Second Sunday of Epiphany

John 1:29b, 39
Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He said to them, come and you will see. Therefore they went and saw where He remains and they remained beside Him that day.

            Look! Over there, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! You didn’t come here to see or hear me, not to sing the songs or to find a comfy seat. You came here to see Jesus. To listen to Him and to stay in His presence. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am with them (Matthew 18:20). Jesus is with us here, now! We come to hear His words, the truth and this sanctifies us (John 17:17). God’s Word does what He sends it to do just like the wonderful rain (Isaiah 55:11). To receive from Jesus mercy and a new life free from sin, to hear His words, His commands and what is most precious to be forgiven, our sins taken away by the Lamb of God, to hold on to this forgiveness received in the bread and wine. You come as those disciples did all those years ago, you come to stay with Jesus.

            Thank God for His mercy, what a wonderful time what a fantastic gift! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He is here for you. You have already heard His voice, ‘I forgive you all your sins … peace be with you’, and in God’s great mercy He will offer you again forgiveness in the assurance of Christ’s body and blood. Forgiveness and life you can taste, what a wonderful and precious gift! This is the wonderful Good News, God’s promise of full life and deep peace to you, for you. Don’t be distracted by our faults, by the songs, the prayers, all our responses, don’t be distracted by me, but through all these see Jesus your saviour, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. He is the focus, the reason, everything we do is trying to point us to Him, receiving His gifts and responding. For He’s the only one who reconciles you to God Almighty and reconciles our Heavenly Father to you.

Hear again His love and mercy, you are forgiven all your wretched sin, all the wrong and evil you have done to yourself and others, every betrayal of God and all other failures, and yes you fail, turned away from God at birth still today you reject Him and forget Him. You live as though Jesus stayed dead and as if this life is all there is to live for. I know this because God has said it and God does not lie (1 John 1:8, 10). He has told you and He has told me that we are poor miserable sinners, wanting our own happiness and independence that we might take the glory even just a little for ourselves (1 Timothy 1:17). To steal from the God who created and sustains us, to betray Jesus our bridegroom, and to run off and live our own way.

This is the sin of all people, this sin that I struggle against sometimes fighting harder sometimes giving in. Yet just like you preparing to receive Jesus’ wonderful gifts I too reject my sinful pride and admit, agreeing with Jesus, that I have sinned and fallen short as a Christian, God’s child, fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Your sins and my sins are horrific and real, and with all people these make up the sin of the world. It is easy to think that the fire and drought are God’s retribution, but what did John say in the reading of the Good News today? Behold, look to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Jesus takes away your sin and mine. He takes it upon Himself, like the scapegoat of old, like the sacrificial lambs for forgiveness of sins, just as God promised through Isaiah; silent like a lamb to the slaughter He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon Him was the punishment that brought us peace, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53).

To understand the depth of your sin and helplessness, offers the beginning of grasping the joy of John; Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! The Holy Spirit reveals to you your sin, and to me mine. The Word of God is sharper than any sword cutting straight to the heart, and like a hammer crushes all excuses and all pride. We can hide it all we like, God knows you better than you know yourself, your deepest desires, your darkest thoughts, we cannot escape the one who searches the heart (Psalm 139). And yet why would you want to? God loves you as the perfect husband loves His wife (Hoses 3), He came to reconcile you to Himself, to make all things right, to take away your sin, and to renew you bringing you into a new and holy life. Jesus has taken away your sin, you are free from it (Romans 6:22; 1 Peter 2:16). He took it upon Himself and died, sin dying with Him, but not rising in the resurrection; In Jesus’ crucifixion the sin of the world is dead and powerless (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5, 8). So you joined with His life in Baptism are dead to sin and alive in Him (Romans 6:11) Now just like those disciples the Holy Spirit has brought you faith through hearing His Words (Ezekiel 16:60; 33:11; 34:25) and Jesus has called you to come and see, to remain with Him, living His way in forgiveness and truth.

John pointed to Jesus, Andrew was draw by the Holy Spirit then remaining with Jesus he brought this wonderful news to his brother. So as you remain with Jesus, listening to Him receiving His gifts, go in His peace and serve your Lord. Amen.
Joseph Graham.

First Sunday of Epiphany

 

Acts 10:38, 42
Jesus of Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, went about working good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, God was with Him.
And He commanded us to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that He is appointed under God judge of the living and the dead.

 

            Thank God for all the gifts He has given, for life, food, family, friends, for peace, relatively good government, a land to call home, all these wonderful things that so many throughout the world and throughout history have not had. Yet now we have all this, what do we do with it? How should we use these gifts? Knowing all this what will you do in this drought and as our state is burning down. Job said the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). But while we have these gifts, what will you do?

Of course today we celebrate something else, the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of His earthly ministry the healing and good works He did for all those oppressed by the devil, of course that is all us people. Wonderful gifts of freedom from sickness and oppression for many all those years ago. We could ask what Jesus did, with what He was given; but I’ll leave that for another time. Rather, I’ll ask you about those disciples He brought along, after Jesus finished His earthly ministry, what did they do with what God had given? They waited as God had commanded (Luke 24:49), then received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1), proclaimed the word and in the Spirit brought thousands into the baptism of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41). By God’s power and Holy Word He has drawn tens of thousands into the baptism of Jesus by such a plain washing, the mystery of water and Word (Ephesians 5:26).

And so you who are baptised, might not really remember it, but today we heard again what happened, when you were baptised into Jesus’ baptism. The Spirit and power descended on you in Christ Jesus and our Heavenly Father said of you in Jesus Christ, you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17). I’m moving fast through this because I’m sure you’ve heard already this wonderful news, the gospel itself, but now I want to ask, what does this mean for you now? The gifts given you by water and the word are wonderful marvellous and mysterious gifts, forgiveness, healing, death of sinfulness and resurrection to righteousness, unity with God Himself. You have all these gifts, what now? As you sit here today, what does this truth mean for you? How has it changed you and the way you live? We ask God to teach us His ways, that we may walk in His truth (Psalm 86:11) and not live according to our sinful flesh (Romans 6:12-14). For us who have received God’s promises, what is it to live His way?

Christ’s first followers, the apostles, once they received these mercies also received a command, to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all that Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). And here Peter told these Gentiles that command to him, to proclaim to the people and thoroughly witness that Jesus Christ is appointed by God judge of the living and the dead. Now there’s no undie stress to you here, you don’t have to go to Iran or anything, these commands were given to the church, and so we as Christ’s church seek to proclaim the Gospel and to walk God’s way here where we are. And to walk God’s way is to listen to Him and live accordingly, to bear witness to the truth that Jesus died for you, that your sins are forgiven, and that Jesus is your Lord, king of all kings (John 20:28; Revelation 17:14). That He is judge of all the living and all the dead. That Jesus is in charge.

To know what that means, we come together to hear His words, and the Word of His Father through the bible readings. Sometimes these are difficult to understand so we listen to what the church has said through the ages, how wise Christians have tried to explain, yet still there are mysteries. Great and wonderful the mystery of union with Jesus and all Christians by the Holy Spirit in His baptism, the mystery of Christ’s return to reconcile all things to Himself, destroying all evil, cleansing all who trust and glorifying them into bodies like His (Romans 6:3-4; Philippians 3:20-21). These are true, in His mercy God even demonstrates to you and me the small mysteries of faith, peace from out of nowhere, finding lost keys, the beauty of the sunset in smoke, dust and cloud. Today we are reminded by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament again of God’s mysterious, yet true, love for you. He is in charge and He is on your side, what wonderful good news.

Certainly a comfort in difficult times, in the stress of drought, the despair of fire, and the struggles in this life. Yet more than a comfort, the Good News of Jesus Christ, Saviour, motivates us. Yes to listen, to hear and to comfort each other with His good words, but more to live differently. To thoroughly witness in the way you live, what you do, how you act and how you speak. Firstly you are free from sin in Christ, it is dead to you, so you don’t need to trap yourself in it (Romans 6:5-11). You are free to love each other and all people, free to care, to do good just as Jesus did for all people (Luke 7:22). Jesus tells you again, you are forgiven, your sins are removed and destroyed (Psalm 103:12), yes even those you did this morning, you are free from regret, free to turn away from your sin, from sin against you (Ezekiel 33:11), to turn back to God’s way of reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-22), active in love and peace (Acts 3:19). Free from sin and free to live in Christ, again wonderful news!

In Christ you are free to live His way, according to the judge of the living and the dead. He has told you that in Him you are safe, to rely on Him and on nothing else (Matthew 22:36-40). He has given you life, the Holy Spirit the giver of life to help you through this world (1 Peter 3:18). And now today, this week, in your homes, your work, your shopping, through all your life, just like the disciples and the ancient prophets, by the way you live you are free to bear witness to the forgiveness of sins and new everlasting life in Jesus’ name that you receive in His Word and Sacrament.

So as you go out and as you come in the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

 

7th Sunday of Epiphany

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

            ‘Thank God’ a common phrase that for many secular Australians doesn’t mean much at all. They aren’t really thanking any god, just using an old turn of phrase. But for you and me ‘Thank God’ means so much more and is so very applicable. When that sudden kangaroo misses the car, we can thank God; When someone is declared well after a long sickness, thank God; When new life is created, or old life is saved, thank Him; and Thank our Heavenly Father, your God and mine, for His wonderful gifts of life, forgiveness, peace, joy, freedom from sin and death, His son Christ Jesus.

            Throughout this letter Paul tells us to rejoice and give thanks, to endure everything that is thrown at us and to rely on Jesus. Even to rejoice if you are thrown in prison, beaten and ridiculed. Even if we suffer from drought, from sickness and from sin. In any and all situations, Jesus, through Paul, tells us to rejoice in Him. We allocate a Sunday each year to thank God for the fruits of our labours, traditionally harvests but increasingly that doesn’t really apply to us all. So instead we can thank Him by our words, our attitude and by giving back some of what He first gave us, to others in need. That is why we have the offering every Sunday, not primarily to support me, the church building, or the LCA; but rather as an opportunity to thank God for what He has given you.

            And what has He given you? He has given you food, most every day, that’s why we say ‘grace’ or ‘give thanks’ at meals. He’s also given you money and by extension all the things you buy with that money. A really handy thing those notes, nice and light, barely notice how much we can put in the offering bag … But of course God loves the cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). He is one Himself, and He also gave everything that is its existence, sustaining it and all of us right now; in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). He has given all people the option to reject His gifts, to forget Him and what He has done, to go our own way, to sin. And we often take that route, some worse than others. We tell Jesus, ‘I won’t forget to thank you’, then we say to others, ‘you worked hard for that, you can do whatever you want with it.’ Even you and I, Christians, forget to be thankful to the God we follow. We take matters into our own hands, we sin and we fail.

            But that is not the end of it, and it’s certainly not the start. When you or I go our own way, instead of Christ’s, He has given us that blessed opportunity and encouragement by His Word and the Holy Spirit to turn back to Him, to repent, and confess the truth He has told us of our failure, our forgetting and of His forgiveness, washing us clean in the waters of baptism, forgiven by the blood of Christ (1 John 1; Titus, 3:4-7; Matthew 26:28). Thank God for that! For His wonderful love and loyalty, in the face of our failure to love and betrayal. God gives you life, comfort and joy.

            This, however, is not all that Paul is writing about. Certainly to be thankful in all circumstances and to ask our Heavenly Father for anything we may need, but Paul also writes to think on, to analyse whatever is true, weighty, righteous, holy, toward love, of good report, and virtuous or praiseworthy. Now you and I know that when we meditate or ruminate of a wrong done to us we feel worse and worse, angrier and even sick it’s like a spiral downwards. When we think on things that are false, shallow, wicked, without God, toward hate, of bad report, and wicked or insulting we forget Jesus. To think over your failure or sin, to watch many of the sad things on the News, to surround your mind with evil, even if we are condemning it, is not healthy, is not God-pleasing. Those things can not bring us the peace of God or His joy, but they can lead us away from His son. Better to always remember God’s Word, what He has done through Jesus, this wonderful life He has given, the beautiful world He has created, the shocking forgiveness that He freely gives all people, the stunning love of Jesus in giving His life for you, the depth of peace that the Holy Spirit brings, the miraculous faith of our brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family, the encouragement, the blessings, there is no shortage of these wonderful and holy things. And when you think of these, we can’t help but thank God for His wonderful gifts, His grace. We are filled with His joy.

            It’s not that we forget the world and become hermits, Paul was thrown into prison because he kept getting in people’s way. Rather it’s a change of outlook, when you see a car cut you off, thank God that you didn’t crash, that He’s given you a car to travel fast and efficiently, thank Him that He gave life to you and that other driver and with thanksgiving we can bring our request to God that it doesn’t happen again. And so rejoice at all times, thank The Lord for what He has given, rely on Him for all your needs, and always recall His wonderful grace in Jesus Christ.

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

Joseph Graham

6th Sunday of Epiphany

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

There are things in this world that don’t always make sense to us. We might ask: Why doesn’t the car start? Why are the telly-marketers talking to me? Why did such an amazing person marry me? And even Why, God, do you care for little ol’ me? Many things don’t make sense, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

And the same is true of God’s Word and His promises, He loves you, forgives you, grants you His peace and joy, and promises you freedom from sin, death and the devil by His Son Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Galatians 1:3-5). That is the truth, The Good News, God’s promise to you. But still, sometimes parts of this don’t make much sense to us. When you look around, when you live and see in yourself, sometimes it doesn’t make sense that God would forgive, or it doesn’t make sense that Jesus had to die, or it doesn’t make sense that people who’ve died would rise again with their own body.

Our world teaches us different things: that some people aren’t worth of forgiveness; that fundamentally most people are good people; and that people don’t rise from the dead, especially not if their body has rotted or been eaten by something, and certainly not rising to live forever. And the Corinthians all those years ago were in a similar situation with a popular understanding amongst Greeks that certainly the good spirit lives on after death, but freed from the evil cage of the body. So some of them taught that there was no bodily resurrection, rather something different happened, perhaps like the idea of immaterial spirits frolicking up in the clouds.

But that is not what Paul and the apostles taught, that is not the Christian teaching that has been passed down from Jesus. Paul says it clearly, that if there is no resurrection, Christ was not raised, you are not forgiven, you do not have eternal life and there is no point to your suffering as a Christian. He and I would be proven liars and deceivers, giving false hope and lying about God, even lying to God; and you would be the most pitiable people in the world, striving for some thing that doesn’t exist like El Dorado or the Holy Grail. That is not a good position for us to be in. But when Christians try to listen to the way the world sees the truth instead of God’s truth that is where we end up, foolish liars.

When you try to understand God’s plan without asking Him, you’ll get it wrong and then it can’t make sense. If we think, “well everyone’s got a bit of good, they don’t deserve to die for what they’ve done, surely everyone will be with God in heaven;” Then why did Jesus die, and what is baptism, what is holy communion, why do you need a saviour, what is the final judgement, why is God so brutal; maybe I should follow another God. But when we take God at His Word, though we might not fully understand, it all falls into place.

You and all people do desire to go your own way, to be in charge, and reject God’s will the one who gives you life and fullness. Jesus did die for you and all people, for your forgiveness and freedom from evil. He did rise from the dead in His body, the tomb is empty, now immortal and free from death. And you are in Him through baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit and so you follow the way He paved. In Christ you are forgiven, you have eternal life and will be free from sin; not just you but all who trust God at His Word, and all creation will be renewed.

But if anyone teaches, or preaches, a different gospel they lie and make God a liar, twisting His Word’s to another ‘truth’. You know the Good News, you are saved in it, so keep an ear out for people, even me, who tell you something different. Our society tells us many things, but we are not followers of this world but of God, so don’t trade His way for the Australian highway. Pray that we might see the way our Heavenly Father does, rather than have our faith changed by our culture. God knows what He’s doing, far better than anyone of us and so we listen when He tells us His plan, His promise. That wonderful promise of new eternal life with Him in Jesus Christ, free from sin and death, forgiven and at peace with the joy that comes from God’s true and Good News.

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

Joseph Graham

5th Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 6:5-7

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Fear, love and trust God. The old translation of the small catechism, the summary of the Bible and the Christian faith for children, and for each one of us. Like your life might revolve around meals, your family and your work; the Christian life revolves around Jesus in The Ten Commandments, The Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us how to act, what God has graciously done and promised and to rely on Him and speak with Him in everything. To fear, love and trust God more than anything else.

And who is God? Creator of heaven and earth, our Heavenly Father, Lord of host or armies, the righteous and just judge, destroyer of evil and the wicked. He made all that is, you, your family, good food, the wonderful night sky, stunning vistas throughout this world, also volcanoes, torrential rain and this dry weather we’re having. He is in charge and He hates the wicked, those who want to harm others and those who deceive (Psalm 5:6; Hosea 9:15). God told Moses that He will curse those who reject Him to the third or fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). And later, cursed is anyone who does not do all these things of the Law (Deuteronomy 27:26). And Paul reminds us that, all people have sinned and turned away from God (Romans 3:10-18) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And on top of all this, Isaiah also might recall God’s word to Moses on the Mount, you cannot see my face, for none shall see me and live (Exodus 33:20). I mean, even the flying seraphs hid their faces, perhaps so they weren’t destroyed by God’s holiness, that consuming fire; but Isaiah is staring straight at it (Isaiah 33:14).

Surely if your going to fear anything at all in this world we should fear the God who made it. He promises to destroy all evil and burn up the wicked (Isaiah 27:4; Revelation 21:8). He is awesome and terrifying for those who sin, who put their trust in themselves or anything else other than God Almighty. When you take away all the little things, deadlines, hunger, what to wear, all the worries of our day to day, this is what is left. You before God.

Isaiah sees this and cowers in the doorway. He confesses the truth as you have earlier. He says, ‘woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips.’ He knew his sin, his deception and rejection of God in himself and the sin of his people. You know how you have rejected God, gone your own way, sought to harm others or benefit yourself against others, we hear of what goes on behind closed doors, at the banks, or even out in the open. We, like Isaiah, forget God and His word, instead doing and saying what we want. But we can’t always get it, we don’t have the power. And Isaiah also is powerless compared to God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

But what does God do? What does Jesus do? When you come to Him in your failure, in your need, what does He do? God’s servant got tongs to hold that holy coal, and touched it to Isaiah’s unclean lips, taking away his sin, forgiving him. This image of a burning coal was used in the early church to describe Jesus, God and man, fully together but no less bright as fire and no less solid as coal. And there is another image this reminds us of God touching our lips and taking away your sin. Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood, the Thanksgiving meal. Isaiah saw Jesus in His divine glory, but now we see Him, no less powerful, no less God, but also in His humble humanity. He is God Almighty, yes, but the Word became flesh and lived with us, that holiness mediated in the man Jesus, and so in Him we can approach the divine throne, protected and forgiven. Now there is no need of fear.

Before Jesus, the righteous judge, compared to Him, every person ever still is the same, powerless, scared and a sinner. That is true. But just as that is true, also, as Paul writes, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The blood of the New Covenant touches your lips and forgives all your sins (Matthew 26:28). Christ Jesus is the judge of the world, and you have been forgiven and made clean by His body and blood, saved and proclaimed innocent. Isaiah saw the truth and experienced it, but did not know that in Jesus that merciful grace would be offered to you and all people. To be made clean and holy before God Almighty, to be joined to Him and to receive His deep peace and bursting joy. The disciples felt something like this when hauling the earthly bounty Jesus had given them, realising who He was and hearing that grace, do not be afraid (Luke 5:10). And this wonder in the forgiveness and peace of God we receive through His Word, through the absolution and through the precious body and blood of Jesus. These things are different from all other things in the world, here God has promised and given you forgiveness. In these unearthly things of bread and wine and words from a book, God Almighty gives us His peace. He takes away your fear. You are forgiven.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:7 “Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say.

It’s all in the Word, the Word of God. God was sending Jeremiah with His Word to go and essentially tell his king, the one who controlled the army and could easily have him killed, tell him what’s what. Understandably he didn’t feel like he was particularly ready for this, too young he says. How often don’t you feel inadequate? Maybe taking on a bigger role at work, maybe getting married or having your first child, or even talking to others about your faith, making sure you’re saying the right thing and living the good life. We know what it means to feel inadequate, it’s not pleasant and we look for help in many places. Sometimes we just try to work at it real hard, and sometimes that works; other times we might try to run away, maybe to alcohol or even simply another place, often that doesn’t work; but it remains true that you need help.

            Now I’m going to say, look to Jesus, but first if it is an issue with your car or plumbing the Bible probably shouldn’t be the first port of call. God in His graciousness has given us skills and people with skills to fix many problems we have in this world, so use these gifts and thank God for them. However, when you struggle in the faith, against your own sin, against temptation to hate another for their sin, against the fear of hurting the ones you love in what you say; look to Jesus and the Holy Spirit who has been promised to you to support you, comfort you, to walk alongside you (John 14:16).

            God loves you, 1 John tells us that God is love! He cares for you and Jesus, who is God called the Word made flesh, never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). That description of what love is describes Jesus perfectly, patient, kind, forgiving, and does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. When you plan to do something significant, pray to Him, ask for guidance and help so that you might not do evil, sin, that you might instead speak good true words, even God’s Word. Follow His example and be love for those around you. It’s not easy, Jesus died living it, and you will fail, using your words and harming others, but remember to look to Jesus not yourself. You cannot always make up for your mistakes, you cannot make yourself good and holy, only Jesus can make you right, only God’s powerful Word made flesh can truly heal, clean, forgive and save you. So whatever happens, whatever you do, whatever happens to you, remember your help is in the name of the Lord of all, in Jesus who truly loves you. Indeed, He has already forgiven you and saved you.

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

Third Sunday of Epiphany

Luke 4:18, 19

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

            Have you ever had to explain something complicated to anyone? Or had something complicated explained to you? Imagine a 12yr old explaining how to use the internet on a smart phone to their 80yr old grandparent who hadn’t even used a computer in their whole life. If the kid just told their grandparent everything all together at one time, I doubt anyone would understand or be fully understood. Rather it’s better to tell things one at a time, step by step, even walking the other person through it slowly. Fortunately this is exactly how the gospel accounts are written, slowly and progressively explaining to us again and again who Jesus is, coming back to the point again and again in different ways. At Epiphany you heard that Jesus is to be king of all people, two weeks ago, we heard Jesus is certainly God’s Son and you are too, in Him, then last week we spoke of Jesus showing His power and bringing joy, now again He reveals something about Himself. He reveals what He will do.

            On the topic of revealing, I have to say that we only heard half the story today with the second half up for next week. So I’ll quickly summarise, the people of Jesus’ hometown were first amazed. Then, after Jesus says a prophet isn’t accepted in his own town, His hometown people try to kill Him, but He gets away. A bit of an odd response to God’s revelation of truth maybe, but nevertheless.

And what is that truth? That He fulfils the promise of God through Isaiah, that one will be appointed by God to bring pardon, freedom and sight to the poor, broken and blind, and will send them out proclaiming the year of God’s favour and acceptance. Good news to the poor and freedom for all people as you read more of the prophecy in Isaiah 61. The revelation of the good news of Christ. But what is He actually saying, and who are the poor, captives, blind and crushed? And what is this acceptance of God in this new year?

Is He talking about you? Are you poor? Well, not when comparing your wealth to many around this world. Are you captive? This doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of prisons or POW camps. Are you blind? I hope your eyes work, because most of you still drive! Are you crushed? Crushed by what? In this country, in this town, you are relatively rich, free and safe, so why do you care about Jesus, this teller of Good news to the poor? The ancient Israelites rejected Jesus, partly as He didn’t fit the earthly, warrior king they were waiting for. They expected help to maim and kill and further themselves in this world. God told the Israelites before they came out of the desert to be aware because when they live in the land of milk and honey they might forget what God has done and ignore Him (Deuteronomy 8:11-19). So, the Jews tried to kill Jesus when they heard His Word, how do you react?

Does it matter to you, or are you thinking about what you’ve got to do this arvo? Is the dullness of the preaching pushing you away from the wonder of God’s gifts to you? Does living this life of luxury, with food, drink and clothes a plenty, or even this dull day to day living help you forget the gravity, the importance of what Jesus does for you and not just you but every single person. Do you always remember the grace, hope and love you have in Jesus Christ, every day, or are you crushed by the worries of this world? Are you poor in spirit and conviction? Are you blind to the truth Christ reveals? Are you trapped by the evil of this world, the temptations of the devil and even your own sinful desires?

The truth of Jesus is that in this world, yes you are; but Jesus comes to save you, to free you from your sin, to forgive and pardon you, to bring you true light, to reveal the truth of your need and your salvation. And with the words of Nehemiah (8:10) “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This day you’ve heard again the wonders of the time of acceptance of you by God. Don’t forget what Christ has done for you, He loves you. Don’t forget that you can rely on Him for help in your struggles with sin and evil. Don’t forget that in Him you are forgiven, a beloved child of God. Don’t forget that with Jesus you have joy. Don’t forget to allow some time to explain or understand things, repetition does help remembering. And don’t forget that because of the cross you will be free.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Epiphany

John 2:11

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

            Who here had wine at their wedding? Who ran out of it because people were still celebrating two days later? In this season of revelation one thing God reveals through John is that Jesus likes weddings, He didn’t let the party stop, didn’t crush the joy. But there is much more to this account than just supplying fantastic and free wine for the wedding feast.

            John calls this miracle the first sign of Jesus. Now we all know that a sign points to something else, street signs and red skies. So what does this story point to? What is it a sign for and what are the other signs? Well, in John’s gospel there are seven events in Jesus’ life called signs, all of them pointing to His death on the cross and the resurrection, three days; all revealing a part of its importance. And so John wants us to think about and understand better Christ’s crucifixion through this story, so that you may believe (John 20:). And not just that but John writes that through this sign of the crucifixion, the death of Jesus, His glory is revealed. How can that be?

            Well the story tells us what will happen, the need will be met with abundance. The wine ran out, and Mary tells Jesus about this, He replies saying His hour has not yet come; the time of His glorification and death is not now. Perhaps regardless, Mary tells the servants to listen to Jesus and do whatever He tells them to do. Jesus instructs the servants and water becomes some wonderful wine. They needed wine, they had run out, and Jesus provided it, and not just any wine, but the best! And in abundance around 600 to 900 bottles of it! And who can make water into wine? God can, but He usually uses grapevines and time. Jesus, the Son of God, provides for your needs. We can only get so far on our own until we fail, fall into shame and need a saviour. Along with every other human you need to be saved from sin, death and evil, you cannot make it on your own; He provides that on the cross.

            But it is not just that, the wine is drawn from those special ceremonial jars. These jars were used in the purification rituals of the Jews, washing hands before meals, cleaning dirty things and purifying the spiritually unclean. This Jewish water of purification into the Christly wine of celebration and joy! Jesus fulfils our needs and also He fulfils the Word of God in the Old Testament. Both all those commands and guides that we learnt in Confirmation and also all the promises that God had made to His people. He perfectly fulfils and completes the whole Word of God, to bring joy to you and all creation. His crucifixion is something new from the old, just as you are a new creation in Jesus Christ, to His glory and your joy.

            So this sign points to God’s glory and our joy in Christ’s crucifixion, His hour. What He has done, Thanks be to God! But what about you, what do you do now? There’s different ways of writing, teaching, poetry, story and others; and when we hear a story from scripture it can be helpful to think about which character is most like you. Probably not Jesus, but maybe, or maybe His mother, the important person of the bridegroom, the MC, the disciples, the bride though we don’t hear what she does, but I’m going to highlight the lowly servants and Mary from verses 4 and 5. Do whatever He tells you. Mary just told Jesus there’s no wine, He tells her ‘what of it?’ then despite this apparent disinterest, even arrogance or denial, Mary relies on God’s salvation through Jesus. She tells the servants to listen to Him and obey. They don’t understand what’s going on, much like us hey, but they trust and obey. Now I don’t know if these servants later followed Jesus, or if we’ll meet them at the end in Jesus, but I do know their example of faith is a worthy one. In Matthews account Jesus sends out the eleven before the ascension telling them to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all He has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20); John’s parallel account more emphasises the forgiveness and peace of God through His Word, the Gospel, and throughout scripture we hear God’s Words, His commands and His promises. To live in Christ’s crucifixion is to listen and obey, as Mary says, Do whatever He tells you, even if you might not understand for He has given you joy to excess!

            So as people of the crucifixion, listen to Jesus and obey Him. When you do fail remember the fulfilment of all His promises, you are forgiven and loved, now married to Christ, in His bride the church. At the crucifixion you might see a dead and rejected man, but that scene is the glory of God and your joy.

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

Joseph Graham

The first Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 3:22

And the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”The

            This is the season of Epiphany, of revelation, and so This is your life! And our first guest is John the Baptist to tell us a bit of your journey. He came to prepare your way, and He points to you the mighty one to come! Of course, I’m specifically talking about Jesus of Nazareth; however to say that John the Baptist was talking about anyone of you might not be that far off.

            Today we remember the baptism of Jesus, the voice and the dove, but what is baptism? Why was John baptising others? And why did we hear from those other parts of God’s Word? From what I have been able to gather, baptism, or washing/submersion, in the time of Jesus was used by the Jews for those coming into the faith, much like Christians do today. Now John and some particular groups of Jews also baptised Jews themselves, those who were already part of God’s people, the importance being that it’s not just outsiders or non-believers that need to be cleansed but also those who are of God’s people. All people need to continually recognise their dirtiness, guilt and sin; their need for salvation, salvation that God had promised. And so John’s preaching and baptising prepares the way for the promised salvation; Jesus. There is more to say about baptism in the ancient world 2000yrs ago but instead we’ll look back a bit further.

            The prophecy we heard from Isaiah chapter 3, spoken around 2700yrs ago, tells the people of Israel, and by God’s grace you as well, to not fear, God Almighty has redeemed you, is with you and will gather you who He formed, made, created. You will pass through the chaotic, deep water and through the consuming, purifying fire in safety to the glory of God. He’s obviously talking about the future, but don’t you think that it sounds a bit familiar? What Bible stories can you remember about people ‘passing through’ water or through fire? … There is, of course, the flood, also the Exodus, the coming into the promised land, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fire (Genesis 6-9; Exodus 14; Joshua 3; Daniel 3). All these stories tell of people who trust God, are in trouble and passing through receive salvation, blessings and life. Not only that but in the flood the Exodus and the three in the fire, those wicked are destroyed, no longer able to harm or threaten. But again Isaiah is looking forward, and though these stories may help us understand they are just a reflection of what it to come.

            And like these stories John tells the crowds, he’s not the greatest or most important, that one is coming and will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Then comes Jesus, the one John said would separate the wheat from the chaff, gather the good grains and burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. We know that the two common images of condemnation are darkness and fire, but remember also the prophecy of Malachi 4 that He will be a refiners fire, purging the dross from you, purifying you from the evil and sin you struggle with day after day in this life. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, guiding the Israelites in the desert, appearing to His prophets in visions (Exodus 13:17-22; Ezekiel 1). Fire can symbolise purity, life, passion, and also destruction; and God Almighty, the Most Holy One, In His holiness destroys wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13; Isaiah 6:3-5; 2 Samuel 6:1-11). God came to be with the Israelites on Mount Sinai but many Israelites died because of their evil. So what does this coming of Jesus mean? Holy Spirit and fire? Judgement? Destruction of all evil? … Well, yeah it kinda does. But does that mean we should be terrified? No.

            As Paul writes to the Romans and the Galatians, we are joined together with Christ in our baptism into His name (Romans 6; Galatians 3:27). And so your life is now a reflection of His. He was baptised, remembering all those passing through water to salvation and peace, The Holy Spirit came upon Him as a dove, symbol of peace, remember the angels to the shepherds, ‘peace and goodwill to those with whom God is pleased’ (Luke 2:14), And who is God pleased with? Jesus, who you are part of, joined with in baptism. God Almighty says to you, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

            But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus suffered in His life, speaking the truth and holding to it. He took on our sin, dying with it, like the flood destroying the wicked; but He rose again to life, like rising up from baptism, glorified, in peace, pure and holy. In Jesus this is your life too, though a poor reflection mired by our failings and forgetting. You do suffer when you hold fast to God’s truth, because we still struggle with our sin and others, but the suffering is not the end. The end is peace, joy and love in Jesus, freedom from all evil, and that end we have now in part. Baptism, passing through the water, is a summary of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which is also a summary of your life. That is the revelation today, you are in Jesus through baptism, hold to the truth and that truth is, God almighty says to you, “You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased. Amen
Pastor Joseph Graham

Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1-12

Once there was a man who came to see the well-known Pastor Charles Spurgeon. He asked him if his church was a pure church. The man said that he wanted to find a pure church to belong to. Spurgeon replied that he didn’t know about his own church. He did know that there were many good people in it, sincere Christian people, but there might possibly be a Judas among them, as there was in the company of Jesus’ disciples. Yes, there could possibly be some deceivers and idolaters as there were in the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and all the others in New Testament times. On the whole he thought that his church was not the one this man was looking for. In fact, he didn’t know that there had been such a church in all of history. Pastor Spurgeon then said, “But if you should happen to find such a church, I beg of you not to join it, for you would spoil the whole thing”*

The Church is a strange entity. In our creed we state that we believe in the holy catholic church, or the holy Christian church. But what makes it up? What kinds of people exist within the Church? We might like to think we have the perfect or pure church, but that thinking would be naïve at the least. If someone were seeking the pure church, the one where Christ is found, would they come here? If there were some wise men looking for Christ, would they come here?

The Wise Men of our text are said to have travelled a long way to see the Christ Child. Once they arrived, the Bible says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. ” (Matt 2:11)

Note that the text says that they went into a house. Now we normally think the Wise Men came on the same night as the shepherds – after all, the wise men are often part of our Nativity scenes – but this is not so. They came quite some time after Mary had given birth to Jesus. It’s quite possible Joseph had probably secured a house for the family by this time.

So, the Wise Men walked into the house and saw the Christ Child. Now, they could have just peeked in through the window and then said, “We’ve seen the Christ Child” and then went on their way, but they didn’t do that. We are told they fell down before the Christ Child.

Remember that these were men who were probably often in the presence of the king of Babylon or Persia or one of the other lands of the East. They were probably important, intelligent, and wealthy. How could they now come to the lowly town of Bethlehem and bow down before a child? This house wasn’t a palace and it wasn’t in the beautiful royal city of Jerusalem. Yet here in a humble house was the pure church, because this is where Christ is! There response was to humble themselves, to give themselves before the Christ Child. What humility, what commitment, and how complete their giving of themselves to the Lord!

All of us can learn some important lessons from those Wise Men. You and I have also seen the Christ Child. We have seen him in our Christmas worship services, in the carols on the television and radio, in our Bible readings and devotions. Sadly, some will have failed to see him during the Christmas season in all the hustle and bustle.

But for those of us who have seen the Christ Child, what is our response to him? Do we fall down before him in humility?

No, we probably struggle in this area because each one of us has some sense of pride. Each one of us has a problem in lowering ourselves at times. Each one of us has a big problem in humbling ourselves before people. If we struggle to humble ourselves before people, then is it any easier to humble ourselves before God? Yet if we desire to be wise like the wise men of our text, the first thing we need to do is fall down before Jesus in humility.

The Wise Men also worshipped the Christ Child. Notice carefully that the worshiping was distinct from the falling down and from the giving of gifts to the Christ Child. Those Wise Men certainly didn’t come to impress Joseph and Mary. They certainly didn’t come to show the people on the street that they were doing something great. They came to worship the Christ Child. This is the way it ought to be with wise men today. We hope and pray that there is not a person in this church who is here because they are trying to make a good impression, or because of other people in the church, or because they hope to gain material benefits. If there is, then they are a hypocrite and their practice is out of step with what they profess.

This church is here for one reason. Our presence here is to be for that same reason – and that is to worship Christ and to grow in Christ. All the other religions in the world try to help people look better before God, so that God will finally accept them in his favour. Only in Christianity do people come to know and believe that they are helpless sinners. Yet as we come before Christ, we also hear that God provided an answer to our helplessness and our sinfulness in his Son Jesus Christ. Our response is therefore thanks and praise to God for his loving mercy. Our response is to praise and worship our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – no matter how lowly our church building or how small our congregation might be.

There once was a man of God named John who loved his village chapel. One day, he was stopped by a friend, who happened to be a devoted fisherman. The fisherman said, “John, I’ve often wondered what attraction there is, up at the village chapel. You go there week after week to the same old chapel, see the same people, and sing the same old hymns . . .”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted John. “You often fish at the same spot, and in the same water, don’t you?”

“Yes, that’s true,” agreed the other.

John smiled and said, “Well, actually, you don’t, for the water you fished in yesterday has passed on to the sea; in the same way every time I go to the chapel, the Lord has something fresh for me.”

And how true that is! Sometimes people may wonder why we come here week after week to sing the same hymns, use the same service orders, and hear essentially the same message of forgiveness and hope. Here in our church we keep hearing the word of Christ’s death and resurrection, and that Jesus has paid for our sins and given us eternal life, yet this message is strangely new every time we hear it! Every Sunday we see the baptismal font that threatens to be lost in our familiarity – just another piece of furniture – yet it is also brand new as we continue to receive forgiveness every day through that once-in-a-lifetime event. Here we receive that same meal with the same taste of bread and wine, yet time after time it is still food and drink from heaven – always powerful, always effective, and always new.

The Wise Men knew that they had something fresh before them. And so do we who believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, know that every time we fall before our God and Saviour in worship, we receive something fresh and refreshing.

The Wise Men in our text didn’t just fall down before the Christ Child and worship him; they also offered him gifts. The gifts they offered were not ordinary gifts picked up from a discount store. They probably weren’t even products of their country. We know of no gold native to Babylon. Frankincense and myrrh of the finest quality came from India. So all of the gifts were probably imported and were of great value. They certainly didn’t present to the Lord what was left over.

Consider the three kinds of gifts presented and their meanings. Gold was offered to kings, the riches of royalty. Frankincense was offered to God, burned as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. An offering of Myrrh was a reminder of death, for it could be used in embalming. So here gold was offered to the King of kings, frankincense was offered to the God of gods and Lord of lords, and myrrh was offered to the One who would die for the people. He is our King, our Lord and our Saviour. How significant those gifts were at that particular time!

When we place ourselves before the Christ, what gifts do we give? Leftovers after we pay our bills and treat ourselves to a few luxuries? Or do we follow the example of the Wise Men and offer him our first fruits? And what is our motivation for giving? Let us offer our gifts for the same reason the wise men did: because Jesus Christ is our King of kings and Lord of lords, and, by his death on the cross, our personal Saviour.

Here in this house we meet with Christ. Here in this house we have the pure and perfect church. Not because we are perfect but because Christ is here in his Word, in the waters of baptism, and in his Holy Supper.

In this sense, we all come as wise men and women to worship the Christ. We have all been led here and we all humble ourselves before him. We come to offer him ourselves in humble service toward him and each other. We come to offer him small gifts that are not from our left-overs, but from our first fruits: ourselves, our time and our possessions.

We also come to receive his refreshing Word of forgiveness every week. We come to receive his living Word through the Bible readings and the sermon that inform our lives. We come to taste that heavenly meal that assures us of God’s continuing love and forgiveness. Thanks be to God that Christ allows himself to be revealed to imperfect humans so that we may come before God in peace. Amen.

Walter B. Knight