Today-January 27, 2018 is Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yad Vashem Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

I took this photo in 2014, when we visited this museum. It was a most moving and informative experience.

Today is Yom HaShoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to remember the millions of Jewish people across Europe who perished in the concentration camps of the Nazis. A day to listen to those survivors who are still bearing witness to their experiences in the face of the evils of the Shoah. A day to strengthen our resolve to end all hatred and anti-Semitism. A day to realize that no matter what colour our skin may be, what country we were born in and now live in, what language we speak, God is the Creator of us all, loves us all, and in response to this love, calls and gifts us to love one another. A day to pray to God to help us all to continue to grow in this love in thought, word and action.

If there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day Service or event in your community, I encourage you to attend.

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Preachers’ Thought for Today

Bethany Meadows pulpit, photo by GW-H

“Preaching is effective as long as the preacher expects something to happen-not because of the sermon, not even because of the preacher, but because of God.” -John Hines

Christmas and New Year Greetings

Last night we had the privilege of attending G.F. Handel’s Messiah, with members of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and the Rosa Barocca – Chorus & Baroque Orchestra, directed and conducted by Claude Lapalme. The Peter and Jeanne Lougheed Performing Arts Centre concert hall was filled to capacity—and for good reason, almost three hours of ‘heaven on earth’ music, celebrating the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

I have seen Handel’s Messiah several times, and heard it on record, cassette and CD a host of times—yet I never get bored or tired of it. There’s always something beautiful about it that so movingly proclaims ‘the holy’ and fills one for an all-too-brief time with the joy, love and peace of God in the midst of a troubled and all-too-often evil world that would rob us of every God-given gift. I wonder what would happen if every human being in this world—regardless of how well or how poor they could sing or play—would sing and play Handel’s Messiah together, if the intercession in the Lord’s Prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” would become more incarnate in and through the music to such a profound extent that all hatred, terrorism and war would vanish forever.

This time round, Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter nine, verse six, keeps playing in my head: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.” (NRSV) He is the one who is coming to set all things, all peoples, right with the world.

Here is Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra with the Tenebrae Choir. I love some of the expressions on Colin’s face, he seems captivated by the joy of this marvelous music.

Wishing all of you, my readers, a very blessed Christmas and Happy New Year!

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Harris

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Gwen Harris, based on Ps 23 & Jn 14:1-3 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, December 16, 2017, two o’clock.

 

A daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, neighbour, and member of God’s family, Carla Gwen Harris, has departed from this life. With death, comes a sadness, especially for you members of Carla’s family. You will miss her.

When I asked family members to tell me a bit about Carla, they said she was short and sweet-pun intended. She touched their lives with her honesty, forth-rightness, sense of humour, spontaneity, at times strong-mindedness, as well as being upbeat, and having a positive, hopeful view of life. She was also known and respected as the family historian for both sides of the family. She loved and was proud of her family; they were the most important part of her life. Carla, I’m told, also was a caring person, and looked after her mom and aunt. Some of the things she enjoyed in life were knitting and crocheting, movies and reading, as well as country music, especially Johnny Reid.

When a family is close-knit, and a member departs from this life, there is a sadness and there can be a loneliness and emptiness. One of the most comforting gifts that God gives us at times like this is God’s Word. So we turn to God’s Word now, starting with Psalm twenty-three. This beautiful psalm is one of the most popular and comforting passages in the Bible. Even though it likely wasn’t originally written specifically for funeral services—countless Christians and Jews choose Psalm twenty-three for funeral services.

The words describe God as a loving, caring shepherd, as well as a host and chef who serves up a banquet feast. God our shepherd provides for our needs; is with us to lead us through death’s dark valley; and is generous in providing a banquet feast—“my cup overflows,” says the psalmist. God’s deepest desire is that every human being knows him as a loving, caring God who provides for our needs, and who is always with us through life and through death.

There’s a true story I love about a house party in one of the big English country houses. Often after dinner at these parties people give recitations, sing, and use whatever talent they have to entertain the company. One year a famous actor was among the guests. I’ve been told he might have been Charles Laughton. When it came his turn to perform, he recited the Twenty-third Psalm. His rendition was magnificent, and there was much applause. At the end of the evening someone noticed a little old great aunt dozing in the corner. She was deaf as a post and had missed most of what was going on, but she was urged to get up and recite something. In those days people used to memorize a lot of poetry! So she stood up, and in her quavery old voice she started, The Lord is my shepherd, and went on to the end of the psalm. When she had finished there were tears in many eyes. Later one of the guests approached the famous actor.

“You recited that psalm absolutely superbly. So why were you so moved by the funny, little old lady?”

He replied, “I know the psalm. She knows the shepherd.”1

Speaking of knowing the shepherd, that brings us to our passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, which he knew was coming soon. In this farewell talk, Jesus uses highly relational language, the language of love to comfort, reassure, and give his disciples peace of heart and mind. He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled—in the Good News Bible he says it like this: “Do not be worried and upset.”

Then Jesus goes on to tell them why they shouldn’t have troubled hearts; why they shouldn’t be worried and upset. He says to them and to each one of you: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, many rooms, many mansions.” Then he says that he’s going there to prepare a place for each one of us. So there is plenty of room there for each one of us. Even better yet, Jesus promises that when the time comes, he will come to get us and take us to that eternal home, he wants us to be with him there. Now he has done that for your loved one Carla, and one day he will do the same for each of you, so that you will meet her again there.

So my hope and prayer for each of you is that you place your hope, your trust, your lives into the hands of this God who is a loving shepherd. A God who loved us so much that he died on the cross for each one of us. Jesus, who still loves us so much that he wants everyone to be in a relationship with him and to live under the power of his love. Amen.

1 Madeleine L’Engle with Carole F. Chase, Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts And Reflections (New York & San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers & HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 & 1998), pp. 317-318.

A Brief Graveside Sermon for Lois Kerr

Brief graveside sermon for Lois Jean Kerr, by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-3, Edberg Cemetery, November 7, 2017.

A mother, grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of Bethany Meadows, and child of God, Lois Jean Kerr, has left this life for that better place we call heaven. You who loved and knew Lois will certainly miss her. Life is not the same when a loved-one dies.

I am sure you will find comfort in celebrating and sharing the memories that you have of Lois, as she touched your hearts and lives over the years.

Lois was a generous, kind, caring and loving person. Family was very important to her. Lois shared her gift of cooking with her family, and she loved entertaining friends and family. You family members were grateful to have shared one last special meal with Lois at Thanksgiving.

I’m told that Lois’ chocolate chip cookies were a big hit among you. This legacy lives on as Judy now uses her mom’s recipe and makes these cookies for the students at the school where she is chef.

Lois’s gifts of generosity, kindness and caring were also shared with us at Bethany Meadows, where she spent the last years of her life. She was always most kind toward her fellow residents. While living at Bethany Meadows, Lois loved it when the therapy horses came to visit. She also enjoyed participating in Hymn-Sings, Devotions, Worship Services, and our Music Appreciation Group.

As we turn to God’s word for comfort and hope, we hear those words of the writer of Ecclesiastes who tells us that there is a time and a place for everything in life—that is the way God planned it. For Lois, each stage of life prepared her for the next one, until finally, the LORD called her to her eternal home. Lois enjoyed the gift of time that God gave her, and now she will enjoy being reunited with her husband Bill, whom she missed and longed to be with again.

Turning to that wonderful passage from John’s Gospel, we have the promise from Jesus and the hope that comes with that promise that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. The Father’s house translated as many mansions, many rooms, many dwelling places.

Home, as you knew it, was a place where Lois loved and accepted you, and cared for your needs. A place where you could feel secure and be yourself. How much more that will be true in our heavenly Father’s house.

That reminds me of a morning at Bethany Meadows when I was making my rounds. I asked Lois, “How are you doing today, Lois?” She replied, “I’m good enough to go home.”

So now Lois can be at peace and celebrate the joy and love that is hers as she lives in the full presence of God in his heavenly home, thanks to what Jesus our Lord and Saviour has done for her and each one of us. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon 19 Pentecost Yr A

Read my sermon for October 15, 2017 here: 19 Pentecost Yr A

Brief Book Review: The Faces Of Jesus

The Faces Of Jesus: A Life Story

Author: Frederick Buechner

Publisher: Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press

97 pages + Introduction, ISBN: 1-55725-455-9, Hardcover

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

Frederick Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and, over the years, has become somewhat of a popular and prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction works.

This little volume is divided into six chapters in addition to the Introduction: 1 Annunciation, 2 Nativity, 3 Ministry, 4 Last Supper, 5 Crucifixion, and 6 Resurrection.

Buechner—in this reviewer’s humble opinion—has the gift of attention grabbing turns-of-phrase that surprise and inspire the reader. Sometimes these turns-of-phrase have the capacity to confront readers with the foreboding judgment of God and the all-encompassing grace of God that are able to make readers laugh and cry—perhaps at the same time. Such is the brilliance of Buechner. Here are a few examples:

When you think the world is on fire, you don’t take time out to do a thumbnail sketch. Nobody tells us what he looked like, yet of course the New Testament itself is what he looked like…(p. ix).

If he [Jesus] is the Savior of the world as his followers believe, there never has been nor ever will be a world without salvation (p. 4).

It is no wonder that from the very start of his ministry the forces of Jewish morality and of Roman law were both out to get him because to him the only morality that mattered was the one that sprang from the forgiven heart like fruit from the well-watered tree, and the only law he acknowledged as ultimate was the law of love (p. 42).

God makes his saints out of fools and sinners because there is nothing much else to make them out of. God makes his Messiah out of a fierce and fiercely gentle man who spills himself out, his very flesh and blood, as though it is only a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet red wine that he is spilling (p. 59).

If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party (p. 61).

He could be Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, who said, “Fathers and teachers, I ponder, ‘What is hell?’ I maintain that hell is the suffering of being unable to love” (p. 65).

If ever there should turn out unbelievably to be a God of love willing to search for men [and women] even in the depths of evil and pain, the face of Jesus is the face we would know him by (p. 79).

Thus for Jesus the only distinction among people that ultimately matters seems to be not whether they are churchgoers or non-churchgoers, Catholics or Protestants, Muslims or Jews, but do they or do they not love—love not in the sense of an emotion so much as in the sense of an act of the will, the loving act of willing another’s good even, if need arise, at the expense of their own (p. 91).

This is a powerful little volume, and I hope it will be regarded as a spiritual classic for many years to come. Highly recommended.