Receive the Gospel with the joy that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
—1 Thessalonians 1:6
My name is Peter Mikelic, and I have felt called to be a pastor since my early teen years. Many aspects of parish ministry are important and have drawn me. Yet the art and science of hermeneutics and homiletics are the gift that I’m most inspired to share. In real language, that means I really like to interpret scripture, write sermons and preach!
My wife Sherry delivers very brief and pointed sermons, mostly to me! But I find more time is involved. Exploring the depth and breadth of that intersection between the meaning of God’s Word and its relevancy in today’s complex world takes time, prayer, and soul searching. My purpose is to shed light on life in the here and now.
I hope these brief excerpts from recent sermons are meaningful to you. If you would like me to email a copy of any of the full sermons, please contact the office or let me know. Better yet, come on Sunday to hear one!
Inspiration for the Mind: Brief Sermon Excerpts
In Mt, the Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Lk, the Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. But Lk has a major addition: After 5 or 6 Blessed’s, Luke ends with 4 Terrible’s: If you’re rich now, you will be poor later; if you’re full now, you’ll be hungry later; if you’re laughing now, you’ll be weeping later; and if people are speaking well of you now, you will be derided later, as were the prophets.
Both Mt & Lk begin with the same one-liner from Jesus: “Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God belongs to you!” This one liner is a real sizzler, especially if your bankbook is filled with green dough and your stomach with cookie dough, or if your mouth is filled with laughter and your life with love. MF, let me try to get inside this Jesus who pronounces blessedness to the poor, but terribles to the satisfied.
So MF, do you know what made Jesus such a loving person? Not only “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” but because Jesus knows what hurts us. He knows what hurts the human heart. He knows our pain firsthand: from the woman caught in adultery in danger of stoning to the sinful woman who touched him and the scandal of his host; from the Samaritan woman at the well, to the women of Jerusalem who wept for him on his way to the cross.
To all of these folks and many others, Jesus reached out from his very insides to each of them. For each person who hurt, his heart was torn…not some sweet, sticky, syrupy, sentiment. Rather, Jesus felt what they were personally feeling, you see. Why? Because Jesus was so human, that he was attuned to all that was human. Not attuned to adultery, but to the adulteress; not to leprosy, but to each leper; not to the priceless perfume poured over him, but to the woman in tears and pain; and attuned not to a dead Lazarus, but to his sorrowing sisters and to his own tears for his friend.
MF, if you want to be like Jesus—to know what hurts another—then you need only to be there for him/her, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Listen to him/her with your whole self, to everything that is being said, but especially to what is not being said. And if you do this well—it’s not easy—it takes work—if you really do this well, you will hear what they are hoping and fearing, you will hear where they hurt and you will feel their pain, all of which they sometimes can’t even acknowledge to themselves. And, like Christ, you will be able to live with them in their world and share what they feel inside. That’s what it means to love someone, MF, really love someone—no matter who it is—family or friend, someone inside the church or outside.
40 years of pastoral ministry has taught me a great deal. I believe that worship services are the very centre of the life of every parish. No matter how well everything else goes in a congregation, unless the heart of a church is its weekly gathering for worship, that parish will die a slow death or simply become another club for personal interest groups, one of which often revolves around the pastor or some other prominent member or group within the parish. Jesus is the reason for every season in the church year. Jesus is the master of this house and we are his disciples and his Body in this world. That’s why we gather for weekly worship—to be fed and to feed!
The work of the church is not easy, and that’s an understatement—big time! After all, in addition to politics, there’s no business like church business. The church needs to have both a long and a short view of its life and mission. The church needs to do the right things for the right reasons. It’s all too easy to get side-tracked. MF, we live in a seductive culture of instant gratification, where to be informed is maximized, but to be transformation is minimized. Most Christians don’t think they need transformation because they’ve already got the truth with a capital T, and so there’s no need to change.
Too many Christians operate on cruise control. Meaning: Our responses are habituated reactions. We react out of years of habit, and not from fully conscious decision-making. We may have moments when we are conscious of our real motivations and actual goals, but it takes years of practice, honesty and humility to be consistently awake, in order to make loving choices. Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona—not the mask, we usually present to others—and that includes us Christians.
I’ve said it numerous times: To believe in Jesus is only the first step in the journey of faith. The crucial step is how we believe, how we live out our faith from day to day and year to year; and how we make our faith come alive inside these walls, but more importantly, outside these walls! That’s real, actual, bona fide, living faith MF!
It is extremely difficult for most Christians to be spiritually hungry. Too many Christians are complacent, while others disagree with the direction of the church, the in-fighting and finger pointing, the narrow-mindedness and pettiness which characterize too many congregations, where the bottom line is either money or the pastor. It’s no wonder that so many churches are almost half empty.
MF, only those who love rightly, can see and hear rightly, and be the vehicles who transform the church into a sacred place where we meet the God who transforms us.
Trouble is: Jesus always subverted the social hierarchy by inviting people who had no business sharing a mutual meal at the same table. He broke down the well-established social and religious hierarchies. One of the most damning accusations levelled at Jesus by his opponents was that he ate with sinners—wine bibbers, adulterers, social outcasts and the poor—meaning Jesus upset the hierarchy big time!
The fact is this: Almsgiving to the poor was the last great refuge of the rich and famous against the terror of having to sit down with the poor and the very poor—sit down with people who are not your equal—people whom you loathe and despise, folks whose poverty and illness was a clear and compelling punishment from God. In other words, giving alms to the poor is much easier than having to sit down with them and actually talk to them and help them!
Almsgiving, you see, leaves the lines of social distinction and status in place; whereas sharing a meal with the poor obliterates those lines, which of course is precisely the gospel. Jesus invited the sinners and untouchables to dinner and actually eats with them.
A true story: A white South African woman found herself sitting next to a black man on a British Airlines flight, just when apartheid was about to collapse. She called the flight attendant and demanded to be moved to another seat. The economy section is full, explained the attendant, but there is a seat still available in first class, she said. The flight attendant then turned to the black man and said: Sir, if you’d like to get your things together, your first-class seat is ready!
Sermon: 4 Decades of Learning Lessons the Hard Way
40 years ago tomorrow, August 26, 1979, I was ordained in my home parish, St. John’s Lutheran Church, downtown Hamilton….And so, this morning, MF, I’d like to reflect on some of the important lessons I’ve learned over these 4 decades of parish ministry….
What I’ve learned reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon, where Lucy—remember her? —“the crabgrass in the lawn of life”—she was constructing 2 lists of stuff she learned. Charlie Brown happens along and asks “Why is one list longer than the other?” “The longer list,” says Lucy, “is the stuff I’ve had to learn the hard way!”
Now, the very first lesson I learned the hard way is that I’m not the only minister here this morning. All of us are God’s ministers, not only to care for one another, so that no one slips away from us ignored—but equally important, to minister to our neighbours and to God’s world. Luther called this “the Priesthood of all Believers.” We are all priests and pastors who work for the Lord in his vineyard—all of us! The church’s ministry is for all the baptized everywhere. There are no exceptions MF—not a one!
Last Lesson #7 It is the most difficult to learn, because it requires change, if we Christians want to grow, and not stagnate and die. MF, there are only 2 kinds of religion. One believes that God will love me if I change. The other believes that God loves me so that I can change. The first is common and a substitute for the second. But the second is grounded in a spiritual experience of God’s love. God loves me so that I can change. But will I change? And if not, why not? Why not? Because as Christians, we want to grow, to strive and thrive and we also want that for our church. Why? Because the church is in major decline. It is in crisis. We’re already closing church doors. That’s why change is absolutely imperative!
You and I need to be the change the church requires—just like Jesus was the change necessary to shake up Judaism, the Roman Empire and begin Christianity; just like Buddha was the change necessary to shake up the prevailing suffering to reach a state of spiritual oneness; just like Martin Luther was the change necessary to shake up the Roman Catholic Church and its papacy of the 16th century–its exploitation, corruption and theology to start a new church; just like Gandhi was the change necessary to shake up Hinduism, challenge the British Empire and show the nations how non-violent pacifism actually changes the world; and just like Martin Luther King Jr was the change necessary to shake up black conformity to white power and America’s segregationist society.
But we can and must walk their talk, and talk their walk, in order to shake up today’s church here in North America and in Europe, to find a path forward. We must be the change the church so desperately needs. Otherwise, we and the church will die.
1 Corinthians 1:11b-13
Two young boys were friends. The one asked the other to come to his church; but he could not. “Why not?” he asked. “Because I belong to a different abomination.” Denominations, MF, can be an abomination.
The Christian Church is divided into four major divisions, each represented by the names in the passage for 1 Corinthians: St. Peter & the Roman Catholic Church; St. Paul & the Protestant Church; Apollos & the Orthodox Church; Christ & the independent Christian Churches.
First, there is the Church of Saint Peter, which is the church of Rome—the RCC. You may remember the story in Matthew in which Jesus gave Peter the power of the keys and said that Jesus will build his church up him….Tragically, the RCC today still practices closed communion. There are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Now my grandfather who raised me was RC. He didn’t care for me to become a pastor. On the other hand, he was glad I didn’t become a RCC priest, because, as he put it: “I would have to give up my sex life, but also listen to everyone else’s sex life in the confessional booth. So, little Peter, as a Lutheran pastor, you can have your own sex life.”
Lutherans and Anglicans have much in common, theologically and liturgically. They both believe that Jesus walked on water. But Canadian Lutherans believed he walked on water in the wintertime.
The miracle this morning is that Christian unity is not a matter of every Christian holding exactly the same view. After all, church families, like nuclear families, are still families even when they don’t agree with each other. Rather, the miracle for unity is for all Christians to listen to the same voice and respond by going beyond tribe and clan, beyond race and religion, beyond denominationalism and “abominationalism.”
Those folks who don’t like to lighten up in church say: “Pastor, religion is serious business. You don’t see Jesus laughing or telling jokes, do you?” Of course they don’t have to argue with George Bernard Shaw who said: “If we sing in church, then why can’t we also laugh?” Or, listen to the wicked wit of Oscar Wilde: “If you’ve not got any humor, then you’re finished. You might just as well be a clergyman.”
Every pastor can pretend to be serious, but on pastor can pretend to be humorous. And that’s because humor is not a state of mind, but a state of the heart. Humor is a gift from God and she expects us to use it, especially in church. Now, you may remember the principle to which most church members adhere: Do not associate with the pastor during the week, lest you find yourself in the sermon at the end of the week. After all, to all things clergic, most folks are allergic.
Now, in case you think I’ve lost my marbles, there are times when I do say something sensible and judicious. For instance, no long after the gardening episode, Sherry and I were sitting down to have supper. I began to eat without offering my customary prayer. “What? No prayer for God to bless the food?” Sherry asked.
To which I responded: My dear wife. I have prayed for God’s blessing on these leftovers on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Additional blessing over the same food is simply not necessary, even with the best of human and divine intentions.
We don’t own laughter. Laughter from the belly owns us. It is a gift of God which keeps on giving. It’s the work of the soul. It heals the heart and keeps the church from suffering cardiac arrest.
Greed: unbridled, unfettered, unvarnished, unadulterated greed. The gift that keeps on taking and taking and then some. Why? Because more is never enough. It’s one of the original deadly sins—not because it’s wrong to own a lot of stuff; but rather because the stuff ends up owning us, you see! Trouble is: We never see it or accept it. Our human capacity for denial is incredibly profound.
But Jesus tells this younger brother, as well as you and me, to think critically about where our greed is leading us. If we use our inheritance to amass more wealth, to whom will we leave it? Will this wealth make them better people, more sensitive and empathetic, more caring and sharing? Will our inheritance build the character of our children and build up the Kingdom of God, by helping the poor and the refugees of this world? Or will our inheritance cost relationships, family breakdowns and marital breakups?
The fact is: Inheritance is a soul-issue. It’s a spiritual matter, as much as it is a material and monetary one. Greed always originates from a perception of scarcity: believing that I will never get enough or that there will never be enough.
In the end, like at the beginning, everything, but everything belongs to God. The only inheritance that will ever make us really happy is to bloom and blossom in the little corner of God’s Kingdom where she has planted us.
“Hallowed be thy Name” is the reverence evoked in God’s presence. But when this reverence is directed towards cars and lifestyles, towards, actors and athletes, rock stars and celebrities, then this is plain and simple idolatry.
“Thy Kingdom come.” But how can God’s Kingdom come, unless our petty little kingdoms first go?
Do you know that one of the scariest verses in all the Bible is in today’s Gospel from Luke? “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” And when Jesus says ‘sins’, there’s no telling what you see: the stolen chocolate bar, the rumpled sheets of bed you shared without someone else’s spouse; a large pipe spilling orange sludge into a once-blue river, a clutch of homeless people sitting around a fire built in a vacant lot between skyscrapers. The picture will be different for everyone, but the experience is one that makes a part of our insides die, which is how transformation begins.
Sin is a broken relationship with self, with others, with enemies, with God and with Mother Earth. And the only way to restore these broken relationships is through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the willingness to put justice and mercy ahead of revenge and retribution. This alone breaks the violent cycle of an eye for an eye and a toot for a tooth. Without forgiveness, we’d all be blind and needing dentures.
The fact is: The Lord’s Prayer breaks down the illusion of self-sufficiency and cultivates an attitude of gratitude for God’s good gifts.
Jesus isn’t saying to Martha that one casserole would have been quite enough. Rather, the one singular prerequisite for being a follower is listening to God’s word and therefore learning to live as a disciple. Listening and learning is the better part. Martha was everything good and right about Jewish women. But one thing she was not: She was not present, not living in the moment, not rooted in the reality of what was happening in her own house, right then and there.
Presence is always being present to and for someone with one’s whole self and being…and to do so without the distraction of the chattering monkey mind. How we do the moment is what counts. Everything else is secondary—even the personal ego-driven pursuit of salvation.
It’s all too easy and frequent to not only misplace priorities, but lose values, especially spiritual ones. Now, I don’t mean to imply that domestic chores are misplaces priorities, when in fact, domesticity is an authentic issue of social justice.
True spirituality is always about letting go of the ten thousand things which occupy and preoccupy us, that condition and precondition us, that keep us from letting go and letting God take over—letting go of my private little kingdom so that God’s Kingdom can come and happen to us. Are we listening and learning at Jesus’ feet , so that we may be formed, reformed and transformed by the Holy Spirit?