The Keys of St. Peters

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

Text: Romans 11:13-24, 28-32
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 15A)
Listen to the sermon here.

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)
Listen to the Sermon here!

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

Sermon: Why Do Some Believe? (Romans 9:1-18)

Text: Romans 9:1-18
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 13A)
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever known someone who used to be a Christian? Did you wonder what went wrong? How is it possible that a person – born and raised in the Church, baptised, confirmed, part of Sunday School, could just walk away? Have you known people like that? I’m sure you not only know people like that, but you also feel some sense of sorrow and anguish over them. They had all these blessings: they knew their Bible, they learned the Catechism, they had a Christian family, they were members who served in the Church. Where did it all go wrong? Why don’t they believe?

This is the kind of question which the Apostle Paul is asking in our Epistle reading. Last week we read that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39). No sooner has Paul said this, then he immediately thinks of his fellow Israelites. Paul is talking about God’s chosen people, his treasured possession. And Paul is agonising over it. He has deep sorrow and even wishes that he could be cut off from Christ, if by doing so he could save his fellow Israelites. That’s how deeply Paul feels this sorrow. The question on the table is this: What went wrong? Why did Israel, through whom the Messiah came, reject the Messiah? Why didn’t Israel believe? Why, given their special status as God’s priestly people with all the covenants, promises, worship, legislation, prophets, why did Israel not believe and get behind Jesus, the true son of Israel? It’s a tough question. And an important one, for us here today because we face a similar question. Read More

Sermon: The Plan of God’s Inseparable Love (Rom. 8:28-39)

Text: Romans 8:28-39
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 12A
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Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There were two towering figures during the Reformation. One was, of course, Martin Luther. The other was Philip Melanchthon. These two were best friends. Luther was always singing Melanchthon’s praises. While Luther was often like bull in the china shop, Melanchthon was timid, and approached things with the calm and precision of a scholar. When Luther died, Melanchthon was the one who preached at the funeral. What gave Melanchthon his strength? What made this gentle, timid, scholarly fellow boldly stand with Luther against the world? The answer is verse 31 of our Epistle reading: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In his lectures, Melanchthon quotes that verse more than any other. In his personal crest, it is the motto. When Melanchthon knew he was on his death bed, the pastor with him read Romans 8:31. Melanchthon exclaimed, “Read those words again!” The pastor read them, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Melanchthon clung to those words as he lay there dying. He murmured, “That’s it! That’s it!” That text was the greatest comfort to him. Even in the darkest hours of his life, as he lay in death’s cold grip, he boldly clung to those words, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

This section of Romans 8 has brought similar comfort to many Christians throughout the centuries. And that was exactly its purpose. St. Paul the Apostle wrote these words so that we may come away from this text with assurance and confidence in God’s love for us in Christ. As we examine what Paul wrote in these verses, we’ll see why this passage continues to bring comfort and hope to millions of Christians. Read More

Sermon: What Does God’s Spirit Do For Us?

Text: Romans 8:12-17
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Series A

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

Sometimes it seems as though the Holy Spirit gets the short end of the stick. God the Father does the work of creating and God the Son does the work of saving. The Holy Spirit makes a few prominent appearances, like at the Baptism of Jesus, but otherwise, it may seem like the Holy Spirit doesn’t get mentioned a lot. This downplaying of the Spirit can spill over and become a habit in Churches as well. Someone once complained that they could not remember a single Sunday when the Holy Spirit was mentioned more than simply the occasional reference during a reading, creed, benediction, or prayer. Beloved, the Spirit does far more than simply make the occasional cameo appearance. The work of the Spirit is vital to your life as a Christian. What is that work? What does the Holy Spirit do for us? St. Paul the Apostle in our epistle reading says, first, the Spirit leads us, and second, the Spirit bears witness to us. Read More

Sermon: Every Christian’s Battle

Text: Romans 7:14-25
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Series A
Listen to the Sermon here!

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

Go back for a moment to those classic Saturday morning cartoons. Sometimes these cartoons picture a character wrestling with a temptation. The internal struggle is visualised by two miniature versions of the character’s self, an Angel and a Devil. They sit on each shoulder, with the Devil on the left. The angel and devil are shown both whispering into one ear, hoping to motivate the character to choose evil or good. It’s a trope we are all familiar with and seems to go all the way back to the second century AD.

The struggle which can be depicted in cartoons, is even more elaborately explained by St. Paul in our Epistle lesson. “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do,” says Paul (Rom. 7:19). How many here can relate to that? Have you felt that struggle between what you know is right, and the evil you’re tempted to do? Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I keep on sinning when I don’t want to sin? Why the struggle? Why the battle?” St. Paul helps us to see why every Christian must face this struggle, and what hope we have. Read More

July Newsletter

How May I Help My Neighbours?

At some point in our lives, we are likely to have been asked the question, “How may I be of service?” Usually, this question is addressed to us by someone working some sort of service job. Once we inform them of our specific need, they go to work in providing that need. Similar to those who work in the service industry, it is our duty to serve our neighbours. But oftentimes we talk about the fact that we must love and serve our neighbours, but we sometimes neglect to talk about how and why we are to do so.

This is important to consider as we enter the sixteenth week of this Coronavirus pandemic. It is relatively easy to become disillusioned with the whole thing and forget why we are going through all this. Conspiracy theories and disinformation abound online and can plant seeds of doubt.

An important point to emphasise right away is that the government is not persecuting us. While this may seem self-evident, for many it is not. Many Christians seem to have a martyr-complex and would love nothing more than to be persecuted by the government. But that is simply not the case in this situation. No, our governments, both provincial and federal, were not targeting Christians.

What are they doing then? They are trying to preserve bodily life. This is included in the government’s basic job description. The obligation of the Fifth Commandment applies both to the government and also us individually. “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbours, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs” (SC I.10, Kolb and Wengert, 352). The Government has a duty to preserve our lives. We have the duty to what we can, according to our vocations, to protect and support of neighbours.

Another reason to obey public health recommendations stems from the Fourth Commandment, where we are told that, “we are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honour, serve, obey, love, and respect them” (SC I.8, Kolb and Wengert, 352). These public health recommendations are more than simply suggestions which we are free to take or leave. Instead, the government is expecting us to do the right thing, to make sure we “neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbours.” They do not want to have to enforce this. As Christians, we should be the first in line to be part of the solution, not the problem. This means that when health officials give us recommendations to help slow the spread of Covid-19, we can and should think of our compliance as our loving service to our neighbours.

Many, especially those who are more vulnerable or at risk, have struggled with fear during this time. But, should we view these public health measures with fear? Far from it! These are not the measures of fear. No, they are tangible ways we can express our love for our fellow Canadians. Given our situation, there are tangible and concrete ways you can love and serve your neighbours. Wearing masks whenever appropriate, keeping two metres apart from those not in our “social bubble”, and washing our hands, are just a few examples.

Now, this requires something of us (James 2:15-16). Wearing masks can be hot and uncomfortable. We’re tired of making sure we stay physically distant from other people. But, the sacrifice of our comfort is for the health and well being of our neighbours. Is not your neighbour’s life worth more than a bit of discomfort? It may be a sacrifice of time, to call a lonely friend or acquaintance and see how they are doing. Whatever the sacrifices we have to make during this time, we make them because we love of neighbours and want what’s best for them. This also implies that we should make allowance for those who are unable to wear masks. We certainly would not want to endanger our neighbour by forcing them to wear a mask!

The fundamental question we need to be asking ourselves right now is, “How may I help my neighbours?” Certainly, following the public health guidelines is one way. But we should not look at the regulations and ask ourselves, “What is the least I have to do?” Instead, we should be permeated with a concern to not endanger the lives of others.

It is important that we do not endanger our neighbours at Church also. This is especially true now that we have resumed in-person services. Churches can be places with a high risk of infection, if the right precautions are not taken. The Fourth Commandment suggests that we should trust the expertise of those placed in charge of public health. And so, Church Council has worked hard to make sure we are not only following the recommended provincial and local health guidelines, but that we are doing what we can to show you that we love and care for your physical well being. Certainly, we may find these measures distracting or intrusive at first. But, the physical well being of our neighbours is worth it.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) contains an important lesson on this point. Why did the priest and the Levite pass the man who was robbed and left for dead? Because they had to attend to religious functions and duties, which were commanded by God through Moses. However, Jesus places more value on the bodily well being of the robbed man over even religious regulations given by Moses! Our neighbours are no good to us dead, and we should not be so Pharisaical as to allow the precision of ritual to endanger our neighbour.

While wearing masks, washing hands, and being physically distant are minor discomforts and inconveniences, they are tangible ways we obey the Fourth and Fifth Commandments. They allow us to show and demonstrate our love for our neighbours right now. We are motivated to do so, because of the Cross. What Jesus Christ our Lord went through was far worse than a minor inconvenience or discomfort. Christ is our own Good Samaritan. By his shed blood and gruesome death on our behalf he has cleansed us of our sins. He has put us up in the inn of the Holy Christian Church. He feeds us with his Word and with his Body and Blood, the medicine of immortality. He does so, not just while we were his neighbours, but his enemies. He tells us not to fear, but to trust in Him because he has conquered the world (John 14:1; 16:33). With such extravagant love shown to us, how can we not do what we can to not endanger our fellow Canadians at this time?

Sermon: Why Can’t We Keep the Law? (Romans 7:1-13)

Romans 7:1-13

Proper 8A, Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Listen to the sermon here!

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

Have you ever visited a shopping mall and seen those rent-able carts for children? Sometimes they are designed to look like race cars with a fake steering wheel so that the child can have some fun as the parents shop. These carts usually have a bag on the back where you can put your personal or shopping items. Quite often they also have a sign on the bag: “DO NOT PUT CHILD IN BAG.” Why is that sign there? Because some parents were putting their kids in the bag! Maybe someone got hurt. Maybe the bags were damaged. Something happened, and a sign needed to be made. Up until the very moment when you saw the sign, you hadn’t even thought about doing that. But now, since you were told not to do it, what happens? You have a sudden urge to put the child in the bag! I should never have known what it was to want to put the child in the bag, if the sign had not said, ‘Do not put child in bag.’  Through that sign sin found its opportunity, and produced in me all kinds of wrong desires.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul the Apostle tell us that this situation reveals a serious defect in us. In order help us to understand what’s going on when we have that desire to put the child in the bag, Paul says first that the Law exposes sin. Second that sin exploits the Law. And third, that sinners need grace. Read More

Sermon: The Slavery that Liberates

Text: Romans 6:12-23
Third Sunday After Pentecost, Series A
You can listen to the sermon here.

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

The story of the Prodigal Son is well known (Luke 15:11–32). The younger son tells his father to drop dead, and hand over the inheritance. Venturing off into the world, he spends the entire inheritance on his party life. Finally, he comes home, in what he thinks will be utter disgrace. Then, to his amazement, he finds his father running down the road to meet him, and throwing a huge party in his honour. He’s welcomed back as a son, even though he doesn’t deserve it (and despite his older brother’s complaints).

Now imagine it’s a year or two later. The young man has a unexpected thought. Life has resumed a normal routine again. His older brother tolerates having him around, more or less; his father is getting older. He remembers with a happy sigh all those parties. He also remembers how he felt that day he came up the road and his father came running to greet him … And he thinks, what if I did it again? Why not help myself to a little cash, run away for a few weeks, and then play the penitent and come back again? Maybe I’ll get another party!

Absurd? Unthinkable? Don’t think it’s that farfetched. It’s exactly what a lot of people think. “I like sinning. God likes forgiving. It’s the perfect arrangement!’” And many people today seem to believe that the church’s only message should be forgiveness and acceptance. The Apostle Paul ran into people who thought that he was teaching this very thing. They objected to Paul’s teaching that Christians are free from the Law. People were worried that this would cast off all moral restraint: ‘Paul, you can’t go around saying that Christians are free from the Law! People will get the idea that they can do whatever they want!’ Our epistle reading was written to answer that objection and to show us that the Gospel does not give us a license to sin. Read More

Sermon: When Our Ruin Meets God’s Grace

Text: Romans 5:6-15, 18-21
Second Sunday after Pentecost, Series A
You can listen to the sermon here.

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

The sculptor had finished creating a fine statue. It was placed with pride in the town square. The statue was of a local hero. At great risk to his own life, he had single-handedly rescued a boatload of people caught off the rocks in a winter storm. The town was grateful, and commissioned a statue of him from the sculptor.

But it wasn’t long before trouble arrived. The next summer, a gang moved into the town. They rampaged up the little main street; they broke a couple of windows, and they burned down a shop. When they got to the statue, they defaced it with spray-paint. Then they pushed the statue off its base and crashed into the pavement, smashing into bits. It was ruined! The town council didn’t know what to do! They could not afford a new statue. But the sculptor had an idea. At once, he set to work. He remade it, at his own expense. When the town council asked him why he did it, the sculptor said it was simply because he loved this town.

This little story highlights the main point the Apostle Paul is trying to get across in our epistle reading. Paul talks about how far Sin has gone in ruining the human race, and how God’s grace in Christ is stronger than sin and death, and promises us restoration. Read More