New Photos on My Flickr

New Photos on My Flickr

I’ve added a few new photos on my flickr. We don’t get the heavy frost on our trees that often, so on Boxing Day we went out and enjoyed God’s wondrous creation. To view them, scroll down and click on My Flickr on the left sidebar. Wishing you all a New Year full of God’s blessings.

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Dec 09 Scribbles

Bethlehem, House of Bread, Welcome The Bread of Life

 

Love Divine, all loves excelling. Joy of heaven to earth come down!

Greg Mortenson ambassador of peace and good will

Greg Mortenson ambassador of peace and good will

According to The Christian Century, Greg Mortenson has recently published a sequel book, Stones into Schools, continuing to make the case for building schools and providing education particularly for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a way to end conflict and terrorism, rather than military intervention. The editors of The Christian Century conclude in their piece: “Instead of deploying 30,000 more soldiers, the U.S. would be better off deploying 30,000 more Greg Mortensons.” Read more here. An inspiring thought for us followers of Jesus whom we call Prince of Peace, as we prepare to celebrate his birth.  

Happy Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah

I’ve always been curious about the many different ways in which Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, faith, and hope is spelled. If there are any Jewish readers who know the answer to the many spelling variations, could you please fill us in on that history? My guess is that the variations may reflect the diverse Jewish communities around the globe as well as the differing branches of Judaism. At any rate, Bonnie K. Goodman has a very informative post on her blog, profiling current news about Hanukkah 2009 as well as the history of the festival. You can read about it here. Happy Hanukkah (or is it Chanukah? Et al) to all of my Jewish readers!

Sermon 3 Advent YR C

3 Advent Yr C, 13/12/2009

Phil 4:4-7

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Rejoice in the midst of sorrow”

Back in the 1960s and 70s, there was a popular song that youth sang in church or at youth group functions. The song was very simple, some of you may remember it: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice.” We had lots of fun singing it as a canon. I can also remember that after singing this simple piece, it seemed to sink into my consciousness, and I’d sing it to myself all day long. I found it very difficult to get it out of my head once it was there. Has that ever happened to you?

Well, in today’s second lesson, upon which that popular song was based, the apostle Paul instructs the church at Philippi to: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Why would Paul say such a thing? Most of us can rejoice, however why does Paul add the word “always” and then go on to repeat himself by saying: “again I will say, Rejoice”? If Paul were alive and among us today, we might be inclined to argue with him, and say something like this: “Get real Paul, wake up and smell the coffee, there’s no way that we can always be rejoicing. How can I always rejoice Paul in the face of life’s downers? Don’t you know Paul that there’s lots of hurting and suffering in this old world? In fact, if you listen to the daily news, you’ll likely come to the conclusion that the world is becoming more hostile, corrupt and evil by the minute. How can we always rejoice when millions of people around the world are starving, naked, homeless and sick? How can we always rejoice when corporate CEOs get severance packages in the millions, while they steal pension plans from thousands of their own employees? How can we always rejoice when wars and terrorism drag on year-after-year and far too many innocent people are killed? And then Paul, closer to home, how can we rejoice when we only have until the end of this month before we close Grace Lutheran Church? We love this Church, now we have to close it, and that breaks our hearts. We are sad and grieving, closing our congregation is, in a way, like dying. Paul, tell us, how can we always rejoice in the face of such sadness?”

After such a litany of protests, Paul might answer us something like this: “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I do know all about suffering and sadness too. Don’t you remember what I wrote in my letters about being shipwrecked, beaten, rejected and chased out of cities, towns and villages by hostile people? Yes, I know all about suffering and sadness, I’ve been arrested and when I wrote the church at Philippi, telling them to rejoice always, I was sitting in prison. I also had to deal with all of the conflicts, disagreements and divisions in several congregations—all of which caused me much pain and sadness. On a personal level, I had to struggle with health issues, and, while in prison, I did not know if I was going to be found guilty of crimes and executed. So, in light of all these things, you doubt the sincerity of my words to the church at Philippi, telling them to rejoice always.”

“Well, listen to me members of Grace Lutheran. I am able to say rejoice always because true joy, Christian joy, is not based on external circumstances. NO! If that were so, then yes, it would be impossible to rejoice always. However that is not the case. The way to rejoicing always is clearer when you read verses five, six and seven.”

“In verse five, I said: Let your gentleness be known to everyone—be considerate of everyone. The Lord is near. I’ve discovered that gentleness and consideration of others helps you cope with life’s troubles. In gentleness, being patient and considerate of everyone, hearing them out, I’ve won the trust and respect of others. How can I do this? Well, as I said: The Lord is near. Don’t you remember the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel? Remember, he said: ‘I am with you always.’ For me, that has proven to be a wonderful promise. I know that I could never have gotten through all of my sufferings and heartaches without our Lord’s nearness. The message of our Lord’s nearness during this season of Advent is quite appropriate, as Advent means coming. Advent is a time for us to remember Jesus came as a human being in love as one of us over two-thousand years ago. He comes to us each day, and especially during worship times through word and sacrament. One day, Jesus said he will come again as the risen King of kings and Lord of lords to bring all of history to its completion. So, yes, the Lord is near. We can have confidence in his nearness because it’s not based on the unpredictability of our feelings. Rather, Christ’s nearness is based on his promise—which holds true now and throughout eternity. If we believe this, then we can always be joyful in our Lord.”

“We can rejoice in the Lord always dear members of Grace Lutheran because, as I said in verse six: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. I know this to be true from practicing it. Throughout my stormy life and ministry I had plenty of worries, anxieties and fears. I put life and limb in danger many a time. Jesus rescued me from the jaws of death and the evils of Satan on numerous occasions. I was able to rejoice always and cope with the daily circumstances no matter how trying because I prayed, offered supplications with thanksgiving making my requests known to our God. The Lord heard my prayers, supplications and thanksgivings—he didn’t always answer them the way I asked, mind you; he didn’t always give me what I wanted; rather, he had greater purposes for me to carry out and he always gave me what I needed.”

“In addition to all of this, I ended this section of my letter to the Philippians with a benediction in verse seven. I loved that congregation dearly, and so it was easy for me to offer them blessing upon blessing—because they had blessed me in so many ways. So I wrote these words as benediction, a good word, which is what the word benediction actually means. I wrote, and I also offer these words to you too: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. You remember that I grew up and was educated as a Jew. Peace, in Hebrew Shalom, is more than just a word. Peace, Shalom is used by us Jews to greet someone to begin a conversation, and to say good-bye to someone when departing from them. The word also refers to health, wholeness, well-being, prosperity in the physical, social and spiritual sense. Peace, Shalom also refers to the future new creation—when God in Christ shall remove forever all evil powers, then sin and death shall no longer exist. Everyone shall live in a perfect state of blessedness, where joy and love shall rule supreme. So God’s peace guards us like a surrounding army filling our hearts and minds; giving us the willpower and ability to act by carrying out Christ’s purposes.”

“In short, Christ’s presence in us through his indwelling Holy Spirit works to help us. We are not always able to keep focussed in our prayers—the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. We are not always able to stop worrying, and our hearts and minds don’t always focus on Jesus—again Christ’s peace given through the Holy Spirit in us accomplishes that for us. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t let external circumstances side-track you. You can rejoice always like I did while I faced all the sufferings and sorrows of my life. Yes, even while closing your church, you can rejoice in the Lord always. Why? Because the Lord is near. He loves you so much that he suffered and died for you on the cross. He didn’t stay dead though. On the third day God the Father raised him from the dead. His resurrection is a sign of hope and victory. One day we too shall share in a resurrection like his. Your church too, after you close your doors, shall give new life to the larger Christian community by sharing your gifts with them. And Christ’s peace shall guard you every step of the way, throughout your life, your death, and beyond.”

Someone has said, “Misery loves company, but joy requires it.” What a beautiful insight. “Misery loves company, but joy requires it.” Joy requires company, community, connectedness. We can have many satisfying experiences by ourselves, but to experience joy we almost have to be in the company of at least one other person. That’s why worship is so satisfying to our souls. That is why serving others can be a joyous experience. Anytime we move out of ourselves and connect with another human being in the name of Christ, joy is possible.1

For the Christian, joy is…in the abiding assurance that “we belong, body and soul, to our faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A #1). It was this kind of joy that a young pastor encountered when he entered the hospital room of an elderly saint named Edith. It was the last day of Edith’s life; the pastor knew it and so did Edith. So when he asked her, “How are you?” they both knew that he was talking about more than her health. Their eyes locked, and she answered with a serenity born of both suffering and grace: “I have never felt such pain, or known more joy.”

Are Christians happy all the time? No, of course not. But they can be joyful all the time. Theirs is a joy that flows directly from the fountain of God’s amazing grace, a joy that, like God’s peace, “passes all understanding” (4:7).2 So, this Advent may you live with the joy of Jesus who is ever coming and near you; guarding you like a surrounding army with his peace. Amen.

1 Cited from: Duncan King, “I say, Rejoice!” at: <www.esermons.com>.

2 Cited from: Carol M. Bechtel, Glimpses Of Glory: Daily Reflections on the Bible (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 73.

Sermon II Advent Yr C

2 Advent Yr C, 6/12/2009

Lk 3:1-6

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Make the Lord’s paths straight”

 

Recently, someone sent me an e-mail with the following story: A man was repainting the outside of the church one Saturday to get it nice and spiffy for the service on Sunday. He had two sides of the church done, when he realized that he didn’t have enough paint left to finish the job. What to do, since he was a long way from any store where he could buy more paint, and he was running out of time? So he came up with the idea that he would thin the paint down so he’d have enough to finish painting. After finishing the third side, he realized that he needed to thin the paint even more if he was going to finish the job. Finally, he finished the job and stood back admiring his work when suddenly, it began to rain. The man watched in dismay as the paint ran off the last two sides he had painted.

   The pastor came outside to see what was going on, and saw the look of disappointment on the man’s face. The man confessed what he had done in order to finish the job. The pastor, wanting to ease the man’s burden, said, “Repaint and thin no more!”

   In today’s gospel we learn of that eccentric desert prophet, John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in preparation for the coming Messiah. It is rather interesting how Luke begins this story. He starts out by giving us a list of “the Who’s Who” of John’s day. He names several of the political and religious “movers and shakers,” the “power brokers” of that time in history.

   Luke tells us that: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” According to one commentator, this would be either 26 or 27 A.D. Pilate, the Roman procurator had final authority in Judea. The remainder of the kingdom of Herod the Great was divided between his sons Herod Antipas (9:7; 23:6-7) and Philip. Abilene, north of Philip’s rule, was closely associated with it during the first century. Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas (Jn 18:13) controlled the Jewish temple and priests. Caiaphas was the high priest (Mt 26:3; Jn 11:49); Annas, though retired retained his prestige (Acts 4:6).1

   Why does Luke take the time to mention all of these people of power and influence? Well, Luke, in chapter one of his gospel, you remember, stated his purpose of the gospel was “to write an orderly account.” Luke thus seems concerned with the historical context of his gospel story. The backdrop of history in Luke’s gospel helps readers to have a larger, more meaningful picture of the story. Seeing the larger picture makes it more likely for the gospel story to take root in our hearts, minds and lives. 

   Luke lists these people because he wants to tell us that these were not some fairy-tale characters, the products of an overactive imagination. NO! The people in Luke’s story are real, live, human beings who lived during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus. The gospel story takes place at a certain time in a certain part of the world.

   Luke gives us this list of “the rich and famous” to employ irony to drive home his message. For Luke, God is at work in a special way when chronos time meets Kairos time. Chronos time is ordinary time, measured by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, centuries and millennia. Kairos time is special time, holy time, time that God chooses to act in a saving way. For Luke, the irony of chronos time meeting Kairos time is that even though the contemporary political and religious leaders have the outward appearance of power, wealth and seem to be the central actors of history–God works through the most unsuspecting folks, like an eccentric prophet named John to accomplish his eternal purposes by announcing the coming Messiah. Moreover, God is active in the least likely place, the desert, a place of desolation. The irony for Luke is that the movers and shakers of society do not determine God’s saving activity. Rather, they miss what God is doing precisely because the LORD employs an eccentric desert prophet named John to prepare for the Messiah and announce his coming. Furthermore, Luke brings out his irony by telling us the Messiah himself is born of a young woman who has very little if any power and influence in the realms of politics and religion; and the place, in some barn or cave in Bethlehem is the least likely place in the world to expect the Messiah’s birth. Yet, that’s how God works according to Luke.

John the Baptizer, according to Luke, is God’s final forerunner to prepare folks for the soon-to-come Messiah. He is seen by Luke as Isaiah’s “voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” His message is clearly spoken, yet difficult to act upon: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Isn’t that easier said than done? Look at our society today. A lot of people, including the power brokers, like their crooked paths—dishonesty, breaking the law, deceitfulness abound. Some political and yes, even religious leaders in league with the powers of evil employ deceitfulness to confuse people and take advantage of them. Today, there are voices crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; but, alas, such voices are ignored, mocked, rejected, and sometimes even persecuted, tortured, silenced and killed by this world’s power brokers. Sometimes the power brokers even invoke the name of God to justify themselves—calling evil good and good evil.

Preparing the way of the Lord is not easy. Repentance, turning one-hundred-and-eighty degrees around is difficult. Luke goes on to quote Isaiah 40:3-5, saying that in order to prepare the way of the Lord, everything right now has to be reversed: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”

A lot of work is involved in all of that, don’t you think? Such a project is maybe like building a country-wide highway, like the trans-Canada. Can you image the personnel, equipment, and resources it would require to complete such a project? Notice too, that the text says: “EVERY valley shall be filled, and EVERY mountain and hill made low, and the crooked made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” The energy, time and resources required for such an earth-transforming project are mind-boggling. However, with God all things are possible. If God is behind such an earth-transforming project, then it will happen. Or, could it be that God himself shall do all of this? Could this be referring to God making the new heavens and the new earth? Perhaps.

At any rate, we all know that a straight path in real life is easy to follow. You know where you’re going and where it leads. A crooked path is more difficult and can be dangerous. You don’t know where you’re going, how sharp are the curves, how narrow and rough is the road? On a crooked road, you don’t always know where it leads, you can get lost—sin and evil may await you. That is true both in the physical world and spiritually.

So, God’s earth-moving work continues, it started with John, and continued with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The work also has continued down through the centuries in the Church, and yes even today, whenever Jesus’ followers have been faithful to him and his gospel. As Luther said, every day we followers of Jesus need to repent; turn away from our self-centredness and focus on what we can do to lovingly serve the needs of others. In loving others, caring for the neediest, we are making God’s paths straight and preparing for Jesus and his coming to us as the baby at Christmas and in the future Kairos time when he shall come again to bring all of history to its completion. We look forward to that day when: “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All flesh shall see; we will come to realise, participate in, inherit, and celebrate the kingdom of God coming in all of its fullness. To that end we keep preparing for, waiting and hoping. One day our hopes and deepest longings shall come true, for that thanks be to God! Amen.

1 Cited from my Oxford Annotated Bible notes, NRSV, (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1991), p. NT 82.