Holy Breath?’

John 15:26
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.




  Pentecost, what a wonderful day. The fiftieth day after Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. Ten days after His ascension to rule over all. The day the Holy Spirit came and filled God’s Church in a building in ancient Israel. This day is the beginning of our church going out into this broken world, proclaiming Christ’s Victory and God’s healing and renewing of His groaning Creation. Sent from the Father by the Son, the Holy Spirit to guide and empower His Church. The Triune God revealing Himself to us by His Word.

            And how does He reveal Himself to us today? The Holy Spirit, breath of a mighty wind, to empower speech in God’s people for the benefit of all, to help us in our weakness, our brokenness, and to draw all of Creation to the fulfillment of our hope, life everlasting in Jesus. The Holy Spirit sent down to walk alongside us, but how is He with us? I can’t see Him or hold Him, but we do hear of people feeling the Spirit, and being moved by the Spirit. What’s going on there, Who is this Holy Spirit? Well if God is revealing Himself to us, condescending to our level to help us understand the truth, perhaps we start with His name, Holy Spirit.

            Language is a funny thing, we say spirit, breath, wind, but when I’m translating from Hebrew or Greek I only see one word. For our ancestors in the Faith, spirit, breath and wind are the same; He is Holy Spirit, Holy Breath, Holy Wind. This is why we say the Trinity is there clear as day in Genesis, though we might translate it differently, the Holy Spirit, Breath of God, Almighty Wind, hovered over the waters. And by breath we speak words. Let there be light! And there was. (Genesis 1). And later, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1). Here we hear the relationships in God, the Father speaks, by the Holy Breath, the Spirit, His Word, the Son. God is Father, Son and Spirit; God is Speaker, Word, and Breath. Always working together, without a speaker there is no word, without breath there is no word and without speech what is a speaker? One example of this is Christmas, The Father begot Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, or the Speaker begot the Word by the Holy Breath. But why has He revealed Himself like this, how does this help us?

            Ok three things, power, unity and work. One thing it shows is that, especially today, the Holy Spirit empowers us to speak Holy things, to proclaim the Word of God as Peter and the Apostles did all those years ago. It’s not my breath that brings God’s forgiveness and healing, it’s not from my spirit rather it’s from the Holy Spirit. So if I rely on my breath, my work, my power, apart from the Holy Spirit, my words are not God’s. If I rely on myself, no matter the effort, I cannot bring Christ, the Incarnate Word, to others. If it’s by my breath it’s not of God, if I’m inspired by the Holy Spirit God is at work. Now you can work so hard so as to loose your breath, if it’s without the Holy Breath in the end it’s nothing. However, if by the Holy Spirit, He always draws us to Christ.
And this is the second thing. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires and empowers Church, that’s why in the Creed the third part is I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, forgiveness of sins, resurrection, and life everlasting. The Holy Spirit is the one beside us, at work in God’s Word and Sacraments, here today as we gather. The Holy Breath is the one who draws us into a warm relationship with God in His fullness, He is the presence of God. How can I say that, that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God? We’ll let’s just say I break COVID rules and come right up into your personal space, breathing down your neck, warming you; you’d know I’m close because of my breath. And it’s so much more if God’s Breath warms us, not down our necks but filling our lungs and we walk with Him actually breathing the self same air. All Christians, the whole Church, inspired by the same Holy Breath, we are united together by Him. And then we can speak as though God Himself is speaking, filled with His Spirit and bringing Jesus’ renewal to those around us.
And a third thing, the Holy Spirit isn’t a thing, He’s a person. He might not have a simple name like Father or Jesus, but He’s no less active, no less powerful, no less God. When the Father breathed on Adam, the Holy Spirit gave Adam life; all breath is from the Holy Spirit this is why we confess He is Lord the Giver of life. And He was at work throughout the Old Testament bringing life, resting on people giving them portions of God’s gifts, superhuman strength to Samson, great wisdom to Solomon, and the ability to speak God’s Word, to prophesy, to countless down to John the Baptist. He even took Elijah up into heaven on that fiery chariot. And today He guides us into all truth (John 15:13), those encouraging words He gave you, that drive to do good in that moment, and the ability to pray. To pray with the Breath of God, breathing in and out, God’s grace in and our failures out; even when our breath fails and we have no words, the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf in groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26). We can just breath, in and out with the Holy Spirit, in the presence of God.

Those three things, He empowers us to speak Jesus, He unites us together in Jesus, He work in and through us for Life.

The Holy Spirit, He is truly a wonderful gift, even the Lord of Gift giving. And according to the promise of God’s Word uttered by the Holy Breath in His Church down the ages, you have received Him in the laying on of hands at Baptism. Of course He can move and work however He wants, and He does work outside of ordinary means; yet God promised that you receive His Spirit in Baptism so you can have assurance of His presence in your life. However, although we have received Him we may try to remove Him like getting ride of good clean air with smoking; clean air gives many benefits, but second-hand smoke tastes foul. How do we clear our lungs? We breath, in and out; breath in or receive well God, His Word, His Sacraments; breath out or remove sin and evil. Pray God’s Word, morning and night; gather with each other around God’s Word; come together to His altar. Walk in step with the Holy Spirit and breath together as one. This is the life of the Christian, what we confess every time in the Creed. So as we continue to sing together, breathing the same air in and out in time, as we join together in prayer. Know that we are only united by the Holy Spirit, be filled and changed by Him and breath Him as you go out to continue His work of Pentecost, to proclaim Christ’s Victory, to speak life and courage to those around you, and to spread the Holy Breath wherever you go.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to when we will always breath as one. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Pentecost Sunday

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 
Paul writes in his letter to the Church at Corinth:  ‘I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.’

Let’s join in a word of  prayer:  Loving God and Father, through your Holy Spirit you gather Christians who worship You with faith in your son Jesus Christ.  A universal Christian Church made not of glass, wood and brick, but of people bound together in the Holy Spirit, even during this global isolation.   We invite the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus on this Pentecost Sunday, to your glory and honour.  Open our spirits to receive the fullness of your Spirit that we may dwell in your love and forgiveness, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome every obstacle in living for you.   Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.

We read from Scripture last week that after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Disciples ‘‍‍worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, ‍‍ and were continually ‍‍in the temple ‍‍praising and blessing God.’

And from acts for this week, we read that when they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer.’   (Acts 1:14 NIV)


I can imagine what some of their prayers might have been:  “Lord God, send us the helper Jesus told us about”; “Lord God, fulfil your promise that Jesus told us about”;  “Lord God, let your living water flow around us”; and even  “Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”.    They must have been in prayer almost with one mind.  Sharing a common vision of Christ Jesus, and of who they were in Christ Jesus.  

And just as Jesus promised, at the right time God responded to their prayers by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon them.  It is pretty clear that they had no idea what to expect.  And for a time after the wondrous gift, they didn’t really understand what they had been given.  I always heard the saying, “be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it!”  I can imagine their delight and their confusion of what was happening among them.

The message for us this morning, is if we want this same delight, we need to be open to the same confusion and the same blessing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.    

In the upper room, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the Disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  (John 20:22–23 NRSV)

They surely received the Holy Spirit with his words to them.  And they surely received the ability to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness to those who believe. They also received the gift and responsibility to pass this gift of the Holy Spirit to all whom they baptised and said those same precious words, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Just as we received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised, whether this was when we were days old, or as children, or as adults. 

As Peter spoke with new enthusiasm on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38–39 NIV)

We have also received the responsibility to look at others with the compassion of Christ Jesus and offer forgiveness.  Jesus said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:16–17 ESV)

With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can with true hearts and sincere determination declare that “Jesus is Lord” of our being and of our lives.  And also, with the gift of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, Scripture encourages us to be led by the Spirit.  Paul writes in Galatians, ‘if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’  (Galatians 5:18–25 ESV)

Thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our spirit, and display our faith in Christ Jesus by our lives.  If we live our entire life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit evident, it will be evidence enough for our eternal salvation.  Scripture is clear that salvation comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone, as we discover in the Word of God alone, by God’s grace alone.  All this by the work of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism.

And like the Disciples in the presence of Jesus in the upper room, we received at our baptism a part in God’s kingdom and life in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Paul writes in the book of Romans, ‘We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.  Just love others.’  (Romans 12:5–9 NLT)

But like the Disciples in that upper room with Jesus;  I am convinced that at our Baptism, we did not yet receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit living through us with spiritual gifts. 

Gifts empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of others, of the Church, and of the faith to be passed from generation to generation, by the laying on of hands.    

Those gifts require a special anointing of the Holy Spirit with power.  The Disciples received this in that same upper room when the time was right.  Gifts that demonstrated to an obstinate people that Jesus is the Messiah, risen from the dead, and ‘that repentance and ‍‍remission of sins should be preached in His name ‍‍to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

As Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy, ‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.’


From Apostle, to Bishop, to Pastor, Apostolic succession of the gift of the Holy Spirit are passed from generation to generation.  The confusion we experience, like the disciples, descending from the upper room at Pentecost, is about what Spiritual gifts we are to receive and what gifts the Holy Spirit will display in our lives. 

For some it is simply the truth “Jesus is Lord.” For others, at times and seasons of their lives, God sends a special anointing of his Holy Spirit to do special things for the building up of the Church.

I heard the witness of one Pastor who received a special intuition to leave his parish for a short time to visit India in mission.  And God followed this with the witness of a parishioner who spoke of a message for him from the Lord.   He had never thought of doing this before, but like Peter called to visit the house of Cornelius, this Pastor felt the urging, and made that visit. 

It felt strange to him, because it seemed everything fell into place so easily.  His transport was paid for, his visa was simplified, and he left Australia with the message already in his heart that he would spread.  He arrived and was quickly drawn to an assembly of thousands, listening to his witness, and seeking his individual prayers. It was as though the Holy Spirit drew them together for just this reason. 

He was there for weeks praying for the people of this place and seeing people healed, released from demons, declaring their faith in Christ Jesus, and leaving the prayers with joy in their hearts.

When this pastor boarded the plane to return to Australia, he was convinced that this anointing of the Holy Spirit would be a godsend for his small congregation.  He would see it grow to thousands with the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly revealed in his ministry.  

But this Pastor was greatly disappointed when none of this happened in Australia.  He prayed, fasted, and eagerly sought the power of the Holy Spirit, but was bitterly disillusioned and ended up sadly abandoning his parish ministry.  But God was compassionate toward this Pastor who repented of his presumption.  He returned this compassion to care for other pastors who were suffering.  

The Holy Spirit will not be controlled, confined, or commanded.  We can only pray to God our Father for the gifts to be revealed with power, and give thanks and praise for the times and seasons that God blesses our lives with gifts of the Holy Spirt.    

As Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others,  those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of languages.   Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.   If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3 NIV)

I know and I fully trust that God has touched our lives with his Holy Spirit.   Our simple declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ proclaims the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our worshipping community.   The love we have for one another witnesses the greatest of gift and fruit of the Spirit that nurtures our faith.  And for that I am eternally grateful to God our Father, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour. 

 We have the example of Pentecost to encourage us as we hold steady to our confession of Christ Jesus.  The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in our living Lord Christ Jesus, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21


Are you a “morning person”? Can you overflow with excitement at 9.00am on a Sunday morning? Certainly the first Pentecost Sunday must have been an exciting occasion for 120 followers of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit entered their lives in a way that permanently changed them and the future direction of their lives. Where the Holy Spirit takes over the management of our lives, it can no longer be “business as usual”. Just as wind cannot be tamed, so the Holy Spirit cannot be subdued or tamed by us. We cannot predict when and where He works.

Pentecost is no isolated event. It is the fruition of the mighty work of salvation Jesus began on Good Friday. We experience the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit as we embrace the cross of Christ, and receive the mighty blessings that flow from it. As we see from St. Peter’s Pentecost proclamation: when a believer is filled with the Spirit of God, he or she becomes a passionate ambassador for Christ and for all the good He did for us by His cross and resurrection. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to carry conviction when we speak about Jesus Christ. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples. Forever afterwards, the Spirit remains stamped with Christ’s character. The Holy Spirit is clothed with the personality and nature of Jesus. We cannot therefore attribute any teaching to the Holy Spirit which doesn’t shed light on Jesus. There can be no exultant, joyous experience of the Spirit of God without a corresponding thankful appreciation of Christ’s sufferings for us and with us.

The first Pentecost Sunday is depicted as an event of international significance. St. Peter addresses an international audience with the universal language of the Gospel. The descent of the Spirit was marked by something visible in fulfilment of Jesus’ desire, “I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already on fire”, but although the tongues of fire were very visible above each of the 120 Christians gathered together, it was what they heard rather than what they saw that made the real impact on their multi-national audience.

What we have here is the miracle of hearing: the miracle of all those present being able to hear the good news of grace, peace and salvation through Jesus Christ, rather than a miracle of speaking in different languages. The crowd asks, “How is it that each of us hears them [that is, the apostles], speaking in our own language (Acts 2:8)?” and in verse 11: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”.

Certainly Pentecost involves a new gift of speech. But even more so, its newness involves a fresh capacity to hear the Spirit of God speak to and convict the consciences of those who are listening to the message about Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Unlike at the tower of Babel, different languages became no longer a threat or obstacle. The Gospel is a universal message for people of every tribe, nation and dialect. Peter and his fellow disciples are so “on fire” with enthusiasm for the wonders God has done through Christ His Son, that their audience thought they’d had a little too much to drink! Hardly likely at 9 o’clock in the morning!

In response to this accusation, Peter delivers the first Christian sermon and one of the most influential addresses ever given, one that radically changed three thousand lives that day. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches from the Holy Scriptures to show how marvellously God fulfils His gracious promises to His people. Furthermore, on the basis of the Scriptures, he delivers a Christ-centred message, as he shows his listeners how to find Christ throughout the Old Testament. Peter points out how God’s Word, rightly applied, speaks into our present situation with its transforming good news of great joy. Only the Holy Spirit could have inspired such a Christ-centred sermon that hits home and pricks the consciences of those who hear it.

The Holy Spirit can cause people of all ages, young and old alike, slaves and those who are free, to prophesy. Prophesying now takes on a new meaning. It now means much more than to foretell the future. “Those who prophesy are speaking to people to give them strength, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3).” One of the names given to the Holy Spirit is “Comforter” or “Encourager”. We all need encouragement like the earth needs rain. Each week, things happen that we never anticipated, things that can all too easily discourage us, or else others say discouraging things to us that sap our courage and depress us. That great Encourager whom Jesus has sent to us, the Holy Spirit, sends us fellow Christians to lift up our spirits and provide us with encouragement tailor-made to our needs. Such welcome, Spirit-sent encouragement gives us the courage to face life again with hope and confidence, and continue the work our Lord has called us to do.

A prison chaplain was so discouraged by the lack of response to his work, both by prisoners and the prison administration, that one Easter Monday, he was going to resign. He went sailing to think it over on the solitude of the sea. Then the inspiration came to him. “Every day that I stay on that job is a victory. I win just by staying there.” Such inspiration is from the Spirit of Encouragement, who seeks faithfulness rather than success from us. We sow the seeds of the Gospel and leave the size and shape of the harvest to the Spirit in His good time. He’s not in a hurry like we are. The seeds we sow may lie dormant for many years before they spring into life. The Spirit of Jesus doesn’t operate according to formulas invented by human beings. There are no four fail-safe acts of Christian love that will always work and win folk for Christ.

The Spirit of the living God uses each of us according to the unique combination of gifts He has given us. Our gifts complement each other’s gifts, talents and contributions. Those of us who have no musical gift, thank God for those who enrich our worship with their musical and singing abilities. God’s Word links being filled with the Spirit with worshipping God with music and singing: “Let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18b-20).”

The same Holy Spirit that creates faith in us also leads us to worship God, for in our Sunday services, the Holy Spirit endows us with His blessings and nourishes and nurtures the fruits of the Spirit in us. There can be no faith in God that doesn’t lead to praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God for the good gifts of Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. “To believe in God is to worship God (Luther).”

In conclusion, the Holy Spirit calls on each of us, on all of us, to pray for and work for the renewal of the Church. It’s too important to leave to others. Revival begins with me.

We pray:

Come, Holy Spirit, renew my faith, deepen my commitment to You, increase my love for Jesus and those He loves. Revive Your Church, O loving Spirit, beginning with me!”


The Holy Spirit of God

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John 15:26, 27; 16:7, 8; 13

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

The words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

This Sunday we will be celebrating the Pentecost, the fiftieth day after our Lord’s resurrection, and the traditional birthday of the church. The day when all those years ago, this promise our Lord Jesus spoke was fulfilled. The morning where the Holy Spirit of God came down as flames on the disciples, gave Peter the words to speak to the crowd and baptised around three thousand (Acts 2:1-41).

These people were convicted of their sin, their rejection of Jesus Christ as God’s Son and their rejection of His Words. They were shown the truth of their lives and actions, that they had sinned and were sinning. They also heard the truth of Jesus’ forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Spirit received through baptism. This is the Spirit of truth guiding the disciples into all truth and convicting the world.

Jesus has promised us that the Holy Spirit will guide us too, I pray not only for them, but for those who will come after (John 17:20 ). But how do we know that we are listening to This Spirit, how do we know we are living in truth? Last week we heard from John 17, just a little later in John’s Gospel, Jesus praying to the Father, ‘sanctify us in the truth, your word is truth’ (John 17:17). The Word of God is true and is where we find truth, and not just in the written Bible, but also the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). Jesus is the Word of God fully, but graciously God has also provided us with His Word written down by His people over 2000yrs.

It is through the Bible that we learn the truth, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But how do we know if we are guided by a spirit of God and not a different spirit? We are to test the spirits against the truth (1 John 4:1), John tells us that we know the Spirit of God because He confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2). Also earlier in the letter He writes that, ‘if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8).

The people who deceive themselves and believe the lies of this world or society also condemn themselves to death, because they reject the truth. Those who reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit also reject the salvation of Jesus. But Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us with truth and to truth. The Holy Spirit is our advocate, our helper, our comforter and our guide.

The grace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and always. Amen.

When God speaks

Text: Acts 2:5-8
There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?

When travelling in non-English speaking countries, signs that have obviously been literally translated into English for visitors can be often confusing and amusing. Here are a couple of examples.

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo, “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn.  Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigour.”

On the office door of a doctor in Rome, “Specialist in women and other diseases”.

In a Greek tailor shop, “Order your summers suit.  Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation”.

Making a good intelligible translation from one language to another is hard work and can be very difficulty but for the disciples on the Day of Pentecost there was no problem at all. Normally the disciples with their thick Galilean accents would have had difficulty speaking to those gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world of that time. The language barrier can be quite a difficult one to deal with. This was brought home to us when we visited the parents-in-law of our son. We arrived on their doorstep in a small village in France – we didn’t speak French and they didn’t speak English. It was hard work communicating using hand signs and thumbing through a dictionary. What a difference it made when their son arrived who could speak both French and English.

The amazing thing on Pentecost day is that the disciples didn’t need dictionaries or people to translate to find the best way to say something in a foreign language. We are told, “All of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?” (Acts 2:7,8).

There are 3 words that describe what happened that first Pentecost Day. Heard, saw and spoke.
Firstly, those present heard a sound – they heard what sounded like a mighty rushing wind.
Secondly, they saw – they saw what appeared to be tongues of fire which spread our across the crowd and touched each person there.
And thirdly, after hearing and seeing, they spoke. They preached. They testified to the great good that God was doing among them. Jesus had said that he would send to them his Holy Spirit who would be their helper and stay with them forever.

The crowd out in the street scoffed saying, “They’re drunk!” The mob couldn’t imagine that God Almighty would use ignorant and unlearned people from the backwater of Galilee to speak the languages of those present with such skill and precision. In spite of the mockery, Peter gets up and speaks about Jesus. His sermon is recorded in The Acts of the Apostles. It’s not all that long. And yet three thousand people heard and believed and were baptised that day. The account of the Pentecost coming of the Holy Spirit concludes with the reaction of those believers. They continued to learn from the apostles, took part in fellowship meals, shared their belongings with those less fortunate, prayed together, and praised God (Acts 2:42-47).

There is a dynamic here, a powerful movement that is at the heart of the Bible’s story about who God is, who we are and what we are doing here.
The first thing we notice is how God reaches down and speaks to us. Our God is a relentlessly, unceasingly self-communicative God. There is something about God that loves to speak us, reveal his heart to us, and demonstrates a determination to get through to us with words that
express his untiring love for us,
his sacrifice for us in his son Jesus,
his dedication to rescuing us from our sinful ways,
his commitment to making sure that all people hear about the free gift of forgiveness that he offers to everyone.
Our God is one who just wants to speak to us.

A sure sign that two people are in love is that they long to be with one another. More than that, they way to talk with one another – the telephone, email, whatever – hours upon hours of talking. The talk is so important because our speech is our primary way of expressing ourselves, of sharing ourselves, giving to and receiving from others.

Every time we gather here for worship, we gather under the promise that God will speak to us. This is an important aspect of our worship services. The large part of our worship is listening to what God is saying to us.
His word of reassurance of the forgiveness of our sins,
his Word to us from the Scriptures,
his Word to us through the sermon,
his Word to us through Baptism and Holy Communion,
his Word of blessing as we leave here and face whatever the week ahead will bring.

God spoke to those gathered at the first Pentecost and he speaks to us again and again at the weekly celebration of Pentecost here at worship. We hear him speaking to us and being filled with his Spirit. What God says to us places us under the power of the Holy Spirit.

That leads me to ask then, what difference does God’s Word and his Spirit make in our lives? What are the characteristics of people under the power of the Spirit?

Spirit-filled people are people who know God’s love, they know they’re not perfect, but they know they have forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And they are able to pass that forgiveness to those who sin against them. Spirit-filled people know they have God’s power to help them and he will remain faithful and always love and care for them.

Spirit-filled people are growing people. They are continually growing in their faith, from the time of their Baptism to this day. They seek out every opportunity to discover Christ, and what it means to be children of God. They can’t get enough of hearing God speak to them.

Spirit-filled people are changed people. Through God’s Word and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit wants to bring a change into our lives. He wants to come into our lives to bring light into our darkness; to turn our death into life; to change our lives from sin-filled to Spirit-filled. Every day Spirit-filled people try to live in their baptism. Daily they listen as the Holy Spirit reminds them, woos them, and persuades them through the Word of God. When the Word of God is heard the Holy Spirit draws us closer to God, brings us to repentance, to an assurance of the love of God for us and turns our lives around. He changes our direction!

Spirit-filled people have a new language. I don’t mean they go around speaking pious sounding words all day or use the name of Jesus in every other sentence. What I mean, Spirit-filled people speak words that heal and restore and make people happy and build people up instead of tearing them down. They speak a good word to our world, the good news about a crucified and risen Saviour.

Spirit-filled people are moved to love those around them. They are given a new outlook on the problems and the needs of other people and are happy to help and care for others. Spirit-filled people reflect the love of God into the lives of the people around them. This is how Paul described Spirit-filled people and how he saw the Spirit active in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Spirit-filled people want to share what Jesus means to them. The news about Jesus is too good not tell. This is something we can do on our local scene, as we go about our work, or talk to our neighbour over the back fence, let’s not be afraid to let people know that Jesus is someone special to you.

Spirit-filled people are concerned about the concerns of God.
Is God concerned about the way we are destroying our world? Spirit-filled people are!
Does God care for the starving, the dying, the homeless, the sick? Spirit-filled people are!
Is God concerned about those who don’t know of his love? Spirit-filled people are!

Spirit-filled people are praying people. Paul encourages us, “Pray on every occasion as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray for all God’s people” (Eph 6:18). It is the Spirit who gives us a child’s confidence to go to our heavenly Father in prayer. It is the Spirit who “helps us in our weakness … and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” It is the Spirit who enables us to pray the most unlikely prayers in the face of suffering, on the battlefield, here in worship and at the kitchen table. Spirit-filled people “take everything to God in prayer.”

Spirit-filled people are worshipping people. In Philippians we read, “We worship God by means of his Spirit…(3:3). We have been saved by Jesus our Saviour and daily we experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to change the direction of our lives and assures us of the love and forgiveness of God. Spirit-filled people join with fellow Spirit-filled people of the body of Christ to give thanks and praise to the God who has done to so much for them.

Spirit-filled people are praising people. There is nothing more that we could ask of God. We haven’t done anything to deserve it but he has given us everything.

As you have listened to God’s Word to you about the Spirit-filled life, I’m sure your response is much the same as mine.
God has spoken but I haven’t been listening.
God has been giving me directions but I have chosen to ignore them.
God has kept on speaking, speaking and speaking to me about his love and his plan for my life and I still I don’t get it.

The longest word in the English language is “pneumono-ultra-microscopic-silico-volcano-coniosis,” which describes a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of volcanic matter or a similar fine dust. An even longer word, nearly 100 letters long, was used by James Joyce in his book ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (1939). He created it to describe a thunderclap at the beginning of the story: (not even going to try to say it) bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuvarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk.”

The words that God speaks to us are much simpler than that. “You are my child. I have sent you my Son and given you my Spirit that you may believe and have eternal life”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Where is the Holy Spirit today?

John 15:26,27; 16:4b-15

StMarksDuring a conversation, a parishioner was stunned that I was a Pastor yet could not speak in tongues. I agreed, not with the speaking in tongues bit, but with the being a Pastor bit.

Similar, over the years people have asked why it is that the Holy Spirit seems so absent from the Lutheran Church, or more so from a particular congregation in which the questioner has been worshipping, and if we dig a bit into that question, we’ll usually discover that this dissatisfaction with their own congregation has arisen because of a visit to another church’s worship service where it seems clear that the Holy Spirit is really active.

A statement said something like this, “I found that service like a spiritual electric storm: people speaking in tongues and falling over, people laughing, dancing and singing. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I was freaked out and literally unable to speak for about an hour afterwards. If that was real spirit-filled worship, then it seemed to me that the church I’d grown up in doesn’t have the Holy Spirit”.

An experience that starts them to question whether they are Christian at all; whether the Holy Spirit was actually working in them or the church they belonged to because if the Holy Spirit really is at work in their life then shouldn’t they feel, experience or see more signs that the Holy Spirit is central to their life as a Christian and to those in the church?

It’s a feeling I know all too well, not the feeling of being second rate because I don’t have such outwardly spirit filled surreal “abilities”, but simply because I still often feel like a prick and having been baptised, how can that be? Baptised mind you not as an infant, but as a 29 year old. Baptised old enough to know, feel and see the before and after of the effects of Baptism and while I can’t remember a lot of my feelings before that day, I must have been one sorry son of a mother if this is the glorious result. Hardly an advertisement for Baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So what of me, you and our Church-are we full of the Spirit or just kidding ourselves.

To answer questions like this, one of the best places to go to find out more about the Holy Spirit from Jesus himself is in John chapters 14-16 on which does today’s gospel reading come, and so disregarding our own highly acclaimed or lowly disposition of ourselves, let’s hear the truth of the situation from the man himself, Jesus the Son of God who has brought you forgiveness and salvation, who in this Verse and those chapters of scripture teach us that the Holy Spirit’s role and work is not to get us to focus on the Spirit and dazzle us with all kinds of experiences that cause us make these the-be-all and end-all of our Christian faith, but tells us that the task of the Holy Spirit is to draw us to Jesus;
to make Jesus the centre and focus of our lives;
to teach us about Jesus;
and to lead us again and again to Jesus after we have been led astray by the world, or Satan or our own sinful nature. Summarised when Jesus says “the Spirit will “tell you all about me”, “he will give me glory” and “he will reveal to you whatever he receives from me”.

So why at times do I feel such a prick? Why? Because the focus is all wrong. The same misdirected focus that can lead the other way to where one thinks they are some type of law unto themselves immortal super being.

Two different outcomes from the same inwardly focussed photo shopped lives.

A Facebook type of life where I can make myself be whatever I want and Photoshop my life where I’m taller, thinner and have 5,000 friends that are so interested in me that I need to tell them that I just went to the toilet.

A life as stated by a mid-twenties university lecturer who said that in our world of self-focus, it does not allow for the realities of failing or dancing to another’s tune, but only to the tune of self and so hence, given that reality is what we make it, there can be no place for a higher force to answer to or be guided by.

A photo shopped life that made one of my group ask a simple yet complex question.

So what happens when reality hits and it all falls to pieces?

A one worded answer: Suicide.

That’s easy to say from the outside and I know that is far too simple an explanation. Yet it does get to the heart of the Holy Spirit who brings the focus to the help and the truth that is Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit that leads us to focus not on self, but to believe and have faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit that in opposition to our own assessment of self, brings the grace and love of Jesus and reminds and comforts us with the certain knowledge that even when it seems God is far away, or that people don’t care, or that life is throwing at us every hurt and grief that it possibly can, the Holy Spirit points us to the love of our God as shown to us through Jesus death and resurrection.
He assures us that Jesus’ love for us is right there with us in the most severe situations.
He reminds us of the promises that the Scriptures tells us over and over again that the love that God has for us can never be quenched.
He strengthens us and helps us to be confident and strong by pointing us to the cross and reminding us that with Jesus’ we can endure any circumstance and trouble.

And so where is the Holy Spirit working; what is the sign of his presence and his power? Certainly it is not in experiences and large crowds, healings and supernatural gifts – good and God-given as they are. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit is wherever he – Jesus Christ – is proclaimed and confessed.

So where is the Holy Spirit working; what is the sign of his presence and his power? He is wherever Christ is being spoken about, wherever the words of Jesus are read and spoken. He is there in all his fullness wherever people worship and pray in the name of Jesus. When you believe and trust in Jesus you have that faith through the Holy Spirit’s work in you and the Holy Spirit filling you that you need not wonder of the Holy Spirit, but understand as Martin Luther who so eloquently stated that if you“ Believe, you’ve got it”

The grace of God the Father given to us in Jesus and brought to us through the Holy Spirit that lets us understand that it does not matter what else we feel, experience or don’t experience. It doesn’t matter whether we are stressed, depressed, average or exhilarated with joy and enthusiasm, but that in all are we covered by the righteousness of our Lord Jesus who says to you-in me regardless of how you see yourself, my Father sees you as his beloved and forgiven child. Saved from ourselves by being saved in Christ is our deal, and in knowing that we need not look in the mirror and see the reflection of what we know or think we know of ourselves, but lift our vision and see a man hanging from a cross look you in the eyes and not ask why did I come for such a person as you, but declare it is for such a person as you that I did come.

The Lord who came for you that He bless you and keep you. That He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you and that He look upon you with His favour and + give you the peace of God which passes all human understanding. Amen.

Behind your fears


John 20:19-23

What do we normally do when we’re afraid? Normally we try to protect ourselves.
This protection may take the form of putting up some kind of barrier, such as a wall, closing a door, or securing something with locks. For example, we might lock our precious belongings away because we’re afraid of losing them. We might lock our houses and cars. We may shut doors to strangers. We might slam doors to create a barrier between ourselves and the person we’re angry with, out of fear we’re not in control of the situation or our emotions.

We also protect ourselves by increasing our distance from danger. This might include avoidance, We might avoid going to the doctor because we’re afraid of the results. We might steer clear of people because we’re afraid of their anger, abuse, lies, or manipulation. We might stop our children from participating in certain activities or interacting with certain people because we’re afraid they might get hurt. If we’ve been hurt by a broken relationship in the past, we might avoid any new relationships because we’re afraid of more pain.

Another form of protection is attack. Because we’re afraid, we might yell at, abuse, insult, and hit out at those around us, and not always at the people who are the cause of our fears. For example, we might be angry with developers or mining or resource exploration companies because we’re afraid they’ll take away our land, our livelihood, our lifestyle or our home. Or, a church might be afraid for the future of their congregation: that they might not get a new pastor, or if they do get one, he might not live up to their expectations. Because of our fears – fears of being left out, forgotten, or of not being in control – we might be tempted to lash out at the leadership of our congregation, our previous pastors, our district, or the LCA.

Fears can control us and our actions. We build physical and emotional barriers around ourselves. We might hide behind jokes and safe conversational topics. We protect ourselves from probing questions or from revealing secrets about ourselves. We might build a wall of anger and punishment around us to protect ourselves from the things and people we’re scared of.

Many times, people won’t admit to their fears, but secretly everybody’s afraid of something. We’re afraid of losing loved ones through sickness or accident, losing respect, losing dignity through aging, losing farms and homes, losing our mind, our health, our faith, or our life.

Sometimes we may even be afraid of God. Maybe we’re afraid he won’t like us, so we might try to make him like us by doing all the right things. Maybe we’re afraid of what he says because it’ll affect the way we live, so we might try to ignore, “dumb down” or modify what he says. Maybe we’re afraid to admit we’re wrong, so we may try to disregard his words and his people.

Our fears constrict us, burden us, trap us and bind us. Our fears cripple us and make us sick with worry. Our fears control us and make us do all types of silly, irrational things. We can be ‘locked up’ by our fears, and we ‘lock’ others up because of our fears.

Then Jesus comes among us and says ‘Peace to you’. Peace?

Even though we long for peace, we can also be afraid of it. We would rather manufacture a false peace – a peace which involves barriers and distance: a peace which involves anger and punishment. Yet we also know our barriers and bravado offer no peace, just isolation with our fears.

Yet Jesus somehow gets past those barriers to offer us peace. He comes to bring us peace this morning. But this peace might scare us. This peace tells us to step out from our locked room, get out from behind our barriers, and go out again into the troubled and fearful world. This peace challenges us to trust him more than we trust our fears.

The peace Jesus offers us today, challenges and authorises us to forgive others. But we can also be afraid to forgive. When we forgive someone, we can’t hold them to ransom for the pain they’ve caused us anymore. But who are we really hurting by not forgiving? We lock up ourselves in chains just as much as the other person by withholding forgiveness. Yet by forgiving someone, we not only free them from their chains of sin, but we’re also freed from our fears. Of course, that forgiven person might hurt us again: that’s what we’re afraid of. Fears trap us: forgiveness frees us.

Jesus offers us peace even though our relationships might be breaking down, our loved ones are dying, our property is being taken from us, and our health declines. Jesus says, “Peace to you.”

Our idea of peace might be when God takes away everything we’re afraid of. We may think peace is when God gets rid of our enemies, gets rid of our sickness, gets rid of those who pick on the little guys, and makes us feel successful, whole and happy. We might think peace is when things go our way. We might think peace is where we’re free, but everyone else is restrained and kept ‘locked up’.

God’s peace isn’t like that. God doesn’t always take away all our troubles, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God seems to let people get away with their hurtful crimes, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God doesn’t always heal our sickness and won’t stop our loved ones from dying, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God may delay things for us, yet he still says ‘Peace to you’. God is willing to forgive those we fear and don’t and he still says ‘Peace to you’.

God’s peace is different from what the world offers. God’s peace is different from the peace locks, barriers and distance offer. God’s peace somehow comes to us even if all the safety barriers and security blankets are taken away. God’s peace comes even when we’re terrified.

God’s peace isn’t necessarily when God takes away the people or situations we’re afraid of, but rather, God’s peace comes when he takes away our fear of them.

But how does God’s peace come to us and how does he drive out our fears

God’s peace comes to us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

That can sound a bit ‘airy fairy’ ,vague and elusive until we get a bit more specific.

For instance, God’s peace washed over us when we were baptised. If we were scared of God beforehand, we have no reason to fear him now because we’re safe in Jesus. Our sins were washed away and our name is written in the book of heaven. We’re at peace with God for the sake of Jesus. Of course, baptism doesn’t guarantee we’ll live happily ever after in this life on earth, although in one sense it does. It means that whenever we’re afraid or troubled, we can shout like Martin Luther used to, saying ‘I am baptised!’ Baptism assures us that we are God’s forgiven and saved children. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love, or from God’s peace through faith in Jesus.

We also eat and drink God’s peace in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus comes to us to give us a real and certain assurance that we’re at peace with God through Christ’s willing sacrifice for us. Just like we invite friends and loved ones to our dinner table, Jesus invites us to come to his banquet table as his honoured guests to receive an assurance of his forgiveness and peace. We’re not enemies, but dearly loved people who are at peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. Anything we’ve thought, said or done that might create barriers between us and God or between ourselves and those around us, are forgiven and taken away by eating and drinking in faith. In this sense, we come in peace to receive peace by eating and drinking. We then go out from this meal in peace in order to bring God’s peace to all those around us.

The forgiveness of sins is closely connected to God’s peace. God’s forgiveness drives away our fear.

When our sins are forgiven, locks are opened that even the best locksmiths in the world can’t unlock. It’s like Jesus has handed sinful human beings the keys to his own house. The heavenly house, or more so, heavenly home.

Through the forgiveness of sins, the gates of heaven are unlocked and swung open for us.

These are the tools, the instruments, or the means of grace and peace that Jesus gives his people: the Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the authority to forgive people their sins. These tools, these keys, unlock heaven for us. These are the tools through which the Holy Spirit comes and comforts his people. These are the instruments which drive out fear and replace it with peace. These are the keys to peace on earth.

Then, as God’s peace has driven away our fears and brought down the barriers of protection, we go out from this place to become peacemakers in this fear-filled world. We go out from this place with a message of peace through the forgiveness of sins. We’re led by the Holy Spirit to forgive others in order to bring God’s peace to a troubled and fearful world. Forgiveness is the key to unlocking us from fear. Forgiveness is the key to bringing a glimpse of heaven on earth. Forgiveness is the key to true peace on earth that drives out our fears.

When we go home today, it may be tempting fate if we don’t keep your belongings secure and lock them up and so still will be. It would be silly not to. But also don’t be afraid to live in the freedom of Christ. Don’t be afraid to let some of those barriers come down and those distances reduce as Jesus takes away our fears and replaces them with his peace – peace knowing we’re a loved child of God who lives under the care of Christ. Go out from here as forgiven people who are at peace with God and at peace with each other and likewise let us be prepared to unburden and release others through your forgiveness so they too may experience the peace of God as we do.

In this way, may……the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The forgotten years

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15, 16 & Luke 14:1, 7-14.

scholarThe rule of thumb for sermon writing is one hour preparation for every minute spoken (maybe that’s why mine are short). That may seem a lot but a lot of time needs to be spent to make sure we’re talking God’s lessons and not our own and when I first started sermon writing in my last year at the sem. I spent endless hours studying the text in to ensure that be so. This went on for months until my mentor pastor said “what you’re doing is good, but you must also remember that the message is to you as well, so firstly you need understand it personally for yourself and how it speaks to your own heart”.

Resultantly, that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Though at the time his remark “of having been moulded through life experiences to preach God’s Word” made about as much sense as when hearing of my first placement-here in Dubbo, and being confused of just who and what I was meant to be I rang a friend of mine to ask his advice (who I might add is the pastor I would like to be) and his advice was “just be yourself”. A lot of things don’t make sense to me and that was certainly one of them.

At the recent pastor’s conference and synod, hearing and seeing all these people smarter, nicer and godlier I had that same sense of feeling inferior and asking just “what am I doing here”. So what do you do when you’re really got no idea what’s going on. Pray, pray and pray some more: and in my prayer I asked God just what is the deal and begged for an answer.

Two days later I read todays Gospel about after having being forgiven in Christ, God accepts you-and-me-as we are. So for now it looks like we’re stuck with each other.

At first reading, the gospel comes across as not getting ahead of yourself in places of prestige and most certainly Jesus uses the situation of the day to get his point across. Being that in the synagogue, should you have arrived early to take your seat in the correct pecking, there was always the chance that someone higher up the food chain might arrive and be asked forward at the expense of your own seating arrangements and accordingly, public humiliation.

In my previous job I led a team of 30 people. One of which who was a middle aged lady from overseas with limited English. Everyone was nice to her but her role was considered on the lower end of the scale and people didn’t give her as much respect as maybe they gave to others they thought more deserving. One day talking to her, I found out she was only working there to fund her studies. Being that in her home country she was a medical surgeon but having come to Australia had to do another twelve months transitional study to re-commence her occupation in the medical field.

I never told them because a.) Why should it change how people respected and treated her and, b.) It was her life to report back to others should she felt so inclined. But she never did and that she for want of a better word was “running menial errands” instead of clearing arteries did not seem to faze her in the least.

That lady shone a light of the humility of which Jesus talks. Not a false “I’m worthless” type of humility, but the humility to not place ourselves on a pedestal and look condescendingly on others.

And Jesus is big on humility as in heard in the Hebrews text today where we are told “to remember those in prison as though in prison with them”. Now if we don’t guild the lily that’s a pretty hard call unless we look outside ourselves and to that of Jesus himself and the how he humbled himself to be born as a perishable human to walk amongst the fallen. As Christians we just know this is so and rejoice that in his doing so and taking our sins on himself, that in simple trust and belief in him alone we are saved as we are. We know this to be true but we should never forget just how radical it was for in other god belief systems it is about not gods coming to them, but about them working their way up to the gods through works or enlightenment of the mind and body.

Thankfully God the Fathers saving plan for people through Christ is back to front from human thought because in him, the greatest serving the least it brings us the freedom to be who we are. The freedom that means that a well-educated scholar doesn’t need to feel they must have to talk like me, and for people like me not to feel that unless we get a handle on the big words we are some secondary human being. Humility in Christ in not falsely dumbing yourself down or falsely talking yourself up. Humility in Christ is realising that in the kingdom of God we are all equal. And being equal, should one’s place be at the top of the food chain as the world sees it, or at the bottom is of no consequence for either can rejoice in the one same truth like us here today.

That regardless of status or lack of. That given the gift of riches or the lack of: that to each of you here today, that in faith in Jesus Christ alone, that no matter how great or small your sins may be, you have been redeemed of them and are forgiven and free.

Johnny Cash wrote this of his Journey:

There were nights I don’t remember

And there’s pain that I’ve forgotten

Other things I choose not to recall

There are faces that come to me

In my darkest secret memory

Faces that I wish would not come back at all

In my dreams parade of lovers

From the other times and places

There’s not one that matters now, no matter who

I’m just thankful for the journey

And that I’ve survived the battles

And that my spoils of victory are you

Book ends of John’s life and the same may be said of ours. The pain of carrying the hurt of life and the hurt of carrying sin up and against when you are freed in the knowledge of the truth that in Christ alone YOU ARE forgiven and before me today God the Father sees you spotlessly washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

In Christ you are forgiven and given freedom with nothing to prove to yourself or any others. Forgiven and free to serve those he places before you trusting that while you may travel for the remainder of your lives in different earthly spheres, you travel as one hearing and knowing His Words for yourself both individually and collectively “To be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for it is I the Lord your God who goes with you and I will not leave you or forsake you. Amen.


Wind and Fire

Acts 2: 1-21

pentecost.2This morning we have two very important things going on as a part of our worship service. The most obvious is that today is Confirmation Sunday. For a lengthy time Emily, Ange, Matthew, Amy and Lilli have gone through careful instruction with Jenny and me in the basics of the Christian Faith. We’ve used the doctrine of the Scriptures as taught in Luther’s Small Catechism as the basis for our instruction, and they have learned about the faith that they will confess as their own today. It’s a big day! In some cases, you have friends and relatives that have travelled a long ways to be here.

While Confirmation Sunday is a big day in the life of our Lutheran congregations, that’s not the only big event we remember today. Today is also the Day of Pentecost.

In our reading from Acts 2 and the Gospel reading from John, we hear about the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the fulfilment of it in Acts.

This morning, we’re going to look at that first Pentecost, and see why it’s such a big deal to us today, and why that event can give our confirmees a lot of confidence as they go out living their lives in the Christian faith.

Sometimes Pentecost can be one of the days of the church year that some may say that Lutherans are out of touch with. Some, even from within our wider church say that we don’t talk enough about the Holy Spirit, that what we believe, teach, and confess is dead, that we’re not “alive” like other churches seem to be. And I spose talk of the Holy Spirit in regards to tongues of fire, and strange languages can be confusing and even misconstrued. So sometimes we do decide that it is easier to not really talk about Pentecost, or what happened on that day.

Well this morning, we are going to talk about Pentecost, and we’re going to talk about the Holy Spirit, but we’re going to see how the Holy Spirit truly works, and what it has to do with our confirmees, and with us. To start off with, let’s discover what the Holy Spirit’s work is. It has been 10 days since Jesus had ascended into heaven. Just prior to His ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would empower them to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They spent that time together, devoting themselves to prayer and meditating on the Word that Jesus had given them.

Then it happens. A sound of a rushing wind filled the room where the Disciples were. A pretty extraordinary event I would think! But there’s more. Next, tongues of fire descend over the disciple’s heads. Pretty impressive and needless to say, it’s going to grab a LOT of attention. This is all taking place at the Jewish Pentecost festival, which was one of the major festivals Jewish men were expected to return to Jerusalem for. So you have devout Jews from every tribe and place in the city. This sets the stage for what happens next.

The apostles come out, and start speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. In other words, the disciples come out, and they start speaking other known languages. Languages that they had never spoken before, and so understandably the Jews who where there were saying “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? So how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” It’s obvious something big is going on! They’re telling the good news about Jesus to all of these people in the language that they can understand! This isn’t the kind of “speaking in tongues” that is on the radar these days, but as in the scripture here, “tongues” refers to speaking in known languages that hearers can understand. In the midst of all of this, Peter gets up and starts preaching a sermon. He tells them that what is going on is the fulfilment of a prophecy in Joel, and points them to Jesus, the one that they had put to death, who was the long awaited Messiah.

Later in the chapter, we’re told that Peter’s audience is cut to the heart by the preaching of the law, and ask what they are to do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and that this gift was for them, and their children, and for all who were far off, everyone whom the Lord would call to himself. Then we’re told that 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church that day, and that they continued to gather around the apostles’ teaching, and the breaking of the bread, in other words, they gathered around the preaching of the Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion on a regular basis. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved!

Quite a day and you can read into the text a lot of fervour and zeal in those early Christians. That had to have been an exciting day to be a part of! 3000 people heard the Gospel preached to them in their own language, believed, and were baptized. When we compare that, life at our little Lutheran Church’s seems to be pretty dull, and because of that, we maybe led to despair sometimes and wonder if we have the Holy Spirit like other churches do. So, do we have the Spirit at St. Marks and St. Johns? And are we allowing the Holy Spirit to work?

To find the answer, let me ask you a couple of questions. What are we missing from that day of Pentecost? Well, we didn’t have a loud rushing wind fill the building this morning. And as I look out at the congregation, I don’t see any tongues of fire dancing atop anyone’s heads, and I doubt you’ll see that when our confirmees publically confess their faith in the Rite of Confirmation. But what do we have? The furniture you see in the front of this church will give you that answer. You see the pulpit and lectern, where the Word of God is read from and proclaimed to you, telling you that we have the Apostles’ teaching, the Word of God that is read and proclaimed. You see the Baptismal Font, telling us the same baptism that was given to those 3,000 people that day is given here. And, you see the altar, where we receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: the body and blood of our Lord.

So if you ask me, we have what’s necessary to forgive sins and bring eternal life, we have Word and Sacrament. You see, when something big happened in God’s plan of salvation in the Bible, He kicked it off with something special: at the crucifixion, darkness covered the land, the temple curtain was torn in two, and the earth shook. At the Resurrection, the stone was rolled away. Here at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised the disciples would come in the Gospel reading arrived, it is announced with the rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the gift of languages. Those things didn’t give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God’s Word, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion did and still do. Those are the means that the Holy Spirit worked through to bring people to faith, and to strengthen the faith of those who already believed. So could it be?

Could it be that what we’ve been doing in believing that the Old and New Testaments are the inspired, infallible Word of God, and that the Word, attached to water in Holy Baptism and bread and wine in Holy Communion, without gimmicks and fads attached to them, is exactly what those early Christians in Acts 2 were doing? Could it be that the problem isn’t with the Scriptures, or the doctrine that these young people have come to learn in Luther’s Small Catechism, but that the problem is with us, in wanting to squelch the Spirit’s work by our own emotions, ideas, or activity, looking for the Spirit in places He has not promised to be found?

Yet, some might say, 3,000 people were baptized after one sermon, without having to spend a year of careful instruction with a Pastor studying the doctrine of the Scriptures! Something powerful had to be going on! Well it was but let’s put it into proper perspective. Pentecost was a major Jewish festival that would bring many Jewish men into Jerusalem.

Historical record apart from the Scriptures tells us that Jerusalem’s population would swell to up to one million or more during such times.

Not only that, but the text tells us these were devout Jews, men who were well schooled in the Word of God, they knew everything there was about the Messiah expect one thing, his name. Now, if you do the math, if we have 1 million devout Jews in the city at Pentecost, and 3,000 of them hear the message proclaimed to them in their own language, and they are baptized, then that means 3 one-thousandths of one percent of the Jews in Jerusalem heard the message, believed, and were baptized. If you were to talk to a supposed church growth expert today with a statistic like that, they may call the Pentecost event a failure.

For you confirmees, today it is going to be easy to promise that you will remain faithful in the Christian faith. But, the tough part happens the moment you walk out of that door. Statistically speaking, half of you will eventually stop coming to church in your high school years. You’ll find the allure of sports, late Saturday nights with friends, or other things in the world to be more important than being strengthened in your faith in church where Christ is present with His gifts of Word and Sacrament. You’ll be tempted with this sin and that sin, and have the world tell you that what you learned in the Bible isn’t really relevant anymore. You’ll be tempted to look for God in places He hasn’t promised to be found. You’ll be tempted to turn your back on Word and Sacrament because they’re not flashy, or entertaining in the eyes of the world.

But, there’s a great danger in that! When you ignore these means that the Holy Spirit promises to work through, you are setting yourself up to be tricked in regards to the truth of Christ’s gifts. And eventually, you will risk being starved out of your faith.

But that plea isn’t just for our confirmees, it’s also for all of us here. Don’t go looking for the Spirit in places He has not promised to be. Sometimes, we’re tempted to fall into a phrase I heard as “Lutheran Shame”, in that we’re led to believe that our doctrine and practice isn’t all that exciting, and so we go and look at other churches, and see what they’re doing that seems more alive, and want to adopt their methods without first going to the Word of God to find out if they are scriptural or not.

We’re often tempted to believe that the Spirit won’t work through these means and try to come up with our own methods to cause the Holy Spirit to come and work. When that happens, we forget that the Holy Spirit works through means, that He has promised to work faith through the Word and the Sacrament when and where He wills. There are times and places where mission work is slow, and other times and places where it is fertile. Paul sometimes would preach, and have several converts, while other places; he would nearly be stoned to death.

In our world of instant gratification, it’s tempting to get discouraged in the church-and if you think of the struggles of our ancestors and their missionary activities into Northern Territory and PNG we could imagine it would have been tempting to have given up. But those early Pastors and Christians knew that the Holy Spirit works through the means of Word and Sacrament, and in God’s timing, congregations began from those seeds that were planted during that time.

Don’t get caught up in a statistical report, or a dollar sign to measure a church’s mission. We’re called to measure it by if that church or mission is proclaiming the Word of God in its truth and purity, and if the Sacraments are being administered to the Word of Christ, and let us repent when we use any other means to try to bring about the work of the Holy Spirit.

To confirmees today, while your confirmation instruction has ended, your life of hearing the Scriptures preached to you is only just beginning. I want to encourage you to continue to allow the Spirit to point you to Christ through the Word and through the Sacraments. Continue to come here on Sunday mornings, be fed through God’s Word and Sacraments, where the Spirit will convict you of your sins, and point you to Christ crucified, who through His life, death, and resurrection, has won forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for you. Continue to read your Bibles at home and don’t be afraid to come by my office and ask me the tough questions. We’ll sit down together, and find the answers in the Word of God.

And for the rest of us, the Day of Pentecost is a challenge for us to remain faithful to the doctrine we have learned from the Scriptures. Be encouraged in that being a church that remains faithful to Word and Sacrament ministry, is being an Acts 2 type of church. Be encouraged in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work here. Even though the means may not be that flashy, we have the promise from God’s Holy Word that the Spirit is here, through the Word, through Holy Baptism, through Holy Communion to convict us of our sin, and to point us to our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and to either bring us to faith in Christ, or strengthen our faith in Christ. What could be more exciting than that?

May God grant that to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


Are you a Sheep or a Goat?

Text: Matthew 25:35-40

(The King will say), I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

The least important


Do you remember the scavenger hunts that were held in back in the days when you were a member of a youth group? At the beginning of the hunt you’re given a list of things you have to accumulate. All kinds of things might be on the list. Maybe an empty drink can, the name on the foundation stone of the church, the number plate of Mr Schwartz’s truck. The first group back with all the items and information wins. But before you get the prize, the leader checks off each item to make sure you have got everything you say you have.

Is that the way it’s going to be on the final Day of Judgment? The King, Jesus says, will be seated on the throne of glory and will gather all the nations before him. Then, he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
“Let’s see… yes, you once gave food to a hungry person. Check.
There was the time you gave a drink of water to the thirsty child. Check.
Visited a jail? Check.
Called on someone who was sick? Check.”

Is Jesus suggesting that you can make it into heaven by giving food to one hungry person?
Or do someone a kind deed and say,
“There! That’s my good deed for the day; my ticket to eternity with the sheep!”

It wouldn’t take too much effort to put this kind of emphasis on Jesus’ parable about the Last Judgement and come to the conclusion that it just takes a few charitable deeds to get into heaven.

Of course it works the other way too. We read this and realise that there is no way that we have been kind enough and generous enough to with Jesus’ approval and his invitation to “come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you since the creation of the world”. The parable leaves us with this feeling of failure, guilt, and shame that we have ignored so many people who have been crying out for our help but for some reason we were too busy, too preoccupied, too prejudiced to help. What chance have we got of escaping God’s judgement? To put it bluntly, about as much chance as a snowball in hell.

Of course guilt can be a great motivator as well. We would rather be doing something else but the feeling of guilt prompts us to do more for the least important. We know that doing something out of guilt ends up a chore; we do it not because we like to but because we have to. There is no joy. There is no generous spirit. We are like the child who does a chore grudgingly because he knows that if he doesn’t he will get into trouble and he won’t get any pocket money.

So if Jesus isn’t telling us that a few good deeds will get us past the pearly gates and isn’t using guilt as a motivator to care for others, what is he getting at?

The parable is asking whether we have seen Jesus in the face of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.
The message of this parable is that Christ is mysteriously present to us in those who need our help. When we see the loving face of Jesus in the faces of the needy and disadvantaged then we will want to respond with love and meet that person’s need. It follows that when we don’t see Jesus in the face of others, we will not want to reach out in love to that person, in fact, we could be quite harsh, judgemental and critical.
The parable calls us to show compassion and spring into action for the least important just as Christ has had compassion on us who can be considered the least important because of our sin and rebellion against God.

We worship a God who is entangled in the suffering of humanity, in our sufferings and in the suffering of people everywhere. In fact, we worship a God who chooses not to untangle all the knots and problems of our world from the safety of heaven, but invites us all to be partners with him, to join our love to his love, and reach out to the suffering people in our world. This means reaching out to our sick friends,
making a meal for a grieving family,
welcoming the stranger here at church,
visiting people we know who are depressed, doubting God’s love and need words of reassurance and hope,
being understanding and supportive of the members of our families,
showing genuine love for our friends.
We are to see the face of Jesus in the faces of these people and minister to them in the same way Christ has ministered to us in our times of need.

But Jesus’ parable goes even further than this. Remember he is talking about the least important.
People whom others regard as insignificant.
People who are easily forgotten.
People who are out of sight so out of mind.

This parable is about how our faith in Jesus and our worship ought to penetrate and be interwoven with the ordinary everyday things of our lives. Religion isn’t something just for certain times of the week but it infiltrates every moment of every day. The love of Christ makes us eager to do something for the least important people of this world.

Here is a story of which there are a number of versions. Conrad, the old cobbler, dreamed one night that Jesus would come to be his guest. He was up as the sun was rising and set about decorating his little shop with bright flowers and greenery. He set the table with milk and honey and bread, and waited.

While he was waiting, a beggar walked down the street came barefoot in the driving rain. Conrad called him in and gave him a pair of shoes. An old woman came bent from the weight of a heavy burden. He lifted the load off her back and shared his food with her. And finally, just before the day was about to fade away into darkness, a little child came. Her eyes were wet with tears. Conrad gave her a glass of milk, and led her back to her mother. But the divine guest never came. Conrad was disappointed. The evening as he dozed in front of the fireplace he heard a soft voice say,
“Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!”

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

We don’t have to look too far to find the people whom Jesus called the least.
Half the world’s population, nearly three billion people, live on less than $3 a day
the over one billion people who don’t have access to affordable and safe water;
over 800 million people do not get enough food;
More than 840 million adults, of whom 538 million are women, are illiterate.
The least that Jesus is talking about are the hundred of thousands of children who die every year from preventable diseases;
the 30 million people who have lost their homes because of conflict and natural disasters.
These Jesus calls these people least important – these people are important to God but for us it is easy to see them as the least important.

These are the people we can easily ignore because of their religion or race or life styles.
They are people we can easily forget because they are far from our own shores and we can’t begin to imagine their suffering because we have nothing like it here in Australia.
These are the people that cause us to look the other way.
But at the same time, these are the people whom Jesus claims to be among. Or better, it is in the face of these people that we see Jesus. 
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

This brings me to the point of Jesus’ parable. He knows as well as we do that our sinfulness, selfishness, and lack of concern for others get in the way of caring for the least important. He told this story to focus not on what we should be doing but on something far more profound and basic. He wants us to ask ourselves, “What is my real heart relationship to this Lord who has redeemed and loved me from before the foundation of the world?”

He wants us to realise and appreciate the impact that Jesus has on us and the way we live our lives. Through confessing our guilt and receiving that rich, free and almost overpowering forgiveness our lives and hearts and our priorities are turned upside down.

When we are naked he clothes us in his own righteousness.
When we are in prison, condemned, shamed and guilty, he visits us and releases us.
When we are hungry and starving, God feeds us with the body and blood of his Son.

And what he does for us is what we then begin to do for others, our hands become his hands, our feet his feet, our hearts his heart, our love his love, and the least important become the most important in our eyes.