Sermon: Christ’s Prayer for Christian Unity

Text: John 17:20-26
Sunday after the Ascension
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Did you know that you are mentioned in today’s Gospel reading? You are. Jesus is talking about you; he is praying for you. It’s part of his “High Priestly Prayer” found in John 17.  On his last night with the disciples, Jesus shared a meal with them, washed their feet, gave them a new commandment, and answered their questions (John 13-16). After all that, Jesus began to pray. At first, he’s simply praying for his disciples, the ones he would be sending out as his apostles. But, as our text begins, the prayer shifts to include you as well. He says, “I do not ask on behalf of these only, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word” (17:20). What is Jesus praying for? Jesus is praying that we should all be one. United.

Do you think unity is essential for the Church today? Jesus, the Son of God himself, prayed for the Church’s unity, so it must be important. Sadly, we experience, sense, and know that Jesus’ prayer for us has not yet been fully answered.  The Church is divided into many branches, denominations, factions, and divisions. As the hymn says, “With a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” The Church is not united, which is an embarrassment and a reason for all denominations to repent. How about closer to home? Is there unity within our own Lutheran Church-Canada? Would you say that our congregation of St. Peter’s is united? The Church throughout the world has many divisions and factions. Does our parish suffer from division and disunity? I’ll let you think about that question. As in any human relationship, unity cannot be forced. But there is no excuse for Christians not to work afresh in every generation towards the unity Jesus prayed for. This morning we’re going to look at Jesus prayer for Christian unity. We’ll see first that Christian unity reflects the undivided unity of Father and Son. Then, we’ll see that this unity is based around the Apostolic Word.

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Sermon: The Meaning and Importance of the Ascension

Text: Acts 1:1-11
The Ascension of our Lord
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ascension often feels like the poor cousin among church festivals. It is often overlooked and passed over without being missed. There are a few congregations that will worship today. Some congregations will observe the Ascension this coming Sunday, but that will bump the Sunday After the Ascension off the calendar. Most, I suspect, will simply not observe it at all. This seems like poor treatment for one of the feasts of Jesus, an event that appears in our Creeds and that St. Luke thought necessary enough to narrate twice. Maybe we really don’t like goodbyes, and we don’t know precisely how to celebrate this one.

We understand why we celebrate Good Friday: Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for the salvation of the world. We know why we celebrate Easter: Because of Jesus’ resurrection, the tomb is empty, and death is defeated. He is risen indeed! Alleluia. But Ascension Day? There are no Ascension Day parades and no Ascension Day sales at the mall. I have never heard anyone say, “Sorry, we can’t make it to Church. We’re going to Grandma’s for Ascension Day.” Compared to Christmas and Easter, Ascension seems not to be very important. So, what does the Ascension mean? And why is it important?

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Sermon: Why is Church Attendance Important?

Text: Acts 16:9-15
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Series C
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Church attendance has declined. Many of you know this all too well because you can remember back to years past. There has been a long and slow decline in church attendance in North America for many decades. This decline is not unique to us. It’s straight across the board, and it affects all denominations. The pandemic has precipitated the most drastic decline in church attendance in our lifetime. Most churches have not recovered fully from its impact. Some will never recover.  According to research by Barna Group, one in three practising Christians dropped out of Church entirely at the beginning of COVID-19. The first step toward recovery must be recognizing what is going on in our Church services and why attendance is essential to our spiritual health. This morning, our first reading has some critical things to teach us that highlight how God sends preachers and uses preaching.

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Sermon: Don’t Stand in God’s Way

Text: Acts 11:1-18
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Series B
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi shares a story of his student days in England. He was deeply touched by reading the Gospels and seriously considered becoming a convert to Christianity, which seemed to offer a real solution to the caste system that divided the people of India. One Sunday, he attended church services and decided to ask the minister for enlightenment on salvation and other doctrines. But when Gandhi entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat. They suggested that he go elsewhere to worship with his own people. He left and never came back. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu!”

Those ushers were precisely like the group that criticized Peter in our first reading. In both cases, something stood in God’s way, and it was race. God confronted Peter’s prejudice. God used a vision to bring a radical change in Peter’s attitude and it is a good thing he did. We are still dealing with these issues today. This is something the Bible speaks to. This morning, we will first look at our own prejudices. Then we will see what attitudes we should have by looking at what God himself has done.

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Sermon: Sheep Gathered Around the Good Shepherd

Text: John 10:22-30
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Series C
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the Church? If someone asked you to define it, how would you answer? Do you feel confident in your answer, or would you want to look something up first? That is a bit more complicated than it might sound at first.  The word “church” can mean many things: a congregation, a denomination, a building, or the Divine Service. Luther said that it was pretty simple to define the church. “Thank God,” Luther wrote, “A seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA III.XII.2, Tappert). That’s how Luther described the church: sheep gathered around the good Shepherd. That would apply to us gathered here this morning on Good Shepherd Sunday.  We are His sheep; He is the Shepherd. But, what does it mean that we are sheep? What does it mean that he is our Shepherd?

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Sermon: Why Should You Worship Jesus?

Text: Revelation 5
Third Sunday of Easter, Series C
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Despite what the polls might say, you cannot divide mankind into those who worship and those who do not. Everybody worships; it’s just a matter of what, or whom, we serve. Our careers, relationships, identity, science, sex, or possessions—are just a few things that compete for our worship. We were made to worship, but our taste buds and appetites are skewed and distorted. Yet, Christians were known for exclusively worshiping Jesus of Nazareth.  Besides the New Testament, we can find evidence that Christians worshipped Jesus from the earliest days. In the early second century, a young governor named Pliny penned a letter to Emperor Trajan about the early Christian community. He wrote that “they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” So, perhaps a good question to ask in the twenty-first century is, “Why should you worship Jesus?” Out of all the things that demand your worship, why should it be Jesus and only Jesus?

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May Newsletter: Do Not Neglect Meeting Together

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”

Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

Our church has faced tremendous challenges over the past two years as we have done our best to navigate the pandemic. Our church, like many others, has inconsistently physically gathered for weekly worship. We’ve wanted to submit to our governmental authorities when we’ve cancelled services. When we’ve remained home, we’ve wanted to love our neighbours well. No doubt, all the decisions we’ve made have not been perfect, but we have tried to seek the mind of God and seek His wisdom.

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Sermon: How Can Pastors Forgive Sins?

Text: John 20:19-31
Second Sunday of Easter, Series C
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Imagine that you have applied for a job at a pharmaceutical company. You’ve already been interviewed, but now management wants to have a meeting with you. Now, imagine that instead of offering you the job you applied for, management offered you the one above it—a senior position in the whole company. You would be running an entire department. A huge budget. Lots of benefits. You would be overseeing much of the company’s operations. You may think that you’re simply not up to it. ‘I couldn’t possibly do that!’ You may say. ‘Well,’ says the owner, ‘we think you can. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of responsibility. But we think you’re right for the job, and we’re going to change some things around, so you get the right assistance. You’ll have everything you need to succeed.’  An unexpected job offer!

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Sermon: The Resurrection – An Idle Tale?

Text: Luke 24:1-12
Easter Sunday, Year C
Listen to the sermon here.

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

If you were to visit Jerusalem today, you’d find a stunning garden on the north side of the Old City near the Damascus Gate. This garden contains an ancient tomb dating to around six hundred years before Christ. This tomb was discovered in the late 1800s by General Charles Gordon. Today, the Garden Tomb is one of Jerusalem’s best-known sites, even though this isn’t the exact location of Jesus’ tomb. It is visited by over a hundred thousand tourists and pilgrims a year. The Garden Tomb was reconstructed to emulate what it would have looked like in the first century, and visitors come to drink in its peaceful and sacred atmosphere. One thing that you would notice is that there is no longer a stone to close the tomb. Instead, the doorway has been enlarged. For security reasons, a wooden door now closes the tomb at night. On this door, there is a plaque with the words, “He is not here — For He is risen.”

He isn’t there— For He is risen. Jesus has burst the bonds of death and the grave, yet we continue to focus on the unexplainably empty tomb. In two thousand years, we have not stopped looking for Jesus among the dead. Luke’s resurrection account keeps us focused on the startling, confounding mystery of an empty tomb.

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Sermon: Why is this Friday “Good”?

Text John 18:1-19:42
Good Friday
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today is the Friday which we call “good.” Good Friday. An odd name, don’t you think, for the anniversary of the torture and execution of one man some 2000 years ago? What was different in the world by the evening of the first Good Friday? What happened that makes this day so unique, so good? The writers of the New Testament seem to think that something was drastically different after that one fateful afternoon. What makes this Friday Good, and how is that good for us?

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