September 2010 Sribbles

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted any scribbles, so here are three of my most recent ones.

Last Supper

Burning bush

 I used Paint program for Burning bush, digital scribble/art.

Jesus teaching crowd in a boat, Mark 3

Sermon 18 Pentecost Yr C

18 Pentecost Yr C, 26/09/2010

Lk 16:19-31

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“A parable of judgement and grace”

The story of the rich man and Lazarus in today’s gospel is a parable of both judgement and grace. For the rich man, there is, in the end, judgement, sober judgement that likely makes most of us cringe and perhaps fills us with fear and dread. In contrast to the rich man, there is, in the end, grace for poor Lazarus, whose life in this world was full of suffering and misery. I suspect that most of us cheer in our hearts when God rewards Lazarus in heaven. However, I think that because of where we live in the world, we struggle with the Good News of this parable. Here in Canada we are among the richest countries of the world. We have, and far too often take for granted, what two-thirds of the world’s population can only dream about. Two-thirds of the world’s people shall never likely enjoy the lifestyle that we do—at least not in this life. Therefore the parable is most uncomfortable for us, since we are like the rich man. What sort of future do we have to look forward to? How have we been a part of the problem or solution in terms of a more equal distribution of wealth? Have we been good stewards of our riches and do we share them with people in need? Or do we, like the rich man, live selfish lives, and care less about the poor in our midst and the poor in our larger world? Tough questions I know. Questions that may or may not bring judgement upon us. Yet the parable is a wake up call for us who live in this rich country of Canada. The parable raises these questions among us.

   Recently I read the newsletter from my seminary in Saskatoon. In it there was an interesting article written by a bright, young seminary student, Melissa Hoehn. She shares her reflections on a life-challenging trip that she and other seminary students made to Ethiopia. Her experiences in Ethiopia are similar to what is happening in today’s gospel parable. Listen to what she says:

   The morning we arrived was the first day of experiencing many new things that would become familiar over the next few weeks. The streets of Addis were the first place where I came face to face with some of the poverty and pain that exists in Ethiopia. On one of the first days in Addis, Jay Lutz and I were walking down the street and a little girl, about four years old, started walking beside me. She was dirty and her hair was unkempt. She looked up at me with big round brown eyes, stuck out her little hand, and said “money!” As I kept walking, a cloud of questions followed me. Who was this child? Would she be going to school? Where were her parents? What was her future? Almost everywhere we travelled in Ethiopia, we saw people living in what we would consider extreme poverty in North America. Being confronted with this reality without being able to immediately do anything about it was uncomfortable, to say the least.

   It has been six months since I returned from Ethiopia. I’m comfortable back in my routine. I still use way too much water. I still hear people tell me that there’s nothing we can really do about poverty and other social issues, especially in the developing world. But now I truly know that isn’t true. I have been changed by the people I met and what I have seen, in such a way that I could never have anticipated from reading a book or seeing pictures. I know now that the world is bigger than my miniscule frame of reference, and I have seen with my own eyes that simple acts of service, when done with love and respect for those in need, as well as a level-headed view of the future, can effect amazing change.1

   So too, the parable opens a door for us to not be like the selfish rich man and ignore the poor in our midst. We can have compassion on the poor and care for them, just as many Christians from wealthy countries have compassion on the poverty-stricken Ethiopians and serve their needs through organisations like Support for Sustainable Development, which do make a difference to improve the quality of life for the poor.

   In the parable the rich man seems totally unaware of Lazarus’ presence or his needs. On the other hand, it is quite ironic that dogs—which are considered an unclean animal by Jews—come to Lazarus and show compassion towards him by licking his sores. Life for poor Lazarus was hell-on-earth. One day after another was filled with suffering and hunger. The same, sad to say, is true even in our wealthy Canadian cities. There is many a Lazarus who is hungry, unemployed, sick and homeless in our wealthy Canadian cities. How do we treat Lazarus in our midst?

   As we learn from the parable, there are eternal consequences for how we manage or mismanage our wealth. I know it is not popular to say this, yet the parable itself does: there is a possibility of suffering terrible eternal consequences if we fail to care for the poor neighbours in our midst. The thought of this is disturbing—hopefully disturbing enough to motivate us into loving action by serving the poor.

   Another important message of this parable is the importance of listening to God’s Word and responding to it by faithful, loving acts of obedience. The rich man pleads with father Abraham for his five brothers. He asks that Lazarus be sent to warn them and prevent them from going to Hades. Abraham says ‘no’ to that plea because they have the Word of God through Moses and the prophets to listen to. According to Abraham, not even someone rising from the dead and visiting the five brothers would convince them if they fail to listen to and obey God’s Word from Moses and the prophets. The finality of the judgement in this parable is most sobering, is it not? Unlike other parables, like the prodigal son, for example; in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man there is no opportunity for second or third or more chances to be redeemed to change the judgement of the rich man or his five brothers if they fail to listen to God’s Word and obey it.

   Does this mean then that for the rich of the world they must earn their way into heaven by good works rather than grace? I don’t think so. God freely gave the rich man grace upon grace, filling his life with good things while he lived in this world. He had been given countless opportunities to be a wise and loving steward of his wealth. What did he do? Well, he spent it in hedonistic living—thinking only of himself and extravagant living. The implication of the parable is that he knew better because he had been taught God’s Word and yet he ignored and disobeyed God’s Word even though he was capable of responding to it by the opportunities given to him. So he is blind and cold-hearted towards his closest neighbour Lazarus, who would have been happy even with the leftovers from the rich man’s table. In behaving in this way, he cuts himself off from God’s grace.

   On the other hand, we have a contrast in the parable concerning Lazarus’ ultimate destiny. We are not told anything about the character of Lazarus or whether he has listened to and obeyed God’s Word. All we learn is that he is a poor, hungry person. How he ended up that way, we do not know. Yet, according to the parable it is by God’s grace alone that he is taken to Abraham’s bosom in the afterlife. He is given the honoured place of reward. Did he earn it by good works? Clearly, from what we are told in the parable the answer is NO! He is given his eternal reward thanks to God’s loving grace alone. For Luke the poor have a special place—they are favoured by God. To paraphrase liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez: The poor are poor because no one is on their side—that is precisely why God is on their side. So it is that Jesus says in Luke’s version of the beatitude: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20) If Jesus was on the side of the poor, and we are followers of Jesus, then we too are called to be on the side of the poor and bless them—not just with words, but also with heart-warming deeds of loving kindness, like Jesus himself.

   May we be given the grace to listen to God’s Word and obediently respond to it by loving the poor neighbours in our midst and around the globe. 

1 Cited from: Melissa Hoehn, “Journey To Ethiopia,” in Sheaves: Newsletter of Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon, July 2010 #44, pp. 10 & 13.

Sermon 17 Pentecost Yr C

17 Pentecost Yr C, 19/09/2010

Lk 16:1-13

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“The dishonest, yet shrewd manager”

I must confess, I am troubled by today’s gospel parable. Down through the centuries, right up to the present day, many other preachers and biblical scholars have been troubled by this parable too. I think it is the hardest parable that Jesus ever told. We have a master who calls on the carpet a manager who has been cheating on his master. The master fires him and demands an audit of the books. The dishonest manager, now in crisis mode, does not fold his arms in paralysed despair and helplessness. No! Rather, he spends every ounce of his energy on planning his future. The guy is a crook, he is unethical, and thinks only of himself. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to like such a scoundrel. If justice were served, he should be convicted of fraud and go to jail. However, that’s not what happens. I don’t know about you, but I find that Jesus shocks us into reality when at the end of the parable the dishonest manager is commended by his master for his shrewd business practices. The unethical scoundrel is praised for his worldly wisdom, his business smarts. In the words of the Good News Bible: “the master of this dishonest manager praised him for doing such a shrewd thing; because the people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the light.”

   In other words, I guess there are things that the people of God can learn from crooks! So, even though we may be shocked, offended, and even angry at this dishonest manager—let’s set aside our shock, offense and anger and see if we can learn what Jesus is trying to teach us here.

   For starters, the children of this world might teach the children of light something about single-mindedness. The dishonest manager knows what he wants—money, comfort, security. He is single-minded in his focus on these things. His goal is clear and he is willing to spend all of his energies to reach it. You may be familiar with the old adage: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Not this chap—he goes all out to make his plan and carefully, calculatingly executes it.

   What about us followers of Jesus? Do we have the single-mindedness of this chap? Or, does the Church get too side-tracked with non-essentials, wasting time, energy and resources on matters of lesser importance, instead of focussing on the essentials like, for example, spreading the Gospel in word and deed to the ends of the earth?

   The story is told of a man so dedicated to golf that he spends hours perfecting his swing and improving his putting. He becomes totally devoted to golf. Would that more Christians become totally devoted to the reading and study of the Bible, worship on Sundays, daily prayers and deeds of loving kindness.

   Another thing we can learn from this dishonest manager and the children of this world is the capacity to be creative and resourceful. The manager was certainly unethical and selfish. Yet he had considerable creativity and resourcefulness. He hatches quite a scheme. Notice how he displays a lot of worldly wisdom in his approach to the two debtors. He does not say to them in a blunt, confronting way: “Pay up or suffer the consequences!” Even though he likely knew how much debt they owed the master; he does not tell them what they owe; rather he asks them how much they owe. Worldly wisdom teaches that people are more likely to respond in a positive way if they are asked such things rather than told them. In asking the debtors how much they owed the master; the manager is giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are telling the truth and treating them with civility not scorning them out. He is providing a win-win method of communication with the debtors.

   What about us Christians? How can we learn to be more creative and resourceful? I think we can learn this from folks like, for example, the apostle Paul. You remember that on one occasion he said this of himself and his ministry: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” Paul was quite creative and resourceful at times—dancing to the beat of a different drum than other Christian leaders. He was criticised for it and terribly misunderstood. Yet Christ blessed Paul’s bold creativity and resourcefulness on several occasions as he travelled far and wide preaching the Gospel and establishing many congregations. Christ wants to and does bless Christians today too who are willing to be creative and resourceful. So that’s why today there are Christian musicians and artists who have inspired the whole Church with their gifts of creativity; and much resourcefulness is being used by Christians knowledgeable in technology and computers to do some amazing Bible translation work, which enables the Church to reach people in their own mother tongues who have not been reached before.

   Another thing we can learn from this dishonest manager and worldly wise people is the importance of planning for the future and having a vision for the future. The dishonest manager was very proactive in planning and visioning his future. He might have been content to stay in the present or felt unable to see any future because of being fired by his master. He might have said to himself: “I have no future, all is lost.” However that was not the case. Rather, he looks ahead, not behind. Right away he says to himself that he does not want a future where he is digging ditches or begging on the streets. No, that is not going to happen to him.

   The dishonest manager doesn’t waste a moment. He acts immediately, hatching his plan to build bridges with the master’s debtors by asking them to pay, in the case of one only half the amount owed, and in the case of the other eighty percent of the amount owed.

   Now let’s be clear here, I’m not telling you to be dishonest in planning the future. I do not think the Church should practice dishonest, unethical means to reach future ends. However, what I am saying; and I believe what Jesus is teaching us here is that the Church has the potential to be blessed in many ways by faithful Christians being proactive in planning and visioning for the future. If a dishonest manager works so diligently in planning his future; how much more diligently do the followers of Jesus work to plan for the future of the Church. If Christianity is true; if what we have been given by God, through Christ, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is life’s most valuable treasure and of eternal worth; then how do we plan and vision for the future to ensure that there is a future for the Church? Of course the ultimate future is in God’s hands. By his grace we can plan and vision for that future with enthusiasm and hope, since we trust that we shall be a part of the future; when his kingdom shall come in all of its fullness. Amen.

On loving our enemies

Today, I read an insightful devotion in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Night Prayer. I think it speaks to the world today—especially in light of the controversy in the U.S.A. around building an Islamic centre [some have called it a mosque] near the former twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and the proposed Koran burning by a Christian pastor in Florida. I’ve been following news coverage of these issues on the internet and have been dismayed by the number of angry people—Christian, Muslim, and others—who have threatened violent means of dealing with these issues and speak words of hatred toward one another. Instead of hatred and violence towards our neighbours and yes, even our enemies, the following words of wisdom make for a better way to live and work for a peaceful world where true religious freedom is respected in every nation.

 

   We are called to bless even our enemies. How much more should we pray a blessing on others in the Body of Christ!—especially those we disagree with, or who hold a different view from our own.

   If we ask a blessing on them it is up to God to decide what He can and cannot bless in what they are and what they are doing.

   We are not asked to understand each other first. If there are some elements in the church who really aggravate us it may be more useful to pray a blessing on them than to interact with a critical spirit. As we pray we begin to realize just how much God cares about them.

   We can pray blessings on non-Christian folk, too. It is like pouring glitter over a home-made Christmas card—wherever the glue-stick has prepared the card the glitter will stick, the rest only rolls off, and even a little of the glitter can be enough to spell out a clear message.

Our daughter’s trip to Rwanda

Our daughter’s trip to Rwanda

This summer our daughter accompanied a few other Canadians on a trip to Kigeme in Southern Rwanda. It was part of Dr. Rachael Spence’s Udder Project, which you can read about here. Anna had volunteered at Rachael’s veterinary clinic in Edmonton and was asked to accompany the Canadian team on their trip. It was an honour and privilege to make this trip and she learned a lot.

Here are a few of her pictures.

Rwandan Farms

Terrace farming is common in Rwanda

Rwanda is known as the country of one thousand hills, which aptly describes the nation’s geography.

Rwandan tea crop

Coffee is also grown in Rwanda.

Rwandan crossbreed cattle

The cattle native to Rwanda are now being bred with Friesians like this one to increase milk production.

Anna with John and Rwanda Friends

The people of Rwanda in the Kigeme area are quite poor. Yet, even in their poverty they are grateful to God for what they have been given. For example, if all they have is the clothing they are wearing; rather than complain about what they do not have, they might pray the following prayer: “Thank you God for giving me these clothes.”

Cathedral Church at Kigeme

The people walk long distances to attend Worship Services, which may be up to three or more hours in length.

A beautiful Rwanda sunset

   I thank our daughter Anna for granting me permission to share these pictures from Rwanda with you. Please leave a comment if you enjoyed viewing this post.

Sermon 15 Pentecost Yr C

15 Pentecost Yr C, 5/09/2010

Lk 14:25-33

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Costly Discipleship”

Herschel was a salesman. One day, as he was driving across the Mojave Desert he spotted what looked like a body by the side of the road. Herschel slammed on the brakes, ran over, and discovered a man who appeared to be on the brink of death. Taking the poor man into his arms, Herschel bent close so he could make out the man’s parched whisper.

   “Water…thirsty…water.”

   “Are you in luck!” cried Herschel exultantly. “Why in my carrying case, which I happen to have right here beside me, I have the finest collection of one hundred percent silk neckties to be found this side of the Las Vegas Strip. Normally, thirty-five dollars, but for you, twenty-two dollars and fifty cents.”

   “Water…thirsty…water.”

   “I’ll tell you what. Since you seem like such a nice guy, I’ll make it two for thirty-five dollars. That’s for a poly-silk blend, though.”

   “Water…thirsty…water.”

   “You drive a hard bargain.” Herschel shook his head regretfully. “Okay, any tie you want for sixteen dollars and fifty cents—but I can’t go any lower.”

   “Water…thirsty…water.”

   “What’s that? Oh, it’s water you want. Why didn’t you say so?” Herschel’s voice was filled with reproach. “Well, you’re in luck again. Just over that sand dune is a lovely resort; I used to vacation there myself. They’ll have all the water you can drink.” With that, Herschel got back in his car and drove away.

   With the prospect of nearby water to spur him on, the man managed to stagger to the top of the sand dune, and sure enough, a neon sign announcing Le Club Aqua was visible not far away. The man summoned the last of his strength, crawled across the burning sand to the resort’s entrance, and collapsed. “Water…thirsty…water,” he croaked.

   “Ah, you want water,” said the doorman sympathetically. “Well, you’re in luck, we have all kinds. We have mineral water, ice water, club soda, Perrier, seltzer. Only thing is, you need to have a tie on to get in.”1

   Although we may find this story humorous, there is a sober truth to it as well. The truth is that: life is costly. We have to be prepared to pay the price. In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us about costly discipleship. If we are going to be his disciples, then we need to be prepared to count the cost, since discipleship is costly. In order to get his point across, Jesus teaches the large crowds in a radical way. He teaches the crowds that a tower builder must first sit down and carefully figure out how much it is going to cost to build a tower. If he doesn’t have enough to cover the cost and finish the job, then everyone will gossip about him and criticize him for not being able to finish the job. His reputation would be seriously damaged.

   In a large city, there was a mansion on top of a hill that stood unfinished for many years. The people eventually called it “the Mansion of Folly.” Only after the builder had erected the walls did he realise that it would be too costly to complete the mansion. When Jesus told this parable he may have been beside an unfinished tower that had become someone’s folly. You see, it was common to build towers often in the middle of a vineyard; and there were many vineyards in the holy land during the time of Jesus. So Jesus the Great Teacher utilized what was familiar to the surroundings of the people to teach them spiritual and practical truths.

   In our time, there are also folks who build without counting the cost. Listen to the following story.

   Peter was the talk of the neighbourhood. He was building a house. Building it all by himself. One step at a time. The first year he put in his foundation. Then, before he could put the walls up, he ran out of money. He left the foundation open to the winter weather and in the spring he had to fix the cracks caused by freezing water. Then he began the walls.

   By the end of the second year, Peter had again run out of money. This time, the foundation was fixed, the walls were up and the roof was on. However, there were no doors or windows. Peter covered the openings with plastic.

   After a particularly harsh winter, the spring finally arrived. The neighbourhood waited with bated breath to see what Peter would do this year. They knew that the plastic torn off the windows and doors and they suspected that there would be severe water damage.

   The neighbours were right. That third year Peter tore down his house and burned the damaged lumber. He sold the good lumber. He then filled in the foundation. By the end of the summer a For Sale sign had been hammered into the ground.2

   Today Jesus bids us to count the cost of following him. Discipleship is costly. Everything in life has a cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch—even though many folks would like to believe that, it is not true. Someone, somewhere pays for the lunch. The question Jesus puts to each of us today is: “What price are you prepared to pay to be my disciple?”  And if you or anyone else misses that point, just listen again to the last verse of today’s gospel: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Ouch! Is that literally true? If so, then most of us fail the test—for that is an extremely hard thing to do, is it not? I think that each of us has to give our own answer to how much we are prepared to pay to be Jesus’ disciple. One thing is clear, Jesus gives us no illusions or false hope that following him is going to give us worldly success, wealth or popularity. In fact, for many down through the centuries the opposite has been true. Following Jesus is costly.

   In Ignazio Silone’s novel, Bread and Wine, Don Paolo makes the following observations on suffering, bearing one’s cross in the face of evil, and sacrificial love.

   “If we look sensibly at the evil which reigns around us, we cannot remain inactive and console ourselves with waiting for another life. The evil to be fought is not the sad abstraction which is called the devil; the evil is everything which prevents millions of [people] from acting like human beings. We too are directly responsible.”

   “I do not think there is any way of saving one’s soul in these times. [S]He is saved who conquers [their] own individual egoism, and [their] caste and family egoism, and who frees [their] soul from the idea of resigning [themselves] to the wickedness around [them].”

   “We must not become obsessed with the idea of security, not even the security of one’s own virtues. Spiritual life does not go with a secure life. You have to take risks to save yourself.”3 As followers of Jesus, we cannot save ourselves. Our only security is in Jesus alone—and that involves taking risks in a world often hostile to Christ and his followers. Yet we do take risks if we are faithful followers of Jesus. We risk trusting in Jesus completely to journey with him through life and give life its ultimate meaning and purpose.  

   Today’s gospel is a hard one—no question about it. If you are looking for security, health, wealth and popularity in the world; then our gospel is going to be bad news. However, if you are looking for challenge, risk, meaning and true purpose in life; then our gospel is going to be good news—even if it costs you your life. Following Jesus is worth it.    

1 Cited from: Bernard Brunsting, The Ultimate Guide To Good Clean Humor (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2000), pp. 51-52.

2 Cited from: Emphasis: A Preaching Journal for the Parish Pastor, Vol. 25, No. 3, September-October 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 24.

3 Cited from: Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937 & Atheneum House, Inc., 1962 & Toronto: Signet Classics, 1963), pp. 264-265.