Pastor’s Blog

Who’s that Matthias Guy?

Saint Matthias.PNG

Our first reading from this past Sunday tells the account of the calling of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the Apostles. We don’t often talk about him though. After all, he never wrote a Gospel. We don’t have any epistles from him. He sort of comes in after-the-fact of the Gospel histories. Yet, apart from being just one of the historical curiosities, Luke’s account from Acts 1:12-26 is still significant for our understanding of both the early Church and the ongoing life of the Church today.

St. Matthias’ ministry took him through Judea and into the territories of the modern-day country of Georgia. There is some discrepancy about where his martyrdom took place – Jerusalem or Georgia – but these details are not so essential to what Luke’s account teaches us.

First, absolutely, we have an example of a first century ‘call meeting’ – where a vacancy left by the apostasy and death of one of the original Apostles was addressed by the remaining leadership of the early Church. They short-listed a number of candidates, and following prayerful consideration made their selection (by casting lots no less!). Within our Lutheran Churches, we follow the same practice when it comes to calling a new pastor today – with, maybe, the exception of casting lots – as we seek to discern who the Holy Spirit may be calling to take on the role of pastor and undershepherd of our congregations.

But, more important, is the concern we see expressed in Matthias’ selection – where the Apostles wanted to ensure that the man selected was one who had both been with Jesus since the beginning and had been an eyewitness of the Resurrection. This was the unique concern of the early Church that the witnesses and preachers could offer an authentic testimony of who Jesus was and what He had said, done, and taught.

The calling of Matthias illustrates the integrity of the early Church in its concern for faithfulness in its witness – something that we ought to take to heart, both in the way in which we read the New Testament documents as well as in the way in which we look at the evangelistic purpose of the Church today. We are not called upon to innovate and ‘tinker’ with the message but to present it faithfully and clearly to a new generation. Not because we are brokers in ‘ideas’ but because Christianity is founded upon none other than Jesus Christ (our cornerstone) who, as God-in-the-flesh, is our entrance into heaven. And we, as present-day Christians, are inheritors of this mission – to introduce another generation to that same Saviour and Lord.

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Humility, Humility, Humility – 1 Peter 5:6-8

Great things always start small. This is what Jesus reminded us of when He compared faith to a mustard seed. St. Peter, here too, reminds us that humility is one of the things that faith looks like.

True, this letter was one reminding us as baptized Christians that we should not be surprised when we face trials and suffering in this life because of our faith. 1 Peter 4:12-19 calls upon us to see that as a sign that we are indeed Christian people and to rejoice when we suffer for ‘doing good’ – doing things according to Scripture – as Peter here writes. At the same time, he point out that God’s love in Christ is bigger than any of our worries, calling on us to humbly place all our anxieties and hurts onto the crucified Jesus and so to find rest for our bodies and souls.

I know it sounds easy – we often tell people to do the same. And yet, when it comes to actually doing this, we have a tendency to try to hold onto something – just something – within ourselves to try to either justify our hurt, or we cave under the pressure. It’s tough – especially in our present Canadian context where it is not popular to be a Bible believing Christian. And yet, as Peter likewise said (John 6:67-69), Jesus alone has the words of eternal life – and what could be more precious.

Learning to look to Jesus in all circumstances is a challenge – a blessed one to be sure – but a challenge nonetheless as we wrestle through the weakness of our human nature. This call to humility is an invitation for us to step ‘out of ourselves’ and ‘back into faith’ as we turn our attention away from our self-styled ways of living so that we simple ‘trust’ (that’s what faith means in the original Greek) His care and guidance for our lives so that – no matter the circumstances, we stay rooted in the very source of our life and being – in the Triune God – all through our incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s no wonder that St. Augustine once said that the marks of faith are humility, humility, humility. May the Holy Spirit grant us that in our own time. Amen.

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Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving – Psalm 100:1-5

With news of Phase 2 here in Manitoba and the loosening of restrictions on group-gathering size, Council has discussed our next steps too. We will be looking at scheduling four service times throughout the week – limiting attendance numbers to match Manitoba Health recommendations. This will start up on June 7th – do keep in mind, however, that we will have to remain patient and flexible as health recommendations continue to change based on need. At the same time, we also want to be responsible with our spiritual health needs – which include both partaking of our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper as well as living out that baptismal life by gathering together as the people of God. As we have been doing, we will continue to keep everybody in the loop through our website, general mailings and emails. Keep your eyes open for the latest details as they come available.

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Bible Study – Jude Part 1

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Bible Study – Jude Part 2

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Jesus is God and Baptism now Saves you

Sometimes we get so caught up with cultural forms of Christianity that push their own spin on these points – and yet, a simple reading of 1 Peter 3:13-22 highlights how the first Christians (the Apostles no less!) did indeed understand Jesus to be ‘God in the flesh’ and that Baptism was God’s appointed extension of the saving work of Jesus on the cross – so that Baptism does indeed save us – it’s not just symbolic.

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Thinking those things that are right…

I’m not sure how much time you spent looking at the ‘Collect Prayers’ week after week. It’s easy to overlook them – as just another prayer that the pastor usually prays and while the rest of us are waiting for the sermon. And yet, there is a treasure-trove of wisdom hidden in these little petitions week-after-week which speak directly to the way in which our lives of faith are shaped and formed.

The Collect from this past Sunday is one such gem where, acknowledging that God is the giver of all good gifts, we pray for His inspiration so that He would reframe and reform our thoughts to what is right so that, by His merciful guiding, we would be able to accomplish them.

There is a cool correlation hidden under these words. ‘Thinking rightly’ is what the Greek words under ‘orthodoxy’ point us to. And not only, right thinking, but also to proper praise – as the Greek word doxa captures within its meaning as well.

This notion might strike us as strange in a world and society which values so-called ‘free thinking’. The funny thing is, however, that even though we might initially react to the notion that the Church (of all things) might ‘direct’ the way we think, we have no problem with allowing teachers and university professors, self-help books, psychologists and counsellors, not to mention movies and music and TV shows to do that for us. Even the commercials we watch with their jingles are all aimed at shaping the way we thing so as to shape the way we buy. And most of the time, we embrace this without complaint.

This Collect reminds us that faith-formation – the shaping of our spiritual lives – has everything to do with how we look at life – and for this, we need the help of the Holy Spirit as He helps and leads us through the words of Scripture. That is, after all, where our transformation be become more Christ-like begins. This is why Jesus referred to religious folks who are only concerned about external behaviour as ‘white washed tombs’ (Matthew 23:27-28). Their outsides might look pretty but their insides sure stink. Faith formation begins on the inside – in the tomb – and just in the same way that Jesus transformed His tomb into a place of life, He does the same for us too. So yes, we pray that our Triune God would retrain our minds to think those things that are right and shape us to become more-and-more faithful in our witness.

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A Martyr’s Witness – St. Stephen

Acts chapter seven tells the story of St. Stephen’s martyrdom. Dying for our faith isn’t something that we’ve had to grapple with in any meaningful way in recent history – at least not here in North America. But for many Christians around the world, this is very much a part of their daily reality. As Western culture moves progressively away from its Christian roots, we too will face increasing hostility and persecution. Stephen’s witness is a good one for us to consider as we strive to live out our faith in our world today too.

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Racism in the Early Church?

Acts 6:1-9 is just a small sampler of a bigger problem that the first Christian communities had to deal with. It’s a good lesson for us to wrestle through for us today. Racism is never an easy term to hear but, when it comes to the faith, it is important that we acknowledge that God’s Word and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is bigger than any one culture. Otherwise, Gospel wouldn’t be Gospel and the vast majority of us would be left outside of Salvation by the simple fact that we are not born as natural Israelites. But thanks be to God in Jesus Christ that Jesus’ work applies to not only people of Jewish heritage (as the early Christians sometimes believed), but to Samaritans and Gentiles (that’s the rest of us) as well – and it’s a Gift that Jesus gives through baptism. Let’s be cautious that we don’t stand in the way of the Gospel in our attitudes – racism should never be a pattern of life that makes a home among us.

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Crave Pure Spiritual Milk

1 Peter 2:2-10 is one of those fascinating passages from the New Testament which, if you miss the sacramental context of Peter’s first letter, you miss the bigger whole. As I’ve been commenting, Peter’s first letter is written to a bunch of newly baptized Christians – both as an encouragement in their faith as well as support for them, given the context of persecutions that existed already in the early Church.

This passage ends reminding the first readers (and us) that through baptism, we have been transformed into a new kind of people – whose identity is framed by the mercy of God which we have received in Christ. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (verse 10). This is a reminder that baptism changes us through our association with Jesus Christ – it gives us a name, a living purpose, which is rooted in and arises out of God’s mercy as His Gift.

This is illustrated in the verses before (verses 4-9) where Peter uses the example of Jesus as that cornerstone upon which the ‘royal priesthood’ of the Church is build. We, he writes, are ‘living stones’ – plucked from the field (like so many useless rocks) and transformed into stones with a purpose, being brought together, shaped together, through the mortar of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness which we have been planted into through baptism, to be a new people – who both declare God’s praises in both our lives of worship and witness – as we participate in that life of prayer and intercession for the world which Jesus as our high priest carries in Himself.

We are to be a people of prayer – absolutely. A people who gather (because we have been gathered in baptism) to worship together and work together. We are to be a people who immerse ourselves in His mercy so that we can live that same grace with one another – even and especially when times get rough … which leads us back to the opening verse: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (verses 2-3). This is Peter’s reminder that faith needs to be nourished and nurtured and that not everything that passes as ‘spiritual’ foodstuffs is necessarily good for us.

As parents, we strive to feed our children good food so that they grow up strong. At the same time, we understand the allure of junk food. It’s easy to grab for a bag of chips or a favourite chocolate bar to quench our rumbling tummies – but what we really need to good food – nourishing food – our mother’s milk, as St. Peter here suggests.

As baptized children of God, these words are a reminder for us not to get distracted by chasing after whatever seems easy or captures our fancy in the broad smorgasbord of spiritual ideas and opinions that are out there in our world today. No, instead, Peter calls us to look for our mother’s milk – that pure spiritual food – which comes to us in the Word (Scriptures) and through the means of the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as a way – GOD’s way – to nurture our faith and spiritual lives in union with Jesus Christ who alone died and rose again to be that Saviour for us all.

Be careful what you ingest as spiritual food. I know that it’s far too easy to chase after preachers and speakers that seem to promise all the kingdoms of the world ‘if only’ you follow them. As Christians, however, we ought only to have one Master – Jesus Christ; and Church ought to be a place where we point to Him, and nurture our lives of faith in Him through the means and Gifts which He has given us. Let’s set aside the junk food and nurture that craving for the pure spiritual milk that Jesus gives.

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