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.

5th Sunday of Lent

Philippians 3:13b-14

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

            God is doing a new thing. But then we don’t really like new things do we? That means change, means hard work, means moving away from what you know and have grown to accept. The funny thing for us as Christians is that this new thing that God is doing, and in part the goal that Paul strives for is in the past, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your salvation, redemption and freedom from sin and death. It’s also in the past applied to you in baptism, drowned and dead to sin, the Old Adam, then risen cleansed to a new life in New man, Jesus, free from the chains of sin and the devil. From the old to the new, but it’s not back to the future, rather forward to the past.

            We can say that because although our resurrection in Jesus and our baptisms are both in the past we wait for the time they take full effect, when He returns, raises the dead and make all things new (Revelation 21:5). So what do we do while we wait? Just sit at home watching TV or playing games, maybe sell all you have and go live in the scrub, or just go about your life here on earth as if this world is all there is and will never really end, that it will not be made new? No there are huge problems with all these ways, they all come from ourselves, our own thoughts and desires, they are the ways of that Old Adam. Rather what does the Triune God teach us to do? What are His ways? Paul writes that he forgets what is behind, and elsewhere what is passing away (Matthew 24:351 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17), the glory we attain in this world, who we are in this world, neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:28), even what you have done, how you have acted; to forget these things and strive for, strain toward what is ahead. Because all these things, what you have done and who you are in this world are nothing compared to what Jesus has done for you and who you now are in Him, who you will be.

Forward into the past. We know what Jesus has done and what He has promised, resurrection from the dead, His righteousness, freedom from death and our sinfulness. We know this, it was shown to our forebears in the faith all those years ago, in the distant past. But you and I in our struggles and failures to stay on God’s way, the straight narrow path, know that He will fulfil His promises to us, this worth more than anything we might do, so we strain with Paul to reach that goal, that end, like a runner in a race. Don’t give up on the promise to you, but to share in Christ’s way of life, His sufferings, and becoming like Him, who you are joined to in baptism, dying and rising to new life. This is the new thing, forward to the past, the goal of our Christian faith, to be resurrected from the dead, to receive Jesus’ righteousness, to be renewed.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, from now to the end. Amen.

Joseph Graham

4th Sunday of Lent

Luke 15:21, 32

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

This parable needs no introduction, only the Good Samaritan might be more well known. But still, just because it is familiar to us doesn’t mean it’s a chore to listen to again. I’ve heard it called the parable of the lost son, following the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin; or called the Prodigal Son, prodigal just means wasteful, or even the loving Father, but what ever you know it as, it reminds us again of those things we so often take for granted and forget.

            Last week we heard that God’s ways are not our ways and this week we see this played out in the parable. One son decides he’s not satisfied with his life with the Father, takes the gifts the Father has given him, leaves and strives after things that don’t satisfy, throwing away and forgetting all the Father had done for him. The older son stays but also is not satisfied, potentially even resenting his younger brother because the older didn’t live that life, and then resenting him for the great gifts of peace, joy and love freely given to him. And then the Father, the one who sustains both sons even when they don’t recognise it, and who loves them both freely, not because of what they have done and not despite what they have done, but unconditionally loves both his wayward sons.

            Our ways are the ways of the sons, of active and passive rejection, neither were satisfied with God’s grace and love; God’s way is the way of the Father, of unconditional love and free restoration with Him. So here Jesus, talking to the faithful, law-abiding Pharisees who taunted Jesus because he ate with prostitutes and sinners, to them Jesus puts forward the two broad ways that we, as people who now believe in Him, go. Either the rejection of God and His goodness for our own benefit in the here and now, striving for things that do not last, wealth, sex, power; or the more subtle dissatisfaction and taking for granted what God has given you. The younger son turns from his evil ways and back to God pleading for mercy and receiving freely abundant grace; then the older brother resents the joy and peace the younger received. It reminds me of my parents.

My dad wasn’t a Christian, grew up as part of the culture, strove for the things in this world that don’t satisfy, then the Holy Spirit brought him to the truth, to Jesus Christ. It was a big change for him and he jumped right in, reading the books in the local pastor’s library, then the following year beginning to study to become a pastor. But mum grew up in the church, she had known God’s mercy and grace for her whole life, there was no great change, no ‘Damascus road’ experience. Mum was a bit envious of dad that he had that wonderful experience; dad was a bit envious of mum because she didn’t need it.

So how do you see yourself in this story. Are you the younger brother, an outright sinner who lived for this evil world then returned to God’s love? Or are you the older brother, taking God’s grace for granted and fighting your desire to sin? Or maybe sometimes a bit of both? Do you want to live like all the other people of Australia, by that policy of ‘if it doesn’t hurt anyone and makes you feel happy, do it’? This is the season of Lent when we take some time to look at ourselves and why Jesus died, so when you examine yourself against God’s Word, how do you like these brothers reject His love and promises to either go your own way or wish you could? How do you fall to temptation? That drive all humans have to rely on ourselves and store up treasures here on earth. Both in our thoughts and actions.

We all like the young son, are unworthy, are sinners; Paul writes that we deserve death (Romans 6:23). But what does the Father do? Does He make His son a slave? No! He graciously forgives and restores him to the family. The son knew what he had done was wrong, and knew that the Father was loving and generous, the son repented, turned back to God, confessed his sin and was forgiven. This is you and me, today we have confessed our sins, heard our Heavenly Father’s word of forgiveness and will eat with Him in thanksgiving and joy in Holy Communion. From 2 Corinthians (5:16-21) we heard that we who are in Christ are already part of the new creation, restored to the true and steadfast relationship with God Almighty; the old has gone and the new has come; our guilt and sin is taken away by Jesus and we are given His freedom from the devil and fear of death. We are called to live differently, what happens now that’s how Jesus ends the parable, do you stay with God? Or do you leave again or just grumble? This is the life of the Christian to, with the Holy Spirit’s help, struggle against temptation and our corrupt human ways to strive for things that don’t satisfy. But you and I are reconciled, you are forgiven, your Heavenly Father still loves you and wants the best for you. You are baptised into Jesus Christ, washed clean from your sin, even dead to it; sin no longer has power over you; and you are raised to new life, the new creation, reconciled fully to God. Don’t forget who you are, I know it’s not new, but don’t take it for granted; but far more than that don’t forget that you are reconciled to your loving Heavenly Father.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

3rd Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 55:9
:As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

            Sometimes people we love decide to do somethings that just don’t make any sense to us, we think, ‘Why did they do that? How come to that conclusion? What’s going on?’. We know that we don’t all think the same, but there is hope, to understand your parents, children, friends and other people. We are all fundamentally the same, we are human and are influenced by the things that have happened in our lives, by our genetics and those we have lived alongside. But to think like each other, to really get into someone else’s head, that’s not an easy thing to do. Then compared to this, trying to understand other humans, how on earth could we ever understand God, His thoughts and His ways?

            He tells us. He tells us that His ways are fundamentally different to ours, as separate as the earth and the stars. And by His grace He also tells us how God’s thoughts are different to yours and mine. The difference between the thoughts that come from us and the thoughts that come from God. In the first two verses of this chapter He tells all who are thirsty ‘to come and buy milk and wine without cost’, then asks ‘why do we work for things that don’t satisfy’. His way is to receive from the Lord the blessings of freedom, life, and satisfaction; and our way is to strive to earn things, and strangely enough things that don’t satisfy. Our Heavenly Father here gives a fantastic analogy for how we are saved, thirsty people given free drink; the drink is yours, you need it, you didn’t earn it, but you can reject it; far better to trust the gracious giver and receive well His benefits.

But then God says to you that your ways are like chasing after things that don’t satisfy. Fundamentally, simply put we think we earn everything we get, and we strive for things we don’t need, and this is even in the small things. I’m certain that you all remember wanting to do something that was not helpful at all, maybe you only realised later, or maybe you just really wanted that extra beer, to hit that person in the face, to get to feel good in the moment regardless of what would happen later. But that you always think that you earn what you get might be something that you trust God about, but don’t really see it in your life. But it is true. This is why we struggle with God’s salvation, with our faith and trust in God. Despite your sins, your failures and your betrayals, Jesus still loves you, still forgives you, this is harder to accept for some rather than others. This is what Paul writes about in Romans, what I want to do I do not do, what I do not want to do I do, … what a wretched man am I. Thanks be to God who delivers me from this body of death (Romans 7:15-19, 25). In our society we hear about karma, you get what you give, give good receive good, give evil receive evil; we’re told it’s the way the world works. But what about cancer? What about sudden death of a family member? What about those Jews killed by Pilate?

How does Jesus respond to these questions? Do you think these people are worse sinners, more evil than you? No, all are sinners just as bad as each other, we all want to earn our salvation and strive for things that are bad for us. But unless you turn from your evil ways toward God, you too will perish. (Luke 13:1-5). Are you thirsty, do you need God to take you out of this destructive cycle? Jesus tells us, yes, we are; but don’t forget that God’s mercy and forgiveness, freedom from your sin, death and the devil, these things He freely gives you.

Through Isaiah He tells you that He will make a covenant with you, an everlasting promise and relationship, nothing can take you away from the love of God. This promise to David of the Messiah, the Christ to come. That people from every place will come and He will protect them, people the Israelites had never heard of, many of our ancestors, and also people we do not know. All these people, indeed all people who are trapped by sin, who are chasing the things of this world, the things that don’t satisfy, who are striving for what God freely gives; these people God calls to turn from their sad ways of living, to reject their thoughts and to turn to Him, to Jesus, who has mercy on them and pardons them.

In this season of Lent we remember that we and all people are helpless sinners who need God’s help. We look to Jesus, forward to Good Friday where He suffered our sin, guilt and death, and also to Resurrection Sunday where He rose victorious and free over sin, death and the devil. He is our saviour, our commander and our King.

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

Joseph Graham

1st Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:2
“where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry”.

We are waiting for a cool and wet change, a mark perhaps of the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, changing of the seasons. As the seasons change in the weather so they do in our church year. For the last two months we heard who Jesus is, God and man. Now in the next two months we’ll hear some of what He did and why it matters to you and me.

And so, after being baptised Jesus went into the desert guided by the Holy Spirit. This was a time of fasting and perhaps preparation for what He was about to do in His three-year ministry culminating in His death, resurrection and ascension. And after 40 days He was tempted by the devil. Tempted in three ways to break the first of the ten commandments, to rely on the gifts that God had given Him, to rely on others for His own benefit and to use God to get His own way. Even today the devil tempts us to reject God in these same ways.

Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, 5 and a bit weeks. He was hungry it says, probably the understatement of that century, most people I know get hungry within a day; and He is human, we die after 40-60 days without food so it’s safe to say He was starving and close to death. But He is also God, creator of all, the devil tempts Him to prove His divinity by using His power to sate His hunger. He certainly could do it, He feed 5000+ people with 5 loaves and two fish; and God brought bread out of nowhere in the desert for the Israelites (Luke 9:12-17; Exodus 16). However, He listens instead to God’s way and His Word, man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). Of course, Jesus would go on to eat, blessed by the gifts His Father gave Him, but at this time He would not rely on His abilities to satisfy the devil.

We too have many gifts of God, life is the first and the foundational one but also the skills and knowledge we have received through our lives in this world that God has given. And like Jesus the devil tempts you and me to rely on these gifts rather than the God who gives them. A simple small example is when you grab a snack to give you some energy and forget God, in that time you are relying on the snack to give energy, not God who gave you the snack. Certainly there are more atrocious ways we might fall to this temptation of the enemy, like relying on our goodness to get ahead in life or on wealth to benefit and save ourselves. To rely on what is created rather than the creator.

The next temptation was to rely on the devil to receive what God had already promised to give Jesus, all authority, glory and power on earth. Now the devil is the father of lies, so I’m not sure that he could actually give this, but he is also called the ruler of this wicked world (John 8:44; John 14:30, 16:11, Ephesians 2:1-3). Regardless Jesus rightly confesses that we are to worship and glorify God alone, the first commandment, to look to Him when we need help and to live for Him who has given us life and everything we have.

Again you and I hear the whisperings of the deciever when we are tempted to rely on anyone, perhaps even the pastor, for salvation; to worship and glorify someone instead of God. Of course God has given us all the people in our lives, the wonderful ones and the not so wonderful; but again to rely on the gift instead of the giver is to reject God as our saviour. However we can, and should, thank God for the good He brings us through other people, like Jesus being provided for by Mary and Joseph.

The devil’s final temptation, before he leaves to tempt Judas later and orcesrate the crucifixion to his own destruction (Luke 22:3), is to abuse God’s Word and promise implying that Jesus would not have to suffer that death. To display His power and God’s grace to all with all the armies of heaven. Later Jesus reveals to Pilate that He could command all the heavenly armies to come and destroy those calling for His death (John 18:36), but His kingdom is not of this world. And in the same way Jesus rejects the devil and his ways and his twisted usage of the Bible, instead choosing to trust in God’s way that even though it was more painful and difficult that it was the best way and the right way.

Here we can remember that firstly people can twist God’s Words to say what they want and so we, like Jesus, should try to learn the whole of God’s Word and it’s foundation well so we can recognise, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance through the Word, anything off about what someone may say about God, Jesus, the faith and His church. The second thing we can learn is that you and I are tempted to do just that, twist God’s own Word to justify ourselves. The devil may say to you in different ways, ‘well you’re forgiven already for everything, so you might as well swindle that person or lie to your spouse or what have you’. Then when you do fall into temptation, really any temptation, the devil doubles down on this two hit combo as satan the accuser, ‘you’re a terrbile person for doing that, God won’t forgive you’. Of course, he is the father of lies and this is the biggest lie of all, no matter what temptation you fall into, a horrible and wicked betrayal of Jesus even killing Him again it may be, no matter how you fail God, He wants to forgive you and take away your guilt, so turn back to Him and ask for His help.

In the letter to the Hebrews (2:18; 4:15) the Holy Spirit tells us, that our high preist, our leader Jesus, was tempted in every way that you are, but didn’t fall and so He sympathises with you in all your temptations, even your falling into them, and He wants to help; so rely on Him and trust His promises. As we prepare over these 40 days to remember and celebrate our Lord’s death and resurrection let’s remember that He has given us everything we have, has given life to all the people we know and has given us clearly His precious promises of life, salvation and freedom from sin and guilt. Relying on Jesus as He helps us reject the temptations of the evil one.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Jesus knows what makes us tick

Text: Hebrews 5:7
In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death.

Getting inside of someone else’s mind is a really difficult thing.  What makes people think and act the way they do isn’t easy.  As you listen to the news have you ever thought to yourself or even said out loud, “What on earth was that person thinking?  “What was going through his head to make him do this?”

We hear of a gunman entering a school and randomly shoot a teacher and students.
We hear of someone brutally harming a child.
Each time we shake our heads because we can’t fathom what has happened in that person’s life or what is going on in their minds to bring them to that point.

A pastor was called in to support a young mother and her two children who were shocked and traumatised by the unexpected death of their husband and father.  After what seemed like a normal lunch with the family, he went out to the shed and ended his life.

The police, family, friends and neighbours all asked the same question, “Why did he do it?  What was going on in his head?  He had a lovely wife and great kids – what led him to take such an extreme action?”  Everyone was trying to get inside his mind but in the end everyone had to admit that they would never know.  As much as we would have liked to get an insight into what this father was really thinking it was now impossible.

We might ask – how much does Jesus understand what is happening in our lives?  Our fast-paced world is so different from the dusty roads Jesus walked in first-century Palestine.
Does he understand our needs and sufferings?
Can he empathise with our worries, especially those worries that upset us and stress us?
Does he really know what is going on inside of our minds and what is really distressing us?
To be specific since Jesus experienced none of these while here on earth –
does he know what it’s like to lie in a hospital bed;
does he know what it’s like being 70 or 80 and all that goes with an aging body;
does he know about the stress that’s involved as we go through the various stages of life – getting married, raising children, dealing with teenagers, changing jobs, planning for retirement and then choosing the right moment to go into an aged care facility?

Does Jesus know and even care about these things which, in the big picture of the universe, are quite trivial but to us they are what make up our lives?

We acknowledge that Jesus is God;
that he was there at the creation of the world and
that he now rules with all power and authority.  As Paul wrote, Christ rules above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next” (Eph 2:21-22).  Jesus is so totally different to us – his ways, his wisdom, his knowledge, his decision are way beyond our comprehension.  Theologians have called God The Totally Other.  If the glorified Jesus is The Totally Other how well can he appreciate the things that are happening in our lives right now?  Has he ever had a sick day?  Has he ever had to grapple with depression, terminal illness, or to live in a dysfunctional family?

We know that Jesus was the one perfect person to walk this earth but that leads us to ask, “Was his personality, his character, his ability to cope and endure, his patience, his understanding and compassion so perfect from the moment he was born that it made it impossible for him to understand what it’s like not to be perfect?”  Therein lies the question that is almost as old as Christianity itself – Was Jesus really human or was he God in human disguise – in other words, he didn’t really become one of us?

The answer we give is crucial.  Among the things Christians believe is that through the birth, life and death of Christ, God became a part of what it means to be human.  He didn’t stand aloof from our pain and trouble.  He came right into the middle of all that causes suffering, sadness, depression, sin, rebellion and death. That’s what Christmas is all about – God leaving heaven and enduring all that is involved in becoming a human on this planet including birth in a time when infants dying at birth or soon after was quite common.

Because of Jesus, God can identify with us. He actually cares for us as one who personally knows us from the inside out and the outside in.  He knows what is really happening inside of us and the causes of the trauma and drama in our lives better than we know ourselves.  He knows all this because he has lived here amongst it all and experienced it all himself.

We say that through Jesus God knows what it is like to be hungry or to have plenty, to toil and sweat.
God knows the frustration of learning discipline and skills which do not come naturally.
God comprehends what it is like to sleep peacefully or toss sleeplessly, to relax and enjoy a joke.
Jesus may not have been an old man and experienced the aches and pains that old age bring but he certainly knew pain when every muscle, sinew, tendon and gaping wound made him cry out in agony.

Through Jesus God personally knows the sneakiness of some temptations and the full-on audacity of others.  From Christ God appreciates what it’s like to be warmed by a smile or snubbed by indifference.

God understands what it’s like to enjoy a new friendship and treasure an old one, to feel affirmed and to feel betrayed, to suffer for the truth, to be misunderstood, to make enemies, to suffer emotional and physical agony, and to feel forsaken. Yes, forsaken; forsaken by everyone. At the cross Jesus knows what it’s like to feel forsaken, even by God.

Some people say that if Jesus is not divine, then Christianity is a hoax. That is a part of the truth.  I would say that if Jesus were not fully divine and fully human then Christianity is a hoax.

When the writer of Hebrews says, “In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God” he is reflecting on Jesus agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where he felt fear, dread, terror, and anxiety just as any of us would in the same circumstances.  He prayed and begged God to save him but still he had to suffer.  The letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus as the truly obedient son.  Obedience led to suffering and even though he feared death as much as anyone else, he trusted God perfectly.  Through his obedience he gained forgiveness for all those who buckle under the weight of suffering and depression; for all those who doubt God’s love for them when life becomes more than can be endured.

It’s natural for us to shy away from suffering. Not surprisingly, we dislike hard discipline and pain. We would like a trouble free, painless existence. Yet we need to face the unpalatable truth that we often learn more through suffering than we often do through comfortable times.

The very successful movie and TV star Michael J Fox was interviewed on TV was time ago.  At the age of 29 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and was on a quest to find a cure.
The interviewer asked Fox after a clip from his time travel movie, “If you could go back in time, really, you wouldn’t change the fact that you’ve got Parkinson’s, would you?”
Fox replied, “No, I wouldn’t.  I absolutely wouldn’t. This path that I’m on …. it’s like I gave up my job to do my life’s work”.

That’s an amazing statement when you think about it.  There is an element of sacrifice about it and there is also the idea that suffering, used creatively, can enhance the beauty of a human life.  You may know of times in your life when some kind of trial or suffering has led you to grow in your understanding of God or developed your own perseverance, or strengthened your faith and trust, or increased your awareness of the suffering of others.  The path that Jesus was on included obedience and suffering and his life’s work brought about a cure for another sickness – the sickness of sin.

Even though Jesus never sinned he knows the shame and guilt that sin brings into our lives.  He was nailed to a cross but it was more than nails that held him there.  If it was just the nails then he could have used his almighty power and come down and healed himself and cursed his enemies.  Nails went through his flesh but it was our sin and shame and guilt that pinned him to the cross.  As he hung there he felt our shame and died for our sin.  He must have been overwhelmed with sadness at how much evil humanity had done and it was all now bearing down on him.  As the Scripture says, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities”.

When we look in the scriptures we see Jesus in two different ways.  In every way Jesus is one of us. He is as human as you and I.  He is born and dies.  He knows in a very real way what it means to suffer pain, and have needs, to feel vulnerable and helpless.  The man Jesus died the undignified death on a cross as a sinner giving his life to save all people.

The scriptures also show us that Jesus is God.  He created the world and us and as our Creator knows his creation.  He knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine.  He knew us before we were born – even before we were aware of ourselves.  He rose from dead and rules in heaven; he is our eternal high priest in heaven who presents our needs and prayers for us at the Father’s throne in a compassionate and understanding way (Hebrews 4:14-16).

At the beginning I talked about getting into the mind of someone else and understanding where that person is coming from and what makes him/her act in certain ways.  What makes us tick might be a bit of mystery to other people but it is no mystery to Jesus.  Approach God boldly and confidently, knowing with every human need that you suffer, Jesus is the High Priest who hears, knows and understands how you feel.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy