A Prayer for Wednesday in Holy Week

Jesus before the Council by Simon Bening

Jesus, many believed you to be the Messiah. Yet, in the tragic irony of your Passion, you were on trial before the assembly of elders, the religious authorities and experts. Many of them were sceptical that you were the Messiah. (Luke 22:66-71) It seems that no matter what you said, they regarded it as incriminating evidence. We confess that there are moments in our lives when we act pretentiously like some of the religious leaders of your day. We, like they, think we know more than you, when, in truth, we are ignorant and incriminate ourselves—sometimes without even knowing it. We repent of our pretentious ways, begging your forgiveness. Jesus, Suffering Servant, have mercy upon me/us. For your love’s sake, we pray.

A Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week

A Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week

Peter's Denial, Masters of Dirc van Delf

Jesus, you predicted that Peter would deny you three times, even though he told you that he’d go to prison and even death with you. We confess that we’re no better than Peter. We may boast our resolve to remain faithful to you, come what may, only to discover the next moment that we’ve denied you too, like Peter. We deny you in many and various ways. We deny you to conform to the dictates of peer groups. We deny you for fleeting momentary gains of popularity, wealth and status. We deny you out of cowardice for fear of confronting others who persecute or ridicule you and take your name in vain. We deny you when we lack the courage to stand up for those who suffer and are persecuted for your name’s sake. We deny you for the sake of inconvenience, we might have to suffer some hardship and that would never do. We deny you out of ignorance, not realising what we’ve done and its consequences until after the fact. We deny you because we prefer the way of triumphalism rather than the Way of the Cross. We deny you in countless ways, so often we’ve lost track. Is there any hope for us Jesus? Yes, you reassure us in what your said to Peter. You prayed that his own faith would not fail and, one day, after has denial, he’d be able to turn back in repentance and go on to strengthen his companions. (Luke 22:31-34) What sorrow I, we must inflict upon you Jesus. I, we, repent of our countless denials of you Jesus. Have mercy upon me/us; heal and forgive me/us. For your love’s sake.

A Prayer for Monday in Holy Week

A Prayer for Monday in Holy Week

In Luke 22:3-4, we read: “Then Satan entered into Judas, who was called Iscariot, one of the Twelve; and he went to the chief priests and temple guards to discuss ways of betraying Jesus to them.” (REB) Jesus, Suffering Servant, if one of the Twelve who was with you during your public ministry could betray you, then what chance have I, or anyone for that matter, of not doing the same? Do I, like Judas, not betray you when I fail to see you in my neighbour—especially the least of these brothers and sisters in need—and fail to welcome and love them as if they were you? Do I, like Judas, betray you whenever I cave in to the status quo and political correctness for selfish gains? Do I not betray you every day whenever the old nature, the old Adam and Eve in direct my thoughts, words and deeds? Have mercy upon me sinner that I am, forgive me for all the betrayals I’ve committed against you. Have mercy upon us all, and forgive us all. Keep us close to you and deliver us from evil. May we be ever grateful for the events of your Passion and your unconditional forgiveness, even when we betray you. For your love’s sake, we pray.

Prayers & Benediction Palm/Passion Sunday Yr C

Prayer of the Church, Palm/Passion Sunday, Year C

God our help in times of trouble and suffering: We praise and thank you for vindicating your Son, Jesus our Suffering Servant as he suffered and died on the cross. God of mercy: C: Hear our prayer.

Crucified Saviour: When the world had poured out all of its scorn and hatred and cruel punishment against you, and the powers of evil sought your ultimate destruction; you put all of your trust in the LORD your God for your deliverance. In the face of evil, may we also place all of our trust in the LORD our deliverer: God of creation: C: Your mercy is great.

Cross-bearing Christ: Grant us your attitude, mind-set, and spirit to learn that it is not in power but in weakness; not in pride but in humility; not in doing our own thing but in obedience to you that we discover the real meaning and purpose of our lives. We repent of our lust for power; our deceitful pride and selfishness which motivate us. Forgive us Jesus, that we may be more willing disciples; boldly confessing your Lordship over our lives and all of creation. God of creation: C: Your mercy is great.

God of all the suffering: You led your Son every step of the way through his suffering and crucifixion. Today we remember all who suffer in our community, province, nation and world—especially the people of Haiti, Chile, and Sudan; be their Source of comfort and strength by leading them through their suffering and forms of crucifixion. God of creation: C: Your mercy is great.

(Additional intercessions and thanksgivings may be offered here, ending with: God of creation: C: Your mercy is great.)

Saviour of the world: this day and Holy Week please guide and direct our hearts, souls, minds and lives to focus more clearly on your entry into Jerusalem and the events which unfolded during the last week of your life in the flesh here on earth. May your Holy Spirit enlighten, inspire and empower us concerning your Passion; giving us the will and courage to spread this wonderful message near and far. God of creation: C: Your mercy is great.

We pray all of these things in the name of our crucified Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. C: Amen.

Benediction

Now may God the mighty Creator; Christ the cross-bearing Saviour+; & the Holy Spirit who leads you into all truth bless & keep you now & forever.

 

Professor Hans Küng speaks out

Professor Hans Küng speaks out

Professor Hans Küng has spoken out against the sexual abuse that recently surfaced in the Roman Catholic Church. Read more about it here in the National Catholic Reporter.

Sermon 5 Lent, Yr C

5 Lent Yr C, 21/03/2010

Phil 3:4b-14

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Paul’s loss and gain”

If an employer is hiring a worker, they rely a lot on the worker’s past training, knowledge and experience. The employer depends on information stating the worker’s credentials in a resume. If a university hires a professor, they rely on a potential professor’s academic pedigree as presented in curriculum vitae. And when a country asks who is a legitimate heir to the present king or queen? they rely on the history of a royal family to determine who shall be the new monarch.

In the same way, the apostle Paul speaks of his pedigree, highlighting his impressive credentials in today’s second lesson. Paul we might say, was a spiritual superstar. He was the ideal opponent within Judaism to resist Christianity.

Paul tells us that he was: “circumcised on the eighth day.” Going back to the days of Abraham, in Genesis seventeen, God makes a covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people; and as an outward sign of this covenant, God gave the command to Abraham that all male babies must be circumcised when they were eight days old. So as an Israelite, Paul is a legitimate one, having been circumcised in obedience to God’s command and covenant.

Paul goes on to state that he was: “a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.” In other words, his parents were Jewish and they descended from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah were the two faithful tribes when all of the others had abandoned God, and fallen away from the covenant. And Benjamin was considered to be one of the most aristocratic tribes of Israel. The first king of Israel, Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin, and perhaps Paul, prior to his Damascus road encounter with Christ, was named after King Saul.

Paul continues to state his credentials, saying that he was: “a Hebrew born of Hebrews.” The Jewish people did not all speak Hebrew, read or write in that language at the time of Paul. Many Jews could not speak, read or write in the Hebrew because of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles; as well as their taking up residence in several Gentile lands. Over time, the Hebrew language was lost among some of the Jews because the land in which they lived had another official language. Here in Canada the same thing often happens. The first generation of immigrants usually preserve their mother tongue. However, by the second or third generation, their offspring may have abandoned the language of their ancestors—favouring English or French, the two official languages of Canada. Paul tells us that he and his parents retained the Hebrew language.

Paul adds another important credential to his list, saying: “as to the law, a Pharisee.” In the book of Acts, Paul says at least three times that he was educated as a Pharisee (Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:5). Moreover, he was trained under one of Jerusalem’s best Pharisaic teachers, Gamaliel. Gamaliel, you may recall, was the wise and respected teacher who cautioned other Jewish leaders not to persecute or kill the apostles after they had been teaching in the Jerusalem temple. Gamaliel gave the Jewish leaders the following wise counsel: “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39) So Paul was trained as a Pharisee by this highly respected and wise teacher, Gamaliel. As a Pharisee, Paul meticulously knew the Bible, and followed all of the rules and regulations of the law.

Paul then states: “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” We recall that before his Damascus road experience, Paul was a man with a single-minded mission—to persecute and even sentence to death Christians. Paul had been a witness to the earliest Christian martyr, Stephen, when he was stoned to death. He was on his way to Damascus to seek out, persecute and possibly put to death other Christians there when Jesus appeared to him and changed his life mission. However, in his days as a zealous persecutor of the church, an enemy of the church, Paul was likely a respected leader among the Jews because of his zealous persecution of Christians. Such behaviour may likely have convinced some of his fellow Jews of his loyalty to the Jewish faith.

In his final credential, Paul states that he was: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In Paul’s heart and mind, there was no question or doubt that he had not violated the Jewish law in any way, shape of form. Paul had kept Torah; he had observed the Jewish law in spirit and letter. He was, before the law, innocent, clean, righteous, so he thought and believed. On the outside at least, all indications seemed to point to a perfectly righteous Jewish leader.

Yet, the law goes deeper than mere externals, and righteousness in God’s eyes is not based on what we do to earn it. Now if one was judged on the basis of his credentials and his ability to observe the law outwardly, then yes, he had reason to boast and be confident within himself. However, after, if not before the Damascus road experience, Paul knew and learned otherwise. He had read and studied Isaiah 64:6, which told him: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

So the best pedigree and the finest credentials; the noblest accomplishments; one’s birthright and training or membership within an organization cannot ultimately satisfy, save or make a person righteous. We are all sinners. The law demands perfection, we are imperfect—therefore, try as we do; our final effort shall always result in not perfectly keeping the law. If we are to be satisfied, saved and righteous what needs to happen then?

The story is told of a pastor and his wife who spent a month in Zermatt, Switzerland. It is one of the loveliest places on the face of the earth. Zermatt is a village you reach by a cogwheel railroad, and there are no cars there. It is right at the foot of the Matterhorn, and snow-covered mountains tower all around that lovely little village in the valley. But the residents once had a typhoid scare. Some people in the village got typhoid fever, and they tried to hush it up. They didn’t want to tell anybody about it. They wondered how any water could be more pure than the water running off the mountains from the melting snows. But they found out that a sewer was located close by the source of the water, and the sewer had bled through and was polluting the water supply. The water was fine as it first ran off the mountains, but by the time it reached the people, it had been polluted.

In a similar fashion, even the good things we do are often shot through with selfish interest, the seeking to advance ourselves in one way or another. So the Scripture says that even our righteousnesses in God’s sight are as filthy rags. Jesus said that when we have done our very best, we must consider ourselves unworthy servants in God’s sight (Luke 17:10). It is not possible for us to strike up a bargain whereby we gain God’s favour.1

In contrast to all of Paul’s gains from his birthright, faith in Judaism and achievements; Paul, is given a new revelation concerning what truly satisfies, saves and makes him righteous. He writes: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”

What an incredible statement! Paul, a first class Pharisee, proud of his Jewish birthright, faith, traditions, culture and personal accomplishments tells us that he’s willing to give all of this up, regard it as loss in order to gain Christ and the righteousness of God that comes through Christ. The righteousness of God in Christ is exchanged, traded for our sin. Martin Luther called this “the happy exchange.” Paul puts it like this in I Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Paul’s sense of gaining true satisfaction, righteousness and salvation in Christ is what two hymn writers might have based their hymns on that we sing during the Lenten season. The words to the first hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” highlight the sufficiency of Christ righteousness and ability to save us in contrast with our works: “Not the labours of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands…Thou must save, and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.” And in the words of the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Paul’s theme of gain and loss is highlighted, along with the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride. Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.”

May we too, like Paul and the hymn writers of these two Lenten hymns, count as gain the righteousness of Christ, freely given as a result of his saving work through his suffering and death on the cross. May we rejoice in the relationship with have with our Lord, as more precious than anyone or anything in the world. Amen.

1 Cited from: Everett L. Fullam, “Profit and Loss,” in: Richard Allen Bodey, Editor, Good News for All Seasons: Twenty-six Sermons for Special Days (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1987), p. 46.  

Evelyn Underhill’s letter to a friend

In our devotional reading this morning from Lent With Evelyn Underhill: Selections from her writings, the following bits of advice from a letter to a friend are rather arresting and honest, telling it like it is, letting the chips fall where they may:

All this preoccupation with your own imperfection is not humility, but an insidious form of spiritual pride. What do you expect to be? A saint? There are desperately few of them: and even they found their faults, which are the raw material of sanctity remember, take a desperate lot of working up. The object of your salvation is God’s Glory, not your happiness. Remember it is all one to the angels whether you or another give Him the holiness He demands.

So, be content to help on His kingdom, remaining yourself in the lowest place. You have tied yourself up so tight in that accursed individualism of yours—the source of all your difficulties—that it is a marvel you can breathe at all.

As to the last crime on your list, however, ‘dislike of pain’….Even the martyrs, it has been said, had ‘less joy of their triumph because of the pain they endured.’ They did not want the lions: but they knew how to ‘endure the Cross’ when it came. Do not worry your head about such things as this: but trust God and live your life bit by bit as it comes. There. God bless you.

I find Underhill’s words to be rather more like accusatory law than grace-filled gospel. She seems to me so “in your face,” yet there is perhaps a bit of humour and tongue-in-cheek here, is there not? What do you think? If you were Evelyn’s friend and received such a letter, how would you respond?

Sermon 3 Lent Yr C

3 Lent Yr C, 7/03/2010

Isa 55:1-9

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Feasting with God”

Do any of you remember the 1987 movie, Babbette’s Feast? I think that it still ranks as one of my all-time favourites. The movie is based on a short story by Karen Blixen, and set in nineteenth century Jutland, Denmark. Babbette, a French chef, is a Christ-figure in the movie. She comes to this stoic, pietistic, backwoods Lutheran community to work as a housekeeper for the two daughters of a now-deceased pastor. Babbette, out of the blue, is informed that she has won a generous lottery. Now you’d think that she would return back to Paris and live a sophisticated life of privilege there. Nope. Rather, she pulls out all of the stops so-to-speak and puts her whole body, mind, and spirit into preparing and serving a lovely chef’s banquet feast.

The movie is a heart-warming, humorous, yet serious tale full of biblical motifs. As the local village residents sit down together, surprisingly they stop their bickering and begin to enjoy each other’s company, along with the excellent quality and quantity of food and drink.

Now it has been several years since I’ve seen the movie, however what I remember of it is three significant theological and biblical themes. The most obvious theme for me was that of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The meal in the movie feeds the guests not only physically, but also in a sacramental-like way, uniting them as a faith community. In communing with each other, they are also communing with Christ vis-à-vis the Christ-like figure of Babbette who sacrificially prepares and serves this banquet feast.

Another theme that stood out for me was that of stewardship. As Christians we are called to be stewards/managers of what God has given us. Everything that we have, are and own is a gift from our generous Creator. God’s generosity is freely given to us as Christ gave his all, even sacrificing his life for the life of you and me and the whole world. Babbette does precisely the same thing by generously preparing and providing her feast of a lifetime. The generosity of Babbette is a stark contrast with the stoic and frugal Danish Lutheran community in which she finds herself. Life there was difficult and one had to take on stoic and frugal values in order to survive—so the community believed. Babbette offers them another option by her generous giving of herself, her time, her talents, and her material resources. She does so willingly and lovingly, like Christ.

Yet another theme I remember from the movie is that this generous banquet feast is a sign of God’s coming kingdom; where there shall be an abundant supply of food and drink as well as love and joy in all of its fullness. A chap in the movie epitomises this when, throughout the banquet and time of sharing each other’s company, he bursts out with joyful speech by shouting “Hallelujah!” Another sign of the coming kingdom is that the pietistic austerity is transformed into smiles and laughter as the banquet progresses. Everyone is discovering, almost as if it were for the first time, the joy of life together in God’s coming kingdom as the communion and community of sinner-saints. God’s kingdom coming as a sheer gift of grace.

In our first lesson today, the prophet also speaks of drinking and eating. The way it is described by the prophet, we learn that here, like in Babbette’s Feast, there is a generous supply of food and drink. A biblical scholar, commenting on today’s passage, has this to say: In the ancient world, when a new king would assume the throne he would often issue a mišarum edict, declaring a release from all debts. As part of this edict, the king would also call for a great banquet to be enjoyed by the people of that kingdom. Both events, the edict and the banquet, signaled a new day under a new king. The opening lines of chapter 55 remind the hearer of such a banquet and more importantly, the signaling of a new day.1

Yes, it is a prophecy of hope pointing in the direction of a future new day; however, I believe that the food provided in abundance describes God’s provision, not some new earthly king. The reason I believe that it is God here in the prophecy who takes the initiative is the strange irony of it all.

Listen again to the text: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” Notice here the all inclusive invitation of the LORD, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Now who doesn’t thirst, both physically and spiritually? Don’t you, I and every human being thirst? The promise of water in a hot land, on a scorching day quenches the physical thirst better than any other drink. Moreover, as human beings, we cannot survive without water. God provides us with water; water is a symbol of life; and God is our Life-Giver. Spiritually this is also true. As Christians, we believe that the sacrament of baptism is a symbol of life, spiritual, eternal life. In baptism we are given new life through the water and the word of God; promising us forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family as sons and daughters of God; and the promise of eternal life in the future. In baptism God comes down to us and takes the initiative to name us and claim us as his own precious children. He is also busy and active in baptism by killing the old Adam and Eve within us and placing within our bodies the gift of his ever-present Holy Spirit to enlighten us in the wisdom of his word and keep the channel of communication and communion with God open, healthy and lively throughout our journey in this life. So in the waters of baptism, God is working hard to quench our spiritual thirst.

Listening to our text further, we notice the ironic invitation of having no money, yet the LORD bids his people to “come, buy and eat!” Wow. Now that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the economy of this world, does it? We’re all familiar with the old adage: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yet, that’s precisely what God invites his people to here in this passage. In case anyone failed to hear this message, the prophet repeats this train of thought, quoting the LORD again in the form of invitation: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The invitation has the sound of sheer grace—a generous gift, freely given by God.

In verse two, the prophet changes from invitational statements to a pressing question from the LORD: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” Bread, of course, is a staple food. Again it can be physical and spiritual. Bread in the physical sense can be an inclusive symbol referring to all of our basic needs in life—food, clothing, shelter, and so on. Bread is also a spiritual symbol. For Jews, bread reminds them of God’s provision of daily manna in their wilderness wanderings; and unleavened bread reminds them of their exodus out of Egyptian slavery and the institution of their Passover Meal as a remembrance of God’s deliverance. For Christians, bread reminds us of Jesus himself who said: “I am the bread of life.” Bread also reminds us of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament of Holy Communion; which is our spiritual food keeping us in the risen presence of Christ.

So the question comes as a challenge to people who fritter away their money on non-essentials and labour for/work for stuff that fails to satisfy the deepest needs—things like new monster houses in the suburbs, new SUVs, the latest fashion clothing, and then having no money left for food. The question challenges our materialistic, consumer-oriented society; you can gain the whole world but lose your soul because material possession shall never satisfy our deepest needs.

The prophet goes on to quote the LORD, now in the form of a command: “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Such a command fits in with the promises we receive in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We eat what is good, delighting in rich food—the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. The food, along with God’s words of promise, gives us: forgiveness of sins, communion with the risen Christ, and community-building with our sisters and brothers in the faith.

After the first exhortation, the prophet quotes the LORD in another form of command and invitation: “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” God’s word is life-giving. From Genesis through to Revelation the life-giving power of God’s word moves through human history; you and me; all peoples to create, sustain, and redeem us. Listening to God’s word creates and deepens our faith and communication with our God. The act of listening gives life and is the work of God’s Spirit in us. Listening helps us to cling to the life-giving promises of God’s word.

In the final verse of our passage, we learn of the divine logic behind the whole passage: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” During Lent with our focus on the life-giving nature of Christ’s suffering and death; we remember that the foolishness of the cross is God’s wisdom and the weakness of the cross is God’s strength. So, along with the exiled ancient Israelites, those Danish Lutherans in Babbette’s Feast, and our brothers and sisters present here today, we eat and drink without buying at our LORD’s banquet feast—partaking of his grace-filled, generosity, which knows no boundaries, celebrating his presence in his coming kingdom among us here and now. Amen.

1 Cited from: Professor W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., Commentary on Lectionary for March 7, 2010 at the WorkingPreacher.org website: <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1&gt;.  

 

 

Earthquake in Chile

Canadian Lutheran World Relief has put out a press release appealing for support for the people of Chile who were hit by a recent earthquake. Prayers in the form of words and action are certainly appropriate at this time. You can read the press release here.