Billy Graham said “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will have just changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God”.
Well Billy Graham, one of the world’s greatest evangelists who has brought many many many people to a living faith in Jesus Christ and has preached to more people than anyone else in history, changed his address on Wednesday, to live more fully in God’s presence and start a new life with him that continues that faith journey and promise of everlasting life in Christ.
In his last mission in 2005 Billy Graham proclaimed:
“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Saviour, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,”
One of his most memorable quotes for me was very simple. “You can’t change your past, but Christ can change your past”. You see in Christ the sins of the past that we bring to him are forgiven and the penalty paid by him on the cross, so that we are clothed in Christ, we are hidden in Christ. Christ is in us and we are in him. We live new lives in him. It is an amazing love story of God for people. As Justin Welby said when he was talking about the revelations of who his Father had turned out to be, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes”.
Billy Graham changed his address at the age of 99 to be more fully in God’s presence and at the age of 99, Abram (Genesis 17.1-7,15,16) sat in God’s presence as God came to him and told him “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my promises between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting promise, to be God to you and to your offspring after you”. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham meaning the ‘Father of a multitude’ and he changed Abraham’s wife’s name to Sarah saying ‘I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ In return Abraham was asked to be blameless and to be faithful in every way to the Lord God. It is an incredible story of new life that is blessed by God and age has no limits when it comes to serving our Lord
The point that Paul makes in his letter to the Romans (Romans 4.13-25) is that God’s promises to Abraham are not just for the Jewish people who are righteous or right with God, but for all nations and for all people who are made right with God through the sacrifice on the cross of God’s son Jesus Christ. There are echoes of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac, a gift from God, as a test of his faithfulness to God’s commands. Abraham is saved from carrying out this command, but God gives his only son in sacrifice for us so that his promises to bring all people and all nations to him are met. All can know God’s love for them through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our past sins and faults so that through faith we can know him as our Lord and our Saviour and become right with God through faith in his resurrection. A living faith and presence of Christ in our lives.
Imagine then how hard it was for Jesus to turn towards Jerusalem where he would go to meet this horrific and painful death on a cross (Mark 8.31-38). This wasn’t a change of address for Jesus, this was actual death, a separation from God his Father, an experience of hell, a blackness and a darkness that is intolerable until his Father rescues him and raises him to new life so that all that follow Christ in their hearts will not know that death but will know this change of address like Billy Graham.
Imagine how hard it was for Jesus to hear those words from Peter, which Matthew’s Gospel tells us, ‘God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you’. No wonder Jesus turns to him and says ‘Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things’. Without this journey of Jesus to the cross we would not know God’s love for each one of us, we would be separated from it. Death would be death not a change of address.
But we are a lot like Peter aren’t we? We do set our mind on human things and not on divine things. We get lost in the melee of life. Thank goodness we can get to Church and have an hour and a bit focusing on the divine!
In the melee of life, there is a living to make, a home to keep, a garden to look after, children to be cared for, exams to be passed, food to cook, traffic to deal with, illnesses to be coped with, health to be taken care of, ageing to come to terms with, families to deal with, arguments to settle, trauma around the world and life to be led. Aren’t these human things? Well yes, until we see Christ in them and ask him to be part of them.
Paul’s words to the Church in Corinth tells us about the divine in the human. “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
In Jesus there is reconciliation, there is wholeness and healing for all Creation. Sometimes in our journey of faith in Christ, we need reminding that through our faith in Christ, God is present in our human circumstances. I have often appreciated the prayers of others for me when life’s circumstances become difficult, or I have decisions and choices to make, or I am ill, or concerned about a family member, in my anxiety I can lose the connection with God and I need someone to pray for me in Jesus name, on my behalf.
Sometimes all it needs is someone with a gift to pray for healing, to listen and to care and to show compassion and to bring prayers on my behalf to God in Jesus Name. Sometimes it might be that there is a prophetic word to give to me, that God actually wants to encourage me or to say something to me and I need someone to facilitate this for me in Jesus name.
Prayers for Wholeness and Healing are about the divine in the human, they are about our relationship with God, they are about our spiritual and physical needs, they are about our need for peace in the midst of anxieties, they are about us seeing the divine in the human.
I am delighted to announce today that we are launching a prayer team who will be present in our 10am Communion services to listen to us and to pray for us in Jesus name. This prayer does not take away any prayer that you would like from the Clergy.
Paul tells us that “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” It is into our human lives that the divine grace is given to us, even in suffering and sometimes we need help and to be prayed for.
Our prayer team have themselves been examining in front of God their calling to pray for others in a confidential, unconditional, non-judgemental and compassionate way and they have undertaken a course on Wholeness and Healing Prayer and also a course on Safeguarding from the Diocese.
Billy Graham’s words are worth repeating. “I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Saviour, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,” Amen