Archive for the ‘After Pentecost’ Category

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

25th Sunday after Pentecost 11th November

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

The Widows Mite, More Than It Appears To Be

Text: Mark 12:38-44

Proposition: Pride and humility are revealed in our actions and they declare our belief in who we think is supreme and best able to care for us.                     

Introduction: It had been about three days since Jesus made the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which means it was three days away from the time of His arrest, humiliation and death. One of the last lessons of faith that Jesus gives to the people is the caution to avoid the pitfalls of pride, especially in worship, leadership and stewardship. It’s a caution to value the things that God values, to not be fooled by outer appearances, to neither over estimate the proud nor under estimate the humble. There’s a story told about how a delegation called on Theodore Roosevelt at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The President met them with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. “Ah, gentlemen,” he said, “come down to the barn and we will talk while I do some work.” At the barn, Roosevelt picked up a pitchfork and looked around for the hay. Then he called out, “John, where’s all the hay?” “Sorry, sir,” John called down from the hayloft. “I ain’t had time to toss it back down again after you pitched it up while the Iowa folks were here.” In politics, sports, entertainment and even the church, appearances can be deceiving. As Mark records what Jesus did in those last days, what occurs is a contrast between the worthless actions of the proud and the extravagance of humility. It was a lesson that the apostle Peter never forgot, perhaps as he told the account of these days to young Mark what Peter remembered was how he had fallen in pride and been restored through humility. Turn with me to Mark 12: 38-44.                                                                                                                                             

  1. Recognize The Source Of Pride.                                                                           

Pride is often known by its desire for greatness, that’s how Jesus begins to describe it. The long robes, the formal greetings in the market places, the special seats at the feasts, all these point to how pride is a desire to ascend to the highest place. We recognize pride in the way that it exalts itself, the way it calls others to, “Look at me, look at what I’m doing, aren’t I great!”. Maybe you recognize these as words that children have often called out to their parents as they rode their bike for the first time or climbed the tree in the backyard. When they say this it’s cute, it has a feeling of accomplishment and pride seems to be a good thing, a natural influence in our lives that draws us to take risks and to stretch our capabilities. Does pride somehow start out good and then somewhere along the way turn bad? Is it like a cute little Tiger cub that one day grows up to be a man-eater? 1 John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” It seems that no matter where you look in Scripture the term pride isn’t referred to in a positive way. Consider these thoughts from the book of Proverbs:      Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 13:10, “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.”                                                                                                               

Shame, strife… the Scripture states that these have their origins in pride, no matter the age or stage of life. As pride seeks to elevate self it will either seek to gain the approval of some or seek to diminish those who oppose it. Perhaps one of the most insidious appearances of pride is when it cloaks itself as humility. Jesus refers to the pretense of the Scribes as they make long prayers. He speaks about the way their piety is used to for dishonest gain in consuming the widows’ house. The face and the posture and the words seem humble but at the heart of it all is pride. But pride is not just action or attitude, it comes from a deeper place. Charles Spurgeon tells a story about a wise man who comes upon a shepherd boy taking care of his flock. The water that the sheep have to drink from in the creek is so muddy that it is undrinkable. So the shepherd boy is taking out jugs of water, letting it sit and then carefully pouring the clear water out to the flock. The wise man sees this and observes that it’s going to take all day to water just half the flock. He suggests to the shepherd boy that they walk upstream to see what makes the creek so muddy. As they come over a rise they see this pond out of which the creek flows and it has all kinds of wild animals and birds walking about its edges. The pond is fed by an underground spring and the spring water is pure yet all these wild animals and birds are stirring up the mud and the creek becomes undrinkable. If they will chase these away and then guard the pond then the shepherd no longer needs to work so hard at straining out the muddy water. The point is that pride issues from the heart and we can work at changing our behavior till the day is done and it still won’t fix the problem. You need to go to the source, clear out that which pollutes it and then guard it from other intruders. How do you do that? Proverbs 8:13, “All who fear the LORD will hate evil. That is why I hate pride, arrogance, corruption, and perverted speech.” Know the truth of Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.” In contrast to the pride of the Scribes comes the humility of the widow as she brings her offering to the Temple.

  1. Know the Strength of Humility.                                                                                

I think it could be a little unnerving to have Jesus sitting there by the offering plate as it were, watching what each person drops into it. We would likely think that this was inappropriate if it happened today. Yet there Jesus is, I’m thinking that He was there because that’s where the Father asked Him to be, that’s where this event was about to unfold, a literal event and even a prophetic event. On the surface this looks more like a story about generosity than humility, an extravagant generosity that draws the eyes of the Savior. It’s what Jesus says next that moves this to the realm of humility, “…she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” So two ideas immediately present themselves:

  1. When it comes to giving to the Lord it’s not the amount that is of primary importance but rather the heart attitude of sacrifice that the amount represents.
  2. When giving to the Lord it’s not about duty so much as it’s about dependence. When you think that she gave her whole livelihood that sounds irrational, what will she live upon tomorrow? The widow’s answer would be that God has promised to provide for her. This is where the focus shifts from lessons on giving to lessons on humility. It’s why Jesus calls the disciples to Himself, the lesson of humility is one which they will dearly need as they face isolation and the formidable forces of resistance of both Herod and Satan. Charles Spurgeon said that, “It is not humility to underrate yourself, humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you.” The widow in Israel was one who was to be protected, Psalm 68:5 says that God is a Father to the fatherless and a judge of the widows. Deut.10:18, Prov.15:25, Psalm 146:9, Jer.7:6, Isa. 1:17…all these verses speak about God’s concern for the widow and the fatherless. The care of widows was meant to be a spiritual barometer for the nation of Israel, that this widow had but two mites to drop into the offering spoke very poorly of the spiritual health of the nation. It is no small coincidence that this story is immediately followed by the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. The widow knew the word of God, she had placed her hopes upon its promises and upon the Lord Who stood behind this Word. Her humility was a confidence properly placed, she had no hope in herself. All this is what Israel ought to have done. Humility begins in the heart, the same place that pride has its origin. It is from the heart that God calls us to follow after His will and design for us. Consider Isaiah 57:15, “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit cof the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” If humility is to think of yourself as God thinks of you, then humility is a pursuit of the truth of who we are. Humility in that sense is what marks the character of Jesus, He knows the truth of who He is. It is that same right assessment of identity that Jesus calls us to, it’s why He revives the spirit of the humble that they would walk truthfully before Him. The contrite heart is a repentant heart one that changes from pride to humble agreement with God. The widows’ heart was humble, the circumstances of livelihood were there and it was a concern, yet she declared her even more real trust and dependence in God. In the Bible there are 49 verses referring to Pride, 25 referring to the humble and 833 that speak about the heart. Guard your hearts! “The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost 21st October

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

 

Hebrews 5:8-10
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Last week we heard how it is impossible to gain eternal life by what we do, but rather it is a gift, freely given, by God the Father to you through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. In today’s sermon we’ll look at what that means for us here and now, with Christ Jesus, The High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.

I’ll say a bit on Melchizedek, king of Salem because he’s an interesting character, Jesus is part of his priesthood and so we are too, and his name is fun to say. Melchizedek, he was the king of Salem in Abraham’s time and Abraham gave to him a tithe before there was any thought on Earth about the temple or tabernacle tithe. The name Melchizedek literally means ‘king of righteousness’ and he was the king of Salem, king of peace. He appears for a brief time in Genesis 14:18-20 and is not heard from again. Certainly a mysterious figure.

But more certainly the priestly order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of Aaron, descendent of Abraham and first High Priest of Israel; as the writer of Hebrews says later in chapter 7, if perfection could’ve come through the old priesthood why was a new priestly order needed? And later the former is set aside because it is weak and useless, (for the law made nothing perfect) and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:11, 18-19). The old has gone and the new has come.

And what is this new priesthood? How is Jesus The High Priest of the order of Melchizedek? The High Priest is the one who approaches God’s throne and intercedes between us and the one who can save both Him and us from death. Jesus is the one who lived the true and right life, He was tempted in every way as we are, yet He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). And in that life here on earth He brought to God His needs and peace offerings with loud cries and tears, sweat like blood (Luke 22:44), and God heard Him because of His holy reverence, fear and respect. Jesus, our High Priest, is the one who stands between God Almighty, the consuming fire of holiness and light, and you. How small and insignificant we seem in this world and against the greatness of God why should He care for us? But He loves you.

When God Almighty first established the order of Aaron there were priests who ignored God’s command in how they should worship, and they worshipped in their own way. Fire came out of the tabernacle and consumed them (Leviticus 10:2). Rejecting God Almighty and going our own way has dreadful consequences. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus is there between us, is there for us, true God and true man and able to deal with us compassionately in our sin and failure and also forgives us. He has suffered our temptations and knows our struggles, our weakness, and He loves us; just as He turned and loved that rich young man last week. Because He suffered being tempted, He is able to help us who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).  If it were not for Jesus, this High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, we would be lost; but God, being rich in mercy, has made you alive together with Christ the High Priest (Ephesians 2:4). Adopted as His children, as inheritors with Christ, through Baptism by the Holy Spirit, you have eternal life. The life of Jesus.

He is the eternal Son of God, a High Priest who has given himself wholly to God, who even though He was Son of God Almighty, King of kings, became a humble servant to serve you. He learned obedience through His suffering here on earth and was made perfect and the source of eternal life for you who obey Him. A life of obedience, suffering, prayer and ultimately joy and love. This is the one who we follow, not a glorious ruler with great armies, power and riches [though He has them] but rather the suffering servant and High Priest who obeys The Heavenly Father and devotes Himself to your salvation.

Do you who are saved listen to Him and obey Him? When you are tempted to go your own way, do you reject yourself and turn to God and His way? Do you suffer in your life in this world because of the Faith and the gifts of God? The world rejected Jesus 2000yrs ago, He was executed before He was 40yrs old, He suffered because of His obedience and devotion. You are one in Christ, called to the same devotion, called to obey God’s Law. Do you intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to life as in God’s presence, and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy? Part of one of our confessions. With the help of the Holy Spirit, with God all things are possible, strive daily to obey God’s Law, it’s hard work, even as Christ has made you holy by His blood, His life death and resurrection.

In Christ you have eternal life, forgiveness and peace, freed from sin, death and the devil. Jesus lived that life and we are joined in Him, you are holy in God’s sight, but here again we have encouragement to live as the holy people we are in Christ Jesus, to devote our lives to God and to turn away from our selfish sin. You are saved, now live in that newness of life.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guide and guard your hearts in Christ Jesus. Go in that peace and serve the Lord. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham

21st Sunday after Pentecost 14th October

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Mark 10:17, 27
A man ran up to and knelt before Him and asked Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.

I wonder, have you ever asked that question before. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to get salvation, to get God to love me, heal me, save me? We want these good, holy things, what must we do to get them? I’ve heard this question quite a few times, ‘Have you found Jesus?’ ‘Have you given your life to Christ?’ I’ve even heard some answers as well, but these answers often focus on what you do, what you must do to inherit eternal life.

So I ask you, what must you do to inherit things from your parents? Do you need to keep your room clean? Do you need to exercise well and eat healthy? Maybe be successful in life growing your own family, or growing wealth and benefitting others? Perhaps you need to get your parent their hearts desire before you can inherit from them? Or do we inherit from our parents because we are their children? Not because of what we have done but because of who we are, part of the family.

How did Jesus answer the rich man? Have you kept the commandments? Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, defraud, and honour your parents. The young man says, he has kept all these from his youth. It’s good to hear he hadn’t killed someone, or committed adultery, and has always honoured his parents, but we know that God is stricter on His rules than we are. Jesus says on the sermon on the mount, that anyone who is angry with a brother breaks this commandment, and anyone who looks lustfully at someone not their spouse commits adultery. In our secret thoughts and desires we reject God’s will and go our own way, the way of sin and death. We could ask, ‘in your life have you ever wanted to lie if you could get away with it, wanted to injure, to steal, to disrespect your parents?’ This is God’s Law, God’s Commands. They show us how we should live, what we need to do to be righteous and holy; but they also reveal to us how we fail to live up to these commands, like a mirror shows who we truly are.

And if we’re thinking, ‘I can do all that, be kind and caring to those people I meet.’ Jesus left out the first 3 of our Lord’s commandments, “You will have no other Gods, but Me” He says, “Do not misuse My name” and “remember My holy day and keep it holy.” When we rely on anything that is not God, we reject His commandments; when we use God’s name lightly or fail to use it at all, we reject His love; when we forget the gathering of God’s people, when we ignore God’s Holy Word and when we give no time in our lives, week, or day for God, we reject His care and His truth. God gave these ten commandments, this Law, for you to help you and guide you, but do we even always remember them let alone always keep them?

Jesus said to the young man, ‘Go, give up your reliance on money and wealth and devote your entire life to Me.’ And the man went away severely distressed. And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.’ And His astonished disciples said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ I understand that astonishment and the deep sorrow of that rich young man, and I’m sure that there are those who get it so much more than me. To be crushed by that weight of expectation, on my best day I don’t think I fully keep even half of God’s Law. And to fail every day at anything can be soul crushing, bringing us into despair. Or perhaps to deal with it we convince ourselves that we are actually doing ok and do keep God’s Law, and so ignore God’s Word of truth in arrogance and pride as the Pharisees did elsewhere.

These are the two bad understandings, despair and arrogance, we come to when confronted by God’s Word of Truth, With man this is impossible. You cannot do anything to gain eternal life, nothing you could do could remove your sinful desires and your continual failing. It’s as if you were dead trying to make yourself alive. The man asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ what did you do to inherit your life here on earth? Nothing, you were given life by the grace of God your Heavenly Father, through your mum and dad. With man it is impossible, but not so with God. For with Him all things are possible. Just as mothers love their children, God loves you unconditionally. You cannot make God love you, but He already does. You cannot make God forgive you, but He does in Jesus death, by His blood. You cannot make God give you eternal life, it’s impossible for us to earn it, but Jesus has earnt it for us and freely gives it to us by the Holy Spirit.

God tells us this wonderful truth through Paul, “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7). It’s impossible for you to make yourself righteous, to gain eternal life, so God has done it for you and freely gives it to you in Jesus Christ our Saviour. In His mercy He saved you through baptism by the Holy Spirit, adopting you into His family, making you an inheritor of eternal life (Romans 8:15). That is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. By yourself, by your work and effort you cannot gain eternal life, but In Christ God has given life to you. With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. You are in the Kingdom of God, and by God’s marvellous grace you do inherit eternal life.

His peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

20th Sunday after Pentecost 7th October

Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Mark 10: 17 – 31
There is a remarkable correspondence between the account in Genesis:2 from today’s lectionary reading and the issues raised by the conversation between Jesus and the rich man and the disciples regarding salvation or eternal life. In trying to understand this connection we also see the truth of Martin Luther’s words in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Therefore, whoever knows well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian (Luther LW Vol 26 p115.)

 What Luther is saying is that in one way or another we are all theologians, we all have views about ourselves, the world and God. But what distinguishes real theologians from fake theologians is their knowledge of the difference between God’s Law and God’s Gospel. This ability consists in the right use of both the Law and the Gospel. God’s Law confronts us with God’s commands. It constantly reminded us just how far we are from knowing and loving God. It tells us that in fact we hate God, we would rather be free of God’s commands and be the judges of what is good and evil for ourselves. How very post-modern is that!

The Gospel on the other hand is God’s Word of free forgiveness in Christ, the covering of our waywardness and hatred of God by God’s gift of Christ’s righteousness; whereby we are set free from being haters of God’s law to embracing his will for us and our neighbour, in which we express our thanks to God for His grace toward us in Christ. 

In the scriptures from Genesis to the Gospel of St Mark read today, we see how the difference and unity between the Law and the Gospel has a very drastic effect if they are not understood or rejected.

In the garden of Eden man (Adam/Adamah means ‘earth’ from which God created man) Adam is put amid a flourishing garden planted with all manner of edible fruits which are there for his benefit and sustenance. There is however one important proviso or exception. He must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says if man eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on that day, “you will surely die.” So, the fruit of this tree has fatal consequences and thus God’s command to avoid the fruit of this tree is a prohibition to safeguard and protect the Adam’s life. God’s command is life giving and life preserving. In this command God’s protective hand is stretched out over man. God wills to protect what He has created from death, with all its negative connotations. God’s command concerning this tree is a powerful promise of life and abundant nourishment for Adam in the garden.

The threat posed by the fruit of the tree, which man is forbidden to eat, is that God knows that once eaten man will have his eyes opened and he will have the knowledge of good and evil. For Adam this is the fatal threat that this tree poses. It promises the knowledge of good and evil. Once man has this knowledge God cannot stop the fatal consequences flowing from the decision to eat the fruit, this occurs in Chapter 3 of Genesis. But once the fatal step is taken man will become himself like God. He will possess in the knowledge of good and evil that which distinguishes the Creator from the creature. The knowledge of creation established in its lawfulness as good. God’s act of creation consists in the establishment of that which is not God within the limits of creaturely being, as created. In relation to God and this limitation of the creature is being a creature is as part of the good creation that the Lord God makes and loves. God knows the creation in its earthly reality as created is limited, is not divine, it is not unlimited but limited, it has boundaries set by God’s act of creation and which is declared ‘good.’

In transgressing the commandment that is meant to save and secure the creaturely life of the creature, man becomes the possessor of divine knowledge; man become as the Bible puts it “like God knowing good and evil”

But such knowledge, once attained, cannot become unknown. Man is burdened with it and it becomes the seed of his destruction as the creature God has made from the dust of the earth. For the creature makes the impossible attempt to be like God and therefore rejects the gracious life preserving truth of God’s command regarding the tree of knowledge. In seeking and achieving this knowledge man hates the limit of his creaturely being and life as the one who God had created and willed to relate to in love. But instead seeks to be equal with God; man grasps the impossible possibility for a creature of being “like God”. Adam thus embraces his own death as a creature in his rejection of God’s good command to “not eat of the fruit tree of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Instead of allowing God to be God and rejoicing in the promised goodness of God’s commandment towards him that wills to preserves life; Adam and all his subsequent generations hurtle headlong to destruction in hatred of God’s commandment and reaching for the unattainable goal of being like God. Possessing the ability to know good and evil, having a conscience, being the judge and therefore being like God. Rejecting the love of God encapsulated in the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; rejecting this love, rejecting the life-giving life preserving commandment, Adam chooses the death of separation from God as a would-be god with all its awful consequences. This is immediately revealed by the book of Genesis in Adam’s family. His descendants multiply and destroy each other as generation succeeds generation.

When we come to the New Testament, the reading from the holy gospel of St Mark 10, we are presented with the difference between those who are obedient and those who are disobedient to Jesus. Who’s in and who’s out of the kingdom. It has two main sections: one dealing negatively with the disobedience of the rich man and the other positively dealing with the nature of the disciple’s obedience.

We shall begin by trying to see the difference by looking at the second section first: The obedience of the disciples. They ask Jesus, “Who can be saved”, for they are “astounded” and “amazed” at Jesus saying that it “is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than that rich man should enter the kingdom of God.” When the rich man seeking eternal life says he has kept the commandments turns away from Jesus when confronted with the meaning of God’s commandments.

Contrary to the rich man who departs and goes away from Jesus. The saying of Peter in v.28., is not contradicted. That they indeed, the disciples, have left all and followed Jesus. They have done in fact what the rich man could not do. But to their amazement Jesus does not then say that therefore they inherit eternal life, as opposed to the rich man. Surely, we may think, Jesus is over emphasising the situation of human beings before God. Haven’t the disciples done precisely what the rich man was unable to do and in so doing, leaving all and following Jesus, haven’t they by doing this shown that entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is after all a human possibility.

But Jesus words in v.27 puts an end to this illusion. That even they, the disciples, the obedient ones, should enter the Kingdom of Heaven is an impossibility for men. So, Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ urgent question, “Who then can be saved” is effectively – ‘No one’ can, ‘Nobody can be saved’. The disciples, standing as they do before the disobedience of the rich man, are forced by Jesus words to see themselves as standing on a par with the rich man when it comes to reckoning up “Who can be saved.” They are forced to see that their only hope, as it is also the hope of the rich man, that with God, “all things are possible,” and therefore even their salvation as well. For this possibility of God is standing before them and the rich man in the person of Jesus, who as God’s Son is identified in his flesh with the godforsakenness of the human condition. He is God’s possibility which excludes both the rich man as well as disciples from salvation in terms of what they have done or not done: for He is in Himself not simply the divine possibility of salvation He is its actuality.

Even though it is true of the rich man that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of as needle than that he should enter the Kingdom of Heaven, this is also true of the disciples: those who have done what the rich man could and would not do. From the point of view of their own ability the disciples too lack precisely the same thing as the rich man. This is the discovery they are forced to make when, according to the text, they exclaim, “Who then can be saved!” The judgment of Jesus on the rich man, the affirmation by Jesus of the one thing necessary applies no less to the disciples.

These words of Jesus compel the disciples to see the disobedient in an entirely new light. Jesus’ seemingly harsh words directed at the rich man and indirectly to them as well, who have left all and followed Him, that they indeed are included in Jesus saying, “With men it is impossible.” With these words Jesus binds the disciples in complete solidarity with the disobedient rich man. In Jesus encounter with the rich man and in the consequent discussion the disciples are confronted with the yawning abyss of their own disobedience, the impossibility of their salvation apart from the actuality of the possibility of God’s grace present for them in Jesus. The presence of God’s grace in Jesus excludes all people from the Kingdom of Heaven in order that those who enter, enter only because of the gift of grace present in Him. Who can be saved? Nobody can be saved, the affirmation of the one thing necessary for the rich man applies no less to the disciples.

What is it then that distinguishes the disciples of Jesus from the rich man, the disobedient. The difference does not consist in their obedience, what they have done in following Jesus as opposed to the rich man’s disobedience. What distinguishes the disciples from the rich man is not who and what they are but who and what Jesus will to be for them in His call of them. In their following Jesus, their being with Him, they testify to the possibility of grace, the fact that with God all things are possible and that includes their obedience. They remain disciples only in so far as they continue to acknowledge this mystery to be the basis of their existence. For the conversation between Jesus and the disciples ends with the cryptic saying, “many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”

But this gift of grace present in Jesus was there not only for the disciples it was there for the rich man as well. The gospel writer adds the critical words in the context of Jesus conversation with the rich man: “Jesus”, he says, “looked upon him and loved him.” When Jesus goes on to tell him what he lacks, the freedom from his riches, he does so in order that he, the rich man, may see that Jesus is there specifically for him. Jesus call of the rich man to follow him and forsake his riches shows us, as in Genesis, that the command of God is life preserving and grounded in God’s love. It is that rich man, may give up what he has chosen as giving his life meaning and value, his possession and instead receive the gift of God’s grace as that which gives his life enduring meaning. Within the hard shell of the commandment that Jesus gives the rich man is the life preserving love of Christ which he chooses not to receive  

For who else is Jesus on the way to Gethsemane and Golgotha, but for the sake of those who are enslaved by all that negates true human life. Jesus hard words to the rich man, the demand that he lays upon him and which causes him to turn away, this hard demand is in order that the rich man may be set free to allow himself to be loved by Jesus. This was purpose of the command of the law which the rich man could recite but did not know. The rich man can certainly reject what Jesus wills to be for him and he does so. But his actions cannot negate or overthrow the Kingdom of Christ, the fact, so poignantly stated by the gospel writer, that Jesus looked upon him and loved him, loved specifically him with his hard and rebellious heart.

In Him God has taken to himself the sinful humanity of every one of us, children of Adam and become the One, the only one to live a human life before God that allows God to be God. To fulfil the Law not for his own sake but for ours. This involves Him confessing the sin of Adam and all his descendants by allowing God to be in the right in rejecting the foolish creature who sought to be God by knowing good and evil. Allowing God to be the judge. Allowing God to be in the right over against Him and thus embracing his journey to the cross and death in order that a new Adam may come to life in His resurrected glory and be the one who lives to give this new humanity of His to those who accept the gift of His truth and righteousness as the truth about the untruth of their lives and thus live by faith in Him. And we are promised this wonderful gift of Himself in Word and Sacrament

Dr.Gordon Watson.

19th Sunday after Pentecost 30th September

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

James 5:14-16
Is anyone weak? Let him draw near to the elders of the congregation and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the weary and the Lord will raise them up. And if he has committed sins he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you will be healed.

I’ve been looking into prayer in the past couple of weeks, watched a movie called the War room, been going through some studies on prayer, been listening to some encouraging podcasts as well. The early Christians, right at the birth of the church, were devoted to prayer. At Pentecost the 3000 people the Holy Spirit baptised and God adopted devoted themselves, their lives, to the Good News of forgiveness and truth, the fellowship and family of God, to Holy Communion and to prayer (Acts 2:42). Throughout Paul’s letters he prays again and again for faith, hope and love both thanks and for more. I speak with you and others about prayer, how we pray and how often. And here again Our God, Saviour and Ruler tells us to pray. Are you suffering evil, are you cheerful, are you weak? Turn to God and rely on Him, for He will save you.

We hear from Philippians (4:4-7) to pray in all things with thanks giving, and here James is telling us, encouraging us to pray. But why pray? Why should we all ask God for help, for guidance, for healing? Because He has promised to listen to you. In the psalms God tells us to call upon Him in troubling times and He will deliver us and we will glorify God (Psalm 50:15). And from Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord and He heard my cry. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t, then the prophet of God told the wicked King Ahab to go up the mountain to see the rain God was sending (1 Kings 18:41-45). In Hebrews (4:16) God tells us that Jesus intercedes for us, asking God to help us; He is the great High Priest who died for us and loves us; He is our leader our head, and so we can draw near to God’s throne, into the awesome, powerful and terrifying presence of God Almighty, draw near in confidence to His throne of grace, that we, that you may receive mercy and find grace in your time of need. Why pray? Because He promises to hear you, even He wants to listen; and not only that, but He will save you from evil and destruction to the glory of His name.

So we pray because it is part of the life of a Christian, God has commanded us to and He promises to listen and care for you. James tells us to pray when suffering and to sing when full of cheer. From Philippians we hear, to pray with thanksgiving, and from psalm 50 we heard that we glorify God in our response to His help. To pray, to talk to God in all circumstances and about all things. In the large catechism Luther’s advice to parents is to teach children that when they see or hear anything dreadful or frightening to say, ‘Lord God, protect me’ or ‘Help me dear Jesus’ and when good things happen, no matter how small, to say, ‘thank God, or praise God’. To ask for God’s help in every trouble and to thank Him for every good (Large catechism the commandments paragraph 73-77). This habit would have the added bonus of reminding ourselves of God’s grace and mercy everyday.

Now what was that third question? Is anyone weak/sick? Hmm, I wonder what that means. Well, I have been and I’ve come to a conclusion, James is speaking about our physical health, to ask God for help and to ask others for help too, illness and injury are certainly suffering evil. But more than that James is speaking about spiritual weakness, are you weak in the faith? Are you struggling with sin, with guilt, with yourself, others, even with God Himself? Come to those wise Christians around you, to the pastoral assistants, elders, maybe even me, by God’s grace and Word I hope I’ll help you, come to the elders of the congregation and ask them to pray for you. And elders make sure you do. Just as Paul prayed constantly for the spread of the Gospel and the growth of God’s people in faith, we too can join with him and join with Christ Himself in thanking God for our own faith, for the Good News of our forgiveness in Christ and that He would spread this peace, joy, hope and love throughout our whole lives and the whole world. When we struggle in our sin we are sick, sometimes we even feel it physically, or maybe in anxiety or depression. Our heavenly Father knows this and it hurts Him too, He loves you, indeed He gave His only Son, Jesus, to die that you might live.

Jesus died to free you from sin, to heal the terrible sickness that sin causes, even to take away deaths power over us. When you struggle with this truth, when you doubt that it applies to you, God in His great grace has given us another gift, and that is our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we struggle we can come to each other, to ask for help, but also to pray together for encouragement and growth in faith, for the forgiving power of Christ’s blood and for God’s peace and joy. You are with all of us, forgiven by Jesus, saved from death by God our Father and defended by the Holy Spirit, so when you are weak, when you forget, come to be with your family, let yourself be prayed for and hear again that God loves you and Jesus has saved you.

And the peace that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Who touched me??

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

Mark 5:21-43. 
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. {25} And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. {26} She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. {27} When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, {28} because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” {29} Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. {30} At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” {31} “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” {32} But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. {33} Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. {34} He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Who touched me? Or more accurately; “Who touched my clothes?” In a whole crowd of people, what an amazing statement. Yet here again we hear two stories that point out to us just how amazing and great this Jesus truly is. Here is One who is far more than a good example; or even a great prophet. Here is God Almighty himself, letting himself be touched and touching the lives of people who were in deep, deep trouble. He brought peace and life to people who had no hope of either.

And it is this same Jesus who comes to us today with the same words of peace and life: Despite who we are and how terribly unworthy and insufficient we really are. We are in no better a position than this woman and this child in our reading today: unclean, unhealthy and having no further human way out of our predicament. Yet Jesus comes to us as God Almighty and his power is transmitted into our lives; giving healing, life and peace. Now at this, are we too, astonished; or do we simply take it all for granted as a right?

Let as look a little more closely again at this woman with here serious health problem that had impacted her whole life, and left her with no human possibilities or hope. Now, we are told, that she had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. Not only could the doctors not help her situation, they just added to her suffering. Poor woman! But by now her finances had ran out and there was no Medicare to fill the gap. So now, every human source of relieving her from her ailment was gone.
Her only hope left was now God Almighty himself. But even here, what could she do. She could not go to the Temple, because she was unclean. Here bleeding and God’s command had deemed that. God would have struck her down. She could not afford to buy the sacrifice that was needed, so all avenues here seemed to be exhausted also.

But when she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Here in Jesus, God himself was at work. If she could sneak up from behind un-noticed and touch his garments she would be OK. She wouldn’t have to disclose to everyone what her uncleanness was about, and all would be well. Without being noticed and without a word spoken, she touches Jesus’ clothes, and immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

But then it all goes wrong. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. She had been caught out, and now would have to ‘face the music.’ She knew she was not worthy or acceptable to receive from God. She knew that she should and would be looked on with scorn.

But to her amazement she hears Jesus say to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” This Jesus; God – had allowed her to touch him and receive what she so desperately needed. He has done far beyond what she was able to even hope to get: not only did he heal her, but he accepted her and gave her his peace. She was now not only whole and healthy physically, but spiritually as well. All by the goodness of God Almighty himself, through this Jesus. Though she was helpless and hopeless, through the touch, she now had healing and could go in peace. To God be the glory great things he has done.

Likewise with the little girl who had died, the touch of Jesus brought life and joy to her and her family. What was laughed at, became reality. That which was beyond all human help and hope, God’s touch has again done the impossible. That which was dead, has been brought to life. Here in Jesus; great things he has done.

But that was back then; what about here today? Can we expect Jesus to walk into our midst and touch us in our sickness and death: as individuals and as a congregation? Surely, this is laughable to our world around us? Surely, we might be tempted to think that this story is only here to give us some psychological encouragement and to point out that this Jesus was in some way special?

But here let us remember that Jesus comes to us today and extends his touch to us in even greater ways. He comes to gives us much more, than a healing from a sickness, or even raising us to life. Yes, in some circumstances he will heal and perform great miracles. But to each of us he comes to touch us and give us forgiveness of sins and the assurance of life and salvation. He comes to extend his peace to us so that we can go through life with that peace which is beyond understanding.

Think about it: we too are again and again at the end of our tether. We too have exhausted all human possibilities of being able to have the wholeness and peace in our lives that we know should be there. No matter how good and great we might be, we often come as walking dead. Too may things in the past weeks and years have crushed us and caused us suffering. Many times, we also have brought great shame on ourselves and others, and left us feeling worthless and alone, beyond human help and hope: Even knowing that we are completely unworthy to come into God’s presence.

Yet we know and hear that this Jesus Christ is the only one who truly can help us and give us what we need. So we sneak in the back and sit in those last pews seeking God’s healing, and long for his touch and his power: longing for the freedom to again go forward and live. We tremble with fear at the prospect of going away no better than we came. But we come because we know that it is he alone who can help us.

As we sit, we look up and see the cross: we see that which reminds us of a God who has suffered in our place: who died our death. Yes, here is our God who knows our pain and our hurt. He came to be with us and to help us through.

Then as the Service begins, we are not only reminded of our baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, but here is a reminder that this God is here in our very midst and his name is placed on each one of us.

This surely then makes us very uncomfortable for we are sinful and unclean: unworthy to have God touch us. So, we are entered into a time of confession, so that our troubles are laid bare before God, so that he can deal with them. And he does! Through the pastor he pronounces us forgiven: our sin is removed so that we can live at peace with our God here in this service.

From there he leads us into his Word, so that which he wants us to know, can touch us and encourage us forward. He continually leads us through Law and Gospel to see and know Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. He reminds us of the healing, hope and power that he has won for us. He encourages us forward into the coming week to again live and be the people that he wants us to be, so that others in the community around us can see and know the Good News of Jesus Christ also. He wants to touch them through us.

Before he does, however, he invites us to a special feast so that he can touch us in a very real way. He invites us to join with him, the angels and all the faithful who have gone before us. All, so that he can give himself: his very body and blood which he shed on the cross, so that we can know that we are forgiven and that eternal life with God in heaven has been won for us.

Then once again, before we leave, he places his touch on us. Through the Benediction he gives his blessing to us so that we can go forward with confidence and certainty to face the week ahead. Now, no matter how bad things were when we arrived, we now are healed: forgiven and given life and salvation. That which was sick, dead and unclean, has been made whole. Now we are at peace with God; and we can go in peace once again.

Yes, the world out there is still going to be tough. We still have a sinful nature and the consequences of sin will be ever around us. But now we know, God’s touch has the final say in our life. Now we know that we are loved, forgiven and assured of eternal life, no matter what the devil, the world and our sinful self can throw at us. Nothing now in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Who touched me? As we came here to seek his help we have come into contact with his touch, and have been given healing and wholeness. God has again touched us so that we can go in peace. To him again then be all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze

18th Sunday after Pentecost 23rd September

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

Mark 9:32

But they didn’t understand His words and were afraid to ask.

I wonder, have you ever come across something that you didn’t understand? And we’re you scared to admit it? Maybe others expect you to get it, or maybe you just don’t want to admit your ignorance and failure to succeed. Too afraid of being humbled to be seen as we truly are, people who need help.

The world teaches us that we need to be independent and self-sufficient. To be able to support ourselves, and then maybe help others; but the best and strongest people need no help from anyone. That’s the goal I was taught growing up, get a job, get my own house, support my own family, be independent and be right. And this world has been teaching much the same things for a long time, to get power for yourself so that you are safe. In ancient Judea the people were waiting for their messiah, for the Christ. Waiting for him to come, to restore the kingdom, to kick out and conquer the Romans and to save the Israelites once and for all. They did not understand God’s great plan to save them and all the world, To forgive and bring new eternal life.

The disciples as people in their time, just as we are in our time, also seemed to have expected Jesus to be that warrior king. Peter confessed Him as the Christ just a chapter ago, then rebuked Jesus telling his Lord that He was wrong and couldn’t go to die. Here and the next time Jesus speaks of His crucifixion the disciples wonder about their worldly place in this New Kingdom, who is the greatest, will I be rich and powerful? They were thinking as the world around us does, wanting to grow in power and fame.

They do trust Jesus and try to hear what He has to say, but they don’t get it. They don’t understand. But they should, they’ve been with Jesus for maybe three years now, His inner circle, those who He explains things to (Mark 4:34), if anyone understood Jesus it would be them. But they don’t understand. They don’t understand God’s plan of healing and cleansing for all this corrupt, sinful world. They think, like those around them, that the new king of Israel will restore God’s kingdom by kicking out the Romans and restoring the old kingdom of the Israelites as a country like any other. But then He says He will be given to the people and die. The disciples don’t get it. They don’t understand how that will work in their worldly thoughts. Jesus rebuked Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of this world’ (Mark 8:33). They don’t understand, but they try to work it out themselves, try to rely on their own strength and wisdom. They ask who is the greatest. To afraid in their pride to admit to Jesus that they don’t understand they turn to themselves.

Too proud to humble themselves by asking for help, they are afraid to talk to God. Too proud to pray. How often aren’t we the same?  ‘I can do it by myself, I don’t need God’s help for this small thing’ but from Philippians we hear God’s word to us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, Ephesians 6:8, 1 Timothy 2:1) Are you too proud to ask for help, too proud to listen, too proud to be proven wrong, to be seen as a failure. Too proud to see that you cannot control what happens in this world, cannot control what happens around you, you can’t even control your own desires. We need God’s help, we need the help of Jesus and the Spirit through our lives, you and I cannot by our own strength understand what God does, or what He wants (1 Corinthians 2:13). By ourselves we cannot escape the traps of sin, by yourself and without God you have nothing, at least nothing good that lasts.

Why don’t we bring our request to God, why don’t we ask for the help that He has promised to give? Are we too concerned with this world, how people see you to think about the one who promises to forgive, save and help you, indeed the one who already has (John 3:16, 1 John 1:9, John 14:16). Too proud to pray, relying on ourselves. Are we too scared of being seen as a failure that we fail our God and saviour? Are we of God or are we of the world?

You and I are in this world, but God has brought us to Him, made us His children, His holy people by baptising us into the life death and resurrection of His Son, our saviour Jesus the Christ. In this world we do look like fools, like failures and like sinners, that is what we are just like everyone else. And just like everyone in this world we need help, and humbly we ask for it, even accepting infants as fellow siblings in Christ. No one of us is greater than another, there is no reason for pride or fear because we are with Jesus, who is far greater and more able than all of us and gives us all we need. We are with Him and He with us. Like Jesus was with he disciples the Holy Spirit is with us, with us in our struggles and our joys throughout our whole lives. He knows us and loves us and is there to help us (John 14:16). Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7). God has given us so much already He doesn’t want us to be afraid to ask for the help you need, so do not fear in your failure to ask Jesus for help like the disciples did all those years ago, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God for He loves you.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

17th Sunday after Pentecost 16th September

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

James 3:9-10

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Speech and communication are one of the great gifts God has given to us and all people. We learn it very young and it is really helpful to get around with, much easier than being deaf and mute. It enables us to convey complex ideas to one another, to understand each other. It’s essential to our lives, even those deaf and mute have created sign language to communicate. Without communication, with words or gestures, we would not be able to relate to each other. Without speech or language we would be alone, it is how we know each other and our needs. To relate to someone means to talk with them. To relate to God means to talk with Him.

God has given us speech, and how do we use this gift? Do you use it to show how you care for others? To help and guide others? To teach truth? To build each other up, glorify God, promise good? Or to promise evil? To gossip? To lie or mislead? To bring others down and so curse them? Does your tongue both curse people, and praise God? My siblings in Christ, this should not be.

God’s words have power, He speaks, things happen. It is the similar with our words, what we say and how we say it has consequences. We heard today God addressing this through James, that the tongue is like a ship’s rudder, small but with big effects. Just a small fire can destroy a whole forest, and the tongue is a fire. We all know of times where someone has said something hurtful, to bring another down and it has worked, maybe they said it to you, or you said those words to another. But also, we know of when something kind or helpful was said and how that lightens the day of the hearer, again maybe you heard it or said it. We know that words can and do affect others. They build up and tear down relationships. And that maybe why God gave two commandments in those ten about our speech.

The eight commandment is, ‘you will not bear false witness’ or do not lie. What does this mean? Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully believe, betray, slander, or defame our neighbour, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” To speak well of others is God’s will, so how can we insult others and bring them down? The tongue is a guide for our lives, we hear our words and listen to them; if you say someone is a liar, you will treat them like one. And more you have rejected God’s way and are seeking destruction. So do not speak to curse or destroy others, while praising the God who created them in His image. That is not why God gave us speech, it’s not His way.

His way is shown by Christ, and through His Word and the Bible. By God’s grace we are His people, and He has given us the privilege to know Him and to be able to speak with Him, to pray. The second commandment is the gift of God’s name, “You will not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” Here Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” In giving us His name God is telling us to use it, to call on Him to pray. Just as Jesus took the time to speak with His Father, we too can talk with Him, and what is a relationship without communication? We are invited to praise God for what He has done for us and what He can do; invited to give thanks for His mercy and grace; invited to pray and ask Him to help us when we are in need. To help us keep His word, to stay on His way and to control our tongue. He has done so much for you, giving you speech, a good reputation, allowing you to speak with Him, and He promises to hear you. He has given you this great gift of prayer. Do you use it? Or do you rely on your own strength and advice?

Many people pray as an after thought, as I have done many times in the past, or people pray as a last resort, when they are desperate. Imagine if that was the only time we spoke to our family friends and loved ones, those relationships would suffer. So why do we do this to the one who has saved us from death and freed us from sin’s cage? The Father sent His only child to die for you, to adopt you and save you. And Jesus, His Son, willing gave up His own life to bring you life. The Good News is that you are saved from sin’s power, you are God’s children, His heirs, you have life forever with Christ, God loves and cares for you. Praying doesn’t save you, it doesn’t wash away your sins, Jesus Christ’s blood and the waters of Baptism are what cleanse you. But prayer does help, it helps us rely on God, to remember His ways, to speak His word and to control our tongue. And when you fail to pray, take some comfort that Jesus has and does intercede for you (John 17; Romans 8:34), and the Holy Spirit prays for you in groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). God has given us so many gifts, life and life eternal, forgiveness, peace, speech and so much more. So be careful to use speech and use it well.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

16 Sunday after Pentecost 9th September

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

Isaiah 35:1, 3-4
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

“Be strong, do not fear; Our God will come,
he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Life here on earth isn’t easy, is it? Jobs, family, and friends are great blessings but also hard work sometimes. On top of that is sickness, injury and chronic illness; we all know someone with cancer, maybe even a child. As well as worrying about health, we worry about wealth, struggling in this world to succeed or just to break even. There is so much suffering in this world, even when we don’t speak of the struggle of us as Christians against temptation, the flaming darts of the evil one, and our own sin. 

The same is true for every time and every place, including ancient Syria where a gentile woman came to Jesus for help. Her people had threatened and killed the ancestors of Jesus, the Hebrews over hundreds of years, the wicked queen Jezebel who killed many of God’s prophets and enticed her husband Ahaz king of Israel and his people to worship the Baals. These people were the enemies of Israel and the Jews; and produced a woman who was so against God and His followers that the great prophet Elijah feared for his life and fled all the way to Sinai. However, these people also produced the woman we heard about today, a woman who cared for her daughter and heard and believed that Jesus could save her even though she was Syrophoenician. Jesus did not see her as His enemy, but rather heard her faith, her reliance on Him and healed her daughter. Like Ephesians says, our enemy is not people but sin and evil.

She was not His enemy, but rather she relied on Him for life and salvation in her suffering and the suffering of her daughter. We don’t know exactly how her child was suffering from the demon, but it could not have been easy for the family. Perhaps it felt like a never-ending trial, maybe with small times of relief similar to the drought today. We heard from Isaiah of a coming time when the desert and parched land will be glad, rejoicing in bloom. There will come a time when God will come and save us, the blind will see and the deaf will hear, the lame will leap like a dear and the mute shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5-6). A time when God will save us from our enemies. And who are our enemies? The cranky person down the street, or in the next pew; the Muslims? Or are our enemies sin, death and the devil? The enemies of Jesus, not of the ancient Jews. Isaiah is foretelling of the coming of Jesus, the deaf hear, the mute speak here in our story today; and we know that in Jesus’ death He defeated sin and the devil’s power, and by His resurrection He destroyed deaths power over us. God has saved us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; and so we speak of the wonders He has done.

But, life here is still not easy. You are saved, forgiven and having eternal life, but you still struggle in sin and are under attack even by the evil one. Isaiah tells us, be strong and do not fear our God will come, but we need help to be strong. We, like the Syrophoenician woman need help, but unlike her Jesus isn’t walking around town. But He has sent the Holy Spirit to walk alongside us, to comfort us and to help you. And if it wasn’t enough to have God Himself with us, He has given us His armour, truth, righteousness, the readiness of the Good News of peace, faith, salvation and His Word, His true promises to you. We are not alone, God the Holy Spirit is with us, but in His grace, God has also given us each other, to encourage, support and pray for each other. The gift of prayer, to be able to speak with The Almighty creator of all, to thank Him and ask Him for help for us, for all the Lord’s people and those in need. God Himself helps and supports us, by the Spirit, by His Word, by each other and by prayer.

God has given us these great gifts, things better than all the other advice, support structures and help in this world, but if we don’t use them, if we reject God’s help it’s not much help to us at all. If when we struggle in drought, in sickness, in temptation and we throw away God’s shield of faith how can we hope to deflect the flaming darts of the evil one? If we rely not on Jesus, but on our own intelligence and skill, how can we bring rain? How can you save yourself from sinning, how can you save yourself from death? How could that Syrophoenician woman save her child from the demon? She couldn’t, and she knew that. She knew she needed help and she knew where to find it. In Christ Jesus. That is who we find our salvation in, and we find our help in the Holy Spirit who dwells with us.

Paul tells us to be always alert and to pray, and elsewhere to hold tight to the hope we have in Christ. We as Christians are given new life in Christ and are called to live in that new life as Children of the light. We are called to be aware of who we are, to listen to God’s Word, living as Jesus taught and as God teaches through the rest of His Word. This is a struggle, Paul was never rid of the ‘thorn in his side’ and in Romans 7 describes the conflicting desires each of us live with, the desire to sin and the desires to follow God’s Way. How do we know God, what He has done for us and promises us? How do we know God’s Way? By hearing His word, reading the Bible; and by practising our beliefs through gathering, through prayers of thanks and request, through devotion of all our lives to God and through encouragement of each other. The struggles of this life are real, but God helps us through them. He has given you eternal life, saved you from the consequence of sin and will help you through your life in this world. Thanks be to God.

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

Pastor: Graham Josephs