Brief Graveside Sermon for Helga Gushulak

Brief Graveside Sermon for Helga Solvejg Gushulak, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-6 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Bawlf Cemetery, 8/09/2018.

 

There are some deaths that we would speak of as “untimely.” These deaths often come as a surprise, and are tragic, premature, and unexpected. Then, there are other deaths that we speak of as “timely.” These deaths are often not a surprise. Rather, they seem to bring to completion a life well lived. Although those of you who knew and loved Helga will most certainly miss her; and mourn her loss; it is quite fitting that you can also remember her and give God thanks for her life.

In our passage from Ecclesiastes, the writer speaks a lot of timeliness. He tells us there is a time and purpose for everything in life, and then proceeds to name the various stages and experiences of life’s journey. For someone like Helga, these stages and experiences of the life cycle ring true, as the LORD blessed her with a ripe old age of 92 years.

Even though the LORD saw it fit that it is Helga’s time to die; her life shall remain a part of yours as you cherish your memories of her. Even though there is a time to mourn and cry; Helga’s time now with the LORD in heaven is a time of laughing and dancing and rejoicing—just as she met her husband Pawlo/Paul at a dance hall, so now she’ll meet him again and the LORD of the dance in heaven and they will dance to their hearts’ content. A time to live in perfect peace with God.

During Helga’s time with us at Bethany Meadows, she quite enjoyed staying in her room. There she passed her time doing puzzles and reading mystery-romance novels, and welcoming visitors.

Let me tell you about the greatest mystery-romance, and it’s not a novel, rather it’s true and real. Let me also tell you about the greatest welcome of all. In our Gospel passage, Jesus promises that he’s preparing a place in heaven for us, so that eventually he will come and take us to himself, telling us: “so that where I am, there you may be also.” What a wonderful promise that is! The sense of what Jesus speaks of here is something we can all relate to—namely, that of entering your house after a long journey and finding it has been made completely ready for you to live in by someone who loves you. Isn’t that great when we discover that all of the details have been looked after; all is prepared for us; all we do is arrive and wow! what a surprise! Isn’t it great to be welcomed like that. What a joy that will be! What a gift that is! We call it God’s saving grace. And Jesus offers it to each of us—including Helga. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

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Brief Book Review of Sacred Treasure The Cairo Genizah

Sacred Treasure The Cairo Genizah: The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten Jewish History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic

Author: Rabbi Mark Glickman

Publisher: Jewish Lights

228 pages, ISBN-10: 1580235123, and ISBN-13: 978-1580235129

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

This volume is amazing! Well written, with a penchant for detail without getting bogged down in boredom or feeling overwhelmed—Rabbi Mark Glickman has done an excellent job in sharing with his readers an incredible adventure. He too, and his son Jacob are also integral participants in this adventure; visiting several places and consulting with numerous scholars which resulted in this remarkable volume.

Rabbi Glickman is quite cognizant of a couple rather intriguing ironies at work in the Genizah Collection story. The first, of course is the irony of a medieval cultural and religious Jewish community flourishing in Old Cairo, the land where Israelites were slaves centuries earlier. Why would there even be a Jewish community in the country that oppressed them? Wouldn’t they want to avoid such a land like the plague? Apparently not. It seems that the Muslim majority lived side by side peacefully with their Jewish neighbours in medieval Egypt.

The other irony of the Genizah Collection ‘discovery’ is that two Scottish scholars who were sisters—Dr. Agnes Lewis and Dr. Margaret Gibson, inspired it. They were linguistic scholars of Greek, Syriac, Arabic and Hebrew when most women were unable to pursue such academic studies in a patriarchal society. In 1896, they returned to Britain with a Hebrew manuscript; which they had purchased in the Middle East. The manuscript was the Apocryphal Book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus); which they showed to Dr. Solomon Schechter; a professor of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature at the University of Cambridge. This Hebrew manuscript of Ecclesiasticus led Dr. Solomon on a journey—geographical, academic and spiritual—to search for the source of this manuscript in the Ben Ezra Synagogue of Old Cairo. When Rabbi Dr. Schechter visited this synagogue in 1898, he realized what a goldmine the Cairo Genizah Collection was—consequently, he proceeded to examine it and work with other scholars to preserve it.

There are close to 300,000 individual documents in the Genizah Collection, including: some Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Bible texts, Mishnah and Talmud texts, legal documents, letters, liturgies, etc. The documents are written mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. Some of them are merely fragments; while others are in poor condition.

As time passed, several universities and teams of scholars have worked diligently to categorize, analyze, store, preserve, study, translate and publish the Genizah Collection—many of them are now digitized and accessible online. The largest number of Genizah documents are in the University of Cambridge library; and the second largest number are in the New York Jewish Theological Seminary library. Other libraries also have Genizah documents.

According to Rabbi Glickman; the Jewish community of Old Cairo in the Middle Ages was flourishing. Unlike many Jews of the diaspora who have the deepest longing to live in Israel; the Old Cairo Jews were most likely content to live, love, work, retire and die there.

Highly recommended, five out of five stars. Thanks to Rabbi Glickman, historians, biblical scholars, archaeologists, clergy and Jewish, Christian and Muslim laity of all walks of life should find this volume very beneficial.

 

Graveside sermon for Eveline Grymaloski

Open Bible-public domain image

Graveside sermon for Eveline Grymaloski, based on Rom 5:1-5 & Isa 25:6-9, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Camrose Cemetery, July 10, 2018.

As I thought about Eveline, one of the first things that came to mind was that she was a person of character—that reminded me of the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Notice that Paul says our life as followers of Jesus is productive. As I think of Eveline, I believe that she was a person of endurance—she had to be, since she lived for 100 years! Now that’s endurance! Her endurance however was not stagnant rather, it produced character, and her character produced hope.

Eveline was a sweet person, and will be dearly missed by you family members, as well as by our residents and staff.

She was an avid reader. On occasion, she would read something humorous, and then she would take it to the staff members of Spruce Cottage and read it for them. After that, she would have a good laugh with the staff.

Eveline enjoyed visiting with her companion, Phyllis, they had many meaningful conversations together.

There was a poem that she liked to recite for staff: “Won’t you be mine, Eveline? Yes I will, yes I will, if you only be still.”

She was a very friendly, happy and affectionate person. Residents and staff can remember Eveline holding their hand, kissing it, and then wiping off her kiss with a Kleenex.

For as long as she was able, she participated in exercises. She also did very well in getting around with her wheelchair—in fact, at the blink of an eye, she was half way down the hallway! I teased her about that, and told her she was speeding, and she had better watch out, because she might get a speeding ticket! 🙂

Eveline was a singer, she loved participating in our cottage Hymn-Sings. She also enjoyed attending the Sunday church Services, Wednesday Devotions, and when she was able, the Thursday night Bible studies.

Eveline’s faith was very important to her, and her husband, being a pastor, I’m sure was encouraged by her faith—as most likely were you family members too.

Because Eveline was a person of faith, I’m sure the following words of Isaiah 25:6-9 also apply to her now, as she has gone ahead of us to be with her Lord.

The prophet writes these wonderful words: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Death and the celebration of the final victory over death—that is what the prophet Isaiah proclaims in this passage. His message is one of celebration, hope and comfort. Isaiah reassures his people and all of us here today that we don’t have to be afraid of death, God will destroy death forever.

In verse six, Isaiah pictures all peoples gathering on Mount Zion in the new Jerusalem, where God will act as a host and a chef. God will prepare a huge banquet-feast. In this feast you will not have to worry about diet restrictions or things like diabetes, high cholesterol, or gluten-free foods. Rather, you will be able to eat every food because it is the LORD who will prepare it and he will serve only what is healthy for everyone. So this huge banquet-feast will be absolutely delicious—everyone will enjoy their favourite foods, and there will be such an abundance, enough for everybody.

So the picture of this banquet-feast is one of joy and celebration. Isaiah tells us the reason for such a huge celebration. God will destroy death by swallowing it up forever. No more death.

Once death is destroyed by being swallowed up forever, Isaiah tells his people and us: “Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.” In other words, once death is gone forever there will be no more reason for sadness, crying and grief. God will wipe away the tears from all faces like a loving parent wipes away the tears from their crying child to comfort and reassure them. In this act of God wiping away everyone’s tears we have a picture of God as a tender, loving parent.

So, we wait for the future time with hope, trusting that God is going to do what these words of Isaiah promise he will do. God is in control of your future, my future, and everyone’s future. Eveline knew that, and I pray that you do too. Amen.

Our recent visit to U.K. and France churches

Last month we went on a cruise to the U.K. and France. Here are some photos of the churches that we visited.  There were other churches too, which are not included in this post.

Our first port of call was Guernsey Island, one of the Channel Islands. The photo below is a parish church at St Peter Port, close to the harbour.

Guernsey Island church

The next port of call was Cobh and Cork, Ireland. This is St Colman’s Church in Cobh.

St Colman’s, Cobh, Ireland

Our next port of call was Dublin. The city has a lot of pubs, some say there’s a pub on almost every corner. However, we were more interested in the churches, two in particular, both cathedrals. The first one we visited was St Patrick’s Cathedral. This cathedral edifice dates back to the 12th century, however the tradition of St Patrick establishing a church here and using a nearby well for baptisms, dates back to his time-the 4th and 5th centuries. Author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift was the dean of this cathedral in the 18th century for 30 years, and was apparently noted for his long sermons, during which some parishioners apparently fell asleep.

St Patrick’s, Dublin

Our next stop was Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. St Patrick’s Cathedral is the nation’s cathedral, whereas Christ Church is Dublin’s cathedral.

Christ Church, Dublin

 

 

 

Our next port of call was Belfast, Northern Ireland, where we enjoyed our own walking tour of several downtown churches. This is First Presbyterian Church, Belfast, which we almost walked past, since it’s exterior didn’t at first register with us that it is a church. It had some lovely stained glass windows inside.

First Presbyterian, Belfast

Our next stop was St Anne’s Church, Belfast. The large Celtic Cross on the side of the church really stands out.

St Anne’s, Belfast

St Anne’s, Belfast – side view

Our next port of call was Glasgow, Scotland, where we visited Glasgow Cathedral, associated with one St Mungo; who it was believed established a wooden church on this site back in the 6th century. The cathedral is a majestic edifice, dating back to the 12th century.

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral

Our last port of call in Scotland was Edinburgh, where we visited St Giles Cathedral. We were impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows, which depict gospel stories of the life of Jesus as well as some of the history associated with Edinburgh and Scotland.

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Our last port of call was France, where we visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This magnificent Gothic structure is one of the largest cathedrals I’ve visited, and it dates back to the 12th century. Today a massive renovation is underway. The stained glass windows are absolutely breath-taking, and inspire awe and wonder.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

I hope you enjoyed this post of some of the churches we visited on our recent cruise.

 

 

Historic votes, Lutherans elect two African-American women bishops

A synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made history Saturday (May 5) by electing the denomination’s first female African-American bishop. One day later, a synod 900 miles away elected the second.

First, delegates chose the Rev. Patricia A. Davenport for the office of bishop in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a synod that includes Philadelphia. Then on Sunday, delegates voted for the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld, a pastor in Beloit, Wis., to become bishop-elect for the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.

Read the whole article here.

Book Review: How to Keep a Spiritual Journal

How to Keep a Spiritual Journal: A Guide to Journal Keeping for Inner Growth and Personal Discovery Revised Edition

Author: Ron Klug

Publisher: Minneapolis: Augsburg

143 pages, ISBN: 0-8066-4357-9

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

When one begins to undertake something new, often the most helpful teachers are those who practice what they teach. At the time of publishing this work, Ron Klug was a freelance writer and editor in Amery, Wisconsin. As one who has kept a journal for many years, he is definitely a “go to” teacher on journal writing, and this is a most practical and helpful guidebook.

There are plenty of gems of wisdom in this volume, which consists of thirteen chapters, plus a “Guide for Forming a Journal Group,” and a very helpful annotated “For Further Reading” list.

In this review, to draw readers’ interest, I’m going to share a few quotations, which hopefully inspire some to pursue journal writing.

In chapter one, “Why Keep A Spiritual Journal,” Klug states: “If the Christian path is one of grace, what is the place of self-discipline in spiritual growth? Our disciplines—things like fasting, prayer, contemplation, and journaling—are a response to grace, not an alternative to it. They are a way of being open before God, of giving the Spirit a chance to work in us.” (p. 10)

In chapter two, titled, “Experiencing the Benefits of a Spiritual Journal,” Klug shares ten of them, and then adds other uses as well. The ten are: i) growth in self-understanding, ii) an aid to caring for your soul, iii) guidance and decision making, iv) making sense and order of life, v) releasing emotions and gaining perspective, vi) greater awareness of daily life, vii) self-expression and creativity, viii) clarifying what you believe, ix) setting goals and managing your time, x) working through problems. According to Klug: “Journal writing is an antidote to “spiritual sleepwalking.” It can aid us in that basic Christian discipline of wakefulness.” (p. 20)

In chapter three, the author suggests all kinds of practical tips on “Getting Started.” For example, some people may choose to keep only one journal and write about every aspect of life in it; whereas others find it helpful to keep a variety of journals on books, family, dreams, work, nature, projects, and so on. He offers some tips on the how, when and where to write, and even on how much to write.

In chapter four, “The Daily Record,” Klug covers seventeen areas for journaling: i) personal events, ii) reactions to events, iii) conversations, iv) prayers, v) questions, vi) memories, vii) insights, viii) joys, ix) gratitude journal, x) achievements and failures, xi) world events, xii) your reading, xiii) quotations, xiv) letters, xv) travel, xvi) observations of nature, xvii other materials like drawings clippings, photos. I fully agree with his emphasis on joy: “Remembering your joys helps you focus on the good life and helps keep you in a positive attitude. It’s a good antidote to self-pity and depression.” (p. 44)

In chapter five, “Maintaining Momentum,” the author offers this word of advice: “In my view, there is one cardinal rule about keeping a journal: There are no rules for keeping a journal! Your way is the right way.” (p. 55) I would edit that last sentence like this: “Your way is the right way for you.” Hence it may not be the right way for me.

I hope these quotes have given you enough curiosity and inspiration to check out this volume yourself and consider writing a journal if you haven’t already. I have kept a journal for many years, and this resource has proven an inspiration in that it has reinforced some of my journal writing habits, and opened up other possibilities for the future.

One final, more lengthy quote, I think, is where a lot of people live these days, and an encouragement to write a journal: “Although a few people are inclined to be overly introspective, most of us have the opposite problem. In our overly busy society, when we are pulled in many directions and there are many demands on our time, our problem is not that we think too much. Our problem is that we are too busy to think at all. This is one reason why a journal can be such a helpful practice.” (p. 120)

Highly recommended—five out of five stars.

 

Funeral Sermon for Doreen Anderson

Sermon for Doreen Avonne Anderson funeral, based on Ps 23, Prov 22:6, Gal 6:6 & Jn 14:1-6 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, March 21, 2018, twelve o’clock.

Doreen Avonne Anderson has left this life behind and is no longer with you. All of you who knew and loved Doreen will miss her. Yet, as the psalmist reassures us, even though Doreen had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the LORD her Shepherd was with her, leading her through death, so that now all of her suffering is over.

For the last years of her life, Doreen was a resident in Spruce Cottage at Bethany Meadows. As her pastor there, I came to know Doreen as a quiet, soft-spoken person. She told me about her life as a teacher and, in her retirement years, how she enjoyed travelling, she also was an avid reader until her eyes were no longer able to focus. So with that in mind, I thought a couple of Bible passages were appropriate as we remember Doreen today and give thanks to God for her life.

The first passage is from Proverbs 22:6: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” Or as the Good News Bible puts it: “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life.” What a privilege it was for Doreen to be a teacher for thirty-seven years and do exactly what this proverb describes! She taught the young children for over three decades and, I’m sure she made an impression on their lives—teaching them things that set them on the right track to succeed in their lives. Teaching them so that they could go on to live meaningful lives by making a difference in the world. Perhaps her teaching even inspired one or more children to become teachers like herself. In any case, I’m sure that all of those years of teaching had their rewards for Doreen, because she spoke to me about a couple of her students—one of whom I know, and today he is a well-respected teacher and scholar in the church, Rev. Dr. Gordon Jensen. What a privilege it is to be a teacher and set students on the right path, which they will remember all of their life!

Another passage from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:6 also reminds me of Doreen, teaching and education: “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” I would hope that after teaching for thirty-seven years at least a few of Doreen’s students shared the good things they learned from her. I would also hope that Doreen having been taught by other teachers in order to get her degree was able to share good things of what she learned from her teachers—teachers who inspired her and made a difference in her life.

Turning now to John’s Gospel, which is a favourite passage of the Anderson family, we are given another reason to place our trust and hope in God. Jesus speaks to us, saying: “Let not your hearts be troubled,” or, as the Good News Bible puts it: “Do not be worried and upset.” He goes on to say: “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” What wonderful words of promise and hope Jesus speaks here!

This picture of “my Father’s house,” as Jesus describes it here gives us the sense that there is plenty of room for us there to enjoy—a location where there are “many dwelling places.” In the old King James Version of this passage, it is translated “many mansions.” It’s rather interesting that Jesus speaks of heaven in this way as a place where there is plenty of room for us—since in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word for salvation actually literally means: to be open wide, to be unconfined, to be free. The word in Hebrew is yasha, which interestingly enough is closely related to Jeshua or Joshua, which is the Hebrew for our English name, Jesus, meaning “God saves.” You can find comfort and peace if you trust and hope in this Jesus who is one with God and saves. Jesus is our way, truth and life through placing all of our trust in him and following him, we are given the gift of eternal life.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the other things Doreen enjoyed talking with me about was her travels. She was blessed to be able to travel to several places, including: New Zealand and Australia, Europe, several of the United States, and down to Eastern Canada. However, as much as we travel in this world, it is always good to arrive back home. As the old adage goes: “There’s no place like home.” Now Doreen has gone on her final journey, and she has reached her final home—that dwelling place, that room, that mansion in her permanent heavenly home to be with Jesus and those whom she loved who are already there.

So, let us all place our trust, our hope, our lives into the hands of this God who is our Loving Shepherd; whose love is completely and always dependable; who is the greatest, most inspiring Teacher of them all; who is our loving Saviour providing us an eternal home with lots of room; and a place where we shall dwell in perfect freedom; living under the power of his love. Amen.