teaching, the signs He performed, they were again distracted from Jesus by their bellies.
Those selfish bellies ask, ‘what must I do to do the works God requires and get bread?’
Jesus replies, ‘God’s work, is to believe, to trust, in me.’
And now do they trust, do they listen to His Word? No. Again, the belly distracts the people from God’s Word, from the Good News. Yes, it is true that humans work to eat, yet here Jesus is revealing that God is the one who saves, who provides for you, who sustains you, who even enables you to trust Him, who gives you faith.
But they reply, ‘Moses gave manna for 40yrs in the desert, what you gonna do?’
Jesus said, ‘Amen amen, truly truly, it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven, bread that comes down and gives life to the world.’

Sounds like good bread, thinks their bellies saying, ‘always give us this bread.’
And how often aren’t we the same? Give me food to fill my belly, wine to forget my sorrows, give me fitness without effort, love without pain, blessings without suffering or death to sin; fulfill all my desires, serve me, and always give me this bread.

But Jesus says to you and me, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever humbly comes to me will never hunger, and whoever trusts my Word and my Work, will never thirst.’

            His Word is true, it stands strong forever; yet you are distracted by so many things in this world. We know food is important, but it is never more important than Jesus, that is why we say grace at meals, why we give thanks; pray morning and night, ask for help, for mercy, for forgiveness. So as you seek Jesus in your life, as you remember the gifts He has give you and share them, and as you are distracted, what might you do?

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

” Eat God’s words “

Ephesians 3:16
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being …

            “He may strengthen you.” We’ve been following the Gospel account of St Mark for a while now, the account of the strong Jesus who defeats demons and casts out sickness, the strong powerful Lion of Judah, the one who sent out the disciples with power over and against demons to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory. But today and for the next few weeks we’re meditating on John chapter 6, the feeding of the 5000 and Christ’s teaching of that crowd. Two things, to eat and to hear, to eat food and to hear the Word of God. Food to strengthen the body and God’s Word to bring strength and life to the soul.

            And today, the fourth Sunday of July; if you didn’t know, because I didn’t; is National Bible Sunday, another opportunity to celebrate the wonderful gift of God in providing and preserving His Word written down for us. Yes, there’s many different versions, different flavours, and I’m sure we all have preferences, yet most all of them have a place. Much like bread.

            And in this wonderful gift of God’s Word, we hear of 5000 men and more women and children, likely over 10000 people eating their fill with more left over. All that from 5 barley loaves, not wheat or rye but barley, and also two small fish. It was a miraculous feast in that field near the sea. However, it was not the first time God provided like this for His people, as we heard from 2 Kings (4:42-44) He had multiplied bread before to give life to His people suffering in a famine. And that was not the first time He strengthened His people with bread, the Passover festival mentioned in today’s Gospel reading, remembers the Exodus from Egypt, when God brought His people through the desert fed with the manna, bread from heaven. The Lord quelled their hunger, providing so they would not starve to death. And for us, we all know that pain of hunger, that desire to fill our bellies, the empty, sinking feeling that drives us … to go to the kitchen and open the fridge to check if you want to cook those sausages or if that raw broccoli look tasty yet. Here in Australia, we are blessed that we do not suffer famine, like so many others; yet still you know that bread, that food, gives you strength and sustains your life.

            And yet you also know that everyone who eats bread, eventually looses their strength and dies. Yes, bread is good, strengthening and sustaining life, Jesus Himself blesses it and shares it out; and yet filling your belly does not defeat death. But here today we receive something that does.

            In these books, thick, skinny, large-print and small; these books hold the very Word of God, the Words that spoke life into creation, that freed God’s people from Egyptian slavery, that fed and sustained the people of old. God’s Word is here with us now, we’ve heard it read from the bible, heard our forgiveness proclaimed, given, again, we have this opportunity to meditate on it, how God’s Word gives everlasting life as bread sustains this body, and we will share in God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in His Holy Communion. Yes, we are called to feed the hungry, but more than that to receive God’s Life-giving Word, to chew on it, meditate on it, incorporate it into our thinking, into our lives, our inner-being, and strengthened by it to bring God’s love and life to those around you. After all, those 5000 men as well as the women and children who ate bread on that field all eventually died; and yet all those who receive God’s Word, consume it, incorporate it, let it become part of themselves, those who eat God’s Word, the tough parts, the bitter, the salty, the sweet, they will live forever in Christ Jesus, the Word of God.

            And so, I pray with Paul for you, that out of Our Heavenly Father’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Holy Spirit opening your ears to hear His Holy Word and guiding you into all truth in your inner being.

            The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word of God. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

Jesus has compassion on the crowd

Mark 6:30-34

Every so often a commercial, with a catchy jingle or slogan comes along that is especially effective in staying in your brain. How many of us immediately think of a particular brand of chocolate bar when we hear the words ‘Have a break’?  In a commercial sense the words are simple and memorable.  It invites us to enjoy a snack or to take a break. Go on, you deserve it!

Today’s Gospel also speaks about a break!  Jesus had sent his twelve disciples out, two by two, to proclaim God’s word, to preach repentance, and heal the sick.  On their return they reported to Jesus all that they had done and taught.  To escape the demands of the crowds pressing on them, Jesus said ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ – you see they all needed a break.  As we read on, the story says that their break with their Lord was short lived. Even their brief boat ride across Lake Galilee was not relaxing as they encountered wave and wind and as they approached the shore on the other side of the lake, tired and hungry from weeks of ministry, they encountered a large crowd coming toward them – like sheep without a shepherd!

How do we cope when tired and worn out, frazzled and fatigued?  There’s no doubt about it, we live in a busy world!  With all the time saving devices we have in our homes and work places, one would think that we would have so much time to do the things we like to do, to spend more time with our families, volunteer more of our time to charity and the church!

Most of our comments about time relate to the speed with which time is passing. We look at our watches and say “goodness, just look at the time” or “my, how time flies”.  We are already in the second half of the year.  Next thing you know we’ll be getting ready for Christmas.  Time is something we wrestle with every day.  Our lives are packed so full that the day is finished before we have accomplished half of what we want to do!  Yet, if there was ever a busy bloke it was Jesus.  There was a constant flow of people wanting to see him, to hear him, to have him heal their sick, and to test out his theology!  For the disciples it wasn’t any different – so Jesus said, ‘let’s have some time out and get some rest.’

We know ‘time out’ is a good strategy in sport (for example, basketball) when the game needs to be slowed down and weary players need a short break.  When advice from the coach is needed to give the team the winning edge!  When a player needs encouragement and support!  When the opponents are getting the upper hand.  A call for time out is what is needed!

Time out is also a wise principle in everyday living.  We need to take time out and slow down from our busy lives.  We need to take time out to listen to advice from our coach – Jesus.  We need to hear our coach’s encouragement, his words of support when our opponents – the devil and the world and our own selfish desires – are getting the upper hand.  We need to take time out to reassess where we are going, what have we done wrong, and how we can do things a different way!  We know all this – but more often we struggle on and we don’t take a break when we should!  In fact, we may even feel guilty when we do stop for a while and have a bit of quiet time.  Jesus didn’t feel guilty about taking time out!  He didn’t make his disciples feel guilty either.  They were human, so was He.

They had a hectic life and there was a sense of urgency to get as much done as possible in the short time Jesus had in the world!  Jesus had no qualms about having a bit of time away from the pressures that had been placed on him by others.

He has a concern also for his disciples after all they had just finished a strenuous mission.  Yes, he says ‘let’s get away for a while’.  All of us have days where we need that kind of invitation!  Just as Jesus needed to get away for a while, so do we.  But what has happened to the time out that God planned for us?   Not only do we fill in every moment of the working week doing our job, but we’re also driving someone here, dropping someone off there, meeting someone else, and we do that on God’s day as well!  God said, as a general principle, one day out of seven is set aside for God.  It’s also a day of rest!

We need to take time out and lay our whole lives at the feet of Jesus, our Lord! You can’t serve God if your body is fatigued, your nerves are frayed, you’re cantankerous and grumpy, and you shout at everyone who disagrees with you! You are just worn out because everything and everyone is getting at you or so you think.  You feel like doing anything but praising God!

Both body and mind need a rest for a while!  Every year, pastors and lay workers (who should know better) have to resign their call or go on stress leave because they’ve neglected their own need for rest. Burnout is real, so take time out to spend it with the God who loves you.  He made you, saved you, brought you into his family through baptism, and gave you saving faith.  He has given you everything and wants you to continue to bring before him your every daily need.

Instead of burnout, we need the spirit of God to burn this truth into our hearts once again.  The most important work we have to do is the work we must do on our knees.  Yes, on our knees, alone with God in prayer, away from the racket of the world and the din of people’s voices!

That’s probably what Jesus had in mind when he said to the disciples, ‘let’s go to a quiet place and get some rest’.  When they arrived at what was to be a quiet place, Jesus looked out and saw a whole flock of shepherdless sheep coming his way and we hear that the good shepherd Jesus had compassion on them – much more than any ordinary shepherd would, for he could not allow those sheep to live lives of unforgiven sin!

For what do sheep do when they have no shepherd?  They wander around looking for fresh water and green pastures and they are vulnerable to attack by predators.  Wandering sheep need the care of a shepherd! And we know Jesus is that shepherd.

When He saw the crowd of people, he began to teach them! Yes, that is how the good shepherd ultimately cares for his sheep, by feeding them his Word! Before he filled their stomachs with a boy’s lunch of two fish and five barley loaves, he took care of more pressing needs.  He sat those 5,000 shepherdless sheep down and taught them many things! Jesus feeds sheep through their ears because it is often their minds and their hearts that are empty.  And when Jesus feeds sheep, he does not provide them just a taste or a mere snack, but He fills them till they’re full of His Grace, His Mercy and His Goodness!

Today, Jesus invites us to a quiet place away from the maddening crowd and all the demands of our lives to be in his presence, to experience the Holy Spirit who comforts us, for healing, for renewal, and to hear His words of love, peace and joy and direction for our lives. Jesus greets us as he did with the large crowds mentioned in the story as lost sheep.  He greets us with compassion, and forgiveness.

Our shepherd is here – in the bread and wine and as we hear in his word that he claims you as his own.  The time for wandering is over! Jesus is here in word and sacrament to lead us through life.  Let this word from God today be a catalyst to get you thinking where life is taking you!

You deserve a break.  Have a chit-chat with your saviour Jesus and be refreshed by one who loves you!

Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 6:14-29 

 

Controversy had never been far away from John the Baptist. From the outset his appearance was striking to say the least: munching on locusts to sustain him for his preaching ministry, dressed in the customary clothing for a prophet—a garment made of camel’s hair with a leather belt. But it was what John proclaimed that was the most confronting: a baptism of repentance. ‘Repentance’ is a hard word for human ears to hear. For many in the world it’s a laughable thought. Even to God’s own people it’s a word that grates in our ears, wounding our pride.

No one likes hearing that word, especially not powerful and influential people, like Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herod was a tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; one of four rulers over the territory of Israel. Herodias was his brother Philip’s wife. And therein is the problem—this relationship violated what God had established for marriage according to Leviticus 20:21. Many would argue that it would be foolishness at best and outrageous at worst to challenge dignitaries on their morality, because there would surely be serious consequences for those who dared to do what John the Baptist did.

 But our text tells us that instead of compromising the truth for the sake of preserving his standing, John faithfully made a stand for God’s word, issuing a call for repentance. He said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Faithfulness to God’s word did come with a terrible cost for John, imprisoned in what many believe to be the fortress-palace of Machaerus in Perea, the military headquarters for the region. But a worse fate awaited. Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. Her opportunity came on Herod’s birthday, when he threw a banquet. The daughter of Herodias came in and danced, and whatever kind of dancing it was, it pleased Herod and his guests so much that he said to her: “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you”, promising: “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” The girl went out to her mother and said to Herodias, “What shall I ask for?” And Herodias answered: “The head of John the Baptist”.

Today’s text immediately follows on from last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus preached in the synagogue and his audience took offense at him. What happens in today’s gospel reading shows us the extreme end of such offense at God’s word—the shocking mistreatment of Christians for the message they bear. Herodias wanted John silenced so badly she decided to have him silenced forever. Where is a loving God in all of this? “This is the gospel of our Lord!” we say. “Thanks be to God!” In fact, But where is the gospel in our Gospel reading today?

Mark tells us today that Jesus’ name had become well known. That was the purpose of John’s own message at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel:

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:2-3)

And so, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins because the reign of God’s Kingdom was now present in Christ, the source of divine grace, forgiveness, blessing and favour. That was Jesus’ own message: “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

In today’s text we hear that there was confusion about the identity of Jesus (just as there is today). In the last chapters of the Old Testament, God had promised he would send his messenger, who would prepare the way for the Lord before he would suddenly come to his Temple. Many believed this would be Elijah, reading literally what Malachi had said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). Mark tells us that many had mistaken Jesus’ identity—some thought Elijah the prophet had returned. Still others thought that Jesus was some other prophet, like the prophets of old. Others thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, who had been raised from the dead, and Herod himself thought this, saying: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

But Jesus is not only a prophet. He not only speaks God’s word, he is God’s Word, the Word made flesh, the One through whom all things had come into existence and who had come to save the world from its sin. That is why John the Baptist had been sent by God—to be the forerunner to Jesus; to prepare the way for him, to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour promised from of old. His message was the same as Jesus’ message, and the people’s offence at John’s message was the same offence at Jesus’ message.

The beheading of John show’s that the treatment John received would be the same treatment Jesus would receive. Given over to be executed at the hands of sinful men, the hands of the sinless one would be nailed to a cross to pay the price to redeem all people, even those who rejected him and those who bear his name and message. John was imprisoned; Jesus was bound and led away and delivered over to Pilate. Herod was greatly distressed at Herodias’ daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, did not want to refuse her. That sounds like Pontius Pilate addressing the crowd which shouted for Jesus to be crucified: “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd…delivered Jesus to be crucified” (14 15-16). John is beheaded; Jesus is crucified. After his execution, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. After Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped Jesus’ body and laid him in a tomb.

This Jesus is the one greater than John who took the sin of the world upon himself to triumph over it, breaking its power and the clutches of Satan and the fangs of death, dismantling their rule through his own victorious reign, suffering human pain and brokenness with us, and doing what John the Baptist could not do, rising again from death to be everywhere present as the Lord of life and salvation. Not a hair on John the Baptist’s head is lost to Jesus who will come again to make all things new.

That is why we say today “This is the gospel of the Lord—thanks be to God!” For this event cannot be understood apart from God’s gracious action to the world through Jesus who died, who was laid in a tomb, and who rose again from the dead to win forgiveness and freedom for all people by overcoming sin, death and the devil―even for those who reject him and his message.

If an immoral and unscrupulous ruler like Herod Antipas can give a girl whatever she asks for—even when that is evil, and promise up to half his kingdom—how much more will Jesus the true King from Heaven give us every good gift from God we ask in his name. For we already have the greatest gift from God, his own dear Son, in whom we were chosen before the foundation of the world to have every spiritual blessing from the heavenly places. The reign of the Kingdom of Heaven has come to us and ruled in our hearts at baptism, giving us new birth by water and the Spirit when we were claimed by Christ to be his forever, to know and love his Father as our own.

He has brought to us forgiveness, freedom and fullness of life, peace and favour from God, access to all his grace, wisdom for our daily path, his ear for our prayers and his own intercessions to his Father for us, his ever-present help, his provision of all the daily bread we need each day, his comfort for the hurts others inflict on us, his angels to watch guard over us as he keeps us safe in his care, and his relief for the burdens we carry as he leads us here to rest by the quiet waters and rich green pastures of his word.

Thanks be to God that the Father has given us his Son, and through his Son, his Spirit so that we know Jesus not as Elijah, or John the Baptist, but that we know him as the Saviour of the world, and our Saviour. We have been chosen in Christ, redeemed by Christ, claimed by Christ, blessed by Christ, to be served by Christ, and together with Christ, his Father and Holy Spirit also.

Despite the raging powers of human evil and the kingdom of darkness, nothing will ever be able to take that away from us, so that just as even a single hair on the head of John the Baptist is not lost to God, neither will any of ours be, until the day we see God in glory. This is everything that Jesus means and gives to us when he welcomes us to the table greater than Herod’s; he welcomes us to his heavenly banquet table and says: Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.