All Saints Sunday Yr A

All Saints Sunday Yr A, 2/11/2008

I Jn 3:1-3

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Children of God”

 

The internet is a fascinating place to hang out. Over the years there has been a wonderful accumulation of insightful material. For example, someone posted some interesting answers to science test questions as rendered by fifth and sixth graders. One youngster described the law of gravity as saying, “No fair jumping up without coming back down.” Pretty good. Another said, “You can listen to thunder and tell how close you come to getting hit. If you don’t hear it, you got hit, so never mind.”

A couple of them responded to questions about clouds. One said, “I’m not sure how clouds are formed, but clouds know how to do it, and that’s the important thing.” Okay. Another said, “Water vapour gets together in a cloud. When it is big enough to be called a drop, it does.” One defined a monsoon as a French gentleman.

A couple more. One youngster said, “When planets run around and around in circles, we say they are orbiting. When people do it, we say they are crazy.” True. One defined the spinal column as “a long bunch of bones. The head sits on the top, and you sit on the bottom.” Okay.

None of those have anything to do with the text, but this one jumped out at me because it surely does. One youngster wrote, “Genetics explains why you look like your father, and if you don’t, why you should.” In that context, this one really hits home: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are.” Is there any family resemblance? There should be.

John Chrysostom, the great preacher of the middle ages, in his sermon on how to bring up children, advises parents to give their youngster some great scriptural name, to teach over and over the story of the original bearer of the name, and thus to give a standard to live up to, and an inspiration for living, when reaching adulthood. The epistle writer says we are in the family of God so we have the responsibility of doing the family proud and not besmirching the family name.1

We are the children of God. That’s our true identity through our baptism into Christ. As the children of God we are loved beyond all telling. Like Michelangelo who would take a large chunk of marble and create a thing of lasting beauty, God puts us into his hands so that he can make something of eternal worth out of us. Each one of us is made a child of God.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” The picture John gives us here is that of God our heavenly Father adopting us as his children out of his unconditional, unlimited love. When a child is adopted they become, in every way, a member of their adopted family—especially so if the parents and other family members are loving people.

I know that was the case with a cousin of mine. He was adopted by my aunt and uncle and they truly have loved him as their very own child. He became a member of their family. I can remember too that on one occasion someone, not realising that Russell was adopted, made the comment that he looked so much like his adopted parents. I know that my cousin felt much loved by my uncle and aunt. Why do I know that? Because when the time came for him to get married, him and his wife Maureen could not have their own children. So what did they do? You guessed it; they adopted a child, a little girl from China. Moreover, they also are presently waiting to hear from the authorities in China again, because they want to adopt a second child. Obviously Russell was loved by his mom and dad. If he was not, I don’t think he would have even considered adopting children.

We too, says John, can be confident that God our heavenly Father loves us because he adopted us as his children. Along with that act of being adopted by our heavenly Father comes our true identity, children of God, which gives us so many wonderful benefits—including the enjoyment and love of one another as God’s family members of sinner-saints.

On this All Saints Sunday, what a wonderful and appropriate text we have here—our identity as children of God also reminds us, I believe, of that wonderful phrase in the third article of the Apostles’ Creed: “the communion of saints.” Essentially children of God and communion of saints are one and the same. Both refer to something very large and awesome—namely, that we are a communion, a community of God’s family that transcends time and space, race, class, gender, age, and every other difference. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

So look at your neighbour sitting beside you, in front or behind you. Do your see a family resemblance? You should! He or she is your brother or sister—a child of God, a sinner-saint, just like you. See what love the Father has given us! Yes, thank you Jesus! Amen.

 

1 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), pp. 172-173.

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I am the Resurrection and the Life

I am the Resurrection and the Life

In this fifth “I am” saying of Jesus in John 11:25, our Lord described himself with a view to the future. He speaks these words of comfort and hope to Martha who is grieving over the death of her brother, Lazarus. As the story unfolds, Jesus authenticates his claim as the resurrection and the life by revealing his power over death and raising the dead Lazarus. This sign was a foretaste of the future, when Jesus himself would be raised from the dead and promise all would-be followers that, one day; they too would be raised from the dead and be given the gift of eternal life. Each Sunday is a celebration and reminder of Christ the resurrection and the life, present and active among us. Life is graced with many small resurrections whenever the risen Lord gives hope to the hopeless; faith to the doubting; love to the loveless; new life to the dying.

Sermon Reformation Sunday Yr A

 

Reformation Sunday Yr A, 26/10/2008

Ps 46

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“God’s Powerful Word”

 

On this Reformation Sunday, it’s appropriate to ask ourselves: Who or what is a Lutheran? According to Luther’s Small Dictionary, a Lutheran is defined as: Someone who lives Lent all year long.1 Then, according to another source: You know you are a steadfast Lutheran if: You wonder why Martin, as long as he had taken the time to write 95 theses, didn’t round it off to an even 100? Or you know perfectly well why there is no Lutheran Church named Good Works Lutheran. Then there is this one: You know you are a Norwegian Lutheran if: You won’t admit that Children of the Heavenly Father was written by a Swede and that Away in the Manger and A Mighty Fortress were written by Germans.2

In a more serious vein, Psalm 46 reminds us that: “God is our refuge (our fortress) and strength, a very present help (a well proved help) in trouble. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (our fortress),” says the psalmist, along with ancient Israel with bedrock confidence. This psalm, of course, inspired reformer Martin Luther to write his most famous hymn. It also remains a source of inspiration for many today.

 

Some scholars believe that the historical background out of which Psalm 46 arose is found in 2 Chronicles 20, during the days of King Jehoshaphat. King Jehoshaphat of Judah was afraid that he and his kingdom would fall to the surrounding peoples of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir. So in fear and panic, he calls together the inhabitants of Judah in an assembly at Jerusalem, and the LORD reveals an oracle to Jahaziel, a descendent of the Levites; who reassures Jehoshaphat and the assembly that even though Judah is outnumbered and an inferior military power; nonetheless, they would win the battle, “for the battle is not yours but God’s.”  

So, the next day the choir of Judah and Jerusalem took their position on the front-line and began singing: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And this confused the armies of the Ammonites, Moabites and Mount Seir; putting them in disarray; so that they turned against each other and killed one another; until there were no survivors; thus the LORD gave Jehoshaphat and Judah the victory.

I believe that it is most instructive for us to note how first it was the power of the word spoken to Jehoshaphat and the assembly; how that oracle from the LORD gave courage and confidence to God’s people in a time of fear and threatening destruction. Second, it was the power of the sung word of God by the choir on the battle front that totally caught Judah’s enemies off-guard, caused them to turn against themselves, and hence, bringing on their defeat and self-destruction. The psalmist also underscores the power of God’s word, particularly in verse 6, where, amidst all kinds of catastrophic events: “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;” the LORD then “utters his voice, the earth melts.” The power of God’s word working in many and varied ways then is what saved the ancient Israelites, and, as we shall see, it saved Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, and it continues to save us today.

We Lutherans like to sing with vigour and enthusiasm, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which remains, among Martin Luther’s 37 hymns, the most favourite of them all. I don’t know how many of you realise this, but the hymn is based on, and inspired by the first verse of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Little did Luther know that as time moved on from century to century up till today, his hymn would be translated into some 200 languages and sung by virtually every mainline Christian denomination, including Roman Catholics!

The hymn of course spread like wildfire in Germany and other Lutheran lands. Luther himself, along with his other reformer friends and colleagues, it is said, sang it daily–especially in times of trouble, temptation, and depression; to be lifted in spirit and be restored with new courage, faith and strength. The tune–EIN FESTE BURG–also composed by Luther, has inspired J.S. Bach’s famous tune of Cantata 80 “JESU JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING,” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fifth Symphony.” It also influenced Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Les Huguenots and Alexander Glazunoff’s Finnish Fantasy.

For Luther himself, likely one of the–if not the–most important message(s) of the hymn is that for him, on numerous occasions, God was like A MIGHTY FORTRESS. Perhaps it was during his year that he spent in hiding at Wartburg Castle while he translated the New Testament into German that he found God on a much larger scale to be like that mighty fortress at Wartburg. Those thick protective walls of Wartburg Castle may have helped him feel safe and secure away from his military, political and ecclesiastical adversaries. Oftentimes Luther felt that everyone was against him–hence, it was solely by the protective and gracious God that he remained unharmed and safe, and was able to continue with his reforming work. For Luther, Jesus Christ himself being The Word of God Incarnate could accomplish ALL THINGS. Luther took great comfort in this and it was The Source of his strength and inspiration throughout his life.

Fast forwarding now to the present day, we too are able to be inspired, strengthened, and encouraged by God Our Almighty Fortress. I’m certain that if we all stopped to think about it; every one of us here today could recall at least one time—if not more—in our life when God has protected us from troubles, dangers and harm. God has been like a Strong Fortress for us too; whether we face physical, mental, spiritual or other dangers.

Maybe, like ancient Judah and like Martin Luther, we’ve had to face some overwhelming opponents and obstacles. We, like they, might feel we have precious little chance of overcoming or winning over such opponents and obstacles. Our own strength, skills, gifts and resources may seem next-to-nothing compared to those of others. Yet, we’re still here! God is good! God has given us exactly what we’ve needed at the right time. We have been protected, strengthened, encouraged, inspired—we’ve overcome and prevailed because “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The power of God’s word has worked in us and in our lives too. And so we worship the LORD our Mighty Fortress and serve him as did ancient Judah and Luther in gratitude for what he has done for us throughout our lives.

We, like ancient Judah, like Luther and the other reformers, can continue to live confidently and secure—trusting and knowing that “One little word subdues” the devil and all evil powers, that Word is Christ. The power of God’s word is very much alive and active; bringing healing to the sick, hope to the hopeless, faith to the doubter, love to us all. Jesus Christ is the ultimate victor. Praise God our Mighty Fortress for that! Amen.

1 Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Johnson Nelson, Luther’s Small Dictionary: From Aal to Zululand (Hastings, MN: Caragana Press, 1999), p. 124.

2 Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Johnson Nelson, You Know You Are A Lutheran If… (Hastings, MN: Caragana Press, 2002), pp. 10-12, pp. 130-131.

 

 

 

 

I am the Good Shepherd

I am the Good Shepherd

The picture of Jesus as the good shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep in John 10:11, 14 has provided countless people of faith much comfort and confidence down through the ages. Most likely biblically literate Jews and Christians automatically think of Psalm 23 whenever they hear the language of shepherd and sheep. Jesus too certainly knew the other shepherd-sheep passages from the Hebrew Bible, where shepherds represented the political and spiritual leaders of Israel and the sheep all Israelites. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus provides for our physical and spiritual needs; protects us from danger and harm; and preserves life through the forgiveness of sin made effective through the laying down of his life—his atoning work on the cross. One of, if not “the” most moving, tender passages of the New Testament is Luke 15. Here Jesus our Good Shepherd is prepared to seek out and save a single lost sheep and leave his whole flock behind. Each sheep/person is extremely valued by Jesus—hence the feasting when the lost are found.

 

I am the door/gate

I am the door/gate for the sheep

In this third “I am” saying of Jesus, “I am the door/gate for the sheep,” (John 10:7, 9), the Greek word for door/gate is θύρα (thura), which can be translated as either door or gate—although it refers more often elsewhere to door than gate. Here Jesus is speaking on at least two levels. The first level refers to the literal, biblical agrarian world of the Holy Land. Sheep were protected from robbers and thieves by herding them into pens or sheep-folds and the shepherd may very well have served as the door/gate for the pen to keep the sheep safe inside the pen and allow them to go outside when it was time to go back into the pasture or to the nearest water source. On a deeper, spiritual level, Jesus is speaking of his authenticity as the Messiah over against false-pretender leaders, teachers and messiahs. He is also speaking of eternal life, where Jesus is the door/gate into heaven, hence the way of salvation for those who belong to and follow him. The picture/image/metaphor of a door is a most comforting one then in relation to Jesus and all of his would-be followers. A closed and locked door speaks of protection and security. An open door suggests freedom, opportunity, adventure, excitement, and growth in faith, hope and love as one follows Jesus wherever he leads us.

I am the Light of the world

I am the Light of the world

The second “I am” saying of Jesus is: “I am the light of the world,” John 8:12; 9:5. In the larger context of both these passages, Jesus reveals himself as the light of the world. First, he prevents a woman “caught in adultery” (no mention of the man) from being stoned to death by challenging the would be stone-casters to look at themselves and see if they are sinless before they begin stoning the woman. Jesus may have written each of their sins on the ground for them to see. No one was without sin, so they dropped their stones and left. Jesus saved the woman’s life. In the second passage, Jesus is the light of the world by healing the man born blind. His blindness kept him in darkness, now he could see the light—both natural and spiritual. In John’s Gospel, Jesus the light of the world shines in the darkness—the powers of evil—to reveal the truth about God, himself, humankind, the world, and God’s eternal realm. Christ the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall never overcome the True Light. One day all darkness shall banish as we see Christ the light face to face.