Sermon 2 Easter Yr A

2 Easter Yr A, 30/03/2008

Jn 20:29b-31

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

“Resurrection Faith: Thomas’ and Ours”

 

A saintly man who was a professor in a science department of a university, once was asked by a junior colleague, an agnostic, how he managed to reconcile his religious belief with his scientific knowledge. He answered in some words of another scientist, Thomas Edison: “We don’t know the millionth part of one per cent about anything. We don’t know what light is. We don’t know what gravity is. We don’t know what heat is. But we do not let our ignorance about these things deprive us of their use. 1

Belief, faith, trust…. In our gospel today, we learn of the slow awakening of belief for the apostle Thomas the doubter. I suspect that many of us here today can empathize or identify with the doubting disciple, Thomas. Ours is an age of scientific advancements, which are, without doubt, very impressive. Unfortunately, what science has taught us is that nothing is a provable fact or real unless we can examine things with our five senses; using a method of normal repeated experiments to analyze the data and draw our conclusions, based on our observations in the experiments.

In the closing verses of our gospel today, John raises for us the whole issue of believing. What do we believe? Or maybe it would be more appropriate to ask: Whom do you believe? During this season of Easter, we are confronted with the belief of the early Christians in the risen Christ. The resurrection, for those early Christians was a whole new reality, which they had never experienced before. It is, among other things a great mystery of our faith; a reality that is not easy to explain completely. If we approach the resurrection of Jesus today from a scientific worldview, we are in trouble, for the resurrection is not meant to be based on a series of repeatable experiments, observing normal data. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus is quite the contrary—it is not a normal event, rather, it is a supernatural out-of-the-ordinary; extraordinary event. That is why we cannot base our belief—or for that matter our disbelief—in the resurrection on normal scientific data, analysis, observations or conclusions. Thomas Edison was right, what we believe from a faith or religious point of view need not be understood completely before it is of use to us. Another way of putting it may be to say that where our science ends, our faith begins.

That does not mean, however, that in matters of faith we leave our minds at the door and stop using them. Not at all, there are many profound matters of our faith, which challenge our intellect a great deal. What it does mean, however, is that our faith involves a whole series of realities going beyond our intellectual, emotional, and other faculties of our five senses. There is a multidimensional aspect of our faith, which, if you like, might be called “the sixth sense;” wherein we are dealing with deep and holy mysteries.

Jesus tells Thomas and all future would-be Christians: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now likely those of us trained to approach reality from a scientific worldview will respond to Jesus by asking: “But how does one come to believe without seeing?” I would answer that question in at least two ways. First, I would say that belief, faith in Christ, God and the resurrection come to us always as a gift from God. God is free to give us this gift of believing; initially then, it is God who speaks to our lives, who reaches and touches us in our deepest places so that we are able to say: “Yes! I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in my own resurrection.” In this answer, it’s really not so much the “howness” that’s important, as it is the “whatness or thatness” of God’s gift of faith. You see, faith is always relational. It is always based on and deeply rooted in God’s relationship with us individually and collectively. God speaking to us and being present with us and for us in many and various ways—for most of us that means the Word and the sacraments; for others of us it is through prayer or Bible study; for others it might be through fellowship with others and deeds of loving-kindness; for others, it might mean something else.

That leads me into my second answer. In addition to faith and believing in God, Christ and the resurrection as a gift from God; we are called on to trust that the original eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection were telling the truth—they were not telling lies or writing nice myths and fictitious stories. To believe then in the resurrection, without seeing the risen Christ ourselves means: the eyewitnesses were telling the truth about the risen Jesus; we can trust their testimony. Here John helps us to understand this aspect of our believing and faith when he clearly states his purpose of writing his Gospel in verse 31: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, in writing his Gospel, John wishes to pass on; to communicate to future generations of readers the story of Jesus Christ as he experienced it. In this sense, we all are like John, God has given us the gift of believing and faith not to keep it bottled up inside, but to spread it, share it with others. In this sense, the words of John in these last verses of our gospel today challenge all of us by causing us to consider personal questions like: “What am I doing to be a witness for God? How good an advertisement am I for Jesus and his resurrection? Do people really know that Christ is risen by observing my words and actions every day? What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for my everyday living and overall attitude towards life?”

How blessed do you feel today to be here worshipping the risen Christ? The meaning of the resurrection is that through a variety of ways and means Jesus is present with us. We experience his resurrection and an inkling of our own resurrection each and every day. This happens when we wake up each morning and are given a new fresh day and fresh start to share his love with others. We too experience little resurrections whenever or wherever we encounter a new found hope or inspiration after we’ve been struggling with doubts or fears or failures. Christ is so much larger than our doubts, fears and failures. He is able to use them in our lives and in the lives of others to deepen our faith and believing. We experience new resurrections whenever we are given a clean bill of health after fearing that we might have some sort of fatal disease. We experience new resurrections in life whenever we are able to grow in trusting God with all of our life, not just in church on Sunday mornings. Our faith, if it is healthy is always on a journey into a deeper maturity, which helps us to grow in our experiences of and appreciation for Christ’s resurrection and the promise of ours.

Actually, faith is a response of the whole person. It is not something that one has once and for all—like a book on a shelf, a pearl in a drawer, a diploma on a wall or a license in a wallet. It is not merely a practice, a statement or a structure. It is mysteriously both God’s gift and our responsibility. We must recover and nourish it daily, in spite of our personal sins and stupidities, and in the face of the world’s arrogant self-sufficiency. 2

May we grow in our trust of the risen Christ, who is able to work miracles in us to spread the Good News of his resurrection to others.

1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1985, meditation for May 7th.

2 From: Richard A. McCormick, “Changing My Mind About the Changeable Church,” in The Christian Century, August 8-15, 1990 Vol. 107, No. 23, (Chicago:The Christian Century Foundation, 1990), p. 736.

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Doubting Thomas

The header you see above is a portion of the painting “My Lord and my God,” based on the Gospel for the second Sunday of Easter, by Malaysian artist, Hanna Cheriyan Vaghese. I found this over at The Text This Week website, where you can discover a veritable treasure trove of art here 

The apostle Thomas is likely a kindred spirit to many of us, we would rather see before we believe. However, I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bum wrap with the label “Doubting Thomas,” for all of the other disciples were likely equally as clued out and sceptical until the resurrected Christ visited them.   

Sermon Easter Day Yr A

Easter Day Yr A, 23/03/2008

Col 3:1-4

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Raised with Christ”

 

A grouchy husband made it into heaven along with his wife. However he was still rather glum. “What’s wrong now?” the wife asked. “Can’t you see, we’re in heaven? This is beautiful—the music is great, the food is out of this world, the mansion has everything and more we’d ever dreamt of, the golf course is the best we’ve ever seen, there’s no fees, no taxes, our health is fantastic, why aren’t you happy? What’s wrong with you?”

The husband replied, “If we hadn’t eaten that miserable oat bran, we could have been here ten years ago.”

The punch line of this joke compliments the words of our second lesson today. In this passage, the Christians at Colossae, which was a town of Phrygia in Asia Minor, close to Ephesus, were exhorted to focus on heaven. Earlier they had been told that through the entrance rite of Christianity; through the sacrament of Holy Baptism; they had died and risen with Christ. Now, continuing with that line of thought, they are instructed: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

In other words, they are to live, to act like Easter people. They are to live and act as resurrection people. This is true, because for the writer of this letter, the resurrection is something that has already been accomplished in the past, the writer reminds them and us: “you have been raised with Christ,” an action, a fact that has already occurred—not “you shall be raised with Christ” in the future. The resurrection is an accomplished action; a victory won; a fact that has now become part of Christian salvation history, says the writer of Colossians with utmost confidence.

Pastor and professor, Donald Deffner tells the following story: An atheist who served as a custodian at a seminary enjoyed baiting the young theologians. He told one who was reading a book about eternal life, “If you ask me, that’s so much hogwash. When you’re dead, you’re dead.” The student replied, “You’re right, George. When you’re dead, you’re dead.” The janitor walked away, wondering what in the world that young man was doing at a seminary. The student’s point was that hope of eternal life comes only after one has faced the reality of eternal death—which the janitor had not.1

Our second lesson reminds us that hope of eternal life comes only after we have faced the reality of eternal death. We have all done that when we were baptised. In baptism we were buried with Christ in his death and in baptism we were raised with Christ to new, resurrection life. Therefore, the writer exhorts the Colossian Christians to focus on this new reality of resurrection. Resurrection, says the writer, is to be the Christian’s entire orientation in life. Resurrection is the key, the guide, the reason for living life now in this world. Resurrection is the Christian’s life focus. What does that mean? Does it mean that we’re so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good? No, not at all! That is to misunderstand the message of our passage. Rather, it is to live life on earth in light of the reality, the accomplished fact that Christ, through his death and resurrection has won the victory for us and for everyone—that is why he is now “seated at the right hand of God.” This picture of Christ being exalted, by sitting at God’s right hand is a Jewish concept of future reward in heaven; it is giving Christ the ultimate honour as the Messiah. It reminds one of a winner, victor after a great battle. Christ is the Victor, Christ is the Winner, and Christ is the Ultimate Conqueror. Hence militant Easter hymns like “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done,” and “Thine Is the Glory” are most appropriate as we celebrate the truth of Easter Sunday and the power of the resurrection. Christ has defeated the powers of sin, death and evil. If that is true, says our second lesson, then the way we live as Christians each day points to that reality of the resurrection.

One of our magazines carried a cartoon of a pastor addressing an overflow congregation on Easter Sunday and asking, “Are you not just a little curious as to what goes on here between Easters?” Regardless of the motivation, what does Easter mean to you? Or rather, what does Christ mean to you? Do you reckon him a notable historical personage like Socrates, Buddha, Gandhi? Do you reverence him as the sublimest ethical teacher of all time? Or do you believe that he overcame the sharpness of death, that is to say, he is not only the Jesus of history but the Jesus of experience, alive and at work in the world here and now? If you incline to shy away from that last question, dismissing it perhaps as sheer mysticism, take another look at the facts. Christianity is something more than hero-worship. It is not just the perpetuation of a great memory. It is a relationship to and a fellowship with a Christ who is “alive for evermore.” Everything in Christianity depends on the reality of the resurrection of Christ, on the fact that he rose from the grave, appeared to his disciples, made his presence felt in their lives, and still makes his presence felt, is in our generation as great an actuality as he was to his first followers.

“Shall I tell you,” David Livingstone asked the students of Glasgow University on his return from sixteen years spent in Africa, “what sustained me amidst the toil and hardship, and loneliness of my exiled life? It was the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.’” For multitudes this is life’s most precious conviction. When they speak about Christ, they use not only the past and future tenses but the present tense as well. “Lo, I am with you always.” That is the heartwarming, heart-gladdening fact we celebrate this morning.2

For us Christians, our ultimate security; our eternal home; our most healthy state of being is in heaven with God in Christ. That does not mean we are so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Rather, that means living in light of the fact of our baptismal inheritance and covenant. That means living in light of the fact that, as our second lesson reminds us we: “have been raised with Christ.” This is an accomplished fact that shapes all of our history, personally and collectively. In light of this fact, our life on earth can bring resurrection where there is death; hope to the hopeless; love to the loveless. In the face of all sufferings and failures—there is healing and ultimate victory thanks to our risen Saviour Jesus Christ. Yes, we “have been raised with Christ!” Alleluia! Amen.

 

1 Donald L. Deffner, Sermons for Church Year Festivals (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), p. 68.

2 Robert J. McCracken, “The Inevitableness of Easter,” in: Paul H. Sherry, Editor, The Riverside Preachers: Fosdick McCracken Campbell Coffin (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1978), pp. 99-100.

 

 

Sermon Palm/Passion Sunday Yr A

Palm/Passion Sunday Yr A, 16/03/2008

Matt 26:36-46

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Gethsemane”

 

It was night. Jesus had just celebrated the Passover and instituted the Lord’s Supper. He had told them one of the twelve would betray him. He also had predicted Peter’s denial. Now they make their way to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. Here Jesus takes along Peter, James and John to keep vigil with him. He had been their source of comfort throughout his public ministry. Now, this night before his death, he seeks their comforting presence.

Matthew tells us at this point Jesus was: “grieved and agitated.” Telling the three inner circle disciples: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” Here we have a picture of Jesus’ humanity; he could be grief-stricken, agitated and full of sorrow. This grief and sorrow is something that Isaiah described centuries earlier, saying: “He was despised and rejected…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (RSV, Isa 53:3) Composer G.F. Handel, in his Messiah, sets these words from Isaiah to music, which is hauntingly, yet tragically beautiful.

What was the root of Christ’s sorrow, agitation and grief unto death? Most likely it was a combination of many things. He knew that he was about to leave his disciples behind, whom he loved dearly. He knew that after his time of agonizing prayer in Gethsemane that his disciple, Judas Iscariot would soon betray him and Peter would shortly deny him three times before the rooster’s crow. He knew that as the drama of his Passion heightened and he was nailed to the cross his disciples would split the scene and abandon him. He knew that the devil, the powers of evil were at work on this night to try and prevent him from doing what he needed to do. He knew that he would be treated like the lowliest and hated of criminals. He knew that he was about to be tried, sentenced and executed like a criminal on the trumped up charge of insurrection. He knew the crowds would condemn him, slander him, mock him. He knew that some of his own people along with several of their religious leaders would reject him. All of this and more was almost too much to bear. In light of this all now Jesus hopes his three inner circle disciples will stay awake with him for a brief duration of companionship and comfort.

After he tells them to stay awake, he walks a little farther to be alone; to pray to his heavenly Father. Matthew tells us that in his extremely troubled state Jesus: “threw himself on the ground and prayed.” His throwing himself on the ground again suggests Christ’s humanity. He comes to God the Father with humility; this position of prayer epitomises humility; the pain is so great; carrying the sins of the world; he falls down to the ground in prayer.

It was French theologian Jacques Ellul who once said: “Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his (or her) whole life at stake.” Is that not precisely what Jesus did at Gethsemane, put his whole life at stake?

In his humanity, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Or as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message: “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?” Here the deep inner anguish; the unbearable agony of having to do what he dreaded and feared most—dying on a cross for the sins of the world is the cup of suffering Jesus in his humanness; in his love of life asks God the Father to be spared of. However, each sin had to be atoned for; every human being, all of humankind from beginning to end had to be forgiven—thus his suffering was beyond our comprehension.

While this incomprehensible battle was raging within Jesus, the three disciples were overcome with stress and so chose to fall asleep and look after their physical need above their spiritual need to stay awake with Christ and suffer with him. Some comfort they were! Yet there is much truth in Jesus alone at prayer, struggling to accept God the Father’s will, not his will. We too face at times our Gethsemane. Sinners that we are, we struggle with doing God’s will rather than our own will—especially if God wills us to face suffering and a cross. We too, like Jesus, may think that we are carrying the world on our shoulders. We too, like Jesus may feel abandoned by our closest friends or family members. However, the example of Jesus is ours to follow—turning to God in prayer and asking him for help to do his will.

After his exhortation to the disciples to stay awake and pray not to fall into the time of trial; Jesus went to pray alone a second time. This time Jesus’ prayer is more resolved to accept his destiny: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Or as Eugene Peterson renders it: “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

Once again Jesus went back to Peter, James and John only to find them fast asleep. This time he does not awaken them. Instead, he goes back a third time to pray the same prayer.

Prayer for Jesus at Gethsemane was extremely important. Prayer allowed Jesus to commune with his Abba his Loving Parent, just as a young child trusts her or his parent for everything. Prayer made it possible for Christ to pour out and hand over all of his fears, agony, agitation, sorrow and grief to God the Father. Prayer provided Christ with the single-mindedness of purpose to carry out the Father’s will. Prayer gave him the strength and courage to willingly accept the loneliness and God-forsakenness ahead of him. Prayer helped him face the events of the Passion—to endure and overcome them.

What about us? Do we believe that God is with us and is our only, our highest and best Source of help, comfort, guidance and strength when we face our Gethsemane? If Jesus turned to his heavenly Father three times in prayer in order to help him face his suffering and crucifixion—then how much more we imperfect sinners do we need to turn to God in prayer? This short verse of a an anonymous poem illustrates the point very well: “I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day,/I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray./Problems tumbled about me, and heavier became each task./ “Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered, and He answered: “You didn’t ask.”

Gethsemane teaches us that when we feel utterly alone; when we suffer betrayal or denial; when we are falsely or unjustly judged or punished; when we face obstacles and sufferings that seem unbearable; when we face our Gethsemane—then God promises to be with us as we commune with him in prayer; then, when we pray “thy will be done” he will supply the grace and everything we need to face life and accomplish his will. Jesus teaches us that all things are possible through prayer. Our heavenly Father provides everything we need and is always available and waiting for us to ask that his will be done. Amen.

 

Martin Luther on The Cross is good for us

This year, one of the devotional books I’m reading is a collection of Martin Luther’s writings: Day By Day We Magnify Thee: Readings for the Church Year Selected from the Writings of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982). Once again, I am appreciative of Luther’s deep, insightful theology of the cross, evident here in this devotion based on Psalm 94:12. His phrase “snore in our security” is, I think, an apt description of many folk in the affluent world today. His remark on obligations is similar to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace.”

 

It is highly necessary that we should suffer, not only that God may thereby prove His honour, might, and strength against the devil, but also because the great and precious treasure which we have, if it were given unto us without such suffering and affliction would make us snore in our security. And we can see—unfortunately it is a general thing—that many abuse the Holy Gospel, behaving as if they were freed from all obligations through the Gospel and that there is nothing more they need do, or give or suffer. This is a sin and a shame.

 

The only way our God can check such evil is through the cross. He must so discipline us that our faith increases and grows stronger, and thus draw the Saviour all the deeper into our soul. For we can no more grow strong without suffering and temptation than we can without eating and drinking.

My Dimlamp has had some troubles

For those of you who could not access my blog I apologize. It seems that there have been some sort of technical troubles for a while. My ISP is TELUS and my friend the Rev. Gene Packwood, who is also on wordpress and with TELUS had the same problem as I did, we could not access our blogs or log into them for about two weeks. I know the folks at TELUS are trying to figure it all out, and in 99.9% of the cases, their customer service is excellent. People on Shaw cable can most likely access wordpress blogs though, I was able to on a couple of occasions. At any road, I’m glad to be back and look forward to many more posts here at wordpress.com without the technical troubles!