The Keys of St. Peters

Sermon: Saved By Grace, Not By Race (Eph. 2:8-22)

Text: Ephesians 2:8-22
Proper 11, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

I don’t think I would be too far off the mark to suggest that we live in a highly divided culture. We’ve segregated ourselves into little competing groups based on our political, religious, or moral views. And, right now, in our culture, divisions go deep and are growing more intense by the minute. There are people, groups, and ideologies that are doing their best to fan the flames of division. Such divisions find their way into our families, our own hearts, and even our congregations. 

This morning, I want to zero in on the issue of race. Race seems to be one of those things that continue to divide our culture, even our churches. Yet, none of today’s social distinctions—none of our racial barriers—are more exclusive or unrelenting than the separation between Jews and Gentiles in Biblical times. One of the biggest problems the early Church had to navigate was ethnic division. That’s why there could not be a more crucial text for us to hear today than our reading from Ephesians 2. How do baptised Jewish and Gentile Christians relate to each other in the Church? Here, Saint Paul will point us to the peace and reconciliation we have with God and one another through Christ’s cross.

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Sermon: When God Says, “No Longer…” (Amos 7:7-15)

Text: Amos 7:7-15 LXX
Proper 10, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

The Prophets do not seem to be receiving much appreciation in this Sunday’s readings! They announced judgment because of the moral failings of their audience. Apparently, they were not well-received. They were perceived as a threat to the leadership, whether it be the mighty Herod or the local priest of Bethel, Amaziah. It’s easy to sit back, read these texts, and assume that we won’t be Herod or Amaziah. When God’s Word comes to us, we like to think that we will hear it, receive it, and act upon it. But, we are always the most upset at our preachers when they start questioning our way of life, not when they confront the actions of those with whom we disagree. So, this morning we’re going to look at the reading from Amos and the warning it gives us today. 

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Sermon: Rejected By Men (Eze. 2:1-5 & Mark 6:1-13)

Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-5 & Mark 6:1-13
Proper 9, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Would you agree that we are living in a world that is more and more characterised by unbelief? It might seem obvious, but people can and do reject the message of Christianity. People take offence at it. People mock it and laugh at it. People close their ears and minds to it,. Some literally walk out of the church and shut their Bibles. Christianity is viewed as backward, intolerant, bigoted, and colonial. We can despise and reject the Word of God. It doesn’t take much looking to discover that we live in a Nazareth-world — a culture that is, at best, disinterested in Jesus. 

Our readings from Ezekiel and Mark this morning testify that the Word is rejectable. God forces Himself on no one. The two readings share the idea that God’s voice is not always heard. 

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Sermon: Trusting God When He Makes us Wait (Mark 5:21-43)

Text: Mark 5:21-43
Proper 8, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Waiting. Who really likes to wait? Do any of you? Most parents would agree that their children don’t want to wait for anything. The last thing kids want to hear is mommy say, “Not now.” It can prompt anger, frustration, even hopelessness. Our uneasiness with waiting follows most of us into our adult years. We may not respond with the same emotional outbursts as children, but most of us still hate waiting for what we want.

And certainly our society makes it worse. We want everything done quickly. There are new technologies constantly spring up to meet those demands and encourage our impatience. How many remembering having to wait to connect to the internet? Now, it’s instantaneous. We are not used to waiting, and the more our technology caters to our immediate desires, the less we feel willing to wait. Today’s Gospel reading is about some people who had to wait on the Lord.

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Sermon: Two Questions During the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

Text: Mark 4:35-41
Proper 7, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

I was once in charge of leading a Vacation Bible School. I remember very clearly that our Gospel reading from Mark was chosen as one of the Bible Stories. The way the story was told, especially in its application, was infuriating to me. It asked the question, “What are the storms in your life?” You’ll find preachers and hymn writers alike often doing the same thing: allegorising the storm. “When the storms of life surround you, and the waves are breaking in upon you,” they say, “just remember that Jesus is Lord of the storm!” So we avoid the story’s main point by turning it into an allegory of the things that try our souls. Even a hymn in our hymnal pleads:

Jesus, Savior, pilot me

Over life’s tempestuous sea. 

Unknown waves before me roll,

Hiding rock and treacherous shoal. 

Chart and compass come from thee. 

Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

LSB 715:1

While the thought is no doubt correct, this specific reading is not about that. It’s not an allegory. Our text is not about how you can weather life’s storms. If you think that this story is about how you should turn to Jesus during the hard times in life, I fear you may have missed the point. Well then, what is the point of this text? There are two questions in the text which represent the two main points of this story.

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Sermon: The Love of Christ Urges Us On

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Proper 6, 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 young woman who had won a competition. The prize was a three-week trip around the world. It was the chance of a lifetime. However, the young woman gave it up to stay with a friend as she went into hospital to face a crucial and terrifying operation.

A reporter wanted to know what motivated her to give up the trip. ‘I mean, surely she’d have understood?’ said the reporter. ‘There must have been other people who could have been with her?’

 The young woman was quiet for a bit. Eventually, seeing she wasn’t going to be able to say nothing, she burst out, ‘All right. You really want to know. You think I’m crazy. But what none of you know—and I wasn’t going to tell you—is what she did for me three years ago. I was on drugs, and I couldn’t stop. It got worse and worse. My family threw me out. She was the only person who looked after me. She sat up all night, again and again, and talked me through it. She mopped me down when I threw up, she changed my clothes, she took me to the hospital, she talked to the doctors, she made sure I was coming through it. She helped me with the court case. She even helped me get a job. She—she—she loved me! So did I have any choice? Now that she’s sick herself, it’s the least thing I can do to stay with her. That’s far less than she did for me.’

Love is the most potent force in the universe. Love is the kind of thing that changes everything and gives people the power to face things and do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. That is what Paul is talking about in our Epistle reading. “For the love of Christ controls us, (it urges us on), because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). So what is it precisely that “urges us on”? How does that work? That’s what we’re going to look at this morning.

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Sermon: Lunatic, Liar, or Lord? (Mark 3:20-35)

Text: Mark 3:20-35
Second Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 5B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Have you ever met someone who only wanted to say Jesus was a good person, a great moral teacher but not Lord? Many are willing to heap lots of praise on Jesus. Everyone wants Jesus on their side. They are eager only to say good things about Jesus. You don’t generally hear people say bad things about him. Yet, few are willing to accept Jesus as God in the flesh. What is the problem with this logic?  C. S. Lewis is of great help here. Lewis was confident that this is one option that is not possible. You might be familiar with the name C. S. Lewis. Lewis, a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, was a British writer and lay theologian. He taught English literature at Oxford and Cambridge. You may have read his Chronicles of Narnia series or seen one of the movies. He’s also well known for defending the Christian faith, especially in his book “Mere Christianity.” 

Lewis says that when it comes to Jesus, there are only three possibilities. Either Jesus is telling lies, or he is crazy, or he is telling the truth. Now, these same three options are here in our Gospel reading from Mark 3. In verse 21, Jesus’ family was saying, “He’s out of his mind.” In verse 22, the scribes, the religious leaders, say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” Thus, they call Him a liar who claims to be from God but is from Satan. So, those are the options: Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or telling the truth. You must choose one. Which will it be? 

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Sermon: Confessing the Incomprehensible (John 3:1-17)

Text: John 3:1-17
Trinity Sunday, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” said Jesus to Nicodemus. Poor Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus by night to have a little rabbi to rabbi talk. Maybe compare theological notes. Talk a little shop, teacher to teacher. But, after a bit of conversation, he’s completely befuddled. But really, who can blame Nicodemus for missing the point? A lot of Christians miss the point too. 

Maybe that’s a good reason why this is the Gospel reading for  Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday is not about a work of God but about God Himself. It’s not about God’s work as creator, redeemer, or sanctifier, but about the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity. At times, trying to make sense of the Trinity is enough to make you to toss up your hands with Nicodemus and say, “How can these things be?” And that’s good for us. Trinity Sunday is a swim in deep end of the pool. It’s a reminder that God is bigger than our heads, beyond our ability to comprehend, and doesn’t always fit into tidy little boxes. Nicodemus’ question, “How can these things be?” is the exact question of the day. And it is the question that can never be answered. 

The Athanasian Creed reminds us that God doesn’t fit into tidy little boxes. The Athanasian Creed was written at a time and place that was plagued by Arianism, the ancient ancestor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The problem wasn’t that they were handing out literature in neighbourhoods throughout the Roman Empire, but they were claiming “there was a time when the Son was not.” In other words, Jesus was not God. Instead, he was a being that God created. He’s a creature, and at some point, he did not exist.  

That’s what happens when we are unable to deal with the incomprehensibility of God. We are tempted to fashion God after ourselves, to have a god to suit our fancy. We are tempted invent a god who will make sense to us and whom we can understand. And this is exactly why many don’t like the Creeds, because they won’t be told what to believe. People want to have a pick-and-choose, do-it-yourself, smörgåsbord kind of god. The Athanasian Creed stands in the way of our self-made gods and says, “Whoever desires to be saved must confess this catholic faith.” That brings us to the heart of the matter: why does my eternal salvation depend upon confessing it?

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Sermon: What does the Spirit do for us?
 (John 15:26-27, 16:4-15)

Text: John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
Day of Pentecost, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Today is Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means “fifty,” Fifty days after the Passover came the harvest festival, the ingathering of the winter wheat. Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he breathes on His Church and gives his Church, breath and life to proclaim the good news of His death and resurrection. However, when people hear “Pentecost” today, they’re likely to think of a somewhat wild form of Christian religious experience and practice outside the mainstream of church life, involving a lot of noise and waving of arms, and (of course) speaking in tongues. People sometimes feel guilty because they haven’t had such wonderful experiences like the apostles did on the first Pentecost. Or they feel jealous of those who seem to have had things like this happen to them. What about you? What does the Holy Spirit do for us? Is the Spirit’s job to ensure we have extravagant, supernatural experiences? 

In our gospel reading from John, you heard Jesus tell us what the Holy Spirit will do when he comes. The Holy Spirit will convict the world about three essential truths. And what are those three essential truths? “He will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment,” Jesus told them. That’s what the Holy Spirit is about, and any spirit that is not about those things is not the Holy Spirit. This morning, we will briefly look at this threefold work of the Holy Spirit.

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Sermon: The Testimony of God

Text: 1 John 5:9-15
The Sunday After the Ascension, Series B
Listen to the service here!

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

A group of four blind men heard that a strange creature wandered into their town. None of them knew anything about its shape or form. Out of curiosity, they said: “Let’s go and inspect this creature and try to figure out what it is.” So, they sought it out, and when they found it, they started to grope about it with their hands. The first blind man felt something and said, “The creature must be like a tree because it is large and round like a pillar.” The second man replied, “Actually, the creature is like a rope because it is small and coarse.” The third man contradicted the others and said, “No, no, the creature is like a fan because it is flat and thin.” The fourth man was confused and said, “The creature is not like any of those. It is like a thick snake because it is long and curves.”

This parable is used by many to try to resolve the conflict between different religions. The creature is an elephant, and each one of the blind men had drastically different descriptions of the elephant because they were all feeling other parts. So, some claim that they were all correct. The elephant has all the features described by the four blind men. In the analogy, the elephant is God, and the blind men represent different religions in their attempt to describe the unseen God. Some claim that no religion has the whole truth, only part of it.

That parable tells us why many people today no longer accept the claims of Christianity, especially the claim to be the one true religion. We live in a multi-cultural melting pot here in Canada. Our cities have a variety of religious views: Christians, Jews, and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, and those who are just vaguely spiritual and not religious. In other words, Jesus is presented today as one of many equally valid options, depending on your preferences and lifestyle choice. Jesus is merely another blind man with only part of the truth. But, is Jesus of Nazareth simply one option among many in the path to God? With so many voices, who are we to believe? How can we be sure that what Christianity claims about Jesus is true? Read More