“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.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Ephesians 5:14
Awake, you sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

 

            To walk in the light of Christ, that is what it is to live as a Christian. Not to do those unfruitful things of darkness, those things we keep secret because we are ashamed. Rather as we walk in the light we produce goodness, righteousness and truth. The Spirit through Paul brought this good and right, truth to the Ephesians, and now He brings it to you, to guide you, teach you, and remind you who you are in Christ and what He has done for you. Now I don’t think I need to prove that working in the dark can be fruitless, anyone who’s walked into a table or chair when the lights are out knows that it’s kind of pointless; and of course when we do something shameful we seek to keep it in the dark, everyone knows this, everyone does this. And this is why we need reminders to bring us back to the light, to walk in it.

            The Spirit tells us, once you were darkness, now you are light in Christ. And earlier in the letter, you were dead in your trespasses and sin; but because of His great love God made you alive in Christ, raised with Him onto the throne of heaven (Ephesians 2:1-10). From death and darkness into light and life. God promises you that you are now alive in Jesus, you have the life of Jesus; and as He is the Light of the World, He reveals what is real, the truth about you and the lies as well. So what is that truth?

            The corrupt world says, you are alive, fight to keep it that way; so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, do whatever just make sure to look out for yourself. We hear and see this everyday, and more so today as we live with a pandemic, like those 10 plagues God sent to reveal His power against Pharaoh, and to His people (Exodus, 7:1-5). And like that time we hear the news the fear of the death, we see how the devil plays his game, how people across the world are driven to panic and division. Now this is true, what our world reveals about humanity, but what does God reveal?

            What is the Spirit teaching us through the text today? What is the light of Christ revealing? Yes, perhaps that you waste the time God has given you on shameful things, on fruitless things, chasing idols of fame, fortune, pleasure or whatever, or just that you are lazy and sleep on your faith, forgetting prayer, God’s Word and His people. The Spirit calls out, reminding of your baptism, ‘Awake you sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’! But what is He revealing to us now? This viral plague He has authority over, what is it revealing? A fear of death, of the unknown, worship of wealth and self; the truth of this sinful world, what is really valued, made visible by a virus.

            I asked before, what is true, now what is true about you? The world thinks you’re fighting to live, but the Holy Spirit has told you, you are as good as dead, dead to this world in which we live, but alive to Christ (Romans 6:11). Your life is Christ’s life, and in this season we look forward to His death, to our death. This is why Easter, the Christian Passover celebration, traditionally was a time for baptism. In baptism, you died to this corrupt world. So now, as all these people panic in their fear of death, remember you are in the light and life of Christ, you have already died so death has no power over you (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Our lives are joined to Christ’s, this is where the church seasons come from, to live again our temptations in the desert alongside Jesus and rejecting them with Him, to live again our trial, our death and our resurrection within Christ our head as we hear again His Passion. Through all this we remember what Christ has done, saving from sin, death, and the devil, giving us His holiness, life, and the Holy Spirit. And through these seasons we now seek, by His strength which He has given, to walk in the light. Christ has opened our eyes, Our Father brought us to new life in Jesus, The Holy Spirit has given us all we need, has given us faith (John 9:39; John 6:44; Romans 12:3, 9). And now you are alive to Christ, not this world; called to live in His light, promised that as we do goodness, righteousness and truth come.

            In the face of death of any sort, we need not fear for we have already died and been risen again in Christ the source of everlasting life. So now we are free to do good, to do what is right, and to confess what is true by the strength of the Spirit. To love each other and those in need, and to await the world of Light to come.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 17:7
And he called the place Massah and Meribah because of the rebellion of the Israelites and because they tested the Lord saying, is the Lord in our midst or not?

             We have just heard God’s Word, just spoken with Him, our Rock and our redeemer (psalm -) asking His blessing on this sermon; but that last question, is the Lord with us or not? Those Israelites had left a land of slavery but also watermelons (Numbers 11:5), and now faced a thirsty death alongside a rock. When you look around, on your life, the temptations and ridicule of the world, the empty seats, and at the end of this season of Lent the death of your saviour; you too are faced with that same reality, death might be all we can see. So we ask, Where is God? What is He doing? Does He even care about us, about me?

            That woman at the well also came from a hard life, she too asked where is God; here on the mountain or in Jerusalem (John 4:20)? And Jesus answered, we will worship Him, serve, praise, and bow before Him, in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). In Spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit given you in Baptism, and in truth, according to God’s Word, His promise. And He has promised to be here; where ever two or three are gathered in my name there I am with them; I am with you always, to the end of this world; you are in me and I am in you (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; John 14:20). This is the truth, and moreso for those Israelites in the desert; ten plagues on their enemies, opening a dry way through the sea, bread from heaven, a pillar of fire, if we had all that here I reckon this place would be packed, even if only out of fear. But then these Israelites face death again and what do they do? Threaten to kill their leader and go back to their old ways. When it gets tough for you trying to walk God’s way, what do you do? Let’s say you’ve decided to start reading the Bible every night this Lent, if you get to bed worn out but have forgotten to open it up what do you do? When I bring up something from God’s Word that challenges the way you live and act, what do you do? Hopefully you won’t threaten to kill me, but do you give up, say God doesn’t care and go about your own way? Or do you ask God for help?

            Those Israelites faced death, but so did Moses; all these people including him, had been called out by God, promised that God will always be with them and now were in danger of death. So what did Moses do? He cried out to God, and God answered. From that barren, dry rock, an image of their bones if God didn’t help, from that rock came their salvation. Water burst out of its side and the people were saved. The Lord is here, and He cares for you, He listens to you and sustains you through the sufferings of this life. Moses turned to God, the Israelites turned away, but Jesus the Rock of our salvation died for us even when you were still sinners. He died on that cross, a corpse like that dry rock in the desert, but out of His side flowed water and blood, the living water and the blood that cleanses us. In His death He reconciled us to the Father, even when you sin rejecting God’s way, even when you try but fail, you are reconciled with Him and all Christians who are also joined with Him by baptism and Holy Communion. Death is not the end, even though it might be all we can see, a dying church, family rejecting Christ’s love, a collapse of community, the struggles of your own life, but death is not the end. We will die, our baptism foretells this truth, yet we will rise and enter the promised land; just as the Israelites did, just as Christ did and just as God has promised. Now as we live this side of death, with our Triune God here with us, the Holy Spirit walking alongside us, sustaining us, caring for us and guiding us, hold on to the truth, His promises, His way, and cry out to Him whenever you need help; He will save you.

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

Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Lent

The Text: John 3:1-17

God’s Family and Our Family

 

How often do you stop to think about what God is like? As far as eternity is concerned, what you believe about God is the most important thing about you. Knowledge of God is the most important knowledge you can possess. Knowledge of God is momentous knowledge because of its power to change lives in so many wonderful ways. The better you know God personally, the stronger will be your convictions on moral matters and the keener you will be to act on these convictions. The Bible says, “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action (Daniel 11:32).”

 A group of university students were asked for their definition of God. Some gave very complicated definitions; others gave very vague definitions. Finally a normally quiet, shy girl said with a big smile on her face: “God is the One without whom I cannot exist!” What we believe about God makes all the difference to how we live from week to week. God wants to be our refuge and strength amid the stresses and strains of daily life. Our Triune God isn’t remote or aloof from contemporary life, but is deeply involved in what’s happening in our lives now. Our God is behind all the things that go right in our lives each week.

 In His Son Jesus Christ, God has all the time in the world for individuals. In today’s Gospel about Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus, we have the first of many conversations Jesus has with individuals on a one to one basis. What’s more, many of the greatest truths Jesus ever told were shared with individual men and women. Perhaps this is Jesus’ way of saying that these priceless messages of good news are meant for each one of us personally.

 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night-time, fascinated by the miracles Jesus performed. In those days, religious issues were often debated at night-time, even on a roof-top to take advantage of a refreshing evening breeze. Nicodemus has come to question Jesus. Instead, He ends up being questioned by Jesus. Nicodemus begins by paying Jesus a compliment, and is taken aback by Jesus’ unexpected reply. Jesus ignores the compliment and focuses instead on the new birth we all need in order to join God’s Kingdom. Jesus says, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

 Poor Nicodemus! He, almost humorously, takes Jesus’ words literally. He naively comments that no adult can enter their mother’s womb a second time. Jesus takes the focus from Himself and gives it to the Holy Spirit when He says, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” This is an example of the selfless way the three members of the Trinity operate. They honour each other by pointing to the work the other members of the Trinity do.

 God the Father points to the saving work of His Son Jesus and glorifies Him. Jesus takes the focus from Himself and glorifies His heavenly Father, while the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus and all that Jesus has done for us. God is no single person, but a social being, a Family of three persons. Just as it takes three persons to make a family, so the Trinity models family life for us. At the beginning of creation, God said, “It is not good that anyone should be alone (Genesis 2:18).” God never meant us to be alone, but rather to find our purpose and meaning in life and our fulfilment in relationships with one another.

 Our Father in heaven has given all authority, wisdom and love to our Saviour Jesus.  Jesus, in turn, is totally committed to doing His Father’s will. He says, “My food is to do the will of the Father who sent me (John 4:34).” The Holy Spirit reveals the Father and the Son to us and does all He can to bring them praise and glory. The chief characteristic of the Triune God is that of a community reaching out to include us in their love for each other. They want us to enjoy the fellowship they have with each other. You cannot have one member of the Trinity without also having the other two.

 None of us is self-made. We all began life in a triangular relationship with a mother and father. Most of us are involved in a threefold set of personal relationships. For example, I am a husband to my dear wife, a father to my children and a brother to my own siblings. Jesus says to each of you, “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you (John 15:9).” When the Bible says “God is love”, it affirms God’ social and Trinitarian nature, for love needs both a giver and a receiver.

 True love is mutual. Yet it is also more than mutual. Its outgoing nature is eager to bless as many other persons as possible. Self-sacrificial love is love at its best. Out of love for the whole world, God the Father sacrificed His dearest possession, His only Son, for us. This was the most glorious act of love by the Father in heaven. The glory of John 3:16 is in the special relationship between the Father and His Son. Jesus is God’s greatest gift of love to us, given to us so that we won’t perish. To “not perish” means that our lives won’t be wasted, but will enjoy life forever with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 This hope that is ours through faith in Christ Jesus is a robust and resilient hope offered without limit. TV advertisements sometimes tell us “This offer is limited” or “Available only as long as supplies last”. Into our world of limited resources, limited time and limited opportunities Jesus tells us of God’s limitless love for the whole world. It would have been mind-blowing for Nicodemus to learn that God loves the whole world and that the very person he was listening to was proof of this love. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will not God with Him also give us everything else? (Romans 8:31-32)” When we believe this with our whole being, then our lives become radiant with an indestructible hope.

 Rachel, a secondary school student, is an example of this. Seventeen-year-old Rachel wrote to her cousin, “If you had to make a list of the top 5 things most important to you, what would you put? Here’s mine: (1) God, (2) Family, (3) Friends, (4) My future, (5) Myself.”

 For Rachel and many other believers, God is No. 1 and all else is secondary. Rachel grew in grace and love. Her remarkable journal and her letters show that she understood what it meant to put God first in everything. She exhibited a deep spiritual life and wrote about her faith, her awareness of the fragility of life and the strength of God.

 Soon after, Rachel became one of fifteen victims in a tragic massacre at Columbine High School in America. Her attacker asked, “Do you believe in God?”She responded, “You know I do”, whereupon he said, “Then go be with Him”, and shot her.

 Earlier, Rachel had faced difficulties because of her faith and wrote, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything … I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best Friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me.”

 What a heroic faith in a teenage girl, and what an inspiration for Christians of all ages. As the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, our Father in heaven is at the centre of everyday life, there to bless it and fill it with meaning. The Triune God can be found in our hospitals, our welfare centres, and near to the sick and dying. Jesus is on the side of the poor and needy, and we will discover Him there when we minister to them.

 God has created us so that we thrive in the company of others and they in turn bring out the best in us. It’s in our relationships with each other and with those closest to us that we find our true identity. It’s been said that a happy home life is our greatest source of satisfaction here on earth. God has given us families to teach us something about His own threefold Family. Healthy family living is other-centred in nature, where we’re more concerned to show love than to receive it. As the Prayer of St. Francis says, “It is in giving that we receive”; we receive the joy of blessing others with our gifts of love.

 “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).” God’s love for us, given to us in richest measure in His Son Jesus Christ, is the best foretaste of Eternity we will experience in this life. And we look forward to eternal life when we will be “lost in wonder, love and praise” of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 “O, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! … From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33, 36)

First Sunday of Lent

Matthew 4:1
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

            Temptation, a frustrating reality of our lives. Temptation to reject the things of God, and to be absorbed by the things of this world. Jesus told us to ask that our Heavenly Father not lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:10), yet still we fall time and again. We are tempted to pleasure, to possess, and to pride; to be controlled by our belly, guided by wealth, and to try and take God’s place as judge. Eve and Adam were tempted, they fell to these temptations into sin and as James writes (1:15), sin full grown is death. This is the Fall as we have heard today, refusing to listen to God and so falling to every temptation.

            And this is what you and I do too. This is our inheritance from our first parents, ‘sin … through one man and death through sin’ (Romans 5:12).  [And to be honest, I don’t want it, but nobody’s contesting the will.] And so from Adam on we have lived in condemnation and sin, suffering temptation everyday and often falling to it. But this is not the end. God hasn’t cut us off because we refused to care, He loves you more than you can imagine. He does not give up. So He sent His Son to take on our humanity and deal with our corruption. Jesus was born into our world, part of our family, on His mother’s side. He too suffered these temptations, the devil himself came again to try and entice Him away from God’s Word, but Jesus, with the Spirit, is always listening to His Father. Every temptation that came to Him, He had God’s Word at the ready. Always listening to our Heavenly Father, never listening to desire, this world, or the devil. He knows what it is to be tempted, He knows what you and I go through. He can relate, but He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).

            He lived the perfect life, listening to God and living it out. He died for you and me, then wonderfully He rose to new and glorious life without temptation and sin. By this man Jesus you have life. You had inherited sin and death from Adam, but now you receive righteousness and life everlasting in Jesus. Yes, we still suffer temptation this side of eternity, and in Christ’s salvation we can with the Spirit’s help refuse to fall, but even when you do, turn back and listen to what God has said to you. Forgiven, loved, saved, and those same words He spoke to Jesus at His baptism, ‘you are my beloved child’ (Matthew 3:17). No one can take this away from you, so don’t give up, with the Holy Spirit’s help persevere under temptation and listen to God.

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

Rev Joseph Graham.