The Keys of St. Peters

Sermon: Cursing the Hideout of Hypocrisy (Mark 11:15-19).

Text: Mark 11:15-19
Wednesday after the Third Sunday in Lent, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

On the 8th of June in the year of our Lord 793, Vikings launched a devastating attack on the island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of England. The the church of St. Cuthbert was destroyed, goods were stolen and much innocent blood was shed. This was an event that shook the Christian world to its core. It was so traumatic that historians have agreed it should mark the official beginning of the Viking Age. 

Place yourself for a moment in that church service. The service is violently interrupted by a hoard of heathen Vikings determined to pillage and plunder. As a parishioner, what might you be thinking or feeling? What would your reaction be to so much violence? What if the interruption extended into desecration? (Mistreating the body and blood of our Lord). Would you be shocked, angry, frightened?

Now your feelings and emotions in such a situation are similar to those watching the astonishing scene in the Temple from our Gospel reading. We are so used to this Bible story that we can forget how shocking it must have been. It raises some questions: what was wrong with the Temple? Why did Jesus do what he did? And can we be guilty of the same thing?

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Sermon: We proclaim a crucified messiah (1 Cor. 1:18-25)

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Third Sunday in Lent, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Near the palatine hill in Rome, there is this remarkable piece of graffiti from the third century, scrawled into the wall of the dormitory of imperial pageboys. The graffiti depicts a Christian boy being mocked for worshipping a crucified man with a donkey’s head. The boy, standing in front of the cross, raises his hand in adoration of this donkey God. Scrawled below the picture are the words: “Alexemenos worships his God.” This graffiti, as you might suspect, is not a compliment. In ancient Rome, the donkey was reviled for its stupidity and stubbornness. It became the primary metaphor for describing people’s foolishness. Christians in ancient Rome were slandered as worshipping foolishness. And little has changed since then. In North America, Christianity is not incredibly popular. Its common for News outlets, Hollywood, and virtually all types of media to characterise Christians either as superstitious buffoons to be mocked, or narrow-minded bigots to be denounced. Today, the Apostle Paul reminds us that this is the way it has always been. 

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Sermon: Healing the Incurable Wound (Jeremiah 30:12-17)

Text: Jeremiah 30:12-17
Wednesday after the Second Sunday in Lent, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

In November of 1997, a forum called “Sin and the Art of Zen Archery” was held at a synagogue in New Jersey. The forum, which featured panelists from several world religions, was on the topic of sin. In the discussion that followed, one woman objected to the whole idea of sin, saying, “I don’t know whether there is any proper place for evil in human nature. If I believe part of me is evil, how will I ever overcome evil?” That question is haunting. If sin is within me, how can I ever escape it? 

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Sermon: The Sacrifice of the Beloved Son (Genesis 22:1-14)

Text: Genesis 22:1-14
Old Testament Lesson for the Second Sunday in Lent, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Our Old Testament reading is one of the most brilliantly told and emotionally heavy narratives in all the Bible. Imagine the dialogue in the first scene for a moment. Abraham heard God’s thunderous voice call his name, “Abraham!” “Yes, Lord?” Abraham was eager and willing to respond to God’s call. “You know your son?” “Which one, I have two.” “Your only son Isaac. You love him, don’t you?” “Oh, yes,” confirms Abraham, “He has brought me such joyous laughter. He means the world to me.” After a bit of a pause, God replies, “Sacrifice him for me, then, will you?”

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Sermon: The Word of God and Prayer (Acts 1:15-26)

Text: Acts 1:15-26
The Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle
Listen to the sermon here.

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

The Church faced a particular problem with the filling of an Apostolic vacancy. It was like the kind of problem you might have experienced yourself. You’ve bought something from Ikea. You open the package, and begin to sort out all the bits and pieces that have to be assembled. Soon, you begin to panic, because they didn’t send the instructions. That must have been exactly how the apostles felt in the very early days. What are we supposed to do

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Sermon: The God Who Promises (Gen. 9:8-17)

Text: Genesis 9:8-17
First Sunday in Lent, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

There was once a pastor who was talking about the Flood during a children’s sermon. The children were called to the front of the sanctuary and asked to use their imaginations in thinking about the story: “What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?” One youngster answered, “I hear the people in the water outside the ark screaming for help.” That was not an answer the pastor was expecting. The story of Noah and the flood is one of those biblical stories that can reveal a lot about what we think about sin. Many contemporary authors think that the story of Noah’s Ark portrays a wrathful God who flies off the handle in a fit of genocidal violence. Is that really the picture of God that is portrayed here? Let’s not rush too quickly to the rainbow. After all, it won’t mean anything to us until we come to terms with the why there is so much death and destruction.

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Sermon: Return to the Lord (Joel 2:1-2, 12-17)

Text: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Ash Wednesday
Listen to the sermon here.

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

It’s Lent again. The time of self denial. The time to pray more, fast, and give to those in need. Do those things sound like drudgery to you? The little child in all of us cries out, “I don’t wanna! Do I have to?!”

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Sermon: A Glimpse of Glory (Mark 9:2-9)

Text: Mark 9:2-9
Transfiguration of our Lord, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

The Transfiguration of Jesus is a bit like one of those movie previews that play before the main attraction, the ones narrated by the guy with the dramatic voice. They reveal just enough of the movie to make you want to see it, without giving away too much of the plot. Coming soon to a theatre near you. A sneak preview of coming attractions. And that’s what the Transfiguration is. A sneak peak, a glimpse of Jesus’ glory as the Son of God and the coming attraction of the kingdom he brings with his dying and rising. This morning, on this Transfiguration Sunday we are going to consider: why did Peter, James, and John need to see this sneak peak of Jesus glory? What benefit does this have for us here and now?

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Sermon: Hope in the Midst of Despair (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Text: Isaiah 40:21-31
Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
Listen to the sermon here.

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

One of Europe’s leading psychiatrists was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. During this time, he saw something that distinguished the survivors and the dead, and it wasn’t physical health and strength. What made the difference between those who survived and those who didn’t was hope — something to live for beyond the barbed wire, something to look forward to, something to go home to after the war. If someone had lost faith in the future — their future — was doomed. Without hope these people often let themselves decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. They often simply gave up.

This really highlights the importance of hope, of having something to live for beyond the barbed wire of this life. This lack of hope is a common condition, we call it despair. In our Old Testament reading for today Isaiah points the way out of despair toward a renewed hope.

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February Newsletter

God’s Dramatic Rescue

“If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel now say—if the Lord had not been on our side when our foes attacked, then they would have swallowed us alive in the heat of their anger against us. Then the waters would have carried us away and the torrent swept over us; then over us would have swept the raging waters. Blessed be the Lord, who did not leave us a prey for their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s trap; the trap is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”
Psalm 124, Revised English Bible.

Things are looking bleak for our heroes: they gave it their best, and they briefly gained the upper hand, but in the end, the villains were too strong, the heroes too few, defeat is certain, and all that’s left is just enough time for some last words….Wait, what’s that? Did I just hear a trumpet? Who is it? It could be the Riders of Rohan galloping to their aid. It could be Robin Hood’s Merry Men of Sherwood Forest mounting a rescue. It could be the Avengers storming in at the last minute. But ultimately, they rescue the heroes and convert what would be a pretty depressing ending into an out-and-out win for the good guys.  This is a common element in many stories, and one I particularly enjoy when it is done well. It’s the sudden and dramatic rescue.

Psalm 124 is about how the Lord suddenly and dramatically rescued us, when it looked like our enemies were going to win!  The Psalmist plays a game of “Let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend for a moment that God had never intervened in our lives. If God hadn’t stepped into your life to rescue you, but  instead left you to your own desires, reason, and strength, where would you be? What would happen if the Riders of Rohan, or Robin Hood’s men, or the Avengers never came? Then evil would have won, and all hope would have been lost.

Part of the reason why the sudden and dramatic rescue is used so frequently is because it gives voice to something which we know is very true. We all long for a saviour. We all have a deep realisation that our situation is dire and that we’re in desperate in of being rescued. What if that the Lord had not been the one on your side, imagine where you’d be. Imagine the darkness. Imagine the horror. Imagine the pain of it. Where would you be if God hadn’t stepped into your life and dramatically rescue you? You’d be swallowed up, engulfed by the waters, caught by the teeth of some ravenous beast. You’d be trapped, and there’d be no way out.

Why we haven’t been engulfed by water? Why we haven’t been caught in the trap of the hunter? Why we haven’t been devoured by the teeth of a terrifying beast? Who is our help and deliverer? Who is on our side? Who is going to rescue you? The psalm says it’s the Lord of heaven and earth. He is on our side and he has suddenly and dramatically rescued us from sin, death, and the devil.

The message of the Psalm is that God is for you; he’s on your side. He has committed himself to rescue you from the hands of your enemies. The Almighty God himself, the one who created this universe with a mere word, who continues to uphold, sustain, and keep this universe going, that’s the one who has decided that he is on your side. He’s got your back. And so, in our time of need we cry out to God and we implore his aid. “Help us! Save us! Rescue us!” And the God of the universe comes to fight for us.

Just how much God is on your side? He sent his only Son into the world, that’s how much. Jesus is the one who rescues you from your enemies. Consider the language of the psalm: when Jesus was surrounded by enemies who wanted to attack him, who hated him with a deep and fiery hatred, God did not rescue him. God did not rescue his Son when he was swallowed up alive by Death. God did not rescue his Son from the teeth of the ravenous beast. He was trapped in the hunter’s snare and the Lord did not rescue him. Where would you be if God had not come to rescue you. Imagine the darkness. Imagine the horror. Imagine the pain of it. Where would you be? That’s where Jesus was. This Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Our help is in him alone. He is our deliverer. He is the one who has rescued us This Jesus who endured darkness, horror, and pain, has suddenly and dramatically rescued you. 

God has demonstrated that he is for us; he is on our side. No matter what should happen to you in this life, you can cry out to God in prayer. Even if you must come face to face with your own evil, God is on your side! Even if the Devil is hunting you, Christ will rescue you. Even when it’s your turn to face Death itself, you need to be afraid. As one hymn puts it,

If God himself be for me, I may a host defy;
For when I pray, before me my foes, confounded fly.
If Christ my Head and Master, befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster can drive me from his love?”
LSB 724

Through the word and Sacraments of the Church, Jesus rescues us from all our enemies, from sin, death, and the Devil. We continue to experience the rescue of God in the weekly receptions of God’s gifts! Our enemies have been defeated! God has suddenly and dramatically rescued us through his Son Jesus Christ. 

Your pastor,
Rev. Matthew Fenn