Pandemic Preaching

It’s been a while since I added sermon audio to this site. It’s not that I stopped preaching, but our congregation used prerecorded services for the first fifteen months of the pandemic, and I never got used to preaching to a camera. It was necessary for a season, and moving to prerecorded services was the least worst option we had…but preaching in an empty room at home on a Thursday morning just wasn’t the same.

I am sure there are lots of reasons why I struggled with video preaching, but the lack of connection to the congregation was a major inhibition. Preaching is a living proclamation of God’s Word to God’s people; it is compromised, to a certain extent, when the preacher and congregation are not together in the same place and time. Preaching to a camera in my basement never felt quite right, and I think that is a good thing.

Not that I am saying God can’t use prerecorded sermons; if God works through the foolishness of preaching to a live congregation, surely he can work through a video sermon. And I know that many people are better at connecting with a camera than I am. But I still think something important is lost when preacher and congregation are not together in the same room. I was trying to get at the same issue when I addressed the question of online communion in the early days of the pandemic. At that time I wrote that “the lack of embodied gathering is a fundamental impediment to the life of the church.” Not that I want to discount the opportunities the pandemic has presented for new and creative ministries, and not that I want to deny that God can work through online communion or online preaching, but I think that these means of grace are significantly inhibited by our inability to gather together, as is the life of the church as a whole. After fifteen months of fully-online worship and now about six months of hybrid of in-person / livestream, I haven’t changed my perspective on these questions.

The first two sermons below were based on challenging texts, but I am so thankful I was able to preach them from the pulpit, the midst of the physically-gathered community.

Sermon: Tragedy and Triumph

Preached at Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church, July 11, 2021. Mark 6:14-29.

Sermon: The Stone That Will Not Be Moved

Preached at Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church, November 14, 2021. Mark 13:1-8.

Sermon: The Weight of Words

Preached at Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church, January 23, 2022. Luke 4:14-21.

Teach Us to Number our Days

I gave this short sermon for the Ash Wednesday service at Wesley Chapel on March 6, 2019. While it was given two years ago, the theme of “numbering our days” has remained with me. And it seems all the more relevant now, as we near the one-year mark for this pandemic. What has it taught us about time? We have been shown that we shouldn’t take anything for granted, and that our lives can be turned upside down in an instant. COVID has been a visceral reminder of the fragility of human life, not just in terms of our personal health but in terms of our life together – our social and economic institutions. It is as if “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” is broadcast to us in each day’s headlines. For the Christian this is not cause for despair but a call to to faith and hope in the God who has defeated death and holds our times in his hands. And it reminds us that our time in this mortal life is limited, so we should receive everything that comes into our hands as a gift that needs to be stewarded with a heart of wisdom.

I had Sandra McCracken’s setting of Psalm 90 in mind as I was reflecting on these themes. It’s a song worth meditating upon today.

Sermon Audio: Peace in the Midst of Trouble

I preached this sermon yesterday at my home church, Wesley Chapel. We have been focusing on the farewell discourse from the Gospel of John through the season of Lent, and yesterday’s text was John 16:16-33.

One of the things I’ve learned in pastoral ministry is most people, if you scratch beneath the surface, have passed through profound trials. You think people live very cookie-cutter lives, but it’s not true. Many people’s lives have been marked by deep tragedy and brokenness.  But in our very private, individualistic Canadian context, these burdens are often carried in secrecy or near-secrecy. I know some of the suffering of the people in our church family, but I am sure there is much more that I don’t know about. It is important that we acknowledge the inevitability of suffering in this life, especially in a culture of convenience and ease, where suffering seems to have become so unthinkable that many people would rather cut their lives short than live with suffering. But the point is not to simply state that suffering is inevitable, but to proclaim how, through Christ, our suffering can be taken up and transformed into a path towards peace and joy.

Themes of grief, lament, and peace in the face of suffering were woven throughout the service. We had a powerful testimony from a mother who lost her 21-year-old son last year, and we introduced this song from Bifrost Arts.

I hope Christ’s words gave some peace and courage to those gathered yesterday: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”



Installation Sermon: The Triumphs of His Grace

This past Tuesday I was officially installed as the Donald N. and Kathleen G. Bastian Chair of Wesley Studies at Tyndale Seminary.  I’ve been doing the work of the Wesley Chair since I arrived at Tyndale in January 2013. However, since I was a newly-minted Assistant Professor, I was hired with the understanding that I would be officially appointed to the Chair upon successful application for tenure and promotion. So this Tuesday’s ceremony was nearly six years in coming.

It was a good day to celebrate the partnership between Tyndale and the Wesleyan denominations that sponsor the Bastian Chair: the Be in Christ Church (formerly Brethren in Christ), the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, and the Wesleyan Church. The Bastian Chair was established in 1993, and Donald Bastian (then Bishop of the Free Methodist Church in Canada) was instrumental in drawing the partner denominations together.

Installation Sermon

The sermon audio is below, and it can be downloaded from the Tyndale website.  It was a bit of an unusual sermon – in fact, it was something of a blend of sermon and keynote address. Had the installation been held a separate occasion I would have done an inaugural lecture; since it took place during our regular community chapel service, it needed to take the form of a sermon and speak to the whole Tyndale community.

The scripture readings were Isaiah 25:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

As I said on Tuesday, I am truly grateful for Tyndale and for this unique role, which allows me to serve both the Canadian Wesleyan family and the broader church.




The Free Methodist Position on Baptism (Sermon)

I’ve recently been engaging the controversial question of baptism in Wesleyan theology and practice.  The Methodist position has always been somewhat unusual, and it continues to be of interest despite centuries of discussion and debate.  In the past several months, through student papers, conversations with other pastors, and situations in my own church, I’ve been pressed into renewed consideration of the question.

The occasion for the sermon below was two back-to-back baptism services at Wesley Chapel: four adult baptisms on June 3, and an infant baptism on June 10.  While we’ve had both types of baptism regularly, I don’t believe we’ve ever had them so close together. I realized that, in the ten years I’ve been at Wesley Chapel, we’ve never clearly addressed the question of baptism.

So in the sermon below I’ve attempted to give a brief orientation to the position of our denomination, the Free Methodist church. Given the context of this sermon, my goal was not so much to defend the Free Methodist view (though I do try to answer some common objections) as to articulate it. I also tried not to assume much prior knowledge, given the diverse set of people and church backgrounds we have with us on a given Sunday morning. So the sermon has limitations, and necessarily paints with a broad brush, but I hope it is helpful as a general overview.

*A note to my Salvation Army readers: in the first half of the sermon I set out the major positions on baptism from across the ecumenical spectrum; however, due to time constraints and the heavy amount of content that was already included in the sermon, I decided not to try to explain the non-observant stance of the Salvation Army and the Society of Friends. No disrespect was intended…this was entirely a practical decision. I didn’t think I’d have time to address it adequately. When I teach this topic in the seminary classroom, I always include an explanation of the Salvationist viewpoint.

Country Music: A Good Friday Sermon [audio]

Each year on Good Friday at Wesley Chapel we are blessed to be joined by our neighbours from Bridlewood Presbyterian Church.  Today I gave the sermon, on Matthew 27:45-61, focusing specifically on Christ’s cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Here is the audio, or you can download the file here.

Sermon Audio: A New Song and the New Creation (Psalm 96)

Last week I had the pleasure of spending five days with twelve fine seminary students, discussing “Creation and New Creation.”  You can find out about the course by reading the course syllabus here.  My goal for the week was lay some deep theological roots for engaging in the practice of creation stewardship. So our course included a range of topics: the Triune Creator, creation ex nihilo, the goodness of creation, general revelation, the image of God, sin, salvation, eschatology, and mission…an ambitious agenda to be sure!  But we were looking at each of these topics in relation to the question of humanity’s role as stewards of creation.  I hope it was successful in setting out creation stewardship as an issue that is deeply connected to core Christian doctrines – not at all a peripheral matter.

At Tyndale we often have summer school instructors preach during our weekly worship gathering, and so I had my first chance to preach in our new chapel on Bayview Avenue. It is an amazing worship space, as you can see from the image below.  My sermon was based on Psalm 96, keeping the themes of my course in mind, and also Tyndale’s transition to our new campus, which is still underway. Listen to the sermon below, or download the file here.

Tyndale Chapel by JDB Sound Photography via flickr

Sermon: How Can I Keep from Singing? Psalm 126 [audio]

I was glad to have a chance to preach at Tyndale’s community chapel a couple of months ago, on Psalm 126.  The sermon is part of a series of “Journey” chapels – a series designed to help our community navigate through a year of transition to our new Bayview campus.  We’ve been looking at one of the Psalms of ascent for each of these chapel services.

I used this wonderful Robert Lowry hymn (written 1860) as a window into the message of the Psalm:

Robert Lowry via wikimediaMy life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

Here is the audio, or you can download it from this site.