‘The harvest hidden in the seed’

Psalm 126:5
Those who sow in tears, will reap with shouts of joy!

            A man without tractor, a woman with a sack of seed on the shoulder. Them trudging along the furrows in late Autumn. Carrying the weight of seed through cold winds to sow it in the warm ground. Hard work as the days get shorter and the winter creeps in. Soon our farmers will join this important and vital work, though things have changed over the last 3000 odd years, seed drills, GPS tracking, air-conditioned tractors. They might not suffer as our ancient forebears, yet still farmers suffer many things today. And as they sow, the Church trudges through Lent. Traditionally we don’t sing Hallelujah in this Church season, we don’t rejoice yet rather we reflect on our lives, our failing, and strive to lead the holy life of Christ even as He has already made us holy, already set us apart. As we trudge through Lent, as we sow in fasting, prayer and giving to the needy, as we suffer in this broken world even to the point of tears; you join with those who sow in tears.

            And according to God’s promise, and the natural laws He put in place, you will join in the harvest with joy! And yet still we are in Lent, looking forward to Easter; to Christ’s glorious victory over all the enemies of humanity, the goal of our lives and the reconciliation of all God’s Creation! When He, 2000 years ago, took our sin on the cross, dying with it and leaving it defeated and broken in hell; when He lifted up into the sky and smote the prince of the power of the air; when He broke down the doors of death so that all who die in Him live now with Him. Yet that is not what people saw (2 Corinthians 5:16). They saw a cross darkened by blood, they saw a corpse buried in the earth, their hearts went cold, and they wept. The sower trudges in the cold wind, and buries the seed in the dark earth; the life of the seed is hidden from the sower, just as Life Everlasting is hidden from this world.

            The sower sows in suffering, maybe even tears; yet they know that come Summer, the great crop will be ready to harvest, come the season of Advent the harvest will be obvious to all. This great thing is done yearly by God Almighty as He continues to sustain His beloved Creation. It would be stupid to say, ‘because there was drought,’ or ‘because there was fire,’ or ‘because there was flood last year and there wasn’t a crop, I’m not sowing this year.’ No, remember when God brought a great harvest, remember the great things the Lord has done for you! Remember what He has done for your ancestors, everyone at least survived unto childbearing and more than that God has given love, peace and joy. God has saved from drought, fire and flood; from war and disease; from despair and pride; from error and evil. What great things God has done for them!

            He is the ever-reliable God of great things. He delivered the Hebrews from the gods of Egypt through the Red Sea as the chasing armies of chariots were destroyed. He delivered the Israelites from exile in Babylon, returning them to the land He gave them. He delivered the Jews from everlasting death by the cross of Christ. The Lord has done great things for them, and through them He blesses all people, to this day. The Lord has done great things, and the Lord has done great things for you.

            Yet now, as you continue to sow, as you take up your cross and follow Jesus, as you suffer; you call out to the Lord, ‘restore our fortunes, do those great things again. Return us to life like streams in the Negev, like floods out west after the long drought!’ Now we know the Lord does great things, just like the farmer knows the seed grows; but the farmer still asks God to bless the harvest, they still long for what is to come. The farmer looks out over the fields of dirt, the graves for tens of thousands of seeds; Judas saw Jesus anointed by Mary’s bottle for His burial (John 12:7); we see the graves of our brothers and sisters in Christ; you see your failure and death, the brokenness of this world, but know the joy of the glorious harvest to come. In a sense that harvest that’s already here but it’s hidden in the seed buried in the earth; that harvest that is already here hidden buried with Christ in Baptism; that harvest that God has hidden in His Church and hidden in you. It is the power of Christ’s Resurrection, victory over sin, death and the devil, the goal for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

            Jesus plants the seed of His victory on Good Friday, hidden from the world yet revealed to His followers; but even they do not see the whole harvest, the New Creation in all its glory. And those Apostles go out to the world, preaching, sowing the seed of Christ’s victory with much suffering and weeping. God and His people have continued the work down to you here today, sowing in tears. Yet today He shows you a glimpse of the harvest, you are forgiven He has taken your guilt away. You are together with His saints, here your brothers and sisters in Christ. You are dead to the world and alive to God in Christ. A glimpse and a foretaste of the joyful feast to come, this wonderful goal you have in Christ. We cry out with songs of joy! While we do know and recognise the best is yet to come, God’s greatest work is not yet obvious to all, that great victory over the all sin, death and devils. Still with Paul we strain towards what is ahead, asking God to restore us, to do again those great things, that we who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy!

            And so as you go out and sow in tears, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the joyful revelation of the final harvest. Amen.

‘The old has gone, the new has come.’

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the New Creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!

            150 years ago our theological forebears fled their old life, their old country, and came to Australia swearing fealty to Queen Victoria. One year and three months ago 50,000 Tigrayans fled their country as war destroyed their old life. And today many Ukrainians are working out their new circumstances in fear and trembling. For them the old has gone, the new has come.

            And for those of us who have led a life before becoming Christian, or wandered away like the prodigal son, you know the different life you are called to as a Christian. I remember an old work mate of my dad’s found out that he was a pastor, he swore in disbelief, “Greg __ Graham’s a ___ priest!? Yet all of us, whether from the womb or from later in life, have been brought into a new life in Christ. Reconciled to God. We were baptised into a new life, a life reconciled with God in Christ, the life of holy righteousness.

            And now I’m going to go through what happens in Holy Baptism. First, of course, we gather together in the presence of Christ and hear His wonderful words. And in the written Word, He has revealed to us that we are temples; our bodies like the outer court of the tabernacle, soul the holy place and spirit the holy of holies where the presence of God dwelt. Yet before the Holy Spirit lives in us, animating and sustaining us; it’s not empty, though it is dark. And this is why the Pastor rebukes the unclean spirit, to make way for the Holy Spirit. This is why the one to be baptised, or their sponsors, renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. For the old has gone, the new has come.

            Then after prayer and the creed, there is the baptism, water and the Word. Now lets remember back to the second day of creation, when the waters above and the waters beneath were separated from one another; well in Baptism they are reconciled together. Like how we are reconciled to God. When we get water from the ground, sea, or swamp, it’s generally salty or brackish, and if you drink it straight, you’ll probably be sick. Think of it as water of death. Yet when water falls from the sky, it washes dirt and filthy away, and we collect it to sustain our lives. It’s water of life. So, the one to be baptised can be immersed in the dead waters below and rise up; being united with Christ’s death and resurrection, dying to sin and rising to new life with Him (Romans 6). Or the one to be baptised can be washed from above, being cleansed from sin and unrighteousness and renewed in and by Christ (John 3:3, the Greek can mean either born again or from above; Ephesians 5:25-27). And of course we can do both in baptism as a fuller image of what God is doing. Often in art of Christ’s Baptism we see Him coming up from the water and John pouring water from above. Yet still, it’s not the amount of water that reconciles us, it is God. The emergency baptism of spit is just as valid as the dunking and sprinkling because of His Word and work. For it is God who reconciles us to Him in Christ.

            The old spirit has been cast out, the old Adam drowned; and we are reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. Now then in the rite, there is the laying on of hands, reception of the Holy Spirit and prayer for the newly Baptised child of God. No longer a child of this broken world, now animated by the Holy Spirit in Christ and reconciled to God. The old has gone and the New has come. Now they are a member of God’s family in the care of their parents, Godparents and congregation. We are to no longer regard them according to the flesh as Paul wrote, for they are a New Creation reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. And God has given them and us His ministry of reconciliation.

            Therefore we, now, together, are ambassadors for Christ, God is making His appeal to those around us through you. So, as Paul writes, be reconciled to God. And be reconciled to each other. For God sees us all as His beloved children, and after all every human is made in the image of God. If God has reconciled us to Himself, then we love what He loves and want what He wants; and He loves you, all your siblings in Christ, every human, and all His Creation. Be what you are. An old lady is an old lady, not a young man. Just as your sin has been taken away today, live separated from sin. You who are baptised are children of God, so take after Him not after the devil. Be who God has made you to be, take your identity from Him, don’t let sin or death or the devil rule over your life for Jesus Christ is your Lord. Or as Paul simply states, be reconciled to God. For you are His ambassadors.

            You are Christ’s ambassadors, temples of the Holy Spirit, Children of the ever-loving Father Almighty. In Christ you are not your own ambassador, temples of pleasure, or children of the devil. You are a New Creation, the old has gone and the new has come. So live in His reconciliation, with Him and each other; and make a good and loving appeal to those God has put in your life. And when you break that reconciliation, come back as the prodigal son for God will receive and reconcile you again.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Talk about a hard hitting truth!

Luke 13:3, 5
I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.

            The people asked Jesus and I ask you, are those suffering in Ukraine, Tigray and Myanmar more evil than you that they are so horrifically afflicted by sin, death and the devil? Were those Christians who were executed by the Islamic State so faithless that God allowed for them to die? Were those Christian martyrs flayed, beheaded, stoned, sawn in two, burnt alive, because they were worse sinners more guilty than you? Jesus tells you no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.

            Talk about a hard hitting truth! And I thought the New Testament was all mercy, grace and Gospel! But unless you repent, you too will perish. Unless you turn away from your enacted love of sinful habits, your trusting the lies of this corrupt world, your fear of death; unless you turn away from those and turn toward Jesus, to fear, love and trust Him, you too will perish. Peter says at Pentecost, repent and be baptised everyone of you (Acts 2:38). Jesus began His ministry with the proclamation, ‘repent and believe the Good News!’ and ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven in here!’ (Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17). John the Baptist called the people to a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3). And now, in this Christian season of Lent, the Church calls you to repent.

            For, if you think you are standing firm in the Faith, in Christ, as a Christian, be careful you do not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). The Christian life is not an easy life, lazy and relaxing; Jesus came down from the mountain of Transfiguration and was immediately confronted by the enemy (Luke 9:37-42). Immediately after His Baptism the Holy Spirit drove Him out into the desert to fast and suffer the attacks of the devil (Luke 4:1-2). You will not be free from the attacks of your own sin and guilt, from the attacks of death and sickness, the attacks of the devil and temptation, until Christ returns in glory or takes you to be with Him. So, take these attacks as opportunities to pray, to turn back to God; for as Paul wrote, if you think you are standing firm, be careful you do not fall.

            Repent, turn to God in trouble and triumph; when it’s going well or going worse, pray and listen to His Word. In the Lenten studies this week we spoke about the ‘domestic church’ or how we bring Christ to each other in our home life. We said, ‘the family that prays together stays together,’ then spoke about how we read God’s word separately because of other commitments. We talked about our mealtime prayers, thanking God and asking His blessing regularly at every meal, or not so regularly. There was also the mention of singing God’s praises together in the home. When things are going well, or going worse; we can always repent, turn to God together, as family, to pray and listen to His Word. For we need Him each and every day, together as family we need Him, together as a congregation we need Him; His strength, His wisdom, His compassion, His words.

            But why do we need Him? What strength does He provide? What kind of wisdom does He grant? What is His compassion? For this we turn back to the Old Testament, dark and dusty, brimstone and fire; to God’s words through Isaiah whose sin was burnt from his lips by the Divine fire. God says, ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.’ (Isaiah 55:1). He shows compassion to the weak and poor. God says, ‘Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.’ (55:3). He has great strength to give life and make a promise that lasts forever, for of course the Word of the Lord stands forever! God says, ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (55:9). His wisdom beyond our comprehension, and in that wisdom He has made an everlasting and never-changing promise of life to Adam, to Abraham, to David, to Daniel, to Peter, to Paul, to countless others and today again to you.

Jesus, the fulfillment of the Promise, complete reconciliation of God and man, the first born of the New Creation, the goal of humanity; Jesus is life. That is why we need Him everyday. That is why we repent, turn back to Him. And that is why He says, unless you repent, you too will perish. Because just as when you wander away from light you find darkness, when you walk away from life you have death. So repent, cling to Him who is life everlasting (Psalm 63:8), cling to Jesus who is for you and your whole family and all the world.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

What two days of the week start with the letter T

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.  This week’s Memory Verse from Romans is ‘”Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul also tells us in Philippians,  ‘Above all else, live in a way that brings honour to the good news about Christ.’ (Philippians 1:27 CEV) 

Today, we confront the challenge of temptation and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to aid us in overcoming temptation.  So that we can honour Christ Jesus by living in a way that brings him honour.

Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God our Father, this morning we gather to worship You and to begin our journey with Your Son from His victory over temptation to His victory over the cross.  We praise you for the gift of salvation that He has given, and for His life and ministry that we witness together through the Scriptures.   Father, guide our time together so that we may confront our own temptation with confidence. We pray together in the name of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

An American local sheriff was looking for a new deputy.  One of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest candidate, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the sheriff, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The sheriff thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the sheriff asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter ‘T’?”   “Today and tomorrow,” replied the applicant, smiling confidently. The sheriff was again surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.

 “Now, listen carefully, who killed Abraham Lincoln?”, asked the sheriff. The candidate seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The sheriff replied, trying to be gentle, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his mates who were waiting to hear the results of the interview.

He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, we heard the words of God, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   I am convinced that these words from God the Father would have rang true throughout the spiritual realms.  And that would have perked the attention of the devil.   It appears he was permitted to test Jesus, just as he was given permission to test Job.  And just as he often is given permission to test us.

In our Gospel reading this morning it is Jesus’ first days on the job of ministering to a wayward people. Immediately he is confronted with three major temptations. Ultimately Jesus is confronted with a choice: Would he take the crown without the cross?   Would he allow his humanity to overcome his divinity.

We are often confronted with a similar choice.  Would we enter the Kingdom of God in eternity, without a commitment to the community of believers here.  Would we go through this life holding onto the Good News of our own salvation without reaching out together with that Good News of Jesus Christ bringing honour to his name.

Like Jesus, we are confronted with the most basic temptations in life that bring us ultimately to this choice.  We face these temptations in our attitudes, actions and words we use every day. We don’t need the devil to bring on these temptations.  We do a fine job by ourselves.  But when we are intentional and serious about following Christ Jesus, the devil will surely try to distract us.

Thank God, we have three very strong supporters in our confrontation with temptation. We have the Holy Spirit who will encourage our faith, we have the law of God which will point out when we fall to temptation, and we have each other to share our journey, remind us of God’s forgiveness and strengthen our resolve to live our Christianity.

The devil has been active in the world for almost as long as God himself.  Their purposes are opposite from each other, of course.  God created the world and preserves it.  Satan desires to destroy the world.  God loves and nurtures His people, while Satan is filled with a consuming hatred for God and all his creation. 

God provides for the justification of all believers through the gift of His own Son as a sacrifice for our sin.  Satan tries his worst to distract Jesus and then to destroy him.    Scripture tell us that God ‘will remember our sin no more’.  Satan stands as a constant, hollow but hounding accuser, trying to heap guilt upon us for every failure.

And here we are.  Living the tension of our Christian challenge.  To live in community as forgiven children of God, with both the guilt over sin and the freedom of forgiveness.  God hates the sin but will never hold back his love and forgiveness for every person with faith in Jesus Christ. 

Through our faith we already have a place in eternity with Jesus.  We don’t even need to fret over that.  But we still live with a certain tension every day.  As we live our faith in community, we feel the urgency to offer others this freedom and joy of salvation.  We also often feel fearful about sharing our life of faith openly. Showing our neighbour the care we have for them.   Reaching out together with an intentional attitude of compassion, and care is easier together.  As we follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God saw that the world was captivated by sin, and he grieved for the humanity that he loved so much.    In the same way, we often see the brokenness around us, in our families, among our friends, and throughout our neighbourhoods. 

In order to account for the human will that was captivated by sin, God took this sin upon himself.   God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father shares in what the Son experiences.  The Son acts in unison with the Spirit to accomplish the will of the Father.  And all three in their eternal unity, share in our joy and sorrow.  In the same way, we can gather in community to pray.  To assist where we are able to reach out with both compassion and the Gospel.  

Pray intentionally and specifically for those around us who are still wandering in the dry and dark places.  In community, we can make a difference by being available and ready to introduce the reality of God’s grace together. In what the world witnesses about our love for one another.

Through Jesus Christ, God renewed our relationship with himself.  But here’s the rub – that renewal didn’t stop the brokenness of the world.  Jesus calls us to join together to bring a small bit of calm and order out of the chaos of that  brokenness. We reach out better together.  And in those times when we feel powerless to present the love and grace of God to others we can remember the words of Christ to Paul:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NIV)

I am sure that after the waters of the floods that affect our coastline and rivers recede there will be so much opportunity to assist our neighbours on the Mid North Coast with sustenance and clean-up.  But we can only do this in community with others, working together.  Trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence. 

Today, we were to confront the decision to call a pastor for part time service to our Congregation to bring a new energy to our outreach in Port Macquarie. And to join with the community of Lutherans in NSW to support that pastor’s part time service to the Gospel through the District initiative of Frontier School of Mission.  Again, trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence.

The Gospel tells us today that after His baptism, Jesus spent forty days preparing for his journey to the cross, in the solitude of the desert hills. In Lent, we embark on forty days as well.  To prepare for the remembrance of God’s sacrifice.  Forty days for Jesus, and forty days for us.  But for many, those forty days are little more than tradition.  And for so many more, these days go by without even a notice. 

Thank God, he sets no time limit for our preparation for eternity.  When we receive the gift from our triune God of baptism, God will use our whole lifetime to prepare us to receive his ultimate gift of eternal life.  And God gives us each other to journey together through our life of faith, hope, and love.   Especially during these forty days of intentional Christian living.  They say that it takes about six weeks of intention to break a bad habit.  And it takes about six weeks of intention to build a good habit into character of living. When we are faced with the temptation to ignore our commitment to Christ and to community, we can turn to the scriptures and to each other for encouragement.  And we can remember the words of James, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV)

When we are faced with the temptation to accept the Kingdom of God without living our commitment to Christ and to each other here in this broken world, we can gain strength against temptation.  Jesus responded to the devil, “The Scriptures say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”  We test God when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives and still expect every blessing from God for the here and now.  We already have God’s blessings for eternity by our faith in Jesus Christ.

We can also take courage from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  ‘If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.  For it is by believing in our heart that we are made right with God, and it is by confessing with our mouth that we are saved.’ 

The great English statesman and man of God William Wilberforce once wrote that “Christianity can be condensed into four words: admit, submit, commit, and transmit.  Admit Christ as Lord,  submit to Christ as Lord, commit our lives to Christ as Lord, and transmit the Love of Christ to a dying world.  (Draper’s Quotes, Accessed QuickVerse Platinum 2010) Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873)  We transmit the love of Christ to the world better when we hold onto each other and reach out together.

We can pray, “Thank You Jesus! For entering humanity for us.  For holding strong against the temptations that so easily beset us.  For holding fast to bring salvation into this broken world.  And then for loving us even when we fall victim to temptation.”   The grace and peace of God, keep our hearts, our minds and our voices in, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson

“Christ is Victor! Yesterday, today and into eternity!”

John 12:31-32
Now is the judgement of this world, now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. And if I am lifted up from the earth, all will be drawn towards me.

            As we come towards the end of this Lenten season, we hear from Jesus towards the end of His ministry. He’s been going from place to place speaking to people, just as we have; going from reading to reading hearing His Word. As His earthly ministry to the Jews comes to a close the Greeks are beginning to seek Him; to seek the Gospel. And yet we had to wait, to wait for it to make sense. For Gospel, Evangelion in Greek, is a proclamation of victory! And it is not yet Easter, Jesus was not yet lifted up victorious that all, these Greeks included, would be drawn to Him.  The goal of His mission, the goal of Lent; the Easter Victory over and against this fallen world of sin and death, and the power of the devil. Jesus today is prophesying His crucifixion and what it means. He is proclaiming, Christ is Victor!

            When we turn on the news we hear what is happening across this world, abuse, corruption, lies, slaughter, destruction and death. The pain this virus has brought, the frustration of the restrictions; corruption in foreign countries, the murder of countless in Ethiopia and Myanmar; the lies and mistruths spouted by politicians and even those near us; destruction by bomb, flood and mouse, and death from cancer. Yes, we know that there is good and beauty in this world, for truly God made it (Genesis 1-2); and yet this world in which we live is sick, we are broken, creation is hurting. And God’s creation has been hurting for a long time (Romans 8:22), this is why those Greeks were seeking Jesus, for in His earthly ministry God has begun to answer, He has begun healing, raising the dead, and proclaiming His immanent Victory, the Gospel (Luke 7:22). God sent His Son to save the world (John 3:16); this world afflicted by sin, by death, and by demons. Yes, it sometimes seems the devil rules over this sinful world, in our anxieties, our depression, despair, even our pride. But Jesus declared, all those years ago, ‘Now is the judgement of this world’ and on that cross He proclaimed the Good News, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

            Today’s reading is just days before His crucifixion, and on His cross this prophecy is fulfilled. This broken world is judged, the devil is thrown out and Christ is crowned King of kings (Hebrews 2:9; Psalm 136:3; Revelation 17:14). The glory of God hidden in that crown of thorns (1 Corinthians 1:23). Now is the judgement of this world, now it’s ruler is thrown out. In fulfillment of His Word, ‘if I am lifted up from the earth’, Jesus was lifted up on that cross, He was raised from the grave, and He ascended into the heavens. Now by His Holy, Powerful, Enduring Word carried by His apostles with the Holy Spirit, by all Christians down the ages, and today now by you; all people are drawn to Him. He brings us into His healing, into His great victory, into His New Creation. It isn’t a once long ago thing, God Almighty brings His victory here to us.

            Here today we have seen it, and we will see it. This Lenten time of preparation is a focussed living out Christ’s victory, given us in baptism; a time of focus on our baptismal life. Elsewhere we are promised that baptism is a union with Christ’s death and raising from the dead (Romans 6). And this too is what Jesus is speaking of. This is what God has promised each of us in baptism. This is what Cooper has just received! According to the ways of this broken world, Cooper is afflicted by sin; His parents won’t need to teach him to do what is wrong; just like I didn’t teach Nathaniel tantrums, that’s all him. But at Cooper’s baptism, his union to Christ’s crucifixion according to the promise, what Christ promised today has been done. His sin afflicted self, Cooper of this fallen world, has been judged, that old sinful man drowned in the waters of baptism (Ephesians 4:22). The ruler of that corruption, the devil, has been thrown out, denounced and rejected by Cooper and his parents and godparents. What is true of Christ’s crucifixion is now also true of Cooper in his baptism. Now is the sinful world judged, now the devil thrown out, here today for Cooper. His enemies are now defeated; Sin drowned in Christ, the devil and his demons thrown out. But what of our final enemy, death? Know that Jesus did not just up and leave after defeating our enemies; He rose from the dead, destroying the power of death for Cooper and for all us who are baptised. He remained and taught the first disciples, living with them. Then He sent them out to make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching; and truly He is with us always to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

            He is with us as we gather in His name, just as He promised (Matthew 18:20). He is with us as we pray with Him His prayer (Matthew 6:5-15). He is with us as we hear His Word. As we serve those in need (Matthew 25:40). As we receive again His absolution (John 20:22-23). As we taste again His Body and Blood (Mark 14:22). As we, with Cooper, participate in His lifting up, on the cross, from the grave, and to His throne on High, in our baptismal life (Romans 6; 2 Timothy 2:12). Now is the judgement of Sin, Death, and the devil; here is their defeat; again He is exalted and today we are again drawn to Christ, we hear the Good News, we taste everlasting life, and we see again Christ’s victory over Sin, Death and the devil. Christ is Victor. And we live in His everlasting life, drawn into His victory so that others maybe drawn as well.

            And so the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Is Jesus a snake?

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.

            I love this text, John 3:16 is rightfully well remembered, yet so often we forget these wonderful texts surrounding it. The hiding of sin in the darkness and that fear of the light, that when we come into the light in Christ, confessing the truth of who we are, the darkness is taken away and all that is left is of God. That wonderful encouragement to have your conscience healed before God in Confession and Absolution. And then also this little verse, ‘just as the snake in the desert’.

            When I say snake in the desert, you might think of when you found a brown snake, the fear and threat you felt; or you might think of Jesus tempted in the desert; even the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden (Mark 2:13; Genesis 3). And yet we heard today, this bronze snake lifted by Moses for the salvation of the Israelites (Numbers 21:4-9). The reason I love this text is that it helps open our eyes as Christians. It demonstrates that the Old Testament is always pointing to Christ Jesus. It is His story; it is our story. The Father Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, but God provided; the Father so loved the world He provided His only begotten Son (Genesis 22:2, 14). King David dancing almost naked down the street as the Ark of the Covenant entered the city; Christ humiliated on His way to the cross of God’s glorious victory (2 Samuel 6:14, 21-22). The snake on a stick (Numbers 21:4-9), the serpent on a tree (Genesis 3), Jesus lifted up on wood (Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus is the fulfillment, the revelation of God’s ancient Word. And for all time that ancient history of God’s people, the Old Testament points to Him. Give thanks to God for He is good; His love endures forever (Psalm 107:1).

            Our God, God Almighty, is not a changing God (Malachi 3:6). He has been with His people all through the ages, He is with us now. It’s just as we prayed earlier, ‘the redeemed of the Lord tell their story, those He redeemed from the hands of the enemy. They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave!’ (Psalm 107; Ephesians 2:1-10). This is the way He has always worked! He speaks and according to His Word things happen. And He shows His love to you in that He spoke generations ago and had His word written and preserved that you too might hear from Him and pass it on. That He might reveal Himself to you and through you. That we might be able to look back on our history, on the life of God’s people; as they too lived through pandemic, exile, war, and persecution.

Not just that we are united in greater and lesser suffering, not just that we serve the same God, that we share in His name on us all, but also that God works in the same way He always has. That we might hear how He strengthened His people in patience, in trust, in love, to do those works He had prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). To know that the goal is Christ, yet He may give us a foretaste of what is to come, according to the word of His promise. That, just as we prayed, He sends out His word to heal us. That according to His promise, His sure and certain Word, we might be healed. But where is that word?

In the desert, trudging and suffering the Israelites grumbled and rejected God’s promise. So, God sent venomous snakes to attack; then the people in need turned to Moses for help from the Lord. They cried out just as we prayed. And the Lord told Moses to make a bronze snake raised on a stick, that the people might look at it to be save from the snakes. There are reasons and connections as to why it’s a bronze snake on a pole, like how the snake on a stick is a symbol of medicine; yet just to know that God tied His word of promise to this real image to save His people. But also, another thing, they look up to a snake to be saved from snakes.

And just the same, the Son of Man must be lifted up. Yes, so much more happens at His crucifixion yet this remains true. Those who look up to Jesus on the cross are saved, according to the Word. If the Israelites were saved from snakes by looking up to a snake, what are we saved from by looking to Jesus? We are saved from death, the wages of our sins; those failures we fight against in the New Life of Christ (Romans 6:23). We are saved from our fallen humanity, our inclination to sin, to serve ourselves, to rely only on created things, to envy what is not ours (Hebrews 2:14). When, trusting in God’s Word, we look to the crucifix, Jesus on that cross, we may have eternal life. He was lifted up for your salvation. The Word of God came to heal you. And in His mercy, He shows you this again today.

Have you ever wondered why there is a cross marked on the bread for Holy Communion? Why the pastor lifts the bread for the Words of Institution? It is the snake in the desert; it is Jesus lifted for your healing to everlasting life. Our Heavenly Father has tied His Word of promise, the promise of renewal, taking away of sin and guilt, everlasting life, and full common union with Christ Jesus, God and Man reconciled, He has tied His Word of promise to the bread and wine of Holy Communion. It is a mystery that today we have only scratched the surface of the connections God is making, the depth of the reasons He has revealed; and yet He sends His Word that the Spirit may open our eyes, to see Christ’s everlasting life for us from the cross in this Holy Meal. To see with Simeon as we sing with Him, ‘my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.’ (Luke 2:30-32).

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the final revelation. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘The temple of fools’

John 2:19
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’

            Foolish to the nations, that’s what Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). And isn’t it so true. How many think that faithful Christians are fools? Does our society think that Jesus is important, that His church is a vital part of our lives; Or maybe something to be kept hidden in private, like the proverbial crazy uncle. My best friend from school still thinks I’m a fool, for giving up a career in chemistry to become a minister of the Means of Grace. And I’m sure there are people in your lives, that think you too are a fool for the Faith.

            I mean look at our Lord, by Himself He starts tossing tables and driving out animals from the most important centre in the Jewish nation and society. Sure, the temple is supposed to be a house of prayer, not a house of commerce (Mark 11:17); yet one person to overturn the way society is going. What kind of a fool would do that?

            And Jesus tells the people, destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days. A temple that took 46 years for a nation to build, and this fool will raise it in three days? What kind of a fool would follow this madman who died 2000 years ago?

            As Paul said, foolishness to the gentiles; yet to those being saved it is the power of God. The power of the Uncreated Creator, who spoke the Word and it was done, He saw and it was good (Genesis 1). The power of the God of Israel defeating all the gods of Egypt and promising His presence in the tabernacle, that copy of the Heavenly Temple (Exodus 40:34-38). Who promised to come Himself and save not just the Israelites, but all the world (Isaiah 56:4-8, Ezekiel 34:11-23). Who came as a human, in a tabernacle of flesh (John 1:14). Yes, they do not understand that the God whose temple they are in, had told them Jesus is the new Temple. They did not understand until His Word is fulfilled. Because they did destroy the Temple, the promised place of God’s presence, when He was crucified; and He did raise the Temple three days later, at the Resurrection Sunday morning.

            And now you are baptised, joined into His Body, the Church, you are part of this Resurrected Temple (1 Peter 2:4-5). Jesus may look a fool to the world, yet He holds the truth of this world (John 14:6). As He threw those tables into the air, the money to the dirt, He was not just preaching to the Jews, against their focus on money and wealth, against their pride and selfish power, against this abuse of God’s Holy Place. He is also teaching us as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Those cleansing waters of Baptism is Jesus coming into us and throwing out our sin and failures. The cleansing of the temple is the healing of our hearts and minds, Absolution, Baptism, Holy Communion. The question is not, are you letting Christ drive out the sin in your life; He’s already done that according to His promise (John 20:23). Rather the question is; are you picking back up the money and bringing back the animals into the temple? After Christ has forgiven you are you turning from His life of prayer back to focus on wealth and our animalistic/physical desires, back to the way of life our society thinks is wise, self-sufficiency and pleasure?

            Just as Christ cleansed the temple at the beginning of His ministry and in the days before His death, He cleanses us more than once. In this Lenten time of preparation come and hear Christ’s cleansing Words, Forgiveness and Life (Matthew 26:28; John 6:68). Think about what He tells you, meditate on His Word, pray for the wisdom of God and the strength you need, and serve as He did, in love and with concern for all those around Him.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘dying to live’?

Mark 8:34
If any desire to follow behind me, let them disown themself, lift up their cross and let them follow me.

            Again the season of Lent, living the life of a Christian. Now a question, have you ever thought you knew someone, then later find out you were wrong? A friend who disliked you, an enemy who became a friend. You thought you knew who they were, what they wanted, then something happens; you see them in different circumstances, they say something; and you see you were wrong. This is just what has happens to Peter. Immediately before our reading today, Jesus asks who people say He is and Peter replies, You are the Messiah! (Mark 8:27-29) Finally, after all the times the disciples fail to understand, particularly in Mark’s account, finally they get it! Jesus is the Messiah, Christ in Greek, the one anointed to save the Israelites and all the world!

            But Peter didn’t really understand, he saw the truth but only in blurry vision, like the blind man Jesus healed earlier in the chapter (Mark 8:22-25). Peter still had his own idea of who the Messiah was and what He would do. Throw out the Romans, conquer the world, bringing all people to worship God the Jewish way at the second temple in Jerusalem, Israel.  And yet Jesus openly tells them what He is going to do, what will happen. The Jewish leaders will reject Him, cause Him to suffer, Jesus would be killed and after three days rise again. But Peter doesn’t like that; he thinks he knows who the Messiah is, better than the Messiah Himself. No, says Peter, you’re wrong! Jesus turns to the disciples, No Peter, you are wrong! Get behind me Satan/enemy, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

            A good question for us. Are you like Peter? Do you have in mind the things of God? Or do you fill your time and focus on finances, politics both state and street, gossip, worry, the things of this world? As we asked last week, do you treasure the things of this world or the things of God? Do you listen to Jesus, as God commanded at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:7)? Or do you think you know who God is without His help? Do you know better than the one who made you? Trying to bring Him down to your level to serve you like a cheerleader, a schoolmaster, a genie. Do you try to make God fit the things of this world, the things of men? Or do you let God be God and tell you who He is? Do you let Him love you as He has promised? Do you have in mind the things of God, or the things of men?

            This Lent, as we hear God’s Word, as you meditate on it and as you pray; what is he telling us about what a Christian is? Who is Jesus, what is this Messiah? A conqueror crowned with gold, beloved by all His own people, all Australians and all people across this world? No! He tells us who He is. He shows us who He is. He is crowned with thorns, rejected by His own people, ignored by most Australians, and even rebuked by many across the world. And yet, He took up a cross, that horrific tool of public, excruciating torture. He took up His cross, suffering that ridicule, rejection, even regret, on top of all the lashes and heavy nails. He took up our fallen humanity (Hebrews 2:14-18), He took up your sin (Isaiah 53:6), your guilt and failures onto that cross. And, just like every disease stops afflicting the person at death, there in His death, sin dies with Him. But sin does not rise from the grave.

            And this He has done for you 2000yrs ago, He has promised this for you in your Baptism, and He promises that you participate in this in every Holy Communion. He disowned Himself, took up His cross, and died for you. This is His way of life, life everlasting. And Jesus tells His disciples, even His enemy of a moment, Peter, to get in behind. And for all who desire to live His life, to walk His way, to follow Him; deny yourself, take up your cross and follow the Messiah. The gifts God has given you, union with Christ Jesus, separation from sin, and life despite death; cling to these things of God, have them in mind as you continue through Lent. As we say of the Baptismal life in Jesus; die daily to your sin, rise daily and live with Him.

            And the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the Final Resurrection. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Baptism into temptation’

Mark 1:12
And immediately the Spirit threw Him out into the desert.

            Welcome to Lent, the traditional time of temptation in our church year. When we look at ourselves, our way of living, and try harder to live as Christ’s Baptised people, in that New life He has given. When we focus on treasuring the things of God and not the things of this world. To hear the Word of God and other Christians’ reflections on it, in song, speech or written; and hear less of the unending worries of the world. Yet, as you try to live here in the life Jesus has given you, the devil attacks. I mean, if our King suffered demonic temptation, don’t think you won’t.

            After Baptism the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, and if you think that sounds harsh, in the Greek it says the Spirit threw Him out. After that wonderful declaration from our Heavenly Father, of who Jesus is, ‘my beloved Son in whom I am pleased.’ (Mark 1:11) The Spirit throws Him away from the people, the cities, into the desert and the demons. By Himself, alone with the stones, with dust and His own thoughts; and if you’ve ever been alone like that you know how bad it can be. Fear, regret, and sometimes those dreadful thoughts from the devil. There’s a reason ancient people thought demons lived in deserts. So why, after Baptism, does God send His Son out into the desert, forty days of temptation and suffering?

            Why after your baptism, after you became a Christian, adopted and drawn into the Body of Christ; why do you now suffer? When you try hard, when you focus on living the Christian life, the life of Christ; why is it so hard? Why do we feel attacked? Why those stray thoughts of doubt or sin? Why, O Lord, do we suffer? How long O Lord, until you hear us and have mercy? (Psalm 13) We have these hard questions, yet God has not given an answer; instead as the letter to the Hebrews declares and as we hear today, God is with us in it (Hebrews 2:12-18). Jesus suffers temptation with you. In Baptism your old life died, and you were given a new life, the life of Christ. This life where, after Baptism we are promised suffering, persecution and temptation (Matthew 10:16-23; John 15:20; 2 Timothy 1:8, 3:12; 1 Peter 5:8). Yet you are not alone, the Holy Spirit is leading you, Jesus is suffering alongside you, and the Father loves you and is pleased with you. As the psalmist prays, Good and upright is the Lord, therefore He instructs the sinners in the way, He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble His ways (Psalm 25:8-9).

            So now we have that call, to live the life you have been given, the way of God, relying on Him, listening to Him, treasuring the things of Heaven not the things of this world that is passing away. To treasure, Love, Joy, Hope, Life, these Holy and wonderful gifts God has given (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 2:8; 1 John 4:8). And to remember your Baptism, death and resurrection in Christ; to remember our union in the life of the New Creation with our Lord and all our siblings in the faith across this world, who suffer with us. As Luther and the Catechism put it, to die daily to sin and rise daily with Christ. This is what Lent is about. Baptism, our dying to sin and rising with Christ, is not just something in the past; it is our daily life as Christians. St Peter tells us that the flood points to what baptism is; those forty days when evil was drowned and destroyed, and God’s people were saved (1 Peter 3:20-21). Now some of you might like boats, but surrounded for forty days by animals and floating on a sea with bloated corpses certainly sounds like suffering to me. Forty days to cleanse the Earth, forty days to prepare for the New world, forty days for evil to die; we could even say as Peter did, forty days of Baptism. Baptism is the death of sin and the beginning of our union with Christ.

            And so we have, Baptism before our temptation, suffering during our Baptismal life, and what is at the end of these forty days of Lent? That traditional day of Baptism, even the truth of what Baptism is; union with Christ’s life, His death to sin, and His Resurrection to New Glorified Everlasting Life (Romans 6; Mark 9:2-3; Matthew 28:3; Philippians 3:21). I was Baptised, I am Baptised, and I will see my Baptism finally and fully revealed at the end of time; just as we say, “I was saved, am saved, and will be saved, in Christ”. You are Baptised, remember what that means; dead to sin, alive to Christ; having the Holy Spirit leading you through suffering and temptation; but most importantly, as we look past these Lenten days of preparation to what comes after, Baptism is God’s promise of complete and everlasting union with Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

            So live, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds against temptation in Christ Jesus and unite you to Him. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 11:4
Jesus said, this weakness is not to death, instead for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified through it.

            A wonderful encouragement and a great display of Christ’s power and love. To hear again this great comfort, this beautiful truth, especially at this time. Here, the last miracle before His passion, the Sunday before He enters Jerusalem, we see that Jesus truly is the Resurrection and the Life and those who trust in Him have life after death and everlasting life. And yet it doesn’t play out as we might expect. Jesus does not drop everything to rush and heal the sick man, as He does at other times. Instead He waits 2 days and only then comes to the grave of the one He loved. Martha and Mary’s speech shows their doubt in Christ’s power, if you had been here, if you ask God He will give. And of course, the Jews of Jerusalem seeing Jesus has power to raise from the dead decide they should try killing Him. And they succeed. How does this weakness and death glorify Jesus, the Son of God?

            And now sickness comes to Australia in this pandemic, weakness in our country’s economy and in manys financial security. How at this time is our Heavenly Father’s name hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, how can we glorify Christ Jesus? Do we ask Him to just whisk us away from all these troubles, to stop COVID19 and bring prosperity back to the world? If He doesn’t come should, we doubt or reject Him, because He doesn’t take away our suffering, our weakness? If He doesn’t heal us, does that mean He doesn’t love us? Surely just as if your spouse had the power to heal you of the cancer you might get, surely Jesus would heal us who He has promised He loves! But what did Christ do for the one whom He loved, and the brother of those He loved, what did Jesus do for Lazarus in his weakness? He let him die. And Jesus Himself as He pleaded with our Heavenly Father that He might not have to suffer, a very human cry, still chose to go according to the divine will to His own suffering and death. But He declares, Jesus is glorified in the death of Lazarus and in His own. Truly the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).

            To our human ears it makes no sense that Jesus would wait when His friend was sick. It says that it was because He loved him, He let him die. If He loves, why wouldn’t He heal Lazarus straight away? He did it with the centurion’s servant. Why if He loves us has He promised suffering in this life, for us His siblings persecution because we trust in Him (John 15:20; 16:33; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12)? Why is this pandemic continuing, and the economy crumbling? Why does God allow evil? The book of Job teaches us this very question, we hear the preface and know why it’s all happening, yet Job never is told. He asks his wife, who had just told him to curse God and die, ‘shall we receive good from God, and shall we not also receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin, he spoke what is right (Job 2:10). Job and his family suffered immensely, and yes he complained (7:11), he demanded that God answer him (10:2), and yet through it all and in the end he glorified God (19:25; 42). Job is the one who declared, I know that my redeemer lives (19:25). Just the same Lazarus suffered and died, yet through it all his sisters kept the faith and Christ showed them and all the Jews what is to come, the glorious resurrection of the dead foretold by God through Ezekiel (37:1-14). Through this Christ was glorified 2000yrs ago, and by John’s inspiration all Christians might glorify God and praise His name as we hear and believe. In 2 weeks time is the greatest celebration in the church year, Pascha, Easter, the celebration of Christ’s suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. All of this is to God’s glory, Father, Son and Spirit, we can praise Him in suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. To God be the glory! It’s not just that Jesus suffered, but that God incarnate suffered for you and with you, we die His death to sin, we are buried in Him who is life, and so we wait together for the final resurrection, the revelation of His life over death in us.

            And as we are joined with His life, we too expect suffering and persecution. This pandemic and economic downturn need not surprise us. We have a sure foundation in Christ, set in Him by the Spirit in the waters of Baptism, we need not be shaken. Yet now as we live in this world of weakness and death, we ask how might this be to the glory of God? How is His name hallowed through this emergency? How can we, who are saved by Christ’s death, and joined to Him who is Resurrection and Life, you now free from death and eternal death, how can we bring glory to God as our country suffers and as we suffer while we wait for God’s timing to bring into reality the final resurrection and the new heavens and new earth?

Our complete union with Christ our life, the king crowned on the cross, and with Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and all those believing Jesus, the saints past and present. Until this time glorify God and receive His peace which passes all understanding guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Joseph Graham.