The Keys of St. Peters

Newsletter: November

Dealing With Conflict

In television and movies drama and conflict are what propel the plot forward, create tension, and grab the viewers interest. However, when drama and conflict appear in our personal lives, they are often unwelcome guests. Some people like watching soap operas, but when our lives start to resemble them, we soon become weary.  Sometimes television dramas get to the bottom of an issue, showing how to put the problem fair and square on the table, how to express anger, confusion and hurt while trying to see the other point of view as well. Actually, I think true reconciliation—the kind that doesn’t crack under pressure—happens more often in movies than in real life. I think that our own congregation needs to take reconciliation seriously, and a passage in Matthew 18 is bedrock for the basic principles.

“‘If another disciple sins against you,’ Jesus continued, ‘go and have it out, just between the two of you alone. If they listen to you, you’ve won back a brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, you should take with you one or two others, so that “everything may be established from the mouth of two or three witnesses”. If they won’t listen to them, tell it to the assembly. And if they won’t listen to the assembly, you should treat such a person like you would a Gentile or a tax-collector. I’m telling you the truth: whatever you tie up on earth will have been tied up in heaven; and whatever you untie on earth will have been untied in heaven,” (Matt. 18:15-18 NTE).

Complimentary to this is Martin Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”

“What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything,” (SC I.16).

If we have been on the receiving end of some injury, insult, lie, sin etc., from a fellow member of Christ’s Church, the first step is to visit them. That’s not our go-to solution. Many of us prefer to pretend there isn’t a problem. We can refuse to face the facts. We can’t seem to swallow our anger or resentment. We paper over the cracks and try to carry on as if nothing happened, all the while seething with rage inside. That’s hypocrisy. Or we can simply avoid and ignore the other person or group and pretend they don’t exist. That’s not loving nor Christian. What does Jesus tell you to do? Go and tell your fellow Christian their fault just the two of you. “Have it out.” Speak to them privately. That means alone. Don’t go and publish their fault on Facebook. Don’t blab it to your friends or family in an attempt to find sympathy or support. “Love endures all things,” (1 Cor. 13:7 NTE). The eighth commandment admonishes you to not gossip or tell others. We need to hold our tongue in the presence of others and go to the offending party, get them alone and talk to them. “Above all, keep absolutely firm in your love for one another, because ‘love covers a multitude of sins,’” (1 Pet. 4:8 NTE). Speak to them! It’s better to tell them what they’ve done wrong than to brood over it and let if fester. But speaking to them may require courage. It will certainly require prayer and humility. The other person may well respond with a counter-accusation, and there is always the possibility that there may be truth in it which you need to recognise. When we approach them, we must remember to, “let your words always be gracious, never insipid,” (Col. 4:6 REB). Do not go in “guns blazing.” A kind, gentle, faithful, straight-forward, empathetic approach is the most likely course to win your fellow Christian. (It may be a matter of Christian wisdom to repeat this private admonition several times).

If that doesn’t work, and if after thought and prayer you still think a wrong was committed, Jesus tells you to take one or two others along. This is not to gang up on them. This is a reality check on your own judgment. You should choose people who are prepared to tell it straight. They may have some uncomfortable truths to tell you. But, if you are in the right and the person refuses to see it, they are your witnesses that you’re not just making it up. If the person still refuses to repent, the last resort is to tell it to the Church, that is, the assembly or congregation. At this stage, we refer the whole matter to the Christian congregation of which we are all members. The goal of this appeal and admonition is to win back your brother or sister. If they fail to listen to the congregation, then it means a necessary break of fellowship. Reconciliation can only come after the problem has been faced.

What if you’re a neutral party? Perhaps someone has come to you and in the course of conversation has presented you with a complaint about a person. What should you do? You should ask them if they have talked to the person responsible. If they have, ask about the response. If they have not talked with the person alone, encourage them to do so! Do not have anything to do with it until they have, because at this stage it’s none of your business. If they don’t want to confront the person, then exhort them to forgive the other person and move on. The first thing in any complaint is to make sure that the one complaining has already brought this to the proper person.  If they have not, complaining is nothing more than gossip, slander, and betrayal.

Let’s not pretend this is simply good advice to keep in mind in case of some unlikely eventuality which might arise one day. No, there is drama and conflict here in our church. How do I know this?  Well, whenever two or more sinners are together, toes are bound to be stepped on. In all this, we must remember that God has come and made our sin known to us. He has shown us in his Law how we have sinned against him and offended him. He continues to remind us of our sin whenever the Law is preached. In addition, Christ our Lord has come, died for our sins, and offers us forgiveness. May we treat our fellow Christians with the same grace that we were shown in Christ.

Your pastor,
                Rev. Matthew Fenn

Sermon: The Freedom of the Gospel (John 8:31-36)

Text: John 8:31-36
Reformation Day (Observed), 2020
Listen to the sermon here.

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

“Freedom.” It is hard to miss the theme of freedom in our text from John. Freedom is also a slippery word. It can mean a many different things for many different people. For some the mention of freedom is closely tied with the political realm. Freedom is about democracy and the ability to elect our own representatives. Others will link freedom closely to the economic sphere. Freedom is about the free-market, and the great range of choices before many consumers. Some people use the language of freedom to speak about their right of self-determination. Freedom is about the ability to do whatever you want, to gratify your own desires, without being hindered or controlled. And since this is Reformation Sunday, it’s useful to remember that freedom was a major concern for many of the Reformers. They wanted freedom from certain traditions and superstitions which Rome was commanding apart from God’s Word. The Reformers insisted that many of Rome’s precepts and regulations did not earn forgiveness or favour with God. One of Martin Luther’s most famous writings is “The Freedom of a Christian,” which he wrote in 1520 just before he was excommunicated. In fact, in our text, Jesus talks about this last kind of freedom, Christian freedom, the freedom offered by the Gospel.

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Sermon: A Reason for Hope (Psalm 147)

Text: Psalm 147:1-11 (LXX Psalm 146) & Luke 10:1-9
Text: Gradual Psalm for the Feast of Saint Luke, Evangelist
Listen to the sermon here!

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

Have you or someone you know been seriously sick and refused to get help or medical treatment? Why do some of us just refuse to see the seriousness of our sickness and get help for it? It comes down to pride. Sometimes it’s a confidence in our own strength. When faced with sickness, we often just like to “power through it”. We don’t want to ask for help. Asking for help means admitting weakness and that’s humiliating! Of course, this can be very harmful. If you try to ignore the sickness and “power through it” you could be wasting valuable time. If you catch the illness soon enough, the doctors may be able to save you, but try to “power through it”, and it could be too late. That’s the point of course. If you have a serious disease, the earlier you seek medical attention, the better your chances, the more hope you have.

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Sermon: Christ’s Remedy for Anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34)

Text: Matthew 6:25-33
Thanksgiving Day, 2020
Listen to the sermon here!

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

Many, if not all of us, simply cannot wait until 2020 is over. Events have been unpredictable and the situations we’re facing are new to most of us. We’re in the midst of this worldwide epidemic, with many places partially shut down, others struggling to reopen safely. There are areas where the coronavirus infection rates are getting worse and restrictions are increasing again. Others areas are bracing for what may come next. All of us have been watching the headlines and wondering, “When is this going to end?” For many, it’s that uncertainty which surrounds coronavirus that is the hardest thing to handle. We still don’t know exactly how this will impact us personally. We don’t know just how bad the economic fallout will be. We have no idea how long this is going to last, or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy for us to spiral into overwhelming dread and panic. It is hard not to be anxious. We are anxious about abiding by the proper health and safety precautions. We’re anxious about our jobs and livelihoods. This makes caring for our normal everyday necessities all that much more complicated. Some people have become so addicted to worry that if they haven’t got anything to be anxious about they worry that they’ve forgotten something. Certainly there are some have anxiety due to a medical issue, and God has provided medical professionals to help deal with that type of anxiety. That’s not exactly the type of anxiety we’re dealing with. But even in the face of this unique crisis—Christ provides us with three remedies for our anxiety and a reason to be truly thankful this Thanksgiving.

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

Text: Philippians 3:4b-14
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost / Proper 22, Series A
Listen to the sermon here!

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
Listen to the sermon here.

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
Listen to the sermon here!

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
Listen to the sermon here!

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
Listen to the Sermon here!

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