To live is to die-thoughts for Holy Week

To live is to die—thoughts for Holy Week

 

Am I then concerned to say that there is no possibility of deliverance from this world of fantasy that we have created? Is the endlessly repeated message of the media—that money and sex are the only pursuits in life, violence its only excitement, and success its only fulfilment—irresistible? Are the only available escape-routes all cul-de-sacs? There is a remarkable passage in Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago in which the hero reflects that in a Communist society freedom only exists in concentration camps—in other words, that the only way to be free is to be imprisoned. The same notion is to be found at the very heart of the Christian religion—that the only way to live is to die.

 

The Way begins where for Christ himself its mortal part ended—at the cross. There alone, with all our earthly defences down and our earthly pretensions relinquished, we can confront the true circumstances of our being; there alone grasp the triviality of these seemingly so majestic achievements of ours, like going to the moon, unravelling our genes, fitting one another with each other’s hearts, livers and kidneys. There, contemplating God in the likeness of (us humans), we may understand how foolish and inept (we are) when (we see ourselves) in the likeness of God. (Quotation from: Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, pp. 115-116).

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Sermon Palm/Passion Sunday Yr B

Palm/Passion Sunday Yr B, 5/04/2009

Mk 11:1-11

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The donkey owner’s story-a narrative sermon”

 

Hello everyone, or as we say in the Promised Land, shalom! I want you to put your imagination to work today. Imagine that you have travelled in a time machine back to the first Palm Sunday. My name is Eli ben Judah. The Gospels do not mention me by name. I’m the owner of that donkey colt Jesus road into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’ll be your host and tour guide. Here is my story.

I remember it well, the day I met Jesus. What a day that was! He came to my stable at Bethphage, near Jerusalem, several weeks before Palm Sunday. The day started out with its usual routines, as any other day. You know: get up at four, dress, pray the morning prayer thanking God for another day, the gift of life, and every other blessing, start the fire, fry some fish, warm up the bread, give thanks to the LORD for our food, eat breakfast, go out into the stable to feed and water the donkeys, and open the stable doors for business—hoping and praying for customers to rent my donkeys.

A few minutes after I opened the stable doors, along came Jesus. I still remember seeing him walking towards me. I’ve never met a person like him before. He walked with dignity and confidence. His body and face were so radiant that I was almost blinded by such an intense light. His light poured into me, as if it were healing and cleansing me completely. The light seemed to be burning away all that was hurtful and destructive in me. His eyes were so loving and penetrating—I felt he could see right into my whole being and that he knew everything about me. He knew all of the details of my life, from birth right up to the present. I thought of our ancestor Moses, before the burning bush, and Elijah, when God spoke to him with the sound of sheer silence. The holiness of Jesus’ presence before me was so intense that I fell to my knees and lowered my face to the dust. Who was I, a humble, ordinary donkey owner to be worthy enough to be in the presence of Jesus?

Even though I had never met him before, I knew, as he came closer, that he was the most perfect, holy person that I’d ever encountered in my life. Like Moses after the burning bush, and Elijah after hearing God’s still small voice, I was never the same again. The day I met Jesus, my whole life has changed. Before that time, I went to synagogue on the festival days, and prayed the daily prayers without expecting much from the LORD. Life was pretty humdrum, and I liked it that way. After that day everything changed. Since then, I have found a new purpose for living. Now I want to tell everyone about Jesus and follow his way and his teachings.

Back to that day, when I was down on my knees, face to the earth, Jesus spoke. He called me by my name, and said: “Shalom, Eli ben Judah, donkey owner. Please rise, I have something to ask of you.”

So, I jumped up on my feet and was full of curiosity, wondering what he wanted from me. Before I was able to speak he addressed me again, saying: “I am going to need your help in a few weeks’ time. I’ll be entering Jerusalem then, and I need one of your colt donkeys—they have to be strong enough for me to sit on and ride into the city. I shall do this in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Listen up now Eli, here’s what will happen. Two of my disciples, James and John, will come here and untie the colt standing by your door. You and a few of your neighbours will see them, and will ask the following question: “What are you doing, untying the colt?” James and John will provide you with this password answer: ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ Do you think you can remember all of that?”

I was, at first breathless, so surprised, I didn’t know what to say. The prophecy from Zechariah finally sunk in, I realised it was referring to the Messiah. Could this Jesus be our Messiah? After a few moments of silence to collect my thoughts, I blurted out: “You mean to say that you’re, um, the Messiah?!” I asked with excitement and expectation.

Jesus answered with certainty in his voice, “I am he.” Then he commanded me to keep it a secret, saying: “Don’t you dare tell a soul till after my crucifixion and resurrection—then you can go out and tell the whole world.”

Rather confused I asked him: “What do you mean crucifixion and resurrection? You aren’t going to die like a criminal and then rise from death. I mean, if you’re the Messiah and all, aren’t you supposed to deliver us Jews from the tyranny of the Roman occupation and govern our nation with perfect peace and justice?”

Jesus answered me, “No Eli, that’s not my destiny. I’m the Messiah not only of the Jewish people, but of all nations and peoples. My destiny, in fulfillment of our scriptures, is to suffer and die on the cross to atone, once and for all, for the sins of humankind. Three days later God our heavenly Father shall raise me from the dead. Do you believe me?”

I struggled to understand these hard and sorrowful words, and then replied, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. Please stay with me for lunch, you can tell me more.”

However, Jesus told me, “No, Eli, I must keep going to the next village, and the next, and the next after that. I’ve got plenty of work to do before I enter Jerusalem in a few weeks. Remember; keep this conversation a secret until after my crucifixion and resurrection. Don’t forget what I told you about James and John. Shalom Eli, see you in a few weeks.”

What a day! me, Eli ben Judah of all people, a humble donkey owner, meeting the Messiah! I believed Jesus, and yet, I struggled with what I had been taught by the rabbis. How could Jesus be the Messiah riding on a donkey? How could he be a suffering Messiah? Would God our Father really raise him from the dead three days after his crucifixion? Would his death on a cross truly atone for my sins and your sins, and everyone else’s sins, once and for all time? Questions, questions, questions. Yet, Jesus’ presence was so holy, so pure, so enlightening. How could I keep such an encounter with the Messiah to myself? I had to tell everyone, I couldn’t help it! So, that’s what I did. I told every single person in our village: “I’ve met the Messiah, his name is Jesus!” Most of them didn’t believe me, they thought I ate too many nuts and became one. J

The days and weeks passed. Finally the day came. True to Jesus’ words, James and John showed up when I was speaking with a few neighbours outside the house. They untied the colt. Folks asked them what they were doing and they provided the password answer—exactly as Jesus had planned it all. The neighbours who were with me then realised that I had been telling the truth. So, all of us followed along with James and John, because we love parades and this one was very special. Jesus our Messiah entered triumphantly, riding on a colt donkey with the crowd cheering him on, crying, “Hosanna!” which means “save us, save us soon.” Hosanna is a shout of praise, as well as a plea for help. We praised our Messiah Jesus, shared fully in the joy, waving our palm branches as he rode that little donkey, the animal symbolizing humility and peace—and that day shall come when he rules us all in perfect peace.

Well, that’s my story folks. You can time travel back now to Grace Lutheran Church in Medicine Hat. Go in Christ’s peace. And, like me, tell everyone you meet the Good News of Jesus our Messiah. Shalom! Amen.

 

Funeral Sermon Nick Paprocky

Funeral Sermon for Nick Paprocky, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, at Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, March 31, 2009, four o’clock. Texts: Eccles 3:1-8; Jn 11:25-26.

When I asked Leona if there was a favourite Bible passage that she would like read for Nick’s funeral, she told me Ecclesiastes chapter three. She said that it was the passage read at her and Nick’s wedding and now she wished for it to be read today. I couldn’t agree with her more, because Ecclesiastes chapter three reminds us that God has a plan for us in every stage of life, a time and a place for everything—including death. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven—it was true for humans back in ancient times, it is true for all of us here today, it was true for Nick. For Nick there was a time to be born, a time to be a child, and a brother. Eventually, there was a time for Nick to be a husband, and a dad, and a granddad. For Nick there was a time to be young, middle-aged, and old; and there was a time to die. The time to die came for Nick last Saturday. Our time to die shall come one day too. For some of us, it will be sooner than later. Are you ready for that time of death? Are you prepared to meet your Maker? One of the reasons why we are gathered here today is to remind ourselves that one day we too shall die, and that we need to be prepared for that day. Nick would say do not put off your preparation for that day.
How do we prepare for that day? Well we need to get our relationships sorted out with each other—and that may mean you need to offer forgiveness to someone and be reconciled with them. Do your loved ones know that you love them? Tell them today, not tomorrow, because it could be too late. Most important of all, to prepare for death, we need to be in a relationship with God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. How is your relationship with Christ? Do you believe in the words of the Gospel that were read today? Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? If you do, then you shall be prepared for death.
Yes, as the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time to die, and there is a time to weep and mourn, a time to lose. And I would encourage you to do that here, if that seems right for you to do—since it does hurt when our loved ones die, and we shall certainly miss them, nothing is the same without them. So there is a loss for us and that loss can and often does cause us to mourn and it brings tears to our eyes.
And yet, this is also a time to heal, a time to build up, a time to gather stones together. It is a time to remember and honour Nick. Each of you has your special memories of Nick; each of you has been touched in some way by his life; each of you will remember those things and celebrate them. Nick loved the company of his small grandchildren. Nick also loved music, especially listening to opera—as well as singing, dancing the polka and fiddle music. When he was able to, he enjoyed attending church on a regular basis and ushered here at Grace together with Leona. And at Easter time, he would bake special bread, and present me with a loaf. Just as Nick gave me the gift of his special Easter bread, Jesus, on Easter gave us the greatest gift of all—the promise of eternal life because he is the resurrection and the life.
For people of faith, death is not the end of the story. Death and resurrection go together. Strangely enough, we believe that we are not here to preside over a death. Rather, as Christians we are here to celebrate resurrection. There is a time to die, yet there is a time to live, listen to these wonderful words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” This is a wonderful promise to us all and to Nick, whom we commend to God’s eternal care today.
As we celebrate, and take this time to remember, to heal, to gather stones together, to build up—it is also appropriate that this time be one of giving thanks to God for Nick’s life and commending him into the LORD’s eternal care. We worship a God who has defeated the powers of death, sin, and evil—that’s what Easter is all about. Jesus loved and cared for Nick; Jesus loves and cares for each one of you so much that he is the resurrection and the life. One day we too shall share in a resurrection like his and be reunited with our loved ones, and live with them and our risen Saviour forever. That’s the wonderful Gospel Promise—do you believe it? Nick did. My hope and prayer for all of you is that you do too. Amen.