Sermon for 3 Epiphany Yr C

Read my sermon for January 23, 2022 here:

Sermon for 2 Epiphany Yr C

Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Yr C

Read my sermon for January 9, 2022 here:

Sermon for Christmas Eve Yr C

Read my sermon for December 24, 2021 here:

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, Yr B

Christ the King Sunday Yr B, 21/11/2021

Ps 93; Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Rev 1:4b-8; Jn 18:33-37 

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Christ is King”

Today marks the last Sunday of the church calendar year, when we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday we begin a new church calendar year, with the first Sunday in Advent. Today Psalm 93 compliments all of our other biblical passages, highlighting the theme of God the Creator as King and Jesus as King. There are similar threads woven within each of these passages. 

Psalm 93 does not have a superscription. The NRSV Lutheran Study Bible identifies it as an enthronement psalm and hymn of praise (p. 849). So it celebrates God as King. The Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 93 the following title: “The Majesty of God’s Rule,” and the CEV has this title: “The LORD is King.” 

I like the CEV rendering of verse 1: “Our LORD, you are King! Majesty and power are your royal robes.” It is interesting that unlike earthly kings, who usually are identified by wearing expensive, elaborate robes made out of some kind of fabric; our psalmist describes God’s royal robe differently by associating it with God’s attributes of majesty and power. Majesty is regarded as sovereign power; and, of course, God’s power as King is far greater than even the most powerful earthly king. God’s power is eternal, and governs the universe. 

Daniel 7, in his vision of God, says God’s clothing was white as snow. And in Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6, according to the NRSV translation, he describes the hem of God’s royal robe filling the temple. Just as earthly kings and other authority figures such as, for example, judges, and us pastors during worship wear robes; so too in all of these descriptions of God the King’s robe, they all symbolize and point to God as our highest, greatest and most powerful authority and ruler.

The psalmist then goes on to describe God the Creator and King’s power in the CEV: “You put the world in place, and it will never be moved. You have always ruled, and you are eternal” (verses 1b-2); and in verses 3-4 in The Message: “See storms are up, GOD, See storms wild and roaring, Sea storms with thunderous breakers. Stronger than wild sea storms, Mightier than sea-storm breakers, Mighty GOD rules from High Heaven.” 

Recently in a conversation with a retired pastor friend of ours, who lives on Haida Gwaii Island, in B.C., she said they had a storm with 125 km an hour winds, and one of her trees was banging against the roof of her house like a hammer, and she was afraid that the house would be blown off its foundation. She also mentioned how high the Pacific Ocean waves get in storms like these. Yet, as our psalmist states, God is Mightier than such storms, because he is the King and Creator who rules from High Heaven. 

Standing alone on a clifftop overlooking the sea on a stormy day is, strangely enough, a lot like sleeping under the open sky on a starlit night. The perpetual pounding and perpetual silence have quite a bit in common. 

The horizonless expanse of roiling water and the infinite expanse of galaxied space have much the same effect on a captivated mortal. They make you feel very small. And very grateful to be where you are rather than where you are looking. They make you realize that the Creator has provided a safe place for you in an otherwise very unsafe universe. 

Between you and ruin stands the love of your Maker, stronger than winds and waves and tides and breakers, more powerful than comets and asteroids and suns and black-holes. 

On a clifftop overlooking the sea you can stand a few feet away from certain destruction and be perfectly safe. You can turn around and walk away from the winds howling in your face and the waves pounding far below you and in a few moments you can be standing in the middle of a herd of cattle chewing their cud in supreme contentment or be sitting in the comfort of a cosy cottage by a crackling fire. 

Our all-powerful Creator and King has fashioned safe places for us at the very edge and in the very heart of a universe of deadly perils. Every time we are caught unawares by a tempest at sea or by a hurricane on land or by a blizzard out in the open we are reminded of just how much our life depends on those protected places.1

In the final, verse 5 of our psalm, the theme of God as all-powerful King continues, this time emphasising the power and authority of his word. The Message renders it like this: “What you say goes—it always has.” In Daniel’s vision, he sees God the Creator-King giving to the one like a human being, also translated as son of man—the one whom we believe refers to Jesus, who is given dominion and glory and kingship. Jesus’s dominion, Daniel tells us, is an everlasting dominion, unlike the dominions of this world. Jesus as King is also given glory. The Hebrew word is “kabod,” and it means “weight” or “importance.” The glory of King Jesus is weightiest and most important because it is eternal, he is eternal. Jesus’s dominion, glory and kingship is not like earthly ones that rise and fall and are all too imperfect and are limited by particular places and times. Rather, Jesus’s dominion, glory and kingship is, according to Daniel and our passage from Revelation, over all peoples, nations, and languages, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. He is King of kings. 

And that leads us to our gospel, where, ironically, Pilate believes he has the power and authority to determine Jesus’s destiny. Jesus tells him if his kingship and kingdom were of this world, then he would have ordered military forces to fight for him. However, Jesus tells Pilate that he is a different kind of King and his kingdom is not of this world. Rather, his kingdom is one of the truth, and everyone who listens to Jesus belongs to the truth. How we need his truth in today’s world that is filled with lies, fake news, and bizarre conspiracy theories! His truth sets us free and gives our lives peace, good-will and order. As King of truth, he exposes all evil and hatred that is falsely presented as goodness and love. In the end, his word of truth will reveal everything; nothing sinful, evil and filled with hatred will be able to survive. They will be defeated by the power of Jesus the King’s Word. The same Word that spoke creation into existence. The same Word that is able to overcome the chaotic storm-waters of the sea, by bringing peace and calm. The same Word that governs every single detail of the universe. 

Jesus painted no pictures; yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from him.

Jesus wrote no poetry; but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by him.

Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratorios they composed in his praise.2

Jesus only taught for at most three years, yet his teachings still are followed by millions upon millions of people today—and are far greater than the teachings of the great philosophers and theologians, some of whom taught for four or five decades. 

The teachings of Jesus, accompanied by the Holy Spirit working within our hearts, and minds, has the power to change us personally and collectively, as each day we conform our lives to Jesus and his kingship over us. May it be so for each one of us as we praise and thank Christ our King, now and always! 

1 J. Robert Jacobson, All Nature Sings: Creation and New Creation Through The Eyes of Scripture (Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 2002), pp. 50-51. 

2 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle B (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2008), pp. 281-282. 

Sermon for 25 Pentecost Yr B

25 Pentecost Yr B, 14/11/2021

Ps 16 

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson 

“Trusting God”

The superscription of Psalm 16 is: “A Miktam of David.” Some think that the word Miktam refers to an instruction or rubric for musicians. Martin Luther referred to it as a golden jewel—perhaps as a metaphor for a golden or highly valued teaching. Yet others think it means a mystery poem referring to mysterious aspects of life, like a mystical relationship with God. In truth, most likely the word remains uncertain. 

The Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 16 the following title: “Song of Trust and Security in God.” The Good News Bible has a similar title: “A Prayer of Confidence.” Indeed, trust and confidence definitely describe Psalm 16, as it seems to be a commentary on the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God…you shall have no other gods besides me.” Psalm 16 is a very upbeat psalm, and reflects David’s trust in God. 

Starting with verse 1, the psalmist’s trust and confidence in God comes through, especially in the REB translation: “Keep me, God, for in you have I found refuge.” Notice that in this rendering the psalmist has already found refuge, therefore he is confident that God will keep him. 

Verse 2, adds to this trust and confidence, which comes across quite clearly in the Good News Bible rendering: “I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;, all the good things I have come from you.” This verse then, once again emphasizes the blessing of trusting God and keeping the first commandment. 

In verse 3, the psalmist turns to God’s faithful people and compliments them with an expression of gratitude in the Good News rendering: “How excellent are the LORD’s faithful people! My greatest pleasure is to be with them.” This is often true in your life and mine. We look forward to being with one another to encourage and receive encouragement in our faith journey. We are a blessing for one another. This verse is also a reminder of the joy we have in “the communion of saints” as we confess in our creed; as well as what the writer of the Letter to Hebrews says in our second lesson today, exhorting God’s people: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb 10:24-25).

Then, in verse 4, the psalmist contrasts God’s faithful people who keep the first commandment with people who commit the sin of idolatry and worship other gods. The REB renders verse 4 like this: “Those who run after other gods, find endless trouble; I shall never offer libations of blood to such gods, never take their names on my lips.” The reference to “libations of blood” may possibly be to human sacrifice. In any case, whenever Israel was guilty of violating the first commandment, they did have, as the psalmist says, endless trouble. When they fell into the temptation to worship other gods, the consequences were tragic—famines, destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, exiles into Assyria and Babylonia, and so on. 

Verse 5 once again contrasts the psalmist’s trust and confidence in God with those guilty of idolatry in verse 4. The Message renders it like this, once again emphasizing the first commandment: “My choice is you, GOD, first and only. And now I find I’m your choice!”

Once again verse 6 underscores the blessings of trust and confidence in God, as the NRSV translates it: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” “The boundary lines” here may refer to the dividing up of the promised land when the Israelites settled in Canaan. However, it can have additional meanings too. For example, those of us who have children know how important it is for them to learn boundaries. Even as adults boundaries are important for our own protection and well-being. In being faithful to God’s ways and accepting our place and calling in life can certainly bring us many blessings within the boundaries in which we live. Such boundaries in life can indeed bepleasant places.

There is a story told by Israel ben Eliezer of a Jewish man who loved God and rejoiced in serving God. This man was so devoted to God that, it was believed he learned the Torah from the lips of the Almighty. He was so pious that he could do anything he wanted. The archangels became offended that a mere mortal had such power, and they decided to try him for impinging upon their territory. He was found guilty, and an angel was sent to deliver the sentence: he was to be deprived of the world to come. When the man heard this, he was ecstatic. The angel asked him if he understood the seriousness of his sentence, and the man replied: “Yes, I’ve always wanted to love God without hope of reward, but everything I’ve always done was rewarded so greatly. Now I can love God with the knowledge of no reward. I’m free!” Of course, the decree had to be revoked because it had no power over him.1 The joy of loving and trusting God is its own reward, which results in blessings exceeding any of our expectations. 

Turning to verses 7 and 8, a careful reading indicates that they are an affirmation of verses 2, 4, and 6. I like the way The Message renders these verses, which once again emphasise trusting and confidence in God: “The wise counsel GOD gives when I’m awake is confirmed in my sleeping heart. Day and night I’ll stick with GOD; I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go.” 

I also like the colourful language of The Message in rendering verses 9 and 10: “I’m happy from the inside out and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed. You cancelled my ticket to hell—that’s not my destination!” In other words, faith and faithfulness blesses one’s whole being—body, mind, and spirit. 

Medical studies have suggested that all cholesterol is not the same. There is “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol.”

Good cholesterol consists of high-density lipoproteins, or HDLs. Bad cholesterol consists of low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs.

Bad cholesterol clogs arteries and leads to heart attacks.

“Good cholesterol,” writes Rita Rubin, “seems to carry cholesterol out of the coronary-artery walls, thus preventing blockages. Studies show the rate of coronary heart disease falls as HDL levels rise.”

Just as all cholesterol is not the same, the Bible says all pleasure is not the same. There is good pleasure and bad pleasure. Good pleasure is healthful, self-controlled, and obedient to God’s commands. Bad pleasure is self-indulgent, addictive, and disobedient to God’s commands.2

The closing verse of Psalm 16 also emphasizes confidence and trust in God, that God will lead and guide us where we need to be in our lives. The NRSV translation puts it like this: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The phrase “In your presence” reminds me of Eric Clapton’s song, “Presence of the Lord.” Here are some of the words: “I have finally found a place to live/Just like I never could before/And I know I don’t have much to give/But soon I’ll open any door/Everybody knows the secret/Everybody knows the score/I have finally found a place to live/In the presence of the Lord/In the presence of the Lord.” 

Eric Clapton wrote this song, which is a testimony of faith. Clapton called this a “song of gratitude.” It was one of his first songs to explore spirituality, which he did on some of his solo tracks in the ‘70s. He said the message of this song was to “say ‘thank you’ to God for whatever happens.” 

Clapton has hosted the Crossroads Guitar Festival over the years, to raise money for his substance abuse centre in Antigua.

But his road has seldom been smooth. From the age of 9 when he learned that he was born out of wedlock to his “auntie” and an unknown Canadian soldier, he struggled to find a safe place. Feelings of isolation and insecurity haunted him throughout life, drawing him to the gritty alienation of the blues. But there is a spiritual side of Clapton that was scarcely known. It almost always influenced what he thought and did, and the kind of music he wrote and played.3

So, may we like David, Eric Clapton, and a host of God’s faithful people down through the ages, right up to our day, have confidence in God, always trusting him for everything in life, and finding our greatest joy in his presence. 

1 Stephen Homer, “Upholders of the Faith,” in Equinox, March/April 1986, pp. 46-47. 

2 Craig Brian Larson, Editor, Contemporary Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Co., 1996), p. 176. 

3 <https://www.songfacts.com/facts/blind-faith/presence-of-the-lord> and John Powell, “Eric Clapton, In the Presence of the Lord,” at: <https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/aprilweb-only/115-32.0.html>.

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.

Sermon for 17 Pentecost Yr B

17 Pentecost Yr B, 19/09/2021

Ps 54 & Jer 11:18-20

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Help God! Enemies want to kill me!”

Psalm 54 has the following superscription: To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “David is hiding among us.” The background of this psalm then is described in 1 Samuel 23 and 26. David and Saul are on the outs, David is fleeing from Saul. He goes into hiding in the wilderness of Ziph. The Ziphites betray David by telling Saul where he is hiding. Saul pursues David. However, at the last moment, Saul gets word that the Philistines raided the land, so he stops pursuing David. In 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his army are also pursuing David in the wilderness of Ziph and again the Ziphites betray David by telling Saul where David is hiding. This time, one night David and Abishai sneak into Saul’s camp. Saul is sleeping, and Abishai wants to kill him. David prevents him from doing so, however he steals Saul’s spear and water jar. He tells Abishai that eventually the LORD will deal with Saul. Later, when Saul finds out that David could have killed him, but did not, he and David made peace. Eventually however, Saul was wounded in battle, and then took his own life. 

The NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 54 the following title: “Prayer for Vindication,” and the Good News Bible has this title: “A Prayer for Protection from Enemies.” The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 849) identifies Psalm 54 as a prayer for help. It also has elements of a psalm of trust, a lament, a liturgy, and a prayer of individual thanks. 

In verses 1 and 2, David is desperate, and he asks God to listen to him and vindicate him. The Messagecaptures David’s emotionally desperate state, by rendering verse 2 like this: “Listen, God—I’m desperate. Don’t be too busy to hear me.” 

Verse 3 tells us why David is desperate, again The Message captures how David feels a sense of betrayal: “Outlaws are out to get me, hit men are trying to kill me. Nothing will stop them; God means nothing to them.” 

Just as David felt betrayed by the Ziphites, so too does Jeremiah in today’s first lesson. He has been faithful as God’s prophet and preached to his own people in his hometown of Anathoth. He predicted their destruction, it was a message most likely difficult for him to preach, and the people did not like it one bit, because it was not a message they wanted to hear or accept. So they betray their own hometown prophet and threaten to kill him. 

That reminds me of the following story. MacLean died in early March 1983, he died in Russia. Maclean was actually British. He had gone to the University of Cambridge in the 1930s there, and had joined a circle promoting communism. 

From this circle came many of the most notorious spies for the Soviet Union. In 1951, MacLean was tipped off that he was about to be exposed as a spy. He fled behind the Iron Curtain, where he lived in obscurity.

In Britain at the time of exposure, there was a sense of disbelief that one of their own citizens educated, and part of the aristocracy would be a traitor. Later, other such traitors were also exposed. Some having given the Soviets some of Britain’s and the American’s most sensitive secrets.

Betrayals, of course, can have tragic consequences, they can be a matter of life and death. In some cases even thousands, perhaps millions or even billions of lives may hang in the balance. Of course, the ultimate story of betrayal involved Judas betraying Jesus. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus led to his death on the cross. 

However, David and Jeremiah did not respond to their betrayals like Jesus. True, they did turn to God for help when their lives were threatened. Unlike Jesus, they did not pray or wish for forgiveness for their enemies. Rather, they asked God for vindication, vengeance, revenge, retribution. The Good News Bible renders verses 4 and 5 like this: “But God is my helper. The Lord is my defender. May God use their own evil to punish my enemies. He will destroy them because he is faithful.” 

That reminds me of the following story. Three burly fellows on huge motorcycles pulled up to a highway cafe where a truck driver, just a little guy, was perched on a stool quietly eating his lunch. As the three fellows came in, they spotted him, grabbed his food away from him and laughed in his face. The truck driver said nothing. He got up, paid for his food, and walked out. One of the three cyclists, unhappy that they hadn’t succeeded in provoking the little man into a fight, commented to the waitress: “Boy, he sure wasn’t much of a man, was he?” The waitress replied, “Well, I guess not.” Then, looking out the window, she added, “I guess he’s not much of a truck driver, either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”1

Like David and Jeremiah, perhaps our reaction to the story of the truck driver running over the three motorcycles is that the three cyclists got what they deserved because of the way they treated the truck driver. In our humanness, in our sinful state, emotionally, we may be tempted to get angry and take revenge on those who threaten us or treat us badly, cruelly, and unjustly. Or even worse, we may say what David said in verse 7 of our psalm, as the REB translates it: “I look with delight on the downfall of my enemies.” 

There are several examples in the Psalter of what are called imprecatory psalms—i.e., psalms that call for vengeance. As Christians, I think we struggle with these imprecatory psalms. They depict a “Go get em!” God. A God who likes to punish and destroy people rather than have mercy on them and forgive them. As Christians, Jesus is our perfect example of how we are to deal with our enemies. We are called to love, pray for, and forgive them—which is much easier to say than to do. 

There is much wisdom in what Lutheran theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to say about the imprecatory psalms. Thus the imprecatory psalm leads to the cross of Jesus and to the love of God which forgives enemies. I cannot forgive the enemies of God out of my own resources. Only the crucified Christ can do that, and I through him. Thus the carrying out of vengeance becomes grace for all [people] in Jesus Christ.

Even today I can believe the love of God and forgive my enemies only by going back to the cross of Christ, to the carrying out of the wrath of God. The cross of Jesus is valid for all [people].2

God is both a just and merciful God. There are consequences for our sinful and evil actions. Sometimes our sinful and evil actions will be subject to cause and effect consequences—we reap what we sow, we dig a pit of sin and evil and the that same pit will be our undoing, those who live by violence will die by violence, and so on. God always wants what is best for each one of us. Therefore, even though we may think that someone deserves to be punished by God may not be punished by God. God’s ways are not our ways. When Jesus was dying on the cross he prayed for enemies: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) 

May God’s grace direct our thoughts, words and actions in such a way that we, like Jesus, may be able to pray for, love, and forgive even our enemies. 

1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 486.

2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, psalms: the prayer book of the Bible (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1970, 1974), pp. 58-60.