Thanksgiving 2020

Canadian Thanksgiving

Did you know that Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada 43 years before the American Thanksgiving? For more interesting Canadian Thanksgiving history tid-bits, click here.

Thanksgiving and COVID-19

The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, exhorted them to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we face all kinds of the troubles, tragedies, conflicts, divisions, injustices and sufferings in the world, how do we give thanks in all circumstances? With the coronavirus claiming the lives of so many people, and the number of cases increasing—in some places far too rapidly—daily, how can we celebrate Thanksgiving? It may be appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving this year by offering a time and space to lament, grieve and mourn our losses—especially the deaths of loved ones, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Hopefully we can give thanks to God for the multiple ways these significant others influenced and inspired our lives. Hopefully too, we can commend them into God’s eternal care.

Pastor Martin Rinkhart, an inspiring example of faithfulness

One of my favourite thanksgiving stories provides some inspiration in that direction.

Martin Rinkhart was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Saxony, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648. As the story goes, he was the only surviving clergyperson in 1636 or 1637, when a major pestilence afflicted the town which was so crowded with refugees and so ravaged with plague, disease, and famine that sometimes as many as 50 funerals were held in one day. Among those buried that year was Rinkhart’s own beloved wife.

Yet, in the midst of such difficult circumstances Pastor Rinkhart wrote the beautiful hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” According to one tradition, Rinkhart based this hymn on Sirach 50:22: “Now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders.” Another tradition suggests that it was originally written as a table grace for his family. In any case, the hymn was well received in Germany and has been sung on such special occasions as the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the completion of the Cologne cathedral.

Although Rinkhart had suffered much and his family, friends, parishioners and townspeople had suffered much, he was still able to offer God his thanks and praise.

A Thanksgiving exercise

As an exercise in thanksgiving, you may either individually or as a family wish to write down a list from A to Z, of all the blessings God has given each of you and then prayerfully offer your praise and thanks. You may even consider doing this each day or week or month, rather than only once a year at Thanksgiving. This exercise may also motivate you to pursue moving your thanking into acts of loving-kindness in response to what God has given you.

If the spirit moves you to share your Thanksgiving list with yours truly and other blog readers below as a comment, that would be wonderful. Thank you in advance for the same! 🙂

Those two words, Thank You, can make so much difference in so many ways!

CLWR’s first webinar

Recently I attended Canadian Lutheran World Relief’s first ever webinar on Refugees, COVID-19 and the Church. It was quite informative. According to one of the speakers, there are around 80 million refugees in the world today. That is tragic, since many are in refugee camps where they are spaced close together, hence it is difficult to maintain the 2 metre distance. Moreover, water to wash hands, masks and sanitizer are in short supply, if available at all—so they are at a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. Click on the following link to hopefully view the webinar: CLWR.

Brief thoughts on COVID-19, Lent, Holy Week, suffering and more

Introduction

This has been an unpredictably strange Lent and now Holy Week for us Christians. As a faith that places high value in our collective identity—i.e. the communion of saints—we have been either legislated against gathering or strongly discouraged to gather together to worship during much of Lent and now Holy Week. Staying home, social distancing, quarantine and self-isolating have become the universally acceptable protocols.

Without question, the coronavirus—COVID-19—has changed the world for the worse; as well as in some respects for the better. It is a tragedy that COVID-19 has claimed the lives of so many people; and will continue to do so into at least the near future. My heart goes out to those who are suffering with the coronavirus; as well as those families who have lost loved ones.

In times of suffering, the worst in human beings comes out. The New Testament Passion narratives in all four Gospels bear this truth out. Humankind was, and still is way too capable of betrayals, denials, exploiting the weak and most vulnerable, wrongfully scapegoating and unjustly arresting, torturing and killing the innocent.

The media doesn’t always help in this regard. Sometimes they do not have the complete facts; distort and misunderstand and manipulate the facts to create fear among the general public; which can escalate into mass hysteria. For example, it is mass hysteria at work when people buy and horde as much toilet paper and hand sanitizer as possible—creating a shortage for others. Moreover, it is also a coldness of heart and intentional greed on the part of some to sell their surplus of these items for outrageously high prices.

Another example of people at their worst is expressed in antisemitism online—encouraging people with the coronavirus to deliberately go into Jewish synagogues and other places where Jews gather to spread COVID-19. Such actions, once again, confirm that sin and evil are alive among human beings in the world.

Suffering can be redemptive

On the other hand, suffering can be redemptive in that it has the potential to bring out the best in humankind. For instance, there are people like health-care workers, first responders, those in essential services like grocery store workers, truckers, etc., who willingly risk their lives for the common good of everyone. May God continue to bless them in their work!

During Lent and Holy Week, followers of Jesus are hopefully acutely aware of and appreciative for how suffering is redemptive by focussing on the Passion and Resurrection narratives of the Gospels. The suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday was not the last word. By raising Jesus from the dead on that first Easter Sunday; God has assured us that suffering can be redemptive.

As we experience sufferings from COVID-19 I do not think that we should blame God for it. Rather, I believe that God is in solidarity with us and suffers with us and is even giving us the opportunity to turn to him for help and come to see that he is the Giver of life. By turning to God for help maybe we can learn some important lessons from our sufferings.

Sabbath

I am, in part, seeing this time as a Sabbath in that it affords us to stop; slow our life down; and reflect more deeply about the meaning of life and what is most important in life—i.e. God, faith, relationships, community, loving and serving our neighbours, especially those most needy.

By cultivating our relationships with God, spouse, children and others and slowing down and resting from work can improve our spiritual, mental and physical health. By not being so busy; by slowing down; God’s creation also benefits from Sabbath time. For example, it is being observed that in many of the world’s largest cities there is less air pollution.

Exile and Lament

I also think that this is a time of Exile and Lament. Someone has described this time of exile as similar to being under house arrest. Different countries have different laws in response to COVID-19. Some nations –again perhaps acting out of fear—have complete lockdowns, everyone has to stay home. If they go out, they may face fines or even go to prison. Other nations allow people to go out for walks as long as they remain two meters from each other. People are also allowed to go out for basic necessities such as food and medications.

Even so, it seems like living in exile since social gatherings are either not allowed or strongly discouraged. For those living alone, I think the sense of exile is likely even more pronounced—since we humans are social beings.

This sense of living in exile is closely related to the reality of lament. Those living alone lament for the days before COVID-19; when they were free to come and go and be with others. Many lament because they cannot go to work or may even have lost their jobs. Others lament not being able to be with a love one who is dying in the hospital. Those who are dying may be lamenting that they cannot say their final words in the presence of their loved ones. Those who have lost loved ones lament not being able to have a proper funeral service for their loved ones. Children may lament that they cannot attend school. People of faith lament because they are unable to gather and celebrate important festivals like Passover and Easter. They will have to celebrate at home; and for some, online—yet that is not the same as being physically present with one another.

I believe that exile and lament have the potential to give people of faith a greater appreciation for the Psalter. Many of the Psalms reflect the experiences of exile and lament. In such times once again we have the opportunity to turn to God for help and express all of our thoughts and emotions to him regarding our circumstances. In so doing, hopefully there can be strength to cope with the present situation and hope for the future.

Passover and Easter

Passover and Easter are festivals of hope and freedom. The Israelites celebrate Passover by remembering how God saved them from death and freed them from Egyptian slavery. Against all odds, as they wandered in the wilderness; God chose Moses to lead Israel to the promised land; God also gave them hope in the midst of their hardships in the wilderness that in the future they would live in freedom in the promised land.

Christians celebrate Easter as a festival of hope and freedom too. The suffering and death of Jesus on the cross was not the last word. On that first Easter Sunday—against the powers of sin, death and evil—God acted to raise Jesus from the dead. Easter is a celebration of hope in a new, resurrection life in the future. It’s also hope in the small resurrections in the here-and-now wherever faith, love, peace, goodness and justice prevail. Thanks to the saving work of Jesus through his suffering, death and resurrection; we are given a new freedom from the powers of sin, death and evil. That freedom is experienced in part now and permanently in the life to come.

In the case of both Jews and Christians, suffering can never defeat us by the circumstances of life—including the coronavirus. Why? Because we still have the freedom and the hope to respond to such circumstances in ways that are appropriate and life-giving. We can choose, by the grace of God, to love God and love our neighbours.

First Nations and Canada’s Priorities

In light of what might transpire in relation to the Wet’suwet’en people, I think this article by Professor John Stackhouse Jr., is instructive and worth reading. It is nothing less than a tragedy that First Nations people should not have access to clean drinking water in 2020. Read the article here.

 

260 Million Christians persecuted

Christians, from the beginning, have been persecuted. Jesus did not promise a persecution-free life either for all of his would-be followers. Rather, he let everyone know what they are getting into: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) If that isn’t enough, Jesus goes further in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:44, he teaches us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

According to the Open Doors organisation, who monitor the persecution of Christians and compile a world wide list every year of those nations that persecute Christians; in 2019 there were about 260 million Christians highly or severely persecuted, up from 245 million the previous year. Jihadism spreading in African nations; a movement towards Hindu theocracy in India; and a growing lack of religious tolerance towards Christians in China are all contributing factors in the increase of persecuted Christians last year.

Truth to tell, most Christians likely do not want to be persecuted; nor do they find it easy to love enemies and pray for persecutors. However, that is our calling, and only by the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to follow our calling in this regard.

Perhaps one’s most important prayer would be for enemies and persecutors to have the same destiny as the apostle Paul—who by an encounter with Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus was given a new calling and orientation in life to become a follower of Jesus; a zealous missionary to the Gentile world; and one of the most accomplished theologians of all time.

For more details on the 260 million persecuted Christians, read the following article in Christianity Today here.

Stephen Deacon and Martyr

Image credit: bibleencyclopedia.com

Centuries before Boxing Day ever existed, and the shop-til-you-drop, three-ring-circus, mass hysteria consumerism dominated humankind; Christians remembered—and some still remember—Stephen on December 26.

You can read about him and his martyrdom in The Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7:60. Long story short, he was stoned to death based on false charges of blasphemy. His final words were similar to those of Jesus on the cross; words of forgiveness and love for his executioners spoken as a prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Today as I remember Stephen and his martyrdom, I’m also mindful of my sisters and brothers in Christ particularly in Muslim-majority and communist nations. They are far too often persecuted and falsely charged of blasphemy and imprisoned or worse, wrongfully executed for their faith.

So, in solidarity with these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to pray with me today the following prayers in remembrance of Stephen and those imprisoned or on death-row solely because they are faithful Christians.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 54)

Lord Jesus, you experienced in person torture and death as a prisoner of conscience. You were beaten and flogged and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong. Be now with prisoners of conscience throughout the world. Be with them in their fear and loneliness, in the agony of physical and mental torture, and in the face of execution and death. Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains. Be merciful to the oppressor and the torturer, and place a new heart within them. Forgive all injustice in our lives, and transform us to be instruments of your peace, for by your wounds we are healed. Amen.

(Amnesty International, Prayer for Prisoners, Prayers for Peace)

Sing Gloria Concerts at Augustana Campus

This fall I decided to join Mannskor, a community choir organized by Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta. Our very gifted conductor is Dr. John Wiebe, who teaches in the music faculty. Mannskor is a combination of men from the community and university students.

Our Sing Gloria concerts were last weekend—December 7 and 8—in the Faith and Life Chapel, Augustana Campus. In addition to Mannskor, there were two other choirs Sangkor Women’s Ensemble and the Augustana (students’) Choir.

Our choirs were accompanied by Dr. Roger Admiral on organ; Carolyn Olson and Tova Olson on piano; with special guests the Capital Brass Ensemble; Ann Salmon on piccolo flute; Tova Olson and David Salmon on percussion.

The major repertoire was English composer James Whitbourn’s Missa Carolae. Listeners may recognise some of the Christmas carol melodies employed in this composition.

I considered it a challenge, privilege and pleasure to have been blessed by singing in these concerts.

Although this is not our recording of the Missa Carolae, here is a sample of the composition, sung in Latin by the Elysian Singers of London.

Thanksgiving 2019

Thanksgiving 2019

Today, October 14, is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and a statutory holiday. We Canadians have much to be thankful for as one of the, if not “the” best place(s) to live in the world. God has richly blessed us as a nation—may we never take this for granted. Thanks be to God! May our gratitude to God be expressed daily. May we also express it in our relationships at home, work and school every day. Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Canadian readers!

Over the years, I’ve blogged about Thanksgiving, you might want to have a look at the following links:

Thanksgiving 2007: https://dimlamp.wordpress.com/2007/10/05/43/

Thanksgiving 2010: https://dimlamp.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/thanksgiving-2010/

Bruce Cockburn’s new album

Bruce Cockburn’s new album

As I’ve said elsewhere on several occasions, Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn is one of my favourite musicians. I appreciate his lyrics, which reflect contemporary social justice issues, his faith, and creative musical experimentation. Give a listen and watch this new video, from his latest album, the upcoming “Crowing Ignites.” Recently he was interviewed by CBC’s Tom Allen, and on that program Bruce shares some of the background leading up to the title of this latest album.

In the video you will notice—among other things—Martin Luther King Jr., and a biblical quote from Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Book Review: Basic Christianity 50th Anniversary Edition

Basic Christianity: 50th Anniversary Edition

Author: John Stott

Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

174 pages, paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Rev. John Stott died in 2011, at 90 years of age. He was a prolific writer of some 50 books. He was rector emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London; the founding president of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity; and served as chaplain to Queen Elizabeth. Stott was well known in Christendom as a conservative evangelical, and his best-selling Basic Christianity reflects this version of theology.

The book originally seems to have its roots in a series of talks that Stott gave at Cambridge University, appealing to students there. Eventually, Stott became a popular circuit public speaker at other universities around the globe. He had a mission-evangelism spirit which focussed on reaching out to students.

The format of this volume is as follows: Foreword, Preface to the 50th Anniversary Edition, Preface, The Right Approach, Part One: Who Christ Is, Part Two: What We Need, Part Three: What Christ Has Done, Part Four: How To Respond, and Study Questions.

In this 50th Anniversary Edition, Stott was somewhat sensitive to updating the language of the original volume to be more gender-inclusive. However, he did not rely on more up-to-date scholars in the body of his text, so his sources, other than the Bible are dated, and, to his credit, he admits this work is dated. Having admitted that, nonetheless the work is easy to read and quite accessible to readers-both Christian and non-Christian.

As for the content, Stott emphasises the orthodox view that God takes the initiative to reach humankind and the two natures of Jesus—fully human and fully divine and cites biblical references to make his case. Although he acknowledges Christ as sinless and the perfect exemplar view of atonement; he also emphasises the importance of a substitutionary view of atonement. His view of humankind also reflects the orthodox one that we are created in the image of God, and we are also fallen sinners who need a Saviour and are unable to save themselves. However, I thought in his discussion on humankind that he could have been more explicitly lucid in making the important distinction between lower case sin and upper case Sin. I also thought that he did not devote adequate treatment to upper case Sin as a state of being in rebellion against God and wanting to be god in God’s place. I was also disappointed in his rather degrading, misogynistic reference to Mary Magdalene in relation to Christ’s resurrection: “Again, we would have chosen someone with a better reputation than Mary Magdalene as the first witness.” (p. 67) In his discussion on the Ten Commandments, he would have been wise to mention that not all Christian denominations agree on their numbering. Instead, he presents the Reformed family of Christians version of the Decalogue, leaving the reader the impression that it is the only way to read, interpret and understand the Commandments. He is quite adamant on the familiar evangelical-fundamentalist language of making a personal commitment to Christ and the all or nothing approach to discipleship.

Stott cautions those Christians who are tempted to place too much importance on their feelings. He states that feelings come and go; and that trusting in God’s promises in the Bible are ultimately more reliable than feelings.

He also laments over some Christians who may describe themselves as “born again” never growing up in their faith. Stott states: “Others even suffer from spiritual infantile regression.” (p. 162) In response to God’s grace in Christ Christians, with the help of the Holy Spirit can grow in their understanding and in the sanctification process.

Stott also emphasises an active devotional life that balances prayer with Bible reading and study—again however his conservative, evangelical preference surfaces as he recommends reading the NIV translation rather than the NRSV.

In addition to an active devotional life Stott advocates membership and regular church attendance; involvement in social justice issues to serve the poor and neglected people in the world; as well as to evangelize the world by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This volume will likely appeal to conservative, evangelical Christians more than anyone else. The Study Questions may be helpful in facilitating small group discussions for adult church groups and students.