The Text: Mark 9:2-9

Today’s sermon is brought to you by the numbers 6 and 3, and the word ‘listen’.

Six days.

God made the world in six days…and on the seventh He rested.

We’re to work for six days…and then on the seventh we’re to rest in what God does for us.

The glory of the Lord surrounded Mt Sinai in the wilderness for six days before Moses could enter into His presence on the seventh day.

Six times Joshua and the people of Israel walked around the city of Jericho, and on the seventh the walls came down in a shout.

And the transfiguration of our Lord happened after six days.

When St Mark has a habit of saying everything happened immediately, it should surprise us when there’s a break in this pattern – in fact we hear there’s a six-day break in the immediacy of Jesus’ work! But as we’ve just heard, the number six is significant in God’s story of salvation because it sets us up for what happens on the seventh day. We should stop and witness what God is doing on this seventh day.

So, while we’re surprised there’s a break in Mark’s narrative, it shouldn’t come as a surprise there were six days between what happened just beforehand and this seventh day where He was transformed in front of the disciples; where God revealed Jesus to be His beloved Son whom we should listen to.

But what happened beforehand?

Well, it was six days ago when Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Christ. No sooner had he made this Spirit-led confession that Jesus announced He would suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, priests and scribes; be killed; and then rise again after three days.

But this troubled Peter. After all, Peter had witnessed all the miracles of Jesus – all the healings (including the healing of his own mother-in-law), raising people from the dead, and how Jesus cast out demons – which no doubt had led him to the conclusion Jesus is none other than the promised Messiah spoken about in the Scriptures.

So, what Jesus was talking about shouldn’t happen. Peter figured this is now the time when the Scriptures would be fulfilled and when everything was set right. This is the time of Israel’s freedom and glory! This is the time when the glory of God is revealed so the nation of Israel could rule and bless all the nations!

So, this is why Peter tells Jesus off!

But in response, Jesus tells Peter off! He said Peter’s got in mind the things of man and not the things of God. The work of God isn’t all about health and wealth and glory and power, but it also includes suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.

So, it seems Peter pondered Jesus’ words for six days, and on the seventh he saw the glory of God reflected in the person of Jesus Christ. But he still didn’t get it.

And neither do we. We often struggle to understand what it all means, which is why the number three enters our meditation.

You see, there were three.

There were three disciples: Peter, James and John.

There were three people in front of them: Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

The number three is a number of community – just like there were three visitors who visited Abraham before God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and it’s also the number of persons who form our Triune God.

But it’s also a number of completeness – for example, a complete journey of three days between one place and another (which is mentioned many times in Scripture), a three-day meditation for Jonah in the belly of a fish, and it’s also the number of days before Jesus would rise from death.

Peter, not quite getting the significance of what it meant for Jesus to be the promised Messiah, offers to build three shelters – one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. After all, this is a great place and great time for God’s people! Here we have a gathering of the greatest prophets of all time: Moses the Law-giver, Elijah the mighty prophet who was taken up into heaven, and now Jesus the powerful teacher and miracle-worker!

So, let’s retain and preserve this holy moment in time and space! Let’s all come to hear the wisdom of these mighty men! Let’s all come near this holy place to have our diseases healed, our demons cast out, and our loved ones raised from death! Let’s all bask in the glory of our mighty and awesome God for the rest of time!

If only!

Isn’t this what we also want?

Wouldn’t we love to meet Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus face-to-face?

I mean, wouldn’t we love to ask them questions on what it’s like to have such strong faith? Wouldn’t we love to know more about their mighty victories over Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the prophets of Baal, or about Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil?

Wouldn’t we love to come near and have each of them teach us, touch us, and encourage us in a world gone crazy? Wouldn’t we love to go to one of those shelters to have our bodies restored to its youthful vigour, or to have our bodies healed from cancer or tumours or from dementia? Wouldn’t we want to bring our departed loved ones to the tent of Jesus, so He could raise them from death for our pleasure and comfort?

But Peter doesn’t know what he’s asking…and neither do we.

So often our wishes are all about us—what we want. So often, sinful human beings have in mind the things of a rebellious humanity.

But this isn’t what Jesus is about. He’s here to do the will of God; not the will of men.

God’s plan seems backward and strange to us. We see or hear a moment of glory thinking this is God’s plan for us which is supposed to last, but it doesn’t – at least, not on this earth. What often lasts are our troubles, sicknesses, fights, and  deteriorating bodies as age takes its toll .

The moment of Jesus’ transfiguration was a glimpse of God’s glory to strengthen Jesus for His journey through His own suffering and death, but it was also for frightened, confused and slow-to-learn disciples like us who look for assurance of God’s glory and power during our own sufferings and journey toward death.

When we see or experience suffering and rejection and death, we often reckon this isn’t part of God’s plan. We want the glory and health and strength and power and joy to last, but it doesn’t. God’s glory doesn’t match our own ideas of glory. Jesus told us His glory comes through suffering and rejection. His glory comes through sacrifice and death. His glory also comes in resurrection and restoration for those who trust Him.

Which brings us to the word of today: listen.

In this case, it’s not supposed to be a passive word where we just listen and not respond. It’s intended to be matched with a trust in what we listen to which also responds in obedient action.

You see, when God speaks, things happen.

When He speaks: light appears, waters divide, and worlds are created. When He speaks, people like Moses and Elijah respond in faith and pass on the Word of God.

Similarly, when His holy name is spoken over the waters of Baptism sins are forgiven, faith is stirred, people are adopted as God’s own, our bodies receive the benefits of Jesus’ resurrected body, and the promise of eternal life is given. When Jesus’ Word is spoken over bread and wine it also becomes His body and blood to bring to troubled sinners His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

In other words, the Word of God is powerful and active. The trouble is, we often don’t listen, and if we do listen, we don’t always respond in faith and trust.

We’re more likely to listen to our own fears and believe them. We’re more likely to listen to the latest feel-good motto or advert. We’re more likely to listen to what our itching ears want to hear. We’re more likely to listen to the lies and deceptive whispers of the devil who still asks: ‘Did God really say…?’

In other words, the call for us to listen to Jesus places us on a collision course with spiritual warfare which is just as volatile as the battle between Moses and Pharaoh and between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Because of our selfishness, our flesh resists God’s Word, and so does the world. In the end it’s a question of who we’re going to listen to, who we’re going to trust, who we’re going to follow, and who we’re going to obey.

So, the call to listen is a call to deny our own selfish will and let God’s will be done in our life, even if His will involves suffering for His sake, patience in times of trouble, endurance in faith when the world criticizes and condemns, willing service to the outcast and troubled, and forgiving those who don’t deserve such grace.

It’s also a call to believe something we struggle to believe. That Jesus did this for you and me. That we’re not as good as we make out we are. That our actions, words and thoughts are motivated by selfishness, greed, pride, and fear. That Jesus would choose to come into this cruel and heartless world to suffer and die at the hands of His own faithful people. That He wouldn’t defend His innocence or call for justice from the cross, but instead cried out to His Father to forgive us because we don’t know what we’re doing.

While God spoke His Word through Moses and the prophets like Elijah, He now speaks to us through Jesus. We’re made His disciples through faith and we’re to respond to His teachings of glory through suffering, love through service, and forgiveness by grace.

We listen to His words of forgiveness, and through faith we learn to forgive those around us. We listen to His sufferings and learn our own suffering serves a purpose to strengthen our trust in Him. We listen to His death and learn death no longer has a claim on you or I because we believe in the resurrection of the dead through Christ.

Yes, after six days Jesus is transfigured before his three disciples, and in this momentary glimpse of His true identity we’re called to listen – to listen to what God is doing for us as Jesus journeys toward the moments He was betrayed, denied, whipped, crucified, died, and rose again.

We listen as the glory of God is revealed through blood and sacrifice and as His love pronounces everything is finished. We listen so we can rest from our own work and witness what God has done for us through Jesus, the Son of God, with whom the Father is pleased.

And, as we listen to Him, we’re called to respond in faith, because it’s through trusting the words and actions of Jesus that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Transfiguration of our Lord

The Text: Matthew 17:1-9

This week we will enter the Lenten season but before we head for Jerusalem for the events of Good Friday and Easter we travel with Jesus to the top of a mountain. Jesus withdraws from the noise and busyness of everyday life before heading off into the events that would lead to his death.

Jesus knows that the days which lay ahead will be filled with every trial known to human beings. Put yourself in the same situation as Jesus, knowing full well what horrors are soon to happen. Knowing what terrible pain and suffering is to come would weaken the bravest heart. It is true Jesus is a special person; nevertheless he experienced all the emotions and misgivings that we experience.

And so Jesus goes to the top of a mountain to be with his heavenly Father. He spends the time in prayer. It is interesting to note that every time Jesus is confronted with a difficulty or personal struggle he first goes to God in prayer. And here again he goes to God for strength for his mission.

And while Jesus is there on the mountaintop, away from the noise and

hubbub of the rest of the world, he meets with Moses and Elijah. This meeting has on its agenda what will happen to Jesus when he goes to Jerusalem. They talked of his dying and rising (Luke 9:31). They encourage Jesus, reminding him of God’s plan of salvation and how the events about to take place are a fulfilment of all that is spoken about in the Law and the Prophets. Maybe this was God’s way of keeping in perspective the suffering Jesus was about to endure – yes, it will be horrible but it will bring untold blessing to sinners all over the planet.

Then comes the cloud, a sign of God’s presence. And from the cloud a voice speaks, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen”. “This is my Son whom I love and whom I have sent to be the saviour of the world”. With this reassurance of love and the encouragement of Moses and Elijah, Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem.

For Jesus, Jerusalem meant suffering.

Maybe you have your own personal “Jerusalem”—those times when the events and upsets, the pressures and spiritual struggles that leave you wondering how you will ever cope?

Your Jerusalem might include a doctor’s comment, “There’s something I need to tell you about the results of your tests”. Your Jerusalem might be that phone call that announces the sudden death of someone close. Your Jerusalem might be a troubled relationship. You want things to be different between you and that other person but it just isn’t happening.

Your Jerusalem might be the disappointment you feel when your dreams and plans fall into a heap. Your Jerusalem might be difficult people whom you have to deal with. You do your best but in the end there is someone who finds fault and cuts away any confidence which you had.

Your own personal Jerusalem may be your discipleship. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. This is a call by Jesus to be disciples who are willing to make sacrifices when it comes to following Jesus or reaching out to help and get alongside of someone in need, or giving of our best in our workplace.

Sacrifice is not a popular concept these days. We are so used to asserting our rights and getting what we want that sacrifice is a really difficult thing?

We struggle to sacrifice just a little of our time to worship God with our fellow Christians or talk with him daily.

We know that God calls us to show love, patience, forgiveness and understanding but we find it hard to sacrifice our own needs and wants for the sake of the benefit of someone else.

We know that discipleship calls us to put Christ first in our lives and be committed to him just as he is committed to us but somehow we manage to get side tracked by all kinds of trivia. We want to be true disciples but we feel so inadequate. This is our Jerusalem.

When it came to facing Jerusalem, what did Jesus do? He withdrew for a while into the presence of God and was reassured and strengthened for his mission. That’s where we will find forgiveness, strength and assurance – in the presence of God.

Maybe you have resisted getting close to God and kept him at an arm’s length?

Maybe you know about the death and resurrection of Jesus as interesting facts but never taken in that he did it for you and really trusted his love for you?

Maybe you have never really thought of God as right here, right now, available, ready to help, willing to strengthen and support you?
Maybe you have floundered under the weight of trouble but have never taken seriously the promises of God? Promises like:“Do not be afraid—I am with you! I am your God—let nothing terrify you! I will make you strong and help you; I will protect you and save you” (Isaiah 41:10, TEV). The almighty and all powerful God of the universe is making that promise to you personally. That’s fantastic!!

Our God is a God who stands by his people and gives them the strength to cope with whatever crops up along life’s journey. Our God is a God who has demonstrated his love for us on the cross and he is not about to abandon us now or any time in the future. Jesus died a horrible death because of his love for each of us. That’s how much God cares for us. It is confidence in God’s love for us that led the psalmist to say:“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me” (Psalm 23:4, TEV).

And again, Psalm 40:11–12a (TEV)

11 Lord, I know you will never stop being merciful to me. Your love and loyalty will always keep me safe. 12 I am surrounded by many troubles— too many to count!

It’s amazing how positive the apostle Paul could be in the face of trouble. He explains it like this, “I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Philippians 4:12b,13).

We too know that, come what may, God’s presence and power enables us to rise above whatever it is that is getting us down.

When everything dictates that you “call it quits”, “give up” “throw in the towel” you are able to say with the psalmist, “I trust your love” (Psalm 13:4 CEV). The cross is a symbol of the love that God has for you. Even if the worst should happen, you can be certain of God’s loving hands which surround you.In the shade of the cross you can take time out and take to God that which is bugging you and be reassured and strengthened. You are strong and at peace because you can say, “Christ gives me the strength to face anything” (Phil 4:13 CEV

“I did not know He was lost.”

Luke 9:29
As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.

Where is God? It’s a question many people have asked. Where is God? Before my time there were ‘seeker services’ churches for people asking that question. And still today people will ask, ‘Have you found Jesus?’ Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door of one of our old lecturers, Herman Sasse, and asked him, “Have you found Jesus?” The short old man with coke bottle glasses, fiddled with them a bit and replied, “I did not know He was lost.” Indeed, He is not lost; just sometimes we find it hard to see Him hidden in this world.

Where is God? Is He up the mountain? Mountains those great big things that tower over the landscape, looking down on the plains and valleys, great monuments of earth. They are an obstacle, it takes great effort to climb them and pass them. In the early days of NSW, the colony stayed on the coastal side of the Blue mountains. Yet in time British explorers climbed these obstacles, taking great effort especially when they ignored the Aboriginals advice. They came out to these western plains and trudged through the scrub, under the scorching sun, up into what’s now the Goobang national park; crested the hill after much effort and what they saw was a revelation. At the top of the mountain, they had reached their goal, the finish, and revealed before them was the Western Plains. At the top was the goal and a revelation, but did they see God?

At another mountain long before, another man climbed to another goal and another revelation. Moses was called up to Mount Sinai to speak, face to face, with God. The goal was a way of life, indeed The Way of Life, and the revelation of God’s Glory, Power, and Love. After Moses’ mountain top experience, His face shone with the Glory of God. Not that colloquial bright eyes and smile, no His face was changed in dwelling with God for those 40 days in the light of His glory. His face was changed. Now Light enables us to see, to know, to understand, yet if there’s too much light then we cannot see; don’t stare into the sun. But God’s glory is different to the glory, the light of our sun; just as God Himself is different to His creation. When Moses came down from the mountain after seeing God, He was changed and something of God was with him, his face was one with God’s glory.

On a different mountain a thousand years later, there was a different prophet, leader, warrior. Elijah, ancient Israel’s greatest prophet whose acts are recorded for us in the books of Kings and Chronicles; Elijah stood on mount Carmel against the demonic worship of Baal. There were 400 priests of Baal standing against him, mustered together by Queen Jezebel who sought to change the way of life of God’s people, to turn them away from Him, who is Lord of all, toward the worship of Baal this storm god of Phoenicia. But God Almighty is greater than all the spiritual powers and lord over all things in His Creation. And Elijah was God’s fighter, fighting against evil in the world; he prayed the all storms stopped for 3 years with nothing Baal the so-called storm god could do. And on that mount Carmel, in a contest, God against god, Elijah against 400 prophets of Baal, truth against lies, good against evil; God sent down fire from heaven, a bright flash of lightning, to consume the altar while Baal slept powerless, and Elijah defeated the agents of evil.

Then another man, a Son of Man, a chippy (a carpenter) and a few fishers, climbed The Mountain to The Goal and Revelation for all Humanity. Jesus, Peter, James and John went up onto the mountain to pray. As Jesus was speaking with God His face changed, and the Glory of God which Jesus had hidden in Himself was revealed to those on the mountain top. Moses and Elijah spoke with God, they spoke with Jesus. About His exodus, His death, about the destruction of death and the freeing of all it’s captives; for that is what the Exodus is: freedom for the slaves of Egypt, for the slaves to sin and death and the devil. Exodus is freedom from sin, and freedom to new life and the promised land. Peter saw Moses, Elijah and Jesus; Awestruck by God’s glory he says, let’s build three tents, tabernacles, three temples; thinking, God is here on The mountain! And he was right, so as Peter was speaking God Himself made a tent, a tabernacle of cloud. Just as He had done so often before, on Mount Sinai and on the Temple, the cloud of God’s glory came over the mountain top. And God spoke on the mountain in revelation, “This is My Son, listen to Him!”

Yet the cloudy temple did not stay on the mountain heights. God’s glory again hidden in Jesus, the God-man, came down from the mountain and a large crowd came to meet Him. He came down from the Revelation, to this fallen, broken, hurting world. He came down and just like Elijah centuries before, He threw down the demon, brought the boy New Life, and restored him to his father. He threw down the demon, defeating the devil; He brought the boy New Life, defeating death; He restored him to his father, defeating the separation of sin. As God’s people have always done, Jesus too spoke with God the Father and fought sin death and the devil. As God’s people have always done, Moses spoke with God seeing His glory, and Elijah fought the enemies of God and all Creation. But where is God today? Is He only up the mountain for us to reach Him after putting in all our effort? No, Jesus, God Himself, was with the disciples before the mountain, up the mountain, after the mountain. Jesus went to the mountain to pray, as we gather here today for the same; yet Jesus doesn’t stay here in this building, at this time, on this zoom call. No, Jesus goes down the mountain, out into the world; just as we leave this building, this time, this zoom call. And does Jesus go out to sleep like that pathetic storm god Baal? No, He goes out to fight sin, death and the devil; just as we are called to struggle against temptation, harm and evil. For you are God’s child, you are God’s people, you are The Holy Nation, the Royal Priesthood. You are Christ’s Church. This is what God does, what He has revealed.

Now, I said before that mountain tops have goals and revelations. I’ve spoken of the Revelation of Christ’s divinity; of God’s presence everywhere, at times in obvious glory at times hidden; and of the revelation of our fight against our true enemies. But I haven’t spoken of the goal. God’s intended goal for all humans is what Peter saw on that mountain, our union with God in glory, in light, in love. Jesus is not just our Saviour, not just our Lord, not just God and Man as one; He is also our goal. What we are made to be. For where is God? He is in you. You are Christ’s Church, you are His body, and the goal of our Faith is our Glorious Resurrection in Christ; which you have now, hidden today yet Revealed in all glory at the end.

            The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto that Glorious Revelation. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

‘Out of darkness shines light’

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God having said, “From darkness light shall shine,” who shone in our hearts to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

            This is our last Sunday before Lent. We started this season looking at the Epiphany of Jesus who is King, Priest and sacrifice for all the people of the world, we end this season seeing this revelation of His Divine Glory. He is not just a human King, an eternal priest and the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus is God Almighty. On the mountain Elijah heard God, who spoke to him after the fire and earthquake. On the mountain Moses saw God, who spoke to him in the fire and cloud of His glory. On the mountain Peter, James and John see God Incarnate, who spoke to them in the full burning radiance of His glory, the glory of Jesus Christ. And yet they don’t understand, the truth is veiled to them until the Resurrection, until the Light of the World came out of that darkness of death. Light out of darkness.

            Just as at the beginning of this old creation, God spoke, ‘let there be light’, and out of the darkness light shone. As Paul wrote, God is the one who illuminates, shines light, opens eyes, gives understanding and knowledge, at times overwhelmingly so. He shone in our hearts to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). He comes to us, to help us understand Him and this life, that is why He gave His Word to be written, and His church to pass on this wonderful truth guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:15). From darkness light shall shine.

            When you did not understand it’s as if you were in the dark, not able to see what was in front of you. Or perhaps you had rejected the truth, Jesus; and gone you own ways; saying ‘so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else’, or even calling what is evil good (Isaiah 5:20). Perhaps you felt trapped in the dark, without a way out (Romans 6:20; Psalm 40:1). In the darkness of your heart God came by His Word, maybe in preaching, discussion, Baptism, Absolution, Holy Communion, and shone the light of Christ.

Yet today, perhaps you suffer because the ones you love do not know the glory of God. That they do not understand what the transfiguration means for this world. They do not understand how a cross, a torture device similar to impaling on a spike, how a cross is the Glory of God. As they come down the mountain Jesus tells those confused disciples, to tell none until the Son of man rises from the dead (Mark 9:9). They came from the confusing and mysterious heights of God on that mountain, to the death of Jesus on that cross. Yet God has said, From the darkness light shall shine.

            Jesus did not stay on the cross or in the darkness of the tomb, but broke out in New Life. The veil in the temple separating God’s presence from the people was torn open (Matthew 27:51). And the veil of confusion among the disciples was lifted when Jesus appeared to them. Then from those first small gatherings within locked rooms, our brothers and sisters burst forth across the world. Where they were killed, martyred for the faith, there the faith flourished. The light shone out of the darkness. And still today, this happens. In your baptism you died to sin and rose in Newness of Life to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4). My father was dead in sin, living in evil, a slave to wickedness; yet when He was brought into the faith, God brought Him to live and proclaim the wonderful Good News of Jesus Christ to His glory, as a pastor of His church. And so many Pastors in our synod are converts into the faith, from a life in the darkness to proclaiming the light of Christ. From the darkness light shall shine.

            If things look hopeless, for you, those you love, for this world; if you are in despair, listen to Jesus (Mark 9:7). As we look together toward our Lord’s suffering and death in the coming season of Lent; remember what comes after. As you take up or focus on one of our Christian disciplines, fasting, prayer or providing for those in need (Matthew 6); as you struggle with temptation and this world, with Jesus in the desert. As you struggle in sickness, stress, anxiety, all the things in this world that can kill you; even your enemies, our enemies, who want us silenced, even dead. Don’t forget, our God is the one who shines light out of the darkness, He converted Paul the murderer of Christians into His Apostle to the world, He converted the Roman empire from slaughtering Christians to defending us. He can shine from the deepest darkness of death, He can bring His glory where we need Him. So don’t give up, pray, and look to Jesus who is the image of God our Father, God who we can see. Look to Jesus in the darkness, listen to Him and pray that He shines even in our lives, in this small congregation, in this fallen, dark and uncertain world.

            The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, despite the darkness. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Transfiguration Sunday

The Text: Matthew 17:1-9


Here’s a question for you. You’re not allowed to phone a friend, but you could chat with the person next to you. The question is: what is the first commandment? The answer is: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Why would God command that? Is he some sort of control freak or on a power trip? Isaiah 40:18-20 (NIV) really gives us the answer:

 “To whom, then, will you compare God?       What image will you compare him to?
As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.

A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.”

 In the religions of the pagan nations surrounding Israel, each person had their own personal idol they would have had carved or had made and each year they would take it up the mountain for an enthronement festival. God’s own people Israel got caught up in this abomination. Either they made an idol overlaid with gold, or if they are too poor for this, used a block of wood and hoped that it would not be vulnerable to rotting when exposed to the elements! Further, these blocks of wood and stone and metal couldn’t be in all places at once. They couldn’t be a saving presence wherever the people were, so they had to be carted around, and then set up and chained to the carts so that they didn’t fall over in transit! Quite comical, really. And the Israelites themselves fell for this cult of nothingness.

 The irony is astounding. Whereas the Almighty Creator created humankind in his image, mere humans created idols in their own image hoping by them to control the weather, but which were instead impacted by the weather. Those which were not everywhere present had to be carried around, and chained down so they wouldn’t fall over. And so the ironic reality for those who worshipped these idols is that they are not freed by, but chained by these idols and the worship of them and this is their downfall. For even though these idols had carved eyes they couldn’t see. Even though they had carved mouths they couldn’t speak. They were not life giving. They could not save, but only enslave.

 By contrast, today’s account of the transfiguration clearly portrays Jesus as the true living God. Unlike the little idols that had to be pulled up a mountainside on a trolley, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain to be with him alone. And for a brief shining moment Jesus is shown in the fullness of his glory to indisputably be the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. And that’s the Father’s verification from the cloud: “This is my Son; with him I am well-pleased.”

 This Jesus is the One, who, up until this point in Matthew’s Gospel, has overcome the Devil’s temptation of him in the wilderness, he has healed lepers, the paralysed, and cast out demons from crowds of people. While he was in a boat with his disciples, he effortlessly calmed the storm that was lashing at it by simply telling it to stop. He restores a little girl to life and heals a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years. He restores sight to the blind. He feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. He walks on the sea.

 There is nothing outside the scope of Jesus’ authority and power. So confesses Peter, just before our text today, in Matthew 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 There on the unnamed mountain, for a few moments, the appearance of Jesus is changed so that his glorious divinity is on show. This really is the Son of God, the Saviour, God made flesh who dwelt among us, the One in whom the fullness of God dwells in bodily form. Accompanying this dazzling visual manifestation of God’s glory is the Father’s declaration: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then adds: “Listen to him!”

 Why? Because Peter’s not listening.

 Peter just has to say something. We’ve probably all wished that at times: “If only I knew what to say”. Imagine this spectacular sight; it’s impossible to comprehend; it would be mind-blowing—what would we do or say? Peter blurts out the seemingly bizarre offer: “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

 Peter wants to hang on to the mountain-top experience. He wants to bask in the glory. He hasn’t listened to what Jesus had just told them (for us, the verses immediately before today’s text: that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed—to which Peter replies: “No Lord, that will never happen to you!”—and that his disciples must also lose their lives by dying to self and take up their cross and follow him.

 We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter and the others. We have the benefit of the whole story. We’ve received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost to bring to remembrance everything Jesus had said. They were about to lose their dear friend. They were confused and didn’t understand. They expected Jesus was coming to free them; to save them. How then could Jesus possibly talk of death on a Cross? That hardly sounds like the victory and rescue that people had hoped for and had come to see in Jesus.

 Jesus’ claim that he must suffer and die smacks of failure, defeat, and compromise of God’s mission. How can suffering and death possibly happen to the One who is the agent of salvation? How can Jesus succumb to the very forces that he’s just overcome? Where is victory in a ruler who is going to be brutally murdered? Such humiliation sounds preposterous!

 Jesus’ death is not defeat or failure. The transfiguration is the visual confirmation that the freedom and hope they long for in Jesus will be fulfilled. But glory can only come after the Cross, where his death is the beginning of his victorious rule, once for all. Here Jesus will liberate from sin, Satan and death itself.

 Perhaps, like the disciples, we too have experiences in our faith journey where God does not work in the way we would expect. We might struggle to understand what he is doing—or seemingly not doing—in our lives. We might not like the sound of ‘dying to self’ and ‘taking our Cross’ and following Jesus. But only when we do, do we grow in Christian faith and love and life, becoming more like Jesus himself.

 “This is My Son; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” When our faith journey is not going as we might expect it to, our text today gives us hope in three ways. First, in Christ, God is a personal God. He is a God of communication. A relational God. He has something important to say to us. He wants to speak to us. Unlike carved idols, He can…and does speak.  He wants to talk with us and reveal himself and his saving will to us. “This is my Son; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him.”

 Second, when we do listen to Jesus, we grow in the life of God. When we hold firm to the Word of God and endure in faith to the end, we too will join Peter and James and John and will see Christ face to face in all his glory, not just for a fleeting glimpse but for all eternity. Despite our failings and ways we haven’t taken up our Cross and followed Jesus, but have followed our own heart, or the times we haven’t died to self but revelled in it, through trusting in Christ and his word, we are pronounced righteous, not guilty and we will see Jesus face to face for all eternity and he will say to us, as he did to the terrified disciples: “Do not be afraid.”

 Third, until that time, whenever that day will be, Jesus journeys with us. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” the Father says. When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus came down with them.

 Jesus is on the plain with us too. He is in the wilderness. He is in those parts of our lives where there seems to be no hope of change for the better, those parts of our lives where we just don’t know what to do, who to turn to, or what to pray. Jesus journeys with us in the depths of our despair and brokenness, our illness, our struggles, our grief and pain. He journeys with us and will remain faithful to his promises even in the times we are unfaithful to him.

 How does our appearance need to be transfigured? Where do the commandments painfully show us the areas in our lives where real change needs to come? As we are called to die to self by picking up our cross and following Jesus, hear his comforting words to each of us: “Get up. … Do not be afraid.”

 For he is with us and will remain faithful to his promises to us to the very day when he will take us up the mount and we see him in the fullness of his glory, worshipping him forever in brilliant and dazzling light. There, our mortal bodies will also be transfigured to be completely without sin and frailty. Our face will shine like the sun, our clothes will be as white as the brightest light as we stand in the presence of the Lamb.

 Praise be to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, because all of this is possible only because of him alone. The mountain of transfiguration points ahead to the mountain of Calvary, where Jesus’ blood brought us victory over the devil and released us from our sins.

 His outstretched arms nailed to the wood of the cross are the keys to the gate of Heaven, for us. Nothing else could possibly be added to his sufficient work. Nothing else needs to be. You share in all of this, personally, through your baptism into Christ. By virtue of baptism, we become children of God. That is why the Father’s proclamation about Jesus in our text are his words to us: “You are my son/my daughter whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

 Where else could you possibly find more precious words?


Transfiguration Sunday

Matthew 17:5
A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”

“You are my dearly loved child”

A cellist with the Sarajevo symphony, Vedran Smajlovic, did what he knew best to help the citizens of Sarajevo.  In full evening dress, he took his cello and sat down amidst the rubble, or with the frightened in bomb shelters or those grieving at funerals and played.

He played concert after concert. It was his gift of love to the city. He did it because he felt his community needed hope and encouragement in the face of so much death, destruction and hopelessness.

His music defied the sound of bombing and gunfire and gave people the encouragement to believe that in spite of the death and destruction, a beautiful future was possible.  This kind of hope was his gift to each person to see beyond the darkness of joylessness and insecurity and fear.

In 1984, Sarajevo was the focus of the world as it hosted the Winter Olympics.  Ten years later the sports facilities created for the Olympics were in ruins. The city of Sarajevo was under siege by Serbian forces. Mortars and artillery fire instantly transformed once beautiful buildings into rubble. Sarajevo’s citizens were frightened, weary and increasingly despondent. No one knew when shells would rain down on them and bring more destruction and death. Snipers targeted people on the streets. Countless were killed, wounded and maimed.

Taking the Gospel reading in its context, there were dark and joyless days ahead for both Jesus and the disciples.  Jesus had already started to warn his disciples that there was a rough road ahead. In just a few verses before our text today we hear this, â€œJesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matt 16:21).

We know that Peter didn’t like Jesus talking about fierce opposition, suffering, and being killed by his own people and reprimanded him for speaking this way.  I guess we would do much the same.  If someone we love, who was hale and hearty, suddenly started talking about coming to a violent and sudden end, we would do something similar. 

What made this kind of talk even harder for Peter is that he had just confessed, â€œYou are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It just wouldn’t make any sense if someone as important as the Messiah, the one sent by God, God’s own Son, was to be killed by God’s own chosen people. Besides of what use would a dead messiah be?  This was unthinkable.  Peter had given up everything for Jesus.

We know how Peter felt about the looming dark days ahead.  Jesus had the same kind of feelings and emotions that we have, and so I imagine that the thought of rejection and mockery and the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross made Jesus flinch.  He didn’t deserve treatment like this.  He had only helped people.  He had shown love and kindness.  This kind of treatment is all wrong.  It isn’t fair.

So, he does what he usually does when things get too heavy.  He withdraws – he withdraws to spend time with his heavenly Father.  He goes to a mountain to be alone in prayer. There he meets Moses and Elijah and they talk.  A voice from a bright cloud says, â€œThis is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” 

What happened there on the mountain – his encouraging and supportive chat with Moses and Elijah who put his fears to rest and refocus him on God’s plan to save all people, and then the affirmation from the Father in heaven â€œThis is my dearly loved Son” â€“ all this was like a father putting his arm around his son saying, â€œI know this is an incredibly tough thing for you to do, but you have my support and help.  You won’t be doing this alone”. 

This mountain top experience wasn’t only an encouragement for Jesus.  In just a short time, the disciples will be sitting in the rubble of everything they believed about Jesus.  What they had seen and heard was suddenly blown to pieces.  Their faith was shattered into a thousand pieces.  Everything was turned upside down when Jesus was arrested and then crucified, the disciples were confused and troubled by everything that was taking place. 

And this wouldn’t be the only time when their faith would be challenged.  Rulers and kings would imprison them, people would stone them, others mock and abuse them, they would go hungry and thirsty and be deprived of basic human decency. They needed something like the cellist of Sarajevo to encourage them and give them hope in the middle of everything that was going wrong.

For them it was the image in their minds of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, the divine glow around Jesus, the voice coming from the bright cloud, â€œThis is my dearly loved Son” that gave them courage, hope and a focus. 

We heard Peter talk about the events of that day in our 2nd reading (2 Peter 1:16-18)as if it had happened just yesterday, whereas in actual fact 30 or more years had passed.  This mountain top experience made a lasting impression on him (not many, if any, Gospel events are recalled in the letters of the New Testament in the same vivid way).  The veil of Jesus’ humanity was lifted just a little and his true greatness, his godliness, his honour and glory were revealed.  Something really important was going on through Jesus.

If Peter ever experienced, as we do, days of uncertainty, 
if he ever wondered if he was on the right track, 
if he was ever tempted to go back fishing instead of being an apostle, 
I believe the transfiguration was one of the memories that shed light into his human dilemma.  God was at work and just as Jesus had been encouraged before going to Jerusalem, Peter was confident and full of hope as he faced his own 
Jerusalem whatever that might entail.  His reflection of the transfiguration reminded him, “Yes, Jesus is truly God’s Son.  I know it.  I have seen his divine glory.  I heard the Father call him, “My own dearly loved Son”. Because of what Jesus’ did for me, I am now also a dearly loved son of the Father and he will watch over me always.”

So in the end what does the transfiguration of Jesus offer us today?  
How does this event in Jesus’ life help us?  
Does it have anything to say to us in 2017?

When we come here to worship, we come into God’s presence and the divine is revealed to us. We have our own transfiguration experience. We hear again the Good News of salvation, sins forgiven, the call to discipleship, the promise of eternal life.  In some way, every time we hear God’s Word, celebrate the sacraments, the veil is torn away, and for a moment, we see the glory of the Lord, his will for our lives and our place in his family. 

We celebrate Holy Communion with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven; what a glorious moment.  We gather around the throne of the Lamb and are renewed, revived, strengthened, encouraged and given new hope to face the troubles that confront us in the dark valleys of the week ahead.

When we are burdened with everything that happens in our lives, we are given a glimpse of the One who invites us to load all our burdens and worries on to him – his power is far greater than any problem that we think is insurmountable. He says to us in our particular need, â€œDon’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 NLT).  Hearing words of the Scriptures like that, lifts the gloom that is clouding our lives and assures us of strength that is beyond our strength to cope.  It enables us to deal with troubles that baffle us. We see Jesus’ shining face smiling at us and the Father’s arm embracing us as we remember that we are his children as he says to us, â€œYou are my own dearly loved son or daughter”.

The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that when we are in the nitty gritty of working for God’s kingdom 
when being disciples means making choices that go against the way rest of the world thinks and behaves; 
when loving and caring and being kind is hard work; 
when forgiving and being reconciled with those who hate us goes against everything within us;
when sacrificing for others is considered stupid in this self-centred world;
when others challenge our faith and question God’s part in this crazy and cruel world and we begin to question our own beliefs,
it is just then as we go down the tough road of discipleship that we hear again Jesus’ encouraging words,
 â€œYou are my own dearly loved child who gives me great joy.  Don’t be afraid.  I will be with you.”

When you walk out the doors of this church this morning, nothing very much has changed in our world.  It will be an ordinary, perhaps somewhat uninteresting, February day out there, down there, in the valley, with nothing visibly different from when you came in.

But you will be different. You have been in God’s presence. You have seen the brilliance of your Saviour’s face and his love for you.  You will be different because you have been encouraged and been given hope.  You have heard the word that keeps you going until your next mountain top experience, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.  You are my dearly loved son or daughter.  I will walk with you through the dark and scary places of this world into the brilliant sunshine of eternity”.

And that leads me to finish where I began.  Remember the cello player who used his gift of music to give hope and encouragement to the terrified and grieving people of Sarajevo.  God has given each of us a variety of gifts.  Think about this!  How can we use the gifts God has given us to bring encouragement and hope to others? 
The cellist of Sarajevo certainly stepped out of his comfort zone to give that encouragement.  How can we be more willing and bolder in sharing the love of Christ?

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

High on a mountain by themselves

Mark 9:2-9

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

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

This is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Lent when we are reminded of the revelation of Christ’s glory before His suffering and death. It is also Harvest Thanksgiving, when we give thanks to God for all the good things He has provided us with and offer a portion of His gifts back to Him as thanks. It also is our parish Annual General Meeting, many things we can be thankful for and many things where we try to allow God’s glory to shine, so lots of things today.

One of the many things we thank God for is His Word, and so let’s have a bit of a look at it. Just before this passage we have Jesus asking His disciples who He is, Peter replies, ‘You are the Christ!’ This Jesus was the promised saviour and King, the one who would restore Israel and bring God’s righteousness to the World. After this Jesus teaches His disciples that He will suffer many things, be rejected by the spiritual heads, be killed and after three days rise again. Peter doesn’t think this is very fitting for The Great King of the New Israel and tells Jesus off, Jesus replies with that famous phase, ‘get behind me Satan’.

Then after six days here is our story.

Jesus brings His inner circle, James and John, and this Peter guy, the one who confessed Jesus as the Christ and rebuked Him as well. And so Jesus takes them up this mountain. I’m not going to do this justice, but  … Jesus is transformed before them and becomes brilliantly radiant, you could say the Light of the World, the glory of Jesus is shown to these three disciples. Then there was also Moses and Elijah, two key people of Israel’s past, one the lawgiver and the other the prophet, both talking with Jesus. Peter, terrified by the Glory of Jesus, offers to build tents for the three, so they can stay a while perhaps doesn’t know what he’s saying. Maybe they might be able to guide the people from this Mountain where it appears God’s glory resides with three actual people.

Can you imagine that? Maybe you have a disagreement with your daughter, dad, friend, brother in Christ, and you want it to be resolved, just go up the mountain and ask God. Maybe you don’t know if you should buy that car, date that person, conquer that country, well God’s up that mountain, just line up and ask Him. Or maybe you don’t know what we as a parish should focus on and support, there’s God up there in all His wisdom and speaking in a way we can easily understand.
Sounds great, hey!

But is that God’s plan, to send Jesus to stay here and advise us from this mount on how to keep His law?
Or was it what Peter rebuked Jesus for suggesting? That the Christ must suffer and die, then rise from the dead?

Then comes the part I want us to remember. God’s glory in the cloud covers the mountain, and a voice from heaven booms, “This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him!” This isn’t a suggestion from God, it is a command. Listen to Him!

And what does Jesus say? What do we hear from Him?
Read His teaching, read the gospels, indeed Jesus is the Word of God, so read God’s Word that He has so graciously given us.
Read that it is God who provides everything we need, Deuteronomy 8 (verse 12-14, 18), “when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down,  and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied,  then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God … it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth”.
God grants us life, Job 33 (verse 4), “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
and, of course, salvation and eternal life “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal Life.” John 3:16.

God our Heavenly Father, created all things, this we confess in our creed. To Him we own thanks for all things, most importantly, His beloved Son who saves us by His death and resurrection. We’ll hear that story and promise again in the coming weeks. The promise of Christ.

Listen to Him.

Too often we listen to other things; to advertisements, what you really need is … whatever; to this world, telling us to ‘work harder’, that ‘you need a break’, ‘don’t get caught up about religion, we’re all the same anyway’; we even listen just to ourselves at times, ‘I’m a failure, useless’ or ‘I’m the greatest thing ever! Even better than sliced bread!’ This is not good, it’s not what God has told us to do and it takes us away from Christ’s promises, that promise of salvation, forgiveness and life. Listening to others means we do not hear the Gospel.

So let us hear the Good News that God has given us, Listen to Jesus.

He told Peter, James and John on that mountain to tell about this experience after He had risen from the dead, and so let’s tell our brothers and sisters in Christ about what Jesus has done, about what He has done for us. And be thankful for this, for Jesus’ glory and power shown here, but moreso in the crucifixion and His resurrection. Be thankful for all that God has given us, for all that we have, for our lives and for His sure promises of forgiveness and salvation.

Thank you Father in heaven for all things you give us, help us not forget but rather to listen to your beloved Son, Jesus.
And may the peace of God which passes all our human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham

Listen to him!


Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Matthew 17:5
While Jesus was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!” 

Listen to him!

Every now and then TV programs seek an answer to the question, “Is there life out there in space?”
Back in 2000 in a program called Universe it was stated that with the knowledge that scientists had available they hoped to be able to prove beyond any doubt by 2010 that there is life in space. Well, 2010 has come and gone and I don’t think we are much wiser about extra-terrestrial life.

But suppose for a minute that scientists did find that there is life out there in the universe.
How will that change our understanding of God as the creator of all things?
How will that change our view of God’s relationship with this world and us his special and unique people?

The first thing to note is that even though we continue to learn and discover new things about our world and the universe, none of this changes what we already know and believe about our unchangeable God and his love for you and me.

In fact, the more that we learn the more we realise we are only infants who have almost learned to crawl when it comes to understanding our world and the universe. The more that is discovered, the more questions are opened up and the more we realise that our universe is something that completely blows our mind.

The second thing that becomes clear is that you can’t find God looking through a microscope or a telescope. Neither can we find God on the golf course and in the most magnificent place on this earth – a place with a gentle waterfall, mossy banks, over-arching ferns and trees and the sound of the birds in the distance. It might be a place oozing with coolness, peace and serenity – a sharp contrast to traffic snarls, bickering children, blaring TV and our crazy pace of life. As godlike or as heavenly as we might think this place is, we can’t find God in the beauty of nature or the amazing discoveries of science.

The truth is this – unless we know God as he is revealed in the Bible, unless we know of his wonderful love and his creative power, and his determination to save all that is beautiful and wonderful in this world through the Word, we will not realise that there is an all-powerful, ever-loving, always-present, always-embracing creating and saving God behind all that is beautiful in this world. More than that, that he is even there in all that is ugly and horrible in our world. It is only when know God from the pages of the Bible that we can give him praise in all circumstances.

The third thing we realise is that we can scour the universe, have great knowledge and understanding, and still not know God. There is a lot more to our world and universe that what we can see, smell, hear and touch. In the end we have to admit that knowledge can take us so far until we come up against something so big we cannot fathom. It’s the point where reasoning stops, we say “wow” and faith takes over. We know from the Bible this “big thing” is God – the powerful, timeless, creative, intelligent, so big that nothing can contain him, and yet, so caring, personal, compassionate, and never-ending loving God.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus. What has all this got to do with Jesus’ transfiguration? We are told how Jesus’ appearance changed and his clothes became dazzling white and how he chatted with Moses and Elijah. Then there was the voice that spoke from a cloud, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!” 

Let’s look at it this way. We all need oxygen. With every breath of air, we take in the oxygen that our bodies need. Oxygen is also present in water, but we can’t use the oxygen in the water. It’s not available to us.

Like the oxygen in the water, God is there in nature, in science, but he’s not available to us there. If you want to know God don’t stare at a waterfall or a tree or a sunset. If you want to know God don’t look in amazement at a newborn baby, or look through a microscope or gaze into space through a telescope. As you look at all that is beautiful in our world, I can point you to just as much that is cruel, ugly, distorted and dangerous that will make you question whether there is a God.

If you want to really know God, gaze at the Word made flesh. God has made himself known to us in his Son. It is through his Son that God shows himself to us. In this man, Jesus, is the God of the universe, whom science cannot find but who is present here on earth as a human being and suffered everything we humans suffer. It is through God’s Son that we see what God is really like. We see the heart of God – his love, his compassion, his grace and forgiveness.

We hear the voice of God the Father coming from a cloud. The voice says, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!”  Jesus is God’s own Son. He is more than a man; he is God himself. He is “The Beloved”, a messianic title; he is the one who has been longed for over many centuries and whom Moses and Elijah had just honoured. This is the Messiah. He is God here on this earth.   This is as close as anyone can get to God in a physical sense. This is the divine standing right in front of the disciples and the voice from heaven commands, “Listen to him”.

It’s no wonder the disciples were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground. They were so unholy; he was so holy.

We aren’t in the fortunate position of the disciples on the mount of transfiguration, where we can see the holiness of Jesus face to face in real life, but we can listen to him. During these past weeks we have come face to face with the divine as we have listened to Jesus speak to us through his the Sermon on the Mount. Right near the beginning, he says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” and then proceeds to explain how this works in the everyday life of a follower of Christ.

Whether it’s seeking reconciliation instead of revenge,
loving your enemies,
praying for those who hate you,
giving to the needy without expecting a reward,
avoiding judging others,
making friends with those you don’t like,
he makes it quite plain that the values and principles of a Christian are very different to those of the rest of the world.

As followers of Christ we stand out and make a difference in our families or the community in which we live and to the world around us. It’s not a matter of going along with flow but it means letting the light of Christ shine through us and letting his love and mercy and peace rule the day.
It means holding back on the harsh words and letting love rule.
It means not getting back but seeking reconciliation.
It means praying for those who are giving you a hard time and avoiding bad mouthing those you don’t agree with;
forgiving those who hurt you;
and loving those who hate you.

“Listen to him”, the voice of the Father said from the cloud. This is God revealing his will for us. This is God speaking to us and showing us how to live the way he created us to be before sin messed things up. This is the way he recreated us to be when he called us into his family. Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” or as another version puts it “Live out your God–created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (The Message) (Matt 5:48).

“But I can’t do this!” you might object. “I try but I mess things up all the time. I want to love those who don’t like me, but it’s so hard”.

“Listen to him”, the voice of the Father said from the cloud. Jesus is about to walk the road to Jerusalem for the last time. This is the road of suffering and death; the road of sin and shame; the road of tears and cries of grief and pain. The one who is called “The Beloved” is God who came to bring forgiveness to us
for our failure to live the new life;
for our failure to let the light of Christ shine through us;
for those moments when we aren’t any different to the world and our need for revenge, and pride, and speaking unkindly get the better of us.

“Listen to him” when he says,
“Your sins are forgiven”;
“you are my child, I will never give up on you”;
“when you are in the deepest despair, I am right there beside you”;
“when you think no-one else cares for you, you are my precious child”;
“when you are afraid and need to walk down dark paths, I will walk with you”.
“Listen to him”, the voice says. Listen to his words that he speaks to you directly and personally through the pages of the scriptures and through mouths of others.

We live in a marvellous world and an amazing universe but even greater than all the mysteries and wonders of creation is the one who made it all. God is all powerful and far beyond anything we can imagine in all our wildest dreams and yet he is a God who has come amongst us and has spoken to us. He has revealed himself to us through his beloved Son and shown to us how we can be his beloved children shining in our world.

After the voice had spoken the disciples looked around and saw no one except Jesus. When we listen to him we too will see no one but Jesus.
We will see his hand at work in creation.
We will see his hands with nails driven through them for us;
we will see hands raised in blessing over us;
we will see him in the joys and tears of life,
in fact, we will see him everywhere, for he fills the entire universe.
It is then that we will see him in the microscope and telescope, in the beauty of a flower and in an amazing sunset.


Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Listen to Him


Luke 9:28-36


Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may listen to your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

StMarksWhen pastors are at Seminary/ Australian Lutheran College, they are taught to ask a number of questions which can be very helpful when looking at bible texts.

One question is: What’s the picture?

This question helps, because many people learn and work visually. We like to visualize something in order to fully understand it. Then, when we understand the picture, the Scriptures aren’t just words on a page, but become real scenes and real people who live and breathe and still talk to us even today. Once we understand the picture, and even put ourselves into the picture, we can more easily apply it to our own life.

For example: in regard to this text, it can be helpful to put ourselves into the shoes of the disciples, who saw Jesus start glowing (which we’ll come back to later), standing with two men, who were understood to be Moses and Elijah, who hadn’t been around for hundreds of years! On top of this, a cloud suddenly appears and a heavenly voice commands them to listen to Jesus because he’s God’s own Son.

Can you imagine what that would look like?

With this picture in mind – and if you’re a little familiar with God’s Word – you might also start seeing some things which are more than coincidences. These things were happening on a mountain, and other important revelations of God have also happened on mountains, such as Moses receiving God’s commands on Mount Sinai, and Elijah seeing the back of God on a mountain.

Hang on! These men are the same ones who have heard God speak previously on mountaintops! Maybe it’s more than a coincidence these particular men are here! They’ve received God’s commands and God’s prophetic Word, and right now they’re speaking with Jesus about his departure. Or do they in fact use another word? In the Greek, they call it his ‘exodus.’

Well, that reminds us of the great salvation event in the Old Testament where Moses leads God’s people out of the land of slavery to the point of entering the Promised Land – that land which was flowing with milk and honey. And here they talk to Jesus about his exodus. Is he going to lead people from slavery into a new land of perfection and peace?

These are just a few examples on how all these pictures start coming together to help us understand more deeply what’s going on.

Another question pastors are taught is: What’s unexpected here?

This is important because for many of us who have heard God’s word for many years, we don’t find God’s Word surprising anymore. We’ve heard it all before. Sometimes we even consider it boring! We’re tempted to switch off and think about something else.

So, it can help to ask ourselves what’s so surprising in our text, and we don’t have to go very far before we realize something was happening to Jesus which would have totally freaked us out!

I mean, when was the last time you saw someone’s face start glowing? And I’m not talking about that proud glow of a pregnant woman, but a literal white glow coming from inside a person as if the sun was inside them!

Wow! No wonder the disciples didn’t know what they were saying, because we don’t usually have a ready response to seeing someone glow!

I mean, if someone sneezes, we might respond ‘bless you’, or if someone asks ‘how are you today’, you might respond ‘fine’ (even if you’re not), but because people’s faces don’t generally start glowing from within, we don’t know how to respond (except, you could say ‘hey, nice glow, man!’).

It’s unexpected. It takes us by surprise. It should still surprise us today because it doesn’t normally happen!

So, what does this glow mean? Does this mean Jesus is more than just a man? Was this glow to show he’s more than what meets the eyes? Did it show a glimpse of his divinity? And if so, why now?

And, how come Moses and Elijah were there? Weren’t they supposed to be dead? Or does this indicate God in fact isn’t a God of the dead, but a God of the living? Why were they there and not Noah, David, or Jonah? What do Moses and Elijah represent? What did they do which is similar to what Jesus was about to do? Why were they the people of the past sent to encourage Jesus on his journey to the cross?

You see what I mean? When you start asking what’s unexpected in a text, you start asking interesting questions. It’s like unlocking a mystery. You become curious and hungry for more because you want to hear some answers.

It doesn’t mean you’ll always receive a satisfactory answer, but in your digging and looking for what’s unexpected, you might find some hidden gems which lead you to grow in your faith and understanding.

Another question, which is helpful in devotion or sermon preparation is: what human problem is God speaking to here?

Well, one possibility is that we humans just don’t get it, and because we don’t get it, we miss the mark in our response to it.

Now, what on earth am I talking about?

Did you notice the disciple’s response to this most amazing and unexpected encounter with our God in human flesh and his deputies Moses and Elijah? What did they want to do? They wanted to build structures so this once-in-a-lifetime moment would last.

We humans just don’t get it!

No sooner does God give us a glimpse of his divinity than we immediately want to enshrine it. We want to capture it, keep it, and market it. The disciples thought this was a pretty important moment in history and wanted this moment to last.

We do the same.

For example, have you ever been on a holiday or camp and received such inspiring moments you wanted to bring it back into your daily life so you can receive a high whenever you want?

Have you ever visited another church, or heard a moving song, or heard some charismatic speaker and wondered why we can’t package them up and bring them here so we can experience this again and again?

Have you ever been disappointed whenever you’ve tried to re-create something and it didn’t work the way you hoped, and it may have even lost it’s ‘specialness’?

Then, if it doesn’t work like before, do you beat yourself up because you must have done something wrong, or you take it out on everyone else around you because it has to be their fault your special experience isn’t as great as it used to be?

Do you then unfairly judge and criticize people because they don’t want to do what you want and therefore they’re stopping you from receiving the spiritual highs you had previously?

If only we could capture the spiritual highs and re-create them with the right traditions, the right freedoms, the right buildings, the right speakers, the right music, and the right places! Why can’t we re-live our spiritual highs whenever we want?

Because we don’t get it. We think it’s about keeping a gift as if it’s ours to keep, rather than receiving it and thanking God for that moment and looking forward to his next surprising revelation.

Instead of enshrining this precious moment in history, what’s the one instruction God gave the disciples at the extraordinary event?

‘Listen to him.’

What do we struggle to do most in our life?

Listen to him.

We’d rather sing our favourite hymn or song than listen to him. We’d rather the sermons and readings were shorter so we don’t have to listen to him. We’d rather do something else on Sunday than listen to him. We’d rather read the paper or get on with our day than read the bible for a couple of minutes in the morning. We’d rather watch our favourite soap or the News or something else on TV than listen to him at our evening devotions.

We don’t get it, and sometimes we don’t want it. There’s a spiritual battle going on, and our faith is the casualty.

One of the biggest problems facing the church today is biblical illiteracy. This means those who come regularly to worship might listen to the readings and the sermon, and yet still don’t know the story of salvation. Many people have their own bibles (maybe even more than one translation), but hardly ever open them to see what’s inside them.

God said to his disciples, ‘Listen to him’, and unfortunately many good Christians fail that simple instruction! Most of us have lovely bibles at home, but not every page has seen the light of day!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we believe all Scripture is breathed by God and is given to us for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). The Word of God is our life-breath as Christians. As we hear what God’s saying to us in his Word, listening for what’s unexpected, understanding the pictures he gives us, and allowing the Holy Spirit to inspire us, we slowly start to get it.

We start to get what Jesus was about to do in his exodus; how he was going to the cross in order to die in our place and grant us forgiveness of sins through the shedding of his innocent and holy blood; how he was going on a journey to lead his people from slavery to sin through the wilderness of suffering and death into the Promised Land of eternal life with him in heaven; how he will sustain us in our own earthly journey through life by speaking to us through his Word; how he will also sustain our faith through his physical gifts of grace of Baptism and Holy Communion, which have been touched by his living and powerful Word; and how his Words still give us direction and comfort.

Can we all take up the challenge this coming Lenten season to listen to him? Can we dust off our Bibles, open them, read them, meditate on them, discuss them, and respond in prayer to what he’s saying to us? His Word is the life-breath for our faith and salvation.

May we all learn to listen to him so that…

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

This is the day

“This is the day that the Lord has made”

Mark 9:2-9Pastor Steve

In Japan there is a mountainous area that for centuries that has been called something that translates into “The place where you leave your mother”. It is named that because of an ancient custom of taking the very old and feeble up to the top of a mountain and leaving them there. A thick forest grows up this mountains side and on a day long ago a strong young man was carrying an aged wisp of a women on his back through the dense forest. As they moved upward, the young man noticed that his mother was reaching out and breaking small branches. “Why are you doing that mother?” he asked. She looked at him with eyes that were dimmed by everything except love, and said: “So you will not become lost on the way back, my son.”

An act of love not unlike what is experienced by the three disciples on that mountain top with Jesus. An event brought about by God the Father to reveal to them the truth of his Son Jesus. To reveal but for a moment the truth behind what is then and what will be. To reveal but for a moment the concealed splendour of his Son and the revelation that this is the one who they have been foretold of in Chapter 8, verse 38 of “He who will come at the end of this age in the glory of His Father with the Holy angels.”

An act of revelation to them of what is and what will be that they can draw on and trust in when they descend that mountain to find themselves confused and in fear as their leader hang from a cross and a revelation they can draw from after the resurrection to give themselves the strength and commitment to be themselves spat on, abused, persecuted and put to death as they too follow in footsteps of their Lord and Saviour and bring His truth to the world.

On that mountaintop they did not understand as surely as they would not when they see their leader, Jesus the Christ, the promised messiah, the man they followed doing miraculous miracles and speaking with unparalleled love and wisdom willingly walk like a lamb to the slaughter into the hornets’ nest to be beaten, whipped, ridiculed and be killed in a manner reserved for the worst of criminals.

Yet a precursor to the moment when all will become clear to the apostles as their minds are opened to understand what was in the Old Testament and what has come in the new. To see that at both on the top of that mountain and at the base of the cross they have seen God’s plan for our salvation come to fruition.

To understand the times leading to Christ. To know the realization of Christ as the messiah, the Savior and the mediator to God who has solved our problem of sin and brought us life and freedom – eternally and here now on our earthly home.

To see not a God that speaks in private like when to Elijah in his mountaintop experience or like to Moses on Mount Sanai when he received the Ten Commandments.  God the Father  whom when talking to Moses on Mount Sinai, said “You cannot see My face; for no person shall see Me, and live, so while My glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I shall take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen”.

God the Father protecting Moses from the result of human sin that if exposed directly to the Holiness of God, would have seen Moses like a piece of paper to a raging fire.

Yet here in the Gospel, Jesus the Son of God, the Word, the messiah and the Holy one that all have been waiting for is standing there on the mountain top next to three normal human beings-Peter, James and John.

What a great God is God The Father to not let our sin destroy us, but let us destroy His Son that we now can come here today in his presence clothed in the righteousness of his Son and kneel before Him at His alter and know the truth of not a God who looks to pay back rightful judgment for our transgressions, but our God who in Christ has taken the judgment on himself that we may receive his unending and bottomless amount of compassion, love and forgiveness.

On that mountain God told the disciples “This is my loved Son, listen to Him” and though they did, we know that standing at the foot of the cross before the resurrection they at the very least did not fully understand.

Here in God’s house, before his alter and in our lives we stand at both the base of our Savior’s cross and alongside side Him in His resurrection and heed the call that we listen to Him as His sheep who hear His voice, who He knows and that follow Him, who to I give eternal life, and that shall never perish, nor neither shall anyone snatch you out of His hand”

We listen and hear Him say: “My peace I give to you; (but) not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”.

Because: “Whoever believes in Me will not perish but have eternal life”

And “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed”

Martin Luther stated, “Faith is a living, daring confidence on God’s Grace, So sure and certain that a person could stake their life on it a thousand times”.

A thousand times we could, but for God the Father one life was enough, and that life was His Son. His life that is built both heaven and earth and His life that is built yours.

A life not of hopelessness, but off hope. A life that sees you look in the mirror and see not a reflection of earthly anguish, but of God the Father seen through His Son Jesus hearing our weeping and catching our tears that they not well up and drown us despair, but see Him reach out with  His hands of Grace that flow through our lives.

The grace that gives us ears to hear on our last day “a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

And the faith that gives us ears to hear and hearts and minds to know His grace that sees us able to rejoice and sing out His praises as we dwell in our days here with our Lord, on this earth.

You are people of the Lord, and that God who did not spare his Son is for you, you can rejoice and be glad in all things because like those still walking this earth on its last day will see His arrival ushering in the dawn of the new heaven and the new earth, so too today at the rising of the sun the Lord seeks  that our hearts not be troubled nor afraid, but to know that we can we raise our heads and live in His peace and rejoice in the precious years, days or moments that have been given to us. Praise be to God. Amen