Sermon for 10 Pentecost Yr B

10 Pentecost Yr B, 1/08/2021

2 Sam 11:26-12:13a & Ps 51:1-12

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Forgiven sinners—David and us”

In a Sherlock Holmes mystery, titled “The Case of the Dancing Men,” the story opens with a young woman gathering flowers in her garden. Suddenly, her face is transformed into terror by something she sees. She drops her basket of flowers and runs panic stricken toward her home. Once inside, she bolts the windows and doors, draws the drapes tight, and falls sobbing and trembling into a chair. Her alarmed husband and maid both rush to her aid. She is both unable and unwilling to tell them what has frightened her so. A long time passes before she is finally able to take her husband to the garden and show him the cause of her terror. Someone has painted small figures of dancing men on the wall of her garden. These dancing men are symbols of a troubled past that she has tried to forget. From this moment on, she walks about half dazed, with terror always lurking in her eyes. She could not leave her past behind.

In today’s passage from 2 Samuel and Psalm 51, David could not leave his past behind either. As the old saying goes: “Your sins will find you out.” They certainly did for David. In the 2 Samuel passage, the prophet Nathan, at first, does not directly spell out in great detail the exact sins of David. Rather, he wisely tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man, to feed a traveller, took the poor man’s only ewe lamb, which was like a daughter to him—even though the rich man had plenty of his own animals that he could have chosen. David, upon hearing this story, is angry and says: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan then replies, “You are the man!” Nathan then goes on to confront David with his sins of coveting and committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah. David thought that he could get away with his sins, however, with the LORD’s help, Nathan spells out his sins, as well as the consequences of his sins. The child that Bathsheba was about to give birth to would die, and furthermore, Nathan tells David that the sword would never depart from his house.

Nathan was correct, disaster did afflict David’s household. The child died, David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped. His son, Ammon, was murdered. His boy Absalom, rebelled and was slain. His next son to qualify for being king, Adonijah was killed. Then Solomon married over 1,000 wives and they turned his heart away from God. So yes, David’s sins did find him out, and he suffered greatly for them. 

According to one poll taken, out of 250 pastors who had been caught committing adultery, they had one thing in common. Each of them thought, “It can’t happen to me.” Well it did, and their sins found them out. Some of them not only resigned from the ministry, their marriages also ended, and some had health issues. 

Our sins find us out too, that is why it is so important to confess them. That is why in our services of Holy Communion we Lutherans begin with confession and forgiveness. 

Picture Martin Luther as an Augustinian monk in Germany in 1511. He would go to confession, sometimes for up to six hours at a time, in order to share with God every slight flaw in his character and behaviour. He literally believed that every iota of sin had to be confessed in order to be forgiven. He found no real remedy in all this confessing, any more than he did in a string of good works, or in a barrage of good advice from various mentors. Eventually he realized it was not enough to feel sorry for wrongdoings or even to confess them all—he needed a new nature, a fresh start. He needed to say with our psalmist. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”1 That too, is what David came to realize, after the prophet Nathan had found his sins out.

So David responds with this beautiful Psalm 51. As the superscription states: “To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” 

According to my NRSV Lutheran Study Bible (p. 849), Psalm 51 is a penitential psalm and a prayer for help. The Lutheran Study Bible gives it this title: “Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon.” The Good News Bible has this title: “A Prayer for Forgiveness.” 

In the first nine verses, David prays a prayer of confession and repentance. He takes his sins very seriously and employs three different words—transgressions, iniquity, and sin. As “transgression” it is nothing less than “rebellion” (pésha‘ ); as “iniquity” it connotes perversion and twisting of moral standards (‘awon); and as “sin” it implies that the divinely appointed goal that has been set for us has been completely missed (chatta’th).

In addition to these words to emphasise the seriousness and tragic and tormenting consequences of his sins; David prays with two interesting phrases in desperation to seek cleansing and forgiveness. Twice he employs the phrases “wash me” (kibbes) (vv 2 & 7) and “blot out,” or as the Good News Bible renders it “wipe out” (vv 1 & 9). The verb for “wash” is more vigorous than the translation might suggest, for it includes pounding, stamping, and vigorous rubbing in order to loosen the dirt. But there again, if God does it, the effect will be an adequate cleansing, in fact, he shall become “whiter than snow,” a phrase that is reminiscent of Isa 1:18, which statement of the prophet could well be based on this passage.2 Speaking of the Book of Isaiah, the phrase “blot out” (machah) is also found in Isa 43:25, where God is speaking, and declares the following words of promise: “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

In other words, God will and does forgive, cleanse, restore and recreate David and you and I. Verses 10-12, are familiar to us, since in our liturgy we often sing them as the “Create in Me” offertory hymn–#185 – #188 in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Notice that in verse 10, we sing and pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Or as the REB translates it: “God, create a pure heart for me.” For the Jewish people, the heart is the symbol and the centre of one’s thoughts and plans, will and attitude, which motivate one’s actions. As Jesus said, everything begins in the heart evil and good, hatred and love.  Only God can give us; only Godcan create in us a clean, a pure heart. That comes when God removes completely our sins. In response we are able to rejoice, to be joyful with our willing spirits we can then begin afresh, like waking up to a new day to love and serve our God and our neighbour. 

Like David, our sins take their toll on us and have consequences. Thank God that is not the end of the story! Also like David, as we go through the hard times, and by God’s grace working in us through the Holy Spirit, we confess and repent of our sins, God can and does forgive us, wash us, and blot out, wipe out our sins, and create in us clean/pure hearts to love and serve God and our neighbour. Now that gives us joy, and is worth celebrating, thanks be to God! 

1 Ben Witherington III, Incandescence: Light Shed through the Word (Grand Rapids, MI & Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), p. 93. 

2 H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., 1969), pp. 401 and 404. 

Sermon for 7 Pentecost Yr B

7 Pentecost Yr B, 11/07/2021

Ps 85:8-13

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God’s righteousness and justice and ours”

Righteousness and justice. Today I’d like to focus on God’s righteousness and justice, and our righteousness and justice. So I’m going to start off with 3 quotes, which I think are helpful and insightful in regards to righteousness and justice. The first quote is attributed to Rodrigo Rojas: “The annual global cost of training a soldier is 56 times greater than educating a child.” Think of all the children who could be properly educated if 56 times more money was spent on educating children than on training a soldier. Think of how that education would ultimately improve the lives of those children, and most likely all of society would benefit because they would be able to contribute to the well-being of society. The second quote comes from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “[Humanity’s] capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but [humanity’s] inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” In other words, democratic societies are more just than non-democratic ones; but because we are all sinners there will always be injustices, which are best dealt with by democratic societies. The third quote is from Martin Luther: “Christ took our sins and the sins of the whole world as well as the Father’s wrath on his shoulders, and he has drowned them both in himself so that we are thereby reconciled to God and become completely righteous.” Luther’s quote emphasizes that our righteousness is based on God’s righteousness, thanks to the grace-filled relationship we have with Jesus based on his saving work. 

In today’s psalm, which is a liturgical prayer, asking God to restore God’s people; in verses 10-13 of the NRSV, the word “righteousness” is mentioned three times. In these verses, “righteousness” is personified: “righteousness and peace will kiss each other; righteousness will look down from the sky, Righteousness will go before him (the LORD), and will make a path for his steps.” However in the REB, the word is not “righteousness” rather, it is “justice.” “Justice and peace have embraced, justice looks down from heaven. Justice will go in front of him (God), and peace on the path he treads.” The Message renders these verses a bit different, and puts it like this: “Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Right Living pours down from the skies! Right Living strides out before him (God), and clears a path for his passage.” 

I like The Message’s rendering, because, I think, “Right Living” may imply the combination of both “righteousness” and “justice.” At any rate, I think justice and righteousness are very closely related to each other in describing both God’s righteousness and our righteousness. As the psalmist implies earlier in verse 8; and as Luther implies in the quote I shared; righteousness and justice are possible for human beings because of our relationship with God, when, by God’s grace, God’s people “turn to him in their hearts.” Precisely because we are the recipients of God’s righteousness and justice, we are able to respond by serving God and one another with righteousness and justice. That reminds me of the following story.

A busload of teenagers was returning from Mexico. They had gone down there as a kind of Christian charity to help out the exceedingly poor people. They worked hard all day, then got back onto the bus; they were very tired, and they were very, very hungry.

They crossed the border back into the United States and stopped at a diner; and they waited. They waited a long time, and finally one of them got bold enough to go over to the waitress and ask if they could be served. The waitress told them she would serve them, but they—indicating the two black teenagers among them—would have to eat on the bus. The teenagers looked at one another, and one of them finally said, “Well, we weren’t hungry anyway,” and they went back to the bus.1 In this story, both black and non-black group members shared the same injustice of not being served a meal. In this way they were all righteous because they all agreed to share the same experience, and not buy into the racism that would have allowed the non-blacks a right that was denied the blacks. 

Speaking of racism, we Canadians like to think of ourselves as a welcoming, hospitable, multicultural nation. Yet, in our history, and even to this day, sadly there have been examples of racism and injustice. In one study done in the past by a University of Toronto political scientist professor, Joseph Fletcher, who led a research team asking 3,300 Canadians about civil liberties, here is what they discovered: 75% of Canadians said immigrants bring discrimination upon themselves by their own habits and customs. 30% said that all races aren’t equal. 33% said laws guaranteeing equal job opportunities for blacks and other minorities go too far. 

Fletcher said his findings show a hesitance on the part of “a substantial proportion” of Canadians to accept immigrants for whatever problems may arise from their being here. 

“I was disheartened and saddened for Canada to see there was so much racial intolerance and prejudice,” said Fletcher. 

“It isn’t just a single question, but rather the pattern of response from all the questions. There’s really a deep-seated distrust of immigrants and foreigners generally, and certainly racial and ethnic groups in particular.” 

Our past history has not always been just and righteous. 82,000 Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax between 1885 and 1923. One-time Premier of British Columbia, Sir Richard MacBride, spoke this racist comment about immigrants: “To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean in the end the extinction of the white peoples, and we have always in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man’s country.” 8,000 Ukrainian immigrants were interned during World War I. Thousands of Japanese Canadians were stripped of their property and interned during World War II. Immigrants from India couldn’t bring their wives until 1923, and weren’t allowed to vote until 1947. Canada turned a blind-eye to the plight of Jews in wartime Europe. There was a “climatic unsuitability” provision that allowed the government to bar blacks from entering Canada prior to 1953.2 Loyal Canadian German Lutherans during World War II had swastikas painted on some of their churches, and some were even falsely condemned as Nazis. Of course currently the Indigenous Peoples, once again, with the discovery of 215 bodies at the Kamloops Residential School, and 751 bodies at the Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan are lamenting how unjust and unrighteous both the Canadian government and the church were by forcing their children to attend residential schools, often far enough away from their families that they rarely saw them. Teachers in these schools abused Indigenous children culturally, sexually, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. The Indigenous Peoples are crying out for justice and righteousness. Add to that, the tragic deaths of a Muslim family in London, Ontario run over by a young white supremacist, and a swastika found on an Edmonton mosque, and we can see that we have a lot of growing to do in Canada before, with the help of our LORD: “Righteousness/Justice and peace embrace and kiss each other; righteousness/justice will look/will pour down from heaven, Righteousness/Justice will go in front of God, and clear a path for his passage.” 

As the Israelites were restored by the justice and righteousness of God who delivered them from their exile back to the promised land; so may our LORD’s justice and righteousness grace us in such a way that we may respond by serving him and one another with justice and righteousness. 

Let us pray: “O God of ev’ry nation, of ev’ry race and land,/redeem your whole creation with your almighty hand;/where hate and fear divide us and bitter threats are hurled,/in love and mercy guide us and heal our strife-torn world.” -Wm. W. Reid Jr. (#713 Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

1 Wm. J. Bausch, A World Of Stories for Preachers and Teachers (New London, CT: Twenty Third Publications, Eighth Printing, 2007), p. 319. 

2 Don Retson, “Racist past comes back to haunt Canada,” The Edmonton Journal, Sunday, April 16, 1989, pp. B1 & B3.

Sermon for 6 Pentecost Yr B

6 Pentecost Yr B, 4/07/2021

Ps 48

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God, our true security” 

Today I’d like to begin by asking you a question. You may have to think about your answer. You may not be able to answer it right now. Rather, it might be homework for you. So, here’s the question: Where in the world do you feel the most secure? (I hazard to guess that some of you might answer “home.” However, I think we realize that for some people, “home” is, tragically, nota place where they feel secure because they have been abused). Perhaps as you think about the question, you might have two or more answers. For example, you might have an answer to where you felt most secure in the past, and where you feel most secure in the present. Perhaps there were several places you felt secure in your past. Maybe there is more than one place you feel secure in the present. 

As I prepared this sermon, I asked myself this question, and I also asked Pastor Julianna. Both of us had to think for a while before we answered it. For Pastor Julianna, the first place that came to mind was the Rocky Mountains, close to where she grew up in Hinton. For me, the first place I thought of was the church where I was confirmed. (I hazard to guess that some of you might also answer “church.” However, again I think we realize that for some people, “church” is, tragically, not a place where they feel secure because they have been abused). I was blessed because my church was a loving community of faith, where I felt accepted in our Luther League youth group, and where Pastor Archie Morck, who confirmed me, was very supportive and encouraged me in my faith. 

However, as I kept thinking about the question, other places came to mind. In our travels over the years, we have visited several churches in Israel, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Scotland and France. As we visited these churches, art and architecture of these churches evoked in me a sense of security. One of my favourite churches that we visited was Viborg Cathedral in Denmark. The original cathedral was built in the 12th century. It was restored in the original Norman (Romanesque) architectural style between 1864 and 1876. The paintings in Viborg Cathedral are awe-inspiring. They were done by artist Joakim Skovgaard. There are many biblical scenes. At the very front of the cathedral, behind the altar is my favourite fresco. It depicts Christ sitting on the throne, with a multitude of the citizens of heaven all robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. The painting is based on Revelation 7:9-10: After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” In this beautiful fresco, Christ has his hands and arms stretched wide open, welcoming everyone as the Saviour of the world. 

Another place that I found awe-inspiring was at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. People from all over the world make their pilgrimage there and pray. I was impressed at how huge the rocks of the wall were—reminding me that in many of the Psalms, God is referred to as Israel’s Rock, which was a symbol of Israel’s sense of security. 

Speaking of the Psalms and Jerusalem, that brings me to our Psalm for today. Psalm 48 is a Zion psalm, and a hymn of praise. My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives it two titles: “A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites,” and “The Glory and Strength of Zion.” The Good News Bible has this title: “Zion, the City of God.” 

The Korahites were a Levite family of the clan of Kohath, and one of the major guilds of temple musicians. They are mentioned in superscriptions of Psalms 42; 43-49; 84-85; and 87-88. 

Turning to Psalm 48 then, Mount Zion is referred to as “the city of our God.” It is synonymous with Jerusalem, the political, economic, cultural and especially the spiritual centre of the Israelites. According to Jewish theologian, Michael Wyschogrod: “There is a place where God dwells and that place is Jerusalem. He dwells in Number One Har Habayet [= Mount of the House/Jerusalem] Street. It is a real dwelling and for every Jew, the sanctity of the land of Israel derives from the sanctity of Jerusalem, and the sanctity of Jerusalem derives from the sanctity of the temple, and the sanctity of the Temple derives from the sanctity of the Holy of Holies where God dwells.”1

So, Jerusalem, Zion, and especially the temple, was for the ancient Israelites regarded in this psalm as the dwelling place of God. Indeed, as time went on, many of God’s people came to believe that Zion, Jerusalem is the spiritual centre or capital of the world and of the whole universe—and people from all the corners of the earth would journey there, as is the case even today. 

Psalm 48 speaks of the security that the people of Jerusalem felt because of its impressive architecture. As the Good News Bible puts it in verse 3: “God has shown that there is safety with him inside the fortresses of the city.” And verse 8 of the Good News Bible confidently declares: “he (i.e. God) will keep the city safe forever.” In the closing verses of the psalm, the people tour the city of God and feel secure because of its towers, ramparts, and citadels. Indeed, earlier in verses 5-7, the psalm describes the response of Jerusalem’s enemies, in the rendering of the Good News Bible: “The kings gathered together and came to attack Mount Zion. But when they saw it, they were amazed; they were afraid and ran away.” So Jerusalem was a secure city and because of its architecture, it was a military stronghold—although that was true only because, as the Israelites believed, God was present in a special way there, and: “he (i.e. God) will keep the city safe forever.” However, there came times in its long history when Jerusalem was captured by Jerusalem’s enemies, and because they had turned away from God and his covenant, God allowed them to be taken away into exile. 

As Christians, down through the centuries, we have regarded Jerusalem, Zion as an important spiritual centre too. That is why, Christian musicians have also written hymns about it. For example, Lutheran theologian, Johann M. Meyfart, who lived from 1590 to 1642, may have based his hymn in part on Psalm 48, when he wrote the following words: “Jerusalem, whose towers touch the skies, I yearn to come to you! Your shining streets have drawn my longing eyes my lifelong journey through.” And in the final stanza, he may have had the New Jerusalem described in Revelation in mind when he wrote: “Saints robed in white before the shining throne. Their joyful anthems raise, Till heaven’s arches echo with the tone of that great hymn of praise, and all its host rejoices, and all its blessed throng unite their myriad voices in one eternal song.” (#348 Lutheran Book of Worship)

Regarded by many as “the father of English hymnody,” Isaac Watts also wrote the following words, which evoke a sense of security, and the deep longing for Zion: “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heav’nly fields, before we reach the heav’nly fields, or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets. We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion: we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” (#625 Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

So, such hymns as these, along with Psalm 48, and passages from Revelation all point us to our true security in God. We long for that New, Heavenly Jerusalem, where we will one day meet, face to face with God our true security forever. That is our hope and the Good News for today. For that, thanks be to God! 

1 Cited from: <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-9b-2/?type=the_lectionary_psalms&gt;.