Funeral Sermon for Doreen Anderson

Sermon for Doreen Avonne Anderson funeral, based on Ps 23, Prov 22:6, Gal 6:6 & Jn 14:1-6 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, March 21, 2018, twelve o’clock.

Doreen Avonne Anderson has left this life behind and is no longer with you. All of you who knew and loved Doreen will miss her. Yet, as the psalmist reassures us, even though Doreen had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the LORD her Shepherd was with her, leading her through death, so that now all of her suffering is over.

For the last years of her life, Doreen was a resident in Spruce Cottage at Bethany Meadows. As her pastor there, I came to know Doreen as a quiet, soft-spoken person. She told me about her life as a teacher and, in her retirement years, how she enjoyed travelling, she also was an avid reader until her eyes were no longer able to focus. So with that in mind, I thought a couple of Bible passages were appropriate as we remember Doreen today and give thanks to God for her life.

The first passage is from Proverbs 22:6: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” Or as the Good News Bible puts it: “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life.” What a privilege it was for Doreen to be a teacher for thirty-seven years and do exactly what this proverb describes! She taught the young children for over three decades and, I’m sure she made an impression on their lives—teaching them things that set them on the right track to succeed in their lives. Teaching them so that they could go on to live meaningful lives by making a difference in the world. Perhaps her teaching even inspired one or more children to become teachers like herself. In any case, I’m sure that all of those years of teaching had their rewards for Doreen, because she spoke to me about a couple of her students—one of whom I know, and today he is a well-respected teacher and scholar in the church, Rev. Dr. Gordon Jensen. What a privilege it is to be a teacher and set students on the right path, which they will remember all of their life!

Another passage from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:6 also reminds me of Doreen, teaching and education: “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” I would hope that after teaching for thirty-seven years at least a few of Doreen’s students shared the good things they learned from her. I would also hope that Doreen having been taught by other teachers in order to get her degree was able to share good things of what she learned from her teachers—teachers who inspired her and made a difference in her life.

Turning now to John’s Gospel, which is a favourite passage of the Anderson family, we are given another reason to place our trust and hope in God. Jesus speaks to us, saying: “Let not your hearts be troubled,” or, as the Good News Bible puts it: “Do not be worried and upset.” He goes on to say: “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” What wonderful words of promise and hope Jesus speaks here!

This picture of “my Father’s house,” as Jesus describes it here gives us the sense that there is plenty of room for us there to enjoy—a location where there are “many dwelling places.” In the old King James Version of this passage, it is translated “many mansions.” It’s rather interesting that Jesus speaks of heaven in this way as a place where there is plenty of room for us—since in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word for salvation actually literally means: to be open wide, to be unconfined, to be free. The word in Hebrew is yasha, which interestingly enough is closely related to Jeshua or Joshua, which is the Hebrew for our English name, Jesus, meaning “God saves.” You can find comfort and peace if you trust and hope in this Jesus who is one with God and saves. Jesus is our way, truth and life through placing all of our trust in him and following him, we are given the gift of eternal life.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the other things Doreen enjoyed talking with me about was her travels. She was blessed to be able to travel to several places, including: New Zealand and Australia, Europe, several of the United States, and down to Eastern Canada. However, as much as we travel in this world, it is always good to arrive back home. As the old adage goes: “There’s no place like home.” Now Doreen has gone on her final journey, and she has reached her final home—that dwelling place, that room, that mansion in her permanent heavenly home to be with Jesus and those whom she loved who are already there.

So, let us all place our trust, our hope, our lives into the hands of this God who is our Loving Shepherd; whose love is completely and always dependable; who is the greatest, most inspiring Teacher of them all; who is our loving Saviour providing us an eternal home with lots of room; and a place where we shall dwell in perfect freedom; living under the power of his love. Amen.




Sermon 3 Lent Yr B

Read my sermon for March 4, 2018 here: 3 Lent Yr B

Book Review: Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys Of Thinking Christians

Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys Of Thinking Christians

Author: Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Editor

Publisher: Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers

360 pages + Index, ISBN: 0-310-21922-1

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Editor, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, served Harvard graduate students as a chaplain and started the Harvard Veritas Forum, which inspired the publication of this volume.

The work contains ten chapters and a concluding Epilogue: A Taste of New Wine. Each of the chapters addresses a particular subject and is written by students and professors studying or teaching in that field. The format of each chapter is as follows: A list of authors and titles of each essay in the chapter, one or more quotations complementing the chapter’s subject matter, a brief introduction to each author, followed by his or her essay.

The wide array of subjects and authors makes for an interesting, informative and, on occasion, inspiring read. Although most of the authors either attended or taught at Harvard, not everyone did—for example; two of the most prophetic and challenging essays are by Mother Teresa and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn’s was an address he gave at Harvard in 1978; the year Harvard awarded him a doctorate in literature. Here are a couple of quotes, the first one is a sober reminder that freedom is not always what it seems on the surface: “Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life—and it even adds a number of new ones.” (p. 99) The second one takes aim at the consequences of the West’s emphasis on human rights: “The West has succeeded in truly enforcing human rights, but our sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.” (p. 100) Mother Teresa addressed the 1982 Class Day exercises at Harvard College. One of the most inspiring quotes in this volume is by Mother Teresa on love: “For God, it is not how much we give but how much love we put in the giving. That love begins at home, right here.” (p. 317)

To further the interest of would-be readers of this work, here are a few more quotes from various authors: In “My Search for the Historical Jesus,” Todd Lake makes an excellent point concerning an historically erroneous statement in the Koran concerning the crucifixion of Jesus: “The fourth sura of the Koran, for example, suggests that someone else was crucified in Jesus’ stead. However, this conjecture was written six centuries after the eyewitness accounts in the four Gospels, much too late to have any historical value.” (p. 45)

In an excellent essay by a seasoned professor of medicine at Harvard, Armand Nicholi Jr., “Hope in a Secular Age,” the author cites several research projects of depressed open-heart patients and their either high likelihood of not surviving or the more lengthy recovery period than those who have hope. “A noted physiologist, Dr. Harold G. Wolf, writes: “Hope, like faith and a purpose in life is medicinal. This is not a statement of belief but a conclusion proved by meticulously controlled scientific experiments.” (p. 118) As a chaplain and pastor, I definitely agree with this conclusion.

Ruth Goodwin, after seeing the magnitude of human suffering in Ethiopia, in her essay, “In Sorrow, Joy,” writes: “I became angry. I became angry because only a few care enough about the suffering of others for it to make a difference in their lives. Some appreciate the agony and injustice many have to endure in this world; few act to change it.” (pp. 220-221) However, she eventually realized that life cannot be motivated by anger; rather, it is Christ’s love that gives life and heals. “I am no longer angry, but I still grieve over suffering and injustice. I now know, however, that it is only love which will ultimately overcome it.” (p. 221)

Elizabeth Dole, reflecting on the life and purpose of Esther’s divine calling, in her essay, “Crisis and Faith,” finds instructive parallels in her life: “Yes, the story of Esther is actually a story of dependence. It is a story not about the triumph of a man or a woman but the triumph of God. He is the real hero of this story. And in the same way, I have come to realize there can be only one hero in my story, too: God in Jesus Christ.” (p. 243)

In her “Epilogue: A Taste Of New Wine,” editor Kelly Monroe Kullberg provides an outline of the origins of this volume as well as that of “The Harvard Veritas Forum,” and the struggles on her own journey of faith in the Harvard Divinity School. “Ironically, all seemed tolerated except that for which Harvard College was founded—Truth for Christ and the Church.” (p. 248) Christians are definitely up for the challenge, and can survive and thrive in an intellectual environment like Harvard.

I recommend this volume as a worthwhile read for atheists, agnostics, seekers and people of faith. By way of one wee closing critique, I don’t know who decided or how the process worked in deciding the title of this book—however I adamantly disagree with it. God is The One who finds us, not the other way round!



Christmas and New Year Greetings

Last night we had the privilege of attending G.F. Handel’s Messiah, with members of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and the Rosa Barocca – Chorus & Baroque Orchestra, directed and conducted by Claude Lapalme. The Peter and Jeanne Lougheed Performing Arts Centre concert hall was filled to capacity—and for good reason, almost three hours of ‘heaven on earth’ music, celebrating the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

I have seen Handel’s Messiah several times, and heard it on record, cassette and CD a host of times—yet I never get bored or tired of it. There’s always something beautiful about it that so movingly proclaims ‘the holy’ and fills one for an all-too-brief time with the joy, love and peace of God in the midst of a troubled and all-too-often evil world that would rob us of every God-given gift. I wonder what would happen if every human being in this world—regardless of how well or how poor they could sing or play—would sing and play Handel’s Messiah together, if the intercession in the Lord’s Prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” would become more incarnate in and through the music to such a profound extent that all hatred, terrorism and war would vanish forever.

This time round, Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter nine, verse six, keeps playing in my head: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.” (NRSV) He is the one who is coming to set all things, all peoples, right with the world.

Here is Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra with the Tenebrae Choir. I love some of the expressions on Colin’s face, he seems captivated by the joy of this marvelous music.

Wishing all of you, my readers, a very blessed Christmas and Happy New Year!

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Harris

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Gwen Harris, based on Ps 23 & Jn 14:1-3 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, December 16, 2017, two o’clock.


A daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, neighbour, and member of God’s family, Carla Gwen Harris, has departed from this life. With death, comes a sadness, especially for you members of Carla’s family. You will miss her.

When I asked family members to tell me a bit about Carla, they said she was short and sweet-pun intended. She touched their lives with her honesty, forth-rightness, sense of humour, spontaneity, at times strong-mindedness, as well as being upbeat, and having a positive, hopeful view of life. She was also known and respected as the family historian for both sides of the family. She loved and was proud of her family; they were the most important part of her life. Carla, I’m told, also was a caring person, and looked after her mom and aunt. Some of the things she enjoyed in life were knitting and crocheting, movies and reading, as well as country music, especially Johnny Reid.

When a family is close-knit, and a member departs from this life, there is a sadness and there can be a loneliness and emptiness. One of the most comforting gifts that God gives us at times like this is God’s Word. So we turn to God’s Word now, starting with Psalm twenty-three. This beautiful psalm is one of the most popular and comforting passages in the Bible. Even though it likely wasn’t originally written specifically for funeral services—countless Christians and Jews choose Psalm twenty-three for funeral services.

The words describe God as a loving, caring shepherd, as well as a host and chef who serves up a banquet feast. God our shepherd provides for our needs; is with us to lead us through death’s dark valley; and is generous in providing a banquet feast—“my cup overflows,” says the psalmist. God’s deepest desire is that every human being knows him as a loving, caring God who provides for our needs, and who is always with us through life and through death.

There’s a true story I love about a house party in one of the big English country houses. Often after dinner at these parties people give recitations, sing, and use whatever talent they have to entertain the company. One year a famous actor was among the guests. I’ve been told he might have been Charles Laughton. When it came his turn to perform, he recited the Twenty-third Psalm. His rendition was magnificent, and there was much applause. At the end of the evening someone noticed a little old great aunt dozing in the corner. She was deaf as a post and had missed most of what was going on, but she was urged to get up and recite something. In those days people used to memorize a lot of poetry! So she stood up, and in her quavery old voice she started, The Lord is my shepherd, and went on to the end of the psalm. When she had finished there were tears in many eyes. Later one of the guests approached the famous actor.

“You recited that psalm absolutely superbly. So why were you so moved by the funny, little old lady?”

He replied, “I know the psalm. She knows the shepherd.”1

Speaking of knowing the shepherd, that brings us to our passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, which he knew was coming soon. In this farewell talk, Jesus uses highly relational language, the language of love to comfort, reassure, and give his disciples peace of heart and mind. He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled—in the Good News Bible he says it like this: “Do not be worried and upset.”

Then Jesus goes on to tell them why they shouldn’t have troubled hearts; why they shouldn’t be worried and upset. He says to them and to each one of you: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, many rooms, many mansions.” Then he says that he’s going there to prepare a place for each one of us. So there is plenty of room there for each one of us. Even better yet, Jesus promises that when the time comes, he will come to get us and take us to that eternal home, he wants us to be with him there. Now he has done that for your loved one Carla, and one day he will do the same for each of you, so that you will meet her again there.

So my hope and prayer for each of you is that you place your hope, your trust, your lives into the hands of this God who is a loving shepherd. A God who loved us so much that he died on the cross for each one of us. Jesus, who still loves us so much that he wants everyone to be in a relationship with him and to live under the power of his love. Amen.

1 Madeleine L’Engle with Carole F. Chase, Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts And Reflections (New York & San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers & HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 & 1998), pp. 317-318.

A Brief Graveside Sermon for Lois Kerr

Brief graveside sermon for Lois Jean Kerr, by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-3, Edberg Cemetery, November 7, 2017.

A mother, grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of Bethany Meadows, and child of God, Lois Jean Kerr, has left this life for that better place we call heaven. You who loved and knew Lois will certainly miss her. Life is not the same when a loved-one dies.

I am sure you will find comfort in celebrating and sharing the memories that you have of Lois, as she touched your hearts and lives over the years.

Lois was a generous, kind, caring and loving person. Family was very important to her. Lois shared her gift of cooking with her family, and she loved entertaining friends and family. You family members were grateful to have shared one last special meal with Lois at Thanksgiving.

I’m told that Lois’ chocolate chip cookies were a big hit among you. This legacy lives on as Judy now uses her mom’s recipe and makes these cookies for the students at the school where she is chef.

Lois’s gifts of generosity, kindness and caring were also shared with us at Bethany Meadows, where she spent the last years of her life. She was always most kind toward her fellow residents. While living at Bethany Meadows, Lois loved it when the therapy horses came to visit. She also enjoyed participating in Hymn-Sings, Devotions, Worship Services, and our Music Appreciation Group.

As we turn to God’s word for comfort and hope, we hear those words of the writer of Ecclesiastes who tells us that there is a time and a place for everything in life—that is the way God planned it. For Lois, each stage of life prepared her for the next one, until finally, the LORD called her to her eternal home. Lois enjoyed the gift of time that God gave her, and now she will enjoy being reunited with her husband Bill, whom she missed and longed to be with again.

Turning to that wonderful passage from John’s Gospel, we have the promise from Jesus and the hope that comes with that promise that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. The Father’s house translated as many mansions, many rooms, many dwelling places.

Home, as you knew it, was a place where Lois loved and accepted you, and cared for your needs. A place where you could feel secure and be yourself. How much more that will be true in our heavenly Father’s house.

That reminds me of a morning at Bethany Meadows when I was making my rounds. I asked Lois, “How are you doing today, Lois?” She replied, “I’m good enough to go home.”

So now Lois can be at peace and celebrate the joy and love that is hers as she lives in the full presence of God in his heavenly home, thanks to what Jesus our Lord and Saviour has done for her and each one of us. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon 19 Pentecost Yr A

Read my sermon for October 15, 2017 here: 19 Pentecost Yr A