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.

Sermon for 6 Easter Yr B

6 Easter Yr B, 9/05/2021

Ps 98

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Make a joyful noise to the LORD”

In addition to being the 6th Sunday of Easter, today is Mother’s Day. So I thought I’d ask you three questions about mothers. What type of flowers are best to give on Mother’s Day? Chrysanthe-mums. Which movie do mothers like the best? Mamma Mia! Why are there no Mother’s Day sales? Well, because mothers are priceless. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers!

Now to Psalm 98. My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible has two titles: the superscription is, simply, “A Psalm.” The second title is: Praise the Judge of the World.” The Good News Bible gives it this title: “God the Ruler of the World.” The Lutheran Study Bible identifies Psalm 98 as a hymn of praise (p. 849). Hymns of praise celebrate God’s love and grace. They were written for community worship. The original occasion from which Psalm 98 was created may have been God’s deliverance of Israel from some kind of danger or crisis.

As ancient Israel knew; as the church down through the ages knew; as you and I know; music, making a joyful noise to the LORD, is an extremely important and integral part of the community of faith’s worship.

Martin Luther had several significant things to say about the importance of music. On one occasion he said: “A person who does not regard music as a marvellous gift of God must be a clodhopper indeed, and does not deserve to be called a human being, but should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” On another occasion Luther said: “Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate, what more effective means than music could you find?”

Then there was that famous quote attributed to Shakespeare, but actually written by William Congreve: “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Sir Edward Elgar is the composer behind “Pomp and Circumstance,” which was named after a line from William Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Sir Edward composed the song in 1901, and the march was intended for the coronation of King Edward VII. When Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1905, the march was played in his honour as a recessional. Once Yale used the march, other universities began to play the march as well. Eventually it became the trendy thing to do and “Pomp and Circumstance” became forever ingrained in graduation custom.

Speaking of music in relation to schools; here are a few student answers that public school music teachers collected from test questions.

Refrain means don’t do it. A refrain in music is the part you better not try to sing. A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was rather large. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music…Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died from this. When electric currents go through them, guitars start making sounds. So would anybody.1

In Psalm 98, the psalmist exhorts God’s faithful: “O sing to the LORD a new song.” The reason for sing a new song to the LORD is given: “for he has done marvellous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.” So the “marvellous things” may refer to God’s “victory,” God’s deliverance of Israel from some danger or crisis—perhaps it was some kind of military victory.

Of course, for us Christians, during this Easter season, when we think of God’s “marvellous things,” and when we think of God’s “victory,” what comes to mind is God raising Jesus from the dead, and by so doing, winning the final victory over sin, death and the powers of evil.

So important is God’s “marvellous things,” God’s “victory” that: “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” Again, from our perspective as Christians, the message of the Gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection, is a “go and tell” message meant for all people. That’s why over the centuries missionaries have preached, and continue to preach, the Good News in Word and deed around the globe. A message of priceless worth.

In verses four to six, the psalmist continues to exhort Israel and us to: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD,” to “break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” It is most tragic that COVID-19 has prevented us from singing in our worship services! Most, if not all of us grieve, and truly miss not being able to sing as we worship the LORD. We look forward, and hope that the time will soon come when it is safe for us to make a joyful noise to the LORD by singing hymns of praise.

The psalmist continues in verses four to six by mentioning that singing was accompanied by musical instruments. Three of them are mentioned—the lyre, trumpets, and the horn.

The lyre was actually a harp, it was a portable rectangular or trapezoid-shaped instrument with two arms, often of unequal length and curved, joined at the top by a cross-piece; the strings were roughly the same length. It was an instrument of joyful celebration, generally used to accompany singing. David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel,” is depicted playing a lyre in a sixth-century floor mosaic at the synagogue at Gaza. In Jerusalem, a lyre with twelve strings connected by an oblique crossbar decorates a brown jasper seal, dating back to the seventh century B.C.

The trumpet was made of metal, either bronze or silver. It was probably a short, straight instrument, with a high, bright tone and a range of only four or five notes. Its early uses are well summarized in Numbers 10:2-10. It was played by the priests, usually in pairs, but occasionally in large choirs (2 Chronicles 5:12-13), and it numbered among the sacred gold and silver utensils of the Temple (2 Kings 12:14; Numbers 31:6).

The horn, most likely the ram’s horn-shophar, is the most frequently mentioned biblical instrument, and the only ancient instrument still in use in the synagogue. It was usually made from the horn of a ram, sometimes softened with heat and straightened or shaped. It was a simple instrument that could only produce two or three notes, and it was used mostly for signalling, especially in times of war (Judges 3:27; 6:34; Nehemiah 4:18-20) or of national celebration (1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 9:13).2

In addition, to God’s faithful people singing and playing psalms of praise; the psalmist personifies God’s creation in verses seven and eight; exhorting the sea and its creatures to roar; the floods or rivers to clap their hands; and the hills or mountains to sing together for joy. During biblical times, the sea and floods were viewed as foreboding places; places of danger and chaos. Yet, here in this psalm they ironically praise and worship God by roaring and clapping.

Verse nine provides the reason for human beings and God’s creation to worship and praise the LORD: “he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness [justice], and the peoples with equity.”

New life is possible when God judges the earth. God is able to right the wrongs of the world. Tyranny and oppression are replaced with freedom and justice. Illness and disease are transformed into healing and health. God’s judgement, justice, righteousness, and equity give hope to the hopeless; remove hatred by his love; and surprise us all by defeating the powers of sin, death and evil with his new, resurrection life. So let us continue to make a joyful noise to the LORD—even if it is by humming, until the day comes when we can sing again!

1 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle B (Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2008), p. 145.

2 See “Music,” in: Paul J. Achtemeier, General Editor, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), pp. 668-669.

Sermon for 4 Easter Yr B

4 Easter Yr B, 25/04/2021

Ps 23

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Our caring, protecting, and loving Shepherd”

A mother was concerned about her kindergarten son walking to school. He didn’t want her to walk with him, and she wanted to give him a feeling of independence. However, she also wanted to know that he was safe.

When she expressed her concern to her neighbour, Shirley offered to follow him to school every morning for a while, staying at a distance so he wouldn’t notice. Shirley said that since she was up early with her toddler anyways, it will be a good way for them to get some exercise.

All week long, Shirley and her daughter followed Timmy as he walked to school with another neighbourhood girl.

As the two children walked and chatted, kicking stones and twigs, Timmy’s friend asked, “Have you noticed that lady following us to school all week? Do you know her?”

Replied Timmy, “Yes, I know who she is. That’s my mom’s friend Shirley Goodnest and her little girl Marcy.”

Shirley Goodnest? Why is she following us?”

Well,” Timmy explained, “every night my mom makes me say the 23rd Psalm. It says, ‘Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all days of my life.’ So, I guess I’ll just have to get used to it.”

My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 23 two titles. The superscription reads: “A Psalm of David.” The second title is: “The Divine Shepherd.” The Good News Bible also has two titles: “A psalm byDavid” and “The LORD Our Shepherd.” The REB gives it the following title: “A psalm: for David.” TheLutheran Study Bible identifies Psalm 23, along with ten other psalms, as a trust psalm. “Trust psalms express faith and confidence in God amid great difficulties, threats, and dangers.” (p. 850)

Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter. However, because the appointed psalm is the same one every year on this Sunday, it is also referred to as Shepherd or Good Shepherd Sunday. The twenty-third Psalm is the best-loved psalm of them all. In fact, for millions of people, it is the all-time favourite scripture passage. Clergy and laity alike read or recite the words of this psalm when people are on their death-beds, at funerals or memorial services. Musicians also seem to have adopted the twenty-third Psalm as their favourite, since they have composed several settings or tunes for it. Artists also love this psalm. My earliest childhood memory of this psalm is the picture of Jesus with a lamb in his arms and carrying a shepherd’s staff. Many people from a variety of backgrounds have composed take-off poems of Psalm 23 or paraphrased it. You probably have read some of these over the years. There’s something about this psalm that appeals to almost everybody. We all find comfort and strength, encouragement and hope in the words of this psalm. Today I’d like to look a bit at verses 1, 4 and 6, and explore possible meanings for us.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Or, in the words of the Contemporary English Version: “You, LORD, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.” Or in the words of the REB: “The LORD is my shepherd; I lack for nothing.” Or, my favourite rendering of verse 1 from the Good News Bible: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” The Hebrew sense of the word “want” here literally means lacking nothing. The word want also is directly connected with God: it is precisely because God is my shepherd that I shall not want. God provides for all of my needs in every area of my life. God provides for the needs of my whole person—body, mind and spirit/soul.

Another way of looking at these words may be because we have everything we need, we don’t have to be caught up in the materialism, the obsession with consuming for the sake of consuming, we don’t have to be greedy or horde things. We can live contented lives because the LORD our shepherd meets our needs. The LORD provides my basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, and, in our part of the world so much more! We really do have so much to thank the LORD our Shepherd for! So, I would like to give you a little homework. Today after this worship service, please go home and write out or verbally discuss all of the many ways that the LORD has provided for your needs beyond the basic ones of food, clothing and shelter—then offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Actually this might be something for you to consider doing every day. Of course the greatest spiritual needs that he provides us with are: faith, hope and love.

Turning to verse four now: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley (the valley of the shadow of death), I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff—they comfort me.” Or, in the words of the CEV: “I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.” Or, as the Good News Bible renders it: “Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.” The Hebrew here literally means “pitch-dark valley.” This certainly could be a real danger for sheep, since their vision is rather poor, and if travelling on a dark night they might very well fall off a steep cliff or lose their way placing them in danger to predators.

During this time of COVID-19, I think verse four is especially meaningful, since many probably feel like they are walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.” For those who are dying of the coronavirus, and for their families, it can be very scary, and a painful and lonely death—especially if family members cannot be with their loved one when they die. Or the valley for others might be depression—especially those who live alone and feel isolated, or those who may have lost their job. For some wives and children, the valley might be a terrible experience of domestic violence. Fear of such evil violence can paralyze people.

There are so many things in life that fill us with fear. Fear of failure. Fear of succeeding. Fear of disappointing someone or yourself. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the great unknown, Death.

And then there’s everyone’s fear. The fear of being found out that you’re not who you really say you are. That you will be exposed. That kind of fear often freezes us out of doing something to change, doing something to become the person we want to be.

And then there’s the worst fear of all. Whenever we fail, or fall or stumble in our walk of faith, the enemy begins to creep in with words of doubt. “You failed. You fell, God can’t really love you like that. You’re supposed to be better than that. What if someone else finds out? What will they think? What does God think? God’s probably up there, disgusted, ready to thump me on the head and boot me out.”

That kind of fear can cause us to doubt. Fear freezes. But that’s not what God wants.1

In contrast to such fear, verse four gives us confidence in God’s protection, and that we don’t have to be afraid even in death. Albrecht Dürer, a contemporary of Martin Luther’s, put this assurance into art. His engraving, “Knight, Death and the Devil” is a classic expression of the spirit of the Reformation. A knight in full armour is riding through a valley accompanied by a figure of death on one side, the devil on the other. Fearlessly, concentrated, confident, he looks ahead. He is alone but not lonely. God is with him, walking through that dark valley.

In reference to death then, the words of verse four are true, since dying does not last forever. The LORD our Good Shepherd walks us through death and leads us safely to the other side, into his heavenly realm. We don’t have to fear death with the LORD our Good Shepherd leading us through it.

That leads us to verse six: “Surely (or Only) goodness and mercy (or kindness) shall follow (or pursue) me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD (forever) my whole life long. Or, in the words of the CEV: “Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, LORD.”

The Hebrew word translated “follow” can also be accurately translated “pursue,” it is a forceful, strong, active verb. So the LORD our Shepherd wants us to have his goodness and mercy so much that he never gives up on us. Rather, he actively runs after us until he catches up with us in order to give us those wonderful gifts of goodness and mercy, love and kindness. The sense of the Hebrew word for mercy can refer to God’s loyalty, God’s faithfulness. During this Easter season, his loyalty, his faithfulness is, of course, epitomized in the resurrection—which we continue to celebrate every Sunday. He is with us here, now, and always. Christ’s resurrection also is the sign of hope that one day we will share in a resurrection like his and be with him forever in a more complete way. For that, thanks be to God!

1 Billy D. Strayhorn, “Close Enough For Comfort,” at: <https://sermons.com/sermon/close-enough-for-comfort/1440724&gt;.

Sermon for 5 Epiphany Yr B

5th Sunday after Epiphany Yr B, 7/02/2021

Ps 147:1-11, 20c

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

God’s just and compassionate reversals”

The last five psalms of the Psalter are Hallel psalms. They all begin and end, functioning kind of like bookends, with the Hebrew word Hallelujah, translated into English as Praise the LORD! My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible (p. 849), identifies Psalm 147 as a Hymn of Praise, and biblical scholar Claus Westermann, identifies it, along with all five Hallel psalms as a Psalm of Descriptive Praise. They are psalms of descriptive praise because they are responses to God’s love, grace and justice by giving specific reasons for praising God. Westermann states that: this sort of descriptive praise could be raised whenever the assembled congregation wished to honor its God: at the major festivals, at sacrifices, and at worship services of all sorts. This is true of worship taking place in the temple as well as (and especially) at family celebrations of such events as the Passover, the beginning of the Sabbath, and numerous other special occasions (The Psalms: Structure, Content and Message, p. 83). The title that myLutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 147 is “Praise for God’s Care for Jerusalem.” The Good News Bible has the following title: “In Praise of God the Almighty.”

Psalm 147, as I count them, provides six reasons for offering God a hymn of praise. However, I’m going to focus on four of them, which, I think, have a similar theme, namely, God’s reversals of justice and compassion. These four reversals in today’s psalm are: i) the LORD builds up (restores) Jerusalem; ii) he gathers the outcasts (brings back the exiles) of Israel; iii) he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds; iv) he lifts up the downtrodden (he raises the humble) and casts the wicked to the ground.

When I looked at the other Bible passages for today, I also discovered that each one of them highlighted in some way this theme of God’s just and compassionate reversals. In Isaiah 40:29, the prophet writes the following concerning God’s just and compassionate reversal—encouraging his people who were in Babylonian exile and likely feeling defeated, depressed, and wondering if God had now permanently abandoned them: “He (i.e. God) gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” In our second lesson, the apostle Paul, describing his ministry says, in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” In today’s gospel, Mark 1:34 describes Jesus’ public ministry by reversing the powers of evil by ushering in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ public ministry is described like this: “And he (Jesus) cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”

So, as you can see, God’s just and compassionate reversals are found in all of these Bible passages, and indeed, throughout the Bible. God’s just and compassionate reversals reflect who God is and what he is doing among his people and in the world.

The ultimate reason for commitment to the poor and oppressed is not to be found in the social analysis we use. As Christians, however, our commitment is grounded, in the final analysis, in the God of our faith. It is a theocentric, prophetic option that has its roots in the unmerited love of God and is demanded by this love.

In other words, the poor deserve preference not because they are morally or religiously better than others, but because God is God, in whose eyes “the last are first.”1

To believe you can approach God without drawing nearer in compassion to suffering humanity is to fool yourself. There can be no genuine personal religious conversion without a change in social attitude. Compassion and justice are companions, not choices.2

So, it is clear from today’s Psalm and our other Bible passages that two central themes are found in the Bible regarding justice. First, God’s all-encompassing love, concern, and mercy are for all human beings. Second, our responsibility to love God’s creation and care for God’s people—especially those who are outcasts, exiles/refugees, brokenhearted and wounded, and the downtrodden—is to respond to God’s grace.

There are many Jewish stories told by rabbis about the prophet Elijah. As you recall, Elijah did not die—rather, God took him up to heaven in a chariot of fire. So, out of this biblical story, the rabbis told more stories about how Elijah came back to this world to help others in need. These stories often emphasize that God loves and cares for those who are poor and needy, as is the case in the following story.

There was a poor but pious man who scarce could keep alive, and he had a wife at home, and sons who numbered five. “How long can we go on like this?” the pious man’s wife said. “We haven’t anything to eat, not a single crust of bread! You’ve studied Torah and that’s fine, but now what will we do? Get you to the marketplace, and may God pity you!”

But how,” her husband asked her, “can I go anywhere,” when I have neither cloak nor coat nor anything to wear? I have no money, either, not a penny to my name—Why, send me to the market and I will die of shame!”

And so the woman hurried to her neighbours, borrowed clothes, and gave them to her husband, may God save him from his woes. The man went to the market and stood there teary-eyed; then heavenward he cast his glance and to the Lord he cried: “O Master of the Universe, You know I’m all alone, little children have I five, but food to feed them none. Please, dear Lord, I beg of You, either pity me, or let me die and put an end to all my misery.”

Now as he stood there weeping, who should the poor man meet but Elijah, bless him, coming up the street! “There, there,” Elijah told him. “Wipe your tears, my son. Pretend I am a slave of yours and sell me to someone.” “But Master,” said the pious man, “how can I sell you? And anyway, who’ll take me for a rich, slave-owning Jew?” “Fear not,” Elijah said to him. “Do everything I say. Give me a penny when I’m sold, and that will be my pay.”

And so the poor man led Elijah to the market. Everywhere he went, people took him for the slave and Elijah for the master, and Elijah had to keep telling them, “He is the master—the slave is me!” Just then an official of the king’s passed by, liked the looks of the man for sale, and bought him for eighty dinars. Elijah took a penny for himself, gave the rest to the pious Jew, and said to him, “Here, this is for you and your family. You’ll never have to be poor again.”

Then Elijah went off with the official, and the man returned home, where he found his wife and children faint from hunger. He put food and drink before them and told them the whole story, to which his wife said, “It’s a good thing you listened to me, because had you waited any longer, we would all have been dead!” And from that day on, the Lord blessed him and made him a wealthy man who never lacked for anything.

Some time later, the pious Jew met Elijah and told him, “You’ve saved my life!”

Give thanks to God the Creator, Who has done this great kindness to you,” declared Elijah, of blessed memory.3

May we along with the psalmist, heed Elijah’s exhortation in this story, and offer God our thanks and praise for his just and compassionate reversals to bless those in greatest need, as well as us. And let the congregation sing: “Praise the LORD!” Amen!

1 Marc H. Ellis & Otto Maduro, editors, Expanding The View: Gustavo Gutierrz And The Future Of Liberation Theology (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988, 89, 90), p. 14.

2 Wm. Sloane Coffin, Credo (Louisville & London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 51.

3 Pinhas Sadeh, translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin, Jewish Folktales Selected and Retold by Pinhas Sadeh (Toronto, et al: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1989), pp. 124-126.

Sermon for 3 Epiphany Yr B

Read my sermon for January 24, 2021 here: 3 Epiphany Yr B

Sermon for 2 Epiphany Yr B

Read my sermon for January 17, 2021 here: 2 Epiphany Yr B

 

Sermon for 2 Advent Yr B

Read my sermon for December 6, 2020: 2 Advent Yr B 

 

Sermon for 1 Advent Yr B

Read my sermon for November 29, 2020 here: 1 Advent Yr B

 

Sermon for 23 Pentecost

Read my sermon for November 8, 2020 here: 23 Pentecost Yr A

 

Preachers’ Thought for Today

Bethany Meadows pulpit, photo by GW-H

“Preaching is effective as long as the preacher expects something to happen-not because of the sermon, not even because of the preacher, but because of God.” -John Hines