Sermon for 22 Pentecost Yr B

22 Pentecost Yr B, 24/10/2021

Ps 34:1-8, 19-22 

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Praise God the Deliverer”

Psalm 34—which was also the psalm for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost—has the following superscription: “Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” This superscription has a background story involving David in 1 Samuel 21. David is on the run, fleeing from Saul, fearing for his life. He flees to the city of Nob, which is located between Gibeah, Saul’s hometown, and Jerusalem. Nob was a city of priests, and David approaches the priest Ahimelech, who gives the holy bread to David and his men. David then continued to flee from Saul, going into enemy territory, to the Philistine King Achish of Gath—perhaps he was hoping he’d be safe there, and offer his services as a soldier. At any rate, David, wondering how the Philistine king will receive him, puts on an insanity act, scratching the doors of the gate and letting spittle run down his beard. King Achish has no time for such insane behaviour, he has too many other crazy folks to deal with, and so David continues to flee from Gath, escaping to the cave of Adullam. 

The NRSV Lutheran Study Bible, with this background story in mind, gives Psalm 34 the following title: “Praise for Deliverance from Trouble,” the deliverance from trouble being the threat of Saul and the enemy King Achish. So, David would have praised and thanked God for such a deliverance. The Good News Bible has this title: “In Praise of God’s Goodness.”

So verses 1-3 highlight the importance of praising God. David, after being delivered from his life-threatening situation, invites God’s faithful people to join him in praising God. The first three verses are David’s call to worship God. Notice that, for emphasis, David employs four verbs, he and God’s faithful people are to: bless, praise, magnify and exalt the LORD. All of these verbs stress the importance of worshipping God after some kind of troubling circumstances. 

That reminds me of the following story: There were three old monks whose monastery was burned down by an invading army. 

The monks escaped and lived in the forest. They found a beautiful glade which they called their cathedral. Since they were now old, their voices cracked when they sang. However, every evening they sang Mary’s song, called “the Magnificat,” based on Luke’s Gospel. This song of praise to God reminded the monks how God had delivered them from that invading army. So too, as people of faith, hopefully we too will remember to praise God each day for the many and various ways in which God delivers us from troubling circumstances.

In many spiritual assessments used by hospital chaplains and hospice spiritual-care coordinators, measuring gratitude toward God is one way of assessing the spiritual vitality of patients. The psalmist expresses great praise toward God and undergirds this praise with a deep sense of gratitude.

In current positive psychology practices, gratitude is considered one of the most powerful positive forces in the lives of healthy, resilient people. People with an attitude of gratitude overcome tragedy more easily, are more likely to reach out for help, and will likely experience a greater sense of well-being. Gratitude doesn’t mean a naive denial of life’s difficulties. Rather, gratitude understands that life can be full of suffering and unfairness but intentionally seeks to name those things that bring measures of joy and moments of beauty. 

The psalmist identifies himself as the poor, oppressed soul delivered by God. Are we not all the poor and oppressed? There are many kinds of oppression. If we do not suffer from physical poverty, we may be awash in the meaningless luxuries of a consumer society that leave us spiritually impoverished. God is for us, offering liberation from oppression of all kinds. When we experience liberation from oppression, physical suffering, emotional suffering, or spiritual suffering, a natural expression of our gratitude is praise of the Lord. We want to share this experience with others, and so we encourage others to “taste and see” the Lord’s goodness for themselves.1 And that reminds me of another story.

Two merchants decided to sail to a certain city in order to buy some highly profitable merchandise. They were about to set out when one of them fell from a ladder and hurt his leg so badly that he couldn’t possibly travel. As the ship could not be detained, his companion embarked by himself, leaving behind the man with the bad leg, who cursed Providence for the miserable luck that had deprived him of a fine profit. Before long, however, word arrived that the ship had sunk at sea with the loss of all its passengers. Then the merchant thanked the Lord for having made him hurt his leg, thus saving him from a certain death, and begged forgiveness for questioning His wisdom. 

The moral is that a [person] must always praise God for whatever happens to [her or]him, no matter what that is. Everything is for the best in this world, even if it does not seem so, for it sometimes comes to atone for our sins, or to save us from a worse fate, or to bring us even greater good fortune. And this can be seen from the story of the merchant, whose injured leg was a blessing in disguise.2

Coming back to the psalm, we are reminded in verses 4, 6, and 19, that the psalmist, David, and all of God’s people will have fears, trouble, afflictions and misfortunes. Life is full of ups and downs. We may, like David, even face life-threatening situations. However, David reminds us that God will be with us. God will be our refuge. God will deliver us; maybe not when or where or how we want or expect God to act. Rather, when, where and how God chooses to act. That, too, is the important lesson Job learned through his suffering and God’s delivering him and restoring him from his suffering in today’s first lesson. Job, in response, is grateful to God, as well as gracious and generous towards others. Which reminds me of the following story of Lynne M. Deming.

[Lynne writes]: Some years ago I received a cancer diagnosis and endured a six-month chemotherapy regimen. During those months, I resolved to determine what good could possibly come from my experience (in addition to my remission!). One positive result is that I am able to advise, listen to, commiserate with, and pray for others I know or encounter who find themselves in a similar situation. In the same way, we can perceive this psalm as one of hope that can inspire persons in similar situations.3

So, may we in all our circumstances of life, like David, and like countless other faithful people, be able to praise the LORD our Deliverer. 

1 Devotion by Jane Herring, in: Disciplines: A Book Of Daily Devotions 2015 (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2014), p. 229.

2 Jewish Folktales Selected and Retold by Pinhas Sadeh (New York, Toronto, et al: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1989), p. 285.

3 Devotion by Lynne M. Deming, in: Disciplines: A Book Of Daily Devotions 2015 (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2014), p. 309. 

Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday Yr B

Thanksgiving Sunday Yr B, 10/10/2021

Joel 2:21-27 & Ps 126 

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Thanksgiving is Thanksliving”

Mrs. Avondale was walking an interior designer through the mansion, discussing renovations. The professional had many fine suggestions, and Mrs. Avondale accepted them all with the sweep of a hand. 

“I only demand one thing,” she said, turning to the designer. “When my best friend Marguerite comes to visit after we’re finished, I want her to drop dead from envy.”

Contrary to Mrs. Avondale, may we not be so ungrateful for what we have been given in life and so mean-spirited towards our neighbours. In our Scripture passages from Joel, and Psalm 126 today, we learn that Thanksgiving is Thanksliving. 

After a period of drought and suffering from a locust plague, the prophet Joel in our first lesson reminds not only his people, but also the soil and the animals that thanksgiving is thanksliving. He speaks as if the soil and animals were personified, and gives them a message not to fear and to be glad and rejoice, for the LORD will provide plenty of green pastures, and there shall be an abundance of fruit on the fig trees and vines. Then, Joel goes on to remind his people that their prayers are answered; for God shall end the locust plague, provide early and later rains, and renew the earth by granting his people an abundant harvest. By delivering these promises, the people shall be reassured that the LORD is their God and they can praise and thank and trust in God for all things. 

Speaking of abundant harvests, recently I had conversations with two farmers. They both were very thankful and pleasantly surprised by God’s abundance. They said their crops yielded way more than they had expected, in spite of the hot, dry summer and lack of rain. They were thankful and quite satisfied with the harvest. To give thanks means to be satisfied; we are often not satisfied—too much affluence in our society spoils us, and sadly many do not have grateful hearts and have forgotten how abundantly God has provided for us. They have forgotten that thanksgiving is thanksliving. 

Psalm 126 has the superscription: “A Song of Ascents.” These psalms are often linked to God’s people travelling to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals. In this case, the psalm has images of harvest, it may actually have been sung during the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths, and Sukkoth. 

In Psalm 126 today, the opening verses are full of surprise, awe, wonder, and thanksgiving. The context is likely shortly after or at the end of Judah’s Babylonian captivity. For them, the hopeless situation of exile was turned around completely, God delivered them, even though it seemed like a dream, too good to be true, but it was true—and they responded by worshipping God: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us and we rejoiced.” I like the way the REB translates verse 1: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like people renewed in health.” Health for the Jewish people involved wholeness of mind, body and spirit, and the belief that God was blessing them. Being renewed in health can be a surprise for people who have life-threatening illnesses, which doctors may even have diagnosed them in such a way that there was little hope that they would recover from the illness. People diagnosed with cancer or the coronavirus, but, by the grace and healing of God, recovered. For those exiled people of Judah, the surprise that God had brought them back to Zion went beyond their expectations and so thanksgiving became thanksliving for them. 

As our psalm continues, God’s people pray for rain in dry places as they are sad by the drought and wonder if the crops they plant will grow and if they will even have a harvest. I like the way The Message renders verses 4-6: “And now, GOD, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so those who planted their crops in despair will shout “Yes!” at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” This rendering, which pictures God answering their prayer by giving his people a bountiful harvest also complements the title that the NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 126: “A Harvest of Joy.” 

Difficult circumstances need not prevent us from living the truth that thanksgiving is thanksliving. Here is one of my favourite stories of thanksgiving, which comes out of a situation of great hardship and suffering. 

The lovely words of praise and faith found in the hymn Now Thank We All Our

God would lead us to believe that this hymn was written during a time of victory. Quite the opposite was the case. Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, wrote the hymn during the Thirty Year War which raged in Germany during the 1600s. 

Eilenburg was a walled city and was a place of refuge for thousands of refugees fleeing the war. As it filled with helpless victims, the city became overcrowded and was under-supplied with food, sanitation, and medical care. Instead of a place of refuge, it soon became a city of death. Plagues raged through the city claiming hundreds of victims.

In the midst of misery and pain, Reverend Rinkart wrote sixty hymns of faith and hope. His hymns helped turn the people’s eyes from their despair to the power and love of God. Rinkart encouraged them to look beyond their circumstances to the eternal blessings of God. With this confidence, Rinkart was able to minister to thousands. In the terrible plague of 1637, other pastors fled or died, and Rinkart was left alone to bury close to 4500 men, women, and children. Some days he would conduct 45 funerals.

As the war drew to a close, Eilenburg was overrun by several armies. At one point, the Swedish army occupied the city, and the general in charge demanded that the people pay a large tribute. On behalf of the people, Rev. Rinkart spoke to the general and begged for mercy. The general was unyielding. Facing possible death, Rinkart called his companions to kneel and pray. “Come my children, we can find no mercy with (humans); let us take refuge with God.” He led the prayer and the singing of a hymn. Stunned, the general watched. When Rinkart rose, the general ordered the levy reduced, and he spared the city. It was with this faith that Rinkart wrote, “Now Thank We All Our God.”1

This story not only underscores the importance that thanksgiving is thanksliving; that even in times of hardship and suffering we can give God thanks, like Pastor Rinkart. The story also underscores the importance of trust and confidence in God through prayer, that God does hear us and answer us—sometimes beyond our expectations. 

So, in our times of trouble and suffering may we, like ancient Israel, and like Pastor Rinkart and his companions turn to God in prayer, trusting and confident that God will answer and provide what is needed most. Thanksgiving is thanksliving. On this Thanksgiving Sunday, thanks be to God for everything and everyone. Amen! 

1 Clergy Talk, November 1999 (Sequim, WA), p. 14. 

Sermon for 19 Pentecost Yr B

19 Pentecost Yr B, 3/10/2021

Ps 26

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Integrity and innocence”

What do the following three Canadians have in common? David Milgaard, Donald Marshall Jr., and Thomas Sophonow. If you guessed that they were wrongfully found guilty and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, you are correct. 

David Milgaard was charged with the 1969 murder of Saskatoon nursing aide Gail Miller and in January 1970 was sentenced to life in prison. Milgaard’s mother, Joyce, believed from the day he was arrested that her son was innocent. He spent more than two decades in prison. Milgaard was eventually cleared by DNA evidence, and Larry Fisher was found guilty of the rape and stabbing death of Gail Miller.

In 1971, Marshall was wrongfully convicted of murdering his friend, Sandy Seale, in a Sydney, N.S., park. He was released in 1982 after RCMP reviewed his case. He was cleared by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal the following year. Marshall, a Mi’kmaq, was exonerated by a royal commission in 1990 that determined systemic racism had contributed to his wrongful imprisonment.

Winnipeg police announced in June 2000 that evidence had cleared Thomas Sophonow in the killing of doughnut-shop clerk Barbara Stoppel.

Authorities said they had a new suspect in the 1981 murder for which Sophonow was tried three times and spent nearly four years behind bars. The Manitoba Court of Appeal acquitted him in 1985.1

In Psalm 26, even though we do not know the exact situation, it sounds like the psalmist was accused of some wrong that he was innocent of. The title that the NRSV Lutheran Study Biblegives this psalm seems to confirm this: “Plea for Justice and Declaration of Righteousness.” The Good News Bible title is similar: “The Prayer of an Innocent Person.” The Lutheran Study Bible identifies Psalm 26 as a prayer for help. Prayers for help often contain the following 5 elements: i) a call to be heard; ii) complaints about God’s absence, the person’s suffering, and oppressors; iii) pleas for help; iv) statements of trust in God; and v) promises to praise God after the crisis is past. Psalm 26 has some of these elements, so let’s take a closer look.

In verse one, it almost sounds like the psalmist is on trial, or others doubt the psalmist’s integrity. The Message renders it like this: “Clear my name, God; I’ve kept an honest shop. “I’ve thrown in my lot with you, God, and I’m not budging.” The NRSV puts it like this: “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” 

In verse 2, the atmosphere of a court case comes through, and the psalmist seems to be speaking to God as Judge in the NRSV rendering: “Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.” However in The Message rendering it is quite different. The imagery reflects more medical language, and God is like an M.D., and the psalmist is a patient: “Examine me, God, from head to foot, order your battery of tests. Make sure I’m fit inside and out.” 

Verse 3 of the NRSV rendering emphasises the psalmist’s trust in God’s steadfast love, which makes it possible for the psalmist to be faithful: “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.” Of course, God’s steadfast love is so rich in meaning in the Bible, among other things it involves God’s justice. So God as Judge will always give everyone a fair trial, and be able, unlike human judges, to discern with the utmost truth, who is guilty and who is innocent. 

In verses 4 and 5, once again the setting has the impression of court language. The psalmist insists that there is no evidence that he is guilty by association, and he is defending his innocence. “I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.”

In verses 6 and 7 he defends his innocence and cleanness by washing his hands and stating that he loves to worship God, bear witness to God, and be in the presence of the worshipping community. The Message renders these verses in the following colourful language: “I scrub my hands with purest soap, then join hands with the others in the great circle, dancing around your altar, God, Singing God-songs at the top of my lungs, telling God-stories.” 

Verse 8 is a continuation of the theme of the psalmist loving to worship God in God’s presence: “O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.” 

In verses 9 and 10 the psalmist forcefully pleads with God not to punish him or reject him or judge him like those who are criminals. Again the language of The Message is colourful: “When it’s time for spring cleaning, don’t sweep me out with the quacks and crooks. Men with bags of dirty tricks, women with purses stuffed with bribe-money.” 

Verses 11 and 12 conclude the psalm with an emphasis again on the psalmist’s integrity, and his promise to worship God in the future. “But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.” 

Integrity is important in life. That reminds me of the following story. Four boys found $13,000 in a brown paper bag on a New York street. Three of the boys wanted to divide the money and keep it. The fourth one persuaded them that the honest thing to do was to inform the police. The police took the money, but the boys’ action was widely publicized. In no time at all, a dozen claimants showed up to state that the money was theirs. It’s amazing how many people lose $13,000 in a brown paper bag! After a period of time had elapsed, the case was brought before the court, and the boys were called in. The judge listened to all the claimants, then praised the boys’ honesty and awarded the money to them. Faced with a conflict of right or wrong, they had made the right choice.2

It has been observed that: People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway. 

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. 

The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for some underdogs anyway. 

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.3

When you think about your life, like the psalmist, there has likely been at least one time when you were accused of doing wrong, but you were innocent. Like the psalmist, others may have questioned or doubted your integrity. Hopefully you, like the psalmist, are here today because of our LORD’s steadfast love, and all-sufficient grace. For that, we offer our praise and thanks! 

1 See the following article on the CBC website: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/canada-s-wrongful-convictions-1.783998#sophonow&gt;.

2 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate: Stories and Quotations for Christian Communicators (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 109. 

3 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 54.