Archive for the ‘After Pentecost’ Category

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Hebrews 12:1 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

            Such a great cloud of witnesses, this is the family of God, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, throughout time and space; we sometimes speak of the saints in warfare and the saints at rest, those here and those who have gone before. Together we are one in Jesus through faith. Though sometimes we don’t feel it. We certainly don’t see this huge crowd here today. We see the Australian government, not God’s; we ring up our own families, not our brother King David; and often we can even forget that yes we do have brothers and sisters even in the Pope’s Church. In this day and age, you might feel cut off from the saints suffering overseas, thinking ‘they’re not my people’ or even those here today, separated by history, ideals or politics; some Christians even think that it’s just them and Jesus, and aren’t concerned about other Christians. Sometimes we just feel alone and abandoned in our faith, that it’s just us against the world, or that we have to face our sin alone, that no one else will help; ultimately that government, family, church and everything else is dying, and we can not endure.

            But that’s not what God tells us here. Even if you feel like you’re all alone, like it’s just you against evil, even loosing hope whether you can hold on in the end; that’s not the truth. Rather you, all of us, are surrounded by those who have gone before, struggled against the evil in the world and the sin in their own lives, and have been brought to rest by God Himself. It’s like those kids across the road cheering for their school mates to keep going. I got a story like that. When I used to row we had training on those rowing machines and if you’ve never been on one, it’s hard full body work. There were only two machines so you had to wait your turn, but when you got on it was 20minute intense interval training always finishing with a final push and you’d sometimes fall off at the end with jelly-legs. You’d be pushing yourself trying to keep up with what the coach set for you, but it was hard work and you’d start to slack off, but your rowing mates would always be there yelling, ‘come on, long and strong, keep it up, keep it up, come on just 1 more minute hard, you can do it, keep it up, finish strong!’ didn’t make it any easier but it helped get you through. These people knew what you were going through, knew how hard it was, they had struggled with it as well, often through on harder settings than me, and they had done it. Now after finishing they didn’t just abandon me, but they came to encourage me. And today Our Lord is reminding you that you are not alone, we can imagine grandstands full of Christians yelling their silent encouragements to you. Others have gone this way before, and the race can be finished, there is an end in sight, so endure and don’t loose hope!

            And look to the end, Jesus the founder and finisher of our faith, don’t be distracted. You might instead focus on the tasks for today, the laundry, dishes, meals, and forget about Jesus, about His promises. You might instead hear again the news, drug addiction, murder, suicide, civil war, and forget that Jesus is powerful to save, that is why He came. You might instead look at your mistakes, failures, how you could’ve or should’ve done something, and forget that Christ has forgiven you and that The Holy Spirit is still working now and into the future. In this life we are distracted and loose sight of Christ, like Peter walking on the water we begin to sink; but just like Peter, look to Jesus who is pulling you through the distraction and suffering of this life to be perfected with Him in the end. And yes, you are not perfect, neither am I, there is something better to come in Jesus, to be free from your own sin and from the sin of others, for us all to be made new together with Christ; having His desires His peace, joy, love and life! That is the goal at the end of our race, together with all the saints who have gone before, Moses, Elijah, Paul, your faithful ancestors, those suffering around the world now and all those who will come after. Together, not in dribs and drabs, Noah’s still waiting, but God knows the best is that we finish together, made perfect by Jesus altogether at the end.

            Remember how He has sustained His people throughout time, the Roman persecutions, the Muslim conquests, rejection of the humanity of Indian Christians and Chinese persecution for shy of 2000yrs, theological struggles and abuse in the Reformation, persecution and corruption under communism and Hitler, and still murders across the globe today. Here we just have a soft rejection where you might be mocked, but as the passage today continues, “Consider Jesus who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (12:3-4). So remember all your brothers and sisters who struggle against sin, be encouraged that you can keep the faith by the Holy Spirit’s power, focus on Jesus who has saved you, forgiven you, is always here for you and will complete you in peace, joy and love; and endure, with all saints, to the end.

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

Joseph Graham.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

FAITH-WHAT IS FAITH? Hebrews 11:8-9.

Faith is a key word in the Bible- a key principle. But what is faith? Faith is a Collingwood supporter who believes that Collingwood will win another Grand Final in their lifetime. School boy definition: Faith is believing something you know isn’t true”. Rather a cynical definition-his father must have been a politician. Faith has two aspects: 1. Believing something to be true. Eg the sun is 93 million miles from the earth.+The earth travels 584 million miles a year in its orbit of the sun. + Jesus was born in Bethlehem-lives in Israel-died on a cross-rose again was the Son of God. Faith means accepting  these statements as true.                                  
2. TRUST:a deeper meaning-“ taking God at his Word”. Trusting in the promises  of God.   Biblical definition: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see´ . Hebrews 11:1. Note the strong words- “ sure” certain“. This is very different from the school boys definition. It is not a vague  hope like saying “I hope it rains”. It is not a pious wish.  So faith doesn’t just say that Jesus died on a cross-but that he died for ME. Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. It is a Whose-Who of people who have demonstrated faith- trust in God. It mentions people like Abel-Enoch Noah-Moses-Gideon-Samuel-David etc. Today I want to focus on Abraham. He is seen as the great example of faith. Today we will learn what faith is from the example of Abraham. The key word here is obviously OBEY. By Faith Abraham  obeyed. He went in obedience to God’s call-not because he had itchy feet- desire to travel- a political refugee- npr was he running away from home. He went simply because God called him. God called so Abraham obeyed. It was as simple as that. Put yourself in Abraham’s position. You live in the city of Haran-comfortable-civilized life- active and involved in the communityfamily nearby-aged 75-happy to spend the rest of your life there in familiar surroundings-you have no desire to move. It’s the last thing on your mind. It would be a big enough shock to be told to leave everything familiar with. That would be a big enough shock. But to be told to leave all that and go to an unknown country-a place you have never hear of-a place you didn’t know existed. That was a real test of faith. He didn’t even know where he was supposed to be going. Yet he went. He obeyed God. And he obeyed because he had faith/trust in God. Even though he had no idea where he was to go. He knew Who was going with him. He didn’t know the way. But he knew the guide. That was all that mattered. SO what do we learn from this. We learn that faith/Obedience go hand in hand. We learn that a true faith is an obedient faith. As the Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight”. After all if you had sight, you wouldn’t need faith. And what God required of Abraham, he also requires of us-an obedient faith.  Dietrich Bonhoffer a Lutheran pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis in 1944 studied the relationship between faith/obedience in his book on Discipleship; He saw that the two were intricately connected. Two statements-2 side of the coin “ONLY THOSE WHO BELEIVE CAN OBEY” and “ONLY THOSE WHO OBEY CAN BELEIVE”.  Faith gives the motivation-power to enab tle a person to obey, eg Peter walking on the water. His trust in Jesus enabled him to step out in faith. Only when you step out in obedience will you discover that God keeps his promises.

2.ENDURANCE—PATIENCE      Abraham set out for the promisedland.It was a long-slow-tedious journey. Even when he arrived his faith was tested further

  He was not able to take possession of the land God had promised him. He had travelled so far- he had left behind the comfort-security-convenience of his former home. Yet when he arrived at his destination he can’t take possession of the land because other people were already living there. He had to life the life of a Nomad. Puttingup and pulling down his tents. Then moving on again. He was not able to settle down-establish a permanent home. He was a wanderer-nomad in the land God had promised him. He did not even own a square metre of land. In fact the first piece of land he bought was a burial plot on which to bury his wife Sarah when she died. Yet despite the fact that God’s promise had not been fulfilled, Abraham did not give up his faith. He still trusted the Word/promise of God. God had spoken-He had made a promise and that was good enough for Abraham. He had a patient-enduring faith.    

A faith that is the kind that we all need-an enduring patient faith.  Even if our prayers are not immediately answered. A faith that continues to trust despite what may happen. Eg Job.    After all it is fairly easy to believe when your prayers are being answered in the way you want them to be. When everything is going well for you. It doesn’t take much faith to believe in those circumstances.                                                                                                 What kind of faith do you have? Is it a living-genuine faith? A faith that is strong enough to trust-obey even when you are not sure what is going to happen. Even if things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Even though others may make fun of your faith-ridicule you

“Faith is believing what God says simply because it is God who says it”.  So the real test of your faith is whether or not you are prepared to trust and obey. “Obedience is the outward sign of an inner faith”.  “Faith doesn’t make things easier but it enables you  

To cope.   If your face is wrinkled with cares and worries, try a faith lift.” LH 321. “Faith is a living power from heaven; that grasps the promise God has given. A trust that cannot be o’thrown, fixed heartily on Christ alone.”

Pastor Hayden Blaess

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God we are together this morning to worship You.  To give thanks to you for all that you are to us.  To praise You for salvation and life everlasting that you promise to us.  And to celebrate the gift of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ, who captivates our attention and imagination.   By your Holy Spirit, may we receive Your message with confidence to strengthen and uphold us.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, our risen Lord, Amen.

 “Woe is me, gee ain’t it awful!”  These days, in the news, on television, and over the internet, I sense this mournful cry more than most other attitudes.  Not just in Australia, but in the world.  Violence, hatred, distrust, blind ambition, striving after the illusion of pleasure.  It’s almost as though the reading from King David’s son, Solomon, is being used as a script for the background of life today.  “Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

Solomon got to the point of his rule that he saw all his effort, all his wisdom, all his knowledge as dust blown in the wind. 
Toward the end of his life, Solomon realised that all he had done was for his own benefit and amusement.  And that it would have been a more fulfilling life to have lived simply: eating, drinking, and finding enjoyment in his toil.  If that was the extent of life, I can understand how Solomon would have come to that conclusion. 

But in his introspection, Solomon missed some of his important contributions to the life of Israel.  As King, keeping his heart and mind on things of God, he further consolidated the kingdom, and strengthened it against the surrounding enemies.  He built the Lord’s Temple that his father desperately wanted to leave as a legacy.   

But after losing his focus on things of God, and his self-control, Solomon also welcomed many pagan wives into his family, and through these alliances many false gods into the culture of Israel.  I suspect that this was much to the disappointment of God our Father: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The first love of Solomon’s father, David.

We can find this sad pattern of losing focus on things of God in every culture, every dynasty, every age. 

In the United States, a life-long study was embarked in the 1930’s that followed more than 280 individuals over 72 years of their life.  The study examined and documented significant factors of human well-being in the lives of those being studied.  From health, physical condition, marital status, life-style decisions, psychological factors, and personal satisfaction.  At the conclusion of this study, in 2008, Dr George Vaillant was asked about the results of the study.  His reply was simple, but startling, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people.” …  I would add an important other thing that really matters in life.  Our relationship with God our Father, with Jesus Christ our Lord, and with the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus Christ set the proper priority, that Solomon lost sight of, and most people in society today are blinded to.  “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Paul paraphrased this better than I ever could, in his letter to the Christians in Colossae.  ‘Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your  minds on things above, not on earthy things.’ 

At the conclusion of our time in this broken world, whatever we accomplish or fail to accomplish, will be ‘vanity of vanities’ for those things we do, think or say, where Christ Jesus is not at the centre.

Whatever in our life is not hidden with Christ in God, will eventually stand out like a flashing red and blue light in our rear view mirror.  Paul tells us to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature.  Now, I must confess that I have not yet found the magic formula that can totally severe me from my earthly nature.  But what I have learned to do, is follow the intuition of the Holy Spirit.  To stop, look and listen. 

>To pause, when my body tells my soul that my human nature is sticking out again; with that edgy feeling that something isn’t right. 

>To look at my attitudes and be alert to the harsh words I say to those whom I love, and to the silence I use to hurt others. 

>To listen for the still small voice of conscience that can guide me back to love stream of my Saviour. 

As Paul writes, to persistently ‘put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its creator’.          

Vice Admiral, Sir Frances Drake, was quoted: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, as our dreams come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

When any of us lose focus on Jesus Christ, and his provision for lives of meaning and purpose, truly everything is vanity.  And everything becomes pretty scary – filled with uncertainty, and a source of constant worry. 

So, Christ Jesus poses the question, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”  It is God our Father who adds the hours to our days, and the days to our lives.  Who gives us the key to his kingdom in the faith we have in his son our Lord Jesus Christ.  Who gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us to the best decisions to fill our hours and days with love for one another.  Who gives us the courage to confront our daunting earthly nature, and the freedom to allow our spiritual nature to prevail in our broken world.  

As the Psalmist writes, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD  all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.’ (Psalm 27:4 NIV)

Even in these days, together as a worshipping community, we can give the Holy Spirit permission to work among us and in us to make a difference. To set our hearts and lives on fire for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.  So that, after all is said and done, we can raise our faces to Christ Jesus and declare that all is not vanity, but Christ is all in all. 

We can trust that our Lord Jesus will strengthen our faith in every time of uncertainty, as we gather around the Word and the Sacraments.   That He will make his presence felt in our hearts and spirits as we remain united to him and seek his will in our lives.  That He will give us the courage to be good stewards of the precious Gospel message we express in our caring, sharing, loving, and helping.

The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Children’s Talk

God cares about what you think! Did you know that? God cares about the things that interest you. He knows it’s very easy to think all day about what you’re gonna eat, what you’re gonna wear, what games you’re gonna play, what TV you’re gonna watch. He knows it’s easy to think about the new toy you want or the next holiday you’re gonna have.

The Bible says God wants you to be happy, and to care about other things too. To think about some of the things that are important to God.  Like your mom and dad, your sister and brother, your nana and poppy.  God wants you to think about Him once in a while too. 

So, the next time when you’re thinking about things, find some time for Jesus too.  And talk to him in prayer.

Let’s pray:   Dear Jesus, my friend and my God:  remind us all to think about you once in a while and to find time to think about the good things you bring into our life.  We pray in your name.  Amen.

David Thompson

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

Luke 11:1-2

One of His disciples said to Him, Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples. And He said to them, When you pray say, …

            Prayer, talking with God, praising, asking, confessing and thanking; it’s part and parcel of the Christian life. Right now my wife and unborn child are in Sydney in danger of infection and I am here, would you think it strange if I told you that I had not spoken, even texted her for 4 days? Does it hurt when you realise you haven’t spoken to your child for half a year, or to your father in ten years? When you love someone, you talk to them; communication is the basis for all relationships. And yes I have spoken to my wife and am ready to leave if baby comes. I’ve also spoken today a few times to our heavenly Father, asking for help, guidance and that you may hear Him; and He hears me.

            It’s been said that other church traditions pray better than us, are more comfortable in praying aloud with another or in a group, where we might just recite a good memorised prayer. We’ve heard others pray and think, ‘Oo they’re good, eloquent and passionate, I couldn’t do that.’ Or perhaps, ‘why do they have to say God, Father and Jesus in every single sentence, I’m not even sure they’re saying anything.’ We might feel like we’re not good enough to pray, or that the only appropriate time to pray is when we’re hidden in a box by ourselves, as Jesus says (Matthew 6:6). But Jesus also says that if two or three ask for something in His name it will be done by our heavenly Father (Matthew 18:19). So then, how do you pray? How often? What about? What for?

This is what Jesus’ disciple wants when he tells Him, teach us to pray. So Jesus gives this prayer, His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come; give us our bread of necessity for the day, and forgive us our sins and we forgive those indebted to us; and don’t lead us into temptation. (Luke 11:2-4). A shorter version of what we are used to for we translate from the Matthean one, with will and trespasses and salvation from evil, but still God’s words, His direction for prayer. After telling us what to say He then goes on that our heavenly Father will answer your prayers even if you think it’s inconvenient, ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find (11:9-10). There is much in this text, even an affirmation of our sin from conception, ‘you who begin in evil’ in the NIV you who are evil, but prayer itself is so important we cannot over look it, just as I can’t overlook a call from my wife. So how does this teach us? From His words how do we pray?

John writes in His first letter to ask according to God’s will and He will give it (5:14). So use His words, not as dead recitation but truly pray to your Heavenly Father. Luther in his catechisms wrote for you and me an explanation of how we can use God’s word to pray according to His will. The seven petitions that can encompass so much. First, ‘hallowed be your name’, thanks and praise that His name is already holy, set apart, and ask for help to keep His name and reputation holy in our lives, in the church and in the world. Second and third for this Lukan passage, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’, Thank and praise that He is king, He rules and does His will, and ask that He rules over us by His Holy Spirit, that the Spirit comes to others too, that our desires might be changed to be holy and good according to His will, that the devil doesn’t have His way in us or others and that we abandon our small attempts at control and our corrupt will. Fourth, ‘give us today our daily bread’, thanks and praise for all that He has provided, and asking that He continues to give just what we need, not more or less, also what others need and that we don’t take these gifts of God for granted. Fifth, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who are indebted to us’, thanks and praise for taking away our sins, giving us peace and joy in this life, freedom from the power of sin, death and the devil, also asking for help to forgive others and ourselves for the wrongs done. Sixth and seventh, again in the Lukan account, ‘don’t lead us into temptation and save us from evil’, summing up the whole prayer that our Heavenly Father might save us from our sins, our destructive desires, from the devil and all evils in this world. Jesus says ask these things, you will receive, seek these things, you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. So we say Amen, this is true, it will be done, I utterly believe this.

Each of these petitions can be expanded, Jesus does this the night He is betrayed (John 17) and all our prayers can been seen in this one gift that Jesus gave us. When you pray for your family to grow in the faith or come to faith, your are asking your Father that His kingdom, His rule, would come into their lives. When you thank God for a meal, before and after, when you pray for rain, you’re asking for daily needs, daily bread. When you ask for comfort to those suffering this drought, for those who are sick, for those who grieve, you are asking for deliverance from evil. These are the words of God, these are prayers according to His will and He answers these, often even when we fail to ask. But asking that you win the lottery, that others die for what they did to you, or for a Mercedes; these things are building your own kingdom, not God’s; He might teach you through this but those prayers are against Jesus’ teaching on prayer, opposed to the Lord’s Prayer.

This prayer is a gift to Christians, us who trust Him, are His children through baptism into His Son, servants in God’s kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t condemn yourself when you forget to pray, Jesus is still praying for you (Hebrews 7:25). But why would we not talk to our Father? Also don’t worry about the words. When a kid talks to their dad, the dad doesn’t care about the particular words, how good his kid sounds, no he cares about what the kid is saying; and how much more our Heavenly Father. And if you don’t know how to put the words together, He gave you a simple prayer to pray that covers everything; not meaningless words just to say aloud, but words of God full and overflowing with meaning, that He promises to listen to. He loves you, He wants to hear from you, to help you, guide and protect you from your sin and the world’s evil; He has forgiven you, as we pray, you forgave our sins; He sent His Son and Spirit to reconcile you to Him that you might have a strong relationship with your Creator who loves you.

And so, as I say some Wednesday mornings, lets pray!

Heavenly Father, thank you for this prayer. Thank you for who you are and help us, and others, by your Spirit to become more like you. Thank you for sustaining all people in our lives and please help all the world thank you for your gifts. Thank you for freeing us from sin in Jesus and grant us His peace that we might pass that peace to all we meet. Guard us from falling into temptation and the evil we live with, from now until your Son comes to finally remove it. Amen and Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

MARY AND MARTHA—LUKE 10:38-42 “BEING WITH JESUS”.

It has been said that a good preacher begins well and ends well and keeps the two fairly close together.

pastorh2

            The father came home late one night after a long day at work. He was tired and verging on becoming irritable. He hoped his family was asleep. he just wanted to go to bed and sleep.

But as he closed the front door a voice came from his youngest sons’ bedroom, “Is that you Dad”? The father answered wearily “Yes Jimmy I’m home”.

Would you come here for a minute Dad”?  The father was almost going to say, “leave it until morning. I’m too tired”?  But he didn’t. Instead he went wearily to his sons’ room. As he sat on the bed, young Jimmy took  his father’s hand and squeezed it and said, “I just wanted to touch you before I went to sleep”.

Why did Jimmy want to touch his father? He wanted to know that his father was there and loved him-that he cared for him. He wanted to have that safe feeling –sense of belonging. He wanted to have the assurance that he was important to his father. He wanted to know he was in a secure relationship.

      What kind of relationship do you want to have with Jesus?

      What kind of relationship do you think that Jesus would like to have with you? In this story Jesus deals with the relationships and spells out what kind  of relationship he wants to have with people.

Now Jesus’ behaviour was very radical for those times. WHY? Jesus is received into a woman’s house and teaches women. No self-respecting rabbi would spend time teaching a woman. Jesus’ action would have been seen as quite scandalous.

      Jesus’ primary concern is for people to have a deep/meaningful relationship with him. What Jesus means is not just things like “ Don’t stay at home on Sunday to cook the roast. Make sure you go to church first”. That may sound a bit of a crass  interpretation but I can remember hearing that kind of meaning given to this story.

 Nor is Jesus simply saying, “ Don’t get so wrapped up in the things of life that you have no time for God”.

Now both of these statements might be true, but what Jesus is getting at goes much deeper than that. It goes to the fundamental need/longing within us for closeness with God. That is the point Jesus wants to emphasize.

            When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, he was really calling them to “be with him”. They couldn’t follow him without being “with him” That was the disciples’ main task- simply to spend time in Jesus’ presence.

            And that is what Jesus wants us to see in the story of Mary and Martha. To live as Martha was to live in danger of being drawn away from and not making her spiritual growth a priority.  It is precisely Martha’s pre-occupation with busyness that eventually kills spiritual growth. You see Martha wanted to serve Jesus. What she didn’t understand was that at that particular time, Jesus came to serve her. What Martha failed to see ( despite her good intentions) was that it was more important for Jesus to teach her than for her to serve him.

            From Martha’s perspective her sister Mary was being lazy- avoiding her responsibilities. But that was not the case at all. Somehow Mary knew instinctively that it was more important to spend time in listening to Jesus. So may grew spiritually-her faith came alive-she had a growing sense of closeness to Jesus-simply because she spent time in his presence. Somehow she instinctively knew that the most important thing in her life was simply “being in the presence of Jesus”. That helped her sort out her priorities-evaluate what was really important in her life.

            You see if you don’t do what Mary did-spend time with Jesus- the danger is that you end up with the life of Martha-where you become resentful-and even the service she offers to Jesus is seen as drudgery.  There is no sense of joy- no spontaneity in Martha. Everything is seen as duty-and while the Martha’s of this world carry out their duties-responsibilities. They do so with a feeling of resentment. 

And when you operate on this basis- 1 or 2 things can happen.

  1. You feel that others don’t appreciate your efforts-your hard work. “resentment”
  2. You feel self-righteous –you feel you alone are doing the right thing. That you are responsible while all the others who aren’t helping are

The Apostle James says “ DRAW NEAR TO GOD AND HE WILL DRAW NEAR TO YOU”.  Tell me, Do you intentionally try to draw near to God? Do you spend time in reading the Word-listening to the Word-meditating on it.

      Perhaps we are something like the wife who said to her husband when they were out driving, “ You know Dear, we don’t seem to sit as close to each other like we did before we were married”. Her husband replied, “Well I haven’t shifted”.  In those times when we are not feeling close to him, Jesus says, “ I haven’t shifted. You just don’t spend the time with me in order to feel close to me”.

            And when we are not spending time with Jesus our relationship with him suffers. Just like any other human relationship suffers if people don’t spend time with each other-marriage-friendship.

            Mary chose to be with Jesus. She could have made other choices. She could have been like Martha and been too busy to spend time with Jesus. You see, being close to Jesus doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. Mary deliberately chose  to enjoy the closeness of the relationship that Jesus offered her.

            The same thing applies to us. We have to choose to make time to spend with Jesus. Whether it is 5-10-20-30 minutes. It is not so much the amount of time. Rather it is about taking your relationship with Jesus seriously enough so that you will spend whatever time you can make. And that will vary from person to person-situation. I remember a mother with young children in Melbourne who would pray with the children as she drove them to school-teaching-modeling to her children the importance of spending time with God.

            But it all begins with a decision –choice –to spend time with Jesus. And it’s not too late for anyone to begin. It only needs the decision-resolve to follow though. And if you think that it is going to be too hard to do alone, then find someone else to do it with- to pray-support-encourage you. How you do it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you do it- Nike ad.

Draw closer to Jesus and let your life be transformed by the touch of his hand.

Do you remember the gospel lesson last Sunday? It was the Good Samaritan. Jesus met a man who was very skilled in Scripture- but he had trouble acting on what he knew. He had a problem with putting what he knew into practice. So Jesus offered him the example of the Good Samaritan.

In today’s reading Jesus visits a woman who is so busy in serving, that she does not have time to hear the Word. Her example is her sister Mary who as Jesus said “one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better”. You see it isn’t that what Martha was doing was bad. In fact what she was doing was good. It’s just that what Mary chose was better.

            So to the religious expert Jesus said, “GO AND DO IT”.  To Martha he said, “ SIT DOWN AND LISTEN-LEARN FROM ME”.

            You see it’s not a matter of Martha vs Mary-Martha or Mary, but Martha and Mary. There are times when we need to be like Martha –when there are things that need to be done. But there are also times when we need to be like Mary-when we stop our busyness and spend time with Jesus. Key word is ‘ appropriate”.  We need to have the balance of being served by Jesus(Mary)-serving Jesus (Martha).

Rev. Hayden Blaess

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

“TO WHOM AM I NEIGHBOUR” LUKE 10:25-37

            A certain woman went down the road from Wauchope to Port Macquarie and ran over a piece of wood on the road. A nail was protruding from the wood. It punctured her tyre and left her stranded by the side of the road. After seeing that she had a flat tyre she got back in the car, locked the doors and prayed that the Lord would send some help. By chance there came a limousine along the road with a bumper sticker that read, “SMILE! God loves you”. When the occupants of the car saw the stranded woman, they moved over to the far lane and accelerated away without smiling.

Likewise, there came a sports car with a bumper sticker saying, “Honk if you love Jesus”. The man who was driving passed by, in fact put his foot down, moved over to the far lane and drove on. He didn’t honk or use his mobile phone to call the NRMA about the woman’s dilemma.

But a certain working man, as he travelled to his job, came to the place where the lady had stopped, and when he saw her flat tyre had compassion on her. He stopped his old battered ute, and offered to change the flat tyre. The man took out the spare tyre, jacked up the car, removed the flat tyre and replaced it with the spare.

When he had finished, the woman tried to pay him. He refused the money saying, “If my wife were stranded on the highway with a flat tyre, I’d want some Good Samaritan to stope and help her”. He returned to his bumper-sticker less ute, smiled honked his horn and went on his way. Which one of these was neighbour to the woman with the flat tyre?

Of course, you recognized in this story the parable that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. The reason why Jesus told this story in the first place is important. 

A man well versed in the Old Testament law asked Jesus a question because he wanted to trick Jesus into saying something that would show him as a false teacher. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In reply to Jesus’ question the lawyers’ answer came straight from the Old Testament. ( vs 27). Jesus congratulates the lawyer for his answer, saying, “Do this and you will live”. But the lawyer isn’t going to let Jesus get away so easily. Do he asks, “Who is my neighbour?”Is it the unruly child sho lives in my street, or that annoying person who lives next door? Is it the homeless person who annoys passers-by by asking for money for a sandwich? Is it the orphan in Africa whose parents died of Aids or the victim of war in Iraq?” The lawyer continues, “I am confused by the immense range of possibilities which this commandment place before me, Jesus. Shouldn’t we set up priorities of need? Shouldn’t we stipulate certain types of “neighbours” who deserve to be helped over those who seem to abuse this “love your neighbour rule”, simply to get themselves out of trouble? All this must be cleared up before I can love my neighbour. Tell me now, “Who is my neighbour?”

The lawyer wanted a precise definition about the meaning of the word ”neighbour”. And so long as everybody kept discussing definitions, there was no need to get serious about doing anything.  Whatever the lawyers motives were, Jesus took the opportunity to make this a time for teaching.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and ends with the disconcerting reversal of the question of who my neighbour is. The reversal runs as follows: Who among these-priest-Levite and Samaritan- had behaved as a neighbour? Who was a neighbour to the wounded victim? Was it the priest- a man dedicated to serving God in the temple? Was it the Levite-a teacher of the law-someone who surely knew right from wrong? Was it the Samaritan-an outsider-not regarded as part of God’s family? Who acted like a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers, Jesus asks?”

Imagine the listeners’ reaction. No! Not the Samaritan. He can’t be the hero-this half breed heathen. He is not even a Jew-one of God’s chosen people. It can’t be him. But of course it was. The teacher of the law must have found it very hard to respond to Jesus’ question when he asked, “Who was neighbour to the man who was robbed?”

As you know this story inspires Christians to help and show concern for those in need, the poor-starving-homeless-refugees and so on. Generally we are very good at supporting “the neighbour” through LWS, World Vision-40 hour famine and other relief organizations.

But I also want to point out that our neighbour is also the person right here in our community, whom we often see, who we often ignore, who we don’t want to associate with, who we try to avoid because we know that it will cost us time-energy. Perhaps the neighbour who needs you at this time is sitting in front of you, behind-next to you. Too often we look to far away places ti find people whom we can be a neighbour to and overlook those who are right under our nose.

We don’t have to look to far to find people longing for some kind of human warmth- people in our family, among our friends and relatives, those in our neighbourhood, and there always be strangers looking for kindness and compassion.

This story about the Good Samaritan is one I have preached-taught many times. But it is a story I have stumbled over because in it I see just how many times I have been like the priest and Levite-crossing to the other side of the road-walking on and pretending that I didn’t see the pain-need-hurt- because I knew that stopping would cost me something-energy-time-money.

This parable hits us hard as it defines what kind of neighbour we ought to be. Neighbours who ignore labels that separate people; neighbours who let nothing stand in the way of showing compassion-love; neighbours who are gracious –giving their love freely even though we might think the other person doesn’t deserve it.     

Neighbours who are willing to reach out to family members, friends, in fact anyone and give a hug of understanding, compassion-forgiveness-comfort. This kind of neighbourliness isn’t just a once in a while thing when it suits us. It is the fulltime work of the Christian. Jesus said to the lawyer ( and to us), “Go then and do likewise”

In other words, “Don’t just talk about it, do it”. And that can be hard, really hard. We all know how hard it is to be the kind of Good Samaritanthat Jesus is describing in this story.

The truth is that if our eternal life depended on the way we carry out Jesus’ command to “love God and to love others”, then without a doubt we would be doomed. This command of Jesus to “go and do” reminds us just how much we need Jesus to be our Good Samaritan.

He is the one who gave himself into the hands of his enemies and died on the cross. He is a true neighbour who forgives us our sins –failures-especially our failure to love others. He is our neighbour who paid the price for us to enter the joy of eternal life. Jesus is truly our Good Samaritan.

Having experienced this amazing love, the HSP stirs within us the will to be like Jesus to others. The HSP motivates-enables us to be a Good Samaritan to others.

People get caught up in all kinds of things that turn their lives upside down. Will that person have a “neighbour” to stop and soothe their wounds with an act of gracious love? Will the trouble in their lives be reversed by some caring person? Will that caring person be you or me? There are people all around us who are half dead and lying in a ditch. Some are half dead physically, some emotionally-spiritually. They are powerless to rescue themselves. God grant us the will-love to truly be their neighbours.  

Rev. Hayden Bleass

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

Luke 10:1-11,16-20

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may bring your peace to those around us for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever been away on a camping trip? Even if you are only going away for a few nights, you seem to have to take a heap of stuff with you: sleeping bags, something for shelter, folding camping chairs, cooking utensils, water, food, not to mention enough clothes to cater for every possible type of weather! Then there are the non-essentials to make the trip more enjoyable or comfortable: a camera, a good book, chocolates, a bottle of port and so on!

Don’t we all tend to bring so much stuff ‘just in case’? Then we get home wondering why we packed so much because we only ended up using half the stuff we brought with us!

Perhaps you have moved home a few times? Those who have will know it can be quite confronting. Even if you think you don’t have much stuff, when you have to shift it, you find you’ve got so many things you forgot you had, which includes many things you no longer use, but keep ‘just in case’. As your precious and not so precious belongings get packed away in the back of a truck, it’s like your life is passing before your eyes. Forgotten junk and valuable possessions are packed side by side. And no matter what lessons you learn with each move, most likely you’ll have more things to shift next time you move.

When Jesus sent out these seventy or so men, he made sure they packed none of those ‘just in case’ items. In fact, they even went on their journey without some of the items considered necessary. No money. No backpack. No shoes. Rather than going out well-resourced and well-prepared, they went out like beggars. Imagine going on holidays or a camping trip with nothing but the clothes on your back! Either you’d have to get used to going without, or you’d need to beg and borrow from everyone around you and be totally reliant on their generosity.

Yet this is how Jesus sent them out – totally relying on the grace and mercy of others. They were trusting God would send them people who would provide for their needs. They would leave behind all their home comforts and their security blankets and go where Jesus sent them. Would you do such a thing? Would you be brave enough to go where Jesus sends you, even if you feel vulnerable and unprepared?

Now, even though this was scary and needed a lot of trust and courage, it was also an excellent strategy. For example, what type of person might be receptive to a message of peace? While it’s theoretically possible a stingy and selfish person might accept a message of peace from God, it’s more likely a generous and welcoming person will welcome such a message. Those who had a heart to care for the needy also had hearts that were open to God’s words of peace and hope and mercy and life.

As the seventy went out, they may have wanted to go to the rich and impressive people, but they may not have been the ones who provided for them. It may have been some in the middle class or some among the poor people who provided for them. They may have had small homes and limited resources, but large and generous hearts. Those with stingy and cold hearts had no room for God’s message of peace. Those with large and generous hearts were open to God’s Word.

Just like you can’t force a crop to grow without good soil and without good rains, you can’t force the gospel message of peace on people who have cold and selfish hearts. Some fields aren’t ready to be planted. God may still need to do more work on them. After all, he’s the one who provides the seeds, fertilises the ground, and sends the rain and sunshine. We only reap what God’s already done. Don’t be upset if some don’t want to hear God’s message of peace. Yet, even though many may reject this message, there are plenty more who are ready.

When someone with a generous and helpful heart offered help to these messenger beggars, they were to go to their home and announce peace. If a person of peace was in that house, the peace rested on that person. Jesus doesn’t say whether the sent messenger was aware if the peace rested on someone in that house or not. He wasn’t to force peace or manufacture peace. His only job was to announce peace. Then God, knowing if a person of peace existed or not, would be the one to transfer the peace onto that person.

On the other hand, if no-one in that household was a person of peace, the peace remained with the messenger. Again, the messenger may not have been aware of a lack of peace transfer. The messenger only announces peace; God is the peace distributor.

Then, whether or not peace was received or not, they were to settle there for a while until the time came to go to a new town. They weren’t to go searching for a better home, a more comfortable home, a tidier home, a quieter home, a home with meals to their taste, or a better looking household. Once in a town and welcomed into a home, they were to stay put.

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, wishing you were somewhere else? You know, you act as if you’re listening and give all the right nods, smiles and comments, but your eyes are roving around the crowd to see if you can find someone better to be with. You want to be with your friends, and not always the person in front of you.

Just like God sent those seventy men to homes they may not have wanted to live in, God may send us to someone we don’t want to be with. It could be God wants us there for a reason. It takes courage and trust to remain where we are and let God use us in that place and with those people. The building of relationships is vital for the message of peace, and we don’t always get to choose the relationships. We don’t always choose who needs to hear the message of peace.

The building of relationships is vital and may challenge some current methods of outreach. While many people focus on getting people to worship and try to manufacture a wonderful experience in the hope they may win people for Christ, that’s not what Jesus asks for. If it was all about building experiences and dazzling people, God would have sent circus performers! God encourages relationships, not experiences. God doesn’t always work through the spectacular, but the ordinary.

In the same way, rather than going up to someone and saying ‘God loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you so that you may not perish but receive eternal life’ and then not care that they’re struggling with life, couldn’t care less they have health problems, or totally ignore the fact they’re hurting because of broken relationships, we’re instead encouraged to get to know the family, get to hear their stories, listen to their pains, cry with them, share their joys, and build a relationship of respect, love and trust.

Jesus didn’t tell them to do a quick evangelism door knock, but told them to live with them. Once they understood the people better, the gospel message of peace could be more specific to their particular pains and situation.

Being with them for a while brought another risk as well. Even though we may be able to fool people with a great show of love and faith and peace and joy for a while, we can’t fool them all the time. Over a period of time they could tell if the message we delivered was genuine or not by the way we lived. If we proclaimed peace, but put people down, gossiped behind people’s backs and acted selfishly, then they would learn the peace was fake and superficial.

The best messages of peace aren’t proclaimed from a pulpit, but lived in everyday life with all its troubles and temptations. As the messengers of God’s peace lived with a family for a while, they could see that God’s peace was real and genuine. They would know God’s peace as something trustworthy and life-changing.

Now, even though the sending of the seventy men to the surrounding towns to prepare for Jesus’ coming was a once off event, Jesus continues to send people out even today.

Jesus sends us into families and work places and clubs and schools and even among strangers. We don’t always get to choose these places and people. In fact sometimes we don’t even want to be there and long to be some other place. But Jesus may have sent us to proclaim peace and live in peace among them.

There may be times the peace we proclaim and live isn’t received by others. It may not be our fault. Remember we’re sent like lambs among wolves, so don’t be surprised those wolves actually exist and love to snap and snarl at our message of peace. Their hardened hearts may not be ready yet, but trust Jesus will continue to work on them in the hope they may one day receive that peace with joy and thanksgiving.

Yet there may be times we proclaim peace to someone and that peace is received. Over a period of time they’ve noticed we live in peace with God and with those around us. They notice the way we forgive. They notice we don’t seek revenge and payback like others. They notice we don’t gossip and put people down. They notice we encourage, lift up and care for those around us. They see us as peacemakers and peace-livers.

These men were sent out to proclaim the peace of God to others. This peace of God is the Kingdom of God at work, working away on stubborn hearts, in ordinary lives, and in everyday places. Therefore, may you too bring…

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

Galatians 5:1
To freedom Christ has set us free; therefore stand firm and don’t attach yourself again to a yoke of slavery.

Sometimes we choose to start doing something that we can’t stop until it’s finished. Maybe it’s something useful and good like cleaning and defrosting your fridge, or changing the oil in your car. Or perhaps it’s something less helpful like going down a hill on a go-cart with no brakes, or like me, not letting food go to waste and so keeping eating until all the too much food on my plate is gone and I feel a bit sick. It’s like there’s no escape from the task you’ve chosen, there’s no freedom, like you are a slave to it. This can be the same with sin, once you start lying you’re stuck, trapped and enslaved.

But it’s not just an individual act, like being trapped by your own lie, it can also be a lifestyle; getting stuck in a routine or a rut, nothing changing and not being able to see past your own troubles, the tasks at hand, forgetting God and others. To be a slave to your job, to money, to your reputation, your clean house, to different political ideals, to your own passions and desires. To serve these things, looking to them for help, praising and focussing them is to worship them alongside God or even instead of Him. To fail in fearing, loving and trusting God more than anything else with everything that you are. This is not the life of a Christian, the life of those saved by Jesus, you have died to sin together with Him and are with Jesus given renewed life in the Holy Spirit, through baptism and Holy Communion. Because of Jesus you are Free!

But don’t use your freedom to indulge yourself, as Paul puts it, for opportunity to the flesh, your sinful self. Rather through the love of God serve each other, look around, these people you see here, all of us, need help, need encouragement, and certainly need prayer even if you don’t like to admit it; but you are free from your earthly reputations too, if you need help, ask; if you have failed, confess; and you’re free to serve, free to forgive, because Jesus has freed you for this by dying on the cross and joining you to His body, the church of Christ, saints throughout all time. Walk, like so many have before you and so many are now beside you, walk in the light of the Holy Spirit, the wonderful helper you all have received, don’t gratify the desires of your flesh. And even when you want to don’t fulfil your selfish desires, don’t be enslaved by them again, you are with the Spirit.

The Spirit, not the flesh. Paul writes that our sinful desires, the works of the flesh, are obvious and lewdness, drunkenness and orgies certainly are; but I find that so often we can forget, getting caught up in our lives what we see and hear and just forget Jesus and who we are in Him. Did you remember that quarrelling, fighting, is sin? What about mercenary ambition? Division, factions, grudges? Do these come from the Holy Spirit of God, does He guide us to hold a grudge, to refuse to be reconciled? Or do these come from you? Are our enemies the people in power who seem increasingly against the Christian faith, or do we fight against that small tempting voice that wants us to forget God’s word, His promises, and hide our failures? Jesus tells us that it’s what comes out of us that makes us unclean, evil (Mark 7:19); and Paul writes as well, that we struggle against our own body, our hostile desires, sexual, selfish, and lazy ones too (Romans 7:15-25). These desires of the flesh to go our own way and not God’s, to reject His Spirit and enslave ourselves again to sin, this is not what you were baptised for, this is not why Jesus died for you. He died and rose that you might be free from this. And you are, again you are forgiven in Him, if you still struggle with this hear His words at the table, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. You are free from sin, death and the devil, free for life in the Spirit.

And what does this new life look like? How does Jesus’ forgiveness and love change us, renew us? The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, these three come up so often; we love because He first loved us even when we were His enemies (1 John 4:19; Romans 5:8-10); we rejoice because of the freedom He has given us, and for all the good things He continues to give (Philippians 4:4); we have deep peace because we know that ultimately everything that needs to be done has been done by Jesus, He gives life and makes you holy, there is nothing to fear with Him, not even death (John 19:30; Hebrews 2:15; 1 John 4:18). But Paul goes on, the Spirit produces patience, usefulness or kindness, goodness, faithfulness or trust, meekness or gentle strength, and self-control. Against things like these there is no law, you are free to live with these in every aspect and for all your life. And you who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh and its passions and desires. Drowned the old sinful Adam in baptism, risen with Jesus the New man your life and righteousness, free and living in the Holy Spirit. Every time we confess the truth of our failings He is righteous and just to forgive us, to return us to our baptism drowning, killing again, our sin and restoring us in His righteousness. A clean slate, with the Spirit. And if we live in the Spirit, together with all Christians those fighting here, the saints in warfare, and those who have gone before us, the saints at rest, if we live in the Spirit, by the Spirit we should march.

So go guarded in Christ Jesus by that peace of God that passes all understanding, march and serve the Lord. Amen.

Joseph Graham

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Text: Luke 8:26-39

Christ’s gifts of healing, hope and wholeness

“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul” is the marvellous manner in which St.John begins his third letter to one of his Christian congregations. This greeting is so apt, we could use it in the letters we ourselves send to others. We have sayings like “The only wealth is your health”, or “If you’re got your health, you’ve got nearly everything that’s worth having.”

From the Bible, we learn of God’s concern for our health and well-being. Our Creator loves our bodies and souls, and is honoured when we care for them. Martin Luther calls caring for our bodies a Christian work, so “that through its health and comfort we may be able to work to acquire and lay by funds with which to aid those who are in need.”

The Old Testament is more concerned with preventing sickness and disease than with healing disabilities and handicaps. Moses has been called the father of preventative medicine. The New Testament focuses more of healing than on health. In St. Mark’s Gospel, for example, Jesus devotes more time to healing the sick and the handicapped than He does to preaching and teaching. St. Mark sees our Lord’s healing miracles as the Gospel in action for our comfort and encouragement. These miracles point to Christ’s greatest act of healing – His dying on the cross – to heal us of sin, our greatest disease and handicap.

Our Lord Jesus is concerned about our total well-being and not just our physical ailments or handicaps. He treats both sickness and health as something spiritual with mental and physical consequences. Christ our great Physician assumes that no one possesses perfect health and no one is free from every handicap or physical limitation, since we all live in a spiritually polluted environment. He seeks to keep us healthy in body, mind and soul through our connectedness to Him. All physical healing is only partial and provisional in this life. Total healing comes only at the Last Day with the elimination of all evil and with the resurrection of the body.

By first forgiving the sins of the paralytic person let down through a hole in the roof, our Lord demonstrates that He’s concerned about more than physical good or ill health. His fantastic bestowal of forgiveness heals our consciences and frees us from the debilitating effects of guilt. His eagerness to free us from anxieties and cares of this world shows His deep interest in our emotional health and well-being. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30).”

Peace of heart and mind is His will for us. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:27).”

As we look around us in today’s world, we see tortured minds and restless souls who are not at peace within, but who hurt inside. Our Lord invites those in mental or physical agony, those weighed down with heavier loads than they can carry, to come to Him for relief and release. “Come to Me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)” In Jesus’ time, there were many tortured souls, souls afflicted by unclean spirits, for whom our Lord showed a compassionate concern.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and His twelve disciples cross the Lake of Galilee at great risk to their lives, during a terrible storm, in order to heal one demented outcast. Frequently, Jesus interrupts whatever He’s doing to help those in greatest need around Him. The great men and women of our world today are super-busy folk.  We get the impression that they have little time to spare for interruptions and the unexpected. Not so our Lord! On His way to Jerusalem to complete His mission of our salvation, Jesus stopped. He stopped in order to help and heal a blind beggar. “Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, He is calling you.’ (Mark 10:49).”

In the demon-possessed man in this story, we see the destructive and degrading power of evil. Evil is the perversion of something that’s good – in this case, the perversion of one of God’s good creations, created in His image. Evil perverts what’s good in a self-destructive and menacing manner. Since the Son of God has become one of us, the forces of evil have also tried to “incarnate” themselves in human beings. Even today, we see the terrible destruction of good lives by the demons of addiction. We see the devastation caused by addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, petrol-sniffing and so on. Our doctors and professional carers and counsellors are our Lord’s allies in helping people handle and overcome these addictions.

Pessimists might say: “You can’t change human nature.” But our Lord can, and has done so. The New Testament is rich with stories of people’s lives changed by our Lord Jesus. The tormented person in today’s text has been ejected from his home. His rejection by his family must have only added to his agony. The name he refers to himself as, “Legion”, a military term, suggests the terrible battle within himself, the battle between his heart and his soul.He is known as “Legion” because he has been defeated by an army of destructive thoughts and harmful intentions.

The alien voice within the man asks “What do You want with me, Jesus?” He doesn’t want Jesus to disrupt the status quo. Sadly, we still see people who don’t want our Lord to upset their routines. There are folk locked in their addictions, trapped in the past, not letting our Lord liberate them and give them a brighter future. It’s cause for immense rejoicing when we see someone’s life totally transformed by Jesus. The Gospels picture how Jesus is surrounded with the feeblest of people – those paralysed, the handicapped and disabled, lepers and the lame – because they have no one else to turn to. Jesus has come to help the helpless. Our Lord helps those who cannot help themselves.

So much of His healing ministry occurs behind the scenes, as our Lord respects people’s need for privacy. Our divine Physician adopts a low profile to make it easier for the battered and the bruised, sufferers and invalids in His community to come to Him. The weaker a person’s faith, the easier Jesus makes it for the needy person to believe in Him. Jesus made it easier for all of us to believe in Him and His power to help us, by becoming one of us.

After Jesus healed this deranged individual, we learn that he sits at Jesus’ feet, being taught by our Lord, and is “in his right mind”. What a beautiful outcome! Our Lord’s healing of people has a greater purpose than simply the relief of suffering. He heals people so that their relationships with their families and friends can be restored. That’s why Jesus says to the healed man “Return home and tell how much God has done for you (v.19).”

Today’s Gospel has a message of hope for those for whom every day is a battle with depression, haunting anxieties, compulsive behaviours and fears of the future. What Jesus is doing in your life right now has everything to do with a better future for you. Never forget Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”  Display this message prominently in your home as a constant reminder of God’s design for your life. Jesus responds to your prayers for your own health and for the better health of your loved ones according to His loving wisdom, with either relief, with the gift of courage and endurance, or by giving you renewed hope.

St. Paul learned that he was more effective for God with his handicap (his “thorn in the flesh”) than he was without it. The Greek Orthodox Church calls the handicapped “the holy ones”, because they remind all of us of our need for God and of our own limitations. Wisdom is to know your limitations and to live within them with the help of our Lord. His unconditional love for each of us is the greatest of miracles. It’s a further amazing miracle that so many people believe that Jesus can really make a difference in their lives, and help them in a way no one else can.

To believe in prayer is to believe in miracles. Martin Luther says “Faith is prayer and nothing but prayer.” We cannot be whole without prayer. Our Lord comes to us with His healing power in our worship. In Holy Communion, He continues His healing ministry among us. What’s why, after receiving Holy Communion, we thank God for “this healing gift”. “We must … regard this sacrament … as a pure, wholesome medicine which aids and is life-giving in both soul and body. For when the soul is healed the body has benefited also (The Large Catechism).” Thank the Lord for that!

One of our hymns says it well:

At evening when the sun had set,                   
the sick, O Lord, around You lay:                     
in what distress and pain they met,                 
but in what joy they went away!                                 

Your touch has still its ancient power,
no word from You can fruitless fall:
meet with us in this evening hour
and in Your mercy heal us all!

Amen.

26th Sunday after Pentecost 18th November

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Penultimate Sunday of the church year

Hebrews 10:22-24
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds

I wonder, should I say this, or should I not? Do I doubt the truth of God, or do I trust Him because He has proved faithful? Well I am going to say this, and I’m throwing my lot in with Christ. You know what Jesus did for you 2000yrs ago, and what God has continued to do for you in this life. Do you hold tight to Him, to The confession of Truth, or do you hold it loosely, ready to hide your convictions or even ready to let go? Are we afraid to ask God for His help, are we unsure that He does love and care for us? Maybe we think that our sins and failures are too great for God to forgive, that He has given up on us, or even that we have to make it up to God Almighty, creator of all, and we’ll wait a day or two to speak with Him again.

But God has not promised you that He rejects those who fail and sin, He has not even told you to offer sacrifices to pay for those failings. In fact He tells us that there is nothing we can do, those animal sacrifices of the Old covenant could not wash away all your sins. God has promised you that Christ’s sacrifice, His life, death, resurrection and ascension, has completed you who are being made holy, even from that prophesy of the New Covenant through Jeremiah, He remembers your sins and lawless deeds no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Because of Jesus you, and all Christians, can enter into God’s presence, joined together as one body, even the body of Christ. We have been assured of this forgiveness and of the holiness and goodness, righteousness we receive from God. God has promised us and He is faithful, He tells us that through baptism you are forgiven Acts 2:38; you are adopted Galatians 3:26-27; you are part of the body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:13; joined with Christ in His death, and so also in His newness of life and ultimately His resurrection Romans 6:3-11 (Titus 3:4-7). These wonderful and awesome promises God Almighty has given to you through something as mundane as washing with water. Of course, it’s not the water that saves, it’s God’s Word and promise; but by God’s marvellous grace He’s given us something simple to assure us, that no one can take away and that we can easily grasp. Baptism, and your hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and your body washed with the pure water.

So let us hold tight to God’s Word, His promises, to Jesus the truth, hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. You know the truth of this world, how it really is and what things are really about. God tells us. He tells us who we truly are, what you have done, your helplessness and the help, salvation and renewed life that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gives to you. And here the letter to the Hebrews tells us to hold fast to those words that we say together, when we say ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3), when we confess the ecumenical creeds, when we agree with God and proclaim the truth He has spoken, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and I am one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3) Saved and purified by the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:2-6; 1 John 1:7) now waiting for His return and the full realisation of our new life with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21-22). That is our confession of hope, in a nut shell.

And holding fast to that nut, what do we do now? Just leave that good news on the mantelpiece to gather dust? No! You throw that walnut at your brother and tell him to do good! Here we are told to provoke each other to love and good work, just like my older brother used to provoke me to hit him, but it’d be good things not hitting people. We are also told to not give up on each other, but to be called alongside each other, to be the Holy Spirit to one another, encouraging, admonishing, helping and comforting each other, to point to Jesus and what He has done for us, for you. And this so much more as Christ’s return gets closer.

Pastor Joseph Graham