International Day of Mourning Service

Medicine Hat Memorial Arboretum at foot of Sholten Hill

Medicine Hat Memorial Arboretum at foot of Sholten Hill


Today is the International Day of Mourning. So workers, families of workers, employers, employees, dignitaries and the media gather here for a brief Service. This year, I was the designated clergyperson. This was the reflection I shared with those who were in attendance.

Message for International Day of Mourning Service, Medicine Hat, April 28, 2014, based on Eccles 3:1-8. By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The writer of Ecclesiastes said: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Today, April 28, is the time set aside for the International Day of Mourning. So today at this time and this place, we gather together to remember and honour those workers who lost their lives in the workplace along with their families—some of whom may be here today. We also remember and honour those workers who suffer from disabilities or life-threatening diseases because of workplace accidents or dangerous working conditions. Tragically far too many Albertans, Canadians, and workers around the world are killed because of work. Each one of those persons made a contribution to society as a whole; their fellow workers; their family and friends. So we take time today to remember them. They were beloved family members, siblings, respected co-workers, friends and neighbours in the community. Life is not the same without them—their deaths, disabilities and diseases affect not only family members, but society as a whole, if not directly, then indirectly. There is a time for everyone and everything in life. Hopefully we can all realize this truth and use our time to learn from tragic mistakes that have beenmade in the past; to improve the working conditions of workers everywhere; and to ensure that their safety is an integral priority in order that senseless deaths, injuries and diseases can be prevented. Since 1991, when the Government of Canada officially proclaimed the day as National Day of Mourning; and since 1996, when it became the International Day of Mourning and now many countries around the world participate in events like this; an ever-increasing number of people have become committed to using their time compassionately by remembering workers and their families; and using their time wisely by bringing about improvements and necessary changes in the workplace. Yes, God has ordained that for everything and everyone there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven—including the strengthening of everyone’s resolve to bring comfort to those who mourn. A right time to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. Time to speak for and build together a better, safer workplace environment for everyone. A proper time for workplace safety education and training in order that the workplace health and well-being is valued as a top priority. So, may we all be good stewards of the gift of time that God gives each one of us to bring about health, healing and wholeness for our community.

Sermon Easter Day Yr A

Read my sermon for April 20, 2014 here: Sermon for Easter Day Yr A

Funeral Sermon for Leona Gronemeyer

Funeral Sermon for (Helen) Leona Gronemeyer, based on Ps 23; Matt 5:5 & Jn 13:3-5, 12-15 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Cook-Southland Chapel; April 16, 2014, two o’clock.

TagxedoI consider it a great honour and privilege to be able to participate in this service today to remember, pay our respects, and commend Leona to our LORD’s eternal care. Leona was a special person. I am most grateful to have known Leona and feel very blessed to have worked with her at the Good Samaritan Society’s facility, South Ridge Village for many years. I must confess—and I think if there are other staff here today they would agree—that it was a joy to work with Leona!

   Leona was a deeply caring person. When I think of Leona, one of the first thoughts that come to mind to describe her is the beatitude of Jesus in Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Leona was meek in the sense of being a humble person—she was a friendly, gentle, loving, caring, non-threatening presence. I think many of our staff and residents felt that she was very approachable and non-threatening. Because of her kind, gentle caring presence, people felt that they could talk to Leona. While she served them their food, she was also serving them by going the extra mile and listening to their concerns, and expressing empathy and an encouraging word, and sometimes an appropriate hug to those who needed to be comforted.

   From time-to-time, Leona would come to me for a heart-to-heart talk, expressing some of her personal concerns and the challenges that she faced in her life. She would always thank me for listening to her.

   So Leona was blessed as a meek person, because she inherited the earth by touching the lives of so many people—including, and especially her family members. They too, I’m sure could tell countless stories about Leona’s humble, meekness; her loving and caring ways.

   These days, many people talk about servant leadership. I think Leona is a wonderful example of what it means to be a servant-leader. She obviously learned from and was inspired by Jesus, our Perfect Servant-Leader. In our passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus on the last night that he spent with his disciples, after they had their meal together, took off his dinner robe, rolled up his sleeves, and with a bowl of water and a towel, knelt down to wash and wipe his disciples’ feet. This act epitomized Jesus’ role as the Perfect Servant-Leader. In those days, it was usually the lowest servant or household slave who would wash and dry peoples’ feet. After Jesus finished the foot-washing, he told his disciples that it was an example of servant-leadership for them to follow.

   Leona certainly followed Jesus’ example very well throughout her life. She was a servant-leader, who found meaning and fulfillment in her life by serving her parents and looking after them in their twilight years; by raising her children and providing for their needs so lovingly; by caring for her husband for as long as she possibly could until her health began to fail her; by supporting and encouraging her grandchildren in so many ways; and by so willingly serving others beyond her immediate family.

   Shanda and Diana shared a couple of examples of Leona’s heartwarming servanthood with me. Shanda told of how her mom would sit up into the wee hours of the morning to read Shanda’s long-hand, written, university papers and type them out for her so she could hand them in the next day. Diana told of how her mom would often phone her in the wintertime to encourage her to stay home rather than risk getting into an accident by driving on icy and snowy roads.

Even when she was very ill during her last couple of weeks of life; Leona always thought of the needs of others and didn’t want others to make a fuss over her. Others first, herself last. Doesn’t that remind you again of Jesus and the true meaning of service?

   Speaking of Leona’s last couple weeks of life; one of the important things that Leona and her family were able to do was have several “good-bye conversations” and one of which was to plan this service. Leona requested a favourite Bible passage, the twenty-third Psalm. In the Psalm, of course we have the beautiful picture of our LORD as the Good Shepherd.

   The LORD our Shepherd provides for our needs throughout life’s journey; preserves our life; and protects us. When one is facing a difficult death, perhaps fears try to take over. However, this psalm reassures us; gives us the confidence that our LORD the Good Shepherd is with us every step of the way; leading us through the valley of death. The psalmist reminds us we don’t stay in death’s dark valley; our LORD leads us safely through it.

   Then, once we’re on the other side of death—WOW! Look at what we see, a BIG PARTY with lots to eat and drink! We have the picture of the LORD as the one who prepares and hosts a banquet feast. The picture here reminds us of our LORD’s generosity, the psalmist puts it like this: “my cup overflows.” What a wonderful, appropriate picture as we remember Leona! She too loved her food; she loved to prepare it and serve it—obviously, that’s why she loved her job at the Good Samaritan so much. However, Leona, so her daughters tell me, also loved to eat. She really enjoyed eating her food. Well, now Leona is most likely rejoicing with her loved ones and her LORD as they all partake of the superabundant, heavenly banquet feast. Do you want to join Leona one day? You can by placing all of your trust in the LORD, who during this Holy Week reminds us that he has won a tremendous victory for us by his suffering and death on the cross. He defeated the powers of sin and evil and death itself. Why? Because he is the resurrection and the life. All who place their trust in him and follow him shall also share in a resurrection like his. Then, like the psalmist, like Leona, we too shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.

J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion Aria Mache dich mein Herze rein

J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion, is for me, without question, the most beautiful piece of music ever composed. I cannot understand how anyone could deny that Bach was divinely inspired and given this work as a gift from God. I think if this is but a glimpse of what heaven is like, then WOW!  This particular bass aria is my all-time favourite, it never seems to fail in making me weep not only for the sorrow in my heart because of how much of a miserable sinner I am, but also because of the sheer and pure beauty of the music and words that also bring joy in trusting in the accomplished work of Jesus through his suffering death, and resurrection for humankind and for someone as unworthy as me. Although I’ve listened to a lot of different orchestras and choirs and soloists; I particularly like this interpretation of  “Mache dich mein Herze rein” sung by bass Stephan MacLeod, with the Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.  Here is the English translation of it: “Make yourself pure, my heart,/I want to bury Jesus myself.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today, in 1945, Lutheran pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the age of thirty-nine years by the Nazis. There is some evidence that he had favoured a pacifist way of life. However ethically, after wrestling with the situation in Nazi Germany, he believed that under certain circumstances violence was necessary in the resistance of evil in the political realm for the greater good of society. So he involved himself in a plan to kill Hitler, and eventually he and others were discovered by the Gestapo, imprisoned and executed by the Nazis.

   Two of my favourite passages from Bonhoeffer’s writings are from his The Cost of Discipleship and Letters & Papers from Prison.

   Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

   Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [s]he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all [her or]his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man [or woman] will pluck out the eye which causes [her or]him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves [her or]his nets and follows him.

   Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man [or woman] must knock.

   Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person their] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life. The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., Twentieth Printing, 1978), pp. 46 & 47.

And his beautiful poem, “Who Am I?”

   Who am I? They often tell me/I stepped from my cell’s confinement/Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,/Like a squire from his country-house./Who am I? They often tell me/I used to speak to my warders/Freely and friendly and clearly,/As though it were mine to command./Who am I? They also tell me/I bore the days of misfortune/Equably, smilingly, proudly,/Like one accustomed to win.

   Am I then really all that which other men tell of?/Or am I only what I myself know of myself?/Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,/Struggling for breath, as though hands were/compressing my throat,/Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,/Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,/Tossing in expectation of great events,/Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,/Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,/Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?/

   Who am I? This or the other?/Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?/Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,/And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?/Or is something within me still like a beaten army,/Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?/

   Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine./Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! Letters & Papers from Prison (London & Glasgow: Collins Fontana Books, Seventh Impression, August 1965), p. 173.

WP Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold

Krista writes:

“In a post created specifically for this challenge, share a photo that captures the threshold — that point just before the action happens, that oh-so-sweet moment of anticipation before that new beginning. It could be a door about to open, or something a bit more metaphorical like a flower about to bloom. Looking forward to seeing how you capture “threshold.””

So here’s a photo I took upon arrival at the Tel Aviv airport. When I took the photo, myself along with the tour group were excited and had a lot of anticipation of our dreams coming true and being realized by visiting Israel. To view other entries go here.

Tel Aviv Airport

Tel Aviv Airport