The Keys of St. Peters

Sermon: Balancing Your Spiritual Ledger (Phil. 3:4b-14).

Text: Philippians 3:4b-14
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost / Proper 22, Series A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A story is told of the nineteenth-century Anglican pastor, poet and theologian John Keble. As a young Oxford don in the early years of the century, he held at one point the office of college bursar. Few clergy then, or now for that matter, were trained in the art of balancing columns of figures; and in one particular year Keble’s accounts were stubbornly out of balance by nearly two thousand pounds. Eventually he figured out why the ledger was out of balance. He noticed that the date written at the top of the page was an exact match for how much the books were out. He had accidentally added the number of the year—it must have been somewhere near 1820—into one of the columns of figures.

There are many methods of creative accounting, but normally balancing the books is a matter of putting together a certain number of items on the credit side, a large number of items on the debit side, and calculating them to see how close they come. That’s the picture Paul is working with in our epistle reading.

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Newsletter: October 2020

Stop Complaining!

A medical survey suggests that chronic complainers live longer than people who are always sweet and serene. It claims that their cantankerous spirit gives them a reason to live. Each morning they get up with a fresh challenge to see how many things they can find to grumble about, and they derive great satisfaction from making others miserable. I question whether those who complain actually do outlive those who don’t. Maybe it just seems that way to everybody around them. I’m sure it seemed that way to Moses. As you read the book of Numbers, you can almost hear Moses groaning. The people complained against him in Egypt; they complained against him at the Red Sea; they complained against him on the way to Sinai, and they have complained against him on the way from Sinai. It seems like every morning the Israelites got up with a fresh challenge to see how many things they could find to complain about Moses. They did little else for forty years but grumble and complain. When we read these stories we wonder how they could complain so much.
The constant complaining of Israel in the wilderness was on the Apostle Paul’s mind when he wrote, “There must be no grumbling and disputing in anything you do. That way, nobody will be able to fault you, and you’ll be pure and spotless children of God in the middle of a twisted and depraved generation. You are to shine among them like lights in the world, clinging on to the word of life,” (Phil. 2:14-16 NTE). Paul sees the church as the people of the new Exodus. We were brought out of the Egypt of sin and death through the Passover action of God in Jesus, and now we’re on the way home to the real promised land. And this time we should get it right. That remains the challenge before the church today just as in the first century.

As Christians who continue to struggle with sin, it can be easy at times to fall into a habit of complaining about things. Complaining satisfies our sinful nature. However, when the Israelites complained, they failed to see the countless ways God continued to sustain them. The same may be true of us. Complaining displays a lack of trust in God, and a problem deep within the heart. We can fail to see that, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him,” (Small Catechism II:1-2). Instead of complaining, we should be thanking and praising Him, serving and obeying Him.

We must remember that when the Israelites were complaining, it was not just against God, but against Moses, the leader whom God had appointed for them. “There’s nothing to drink, Moses! We want meat, Moses! I have blisters on my feet, Moses. Who died and put you in charge? Are we there yet, Moses?” God has given us pastors who are called and ordained to be our shepherds. Instead of complaining about our pastors, we should remember that, “they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you,” (Heb. 13:17 NRSV).

How did God react to all this complaining? God severely punished them for their complaining. He sent fire to devour them (Num. 11). He forbade the entire lot of them from entering the Promised Land (Num. 14). He made the earth open and swallowed some alive (Num. 16). He sent poisonous serpents to bite them (Num. 21). God does not like complaining. He doesn’t like when we complain against him or those whom he has appointed to be leaders. What did Moses and the people do when they felt God’s displeasure at their complaining? “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people,” (Num. 21:7 NRSV; cf. 11:11; 14:13). Notice the Israelites confessed. They confessed that their complaining against Moses was also against God. They also confessed that by complaining they had sinned. Moses prayed for them, and God relented and forgave them.

Our self-centred hearts love to take control through the machinery of complaining. What ways might the you be tempted to grumble or complain? The next time any of us are tempted to complain, we should follow the example of Moses and the people of Israel. Stop complaining! Confess your sins. Receive God’s forgiveness, and lay all your problems at the feet of the Lord in prayer. We can follow the example of David who wrote, “With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him,” (Psalm 142:1–2 NRSV). Jesus himself invites you to do so: “Are you having a real struggle? Come to me! Are you carrying a big load on your back? Come to me—I’ll give you a rest! Pick up my yoke and put it on; take lessons from me! My heart is gentle, not arrogant. You’ll find the rest you deeply need. My yoke is easy to wear, my load is easy to bear,” (Matt. 11:28-30 NTE).

Though God has every right to complain about us, yet he invites us to come to him and lay our complaints before him in prayer. We can lay our complaints before him in prayer because, “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” (Rom. 8:34 NRSV). Moses prayed for the Israelites and God relented. Jesus, who bore your sins upon the Cross and rose again the third day, has ascended into heaven where he pleads your case before God the Father. Because Jesus ever lives to intercede for us, we can be confident that our cries, complaints, and groaning are heard by God. Christ lifted high upon the Cross, suffered and died so that through his shed blood, you might be forgiven. Since this God has been so long-suffering with us miserable sinners, we can be long-suffering with one another. So, let’s stop complaining, and start praying instead.

Sermon: Which son are you? (Matthew 21:23-32)

Text: Matthew 21:23-32
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost / Proper 21, Series A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are often told that the parables of Jesus demonstrate that he was a marvellously storyteller. The parables are not really designed to entertain us, but to get us to think. The parable in our Gospel reading this morning reminds me of a common occurrence in my household involving my two sons. It will be time for dinner, and I’ll call the boys to come sit down and eat. One of them will joyfully come to the table and patiently sit. The other boy will refuse to come to the table at all. He only arrives at the table with much wailing and physical resistance. But then, once the dinner is actually served, the boy who came to the table will cheerfully and without hesitation refuse to actually eat his dinner, while the boy who was only brought to the table kicking and screaming, eagerly gobbles his food up. One put on a show of listening, the other changed his mind. In a similar fashion, Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders a parable about two sons. This parable is intended to demonstrate both the religious leaders spiritual shortcomings, and also their need for repentance. Read More

Sermon: Welcoming Those Who Differ

Series: Romans / Romans 14:1-12
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost / Proper 19, Series A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are things which God commands, and there are things which God forbids. That’s fairly obvious. What are some things which God commands? God commands us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Lk 10:27). He commands us to to preach his word, and proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name (Lk 24:45-47). He commands us to baptise and teach (Mt 28:18-20). He commands us to receive Christ’s Body and Blood with bread and wine (1 Co 11:23-29). The list goes on. What are some things which God forbids? We know that God forbids murder and theft (Ex. 20:13, 15). He forbids sexual immorality (1 Co 6:18). He forbids drunkenness, jealousy, and quarrelling (Gal 5:19-21). Of course there are more. What about that grey area? What about the things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden? People can use different liturgies in their worship. They can have different hymnals. Some sing old hymns and some sing new hymns. Pastors can wear different types of gowns in worship services. Some bow and some don’t. Some can’t drink alcohol; others do so without guilt. Some fast for Lent, and others don’t.

Things that don’t matter: that’s where Christians tend to fight each other. Curiously, the things that don’t matter seem to matter to us much more than they matter to God. It was things that didn’t matter that became a point of contention in the Church in Rome. The way St. Paul the Apostle addressed the situation in the first century can help us when we start fighting about things that don’t matter. Read More

Sermon: Loving our Neighbours 
by Listening to Government (Romans 13:1-10)

Series: Romans / Romans 13:1-10
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost / Proper 18, Series A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What do you owe? To whom do you owe it? When I ask that question, most assume I’m speaking about money. According to the Bank of Canada, the average Canadian owes over $1.70 for every dollar of income they earn per year, after taxes. For most Canadians debt is a fact of life, at least at some point. We borrow to buy houses, cars, smart phones, food, medicine, clothes, appliances. College students take on staggering debts to finance their education. Churches borrow immense sums to erect buildings. Debt can be a tool that allows people to smooth out their spending throughout their life. Besides monetary debt we recognise that there are other types of debt. Consider personal debt for instance. If someone does you a favour, you may reply by saying, “I owe you one!” Or, the opposite might happen. They may tell you, “You owe me one.” Debt comes in various forms. St. Paul in our epistle reading talks about a certain debt that all humanity owes. There is a massive debt which is always owed and can never be settled. In fact, our Christian life and conduct, and our duties to society have their basis in this debt which we owe. Read More

Sermon: Loving Those Who Hurt Us

Series: Romans / Romans 12:9-21
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost / Proper 17, Series A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The headline said one word, in thick black letters right across the top of the front page: REVENGE. The story was a classic tale of spurned love. A woman’s husband had cheated on her and went off with her best friend. She bided her time, waiting for her opportunity and then killed them both, not instantly but in a way which allowed her to extract maximum satisfaction by giving them maximum terror. It was a nasty, sorry, sordid story. But I think the reason why it made the front page was because deep down a lot of us know someone we would like to ‘get even with’. Even more troubling, at any given moment there is likely someone who would love to take revenge on us. The desire for revenge is like a deep itch somewhere right down inside. The media knows that if we can’t scratch that itch ourselves we like hearing about someone else who could and did. Read More

Newletter: September 2020

Patience

It’s most commonly believed that the phrase “patience is a virtue” originated from the poem, “Piers Plowman”, which is said to have been written around AD 1360 by English poet William Langland. One line in the poem states that “patience is a fair virtue.” We tend to use this phrase as a sort of exhortation to someone being impatient. But what is patience? What is a virtue for that matter?

The Greek word used in our Bibles that we translate as patience “refers to steadfastness and perseverance under certain circumstances” and an “unyielding, defiant perseverance in the face of aggressive misfortune” (Radl 1990, 3:405). Luther’s friend and fellow reformer Melanchthon says that patience “is obeying God in enduring adversities… and not being broken down” (Loci 1559, 514). A virtue is what happens when you have trained yourself to behave in a certain way, and it may eventually become second nature (Wright 2010, 20; Loci 1559, 507). Putting this all together, when we say that “patience is a virtue” we’re saying that if we are enduring difficult circumstances, misfortunes, or hard times, patience should be our response. It is something that we have to cultivate and discipline in ourselves. But, it is not just that patience is something worth cultivating, but it is also something that God himself grows in us, since patience is one of the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

We live in a world that wants everything immediately. There is an immediacy which the latest technology and media have given us that fosters impatience. We order something on Amazon and expect it within days. We send a text message or email and become agitated when we do not receive a response within a given period of time. We cannot seem to wait patiently very well anymore as a society.

St. James encouraged Christians going through severe trials to have patience. “My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything” (James 1:2-4, NTE). Paul similarly writes about patience, “We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a wellformed character, and a character like that produces hope. Hope, in its turn, does not make us ashamed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NTE).

Like those to whom James and Paul wrote, there are many in our own congregation who are enduring situations which require patience. Some may have health issues. Others may have financial issues. Some may be trying to juggle a busy work and family life. Of course there are also those who are facing the trials of increased age. In these situations, and more besides, we need to learn to cultivate patience.

With the Coronavirus epidemic now nearing half a year, the need for patience has never been greater. We need to have patience with one another as we all seek to work our way through situations we have not had to encounter before. We need to have patience with our neighbours, because we do not know what they are going through. We need to show patience with our government, and those working to serve us in our communities. We need to show patience with those who are trying to lead our Church family through this time, all the while still reach our community with the Gospel. We are all ready for this to be over, but we need to be patient.

We need to train ourselves to not let life wear us down. We should not give way to grief, despair, anger, resentment, or discontentment, but instead take a deep breath, and wait on God. These situations test our faith. How far does our trust in God go? Will we trust in Jesus “come hell or high water”? Are you only going to trust in Jesus while the going is good? Will you trust Jesus even when the dark clouds gather and all looks bleak? This is where patience comes in. Remember, God “has been truly affected by His concern for our troubles” (Loci 1559, 357). God has shown you just how concerned he is for you by showing you His own Son. God did this so that you may be certain of His mercy towards you. God promises His help and deliverance to those who “call upon him in every trouble”. We should have patience because God has been incredibly patient with us poor, miserable, sinners. By our sins we have justly deserved God’s present and enteral punishment. Yet God not only has patience with us and our many failings, but he forgives us and helps us endure whatever comes our way. Jesus Christ, even though he could have destroyed his enemies in a blink of an eye, bore their cruel torture with patience, and even prayed for his enemies. He endured this so that God could forgive and be patient with you. You are reconciled to God through the cross of Christ and nothing can take away the hope of Eternal life from us. Though this life is often deeply painful, we can hold our heads high and have patience with others because of God’s patience towards us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Works Cited:

Wright, N. T. 2010. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperCollins.
Wright, N. T. 2011. The New Testament For Everyone. London: SPCK. [NTE]
Melanchthon, Philip. 2011. The Chief Theological Topics: Loci Praecipui Theologici 1559. Second English edition. Translated by J. A. O. Preus. St. Louis: Concordia. [Loci 1559].
Radl, W. 1990. “ὑπομονή.” Pages 405-406 in vol. 3 of Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by H. Blaz and G. Schneider. English Edition. 3 vols. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Sermon: Our Sacrificial Life (Romans 12:1-2)

Text: Romans 12:1-2
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 16A
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you were to examine the oldest records on earth, you’ll find that sacrifice often formed a part of many ancient religions. In fact, it’s a nearly universal idea that in order to be pardoned, or to be blessed and receive the aid of your deity, you needed to offer something to obtain it. The ancient Israelites also had a whole range of sacrifices they offered to the Lord. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and on various ever-recurring occasions, the altars of the temple ran with blood from the dead bodies of slain beasts and birds. The temple was a veritable slaughter-house. But Christianity said, “No more of this!” When Christians think about sacrifice, we think about what Jesus has done for us on the cross. But, is that the end of the story? Is the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross the only sacrifice which Christians should talk about? In our epistle reading from Romans, the Apostle Paul talks about a kind of sacrifice which all Christians must still offer. Read More

Sermon: God’s Mercy For All (Romans 11)

Text: Romans 11:13-24, 28-32
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 15A)
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!’ We’ve all heard that phrase. It originally came from western movies, and now has become a stock phrase used to emphasise that two rival characters cannot coexist. But, this stock phrase can be descriptive of very real situations where rivalry and conflict arise. Sometimes it’s in an office where two managers are both wanting their plans to go ahead. Sometimes it’s in a sports team where two players both want to be the star. Sometimes, it’s in a home where two squabbling teenagers both want to run things their way.

It’s even uglier when this kind of rivalry gets played out in a church; and that’s what Paul is anxious about here in our epistle reading. He is dealing with an ugly rivalry between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Israel as a whole has rejected the Messiah; but an increasingly large number of Gentiles believed in Jesus and joined the small minority of Jews who did accept the Gospel. Because of this, some Gentile Christians seem to have thought that they had ‘replaced’ Jews in God’s plan, that the church was now a ‘Gentiles-only’ club. This is where the jealousy, rivalry and old prejudice come in. The Church is not big enough for both Jew and Gentile, they think. So Paul is answering these questions: Can any more Jews be saved, or has God rejected them? What really constitutes the people of God? Read More

Sermon: Four Questions For Every Christian (Romans 10:5-17)

Text: Romans 10:5-17
Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 14A)
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does St. Paul the Apostle have in common with young children? The love of questions. Throughout his letters Paul asked questions, and it seems as if he expected the reader to give an answer to all of them. That’s why questions are frequent in this Epistle to the Romans, and on carefully examining them we see that they not only show us Paul’s enthusiasm, but they are there to teach us something. There are four questions before us in our epistle reading, and the apostle seeks to press home the absolute necessity of preaching the Gospel. Last week we saw Paul sorrowing for the unbelief of the Jews, and he begins this chapter by saying that his heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. Then, as he goes on, he begins to think about the salvation, not only of the Jews, but also of the whole world. He says, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (vv. 12-13). And then, as his mind moves to the unbelieving world lying in darkness, he asks these four questions which we are going to look at this morning (vv. 14-15). Read More