The Keys of St. Peters

Sermon: From Ashes to Absolution

Confessional Address for Ash Wednesday
Listen to the sermon here.

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

The use of ashes has a long, long history in the Bible. Job, after suffering tremendous loss, sat down in ashes (Job 2:8). Jonah walked into Nineveh and proclaimed, “Yet forty days and and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 2:4). When the king of Nineveh heard this, he did not merely “smear” a little bit of ashes on his forehead; he did more. “He laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth,” and actually “sat in ashes.” And then, “he proclaimed a fast…saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God.” (Jonah 3:5-9). How did God react? “God saw their works, that they turned from then evil way; and God repented of the evil, which he said he would do unto them” (Jonah 3:10). After seventy years of exile, the prophet Daniel set his “face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). When Mordecai learned of the plot against the Jews by Haman, he “put on sailcloth and ashes” and many Jews joined him (Esther 4:1, 3). Jesus said that if Tyre and Sidon had seen his mighty works they would have repented “in sackcloth and ashes” (Luke 10:13). 

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have also used ashes. Ashes and fasting have been part of the Christian preparation for Easter almost since the beginning. That’s why we begin this season of Lent with Ash Wednesday and the imposition of Ashes. But, our service tonight though does not end with ashes. No, it only begins with ashes. It ends with Absolution. So, let’s briefly consider what the ashes mean, and why they’re accompanied by Holy Absolution.

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Sermon: Jesus Discloses His True Identity

Text:  Matthew 17:1-9
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Series A
Listen to the sermon here  

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

Who is Jesus? What was he attempting to accomplish? The answers to these questions remain a hot button issue in our world today. Every year there are a new set of documentaries and magazine articles exposing the “real” Jesus. Many of the world’s religions hold that he was some sort of prophet. The average North American is likely to say that Jesus was a good teacher. People are inclined to say nice things about Jesus, and to lump Him together with the great figures of history.  He came to teach people about how to behave and be nice to each other. Since the mid 18th Century people have attempted to separate the “Historical Jesus” from the “Christ of faith.” For some, the real Jesus was a doomsday prophet, predicting the end of the world. Others say he was a failed hippie revolutionary. He has been reconstructed to be everything from a new age guru, to an Egyptian freemason, to a preacher of liberal values born out of his time. Now, we often hear the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” As if Jesus identity changes according to each person’s needs. But Jesus is not one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. The question which the Transfiguration puts before us is “Who is Jesus?” Who is He objectively for the world, for all? What did he objectively accomplish? And what are we supposed to do about it?

About two-thirds of the way through his ministry, Jesus paused from his busy routine of preaching, teaching, and healing. He withdrew to the region of Caesarea Philippi. This same question was on his mind, so he asked the disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt. 16:13). The disciples inform Jesus that opinions varied. Like today,  the opinion polls gave mixed results.  He then asks them what they think, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15) Peter responds with his confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16).  Our Lord then clarifies that this means he must be crucified and rise again on the third day. Matthew begins by saying that the Transfiguration  takes place exactly six days after those events. This means, that when Jesus takes his inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up the mountain, Jesus intends to show them who he is!  In the Transfiguration Jesus discloses his glory, his mission, and our response. Read More

Sermon: Who Grows the Church?

Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Series A
Listen to the sermon here!

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

How much of the produce of a farm do you think can be attributed to the farmer? A study was done by an agricultural school in Iowa. I suppose it’s not like they have anything better to do in Iowa. It reported that production of a hundred bushels of corn from one acre of land required 4,000,000 lbs. of water, 6,800 lbs. of oxygen, 5,200 lbs. of carbon, 160 lbs. of nitrogen, 125 lbs. of potassium, 75 lbs. of yellow sulphur, and other elements too numerous to list. That’s not to mention the need for the proper amounts of rain and sunshine at the right times. Although many hours of the farmer’s labor are also needed, it was estimated that only 5 percent of the produce of a farm can be attributed to the efforts of man. How much spiritual growth do you think can be attributed to human effort?  Read More

Sermon: What the Law Says and What Jesus Does

Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Series A

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

We live in a society where people don’t like to be told what to do. People want the freedom to do what they want and to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. The people around us increasingly think, “What’s good for you is not necessarily good for me. It might be fine for you, but I can do what I want. You can’t tell me what to do. I can live my life how I see fit. I believe each person has to decide what’s right for themselves.” People think that a one-size-fits-all morality that is true for everyone takes away our individual freedom. They think that true freedom needs to be unrestrained, not restricted by rules. They want to be in a world free of restrains which dictate how they should live. 

In many ways, Christians can be susceptible to the same attitude. God comes to us through his Law and tells us what he wants from us. He gives us rules. And some Christians like to think that those rules don’t apply. Or, if they did apply at one time, they no longer apply anymore. Many think of the Law as a bad thing which Jesus came to free us from. However, Jesus in our Gospel reading says that he has no intention of setting aside God’s commands, so we could just do what’s right in our own eyes. Instead, Jesus tells us exactly what God’s Law demands from us and how that Law is fulfilled. Read More

Article: The Reform of the Breviary and Its Lessons

The Reformation of the Breviary and Its Lessons: A Very Brief Survey

Rev. Matthew Fenn

There are many choices for Lutherans, and indeed all Christians, for daily prayer. Choosing a book or form of daily prayer has often been left to the whims and fancies of the one praying. However, as Christians within the Reformation tradition, and as Lutherans in particular, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are principles which governed the reform of the Medieval Breviary and that can be instructive to us today.  What follows here are some what I perceive to be the general principles which should colour our choices.

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February Newsletter

Fasting

Lent begins this month on February 26th. In German, Lent is called Fastenzeit. Fasting-time. Fasting is an act of bodily discipline. Not eating at the regular time brings an immediate response from the body. When we feel hunger, we remember how frail the flesh is. This reminds us of our weakness, for hunger is but a little taste of death. Confronted with our weakness, we confess our need for a Saviour. So fasting is frequently part of repentance.  

After the fall into sin, throughout the Old Testament, God’s people engaged in fasting. In the Scriptures, fasting is frequently accompanied by prayer as an act of worship and repentance. Consider the declaration of God through the Prophet Joel, read among us every Ash Wednesday: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation,” (Joel 2.15-16). In the New Testament, our Lord Himself fasted: “…and when He had fasted forty days and forty nights…” (Matt. 4.2). Moreover, our Lord does not say, “if you fast.” No he says, “when you fast,” (Matt. 6:16). Jesus assumes that his disciples will fast. So has the Christian Church observed fasting from the earliest days and throughout the centuries.

But why should we fast? Fasting is not something that the Church commands in order that men earn favour with God. Christians, however, have always seen fasting as a beneficial exercise of discipline over mind and body, indeed even a God-pleasing act. We have to think no further than our Catechism: fasting is “a fine outward training.” The Apology to the Augsburg Confession says that the purpose of fasting is to put “restraints on our flesh, lest satiety overcome us and render us complacent and lazy,” (Ap. XV:47, cf. XV:24). Luther concurs: “It is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body. For when the stomach is full, the body does not serve for preaching, for praying, for studying, or for doing anything else that is good. Under such circumstances, God’s Word cannot remain. But one should not fast with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work,” (What Luther Says, 506).  It is in this spirit, following the words of the Old and New Testaments, the example of Christ and His disciples, the tradition of the Church, and the Confessions of our Church, that we at St. Peter’s encourage the Christian to fast appropriately and as faith compels. But how do we do it?

Many people confuse fasting and abstinence. To fast is to be hungry; to abstain is give up food entirely. The traditional way to fast in the Church is a small snack for breakfast and lunch, with a simple dinner. Simple inexpensive foods (soups, vegetables, etc.) during fasting maintain the spirit of the fast. Although that’s the traditional way, there’s no law about it. For you, it may be as simple as skipping a meal once a week or to refrain from snacking! It is also appropriate to break your fast on March 25th and on Sundays after communion. (Sundays are never fast days, but we always rejoice in the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus!)

Now, fasting was never meant to be by itself. It is joined to the other two Lenten disciplines: almsgiving and prayer. An increased giving to the poor and an increased time of prayer can go hand in hand with fasting: by not eating so much, you actually have more money to give to others who have less than you, and by not fixing elaborate meals, you also have more time to spend in the Word and prayer. Our Church offers midweek services to help you spend more time in the Word and prayer. Further, by going hungry each day you experience solidarity with those many members of the human race who also go hungry each day.

Above all, we teach ourselves that the hunger behind all hungers is the hunger for God Himself. We can discipline our wayward flesh by not letting it dictate to us what and when to eat. Give it some thought and prayer and then rejoice in the truth that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Whatever the shape your fasting discipline takes, may you enjoy a blessed and holy Lent!

Your Pastor,
Rev. Matthew Fenn

Sermon: The Presentation of our Lord

Text: Luke 2:22-40
The Purification of the B.V. M. and the Presentation of our Lord

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

The Lord had instructed Moses that for a full 40 days after giving birth the new mother, “shall touch no holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.” ( Lev. 12:4). Isn’t this a bit ironic in the case of the virgin Mary? For those 40 days, she was touching a holy thing. She was spending most her time touching a holy thing. She was touching the Most Holy Thing you could touch, the Incarnate God himself. She really doesn’t have much of a choice though does she? Who else is going to feed, change, and lovingly care for little baby Jesus? Moses reasons that since she brought a sinner into the world, she therefore must be purified. But that isn’t quite how it went, is it? This child was virgin born. When God the Holy Ghost himself comes upon a woman and the power of the Most High overshadows her, she doesn’t really need the purification prescribed by Moses. Even though Jesus shares in our flesh and blood, He does not share in the Sin of our Father Adam. From what then does Mary need to be purified if her son is the sinless Son of God? Why are they in the Temple?

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Sermon: Fish in the Kingdom

Text: Matthew 4:12-25
Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Series A

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

Was Jesus waiting for a signal? Our Gospel reading says that Jesus didn’t begin to announce the Kingdom until he heard that John had been arrested. John was sequestered in Herod’s dungeon. The charge: He criticised the morality of the king. Herod was shaking up with his sister-in-law, and John called him out on it. Suddenly, the voice calling in the wilderness is silenced. Something about that sinister moment told Jesus that the time had come. Jesus could wait no longer. The darkness had reached its height; it was time for the great light to shine.

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Sermon: Protected by the Lamb’s Blood

Text: Exodus 12:21-28
Second Sunday After Epiphany, Series A

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

The King of Abyssinia once took eight British subjects prisoner and incarcerated them in the high fortress of Magdala. No reason was given for their confinement. When the Britain Empire found out, she demanded an immediate release for her citizens. King Theodore refused.

Within ten days after the refusal was received, ten thousand British soldiers were sailing down the coast headed for Magdala. Then marching across an unfriendly country for seven hundred miles, they went up the mountains to where the prisoners were being held. They gave battle, tearing the gates of the fortress down and reached the depths of the dungeon. They lifted those eight British subjects out, placed them on their shoulders and carried them down the mountains to the coast where a big ocean vessel soon sped them safely home.

That expedition took several months and cost the English government twenty-five million dollars. The entire resources of the government were made available in the rescue and protection of only eight citizens. And on a far larger scale, this is what God did for the people of Israel.

 

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Sermon: Jesus Revealed as True Saviour

Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Gospel Reading for The Baptism of Our Lord, Series A

The sermon illustration is borrowed from Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller.

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

Through John’s Objection

It’s safe to say that John the Baptist was as surprised as we are. Or at least, as surprised as we should be if we read this passage without knowing what’s coming. Approximately thirty years have passed since Jesus last appeared in Matthew’s gospel. He was but a toddler then. With little fanfare Jesus suddenly bursts upon the scene in this text. He is grown to manhood and seeks a baptism from John.This is his great epiphany; his manifestation to the world. But, if John had been running the show it might never have happened. The question before before us this morning is this: Why was Jesus baptised by John? Why does he accept a sinner’s baptism?

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