Sixth Sunday of Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live;to love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him, because He is your life.

            My dad was a big fan of Led Zepplin, and hearing God’s Word today reminds me of that ‘stairway to heaven’. ‘there are two paths you can go by but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.’ Of course the woman thinks she can ‘buy her way into heaven’ which is entirely missing the right road, but we can still hear echoes of Christianity throughout our culture. Two ways, a wide easy road to destruction or the narrow and difficult way of salvation (Matthew 7:13). But this is not just some airy-fairy idea, Moses puts this to the Israelites as a choice, life or death, good or evil; it’s up to you.

            These Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt by the mighty power of God obvious and indisputable. They heard God’s command and followed Moses into the desert. Then they grumbled against God and Moses because it looked like they had chosen a path of death. But God did bring them to the land He had promised, though they refused to trust God’s Almighty power, so God sent them back into the desert for 40 years. Now Moses addresses their children, still God’s people descendants of Abraham, the one He called out (Genesis 12). This book of Deuteronomy, the second law, tells the Israelites again about their relationship with God Almighty, and Moses ends it with this promise. If you choose life and good, God’s way, to love Him and listen to Him, you will live, you and your descendants because He is your life.

            This word was given to God’s people all those years ago, but now He brings it to you. I put before you, life and good, death and evil. Choose life every day, make that commitment to truly hear God’s Word that you receive His peace, joy and love and your life is changed; to truly love Him in all that you do, do it all for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17). And remember when I speak from here I am talking to myself too; no Israelite was excluded, no Christian is excluded. To choose life every day, to daily put on the full armour of God, to pray without ceasing for all our petitions with thanksgiving, being dedicated to God in everything we are (Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6). This is what God calls us to, me and you. And we know what this means, to dedicate 8hrs a day to work, to dedicate an evening to your spouse, to dedicate an afternoon to your family; we are called to dedicate everything to God, to choose life not death. A very tall order. How can our salvation hinge on our own choice? Weather we choose life or choose death.

            This is where we come to one of the mysteries of the Faith. Do we focus on my choice or on what Jesus has done for me? This is very important for every Christian to understand, because if we confuse this, we ruin the peace God gives. Are you saved by choosing life? Are you saved by your continual decisions to listen to God and love Him in your everything? If you are, can you be sure that you are saved? That you have life everlasting? Or have we opened a door for doubt or even despair?

            I’ll ask another question, were the Israelites chosen by God, or did they choose to live such good lives that God noticed them and blessed them? Did those Israelites escape Egypt by their own strength and seek God in the desert to find Him and listen to Him? Did you baptise yourself and earn adoption as God’s beloved child, or was it God who loved you first and brought you into new life in His Son (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:18)? Moses was addressing the people of God, a rebellious people, stubborn as an old German Lutheran mule, but still chosen and loved by God (Exodus 32:9). It was God who brought them out of Egypt, who led them by His voice to Sinai, who taught them and brought them to the promised land. And Moses told the Israelites just earlier in the passage that when they go into the land, reject God, go into exile and God brings them back He will ‘circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul that you will live’ (30:6).

            Just as He chose the ancient Israelites and continued to love them even though they rejected Him, He has chosen you, promising that He gives you new and renewed life everlasting in your baptism, that your Heavenly Father has drawn you to His Son and sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide you on His way; to choose life everyday (Romans 6:4; John 6:44; 14:17). Hear God’s Word for you today, love Him in all you do that this obedience and service may be a blessing to you and all around you. God has given you life and He is the only one who sustains it, He is the one who makes you holy circumcising your heart, He is the one who works and the one who saves you. I asked before, what do we focus on? We focus on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Yet in doing this we are choosing life and good by the strength of the Holy Spirit, this is why we say if one is saved it is God’s work, if one is condemned it is their rejection of life. But again for the Christian to choose life and not death is a daily thing, it’s not just the end; and we see this throughout the Old Testament, the earthly results of clinging to God or rejecting Him. So I tell you today, with the Light of Christ shining into these ancient words, God loves you and hears you, He has already saved you and will perfect you. Cling to Him for He is your life.

Joseph Graham.

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

The Text: Matthew 5:13-20

“Be What You Are”

 Some years ago the story was told of a 30-year-old man who spent most of his life as an imposter: at the age of 16 he posed as an airline pilot; at 19 he posed as a paediatrician. Later, he was an assistant district attorney. He was caught in the end. But by that time he had passed cheques amounting to 2.5 million dollars. He was not what he appeared to be.

 Sometimes people tell us that they want nothing to do with the church. The reason?  Because, so they say, there are too many hypocrites there. The trouble is that Christians don’t always know who they are, and they don’t act accordingly. Christians need to be genuine. They dare not be a phony or a hypocrite. The world is quite right in judging the truth of Jesus by the sort of people faith in Jesus is able to produce. 

 So the question for us, as Christians, is this: what are we? The answer to that question comes from Jesus. In the first two verses of today’s Gospel he says that we are salt and light!  Listen carefully! Jesus does not say you ought to be salt, or that should be light, but rather “You are salt…You are light.” What a tremendous saying! After all, what Jesus is saying is this: “You disciples standing here before me—you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

 One wonders if anyone in that bunch of people, squatting in the dust of that Galilean hillside, could take it all in. And what about us? The church was in its numerical heyday fifty years ago when Christians felt as if they were the majority. Numerical significance and cultural superiority was the self‑understanding of most churches in the Western world at that time.  We were the majority faith. This was our country, as we saw it, our world. Today, can you imagine that there ever was such a time, when they closed the petrol stations on Sunday mornings and refused to play football matches on Sundays? Were you endangered in the stampede leaving your neighbourhood this morning on your way to church? I doubt it. Here, when we go to church on Sundays even in a rural or middle‑class neighbourhood, we are a minority with just a bit of occasional hostility and derision.

 It’s been said that it is a dubious sign if the world lives too peaceably with the church. We’re all familiar with the saying about rubbing salt into a wound. Salt always bites and stings at those points where we men and women have wounds, where our sore-points are. So where there is salt in a church and it’s preaching there is bound to be a negative reaction against it. But where there is no bitter reaction to the message what then? Perhaps what is lacking is a biting salty truth that will sting in some people’s pious wounds. To be salt and light, Christians must be different from the world.

 From the point of view of purely quantity, the proportion of practicing Christians to the whole mass of people in the world is comparable to the few grains for salt in a big pot of food. And when we Christians get discouraged as we think of how we few stand alone in our family, the place where we work, or among our friends and acquaintances; when we are afraid and confused, then we do well to take comfort from this saying of Jesus. He did not say: “You are the great power-bloc of the world”. No, he said: “You are the pinch of salt in the world!” And that, by its very nature, is a very small quantity.

 But actually, how often can the power of this one pinch of salt turn out to be mightily effective? When one person does not join in the gossip around the dinner table, then that pinch of salt seasons the negative group conversation. When one teenager refuses to go along with the group’s plan for the night, then that can be a change of direction. When one Christian practices forgiveness in a company that is poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge, then all of a sudden there can be a healing factor in the situation. When one Christian is willing to stand up for his or her faith where this is hard to do, then suddenly the whole atmosphere of a meeting can be “salted” as ears that were closed before may now be opened. When one person in any group paralysed by fear communicates something of the peace of God to others simply by being who they are and where they are, then the salt is doing its work in the midst of corrupting strife and disorder; then the light is shining in the darkness of fear and distrust.

 There is still this other important attribute of both salt and light. Both become useful only when they give of themselves, when they are mixed with something else and sacrificed, as it were. Light goes into darkness and salt loses itself in the food. Each individual Christian is given a great promise: he or she is a grain of salt. But this one Christian also has the responsibility to share this promise. And, of course, if we are to fulfil this responsibility, then we must get out of the “salt-shaker” as it were. Salt works, salt remains salt only as it gives of itself. Or a Christian puts his light under a bowl simply because he is afraid that the winds that blow in the evil world, among his unbelieving friends in the factory or office or school will blow out the light of his faith. But when that light is kept under a bowl its light helps nobody, and what is more, it exhausts the oxygen and nothing is left but a nasty, shapeless wick.

 You don’t need to be super-confident to ask your neighbour to come with you to worship. You can do it faithfully in weakness, and in fear and trembling. You don’t need to be brimming with slick ideas of how to get through to seventh graders to teach Sunday School. You don’t need to be comfortably sure of what to say in order to visit a fellow member in the hospital. You don’t have to be financially secure, guaranteed of a surplus for life, to be a steward who tithes. You don’t need to feel sure of your faith to begin to pray regularly for others. You can stumble over the words, praying in weakness.

 And if you do—when you do—you will find not that you miraculously have done everything perfectly, amazing people with your skills. But you will find that the Lord keeps his promise, and that somehow the words you stumbled over—the awkward condolence, the wavering word of love, the blurted invitation—found a home in another human heart.

 A Christian dentist moved into a new house. He soon found neighbourhood teenagers littering his yard and riding their bicycles over his lawn. None of this encouraged him to love his new neighbours as himself. One night the leader of the teenage group had a bad toothache. The boy’s mother sent the boy to the dentist for a check-up. The dentist found the tooth in need of expensive repair and offered to take care of it. The boy refused. He said his family couldn’t pay the bill for a job like that. In the end the dentist persuaded the lad to let him do the repairs. The dentist did not send the boy a bill. Soon he forgot the incident. That summer the dentist left town for an extended holiday. When he returned, he found that his lawn had been well looked after during all that time by the teenager whose tooth he’d fixed. The dentist tried to pay the boy. But he refused. Shyly he said: “A tooth for a tooth”.

 With day-by-day efforts like that, we make our light shine. We bring rich flavour to a tasteless society, and so become the salt of the earth. God gave his only-begotten Son for this world. Therefore we are called upon to be salt and light for this same world. And certainly the world is worth saving by our sacrifice because this one man Jesus Christ first sacrificed himself for all of us. We are to be the little grains of salt for the little bit of earth that God has entrusted to us. We are to be the glimmer of light for that little part of the world in which we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

When are you really blessed?

More and more people were hearing about Jesus, more and more people were coming to look for Jesus. They had heard what Jesus was doing, as he healed the sick and helped people in their needs. Now they wanted to find out what Jesus was all about.

Jesus had been telling them that the Kingdom of heaven was coming, the Kingdom of heaven was coming to earth. Jesus was bringing the Kingdom of heaven to earth.

So what was this kingdom like? What did it mean to live in this kingdom?

Where is the kingdom of heaven today? Is it up there? Is it also down here? What does it look like?

Are you citizens of the kingdom of heaven?

Hey, come and follow me.

Matthew tells the story of Jesus going up a mountainside, calling his disciples to himself, and teaching them. His teaching is what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew does not tell us where this mount is but the traditional belief is that the Sermon on the Mount was given on the slopes leading up from the lake.

If you go to Israel, to Galilee, this is the place that they will show you as the site of the Sermon on the Mount. There is a church built there, a rather beautiful church in a lovely garden, called the Church of the Beatitudes.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful setting. And the Sermon on the Mount gives us some of the best known and most loved words that Jesus ever spoke. Among them are the opening words that we heard as our Gospel today. We know these words as the Beatitudes, which means the Blessings.

Jesus talks about being blessed. Blessing means sharing in the goodness of God, receiving the gifts of God.

Yet, when we listen to what Jesus says about being blessed, it is hugely challenging. That’s because Jesus’ idea of what being blessed means and our idea of what being blessed means are hugely different from each other.

You have probably been told to count your blessings. Maybe you have told others to count their blessings. OK – count your blessings. What are the blessings you have, that you really appreciate…?

Now let’s see what blessings Jesus talks about when he talks about your blessings.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Are you blessed when you are poor?

We like to think that the things we have make us rich. Or we don’t expect to be rich, but we do like to be comfortable. The opportunity to live a comfortable life; that is a blessing.

We don’t want to be poor. Sometimes people have to put up with being poor, but it is not a blessing. Yet Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor.”

OK…he says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So he is talking about spiritual things, not material things.

Do you want to be spiritually poor? I think we want even more to be spiritually rich, to have a spiritual life where we feel wonderfully exalted.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” You are blessed when you have nothing, when you come with nothing, because then you are ready to receive everything that God wants to give you. You are blessed when you let go of all your own spirituality, and you live in the grace of God.

You are blessed when you have nothing, nothing of your own and when you rely on God for everything; when you rely on God for every spiritual gift.

And what does God give you?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

God gives you a place in the kingdom of heaven. This means that you receive life from God, life that is full and free, life that is lived with God.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Count your blessings. Surely the greatest blessings are the people in your life, people who belong to you and you belong to them, people whom you love, people who love you.

How can you be blessed when you lose someone who is a blessing? How can you be blessed, when you mourn such a loss?

Jesus says you are blessed even in the face of loss and tragedy. You are blessed by his presence and by his promise. He has promised to be with you—when your need is greatest, his gift is even greater.

You will be blessed, even when you mourn great loss. You will be comforted, covered with the grace of your loving Father.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

We are taught that we have to be strong, that we have to be assertive, that we have to stand up for ourselves. We like to believe that we are blessed when we can make our own way in the world, when we can stand up for our rights, when we can get what we deserve.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the meek.” Meek is not weak. But meekness is a different sort of strength.

Being meek is being strong enough that you do not have to prove how strong and tough you are. Being meek is being strong enough to forget about yourself, and give of yourself for the sake of others. Being meek is being more concerned about caring about the rights and the needs of others, than your own rights and your own needs.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Blessed are you when you are meek, when you are prepared to give up what you think is yours, because God will give you much more. You will inherit the earth. Your life on earth will be rich and fulfilling, because you will be living as citizens of heaven even while you are living on earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

None of us like to be hungry. None of us like to be thirsty. Hunger tells us that we need food. Thirst tells us that we need something to drink. Hunger and thirst are fine, as long as we can eat and drink when we need to eat and drink.

And most of us eat and drink much more than we need. We eat and drink to savor the richness of taste, to enjoy food and drink to the fullest.

There is another kind of hunger and another kind of thirst. It is spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. It is feeling that deep need for spiritual nourishment and spiritual fulfilment.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

We might try to convince ourselves that we have enough righteousness, that we are good enough to satisfy ourselves and to satisfy others, and to satisfy God. But then we are living a lie, and our blessing is an illusion.

You are blessed when you come to God with complete honesty, knowing that you need righteousness from God, knowing that you need God to forgive your sins and make you whole and healthy and strong. When you come to God with that need, and when you come to God with that faith, then you will be filled, and you will be blessed.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

We like to think that blessings are all the things that make life good for ourselves. And we are pretty good at complaining when we think life is not fair. We are quick to blame someone, anyone, and maybe we blame God if life does not give us what we think we deserve.

Mercy is knowing and understanding the needs of others, and forgetting about our own needs and wants. Mercy is being prepared to give of ourselves for the sake of others. Mercy is sacrificing ourselves, and what is ours, rather than being worried about getting for ourselves.

Blessed are you when you are merciful. Blessed are you when your heart and mind are tuned to other people, people who are close to you and people who might be far away, but people who have great needs, physical needs, are politically oppressed and in danger, and suffer from spiritual emptiness.

When you see those needs, when you feel those needs, when you respond to those needs—that is mercy. And when your heart and mind are tuned into the needs of others, somehow your needs don’t seem so urgent at all.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive God’s own mercy, the mercy of forgiveness and the mercy of pain and anguish relieved, the mercy of being loved and supported. When you are merciful you are committing yourself to the mercy of God, and God gives mercy richly and fully.

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”

We like to think that we are smart and sophisticated, and being smart and sophisticated means that we can see and do whatever we like. We think that we can play with all sorts of things that are evil, because that is what is flaunted in our world. We like to think that makes us clever and wise, and that if we are smart enough these things won’t do us any damage.

Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

When we fill our minds with all sorts of experiences to prove that we are mature and that we can handle them, we lose sight of what is really precious and enriching. We lose sight of God.

When we hear the word of God and focus on what is good and holy, even in the middle of the most demanding and degrading sights, then we learn to see God in every situation, and we are blessed as we seek the will of God everywhere, always.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

We all want peace. But we also want things to be done our way.

We want to hold control. We want others to serve our purposes.

We generate conflict, in our own personal life and at every level right up to international power-plays and wars.

It takes great wisdom but also great will power to become a peace maker, to overcome the conflicts in your own life, and to work with others to overcome conflicts in their life. It means sacrifice. It means forgiveness. It means understanding life is more than getting your own way.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

God is the great peacemaker, breaking down the hatred and rebellion that people throw against him, and leading people to reconciliation and restored relationships. Peacemakers are children of God, for they are learning from God, and following in the footsteps of their heavenly Father.

Making peace is a vital part of Christian life. Learn how to be a Christian peacemaker.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t like pain. I don’t like to be rejected. How can you be blessed when you are being persecuted?

Being persecuted is not a blessing. But being persecuted can show that you have a blessing which is much greater, a blessing that no one can take from you, no matter how much they try.

Christians have been persecuted, and Christians are still being persecuted, when they stand up for their faith. Persecutors think that they can enforce their will, and destroy Christian faith by using ridicule, threats, pain, violence, and even death.

Jesus says that you are blessed even when you are persecuted. That’s because righteousness, the gift from the righteous God, is stronger and more precious than any persecution.

People might turn against you, and take away your property and your comfort, your reputation, your freedom, even your life. What have you got left?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Those persecuted because of righteousness have the kingdom of heaven. That is God’s gift, and no one can take that away. That is the greatest blessing.

So Jesus teaches us about being blessed, about being really blessed.

He strips away so many things that we think are blessings. He shows us the blessings that go much deeper, blessings that are much more precious, the blessings of living with God in the kingdom of heaven.

Do you still want to protest: “But I don’t want to let go of all the blessings that I want”?

Look at Jesus, look at the way he lived. He was poor in spirit, dependent on his heavenly Father. He suffered great loss, and great deprivation. He was pure in heart, and merciful, and meek. He was persecuted, to the point of the cross. He gave it all away for the sake of bringing peace.

When are you blessed? You are blessed when you are with Jesus. May you share his blessings in the kingdom of heaven, now and forever. Amen.

Third Sunday of Epiphany

1 Corinthians 1:18
The word of the cross is moronic to those perishing, but to those being saved it is the power of God.

            We’re in the season of epiphany, revelation, and I always find it fun and joyful when I find something small but unexpected. Just like translating today’s passage and reading out ‘moron’ in the Greek because it’s a Greek word; then I think back to my friends at school who weren’t Christian and yeah, they thought I was a bit of a moron to trust God. I mean look at us, we look to a man who died on a cross to give us life. That’s ridiculous! Looking to death for life, makes no sense, and yet here we are. Morons to those outside of Christ because we trust the word of the cross.

            In the eyes of this world it’s foolish, stupid and moronic that Christ’s death would bring you everlasting life, and to believe that I, a sinner just like you, could take away the guilt of your sin against someone else, and yet I forgave you all your sin, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that’s the thing. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, teaches us it is not about me, not about the pastor who baptised or confirmed you, not about Luther, Peter or Paul; it is Jesus Christ who died for you and all Christians, all baptised into His name and joined to Him in His life and holiness. This is the power of God in Christ. It is Jesus who is Lord and saviour of all Christians. This is why the name ‘Lutheran’ isn’t truly helpful, it’s a slur from the Roman Church that stuck, yet Luther himself preferred ‘Christian’ and in the early years we were known as ‘evangelical’ or gospel Christians because of the primacy of scriptural teaching in our congregations. The book of Concord, the confessions of the evangelical church, sought to be just that, agreeing, or in concord, with what God’s people, the church, have confessed as true from Pentecost to now, well up to 1580 when the book was published. We are not followers of Martin Luther, any more than we follow Isaiah the prophet. You were not baptised in the name of Luther, but in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He makes us holy; He renews and gives life everlasting. It is God who baptises, washing clean and giving such great gifts as reconciliation and adoption into His loving family. It is God who forgives, yet like a postie He has given me the message for you, indeed every Christian can bring God’s word of forgiveness (John 20:21-23; James 5:16) to another because we are joined with Jesus who is God, but you and the Holy Spirit have given the pastor that responsibility to proclaim God’s grace publicly.

            Last week we heard the truth, Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And three weeks ago at Epiphany it was revealed that God’s love in saving people from sin, death and the devil is not just for His ancient people, but also for you here today. As we hear the promises of God, we trust Him by the power of God the Holy Spirit and agree together that we are forgiven, sin no longer has power over us because of what God has done in Christ Jesus. We confess together the wonderful truth of what God has done, is doing and will do, in the words of the creed. We say with one voice ‘Amen’ this is most certainly true, it is done and will be done, at the end of our Lord’s prayer. This is concord, to all speak the same thing, the same in mind and in opinion. This is what Jesus desires for all His people, as He prayed in the garden, may they be one as we are one (John 17:21).

            So by His power in baptism, may we be one, as our Father planned it. What a wonderful picture of the common life in a Christian community, peace, love, joy; truly if we lived together this way, the way that every one of you were called to in your baptism, called saints, set apart in Christ, everywhere calling on the name of Jesus, awaiting the revelation of Christ who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the Day of the Lord; called into this wonderful fellowship of Jesus the Son of God; if you lived this way the truth of Christ’s love would shine around us. Yet do you live this way? Or is there still division? Distance and separation between you and another member of this congregation? Between you and another Christian? Disagreement on what God has said, what He has done, on the way God wants us to live? Are we of the same mind and opinion, speaking together in agreement with what God has first said?

            Or must we again humble ourselves and confess the truth of our pride, stubbornness, and reliance on our own worldly wisdom, to confess our sins? Jesus is our Lord, King of kings, Judge of the living and the dead (John 20:28; 1 Timothy 6:15; Acts 10:42). He is the one in charge, in Him you are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). You are not your own, you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The Spirit through Paul reminds us, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). You and I, and all of us have come here together as one family to humbly receive God’s gifts. To submit to God’s mercy in this Divine Service, where God serves you by His Word and in His sacraments. In His wisdom, serving through His word read again by human voice, His proclamation with human lips, bread and wine, and a guy in white dress up the front. Plain, dull and moronic to those who are perishing, but the very power of God to those being saved.

            So thank God for His great mercy, rely on Him to make you holy seeking reconciliation and agreement with all in Christ, speaking together and living the truth of God’s power saving you in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ our King.

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

Joseph Graham.

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