Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

GOOD LISTENING”  MATTHEW 13:9 

            The story that Jesus tells about the sower and the seed is one of the well known parables in the New Testament. Through this story Jesus tells of the importance not only of preaching the Word of God but also of hearing it. In fact so important is this message of the parable that it is one of the few where Jesus himself provides the meaning of the parable. Remember Jesus doesn’t tell stories for the sake of telling stories. The stories were not an end in themselves but a means to an end. In other words his stories always had a deeper meaning- a truth that would help his followers to understand what God had to say to them.

            In this parable the seed is the Word of God. The different kinds of soil that it falls on are the different ways people receive the Word of God that they hear preached, read or study themselves. The farmer did his best to spread the seed. Now the seed was good seed but the results varied depending where the seed fell.

Some fell on hard ground and immediately the birds gobbled it up.

Some fell on rocky soil and withered and died because it could not take root in the shallow soil.

Some seed fell among thorns and weeds and began to grow but were eventually choked by the thorns.

Some fell on good cultivated soil and grew into a bountiful crop. So it depended not only on the sower and the seed but also on the reception the seed got. So the preaching and the hearing of God’s Word become one activity.

            What this means is that effective preaching is not just my activity alone. I can do so much to prepare and deliver my sermons. But effective preaching also involves effective hearing. And that is where YOU come in. The sower can sow the seed until he drops from exhaustion but if the soil is hard and full of weeds it will be a meagre harvest. Like wise the preacher can preach until he is exhausted but if no one is tuned in to what he is saying then he is wasting his time. The Holy Spirit can be speaking to us through the Scriptures as they are being read to us or as we read them ourselves but if we are not listening  with open ears-hearts and minds, those words will not have any significant impact.

             So what does it mean to be a good listener? That is the crucial question.

  1. In the first place, a good listener is open to the Word of God. As the minister prepares himself to preach the Word, so the listeners must prepare themselves to receive it. When the reader begins to read the lessons or the minister begins to preach we can be put off by the person who is reading or proclaiming God’s Word. We may get sidetracked by the readers’ tone and expression­-or lack of it or tune out  when the minister goes on longer than we think necessary.

            Rather than focussing on the person who is doing the reading or the minister who is preaching, prepare yourself to receive the message as God’s Words for you.

Prepare yourself by asking questions such as:

+What will God say to me today through the sermon?

+What will God want me to get out of the Bible readings?

+What will God say to me today that will make a difference to my life?

            The Bible readings and the sermon are God’ Word for you this day. It may be dressed in human words-human examples and even human error, but nevertheless, it is God’s Word for you. What is important that you listen to it as if God himself were speaking to you. You never know what life-changing words you may be missing if you tune out.  

  1. A good listener recognises that the Word of God has authority. It is one thing for the minister in the pulpit to proclaim God’s promises-but unless you believe God’s Word has authority to back up those promises the preacher might as well save his breath. When God speaks –things happen.

The Word you hear is the same Word that proclaimed at the beginning, “Let there be Light”. It is the same Word that gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is the same Word that stilled storms-healed the sick and raised the dead.

It is a Word that is to be believed-trusted because it has the authority of the eternal God himself. 

  1. Good listening means allowing the Word of God the widest possible application to our lives. Let the Word speak to you. As you hear-read the Word, say to yourself as you hear the Word, “That means me”-“God is speaking to me”.

Now it is a well-known fact that when God’s Word gets too close to the bone or touches a raw nerve of sin, we put up our defences.  We may switch off, or start making excuses to justify our behaviour or start applying the message to someone else. As a result the Word isn’t able to establish any roots in us at all. We filter what we hear. We may water it down-put our own interpretation on what is being said (a bit like the spin doctors employed by politicians) or pass it off as irrelevant –not having any meaning for our lives.

Now there comes a point when you need to ask, “What is God saying to me through this passage”? To listen to the Word and regard it only as an interesting piece of Biblical knowledge hardly acknowledges the authority of God’s Word. This is a misuse-misunderstanding of the purpose of God’s Word. When God’s Word speaks, things are meant to change. When we hear God’s Word as a message from God to us we need to take it seriously and make changes in our lives that will bring glory to God.

            Now I’m not saying that applying God’s Word to our lives is easy. As Martin Luther said, “I believe that by myself I can’t believe. Satan- our sinful nature- the influence of the world about us all conspire to lead us away from really hearing what God has to say to us. So we need to be aware of the forces against us that want us to regard the Word as irrelevant- too boring or to believe that we don’t need to change.

            It is all too easy to conform to the standards and ways of living that are acceptable to the majority of the community but are against God’s ways. That is why we daily need to apply God’ Word to our ways of thinking-attitudes-behaviours.  As long as we live on this earth we will need to listen to God’s Word and apply it to our lives. Listening to and applying God’s Word is a vital part of our Christian life.

            If you are to grow in your faith and your relationship with your Lord and Saviour, you need to + set a time aside-+make a definite decision to read God’s Word- to study God’s Word with others and ask the Holy Spirit to help you in your reading and applying God’s Word.

            The Word of God is like a seed- it has miraculous power with in it-the power of the Spirit. But there is something that we need to do. We need to have open ears-hearts and minds to be the rich fertile soil for the Word to be planted in and grow.

We need to recognize the authority of God in His Word. And we need with the help of the Spirit to apply that Word to our lives. May God enable us to be fertile soil for His Word. Amen

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”.

            Will give you rest. On the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2). In green pastures, by still waters (Psalm 23:1-2). And from our ancient brother Augustine, “our heart is restless until it rests in you.” All you who are weary, burdened, come to Jesus and receive His rest. It’s a simple statement, easy to hear, easy to remember; but what does it mean and do you believe it?

            All of you who are weary and burdened, hard working and stressed. Is that you? Or do you have everything under control? Is life easy for you? Relaxing? Do you sit back because Christ has done it all, and not worry about the consequences? Are you carefree and lazy, enjoying this life? Then the gospel is not for you. Jesus is not for you, and He is not speaking to you, you may as well stop listening now and go about in your body of death until you die rejecting God, cut off from His people (Romans 7:24). You are the wise and learned that the Lord of heaven and earth has hidden the truth from because, as we heard Jesus say weeks back you think you can see the truth by yourself, but you are blind to the real world (John 9:39).

            But for those of you who are weary and burdened, working hard to better yourself, to help those around you, working yourself to the bone and stressed that you never seem to achieve peace and salvation. Stop, listen. This is how all people live because Adam and Eve twisted and rejected God’s Word. Eating the fruit, God revealed how they were to live, increased pain in childbearing for Eve, and living by the sweat of the brow for Adam (Genesis 3: ). Some seek to earn salvation by what they do and say, by how they act, yet we know how well a group of people show perfect love, we don’t even need the confusion of Babel to divide us (Genesis 11:16-19). Some work to forget what is important, so they can ignore difficult things; but ignoring difficult things, bottling them up can lead to that great weight of depression and despair. Hear and receive God’s Word to you. Your work has failed, you are hopeless and live in a hopeless world. Jesus is speaking to you, weary and burdened, saying come to me and I will give you rest.

            Come to Jesus, cast your burdens on Him (1 Peter 5:7), fall broken on that cornerstone the builders rejected (Matthew 21:44) and take up His yoke that is truly fitting and light for our lasting good. Take up His yoke, and what is that yoke? It is the cross. As He says elsewhere, take up your cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24). If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s ‘the Passion’ you have some idea of how truly fitting and light the yoke of Jesus is, flogged, bloodied, suffocating, and finally killed. This is what rest in Jesus looks like this side of eternity for us and all who see it. In a very real sense we don’t see what is true, we only hear it through faith, by God’s Word to us, carried by the Holy Spirit. He has revealed the truth to us, not that our faith ends in death on the cross, but rather that Jesus’ death conquers death (Hebrews 2:14; Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:55). One of the greatest fears of humanity is death; the pain, suffering, loss, and all that comes with it. We try hard to save ourselves from death, we make new things to keep ourselves alive, we learn new ways to slow our aging, we continue to fight death even when we have lost all limbs, mind and consciousness, even then we fear death. But weary as we are trying to stop it, burdened as we are by our fear, our grief, Christ presents a different way.

            It is no wonder people reject this way, and continue in weariness and stress, it looks to us horrific, the same as lifting all our COVID restrictions and spiting on everyone we see so that, no one gets the virus. Die that we live? How can that make sense! I’ll let you in on a little secret, it doesn’t really, just as Christians have confessed for 2000yrs, it is a mystery. The mystery of God. The incarnation, that divine and human became one in Jesus. Baptism that we are united with Him in life, death and resurrection. Holy Communion, that we are united in common with Christ and His whole body by His flesh and blood in bread and wine. The holy mysteries of God, honestly weird to our world, yet still true. That coming to Jesus, uniting with Him, taking His yoke, the cross, that these unburden us and in Him we have rest. Our hearts at rest in Jesus. Not lazy, not asleep, but at rest the same as God is at rest on the seventh day. He still provides for all things, He still sustains us, but He does not weary Himself, rather has joy in His creation. Like when you’re doing something you love, cooking, hiking, reading, discussing, you’re active as you rest. Humans fear death, but we are already dead in Christ so we have nothing to fear, nothing to be stressed about. So now in Christ you are free to pray, love, rejoice, suffer, and die, in His rest.

To live in love knowing the truth that Jesus, who loves us more than you can imagine, has already died for us, on your behalf, died and risen from the dead. And more, that you are united with Him in that death and resurrection. Free from sin, free from fear, free to live, free to love. This is the fitting and light yoke of the cross. This is true rest. This is the peace of God which truly surpasses all human understanding.

And this peace the Holy Spirit gives you now, to guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life eternal. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6:16
Don’t you know that if you submit yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

            Slaves and obedience. Hard words for us today, but I ask is anyone truly free? Here the Spirit clearly tells us, no. Whoever, whatever, you obey you are a slave to. It’s simply a fact of life. A slave to your stomach, your bladder; a slave to your boss, your lecturer; a slave to money, to our changing culture, to this fallen world, a slave to sin. You can think of teacher’s pets as slaves to the teacher; of the hippies as slaves to that counter culture; of someone with diarrhea as a slave to the toilet. There are countless examples of these things we rely on, these things that tell us about 1 who we are and 2 what we do. And when you obey them, utterly accept what they say about you and this world, they are your god and you are their slave.

            Of course this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to your bladder, but rather I give these examples to show that slavery is not an institution as we might think, and freedom is not absolute. When you fully submit to something you find your identity and meaning there; you are free to live it out, but not free to reject it. Free to do and free from it’s opposite. An example: free to eat, but free from starvation. The same with sin, the slave to sin is free to sin but free from what is right. The slave to righteousness is free to live in holiness but free from sin. So what are you a slave to? Sin or God in Christ Jesus? If we remember from last week the first part of this chapter, in baptism you died to sin and rose to life everlasting in Christ; and obviously dead slaves don’t so to much.

            And this is what Paul is talking about, trying to get through to the Roman congregation, that we who have been united in Jesus by baptism don’t have to sin and can do what is right. You’re allowed to buy your wife flowers just out of love, you don’t have to always sit in front of the TV when you get home. You’re free to thank God even when you hear good news out in a crowd, you’re free from having to beat yourself up when you fail. We are free by the grace of God, to live His life of joy, peace and love that is ours with Jesus, and free from doing what we know to be wrong. Thank God for this gift of freedom, yes, for our slavery to Him. Remember you are free to remind each other and let others know of this wonderful grace as well!

            But when you do, I know that slavery is a hard word for us, and Paul recognises that too. However, he uses it to get across the truth of 1 who we are and 2 how we live. We can imagine sin as a person, that sin tells us who we are ‘a good enough person’ or even ‘someone more important than others’ and sin tells us how to live, ‘to do whatever you want so long as it does hurt anyone else, or at least anyone you care about’. And of course we hear many different things about who we are and how we should live, you know yourself what you hear and what you hold to.

But more than all these different voices is the voice of God who created all things, who is the source of life and existence. He has authority over all things and what He says goes. I mean, He said ‘let there be light’ and there was light, can’t get more true than that (Genesis 1:3). And when you were baptised into Christ, His death and resurrection, our Heavenly Father said, ‘you are my beloved child’ and so you are, and we are family in Jesus (Matthew 3:17). He said, I have taken away your sin, your guilt, your evil, you are righteous in Jesus (Psalm 103:12; 1 Corinthians 1:30). He tells you, ‘you are not of this world’, you are being made new and holy, perfect in Christ (John 17:16). This is the truth, do not reject it, this is who you are in Jesus by baptism together with all your new family the saints of all times and places. And if you want to know what it means to live this life, hear what the Spirit tells you in Matthew chapter 5 and following, go take some time away and read it even with another and listen to how God tells you to live. If you need some help, ask, ask another Christian a saint, ask the Holy Spirit.

Don’t forget who He says you are and don’t forget your family in Jesus, all the saints who have gone before. God has freely given you all these things, He didn’t have to let you know, He didn’t have to say what He said, He doesn’t have to give you life, yet this is what He does, what He has promised. The fruit of this life according to what God has said, is union and reconciliation with Him in love to life eternal, a free gift. This is the Gospel, In Jesus, by the Spirit, you have been set free from all sin and what it says of you, free to hear God Almighty who loves you, free to live according to His Word.

So remember your baptism, and as you live the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6:4
Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may go about in freshness of life.

            How does a Christian live in freshness of life? Now that Christ has ascended and the Spirit has been poured out, what does His church do? How do we live in this reality? When you go about your day, do you live in newness of life, fresh with God’s love? For those who remember a time when you were outside Christ’s church or even when you’ve ignored God, His Word and love, is your life different today? Or do you still live alongside your sin without any attempt to reject it?

            Paul had just written that God’s grace is far greater than all sin, that His grace covers your sins. Do that mean that to seek more grace we should sin more, that greater and greater grace will cover us? May it not be! God forbid! NO! At baptism your sin was washed away, even taken up by Jesus Christ to be killed, destroyed, on the cross. When the Holy Spirit baptised you, the Father adopting you into His family as an heir, a true child, when you were united into Christ together with all Christians in righteousness and holiness, we all were made anew, brought into new, full and fresh life with Jesus. Your old way of living was crucified with Jesus on that cross 2000yrs ago, dead and gone. Just like going from nappies to the toilet, you don’t live life the same. So you who sin living life just like anyone else outside of the Christ’s church, His body, why do you still poop in your pants?

            When you ignore God’s Word, His way of life, you say no to Jesus and yes to whatever else it maybe, the putrid ways of life. Yes to your own self, your pride, to pleasure in all it’s forms, to possessions, money, wealth, whatever; you say yes to being pulled away from Christ back to the old way of living, like a 20yr old going back to wearing nappies, why do you do this? Why do we do this? It’s ridiculous! Even though we have been baptised into Christ’s crucifixion, having the sure promise of God, you and I still worry how to care for ourselves by ourselves in this life; just as those without God’s promise do.

Remember Abraham and Sarah, this couple who trusted God with all their possessions and their very lives; giving up home and family to go where He sent them. God promised them a son, yet they worried how He could give one and so tried to fulfil the promise themselves. Thus Hagar and Ishmael caused trouble and were expelled, yet even though Ishmael was born by Abraham’s sin, God showed His great mercy and provided for them both. God dealt with their sin when He dealt with ours, on the cross, and so because His Word is true, God’s promise sure, Isaac was born, and the Israelites through him down to Jesus the fulfillment of all God’s promises. Abraham and Sarah did go their own way against God, yet God forgave them their sin and they returned to Him, receiving the grace God had promised, living the fresh life with God.

Abraham stopped worrying about the concerns of this world, he didn’t give an inheritance to Ishmael but rather dedicated what God had given to Isaac the child of the promise. Abraham changed the way He lived, He turned to God, repented, and trusted Him above all else. Just as Jesus said, don’t concern yourself with those that kill your body but can’t touch your soul; don’t be concerned with your starvation, weakness, your financial troubles, even people who might try to kill you. Rather, He says, be concerned with God Almighty who can destroy soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28). Why live according to the ways of this world? Why do you ignore God’s Word and seek after lazy pleasure, power or possessions? All these things come to nothing, and if you seek these, rejecting Jesus, He will reject you before the Father in Heaven. Sin is missing the mark, and when you seek to live according to sin you set yourself down a path to, not just nothingness, but missing life falling to putrid death, suffering and a weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28). Utterly alone and without love.

And yet you are not alone, and you are loved. It may not look like it, but we are gathered in a very real sense here through zoom; and more wonderful we are gathered together with all those united with the living God, in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a new life, more than water, but much more even than the washing away of sin. You are united together with all the saints in the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. Paul writes you are buried with Him through baptism into His death; together with Jesus we have grown together, and surely we will rise in His resurrection through the glory of God; our old self was crucified with Christ that our sin come to nothing and we free from it’s enslavement, it’s way of life. So if we died with Jesus, we trust we will also live with Him. This is God’s promise to you today, the Good News, that in baptism you have been joined with Jesus, your sins are dealt with, you are free from them, free to live in Jesus according to the promise. You don’t need to wait until Christ returns to live with Him, His way of life eternal freshness of life, for already in the mystery of baptism you have been united, we are united together with all the saints, with Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Your new life without sin has already begun, so strive to lead that holy life; the life of love for your spouse, children parents, friends, workers, fellow Christians, life of love for God Himself; even as Christ has already made you holy.

Your sins are forgiven, walk away from them and live free in Jesus. As Luther taught daily die to sin and rise with Christ, every morning return to your baptism, remember who you are in Jesus with the Holy Spirit beside you and all the saints, pray. You are not alone, you are loved by Father, Son and Spirit, by me, by this parish, Christ’s church and all the saints who have gone before. Remember who we are, and live the new, fresh life you have been given.

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

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text:  Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

Volunteers for Jesus

 

There are different organisations committed to encouraging the act of volunteering across the Australia and New Zealand. They encourage organizations which are involved in any sort of service to invite volunteers to come and join them. They encourage people to look for opportunities to volunteer.
During National Volunteers Week you might read stories about volunteers in your local newspapers. National Volunteers Week is also a reminder to show appreciation to the volunteers who are often taken for granted.

It is hard to volunteer. To volunteer means that you are giving your time, and making a considerable effort, and maybe it is going to cost you some money too, because volunteers are not always well supported.

  • Volunteering means letting go of your own commitments and giving something of yourself for the sake of others, or for the sake of some worthy cause.
  • Volunteering means doing. Your hands are busy. But it goes deeper, to your heart.
  • Volunteers are committed with a sense of love and care, and a willingness to commit yourself to others in some way because you see a need.

Volunteering can be a hard slog. But ‘National Volunteer Week’ tells us it can also be rewarding, with inner satisfaction and joy. Volunteering for something worthwhile can bring out the deeper satisfaction of life and can enrich you in relationship with others – others who work with you, or others you help and who laugh with you as you share together. Think of all the volunteers who touch your life. Think of how and where you volunteer.

One of the areas where many people volunteer is in our church life. Church volunteers are included among the volunteers in the community. In fact, figures show that church volunteers are more likely to volunteer in other organisations and causes as well.

So first of all, thank you. Thank you to all of you who give considerable time and effort in the life of your church and community. I know that doing some of the tasks which need to be done can be demanding and you can feel unrewarded. So, thank you on behalf of all who benefit. We do see, and we do appreciate. And I hope that through your voluntary work in your church and community you can live and enjoy life, and that you can laugh together and share together.

That all gives us a very good introduction to today’s Gospel text. Because Jesus is calling for volunteers, for willing workers to work for His Kingdom. And He is sending out volunteers into His communities.

Jesus went round visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness.

The best way to enlist volunteers is by example. Never ask anyone else to do anything which you are not willing to do yourself. Jesus shows us how. Jesus was a ‘doer’. He was out there, out there moving from town to town and village to village. He was out there where the need was greatest. He spoke the Good News because He saw that the people were desperate and despondent. He saw the pain and suffering of the people, and He came with His healing power.

Jesus was on a mission. He came to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to the people of earth. That was not just a wonderful idea. It was bringing the grace of God into the real needs of people. He was out there, doing it. As He saw the crowds, His heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Jesus was motivated by a deep compassion. He saw the needs on the outside. He saw broken bodies, and troubled life-styles. He saw the needs on the inside. He saw the addiction to sin, which is the deepest addiction of all. He felt the pain and anguish which it brought in the lives of all these people. He saw it in each person He met. He saw it multiplied in the crowds of people who came out into the streets hopefully when they heard He was coming. He could see that they were desperate, looking for something. They were like sheep wandering around, confused, defenceless, without a shepherd.

He was coming as the Shepherd. He was coming as the Good Shepherd, who had true care and compassion for each of His sheep, and for all of His sheep together, a true dedication to their protection and their welfare. He was coming with the mercy of God to lift the burden of sin and suffering and to bring these wandering sheep into the Kingdom of Heaven.

So He said to His disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that He will send out workers to gather in His harvest.”

Now Jesus looks even further. He knows that the deep human needs are experienced everywhere all over the world. He changes the metaphor from a shepherd to that of a farmer. Now He sees a paddock of wheat, a vast paddock stretching beyond sight. He knows that a crop of wheat has to be harvested at just the right time, when it is ripe and before it is spoiled. He knows now is the right time.

But in those days harvesting was by hand with a sickle. To harvest a paddock of wheat you needed a team. To harvest a paddock this size you needed an army of workers. We need workers, Jesus says. We have so few workers, we need many, many more.

This is not just our task. This is God’s task. This is God’s world. So, let’s pray to our heavenly Father, who is the Lord of the Harvest. Let’s pray for the workers, so that we can do this great work. Let’s get lots of people in, all involved in bringing in this great harvest.

Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness. When you pray for something, you also commit yourself to being an answer to prayer. Jesus called on His disciples to pray for workers in the harvest. The very next thing He does is call them to be workers.

Jesus calls on us to pray for workers in the harvest. I hope that we do pray that God will provide the workers He wants for His harvest, for His mission, all over the world. I hope that we pray for God’s workers in every situation of mission and ministry all over the world.

But when we pray for workers, we pray that God will use us as His workers however and wherever He chooses. Jesus calls His disciples to be His workers. Jesus calls us to be His workers in today’s world too.

One of the principles of good human resources management is that if you give someone a job to do, you have to give them the authority to do it. It is no good expecting them to do a job, but not letting them get on and do it, because they have to refer everything back to you.

Jesus gives His disciples, His workers, His harvesters, His own authority. Just as He had been going around with the authority of God to proclaim the message, and to back up the message with the actions that show God’s power over all evil, He sent His disciples out with that same authority. They were to go out in His name, to speak His Word and to do His deeds.

Matthew then gives us the names of these twelve disciples. We don’t have to go through those names now. But we are talking about real people, each with their own family history, own character and now their own mission. Jesus calls people like us to do His work too.

These twelve men were sent out by Jesus with the following instructions: “Do not go to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns. Instead, you are to go to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.”

There would come a time when Jesus would send His disciples far and wide. Before ascending to Heaven He told them: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. (Acts 1:8)  As we follow the story of the disciples, they started in Jerusalem and Judea and they travelled with the Gospel to many distant places. We can follow the story of those who followed, literally reaching to the most distant places of the world.

Initially Jesus was telling the disciples to work where they were. He was sending them back to their own people and then to the wider world. He was telling the disciples to look and see the needs right there, all around them. He had looked with compassion on the people wandering around aimlessly, like sheep without a shepherd. He was sending His disciples to more of these people in their own communities.

Today too, Jesus calls some people to go to distant places, to places and people who have not yet heard the Gospel. We support missionaries who are bringing the Gospel to people for the first time.

God is calling us to work for Him, to take His message and His love to the people in our own communities. That is where He has put us and that is where He sends us. Because there are needs right here, all around us, people in need, people wandering around aimless, hopeless and defenceless. There are people right where you are, who desperately need to hear the Gospel spoken into their lives. You are the best person to do that.

A volunteer is someone who acts voluntarily. That means you do something of your own free will. The word ‘volunteer’ means you are acting out of your free will or choice. A Christian volunteer is someone who is acting with a will that has been transformed by the Spirit of God.

If you ‘have to’ do it, you are not a volunteer. If you are ‘forced to’ do it, you are not a volunteer. If you do it because you are getting ‘paid to’ do it you are not a volunteer.

Jesus gives the very best reason to volunteer. You have received without payment, so give without payment. (Matthew 10:8b, ISV), or “Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b, NIV)

It is all about grace. God’s grace is the free gift of life with God, through the free gift of forgiveness and the free gift of God’s Spirit. Freely you have received. That is the very best reason for giving, for doing, for being willing to respond to call of Jesus, for volunteering in His service.

Jesus, with a wonderful free will, gave Himself for you, gave His life on a cross, out of compassion for you. He comes to you when you are wandering aimlessly and hopelessly and shepherds you into His Kingdom. This is the very best reason to give of yourself, freely and generously, to give your time and effort for His Kingdom.

We started by talking about all the different sorts of volunteering. People volunteer for many causes, and most are great examples of generous and willing service: serving people and serving the community in some worthwhile way. If you are involved in voluntary community service, I hope it brings you joy and fulfilment.

We talked about volunteering in your church life. We are here today sharing in this worship because many people have given of their time and effort. I hope and pray that as you serve in the life of the church that you find it fulfilling, and that you can rejoice because you share in this very special time with our God and each other.

Jesus calls you, like His first disciples, to give in a way that goes deeper. He calls on you to respond to the needs of the people around you with love and compassion, and to bring His love and the Gospel of His grace and care to people in every need.

Your volunteering may be in some sort of planned or organized way. It may simply be in your everyday life that no one organizes, where you act spontaneously.
Give freely, give voluntarily, give generously of yourself, of your time, with your efforts and dedication. Because God has given so freely and wonderfully to you.

Amen.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 21:18-19
But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win your soul.

            Drought and fire, the worst I’ve ever seen. We don’t know when it will end or how many lives will be destroyed, but we know that it’s not over yet. More news updates everyday, fires here and fires over in the US, droughts and famines, civil conflicts and wars, this is the world we live in. We hear the words of Jesus, the letters of saints who have gone before and we wonder, what is this to me? How can this make sense of the world? Love and forgiveness don’t bring the rain, and even if they did, we don’t live in a forgiving world. We live in a world of sinners.

            This is why the world rejected Jesus and still does, He was not a sinner. His preaching of the truth in love lead to hatred of Him and his persecution, suffering and death. He knew the truth that sets free, the truth we confess with Him and all Christians in the Creed, the truth of God Almighty’s Word given to His people of old and preserved for us today. He was under no illusion to the true way of this world, not distracted by the amazing accomplishments achieved by humans, not seduced by the beauty even of this whole world. He stood firm in God’s way, of forgiveness, truth and love. His disciples as we heard today admired the great skill and beauty of the temple God had made in Jerusalem. This place dedicated to Almighty God of all, an image of where heaven and earth meet, of all creation, nations, sea, outer space and beyond the universe to the most holy place; this great wonder that pointed to the one true God. And Jesus responded, ‘this place will be destroyed.’

            Now it’s hard for you and me to really get our heads around this. Jesus is saying two things, one the temple will be destroyed similar to telling an American the white house would be nuked, and two this whole creation, what God’s temple was an image of, will be destroyed. Understandably the Jews wanted to know when. Jesus doesn’t really say, rather He tells them what life is going to be like before the end comes, wars and rumours of wars. Sounds familiar hey? And what does this life look like for those who follow and trust Father, Son, and Spirit? Persecution, arrest, and confrontation with those in power. And betrayal by those close to you, death and hatred. This is what Jesus promised your life before the end will be like. Not a very cheery image is it? How could we hope to survive this?

            Not a hair of your head will be destroyed, in enduring you will win your soul. You have been saved by Jesus, death is not the end, we wait for the resurrection of the dead in Christ to everlasting life in the new creation, the new temple is Jesus, the image of the new creation, sinless, joyful, glorified and untouchable by death or the devil. Here today He renews you in this new life in Him, forgiving you, teaching you and strengthening you; coming to be where He has promised to be for you, wherever two or three gather in His name, and in the bread and wine for your forgiveness. And He doesn’t abandon you when this time today ends, He has given you each other to support and encourage in this hard world. He has sent His Holy Spirit to be there for you, helping, guiding and supporting through your struggles. Even when you are asked, ‘why are you a Christian?’ He tells us not to worry about a script, but rather He will give you wisdom and the words. You have been placed in the kingdom of God, remain under His authority, hearing His word, receiving His forgiveness, and through all this He will stay with you and at the end we will together join the resurrection of Jesus to live together with God Almighty, our creator and Father, living with true peace, joy and love forever.

            We receive together God’s love and mercy now, we are not persecuted for Christ or in a famine, and more you are forgiven all your sins and helped through this life by God Himself. Yet still we wait for the world to come, just as we wait for the rain.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 20:38
He is not God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.

            Last week I reminded us that God is not a God of the dead but of the living, so all who have died in Christ are alive and we are together with them in Christ’s presence here today, living to God. That need not be a worrying thing, if our perfect righteous creator can forgive you, those former sinners, murders, liars and cheats washed by the holy blood of the lamb can certainly forgive too. And here is where we find that teaching, Jesus telling some of the Jewish leaders just how dumb and short-sighted they were regarding the resurrection and also marriage.

The Sadducees were trying to catch Jesus out, to prove that the resurrection was dumb, but they themselves had a dodgy view of what was to come, of how to understand the resurrection from the dead, believing it meant that people’d rise from the grave and continue living just like people have always lived in this corrupt world. Sometimes we might think the same, that this world will just continue, and nothing will really change, governments come and go, people born, marry and die and God’s promise that He’ll sort everything out was just wishful thinking. Maybe we’ll slowly get better, maybe there’ll be a big conflict between Christians and everyone else, maybe we’ll all just die from war and depression. Always found it a funny quirk that the Greek here sounds like the English for sad.

But rather than this sad state of affairs, Jesus paints a different picture, in the Matthean account He calls them wrong saying they don’t even know God or the Torah, the Jewish scriptures (Matthew 22:29). Instead of saying things will continue the way they’ve always done, Jesus says, those who attain the resurrection in the new age will not marry, things will be fundamentally different. Now I want to talk to you about the concept of foreshadowing. There’s some more precise language of type and antitype but I’ll stick to our vernacular. Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s Word, of the whole of the Law, of all the promises and prophecies God gave throughout time (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; John 19:28-30). This is what we teach and why we look to Jesus for all things, but sometimes God gives a taste of what’s to come, just a little of what we will experience in the fullness of time. An example, The ancient Israelites rejected God in the desert, God sent snakes that started killing them, then God got Moses to make a bronze snake on a wooden pole that the people would look to and be saved (Numbers 21:6-9). Now all people have rejected God, we suffer and die because of our sin, God sent His Son to die on a wooden cross that whoever looks to Him, whoever trusts Him has eternal life; Jesus Himself tells us that the bronze snake foreshadows Him (John 3:14f). Okay, so the Old Testament foreshadows Jesus, now what about marriage?

Jesus had told us that God gave us marriage at creation and that, what God has joined together let no man separate (Mark 10:9). But now He says there is an end to marriage, as long as we both shall live as we vow in the rite. But now I’ll put to you this, marriage between a husband and wife foreshadows the marriage between the church and Jesus Christ. I’m not sure how much we can say but clearly the Spirit tells us through Paul that the wife and bride reflects you with the whole people of God, the church, and the husband and bridegroom reflect Jesus and His ultimate love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). If this is the true way to hear Christ’s words, your marriage finds its fulfillment in our relationship to Christ as His bride, His wife.

But regardless, Jesus is not just teaching that the resurrection is true, and we know this from His own resurrection and the Spirit’s words throughout Scripture, But Jesus is also teaching that even in marriage we live to God. So no idolising your beautiful, wonderful and caring wife, or your helpful husband, and no idolising your children, even if they are the cutest in the world. Rather we love our spouse and children because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), to the glory of God. Yes they are wonderful and lovely people, usually, but God has put them in your life to practise your faith, to love, to care, to encourage, to forgive, to practise reconciliation and also to bring up the next generation, but all this ultimately to the glory of the God who has given this wonderful gift to you. So yes, the resurrection is true, at the end we will live to God, but all live to Him even now and in marriage; as Paul writes to the Romans, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7-8).

So we live to God, as Paul writes, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); whatever you do, do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); and as Hannah Samuel’s mum prayed the Lord brings death and makes alive, He brings down to the grave and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6). All live to God, He is the goal of all good things, and in Him we have peace (Haggai 2:9). This is true, here in Christ Jesus, in His presence, we have peace; but there are those who want to destroy that peace, the man of lawlessness, that want us to live not to God but to others. Thank God He has given us Christians around us, even in our marriages and families, to encourage us in the faith, to hold to the teachings of the apostles, to pray to God for us, as Paul did, that “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17). To be encouraged and strengthened, body and soul until we join with those who have gone before in the resurrection to our wedding feast with Jesus.

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

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 18:1
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

            A favourite and certainly memorable parable, and a hard one for me too, because Luke already wrote us why Jesus said it! That we must always pray and not give up. So I’ll ask who here was weary and worn out at anytime this week? Now, who has been worn out by waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, the defeat and destruction of our enemies, sin, death and the devil?

            Luke in the previous chapters records Jesus speaking of the coming of God’s kingdom, salvation through faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sin and that those of the kingdom, saved and forgiven, serve. Now we hear of a helpless widow, coming to the judge for justice, righteousness, we could say that fancy word, justification. She needs justification because an enemy is trying to take her down. To wear her out, to tell the world she’s a failure and to destroy her. How often aren’t we like this widow, worn out not just by dust or babies, but by our struggle with our own sin and the failures of others, weary dealing with the death and sickness in this world, worn down by the attacks of our adversary the devil. How can we stand against all this by ourselves? Will we abandon the truth, let go of what is good, and reject the life God has given us? It’s certainly easier in many ways to live as if God doesn’t care, as if Jesus isn’t going to come back like a thief in the night, to get absorbed into whatever we do in this life; family, work, fame, even being a part of a parish, and to just go with the flow, take the easy way, to give up.

            But the widow doesn’t give up, she knows what is true and she seeks it. Everything is stacked against her, likely she doesn’t even have children or any family to back her up, to support her. She goes to the only one in town who can help, the person who happens to be the nastiest, snobbiest, least qualified judge in any story. Still she doesn’t give up, she goes again and again, knocked back, burdened, but still holding on to the truth. The judge meanwhile is doing his thing, but becoming increasingly annoyed at this widow. However he sees her devotion, and sees she ain’t letting up so he says to himself, self-centred that he is, ‘I will justify her so that her constant petitions don’t end with my black eye’. Yeah, that’s what the word means, and now I’m just picturing some old grandma walking into a court and punching the judge. So unrighteous judge brings justice against the widow’s accuser.

            But what about the righteous judge? The real judge, the one who will judge the whole world. What does He see? When we pray to our Father in Heaven through our King and mediator Jesus Christ by the power given us in the Holy Spirit, what does He, the Judge of all people, what does He do? He will justify His chosen people; He will make you righteous and save you from your enemies. Will He wait until we’ve bothered Him long enough? No, Jesus tells you, He will justify you and all of us quickly. Hallelujah, Good News if there ever was any! But this doesn’t mean that the struggles of this world will be taken away from us, it doesn’t mean that you will never be tempted again, and I know it doesn’t mean that Christ will come back tonight to finish what He’s started because people have been praying for that I dare say since He went. But when we pray, praying the prayer given by Jesus, your name be kept holy through my words and actions, your will be done even conform my will to yours, forgive us our sins, save us from the evil one; when we pray for Jesus Christ’s justification, He gives it quickly, so quick in fact He’s already made you holy in Him 2000yrs ago and made it personal for you when He baptised you. Promising the Spirit in baptism who has also given you faith, trust and understanding in God and His promises. You are saved, forgiven and renewed in Jesus.

You know God Almighty has authority over everything, because He made it. You trust that if anyone can help you it’ll be Him and so, like the widow, you ask. This is the faith! Trusting the creator and judge of all to make us right with Him, and acting on this faith by praying. My son trusts that someone will help him, and Rehab and I hear that trust sometimes loudly during the night. How much more will our Father in Heaven hear your cries, your shouting for salvation, for justice and righteousness. He hears and He justifies giving you what you need, forgiveness and everlasting life in spite of death in His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Indeed He already has, you are in the Kingdom, in Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives with you, guiding you by Jesus’ words to always pray and not give up; but still Jesus ends the lesson with a question, will he find faith on earth?

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ by faith, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.

Remember, I know it’s harder for some of us, or at least some have a better excuse. But here today God is calling you to remember the Good News we cling to, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And unfortunately sometimes we forget. We forget in our lives what the core of our Christian faith is, we get side tracked, we forget we’re in this together and we forget why this message is so important for us in our lives. So what is the core of Christianity? Is it love? Maybe a different way of life? Or a decision I made? An assurance I will be safe and prosper in this life? A friendship group? A list of teachings you must know? Or perhaps something else?

Here the Holy Spirit summarises the gospel in the words, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, from the seed of David. We need to remember what this means; the name Jesus means God saves, Christ or messiah means anointed like the kings and priests of old, He is the true and everlasting King of kings and High Priest, He died but overcame death rising up to everlasting life, and He is the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the Son of David to come. The Word of God is not bound, but there is a lot to it. And it is true, but why do you care if it brings you, like Paul, suffering in this life, ridicule, anxiety, shame? What does this truth mean for you and me?

If we die with, we will live with; if we endure, we will reign with. Are you ‘dead’ to this world, rejecting all evil, corruption and deception, just as Jesus did? Do you endure, keeping the righteous way under the burden of all the temptations to be proud, angry, to go the easy way, the wide road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Or do you miss the mark, do you sin? Last week we heard that suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life, that we pray for God’s mercy and help, meditate on His word, then suffer trials where we see our need to turn to God and His Gospel again. Paul writes here that He is suffering because He proclaims the Good News, but all that was for those called out, Christians, that we hit the mark of salvation in Christ Jesus with glory eternal! Through our suffering to turn and look to Jesus for our salvation. This is the core of Christianity salvation in Jesus, if there is ever a time when I or any pastor does not point you to look to Jesus for salvation let me know I’m a false teacher, antichrist, breaking the second commandment, abusing God’s good name and spitting on the Good News given to us. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Timothy to stand firm with the Holy Spirit and God’s clear word against leaders who were twisting the gospel and teaching something new.

They were denying the truth of Jesus’ word and as Christ Himself said, whoever denies me before men, I will deny before our Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:33). This is not something trivial, this is true peace, joy and love, and ultimately life eternal in Christ. We spend hours and years dedicated to learning and remembering any number of things, peoples names, how to fix cars, how to provide for our families, to support each other and any number of good God given gifts; but if we remember all these and neglect our Gospel (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), forgetting what His death means for you … well, we know what happened to the Israelites of old. How could we be so faithless?

If we deny Him, He will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. God always speaks the truth, Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life, His promises are always sure. Even when you fail constantly, rejecting His promises and commands, our Father still loves you, Jesus still mediates for you, the Holy Spirit still encourages, and we will still try to encourage you to remind you of the salvation you have in Christ, given by God in your baptism, renewed for you again and again by the Spirit in Holy Communion. So you remind the rest of us through the witness of your life, acting and speaking in the presence of God; to do everything for the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); to confess the truth of your sin, as we have already today; and to strive daily to lead the holy life of Christ. He has promised you in His life death and resurrection, you have life everlasting with Him, forgiveness of all your sin, renewal, restoration and reconciliation with God Almighty and all His chosen children, the church throughout time and place. God has saved you!

Remember, remind and react to this wonderful news! Don’t just sit on it, letting it gather dust until next Sunday, but endeavour to show yourself to God as His worker without shame. Yes we fail but then listen to His call of repentance and, when you confess the truth of your sin, His declaration, you are forgiven, righteous and reconciled to your Father in Christ Jesus, you can stand before Him, dead to shame and evil in Jesus Christ, in whom you now live. This is His assurance in Holy Baptism. So now do His work in your life without shame, hold to the simple truth, the gospel we are all a part of, ‘Jesus saves you from sin, death and the devil’. You have been given a new life in Christ, a promise that you will reign with Him, so explore and find out what this means in your life, but always remember and hold on to the Word of Truth, the core of our Gospel, ‘Jesus Christ saves you’.

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

Graham Joseph

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:5,6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith greater.” The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’. 

Faith the size of a mustard seed

A small congregation built a new church on a piece of land left to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, but their world came crashing down when the local building inspector arrived and informed the Pastor that unless they double the number of parking spaces, they would not be able to use the new church.

Unfortunately, the new building had used every square centimetre except for a rather steep hill behind the church.

In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move that rocky hill. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.”

They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved before the scheduled opening dedication service.

At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen”. “We’ll open our new church next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this time too.”

The next morning as the Pastor was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door and a rough looking construction foreman entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from a Construction Company.

We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill – in fact, heaps of fill. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that rocky hill behind the church?

We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge. We need to do this now to allow it to settle properly.” Well, the little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned (Source unknown).

Wow. When you first hear this story it’s easy to say that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’.

In other words, through faith we can move mountains.

But is that right?

Is that a correct conclusion?

Was it their ‘mountain moving faith’ or the length of time they spent in prayer that in the end gave them what they were seeking?

Were those 24 people super heroes of faith and so moved the mountain?

The disciples were facing their own mountains that needed moving.

In the previous verses Jesus had been talking about the effect that sin has on our lives.

Firstly, Jesus warns that anyone who causes another person to sin would be better off if a huge rock were tied around his neck and thrown overboard somewhere in the deepest part of sea.

The disciples were worried about this and quite rightly.

Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?

Who hasn’t said and done things that have caused others to be hurt, fell alienated, angry, hateful, and unforgiving?

If that weren’t enough Jesus goes on to say more. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

It’s a difficult thing to talk to someone – rebuke someone – whose lifestyle does not reflect their position as a child of God. Jesus goes on to say even more.

When a person says he/she is sorry, Jesus says there is to be no limit to the number of times we are to forgive that person.

Very possibly he could be asking for forgiveness for the same or a similar sin over and over and over again.

Jesus says in no uncertain terms, ‘You must forgive him’.

That kind of forgiveness goes right against our human nature.

That person who keeps on offending us doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet Jesus pronounces some dire consequences on those who can’t overcome their need for revenge and be forgiving.

The disciples had a problem – you might say they had their own mountain that needed moving.

They recognised their own sinfulness and their failure to live up to their calling as people who belong to God and disciples who claim to follow their master and do his will.

So, they come to Jesus with all this on their minds and say, “Make our faith greater!

Give us a greater amount of faith so that we will be able to do the things that you have asked of us”.

They felt that an increase in their faith would enable them to move the mountain of sin that was getting in the way of their faithful discipleship.

And what does Jesus do – how does he answer their prayer?

Does he lay his hands upon them and pray and give them more faith?

Does he snap his fingers and grant them a double dose of his Spirit and faith?

Does he give them ‘mountain moving faith’ so that they could remove all obstacles that got in their way?

No, he doesn’t – instead he says to them, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you”.

The point Jesus is making is that they have already been given faith.

Even a tiny faith the size of a mustard seed is enough as far as God is concerned.

The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving.

If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.

The bigger the obstacle the more strength I’d need to climb it.

The more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it.

The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.

That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. And thank God for that.

God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives.

If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter?

The size of a key ring doesn’t matter – key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens doors.

Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.

So, what Jesus is saying to his disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they have the smallest amount of faith, they can do great things.

Even the smallest faith can grasp what God has and is doing in our lives;

even the smallest faith is able to recognise the ways that God is able to make changes in lives and in our world through us.

We have all met people who have lived through very difficult times, and no doubt many of us have thought about the great faith they must have had to come out of their troubles as well as they have.

We may even have said to them – with respect and admiration, ‘I don’t think I could have faced what you have faced. I admire your great faith.’

In response to this I have heard people say, ‘My faith is no greater than anyone else’s. I just didn’t know what faith I had until I needed it. God helped me, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it.’

Jesus didn’t need to increase the size of the faith of the disciples. They already had faith.

He assures them of that and states that, even though their faith may be small, God can accomplish great things through them.

And we know that he did. They went on to share the Good News about Jesus even in the face of some strong opposition, being brought before rulers and judges, being imprisoned and killed.

Didn’t Paul say when he was recalling some of the difficulties he had to face as an apostle, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

He doesn’t talk about how great his faith in God was, but rather he talks about what his faith was focussed on.

There are times when our confident, perhaps even over confident faith, is brought crashing down because of what is happening in our lives.

There are times when our faith seems so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family, our self-worth.

But no matter what size and strength we consider our faith to be at any given moment, faith as small as a mustard seed (and that’s pretty small) is able to uproot a mulberry tree (which has an extensive root system, and plant (not dump) it into the sea and still expect it to bear mulberries.

Years ago, I was asked by the parents of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would have enough faith and understanding to come to Holy Communion.

My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding. Their child may never be able to express what she believed in words.

But as far as God is concerned a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great things in their child’s life.’

What a joy it was for all those at church, especially the parents, to see the outstretched hands of this child, waiting for them to be filled with the love of God through the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament.

Praise God that in spite of our sins he has given us faith – even faith as small as a mustard seed.

And God working through the faith he has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required.

God working in us through faith can move mountains and trees and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is powerful, because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful.

Faith, even one that is described as being the size of a mustard seed, relies on Jesus, his love and strength. This kind of faith enables us to rise above the most threatening circumstances.

To repeat Paul’s words, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

Let’s not twist all this around in order to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take faith and prayer and the study of God’s Word seriously.

But realize that you already possess more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family, your community, even your world.

In summary, today we are being asked not how much faith do we have but rather what are we doing with the faith that God has already given us?

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy